It’s been a big year for video games. The latest consoles from Sony and Microsoft arrived with a splash, selling millions of units and making huge waves in the media; new competitors also took the field, including the Android-powered Ouya; and we even got a sneak-peek of the long anticipated Steam Machine from Valve.
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Of course, anyone who actually plays games knows software matters more than hardware. Fortunately, the industry delivered on that account too: there were more good games released in 2013 than any one person could reasonably play, and enough great games to please even the crustiest of critics.
Last week, I joined a group of Forbes contributors who write about games to collaborate on a list of the best games of the year. We each submitted our own top ten, and the list consisted of our collective top five. It’s a solid ranking, but I also want to share my original ballot.
The titles that follow are the ten games published in 2013 that I personally enjoyed the most. Some are big-budget action adventures, and other are small art games, but they all achieved something special. They’re listed in alphabetical order –I haven’t ranked them against each other, since it’s weird to compare a tiny work of experimental fiction against a $200 million budget first-person-shooter.
Developed by Irrational Games. Published by 2K Games.
Designer Ken Levine makes the best big-budget games in the business. The floating city of Columbia provides one of the most visually stunning settings for any video game, ever, and the game’s story and atmosphere are enthralling. I rarely find myself saying this, but I can’t wait for a sequel so I can get another taste of the city.
Civilization V: Brave New World
Developed by Firaxis Games. Published by 2K Games.
I’m a huge fan of Sid Meier’s turn-based strategy games, and counted 2010′s Civilization V not only among the best games of that year, but the best of the storied franchise. This year’s Brave New World expansion made a great game even better, introducing a new cultural victory, expanded diplomatic options, and a world congress that helps keep the game tight and competitive even through the formerly-saggy modern eras.
Developed by The Fullbright Company.
This first-person interactive story is a great example of why games don’t need combat to be compelling –or any action at all, really. Players explore an empty house looking for clues about what happened to their missing family, and piece together a narrative from bits of left-behind domestic detritus. It’s thoughtful, engrossing, and emotionally challenging.
Developed by Suspicious Developments.
This noir puzzle platformer –the first release by former video game journalist Tom Francis– is awesomely stylish and clever. The dialog is funny, the action is addictive, and the game is terrifically fun.
Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine
Developed by Pocketwatch Games. Published by Majesco Entertainment.
Don’t be fooled by the retro 8-bit style –Monaco is a sophisticated modern stealth game that features incredibly addictive multiplayer action. Play cooperatively with a few friends as one of eight different thieves working on a heist, and it’s like you’re one of Danny Ocean’s gang, only cooler. The single-player campaign is fun, too.
Developed by Lucas Pope.
Who would have guessed that a border control simulator could be so compelling and evocative? Each immigrant arriving at the Arstotzkan border has their own story, and the choices you make about who may enter and who must leave make for a surprisingly emotional experience.
The Last Of Us
Developed by Naughty Dog. Published by Sony Computer Entertainment.
This summer’s blockbuster game is as good as you’ve heard –gorgeous graphics and sound, immersive gameplay, compelling characters, fantastic performances, and a riveting story. Not just one of the very best games of the year, but one of the best games of a console generation and the best-ever PlayStation 3 exclusive.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Developed and published by Nintendo.
The best title in over a decade from Nintendo’s famous franchise is everything a Zelda game should be –bright, fun, and epic. But it’s also surprisingly challenging (the puzzles are some of the best in the series) and offers players uncharacteristic freedom to explore Hyrule on their own terms.
The Stanley Parable
Developed by Davey Wreden/Galactic Cafe.
This work of interaction fiction parodies and critiques the conventions of modern video games –including itself. If you’re the kind of person who likes to think about games, this is a must-play –don’t read anything else about it, just play and discover for yourself.
Super Mario 3D World
Developed and published by Nintendo.
A nearly perfect Mario game, offering the same bright worlds and classic gameplay that make the franchise a favorite, but adding just enough new power-ups and abilities to keep things interesting and fresh. The four-player co-op mode may be the best multiplayer experience in any Mario platformer since 1983′s Mario Bros.
Want to know how a pen-and-paper role-playing game gave birth to the video game industry? Order my book, Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and The People Who Play It. And follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Google +.
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