The best games of 2013
As we inch ever closer to 2014, December's light release schedule provides a perfect opportunity to reflect on all the great games that came out this year. And holy hell was 2013 an incredible year for releases, ranging from heavy hitters like BioShock Infinite and The Last of Us to peripheral surprises such as Tomb Raider and Guacamelee. Yep, 2013 will no doubt go down in history as one of the best years in gaming.
Every December, we here at GamesRadar like to kick things off with our fun but well-meaning Platinum Chalice awards before heading into our more serious Game of the Year discussions. Now, after hours of debating and numerous rounds of real-life Mortal Kombat, we've finally decided on the best of the best that 2013 had to offer. On the following pages, you'll find the games we've deemed to be the 25 absolute best of the entire year, leading up to our Game of the Year winner. So, without further delay, let's kick things off with...
25. Injustice: Gods Among Us (Best fighting game)
Superheroes are sweet. Superheroes (and supervillains) punching each other in the face with earth-cracking force is even sweeter. Injustice is one of the most accessible fighting games of recent years, finely tuned to appeal to hardcore fighter fans, diehard comic readers, and the average gamer alike. Watching someone pull a crazy grappling hook combo with Batman, or calling down the thunder as Black Adam, or pummeling someone through the entire planet twice as Doomsday is utterly thrilling, every time.
Injustice also furthers the concept put forth by the most recent Mortal Kombat: fighting games can have a great single-player story--one that doesnt rely on text-heavy exchanges between still images of your character. The plot of Superman losing his cool and going full dictator is gripping, and every hero and villain gets a chance to shine during the campaign. As we mentioned in our review, with such a strong presentation for solo players and great netcode for the online warriors, Injustice is the fighting game that DC fans deserve.
24. Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon
As you've likely heard at some point, 2013 was the Year of Luigi. Nintendo celebrated the green ones 30th anniversary with a number of quality releases, and the unexpected sequel to a GameCube launch title was the best of the bunch. Luigis Mansion: Dark Moon's ghost-busting action still played great, as the search for ghosts and other secrets throughout five creeky old houses was expertly paced to work on a handheld. The stereoscopic 3D in particular gave depth and vitality to the many rooms we scoured to find some puzzle-solving doodad.
And Luigi deserves the gaming equivalent of an Oscar for how well he acts in Dark Moon. During the plumbers solitary mission, it was a delight to watch the subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways he expressed fear, happiness, and brief moments of pride. The perennial player two had to carry Dark Moon all by himself, and when the credits roll, youre easily ready for another 30 years of Luigi.
23. NBA 2K14 (Best sports game)
While the current-gen version of NBA 2K14 merely maintains the status quo as "the best sports game around," its the next-gen iteration that really impresses. All the awesome presentation and sim details are present and correct in both versions, but next-gen adds amazing player likenesses and animations to the party, really bringing the new balance between offense and defense into sharp focus. If friends ask you to show them a game that really looks and feels next-gen, show them NBA 2K14.
And while there are fewer modes on PS4 and Xbox One, the quality of series staples like My Career and My GM (former Association) has been significantly upgraded. Theres now a proper story in My Career, giving context to your achievements as you rise from rookie to Hall of Famer. The only things that prevent NBA 2K14 from being higher on this list are repeated slices of commentary, and some annoyingly last-gen features that appear as an inevitable consequence of developer Visual Concepts being forced to create a cross-gen game. Look forward to improvement in 2015.
22. DmC: Devil May Cry (Best action game)
Reboots--or "reimaginings" in the case of DmC: Devil May Cry--are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they offer the chance to breathe some life into an aging franchise. On the other, they risk pissing off the invested fanbase. DmC managed to do both. Say what you will about the new Dante, but the gameplay here speaks for itself.
DmC is 2013's best action game. It's easy to get lost in the rhythmic flow of combo-chaining and demon-juggling, especially with so many weapons at your disposal. Best of all, it's incredibly easy to swap between all of them, combining their attacks and unique combos to unleash the ultimate beatdown on the evils inhabiting Limbo City. And let's not forget: the living, shifting nature of the demonic setting is awesome, as is the accompanying soundtrack, which together make DmC an audio-visual treat.
