Like the 2003 NBA draft (LeBron, Wade, Carmelo) or the albums of 1975 (Springsteen, Dylan, Young), 2013 is a special year for video games. In just the first seven months, genre-destroying originals, indie underground hits, rebooted re-imaginings, and franchise sequels have set new bars in digital entertainment. Here’s a look at ten of the year’s best – and you better believe there’s more to come.
Dead Space 3
Like Aliens, the movie franchise that heavily influenced it, the Dead Space series has evolved from pure space-bound sci-fi horror to an amalgam of terrestrial terror and action. Unlike Aliens, every Dead Space title has gained more than it’s lost with each iteration. Fighting the animated dead flesh of the Necromorphs on a frozen ice planet, in the derelict hulks of a destroyed space fleet, and now for the first time with co-op partner, players received a thrilling end to a trilogy that has no weak entries.
The series that brings computer hardware to its knees, Crysis is best known as a graphically stunning franchise that looks better than anything else on the market – and 3 does not disappoint. From a storm-racked cargo ship to an abandoned city overrun by nature to the depths of space itself, Crysis takes gamers on a first-person odyssey they won’t soon forget.
Lara Croft’s pixilated mammaries represent a coming of age for many a millennial. But the tomb raider’s first adventure was released in 1996, and this much-needed reboot, while it explores Lara’s teenage years, gives the heroine a more realistic and grown-up makeover. A pleasing combination of platforming, puzzle-solving, and gunplay, Tomb Raider injects new life into a series previously stuck in the past.
Save the princess – one of the oldest story-telling tropes in human history is also one of the first in video game history. (“Thank you Mario! But our princess is in another castle!”) Infinite takes that idea and in true post-modern fashion upends it with a journey through a multiverse of early-20th-century cloud cities ruled by religious fanaticism and American exceptionalism. Even if you can’t follow the twists and turns on your quest to save the mysterious Elizabeth trapped in the steam-punk sky city of Columbia, you’re enraptured by the pure beauty of one of the most gorgeous games ever made.
Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut
One of the first and only games to spark the “are games art?” debate, Deadly Premonition was first released in 2010, but the newly released Director’s Cut brings the weirdly genius title to a whole new audience this year. A somehow trippier Twin Peaks-like story of a murder investigation, Premonition suffers from poor controls, odd dialogue, glitches, and a bizarre jazzy soundtrack . . . yet is somehow incredibly fun to experience. “So bad it’s good” is a phrase never attached to games, yet Premonition has to be experienced to be believed.
Metro: Last Light
Who knew scrounging for bullets – which double as currency – in post-apocalyptic Moscow subway stations while fighting mutants, neo-Nazis, neo-communists and the very air you breath (it’s poison, naturally) could be so fun? Based on a series of Russian novels, Last Light is an intensely claustrophobic first-person/stealth adventure that’s a welcome change of pace from the modern military glut of games.
The Last of Us
Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us partners players with their least favorite quest – the escort mission – and makes a whole game out of it. As Joel, your job is to bring the cure to a fungal zombie plague across a destroyed America. It just so happens that cure takes the form of a teenage girl, Ellie. And instead of a series of “Game Over” screens as you watch Ellie get killed by clickers (mushroom-headed monsters), players experience what many are considering the Citizen Kane-moment of gaming. The Last of Us isn’t simply a great game, it’s a cultural milestone.
Devil May Cry
The announced reboot of the frenetic sword-and-gun game known as DmC saw a negative backlash few if any video games survive. A retelling of the original Japanese series from a more Western perspective, DmC was greeted with skepticism and outright outrage. Yet people who actually picked up the game on its release were pleasantly surprised by a fun (and funny) title that took nothing away from the originals.
While PC gamers have enjoyed Dennaton Games’ (a tiny two-man operation) brutal top-down beat-em-up since 2012, console gamers are just getting their hands on this raucous, Eighties synth-fueled Miami drug-trip. A simplistic premise, Hotline has players clearing 2D rooms of enemies using bats, pipes, bottles, shivs, and even the occasional gun . . . while wearing horrifying yet stat-buffing rubber fright masks. The soundtrack alone is worth the couple bucks this indie gem will set you back.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
The final days of Japanese role-playing games might be fantasy. The genre that’s seen better times, JRPGs have been seemingly supplanted by Western titles in recent years. Darker and more cynical hits like the Mass Effect and Fall Out series leave a lot of room for an upbeat and colorful adventure, however. Wrath of the White Witch is just the kind of title to fill that void with vibrant and richly rewarding gameplay, characters, and story that combine that old-school JRPG feel with a much needed update.