The 25 Best Videogames of 2013

Games Lists
The 25 Best Videogames of 2013

We didn’t just get to play a ton of great games in 2013. We’re wrapping up one of the most diverse years yet for the medium, with a wide-ranging assortment of games that comment on life and the nature of games in a variety of ways. In one year we’ve seen the industry-mocking superbunk of Saints Row IV, the social and political commentary of Papers, Please, the timeless traditionalism of Rayman Legends, and the aggressively community-minded toy box Animal Crossing: New Leaf. The only similarity between these games is how beloved they are by critics and players. 2013 ended with new, high-tech hardware dominating everybody’s attention, but it’ll be remembered mostly for low-key games about the human condition and games that celebrate the pure, thrill-powered joy of play. It’s been a great year for games and the people who play them.

25. Metro: Last Light
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Developer: 4A Games
Publisher: Deep Silver
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Mac, Linux
The Metro games are heavily invested in world-building, and that level of detail is one reason why the universe has such appeal. Last Light succeeds more than its predecessor in this regard, if for no other reason than it works better: Refinements in level design, combat, and environmental storytelling make it a smoother experience without sacrificing any of the claustrophobic immediacy of the franchise. But what works best about Last Light is what makes the fiction resonate. Despite the glowing mushrooms, mutant monsters and supernatural horror, this is a deeply human story.—J.P. Grant

24. Towerfall

Developer: Matt Thorson
Platform: Ouya
This multiplayer scrum (and Ouya exclusive) is a frantic four-way archery duel, like a single-screen Smash Bros. with a retro aesthetic and arrows instead of fists. Towerfall is intentionally limited to local-only play, which is a bummer if you don’t have friends over. Once you get a group together, though, it’s as tense and trash-talkingly fun as the Mario Kart and Goldeneye bouts of our collective memory.—Garrett Martin

23. Hate Plus

Developer: Christine Love
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Christine Love’s latest interactive fiction story, a direct sequel to 2012’s Analogue: A Hate Story, goes by the title Hate Plus, since it was slated to be a straightforward expansion pack for Analogue. Yet Hate Plus clocks in at nearly twice the word count of the original game, so calling it an expansion pack seems almost unfair—though understanding its story does require players to experience Analogue first. For those unsure of what to expect from the cyber-hallways of Hate’s abandoned spaceship, be not fooled by Hate Plus’ charming art style and occasional light-hearted moments: The story will take frequent turns down dark and tragic roads. Love’s well-crafted prose breathes life into these eccentric artificial intelligences once more, and it’s easy not to fall in love (or, perhaps, in hate) all over again.—Maddy Myers

22. Bit.Trip Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien
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Developer: Gaijin Games
Publisher: Aksys Games / Gaijin Games
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, PS Vita, PC, iOS
Runner 2 is ostensibly a rhythm game, nestled inside an auto-running platformer. Every pile of gold, score multiplier, spiked enemy and giant gherkin is fully animated, bopping, gyrating and wiggling in time to Disasterpeace’s score. Bright colors and fluid animation give life to a game with the thinnest of premises, and each unlockable character’s dancing and idling animations are full of charm. Playing Runner 2 is like a series of minute-long fugue states: When everything pulses in concert, the eyes widen, the pupils dilate, and the breathing slows, and time only starts to flow normally again when the level ends.—Joseph Leray

21. Castles in the Sky
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Developer: The Tall Trees
Platforms: PC and Mac
Any way of explaining what you do in Castles In The Sky will always reduce the play experience to a series of actions taken in sequence. That’s a basic part of games and how they operate in the world, but what Castles In The Sky brings to this time-worn koan is a particular understanding that the actions you are performing are somehow more special than anything else. The “specialness” of other games often happens in retrospect; a killing streak in Call of Duty is beautiful when recorded and played back, but at the time you are riding the high of accomplishment without understanding the full weight of the wonder of the play experience. Castles In The Sky puts that front and center. It’s not a game that you play and then reflect on later. It is the coffee, the cello, the cornbread of videogame experiences. It’s meant to be taken in the moment as a wholly unique and beautiful experience that is wholly available to you in its entirety at the moment you experience it.—Cameron Kunzelman

20. Proteus

Developers: Ed Key and David Kanaga
Platforms: PC, Mac, PlayStation 3, PS Vita
Proteus aims to make us consider our relationship with the world around us. It asks us to actually pay attention to our surroundings, even if nothing outwardly exciting or memorable is happening. It expects us to care and think about how we interact with nature. Proteus doesn’t attempt a realistic recreation of our world, but its chimerical approach makes us ponder the mysteries of nature. It recalls an earlier time, before science and technology made the world a less mystical and esoteric place (while also making computer gizmos like Proteus possible).—Garrett Martin

19. Pokemon X and Y
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Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: 3DS
Pokémon X and Y feel astounding simply by feeling like modern games. It’s weird to hold something up and say, “this is exceptional by virtue of meeting the standards set by its peers,” but the Pokémon series spent 15 years burying its huge, amazing world under the weight of barely animated graphics and a story progression that requires patience and effort to even start. That was the deal: Nintendo and Game Freak would provide the world, and I would do the heavy lifting required to play in it. Finally, with Pokémon X & Y, Nintendo has decided to give me a break and share the load.—Casey Malone