21. Saints Row IV
Youd be hard-pressed to think of a year that was more replete with wonderfully artistic, experimental, boundary-pushing games than 2013. Saints Row IV is not one of those games. In fact, its the apex of whats starting to feel like old-school game design, as it throws pretense by the wayside in favor of being a god damn video game. There are no ambiguous moral choices to be found here. No revelatory interweaving of mechanics and story-telling. No probing meta-narrative. Just you, Keith David, and your Dubstep Gun. And probes. Oh, and youre the President of the United States of America. And you have super powers. That you use against aliens.
Saints Row IV is genuinely hilarious thanks to its sharp writing and voice-over performances. But its not just in the writing; the game lets you participate in some insane, unbelievable set-piece moments, like gunning down a fleet of alien ships from a POTUS-themed AA canon. And as silly as the game sounds on the surface, the humor is often incredibly subtle and restrained. That its a competent and addictive action game is almost a bonus.
20. Gran Turismo 6 (Best racing game)
When the whole "accurately mapped constellations" feature was announced for Gran Turismo 6, it seemed to be the last thing the development team should be focusing on. So much other work was needed before spending time on such cosmetic luxuries. GT5 had proven the series was so stuck in its ways, oblivious (or stubbornly ignorant) to the progress being made by other racing games, it looked like GTs heyday was a fading memory.
But then Gran Turismo 6 arrived in the office. We reviewed it, and found the game had been turned into something pretty near perfect after all. GT6 takes the wealth of content in GT5, polishes it up, dresses it in new clothes, adds some guitar harmonies and victory sparkles, and delivers the most exhaustive, feature-rich racer available on modern consoles. But the undeniably best part is the driving itself: It has never, ever felt so good. Congratulations to Yamauchi and the Polyphony team. We now cant wait for GT on PS4.
Tearaway is undeniably charming. Its a delightful story of a papercraft messenger called Iota, who is tasked with delivering a letter to you: the actual player of the game. Playing it feels about in line with getting a massive hug from a friend.
But its whimsy would be nothing without substance, and Tearaway delivers compelling gameplay in spades. It makes clever use of every single Vita input to keep each area of the game feeling fresh. Whats more, it asks you to get creative by making in-game items via the touch-screen, and taking photos of yourself to blur the line between player and game. There really is nothing like Tearaway, and although games like LittleBigPlanet and Minecraft do customisation better, neither do so with such adorable charm.
18. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
You're the mayor in the adorable Animal Crossing: New Leaf, a game that's impossible to describe to people without them rolling their eyes. Seriously, we can't do it. Whenever we try people think we're insane. What is it that makes the series so good? Is it the cute, kind townspeople? The living world? The ability to upgrade your town? Or is it something else? Something that can't be described?
No, wait, it's all of those things and more. It's also the dog that DJs in Club LOL, and the boar that visits every weekend to sell turnips. It's also about fishing tournaments and catching bugs for your neighbors. We've logged a few hundred hours of New Leaf as an office, and plan on continuing to play for the coming months.
17. Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn
When Final Fantasy 14 launched back in 2010, it was a broken mess. A questionable fatigue system reduced your experience rewards the longer you played; an impossibly complex interface made playing it a nightmare; and even if you were willing to look past these horrible flaws, countless bugs and glitches made it all but unplayable. Fast forward three years, and 14 has been rebuilt from the ground up in the form of Version 2.0: A Realm Reborn. And it's excellent.
Gone are the horrible systems and bugs that plagued the original launch. In their stead you'll find an awesome main quest line, terrific public quests called FATEs, a slew of great instanced dungeons, and a bewildering amount of Final Fantasy fan service. All of this is layered upon a traditional yet polished MMO foundation of go-there-do-this quests and hotbar-driven combat. It may not be revolutionary, but Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn more than makes good on Square Enix's promise to provide its fanbase with a FF MMO that's worth their time and money.
16. Pokemon X / Y
Pokemon isn't about catching 'em all. Yeah, that's in the song and everything and it's the slogan for the franchise, but no one in their right mind makes an attempt to catch every single Pokemon. There are, what, like, 700 now? That's insane. No, Pokemon is about the journey to catch 'em all. The trip through the world, through the gyms, through countless patches of high grass, through hundreds of Pokeballs as you attempt to conquer the region. And in that regard, Pokemon X and Y is utterly triumphant.
In many ways, X and Y's greatest success comes in unification (and 3D, of course). Every Pokemon game has added in new gimmicks, but never before has a game in the series done such a good job of making sure all of these different elements were tied together. This is fueled by the intuitive UI, which ditches many of the franchise's mainstays in favor of an overhaul that makes the new game feel like the most cohesive, socially-connected Pokemon adventure yet.
15. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Like any enchanting short story, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons manages to encompass an incredible range of experiences within its brief, two-to-three-hour length. There's the sincere, brotherly bond between the two young heroes, each with their own unique responses to the fantastical things they encounter. There's a wealth of emotion, from joyous to sorrowful to frightening, conveyed entirely through nuanced animations and expressive, subtextual dialogue. And underneath it all, there's the touching story of two siblings facing hardship in a treacherous fairytale world.
You'll be so captivated by this tale that the unique mechanics almost feel secondary. Controlling both brothers simultaneously turns the game into single-player co-op, where you feel your left and right hands working in autonomous harmony like the hemispheres of your brain. The puzzles convey danger without being punishing, and moments like the rope-swinging section make you feel like giving yourself a high-five. In terms of gameplay and fantasy storytelling, Brothers transcends any limitations of a short duration or small budget.
14: Metro: Last Light
Metro: Last Light was one of the many promising projects in danger of being lost in the closure of THQ. Fortunately, the Ukrainian-developed title couldn't be stopped. The latest entry in the Metro franchise creates an incredibly engrossing vision of post-apocalyptic Russia. It's a world of poisonous air and deadly mutants, and the last humans are warring over what's left in the wreckage. The atmospheric setting fits the dire story wonderfully.
The sequel also improves on Metro 2033 in just about every way, with better gameplay and pacing. As dark as the world may be, you'll still have fun trying out every weapon in combat against the clever enemy AI. With a fraction of the budget of most AAA games, Metro creates a distinct adventure that deserves attention.
Just when we thought to ourselves, "Hmm, there sure is a lack of Mexican-themed Metroidvania games out there," Guacamelee was delivered seemingly from the heavens. In it, you'll experience the sad tale of Juan Aguacate, who happens upon a magical luchador mask that imbues him with the power to swap between the World of the Living and the World of the Dead. Only by doing so can he save El Presidente's daughter from the evil Carlos Calaca.
Guacamelee's extremely smart in its presentation, as all of its special combat abilities are just as integral to the platforming as they are to battling sombrero-wearing skeletons. Best of all, the intelligent combat and platforming are wrapped in a deliciously alluring art style based on Mexican folklore. It's an absurdly fun--and equally hilarious--offering.
12. Pikmin 3
It took Nintendo almost 10 years before the company created another entry in the Pikmin franchise, and Pikmin 3's quality proves the developers weren't wasting their time. It improves on the previous games in virtually every way while still capturing what's always been great about the colorful, nature-loving, action-strategy game. And it came at just when the Wii U needed it.
You play as three different space explorers searching for food on an alien world that's surprisingly similar to Earth. You quickly build an army of multi-colored ant men that help you collect fruit and ship parts while battling back the savage beasts all around you. The battles are brutal, and Pikmin 3's smart design pushes players to use their time wisely. It's is a must buy for anyone that owns Nintendo's newest console.
11. Rayman Legends
Lets forget for a moment the surprise of Raymans astounding comeback over the last couple of years. Lets ignore the temptation to make any jokes about how crap he was and how everyone hated him in the 90s. Lets just look at Rayman Legends as a unique, stand-alone achievement in its own right. Because regardless of the historical trappings and stigmas of the old series, the fact is that Rayman Legends is one of the best platformers ever made.
With more creative surprises in one level than some franchises have in their entire run, a gorgeously human, utterly hand-crafted feel, and an overarching joyful benevolence toward the player and their fun permeating every element of its design, Rayman Legends is one of the finest games seen this year or any year. And as for those musical levels Egad. Rarely have technical design, creative flair, and a sheer lunatic sense of freewheeling fun combined so equally to create something so perfect.
10. Gone Home (Best indie game)
It means a lot for the maturation of video games as a medium when a story-centric game like Gone Home can secure the number 10 slot in our Game of the Year list. Years ago the industry would have questioned whether Gone Home was even a game or not. Now the question that circles everyones mind as they play it is Why? Why did Sam run away? Why was your grandfather so awful to your father? Why was the wife flirting with the destruction of the entire family? And, more jarringly, why did the uncle do what he did?
And that last question is why this game deserves the number 10 slot on the list. It used storytelling that could only exist in a video game; it was a two hour long self-exploration piece of art that gave you nothing if you didnt pay attention. You could beat Gone Home in 45 seconds or in two hours--the game doesnt stop you from missing everything. In a world where we rush to achievements and play games hours and hours on end for the sheer fact that were bored, Gone Home made us slow down and appreciate the smaller, more delicate parts of life.
9. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds takes the familiar overworld of A Link to the Past and reimagines it through the lens of the best stereoscopic 3D visuals we've ever seen on Nintendo's handheld. Add those impressive visuals to new and incredibly entertaining puzzle-solving mechanics, a revised item-collection system, and the series' return to open-world exploration, and you've got one of the best Zelda games of all time.
Link once again dons his green garb to stop evil forces from conquering his homeland of Hyrule. Like in the game's predecessor, the hero needs to move between the light world (Hyrule) and the darker, more sinister world of Lorule in order to save his friends from the trickster Yuga. Along the way, you'll run into charming characters (like the bunny suit-wearing Ravio), collect cute squid monsters, and conquer challenging dungeons. All in all, ALBW culminates in one of the most enjoyable experiences you'll have on a handheld this year.
8. Fire Emblem: Awakening (Best handheld game) (Best RPG)
While Fire Emblem has traditionally been a franchise that can do no wrong with its niche fanbase, pretty much everyone else found it much too daunting to tackle. The hardcore difficulty, the flat-looking maps, and the muted graphics all made for a hard sell, no matter how bewitching the tactical, fantasy gameplay was. Fire Emblem: Awakening has all those niche features covered, but its approach is far more inviting, making this installment in the long-running franchise the first to go mainstream.
The challenge has been softened by the addition of an easier casual mode, while the storytelling features significantly more interesting writing and cutscenes. And the combat? The straightforward tactical battles played to perfection the idea of just one more turn gameplay. But Awakenings secret weapon was its unexpected emotional edge. Players could marry off the large cast of characters in whatever pairing they chose, and many found themselves more invested in leveling up those relationships than the characters stats. This potent mix of new and old for the franchise is why gamers couldnt put down their 3DSs all year.
7. Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag
Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag might just be the greatest pirate game ever made. Few things are as liberating as piloting your very own ship through the 18th Century Caribbean, ransacking schooner's and engaging in epic battles with towering English warships. Protagonist Edward Kenway even makes for the perfect pirate. He's allegiant only to his coin purse, and willingly risks life and limb in the pursuit of filling it, whether that means taking on assassination contracts or plundering ships at sea.
The gorgeous open world is immensely fun to explore and was packed with genuinely enjoyable distractions: underwater salvaging dives, plenty of treasure hunts, and more than enough pirating to go around. In fact, the only real souring notes to be found in Black Flag are those spawned from its Assassin's Creed roots--a somewhat lackluster sci-fi story hook, and a few too many tailing missions hinder one of 2013's most refreshing voyages.
6. Battlefield 4 (Best shooter)
Maybe you're in a helicopter flying towards a building when a rocket hits the rotor, sending the aircraft spinning out of control. Maybe you jump out at the last second and land on a rooftop as the chopper explodes on impact, only to hear the building's supports start to creak and groan. Maybe you jump off just as it falls apart, deploy a parachute, and land in time to pull out your upgraded PKP Pecheneg light machine gun and fire shots into the back of an unsuspecting enemy. Maybe this all happened over the course of ten seconds and was one of the most thrilling moments of your gaming career. Maybe this sort of thing happens all the time in Battlefield 4.
Battlefield 4 was advertised on its "only in Battlefield moments," and that phrase turned out to be more than mindless marketing speak. Every match you play has the potential to be a thrilling, dynamic, cinematic orgy of explosions, making for memorable encounters that no other game could hope to deliver. It's entrancing, and everything you'd want from the best shooter of 2013. Though the single-player leaves much to be desired, you'll hardly have time to complain as you spend dozens (hundreds?) of hours on the multiplayer battlefield.
5. Super Mario 3D World (Best platformer)
Some fans were scared that Super Mario 3D World would take the celebrated, genre-defining gameplay of the past 3D Mario platformers and transform it into an oversimplified title for the multiplayer-loving masses. And those fears were ultimately realized--in the best possible way. 3D World takes the colorful, fun, and astoundingly creative game design of previous entries even further into the mainstream, while still being the best platformer we played all year (solo and with three friends).
