2013 was a really great year for video games. Maybe not the best year of all time, but a year packed with ambitious, surprising new titles.
It was also a year of new benchmarks, with games like Grand Theft Auto V blowing away all previous sales records, and two new consoles from Sony and Microsoft.
And now that 2013 has drawn to a close—or nearly, at least—it’s time for us to pick the very best of the best.
Here at Forbes we have a diverse array of writers and tastes, and no two writers’ “Best Of” lists are alike. For our official Forbes Best Video Games of 2013 list, we pooled our own personal picks to figure out which games deserved the top spots.
We were aiming for a Top 5, but due to some tie-breaking, this is in fact a Top 6.
6. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
“A Link Between Worlds does what The Legend of Zelda has always done best,” writes Andy Robertson, “it revisits a familiar location and make it feel fresh and new.”
In this case, the familiar is the old SNES game A Link to the Past. And in many ways, playing this new 3DS game is like visiting an old, familiar friend. Of course, all the basic components of a Zelda game are here: Hyrule, Zelda in need of saving, the threat of Ganon, the puzzles and dungeons and bombs. A sword and a shield.
And in the spirit of all the best Zelda games, everything in A Link Between Worlds fits perfectly together. Even the new mechanic, which allows Link to turn into a painting to help traverse new areas (and a new world entirely) feels right at home.
Robertson calls the 20 hours or so of gameplay “dense and sumptuous” and I can’t help but agree. The game also topped the Forbes list of Best Handheld Games of 2013.
5. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Dave Thier called Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon “a triumph” in his review, noting that the game’s writing “straddles the line between knowing irony and genuine love at all times.”
The game also made the Forbes Best Open World Video Games of 2013 list, in which Thier writes “Ubisoft gave us a rare example of a world that felt distinct, engaging and fun all at the same time.”
Many here at Forbes would agree, your humble narrator included.
“Neon pink, over-the-top, and mechanically sound, Blood Dragon is not only one of the best shooters of the year but one of the best games period,” I wrote recently, also noting that the game “serves as pretty poignant meta-commentary on video games themselves.”
4. Tomb Raider
In fourth place we have the reboot of the popular Tomb Raider franchise, a game which at first inspired in me a deep antipathy that eventually gave way to genuine fun and admiration. It’s a visually breathtaking adventure game, replete with stunning vistas and wild stunts, that starts a bit slow but quickly becomes a joy to play.
Dave Thier praised the reboot and origin story of Lara Croft, saying that it’s “wonderfully executed—you feel like you’re assembling a video game legend from scratch.”
Paul Tassi called it “the best game in the series in over a decade” in spite of his gripes about combat and various other of the game’s limitations.
My own summation: “Despite all this ludonarrative dissonance and disharmonious rule-breaking, and in spite of Lara Croft (and the game’s) identity crisis, and regardless of whether the developers want to hold your hand way too much, Tomb Raider is still a remarkably good game.”
“The best single player games are experiences,” writes Daniel Tack, “and Tomb Raider provides an experience in excess.”
3. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
I didn’t expect to like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag after the disappointment of Assassin’s Creed III.
Already the winner of Forbes’ Best Open World Video Games of 2013 list, now the game slides into third place in our Best of 2013 list, and deservedly so.
Black Flag, Dave Thier insists, “remembers something that previous games in the series have struggled with—that it is not enough to make a historical sandbox, we must also make a fun historical sandbox.”
And what a sandbox it is. Black Flag’s Caribbean is vibrant and alive, and there’s no shortage of exploration, assassination, and naval combat to keep you occupied for hours upon hours. Fortunately all those hours are spent with the wonderful Edward Kenway, a far better protagonist than last year’s Connor.
If you’ve ever fantasized about a life of piracy, Black Flag is your game.
2. The Last of Us
Naughty Dog’s bleak, post-apocalyptic adventure was one of the most deeply moving gaming experiences of the year, with one of the more surprising and controversial endings of any video game I can recall playing.
Paul Tassi described the game as “visually astonishing, beautifully acted and exciting to play” and called it “the answer to so many of my most common complaints about the repetitiveness of shooters in this era, and in many ways, it’s an undeniable work of art.”
I agree wholeheartedly, noting in my review that “the story is among the best I’ve encountered in a video game. We’re asked hard questions about what we value and what we would do when presented with hard choices about the greater good. The answers we’re given are ambiguous at best.” Ambiguity in a video game is a rare and precious find, though hopefully less rare as video game stories mature.
A bleak but powerful story, beautiful graphics, some of the best voice-acting ever encountered in a video game, and an ending that leaves you more than a bit shook up, The Last of Us stood neck and neck with our Game of the Year.