18. Papers, Please
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Developer: Lucas Pope
Platforms: PC and Mac
At the beginning of Papers, Please, the protagonist is selected via national lottery to be a border agent. He’s tasked with the daily routine of sitting in a little iron booth and ensuring that everyone passing into the country has their documents in order. True to socialist form, he’s paid for each correct decision he makes. If he makes too many mistakes, his pay is docked and he risks being unable to make rent or support his family. Papers, Please utterly nails the sinking feeling brought on by working a job where professional success means feeling terrible about yourself and digging yourself into a deeper, less escapable hole. It also excels as a study of low-wage institutional tedium, and how the possibility of relief from that tedium can cause people to act rashly, in ways that appear to defy self-interest or even logic in general.—Joe Bernardi

17. Rogue Legacy
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Developer: Cellar Door Games
Platform: PC
Through its emphasis on lineage and nostalgia, Rogue Legacy has a different relationship to failure and success than just about every videogame in recent memory. It’s a smart and surprisingly affecting use of permadeath, the unpredictable nature of progress in roguelikes, and the short, often-uneventful lives of roguelike protagonists. It’s indicative of how games can uniquely combine interactivity, time and systems to create an emotional effect that’s similar to the ones brought on by a traditional narrative.—Joe Bernardi

16. The Swapper
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Developer: Facepalm Games
Platform: PC
The Swapper casts into doubt the things videogames almost implicitly take for granted, like the significance of death when your avatar is basically immortal and completely artificial. It questions things like sentience or intelligence (as we understand or express them) as metrics for valuing life. It ruminates on the fundamental connection between the mind and the body, and of memory as a vital component of identity from a metaphysical and neurobiological perspective. And with that, of course, is a wink and a nod, because playing a videogame implies imbuing my own consciousness into something that is basically mechanical and unfeeling.—Lana Polansky

15. Antichamber

Developer: Alexander Bruce
Platform: PC
Reasonable solutions don’t work in Antichamber. When I take the most rational course of action, I fail. Consequently it often feels as if these platitudes are designed to chide me for assuming that the world operates as it appears. When I think I have cleverly made it to the end of the chamber, a sign informs me, “Life isn’t about getting to the end.” My frustration at these signs, however, doesn’t get me anywhere. Antichamber doesn’t work like other similar puzzle platformers. It requires you to constantly discover new mechanics all while continuing to expand on the ones you have already discovered.—Drew Dixon

14. Tomb Raider

Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square-Enix
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Lara Croft’s reputation as a woman character who can fight as well as her male videogame counterparts while also performing sexy femininity seems, nowadays, like a cartoonish, campy relic of the past. This reboot of Tomb Raider, with its experimental juxtapositions of different kinds of play, as well as its attempts to redefine Lara as a human being rather than a caricature of a sexual femininity, feels like the first step on a shaky path towards a better franchise. It feels shaky because Lara still retains much of the trappings of her old self; she still seems to be performing, except this time, her brand of femininity is more Virgin than Whore, and it could use a bit more nuance than that dichotomy affords.—Maddy Myers

13. Pikmin 3
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Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Wii U
I cried the first time a Pikmin died. I can handle the loss, though. I can take the sadness because it happens in such a bright and lovingly realized world, with its lush fields and its colorful creatures and these weird little plant-animals known as Pikmin. Part of knowing these adorable little critters that regularly give their lives to help me out is knowing how to say goodbye to them. Maddy Myers called Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us “Dad simulators”. Pikmin 3 isn’t just a strategy game but a pet simulator, with all the joy and pain that comes with owning a real pet.—Garrett Martin

12. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
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Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: 3DS
Nostalgia is a powerful force, especially with videogames, and even more especially with Nintendo games. Zelda is a foundational experience for almost anybody who plays games, and that significance, when combined with Nintendo’s recent tilt towards the conservative, has resulted in a series that often feels trapped by its own history. A Link Between Worlds addresses that history head-on, but somehow creates an identity that’s more fulfilling and surprising than any Zelda since Wind Waker. It might have the same map as A Link to the Past, the same overhead perspective, and the same weapons and archetypes that appear in every Zelda. It’s not the same as any Zelda you’ve played before, though, because even this reliably good series is rarely as elegantly designed as A Link Between Worlds.—Garrett Martin

11. Depression Quest
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Developers: Zoe Quinn, Patrick Lindsey and Isaac Schankler
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Depression Quest is special because it treats a serious issue with the seriousness it deserves while also injecting a sense of community. It may not be fun, but living out a moment of time with depression can not only help you understand the disease, but also connect you with those that have experienced it to some degree. So in a way it is escapism, even if you’re just escaping back into reality.—Carli Velocci

