When Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs revealed itself to be nothing but an overwrought short story devoid of any actual scares (not that surprising in retrospect considering it came from a studio known only for previously making an overwrought interactive short story), the gap for a great horror game in 2013 was left wide open. Enter Outlast, an interactive carnival ride through a spooky asylum full of jump scares, cackling mad inmates and tons of uncomfortable full-frontal nudity. What more could you possibly want?
Elevator Action was once proven to be the greatest game ever made by a group of scientists in Reykjavik so someone’s gotta have a lot of guts if they think they have what it takes to step up to the 2D spy platformer throne and reach for the crown. Gunpoint may not impress Icelandic scholars the same way E-Action did back in the day but it was a unique platformer all the same, one which managed to properly convey a real sense of old school espionage even with its simple 2D style.
8. The Last of Us
It was pretty good.
7. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
No one thought it could be done. There was no way Platinum Games could ever craft a Metal Gear subtitle as brilliantly stupid as “Peace Walker”, a title so dumb that it sounds like it could be the title of the book Vin Diesel eventually writes about his relationship with Paul Walker. Kojima had hinted at greatness before with the incredibly stupid subtitle “Snake Eater” but “Peace Walker” made us rethink what we thought we knew about goofy-as-hell subtitles. It’s a testament to Platinum’s expert handling of the Metal Gear brand then that the bar was raised once again with “Revengeance”, a nonsensical joke of a title which is made infinitely better knowing that absolutely no one who worked on the game thought it was humorous.
Also, the game was great. You could slice up watermelons with a sword.
6. Papers, Please
Papers Please might’ve tried to disturb players with the bureaucratic horror that comes with running a dystopian society but it’s never been so much fun to be a cog in a horrible humanity-crushing machine.
5. Super Mario 3D World
In a bitter twist of fate, the year of Luigi was proven to be meaningless as Mario stole the spotlight from his older brother yet again with another classic platformer. Coincidentally, not long after its release Luigi was found naked hanging from the rafters of one of his many haunted manors with the hose of his magic vacuum cleaner wrapped around his neck in a clear case of autoerotic asphyxiation. R.I.P. Luigi.
4. Splinter Cell: Blacklist
Like all of Tom Clancy’s escapism-for-patriotic-middle-aged-men projects, the purpose of the Splinter Cell games from day one has been to empower players into feeling like the ultimate badass American who can defeat terrorism just by doing the splits between two walls a lot. Its plot and characters are boilerplate Clancy hogwash but Blacklist was one of the most mechanically sound action games of the year and made it effortless to become the gruff overpowered kill-three-bad-guys-at-once hero you want to be in a silly blockbuster like this.
3. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
I love Simpsons: Tapped Out as much as the next person but it seems to be part of a disturbing trend of games devolving into nothing but a routine of mindless time-consuming tapping in exchange for the false sense of creation. New Leaf felt like the antidote to games like that, one which appealed to our need for routine and progress but managed to do it in a way which was always engaging, charming and fun.
2. Gone Home
There’s nothing that new about Gone Home — since Adventure in 1975, adventure games have been using mundane exploration as their main means of storytelling. The measured search of the boarded cabin at the start of Zork is no different than the measured search of the house in Gone Home, it’s the same kind of atmospheric world being built up simply by the details and textures of the environment around you. The brilliance of Gone Home was in how dedicated it was to even the smallest of those details, creating a world so well-crafted that even the most insignificant piece of trash you might’ve found lying around still managed to tell you something about either a character or this universe they existed in.
1. Grand Theft Auto V
GTAV showed more artistry in its announcement trailer two years ago than some games from 2013 did in their entirety. Gorgeous cutscenes with actual thought put into shot composition, great naturalistic voiceover from a good actor, brilliant use of the title track from the Small Faces’ eternally underrated classic 60s album “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake”. In less than two minutes they managed to make something that was more cultured, nuanced and cinematic than whatever David Cage has been attempting to do his entire career.
The full game replicated that same kind of craft on a scale so immense that it almost defied believability. How thousands of people and multiple studios could make such a sprawling, multi-protagonist epic feel so singular in vision and voice was a stunning achievement. The game created a world as rich and defined as the one in Gone Home, just one that happened to be a few billion times its size.
Most impressive was how Rockstar ended the console cycle with a game which acted as a perfect summation of the leaps and bounds they grew throughout the generation. GTAIV supplied the engine which would act as the blueprint for all of the following games; Red Dead Redemption improved the narrative structure and better used the hardware to create a more ambitious world ; L.A. Noire saw them focus on the importance of acting and motion capture; Max Payne 3 addressed the problems they were having with combat. In a five-year span they managed to create five great games which built upon each other until they had polished their ideas and mechanics into near-perfection with GTAV. Now just imagine what they’re gonna do with the new consoles.