Well, THAT was a big year.
We’re not just talking about the launch of two new consoles in the same month or the fact that Grand Theft Auto V blew every launch sales record out of the water -- we’re talking about how, from exciting beginning to glorious end, 2013 was packed with terrific games -- some of the best we’ve ever played. Take, for example, the 20 winners of Yahoo’s Best of 2013 Awards. But just as 2013 was a year of change for the industry, we’ve decided to change up our awards. Gone are the traditional genre awards (do people really think about games in terms of genres anymore?), replaced by what’s obviously the most effective way to get anything done on the internet: a big honking list. Forget genres and platforms -- the games below are all winners, though we’ve listed them in order of awesomeness, culminating in our overall 2013 Game of the Year winner. Agree? Disagree? Ring in! And for heaven’s sake, be sure to play some of these. They really are very good. Yahoo Games: Best of 2013 Awards The sublime racing sim was a stellar start for the Xbox One. The cars and controls have never fared better, while the interesting online Drivatar feature lured us back time and again. Pity the poor underwater stars of this properly-named mobile breakout. First they get caught on a line, they then get blown to smithereens by the most bloodthirsty fisherman this side of Quint from Jaws. Good thing it’s such great fun. There’s a good reason the latest NBA 2K game is the best-selling sports game on the next-gen systems: it’s fantastic. Glance at it and you’ll think it’s a live broadcast; play it and you’ll be thrilled it’s not. Katie returns home from a trip to Europe to find her family’s new home deserted. What happened? That’s for you to find out in this innovative indie hit. Piecing together the mystery is just part of the fun, as Gone Home truly celebrates the art of fine storytelling with its non-traditional narrative and wonderfully realized world.
Stupid, brash, puerile, ridiculous: Saints Row IV is all of these things, and that’s why we love it. No game released in 2013 -- or since the last Saints Row, really -- managed to toe the line between brilliant, high-octane action and laugh-out-loud insanity quite like this alien-infested, open-world romp.
What happens when you marry the talents of revered Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli with a robust, Pokemon-esque role-playing game? You get a truly unique fantasy world, a playable cartoon bursting with charm and packing a surprising amount of depth. Stanley works in an office, but something tells Stanley there’s more out there for him. Technically that something is a someone, a narrator who may or may not have it out for Stanley. That’s the premise for this sharp, self-referential, hysterically astute adventure game, one that breaks down every video game trope into a mind-bending trip through What It Means To Be A Gamer. Riffing on themes of American exceptionalism, racism and class inequality, this shooter from the mind of visionary game maker Ken Levine was a bold, bloody treat. We were captivated by the twisting tale of Booker and Elizabeth – even its contentious final act. This minimalist co-op adventure game doesn’t seem like much: you play as two brothers out to find medicine and save their father. But with its innovative control scheme (you control the siblings at the same time), beautiful environments, and emotionally impactful tale, Brothers turns into one of the year’s most memorable experiences. Our favorite free-to-play game of 2013 wasn’t actually free-to-play for us, because we happily handed over plenty of cash to developer Blue Manchu for crafting possibly the most addictive game of the year. Effortlessly blending collectible cards with turn-based strategy, Card Hunter’s dedication to both great gameplay and its old-school Dungeons and Dragons roots tugged at our geek heartstrings. And wallets. Call it a text adventure, or perhaps an adventurous novella. Device 6 is tough to describe but simple to play, a modern-day MYST tailored for touchscreens. It’s eerie, it’s puzzling, and it’s one of the most forward-thinking games we played (and read) all year. Keeping a franchise interesting year after year is tough work, but Ubisoft proved up to the task with this swashbuckling take on their stealth blockbuster. An addictive mix of on-foot action and naval exploration, it was a treat on every platform – especially the PS4 and Xbox One, where its huge open world turned into a true treasure.
The long-dormant roguelike genre is enjoying a serious renaissance; the awesome Rogue Legacy melds it with platforming action to wonderful effect. Its unique spin on classic s like Castlevania and Ghosts N Goblins – you jump around and fight monsters, but the real key is giving your future children a better chance to succeed -- is at once familiar and fresh.
He might not enjoy the name recognition of Mario or the pop-culture potency of Lara Croft, but the limbless wonder Rayman is every bit the platform game star. The follow-up to last year’s terrific Rayman Origins nails that home with oodles of charm and more wildly creative levels than you can shake a stick at. If you had arms. From the makers of LittleBigPlanet comes a game just as adorable, but a lot more focused. Tearaway’s jaw-dropping papercraft visuals will bring you in, but it’s the game’s clever use of just about every doohickey on your PS Vita that will keep you gaming until the sun comes up. It wasn’t a great year for the Wii U, but Nintendo saved face by looking to the most famous mug in gaming. Mario’s latest is among his best, a beautifully polished essay in Platforming 101. Creative, ever-changing levels kept us on our toes -- or paws, in the case of the Cat Suit -- and played equally well alone or with friends. Lara Croft returned with a vengeance in 2013. This reboot was everything we hoped it would be: vibrant, shocking, and all kinds of fun. Featuring spot-on controls and terrific acting from newcomer Camilla Luddington, Tomb Raider took Lara to hell and back -- and we enjoyed every minute of the adventure. It was a banner year for Nintendo’s 3DS handheld, and while games like Animal Crossing: New Leaf and Fire Emblem could easily have made our Best of 2013 list, neither could wrest the Tri-Force from the company’s remarkable new take on an old Zelda. A Link Between Worlds wowed us with its smooth look and perfect controls, but what really sold us was the game’s brilliant design. The best Zelda in a decade? You bet.
There’s a reason it’s the best-selling game ever. Rockstar’s record-setting open-world epic isn’t just a good GTA game, it’s perhaps the best GTA yet. The winding tale of Michael, Franklin, and Trevor lies at the center of the sandbox sprawl of Los Santos, but it was the game’s climactic heists and ridiculously over-the-top missions that kept us coming back for more.
By the time we finished our 2013 Game of the Year, we were emotionally exhausted. Tense, moving, and thrilling, The Last of Us manages to find beauty in the bleakest of worlds. It’s a gritty survival game that plays with the very notion of survival: how far will you go to save those you love? How can you save humanity if you don’t act humanely? Buoyed by developer Naughty Dog’s genius scripting and bolstered by the phenomenal acting of Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, The Last of Us is more than the sum of its parts. It’s a moment, an instant classic, and the most important video game released in 2013.