Picking a top 5 for 2013 presented me with quite the first world problem - too many great games to choose from. In comparison to a rather lacklustre 2012 this year felt, to me, like one of the all time great years for the medium. My criteria for choosing was really simple - I picked the games that had the most effect on me either emotionally or in terms of fun and that I will be most likely to remember fondly/re-play in years to come. You know it was a darn good year when quality games like Bioshock, Metro Last Light and Gone Home narrowly miss out on your favorites list (Cue rage and accusations of bias/payola in comments).
5. Tomb Raider
Tomb Raider 2013 made me a Lara Croft fan. Despite enjoying the games themselves I was never very fond of her previous incarnations as a wisecracking wibbly wobbly blow up doll and the Angelina Jolie debacle is second only to Shark's Tale on my 'Please never let me see that movie again' list. So kudos to Crystal Dynamics for making me care about Lara with a humanising, interesting origin story that shows us a much more savage and dark but also more likeable and sympathetic herione.
The game itself was also a highly enjoyable romp full of spectacular set pieces. It started a little too heavy on the QTEs for my taste and could have had some more elaborate tombs to raid, but it soon opened out into a fantastically free open-hub item-collection candy shop. The Metroid/Zelda style unlock system made you use all of Lara's gadgets and skills to get to those hard to reach goodies and earn your XP. I can't wait for the sequel!
It's all about the world. Los Santos was, for me, the real star of GTAV. From shimmering night time city skylines to scorching sunrays blasting throughthe desert dust kicked up by your rickety old truck, never has a GTA game been so environmentally rich and pretty. It was fun to explore and packed with secret rewards for doing so. Rockstar also supercharged their game with some much needed refining of core mechanics such as finally adding mission checkpoints, shooting that didn't give the player anal herpes and more leniant driving physics.
The story didn't strike quite the same chord with me as Niko's journey but it was still full of some fantastic one liners and hilarious moments (though I still haven't come to terms with the massive slap in the face to fans that was Trevor's first scene. Man, fuck that scene.) As a biting, acerbic and very British satire of modern America GTA is still unmatched in any medium.
3. The Stanley Parable
Anything I say about the Stanley Parable might ruin part of it for you so just trust me when I say that you need to play it and you need to play it right now. This is a game about an office worker named Stanley. Or is it? It's also a game about you, the gamer. Or is it? Stanley parable knows you. It wants to show you how well it knows you. It's always one step ahead of you and all of your attempts to break its spell. It wants to poke, prod and antagonise you then share a knowing chuckle with you. It knows what you're expecting and it turns it on its head over and over. Just buy it already!
Black Flag was exactly what the AC series needed this year. The formula was beginning to show its age in AC3, a game I personally found disappointing due to rigid, instant-fail mission parameters, a boring setting and a dull, angsty protagonist who was nowhere near as cool as Ezio who I am still a little bit gay for. Ubisoft obviously listened to their critics because Black Flag is all about freedom and empowerment, both in its story and its gameplay.
This was honestly one of the most enjoyable open world games I have ever played, possibly the most fun I've had since my beloved Skyrim. Taking to the open seas as your crew roars and cheers, the Jackdaw bouncing and dancing merrily on the waves as you set off anywhere you want to find a new adventure is one of the best feelings I've ever had playing a game. It really is magical. There is so much to find, so many secrets to uncover, so many targets to shank/blow up/choke/sink in whatever freeform manner you like. It even re-awoke my inner collector, with hundreds of cleverly placed shinies to gather.
The story starts slowly but by the end it had completely won me over and even made me cry - twice! Even the future bits are great this time, with their own rewards for taking the time to explore (in particular discovering the relationship between AC and another AAA Ubisoft universe).
I played AC4 non-stop for 4 days when it finally arrived on PC, I just could not stop playing. It's that addictive and brilliant. That's the first time I've done that since Mass Effect 3 way back in early 2012. Any other year this would be a clear choice for my GOTY but as hard as it was to pick between these two, in the end it had to go to...
There is a very unique, deeply intimate feeling that a very rare few games have given me. It's difficult to describe but it's something that to me elevates the medium above other means of storytelling by way of its participation and interaction. A feeling of undertaking and being a part of a journey so epic and grandiose that it almost feels like you have aged and grown with it. A feeling of spending so much high quality time with a game that by the time it ends it feels like saying goodbye to an old freind. Games like Half Life 2, Ocarina Of Time, Fallout 3, Silent Hill 2. There's something magical and fulfilling about these games that sadly is beyond my ability to properly describe in words. I'm sure some of you at least will know the feeling I am ineloquently trying to describe. The Last Of Us is one of, if not the best, example of this I've seen in our medium.
David Cage may have made 'emotions' a running joke in gaming this year but Naughty Dog showed us just how to do it right. Ellie and Joel's complex, brutal,emotionally honest relationship was for me the highlight of 2013 in gaming. A certain moment in TLOU lost out only to the Breaking Bad finale as the most affecting moment of the year for me across all forms of media. By the time the game ended I was emotionally full to the brim. It left me devastated and uplifted, angry but sympathetic, ethically conflicted but somehow sure of things. Kudos to Naughty Dog for having an actual ending too and not giving in to that shitty, tired old trope of the 'final choice'.
It was a very solid stealth game too despite some issues with an early-spiking difficulty curve. The desperation and danger of the situations was complimented nicely by the harsh (but nearly always fair) challenge, even if if it did become a little easier as it went on. I really hope it gets re-released on PS4 because I'd love to play it at 60FPS. Hey, a guy can dream, ok?
It also gave me my favorite Miracle Of Sound song ever. So thank you, The Last Of Us. In many many ways, you'll stay in my heart forever.
So there you go, apologies for getting all emo on you there, I tend to get a little passionate talking about my favorite games! May you all have a lovely Christmas and raise a beer to a 2014 full of awesome next gen games. I look forward to naming Fallout 4 my GOTY (there I go dreaming again)