Which you can read about if you turn the page….
Game of the Year – BioShock Infinite
For me, personally, that moment when you first walk into the flying city of Columbia and encounter the carnival, the hover-craft with the barber-shop quartet singing Beach Boys songs in entirely the wrong era…I can’t really recall another moment like that in all my years playing video games. That sense of awe. It was almost palpable.
“It’s spectacle, and it is glorious,” writes Dave Thier. “Then, about fifteen minutes in, the main character slams a spinning blade into a guard’s neck and sprays blood everywhere. We’re back in a video game.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with being in a video game, of course, but Dave’s point is taken.
While everyone at Forbes seemed to agree that there was too much shooting and not enough other stuff—puzzles, exploration, better magic—there was something about the sweep and ambition of BioShock Infinite that captured our collective imagination.
The characters, Booker DeWitt, Elizabeth, Comstock, even the Songbird—each of them was memorable, fully-realized, and unique. Each was beautifully acted. But perhaps the greatest character of all was the city itself.
Paul Tassi mused that Columbia “might be the most memorable location for a game I’ve ever experienced,” echoing Daniel Nye Griffiths who calls the floating city “a tremendous achievement—a wonderfully researched and realized place.”
Daniel concludes: “BioShock Infinite is not the most polished shooter you will ever play. It is certainly not the most complex RPG. However, it is a virtuoso piece of storytelling, and an example of what can be done with the big-budget shooter as a tool for innovation as well as a cash generator. When it succeeds, it succeeds on its own terms. When it fails, it is not for lack of ambition.”
For my part, I described the game as something of a page-turner, calling it “the first game I’ve played in quite a while that I really didn’t feel like putting down at any point. I wanted to play it right through to the end, and when it was over I wanted to talk about it over drinks, to unravel what it all meant.”
And therein lies one of the game’s best qualities: Like The Last of Us, it inspired some truly great discussion, debate, and other conversation. It’s a game that makes you think. Even if it never really evolves the first-person shooter genre from a mechanical standpoint, BioShock Infinite is a hugely ambitious game, in terms of both story and scope.
Like all the games on this list, BioShock Infinite was not a perfect game, and as critics, if you follow any of these links back, you’ll find praise intermingled with generous criticism. No game is perfect. Each has its flaws. Tomb Raider had too many Quick Time Events; Assassin’s Creed IV’s combat is too simple; The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite and Tomb Raider all could have used less combat in general.
But these criticisms aside, 2013 was still a remarkable year for ambitious games, both great and samll. Far too many to list here, so we’ll end with the runners-up.
Rayman Legends - Ubisoft’s quirky, frenetic platformer was especially charming on the Wii U. The lovely visuals and manic level design led to one of the most entertaining games of the year. Gushingly, I appraised the game’s strengths, calling the title “a marvelous, hilarious, gorgeous 2D platformer that never stops moving relentlessly forward.”
Gone Home - This oddly controversial game won high praise and faced fierce criticism both for its avant garde approach to gameplay and its apparent lack of any gameplay whatsoever. One of those titles people love or hate. “Most of all,” writes Daniel Nye Griffiths, “Gone Home is a hugely accomplished first game from a small studio.”
Grand Theft Auto V - While it may go down in history as the fastest-selling game of all time, Grand Theft Auto V was also a masterpiece of open-world game design. And while it stuck to largely familiar franchise territory, courting controversy at every step, the game did try something quite new in its triad of protagonists. At the time of its release, I called the game “a triumph of escapism and variety.” And I still think that about sums up the game’s strengths.
Super Mario 3D World - The Wii U’s first real “system seller,” Super Mario 3D World is an enormously polished, well-designed game. Gorgeous presentation and fun challenges make this one of the best Mario games in years. Andy Robertson, while praising its focus on collaboration, called it “a game packed full of imagination and entertainment.”
Gunpoint - This stealth indie puzzler probably flew under far too many radars in 2013. It’s a wonderfully challenging, addictive experience, though.
Papers Please - Speaking of addictive indie games, this seemingly-mundane game of border-crossing management pulls a surprisingly powerful emotional punch, earning it Forbes’ Best Indie Game of 2013.
The Stanley Parable - I haven’t played this one, but Daniel Nye Griffiths writes that it “is an important game in part because it highlights the gap between video games and some other forms of critical discourse” and “stands both as an enjoyable puzzle and an interesting counterpoint to the approaches of “AAA art games” like Spec Ops: The Lineor Bioshock Infinite.”
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