Once seen as just something kids liked to do to waste their time, we now are getting stories and experiences from video games that rival any other form of entertainment. This year was one of the best we’ve ever had, and while new consoles like the PS4 and Xbox One promise to push the medium forward, there is still so much to celebrate now. These are the top five games of 2013 that you should play.
The Last of Us - Platform: PS3 – Rating: M
Zombies are in right now. AMC’s Walking Dead is killing it in the ratings and Hollywood hot shots like Brad Pitt are signing on to make movies like Day-Z. Zombie fiction is moving from just blood and gore to trying to explore the human mentality in a zombie apocalypse narrative. And the best of these stories comes from a video game.
It’s a pretty common thing in the gaming world to hear that a story is pretty good…for a video game. This modifier does not apply for The Last of Us. It follows Joel and Ellie as they travel across the country to find a cure for the Cordyceps virus that has spread to humans. That’s a real thing by the way. Look it up if you want nightmares for three weeks straight. The narrative might not be that original, think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but where it is effective is in its character building. That, along with the suspenseful and visceral game-play, makes for the best game this year.
Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds - Platform: 3DS – Rating: E
Everybody loves Zelda. People have been playing as the little elf named Link since the 80s on the NES, and his presence is still important to this day. Unfortunately, the last few games have been underwhelming. While they did their best to introduce mechanics and differentiate themselves, the special luster wasn’t up to par. Enter A Link Between Worlds, which both takes the series back to its roots and moves it forward in interesting ways.
Calling A Link Between Worlds a sequel to A Link to the Past on the SNES just doesn’t work. It’s more like a younger brother. The game has similar combat, the presence of a parallel world, the same over-world map and even some of the same dungeon design as the 22 year old classic. Where A Link Between Worlds moves the series forward is in its willingness to open everything up so early. Players get access to every item in the game after a few hours of play, and then have the freedom to explore as they choose. Its reliance on nostalgia and new gameplay mechanics add up to one of the most addicting experiences of the year
Grand Theft Auto V - Platform: PS3, Xbox 360 – Rating: M
Love it or hate it, Grand Theft Auto V is a big deal. The game shattered every entertainment record ever, making a whopping $800 million in 24 hours. Everything parents hate is still here: shooting cops, prostitution, gangbangers. Where this game succeeds is in its writing. GTA V is a brilliant satire on American culture, and is genuinely hilarious. Whether it’s our constant quest for the “American Dream”, our dissatisfaction for what we have, our obsession with celebrities, you name it. GTA loves to poke fun at everyone, and it’s great.
There is also a lot of fun to be had other than shooting lawmen. You can find pieces of an alien spaceship to build your own, search for radioactive waste in the ocean to make money, mountain bike up a huge mountain just to parachute off, or try and find a missing person. You can even go hunting…for Bigfoot. GTA V is impressive on a technical and intellectual level, and it might impress you if you give it a chance. Just don’t let your 12 year old play it.
Gone Home – Platform: PC – Rating: RP (rating pending)
I was a latecomer to Gone Home. The PC-only game came out late summer and immediately started getting praise. The game isn’t as much of a game as something like Mario, but I would venture to say that the story it tells cannot be told without the context of video games. It is an interactive story with an unsettling atmosphere and enough nostalgia from the 90s to make anybody fall in love with it. I won’t say anything else so I don’t ruin anything, but if you have any interest in good storytelling, then play Gone Home.
Rogue Legacy - Platform: PC, PS4/PSVita (2014) – Rating: RP
Rogue Legacy is another game that relies on gaming’s past to create something innovative today. On the surface, it is a simple action-platformer like Castlevania or Mega Man. You run through a castle, dodging enemy fire and slashing at them with your sword to get money to buy upgrades.
Rogue Legacy also has systems that go along with its precision gameplay to make it so very addicting. Every time you die, you choose from three new characters who represent a descendant of your previous one. Each character is given new weapons and abilities, but they also have physical traits like ADHD, Dyslexia or Hypergonadism that affect the way you play. And every time you enter the castle, it is randomly generated so you can’t just repeat what you did on your last run. This helps make it one of the most addicting games of 2013.
This year was such a great year for gaming, and while these five stand out as the best, there are still more that deserved to be mentioned. Rayman Legends has a beautiful art style and rhythmic platforming that I fell in love with the instant I saw it. The Stanley Parable is a love letter to everyone who likes video games, while challenging preconceptions of what defines a game. Bioshock Infinite puts players in one of the most appealing visualized worlds in gaming, and then tells the story of its destruction. Hopefully now you have an idea of what to spend those gift cards on.