I spent most of this year planning a move to California, and as an already massive fan of the series, Grand Theft Auto V was an absolute dream come true for me. I just love being in that world, driving around and listening to music, going for a cycle, and bumping shoulders with people in the street. I get excited about the gameworld in GTA, in the same way I get excited about being in America. It helps that they fixed the shooting, expanded the multiplayer, and actually had interesting characters this time around. But more than that, GTA reached deep inside my dreams and allowed me to explore a place I've always been infatuated with. In fact since moving over I've barely played GTA. I guess I don't need to as much anymore. I wake up in San Andreas every morning now.
My second favorite game of the year had me feeling a lump in my throat within the first 15 minutes. And by the time the credits rolled, I was a sobbing wreck. Not only was BioShock Infinite one of the best PC shooters I've played in years, but it asked difficult questions. It opened up deep wounds I have around the role of faith in our lives. It made me feel crushing empathy for my ancestors affected by Irish diaspora, and bitter rage toward those who took part in racial persecution. Infinite treated me like an adult. It challenged me in ways games rarely do. By the end, I felt like I had grown as an individual, and I don't think you can say that about many games.
I've always enjoyed the Uncharted series, but TLOU was a red-letter day in video game storytelling. For all that David Cage attempted to do with Beyond, that game treated you as a spectator. In TLOU, you grew alongside Joel and Ellie. It's also bleak as hell. TLOU is a game that puts you through hell and has you coming back for more, and that's very special indeed. My love of Tomb Raider, on the other hand, is a lot more mechanical. Tomb Raider, like Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, further down my list, was one of those games that made exploring and completing side objectives an absolute must. Considering the dodgy recent history of both franchises, both games left me pleasantly surprised.
Don't Starve was a game I spent an inordinate amount of time with, purely because I was between houses and sleeping on friends' couches for quite a while this year. It was my laptop companion in which I attempted to stay alive by collecting resources and making sure I came home before dark--much in the same way you do if you're living on someone's couch. Papers, Please was played a lot during this period too. I love a simple, clever game, and Papers, Please is very simple and incredibly clever. It's a game about performing banal, mechanical exercises. But as you progress, you realize it's asking you tough questions about morality, bureaucracy, and the role of authority. And all you're doing is stamping people's passports. I'm still not sure how they pulled it off.
On the other side of the PC indie scene is Surgeon Simulator 2013. I'm a massive fan of a joke taken too far, and perhaps that's why I loved it so much. The premise alone is worth a chuckle, but the execution is absolutely hilarious. Getting an A+ rating after pulling out every organ in a patient's abdomen. Losing your watch in a patient's skull. Performing open-heart surgery in the back of a moving ambulance. Surgeon Simulator is an outstanding exercise in interactive dark comedy, and the funniest game of 2013 by quite a margin.
Forza 5 creeps in here because it's the first non-F1 racing game I've fallen for in a very long time. I wish it had more cars and tracks, but the feeling of retaining grip by throttling the triggers and finding the perfect brake point, thanks to the controller's trigger rumble, is second to none. Plus, they let me race F1 cars against regular street vehicles, which is absolutely ridiculous and great fun.
And finally, my number 10 slot goes to a game I barely played: Dota 2. Whenever you're writing these lists, you have to acknowledge that there are always games and experiences out there that you've just missed out on--that the current gaming zeitgeist can sometimes pass you by and that friends' recommendations are very important. A bunch of my old school mates got really into Dota 2 this year and play with each other from various parts of the world via Skype. Since I moved to California, I've joined them once or twice. Games bringing distant friends together. How can that not make the list?