Game of the Year 2013

Chris Watters' Top 10 Games For 2013

Resonance and renewal.

What do you remember at the end of the year? When you reflect on the past 12 months of your life, what kinds of moments and experiences remain steadfast in your memory? My most erosion-resistant memories of video games are often made when the subject matter of the game resonates with other things in my life. In 2013, a beloved family member of mine passed away, so it comes as little surprise that in looking for themes among my favorite games of the year, I find loss is well represented.

What's more surprising, and pleasantly so, is how many games there were this year that dealt with loss in profound and meaningful ways. Some tackled it head on, like Beyond: Two Souls. Quantic Dream's technical artistry and Ellen Page's emotive acting brought Jodie to life, and my choices and their consequences at the end of that game brought me to tears. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons asked me to do things I've never had to do in a game, and made the physical act of doing those things, the actual motion of my hands on the controller, an important part of the emotional experience. That kind of artistry, the kind that takes a thing you've taken for granted and makes it meaningful, is one of the most precious things to be found in this medium I love so much.

Even games that didn't make loss a pillar of the experience still recognized its power and presence in our lives. Gone Home's heart-wrenching notes between young lovers forced apart portrayed an everyday intimacy rarely seen in games, while the threat of permanent death in Fire Emblem: Awakening infused the engaging tactical battles with the sobering weight of consequence.

Of course, it wasn't all heavy, heartfelt gaming for me this year. It was also a year of renewal, one in which I found new joy and satisfaction in games that were built on very familiar core experiences. The fact that I'd enjoyed rhythm-fueled platforming before didn't stop Bit.Trip Presents...Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien from captivating me with its exuberance. Though I've been on many adventures as Lara Croft (and Nathan Drake), the return and reimagining of Tomb Raider swept me up in its enthralling mix of exploration, acrobatics, and combat.

I spent countless hours this year with my personal game of 2012, Spelunky, but did that stop me from pouring many more into another challenging platformer, Rogue Legacy? It most certainly did not. I expected to enjoy myself once again in the online competition of Battlefield 4, where variety and variability still leave me with a new story every time I play, but I wasn't looking for much from The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. Yet instead of another increasingly frustrating incarnation of that beloved series, I got something new, something vital that rekindled the flagging flame of my Zelda fandom into a roaring blaze. It seems we often have call to lament repetition in game design, so it's wonderful when familiar genres can give rise to exciting new experiences.

Which brings me to The Last of Us, my personal game of the year for 2013. The single-player campaign didn't rewrite the book on third-person action, but it did show that there are still stories to tell and depths to be plumbed. The relationship between Joel and Ellie was not clean, was not pretty. Sometimes you knew where it was going, and sometimes you weren't sure where it had just been. Subtlety and uncertainty are tough things to get right in storytelling, and though I'm not sure The Last of Us got it all right, it certainly had me hooked from beginning to end.

And where the campaign left off, the competitive multiplayer took over, keeping me hooked for months with its brutal brand of tense, dangerous combat. In each match, I struggled to gather resources and grow stronger, knowing that only by taking risks would I be better equipped to survive those risky situations. The vicious immediacy of life and death in each match was invigorating, but it was the looming struggle to gather enough supplies to keep my survivor camp alive that really stressed me out. In a good way, though. In a really good way.

Old things made new and stories with emotional resonance--these things seem to define the list of my favorite games of 2013. Compiling it gave me good cause to reflect on my year of life and gaming, and helped remind me of some of the reasons I love games so much. I encourage you to find your own time for reflection and make your own list this holiday season. You may find more to be thankful for than you expected. Cheers!

Chris Watters's Top 10

Discussion

27 comments
Foxxkp
Foxxkp

yeah Beyond: Two Souls

Zevvion
Zevvion

Nice to see Tomb Raider getting recognition. That game is much overlooked. 

griphinite
griphinite

I love how much the GS staff loves Gone Home.

wgerardi
wgerardi

Beautiful list, Chris. Love all of the GS peeps, but I think your list might be my favorite. Also, wanted to say again that I absolutely loved your write-up on Brothers a few months back!

Iddhi
Iddhi

Respect due for Runner 2!

Never got boring or annoying; and the difficulty was just right.


And of course, the Reverse Merman, best video game character of the year!

neowarrior121
neowarrior121

im glade to see link up there, tho the zelda games are a bit tiring in terms of them being nearly recreated as much as mario games. out of all of them there link is probably the one i will get for necessity  

kachal
kachal

what about Spelunky for PS3? it was released in 2013.

VintAge68
VintAge68

Great list: Battlefield 4, The Last Of Us, and Fire Emblem Awakening are also some of my personal 2013 favorites.

rskueem
rskueem

Nice list Chris! Even though gta5 and ac4 are not in the list, i kid, i kid :D

superbuuman
superbuuman

Nice list man..good to see indie titles making the list. :)

55584623
55584623

Gone Home is great, but personally i would pick Stanley Parable. man the idea of the game is so simple and yet clever!

isildor81
isildor81

gone home in this one too? is that really good?

Wej_accept_it
Wej_accept_it

The only things that kept me from selling my PS3 when I got my PS4 was wanting to replay TLOU and start playing BTS

pcty
pcty

Happy to see Fire Emblem in so many different lists.

eBentl
eBentl

Surprised there aren't more FPS titles in here

deadpeasant
deadpeasant

Good on ya Chris! the only one so far with the best game as their number 1!

Chris_Watters
Chris_Watters moderator staff

@kachal I chose Spelunky as my personal GOTY in 2012, so I didn't put it on the list this year, even though I played the crap out of it on the Vita. Such an incredible game!

Chris_Watters
Chris_Watters moderator staff

@isildor81 It's a pretty remarkable game, with characters that showed a kind of intimacy and authenticity that is rare in media. 

Chris_Watters
Chris_Watters moderator staff

@pcty Oh, heck yeah. SUCH a good game. I like the part where it becomes a breeding experiment!

Chris_Watters
Chris_Watters moderator staff

@eBentl I had fun with a lot of FPSes this year, but none of them really captivated me. Payday 2 was a close contender, but yeah, only BF4's mad, mad multiplayer made it on.

hystavito
hystavito

@Chris_Watters@isildor81Rare in media, not just games?  That's a might big statement :).  I feel like people from literature communities would argue the hell out of that :).

pcty
pcty

@Chris_Watters@pctyThat was a little creepy... Not as creepy as  Conception or Agarest War but still creepy.