It's been a big year for gaming. Not only did we see the arrival of the two big next-gen systems, but we also saw developers squeezing some amazing technical and artistic achievements out of seven-year-old consoles. Which titles stood above the crowd? We polled our writers for their picks for the top games of the year.
Considering the original Bioshock is still regarded as one of the best games of the last decade, Bioshock Infinite had some pretty big shoes to fill right out of the gate. Fortunately, the follow-up title from Irrational Games didn't just live up to its predecessor, but actually surpassed it in many respects.
Through the eyes of Booker DeWitt, a man on a seemingly straightforward mission ("Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt") players are able to explore the airborne city of Columbia in striking detail and engage with its eclectic inhabitants. Everything from the familiar music emanating from abandoned radios to the handy Sky-Line system brings the floating society to life and sets the bar for immersive environments in video games. The people you meet along the way are equally memorable, particularly Elizabeth, who proves to be a useful companion on your journey and a more captivating character than even the protagonist.
All this along with a mind-bending story, some inventive combat, and a slew of unique enemies combines to make Bioshock Infinite a benchmark in video games that people will be discussing and replaying for years to come.
- Jonathan Fincher
F1 2013 is Codemasters' fifth official Formula 1 game since securing the rights in 2008, and now that the last kinks in the physics engine have been ironed out, the game is approaching perfection. Depending on your dedication, you can run a quick race, a full race weekend or an entire career starting at the Young Driver Test in Abu Dhabi and your first offer from a team. The addition of classic cars, circuits and scenarios from the 80s and 90s is a perfect accompaniment to the career mode. Be warned, this game is capable of shattering any illusions you have about being capable of getting behind the wheel of a real race car.
- Tim Hanlon
Grand Theft Auto V
GTA V (Grand Theft Auto 5) is one of those rare titles that lived up to the hype. With a five-year development cycle and a budget in excess of most Hollywood blockbusters, GTA V was always going to be good. In reality, it is brilliant.
Every element of GTA V has clearly been honed to perfection, with Rockstar lavishing time and attention on the visuals, the characterization, storyline, missions, soundtrack, dialogue, and everything else you care to mention. Then there is the scope and scale of the whole thing, with a huge map that takes hours to explore on foot, by bike, by car, or even by helicopter.
The characters are crafted so you care about what happens to them. The dialogue will make you laugh, laugh harder, and occasionally cringe; all of which are positives. The missions are varied enough that they never get boring or drag. Los Santos is crafted so expertly that you never quite want to leave its warm embrace.
Once you finish with the main story mode – which takes a long time but never once feels like a slog – there is GTA Online to explore. This is another huge sandbox to play in, with more missions to beat and a whole host of new things to see and do. And all offered free to anyone buying the game.
GTA V is arguably the best open-world game of all time, and I cannot see it being beaten for many years to come. Probably until GTA VI arrives sometime around 2018.
- Dave Parrack
The Last of Us
In 2013 the last thing we needed was yet another zombie apocalypse. But The Last of Us, despite its hordes of undead, reanimated the fetid corpse of the genre by introducing what had always been missing: a soul. The gameplay is rock solid, yes, but it's also perfectly paced, giving us the breathing room to explore beautiful decaying cites (look out for the giraffes), and the nuanced and changing relationship between Ellie and Joel. Too often games emulate horror films to ramp up tension. The Last of Us proves that characterization is at least as effective. It's unashamedly mainstream, but unabashedly human with it – especially its heartbreaking climax. Game of the year? Almost certainly. The game of its generation? Very possibly.
- James Holloway
The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD
Back in 2003, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker was one of the best titles to hit Nintendo's moderately successful GameCube system. It's a testament to the strength of the original just how little was changed for the remake. In terms of gameplay and content, Wind Waker on the Wii U is almost identical to its GameCube counterpart. Instead of overhauling the title, Nintendo opted for a subtle re-tuning, making small but significant changes that improve upon the original's weaker elements.
Branding the game as a straight forward HD remake wouldn't do justice to the title's beautifully re-imagined visuals. The once controversial cell-shaded graphics look stunning in high-definition and represent a graphical high point for the system. The title's lighting is particularly impressive, casting a glossy incandescent glow upon every surface.
Thanks to its reworked looks, sharp gameplay and clever tweaks, the title feels effortlessly fresh from beginning to end, and makes one of the first truly compelling arguments in favor of owning a Wii U. It might not make the strongest case for the platform's unique hardware, but The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD is possibly the best HD remake ever and definitely one of the most enjoyable titles of the year.
- Chris Wood
This year has kept gamers busy with a barrage of quality titles, but none were quite as unique as Papers, Please, which was based on indie developer Lucas Pope's experiences with international travel.
It starts off simply enough, as you're put into the role of a border agent for the overtly corrupt nation of Arstotzka. Each day within the game brings more hopeful entrants, you gain money for how many people you accept or deny based on ever-changing criteria, and that money is put towards feeding and housing your virtual family. After you turn away the first woman excitedly talking about reuniting with her children because she doesn't have the correct form though, you begin to realize that this job is going to be a lot more complicated than you thought.
Pretty soon, you're mixed up in schemes involving bribery, extortion, and even political assassinations, all from behind your cramped office desk. The game's tension arises not from battling hordes of enemies, but from constantly skirting the line between your superiors' demands and your own goals. With most video games today relying on ludicrously high stakes and an arsenal of weapons to drive a story forward, Papers, Please deserves some recognition for creating an intense experience with not much more than a rubber stamp.
- Jonathan Fincher
Super Mario 3D World
It may not be the most original game of the year, but Nintendo, when at its best, has a talent for blending nostalgic gameplay with just enough fresh new ideas. Super Mario 3D World departs from the 2D side-scrolling throwback games that the company has been leaning a bit too hard on, in favor of an experience more in line with Super Mario 64 or Mario Galaxy. Throw in some fantastic level design, four-player co-op, and a bitchin' Cat Suit power-up, and we have the first killer game for the Wii U.
- Will Shanklin
Lara Croft has had a patchy history since bursting onto the video game scene in 1996 in the original Tomb Raider, so the question in everyone's minds was whether this latest installment would be a hit or a miss. Thankfully, the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot, in which developers Crystal Dynamics trod the well-worn path of Hollywood and gave us an origin story, fell firmly within the former camp. Putting players in the tank top of a young Lara Croft who is fresh off the boat, as it were, proved a good move and provided a more satisfying story arc for our heroine.
The third-person shooter combat was solid, with a varied selection of upgradeable weapons (the bow and arrow was my personal favorite), enemies and environments to keep things interesting. The obligatory puzzles were also pitched at the right difficulty level to ensure players had to apply the gray matter but weren't kept away from the action for too long. I can't comment on the multiplayer, but all the elements came together to form a satisfying single player campaign that makes Tomb Raider my personal pick for best game of 2013.
- Darren Quick