This year, I don’t have a clear game to champion as my game of the year yet. That isn’t to say I haven’t enjoyed anything- it’s quite the opposite- I’ve enjoyed a certain few games so much that I have yet to choose one above the others. I’ve got a pretty specific top three games that I keep flip-flopping between, but I enjoyed all of them so much it’s tough to choose a favorite. When you get down to my favorite three, you can basically put them in any order, they’re all that good. Last year I was able to hold Journey high and above everything (until The Walking Dead) with little competition to speak of. 2013 has been pretty great so far, with some surprises, disappointments, and a whole lot of incredible games. Here’s a rough estimate of my favorites of this year, and all of these can and will probably be changed before the end of 2013, who knows what could happen?. Let’s get started with…
#14 – Dead Space 3
Dead Space 3 is the weakest game in a great trilogy, but it’s still a fine game in its own right. The weapon customization brings a whole lot of new experimentation to the table, and gives you plenty of new ways to chop off arms and legs for a couple dozen hours.
#13 – Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
If you’re up for some ridiculous action sequences coupled with some familiar Metal Gear nonsense, Raiden’s adventure sans-Snake might be up your alley. It’s got plenty of cleverly themed bosses to fit right along with the slicing action, and enough Codec conversations about Asian cuisine to satisfy the appetites of anyone who wants a little Kojima flair.
#12 – Call of Juarez Gunslinger
Silas Greaves is the definition of an unreliable narrator. He stumbles into a bar and begins telling stories of his adventures through the wild west, but who knows how much of it is actually true? With almost constant narration from the main character, it’s entertaining from start to finish, especially when Silas gets…creative with memories of his past. You’ll shoot through nearly the entire cast of Tombstone, and then some. If you hold any love for creative first person shooters with emphasis on narrative, Gunslinger should be your next stop.
#11 – Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Animal Crossing is just a fun place to hang out. You can fish, find bugs, build a house, build a city, meet new people, and plenty more. The structure of the game is more similar to an MMO than anything I can think of, and especially feels that way when you’re in the zeitgeist of dozens of people playing at once. While New Leaf isn’t a major reinvention of the formula, it adds enough surprises to keep me, and many, many others coming back for more.
#10 – EGGNOGG
The most frantic 2-player platforming around, EGGNOGG is a shot-for-shot riff on NIDHOGG, and I’m totally okay with that. It’s some of the most fun you’ll have playing a game with a friend, and is just as fun to watch and scream at as it is to participate.
#9 – Rogue Legacy
Part Roguelike, part Castlevania, all Awesome, Rogue Legacy is a slightly simpler take on the Roguelike genre. Like genre champion, The Binding of Isaac, once you die, you have to start all over. But this time, all is not lost. Every run through the castle will net you cash and some upgrades, both of which permanently advance your character for the rest of your time with the game. It’s a wonderfully charming hack and slash platformer with a massive upgrade system that I keep having to drag myself away from. I’m 7 hours in, I’ve killed one of five bosses, and I’m desperate to get back to it as soon as I can.
#8 – Super Stickman Golf 2
Get five people in a room, load up Super Stickman Golf 2, wait for the laughter. No matter how many people you’re playing with, and even if you’re not able to be in the same place together, Stickman Golf guarantees good times. It’s one of my favorite multiplayer games on any system, and the single player holds up its end of the bargain as well. It’s a delightfully simple golfing game with more depth the further you dive into it. It, along with Super Hexagon, will live on my iPhone and iPad for a long time to come.
#7 – BADLAND
One of the most interesting platformers I’ve had the pleasure of playing, and I controlled the whole game using one button. BADLAND is a creative tour de force of every good idea the developer could muster, and then some. If you want to see the evolution of the endless runner genre, discover the reason to own an iOS device, or just play an all around fantastic game, go get BADLAND right now.
#6 – Anodyne
This Zelda inspired game has ascended beyond what some Zeldas are even capable of accomplishing. It delivers some solid puzzles and a huge overworld to explore, all while telling a story that will resonate with just about anybody who plays it. It’s all done in a dreamscape, so the entire game has the perfect amount of weirdness to it, and it eventually delves into some really dark places. If you want the evolution of Link’s Awakening DX, this is it.
#5 – BioShock Infinite
Despite many of the problems I had with BioShock Infinite, it’s still a really wonderful game. No, the shooting wasn’t super engaging and dragged out for much too long, and I didn’t enjoy playing it half as much as the original BioShock. Where it shines is in its ability to draw you into a world. The introduction of Colombia will go down as one of my favorite video game opening ever, and the twists and turns it takes to get to its ending are quite memorable as well. Upon meeting Elizabeth, I was stuck with a vibe that usually only Disney is capable of getting from an audience. Parts of BioShock Infinite are magical, and they’re worth getting to as long as you can muster the parts that probably shouldn’t be there in the first place.
#4 – The Walking Dead: 400 Days
Telltale knows how to tell stories. That’s what they’re good at. After picking last year’s The Walking Dead as my Game of the Year, I was eagerly awaiting their next project. It did not disappoint. 400 Days is merely an introduction to five main characters, giving each of their stories about 20 minutes each, and I was on the edge of my seat for each of those 15 minutes than just about anything I’ve played since their masterpiece from last year. If you’re a fan of Telltale or good games, this is once again, required playing. This might be the best $5 I’ve ever spent on a game. Yes, it’s only $5. Aren’t they just cheating at this point?
#3 – Antichamber
Do you miss Portal? I’ve got something to tell you. While it may not have that same humor, or well, any dialogue at all, Antichamber recaptures that feeling of being locked in a puzzle box and smarting your way out. Antichamber is one huge puzzle, and revelations come to you in droves as you make your way from room to room. It’s one of the smartest, most entertaining and satisfying games I’ve had the pleasure of tossing my brain against in a long time.
#2 – Kentucky Route Zero
Kentucky Route Zero is so strange. It doesn’t pretend that it follows any logic other than its own, and it’s fully prepared to take you on a ride that you may or may not fully understand. It’s a point and click adventure style game, with some incredibly meaningful dialogue options along the way, bundled with the ability to free roam around to discover optional side stories. It’s really, really odd, and I couldn’t love it any more if I tried.
#1 – The Last of Us
The Last of Us was a strange one for me. For the first few hours, I didn’t even care for it. The stealth didn’t resonate, the pickups were too frequent and I was ready to write it off. Then something just…clicked. I fell for it, and I couldn’t pull myself away for the remaining 10 hours. The characters are excellent, as with every Naughty Dog game, but this time I actually enjoyed playing it too. Unlike some games with excellent stories, Naughty Dog’s own Uncharted, this year’s BioShock Infinite, the gameplay actually felt right. On top of that, the environmental storytelling made me want to look around every nook and cranny to see what was left in this dilapidated landscape. The story beats rang pitch perfect until the very last moment when the credits started to roll, and I sat back in shock at what I had just played. The game still sticks with me and I love discussing it with anyone that’ll listen. Naughty Dog outdid themselves, and I couldn’t be more excited where they take it next.