10. The Last of Us
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Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony
Platform: PlayStation 3
The Last of Us is an uncommon (and uncommonly powerful) big-budget shooter. It depicts the gravity of its situation with an appropriate amount of sorrow and desperation but also lingers on the few moments of escape and relief that its characters are able to find. That makes them feel more human, which makes the inhuman conditions they struggle through more disturbing. It turns your final decision into one of the most conflicted and excruciating moments in gaming. The Last of Us makes you care about the end of the world again.—Garrett Martin

9. Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag
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Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PC
Assassin’s Creed IV is delightfully earnest. It takes itself very seriously without ever devolving into tired grimness or cynicism. At its best it captures the tone of the Flynn-de Havilland classic Captain Blood and other old Hollywood swashbucklers, presenting light-hearted adventure without any winking irony. It also gets the most out of its open world design by dropping us in an enthralling real-world setting with a generous freedom of motion. It’s one of the few open world games where the buildings that make up that world actually seem to matter, even if you still mostly can’t go inside them.—Garrett Martin

8. Tearaway
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Developer: Media Molecule
Publisher: Sony
Platform: PlayStation Vita
The most challenging thing about Tearaway is finding something to dislike about it. It’s simply beautiful. It’s elegant in appearance and design, with an aesthetic that resembles no other game, mechanics that flaunt every feature the Vita has to offer, and a pacing and structure perfectly suited for the portability of a handheld. It might aspire to be more, but it doesn’t forget that it’s a videogame, first and foremost.—Garrett Martin

7. Saints Row IV
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Developer: Volition
Publisher: Deep Silver
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
A little gaming literacy goes a long way in getting the most out of Saints Row IV. It manages to riff off of classic games like Metal Gear, Streets of Rage and even the old Atari tank-battle title Combat in clever and endearing ways. Saints Row IV is incredibly aware that it is a Video Game, capital V, capital G; it explicitly embraces the bizarre, juvenile and often incomprehensible logic of the medium, and revels in it. Here’s a toybox, Volition says, go smash some stuff together. Can do, Boss.—J.P. Grant

6. Super Mario 3D World
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Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
The cat suit might be the most visible addition to Super Mario 3D World, but it’s not the only twist on an old idea. Super Mario 3D World doles out inventive new wrinkles throughout the course of the game, regularly surprising you with familiar but subtly changed mechanics. It isn’t content to aimlessly rehash Mario’s past—it approaches that history with reverence but also inspiration, spinning new threads out of old cloth.—Garrett Martin

5. Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: 3DS
The nicest thing about Animal Crossing: New Leaf is—depending on your real-life schedule, your emotional wherewithal, your ego’s appetite—the game conforms. It will read you like a fortune-teller and uncannily predict your needs and desires. The game, for you, might score a 2 or a 10. Because, see, the thing about paradise is, it’s whatever you want it to be.—Jenn Frank

4. Kentucky Route Zero

Developer: Cardboard Computer
Platforms: PC, Mac
Kentucky Route Zero demonstrates how beauty and joy can arise unscathed from seemingly hopeless situations. There’s a thread of dark humor that pulses from the dialogue, and a continuous theme of music as a way of confronting tragedy and frustration. Strangers in the night cling to one another with jovial and inviting conversation and treat one another in that quaint friendly way that modern folk often think of as naive. They get right to the point, not of the practical matters, but of soul-matters. There is no shame in this world. Everyone recognizes their own brokenness and their neediness. There are no haves and have-nots. No one has enough.—Richard Clark

3. Rayman Legends
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Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: Xbox 360, Wii U, PlayStation 3, PS Vita, PC
Playfulness is the main constant running through the large amount of varied content within Rayman Legends. Critics often try to avoid the word “fun” because it’s so subjective, but the only other game in recent memory that has so thoroughly embodied the most basic, universal and objective meaning of the word is Rayman Origins—much of which returns as unlockable bonuses within the already superior Legends. Revisiting classic gaming concepts with a timeless sense of humor that everybody can enjoy, Rayman Legends is a videogame without pretense, and that might be the most crucial decision its designers made without even realizing it.—Garrett Martin

2. The Stanley Parable
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Developer: Galactic Cafe
Platform: PC
It’s impossible to talk about The Stanley Parable‘s inner workings without wrecking the game at least a little bit. Unlike most works of art that can’t survive spoilers, it holds up (really well!) under scrutiny; rather than being surprising or weird for its own sake, it gradually assembles its weird surprises into a coherent whole, a cubist-insightful look at work, play and consequence. The Stanley Parable is a striking example of how, on a small enough scale, it’s possible to predict most any action a player might take and fit responses to those actions into a larger thematic idea.—Joe Bernardi

1. Gone Home
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Developer: The Fullbright Company
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Will Wright once said, “games are not the right medium to tell stories…videogames are more about story possibilities.” Gone Home challenges such notions, not only by telling a wonderful story but by setting players free in the game world and trusting them to uncover it. By refusing to tell us what to do in the game, it communicates a self-confidence that most games lack. The result is an unforgettable story that’s intensely personal but universally powerful. To play Gone Home is to grow deeply invested in the lives of a family we’ll never know but in which we can all see different aspects of our own families and our own selves.—Drew Dixon

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