2013 was a year unlike any other for me. It was a year of diversification, as I played more games of varying genres and for more platforms than I can ever recall. Whereas in years past, I would generally gravitate toward one platform or genre above all others, in 2013, I branched out, tried new things, and had a blast. As a result, whittling the list down to 10 was a serious challenge.
I marveled at blockbusters like Battlefield 4 and Grand Theft Auto V, spending countless hours online with my buddies in the large-scale military shooter and wreaking havoc and destruction with my pals Michael, Franklin, and Trevor in Rockstar's acclaimed open-world game. I am a sucker for big-budget, large-scale entertainment across all mediums, and these two games lived up to (nearly) every ounce of expectation I had going in.
Gears of War: Judgment, from People Can Fly and Epic Games, was also a major highlight for me this year. I was enamored with the way its story played out through flashbacks, providing a glimpse into the franchise I know so well, but in a different and unique way. And its multiplayer component shook things up enough to make the experience feel fresh while retaining the core features that drew me to the series in the first place.
2013 was also the year that a video game finally made me cry. You guessed it, it was Naughty Dog's acclaimed PlayStation 3 action game The Last of Us that brought the waterworks forth from my eyes like water out of a faucet. (OK, that's an exaggeration.) The crying came after the end of the prologue chapter. If you've played the game, you know. It was an excellent (and painful) narrative device that kept me hooked for the duration of the campaign.
Continuing the narrative theme, Crystal Dynamics blew me away with its Tomb Raider reboot. It told a convincing and compelling origin story, tracing Lara's trajectory from an untested academic to a battle-hardened adventurer. I wanted more from the multiplayer mode, but that wasn't enough to bring the experience down for me.
But it wasn't all about big-budget blockbuster games for me this year. I was charmed by the stunning art and unique control mechanics of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. This tale of loss and redemption from Starbreeze Studios and Swedish director Josef Fares was unlike anything I've played before. And my faith in zombie games was restored after playing State of Decay, which emphasizes intelligent decision making through its permadeath feature.
On the portable side, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon stole my heart and entranced me with its puzzles and comically spooky atmosphere. It didn't hurt, either, that the game's hilarious animations kept a smile on my face throughout. It's too bad the Year of Luigi is coming to an end, but I'm sure we'll see Mario's younger brother again.
Since I am a glutton for punishment, Derek Yu's new version of Spelunky satisfied my need for frustration this year to great effect. If learning through failure is the best way to grow as a person, Spelunky should be taught in classrooms. This game is hard.
2013 also marked my modest return to PC gaming, fueled by Valve's free-to-play strategy game Dota 2. This game makes you think; it requires you to plan out your moves and execute without fault. And further, its free-to-play economy is balanced and fair, providing what should be an example for others going forward.