Engrossing platforming action was perfected long ago in previous Mario games, but its 3D Worlds seemingly boundless creativity that makes it truly unforgettable. The stages are peppered with great one-off ideas--like the Mario-cloning Double Cherry or wearable cannons--that other developers wouldve based entire games on. And the soundtrack is similarly standout; just try getting the main theme out of your head after humming it. This all makes 3D World impossible to put down, even in the later, more challenging stages that say to players, Oh, you thought this was easy? Try collecting all the Green Stars in this one, smart guy.
4. Grand Theft Auto 5 (Best open-world game)
As an open-world game, GTA 5 is without equal: San Andreas feels like a living, working island thanks to both incredible scale and impressive attention to details. Combining these two is an amazing feat on current-gen hardware, especially as the game looks so handsome and plays so smoothly. And it really is a game for everyone, giving players the option to cause havoc with a chopper, or just spend a leisurely afternoon playing golf. And when you want to be guided through a compelling story or two--without the tedium of repeated tropes--GTA 5s fantastic script and fresh mission design makes it so.
However, its the characters that really make the game special. Although all three protagonists are pretty reprehensible human beings, you desperately want them to succeed as they go through the games highs and lows. Its the characters that push you through the lengthy story to the end credits; a motivation that has really been lacking since Vice City. Its all rounded off by a thrilling, yet fitting, ending that leaves you with enough virtual cash to make San Andreas your playground. This game is easily the best GTA of this generation, and a fine example of what can be achieved when technical prowess is married to smart game design.
3. BioShock Infinite
Like Rapture before it, Columbia is a theme park that makes you think. In one moment, you're staring in awe at the majestic beauty of your surroundings: man-made beaches floating in the sky, or towering high-rises that loom over industrial districts. In the next, you're shaken by reprehensible acts of racism, or mystified by the implications of a single coin flip. Booker and Elizabeth's adventure through a city in the clouds may play like a shooter, but it feels like an astonishing voyage into a self-contained world.
This is no mere escort mission, either--Elizabeth is a companion with an air of independence, totally capable of fending for herself during firefights. When you're not in the heat of a shootout against John Wilkes Booth worshippers or animatronic presidents with Gatling guns, Elizabeth's eager optimism serves as the perfect foil to Booker's world-weary grit. And the concepts posited by the finale will stay with you for weeks, prompting the kinds of giddy, mind-bending conversations you haven't had since you and your friends watched Inception. That contemplation alone makes BioShock Infinite well worth playing, and one of 2013's strongest releases.
2. Tomb Raider
Who would've thought a Tomb Raider reboot would've damn near taken our 2013 Game of the Year award? Lara's latest outing is far and away one of the best action adventure games in recent memory, featuring fantastic platforming, puzzle-solving, and genuinely enjoyable firefights. And her new origin story, coupled with a great performance by voice actress Camilla Luddington, makes Lara a much more believable character, even if she does murder by the hundreds like her treasure-seeking contemporaries.
Tomb Raider's stellar gameplay is complemented in equal measure by its immaculate pacing. Intense battles give way to 30 minutes or more of exploration, giving you plenty of time to take in the sights and uncover the hidden secrets of the ominous island setting. Nearly everything the game has to offer is of astounding quality, making this one of 2013's biggest surprises--one that handedly won runner-up to GamesRadar's Game of the Year.
1. The Last of Us (Game of the Year) (Best action-adventure game)
The Last of Us isn't simply the best game of 2013; it's the culmination of what games have been attempting to achieve throughout the entire 7th console generation. Exemplifying and improving upon everything that games have evolved into over the last eight years, its a masterpiece of mature, gameplay-driven narrative, stunningly well-realised world-building, and uncompromising but intelligent systemic game design.
The tension created by the fight-for-your-life gameplay works hand in hand with the edge-of-your-seat story, and while The Last of Us is often a stressful game to play, it's also an immensely rewarding one. The narrative constantly thrusts players into dire situations that perfectly illustrate the ugliness of a mankind warped by apocalyptic circumstances. The whole experience is uncomfortably dark, save for the touching bond that forms between Joel and Ellie, two of 2013's most profoundly believable characters. The final product is complete, cohesive, and affecting--it's the pinnacle of intelligent, powerful, artistically-minded gaming in the triple-A sphere. And for these reasons, The Last of Us is GamesRadar's Game of the Year for 2013.
What do YOU think is 2013's game of the year?
Now that we've stated our case for our Game of the Year winner, we want to hear from you: Which game do you think most deserves that honor? Did any of the year's releases surprise you? Did any that you thought would be amazing let you down? Let us know in the comments below.