BEST: 10. Papers, Please
In a fictional communist country located somewhere between Soviet Russia and Kafka’s brain, you play an immigration officer struggling with a mountain of paperwork. Creator Lucas Pope’s ”dystopian document thriller” is a throwback puzzler with big ideas about humanity and the information age. More impressive: It’s a game about boredom that’s actually fun.
BEST: 9. Assassin's Creed: Black Flag / Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon (TIE)
Ubisoft franchises their games with ruthless efficiency. So Black Flag and Blood Dragon are both variations on solid, rigid gameplay formats. But what variations! Black Flag lets you play pirate on the high seas. Blood Dragon is an ’80s wonderland of cyborgs and neon and Michael Biehn. Together, they’re the interactive equivalent of gourmet fast food.
BEST: 8. Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
The 1992 Super Nintendo classic A Link to the Past is a tough act to follow, but Nintendo dared to make a direct sequel — and it paid off. This handheld Zelda links to the past, featuring a similar overworld and musical score, but it opens up the series’ rigid structure by letting you rent any weapon and tackle its devious dungeons as you please. It’s a great game in itself, but it also portends even greater things to come in Link’s future.
BEST: 7. Gone Home
On a thundery night in 1995, Kaitlin Greenbriar returns to an empty home. You guide her on a search for her family; to say more would spoil things. The Fullbright Company’s debut is a uniquely precise terror-of-suburbia drama. It’s also a heartfelt ode to the analog era: Rarely have videotapes looked so scary, or so sad.
BEST: 6. Tomb Raider
After two mediocre Angelina Jolie movies and a string of so-so games, Lara Croft had lost her luster. But it was fully restored with this bold reboot that saw a young, inexperienced Lara shipwrecked on a mysterious island. Beaten and battered by the harsh climate and hostile locals, Lara fights for her life in this thrilling action-adventure that focuses equally on combat and exploration. As she wades ever deeper into the Heart of Darkness, forced to kill to survive, she is irrevocably changed into the badass heroine we know and love.
BEST: 5. Rayman Legends
Vibrant, gorgeously rendered and featuring brilliant level design, Legends is easily the best 2-D platformer of the year. But it might secretly be the year’s best racing game, as you hold down the right trigger to sprint and find the perfect line through levels. With daily and weekly challenges that are constantly updated, you can race against other players’ ghosts and see how you compare on online leaderboards. The game consistently rewards you with unlockable levels and items, making the already addictive game almost endlessly replayable.
BEST: 4. Super Mario 3D World
Mario is rivaled only by Madonna for his ability to reinvent himself and stay relevant since the ’80s. Madonna may get a shiny latex catsuit, but Mario gets a Cat Suit that lets him scale walls and pounce on enemies. He’s joined by Luigi, Toad and Princess Peach (she’s playable for the first time since 1988’s Super Mario Bros. 2) in 3D World, a wildly inventive multiplayer platformer that introduces new twists and powerups at every turn. The best Wii U game to date, Mario offers more variety, secrets and sheer joy in one world than most games manage in their entirety.
BEST: 3. Grand Theft Auto V
”Worldbuilding” is one of those High Nerd concepts that went conventional long ago. But Rockstar’s latest conjures up the blissed-out wonder you only get from a fully imagined alterna-universe. The story is inessential, the characters boring. You play so you can explore every micro-detailed street corner. Ideally driving a cool car. Or a fighter jet.
BEST: 2. The Last of Us
After three rollicking adventures with Uncharted‘s Nathan Drake, Naughty Dog went decidedly darker with The Last of Us and delivered one of the most emotionally affecting stories in gaming. Hardened smuggler Joel is tasked with transporting teenage Ellie across post-epidemic America, battling zombie-like infected and worse, other humans, as they struggle to survive. Somber and moody, the game is unflinchingly brutal and unsettling. Joel is unheroic and shockingly selfish in the lengths he goes to protect Ellie, and the morally ambiguous ending is quietly devastating.
BEST: 1. Bioshock Infinite
A city in the sky and a girl in trouble, a damaged hero and a villainous philosopher-prophet, symbolic baptism imagery and symbolic George Washington robots firing symbolic chainguns: The best game of 2013 was a reckless action fantasy, half a decade in the making and so ludicrously ambitious that the word ”infinite” was right there in the title. Call it delirium noir. Lead designer Ken Levine adopted the structure of his original BioShock, but where the original game was a bleakly cerebral tour through an undersea hell, Infinite was a color-blasted and emotional trip through a vanilla-sky metropolis.
Emphasis on ”trip”: The storyline is a tesseract of quantum-druggy incoherence, with American history refracted through several space-time continua. But the moment-to-moment experience is pleasantly straightforward: Here’s a game about building the perfect world, and then burning that world to the ground. BioShock Infinite is a monument of sacred-profane entertainment: Thrill-drunk Bullet Porn about the salvation of the human soul. Infinite? Close enough.
NEXT: The worst videogames of 2013.
WORST: 3. Single-Player Campaigns in Major Shooter Franchises
Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4 are two flavors of tedious futuristic warfare. Both have fine multiplayer systems, but the campaigns feel like avant-garde experiments in anti-gameplay.
WORST: 2. Ryse: Son of Rome
Like an instant replay that never got played, this lame Xbox One launch title fetishistically zooms in on every repetitive slow-motion kill. Dumb title. Dumb game.
WORST: 1. Knack
This simplistic kiddie action-platformer is oddly charmless, with obnoxious characters and a punishing difficulty level that prove repellent to gamers of all ages.