2013 feels a lot like that last vacation you take with your friends before an impending graduation. It’s filled with profound memories, reverie (perhaps drunken, or not), setbacks on the road, years-long gestating confessions to close friends, personal revelations; days and nights suffused with the overwhelming joy of imminent freedom, but bruised by the sadness of parting ways and unfamiliar routines that are about to take over. This is how the games I played this year affected me. There were awesome games, even instant classics, but they were also depressing. If 2012 was a year emblematic of triumph and redemption, 2013 was about desperate survival and hopelessness. Games like Brothers, The Last of Us, and Metro: Last Light beat me about the face and neck with their spirit-crushing aesthetes as much as their brilliance. It’s brought me to the point where I can appreciate their accomplishments, but I’m not prepared to reward them. The time isn't right for me to properly reflect on this year's heavier fare. Right now, I’m enjoying the happier games- the sunny memories of drunken days on the beach.
Note: I don’t think there’d be anything wrong with me putting Year Walk and Device 6 on this list, because they just might be the best games to release this year (and Simogo is ALL UP IN that Best Developer tier), but given the ample opportunity I’ve had to discuss them, I prefer to highlight other games here instead.
Favorite Game Released Before 2013, Played in 2013: Guild Wars 2
This category is thick with sports titles and the many other MOBAs I got into this year that aren't Dota, but I have to give the honor to Guild Wars 2. I don't truck with MMOs, but this is one for which I always regret not having or making enough time. It's just terrifically presented, full of great dialogue and style choices that put your unique character at the center of their own heroic story. I love it, and wish I had more time for it.
5. MLB 13: The Show
This could be considered the year I discovered sports games. Having never enjoyed anything like this outside the occasional bout in Fight Night, I suddenly fell hard for the likes of Madden and Sony’s very accommodating baseball sim. It is the only cartridge I have in my Vita, and is likely to stay that way until my career as a starting pitcher for my beloved Cardinals comes to an end.
4. Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
I never think about this game without pausing for a moment to say, “wait, Call of Juarez, really?” Yes, really. Not only is it punching hilariously above its weight, it has the best story of any FPS in a year that had its fair share of good FPS stories.
3. Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes
I mentioned this in my review, but Fallen Enchantress greatest strength is how easily it pulls you into the little micro-narratives that spin out of each campaign. It grips, despite its modest production values, and holds you fast to its various turf wars, politics, and military campaigns better than any other 4X I’ve played.
2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
I’ll be honest and admit that I haven’t finished this yet. The reason is simple: this is videogame scotch, aged in Nintendo’s cellars since 1991. I’m sipping it slowly, letting it command the palate for as long as it possibly can.
1. Dota 2
To continue the alcohol metaphor, Dota 2 more closely resembles a Gueuze (pronounced “go-zeh”), a salty, sour Belgian beer that immediately fights off anyone who isn’t determined to develop a taste for it. The game is merciless, even without a fractious team calling attention to the many mistakes one will make as a novice, but once the training wheels are off, boy howdy is this one of the most satisfying games ever made. I love it because I’m never at a loss for new characters, tactics, item builds, and team strategies to learn. It constantly teaches me, and I keep returning to prove that I can master its lessons.
Honorable Mentions: BioShock Infinite, The Last of Us, Metro: Last Light, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Papers, Please