I can’t say that I really like lists, but I do like ending a year (even though it’s now February) by recapping every game I played and finished that was released that year and attempting to organize them, as if they weren’t just in nebulous groups of “favorites”, “good, but nothing special”, and “meh”.

20. Shadowrun: Returns (PC)

Shadowrun has strong points in its story and writing and it’s combat is OK, but all I can really think about is its weaker aspects like its control and roleplaying game elements.  It’s not bad, but I don’t think it’s very good, either.

19. Papers, Please (PC)

Maybe I’m just an inhuman monster, but I had no problem denying entry to people who didn’t have their papers or detaining anyone that the game allowed me to for a small bonus to keep my head ever so slightly above water, so the moral conundrum meta game was completely lost on me.  I also thought I would enjoy the Highlight’s for kids “What’s wrong with this picture?” more than I actually ended up enjoying it.  I ended up playing Cook, Serve, Delicious! immediately afterwards and enjoyed it much more as a manic stress game.

18. Beyond: Two Souls (PS3)

I’m still waiting for a David Cage/Quantic Dream game to live up to the promise shown in the first level of Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit, but I’m starting realize that it was simply an aberration, and if there ever is an awesome, big budget, high presentation adventure game with interesting situations and good writing, it is not going to come from him.  I do like that there are minor variations to how each scenario in the game plays out that aren’t immediately apparent unless you talk to other people or play the game differently a second or third time around.  It also doesn’t bother me that most of these variations are ultimately meaningless, because that is what games are at this point in time.  Beyond: Two Souls isn’t an abhorrence, especially considering the source, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that someone else could take these resources and do much, much better.

17. Grand Theft Auto V (PS3)

Grand Theft Auto is one of the video game mega franchises that doesn’t really interest me.  GTAV was fine, and I really liked Trevor as a character, but nothing about it really impressed me other than the usual “Wow, they took building an enormous city that feels like it could be real to yet another level”, which is impressive as all hell, but not really something that makes me like a game more.

16. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (3DS)

Luigi’s Mansion is an adorable game.  It’s a game that doesn’t do very much, but what it does, it does very well.  This makes it a great portable game for short sessions, but less appealing if you are looking for something to really sink your teeth into.

15. Gunpoint (PC)

Gunpoint blends a lot of clever gameplay together in a tight package.  It manages to keep itself simple and relies on self imposed stealth challenges and restrictions to flesh out the experience.  It is also a hard game for me to place.  While length and presentation don’t define quality, it does affect a game’s impression.  I played through Gunpoint in an afternoon and enjoyed myself, but didn’t find myself thinking about it much afterwards.

14. Gone Home (PC)

I was a bit skeptical about Gone Home, but playing it, I really liked the way it used its video game shell as a story delivery mechanism.  The writing is fantastic.  I often use the term “page turner” when talking about games, and never has it felt more appropriate than with Gone Home.

13. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (PC)

I was comfortable not playing an Assassin’s Creed game again after Assassin’s Creed III, but people were just so damned positive about Black Flag that I just had to see for myself.  The sailing which I didn’t like that much in the previous game was strong enough to carry me through, but the Assassin’s Creed formula looks to be all sorts of done.  I don’t know how much longer Ubisoft plans on milking this series, but I’m going to need even more convincing next time.

12. BioShock Infinite (PC)

BioShock Infinite’s greatest strength is the world it created.  Its gameplay is BioShock gameplay, which I guess is a bad thing to those with more refined shooting game tastes than mine, but was fine by my standards.  I appreciated that there was no single section that I can remember as particularly frustrating, but I guess that also means the game was probably baby easy.  The best thing I can say about its story is that it is one that generates a great amount of conversation, but ultimately, I didn’t understand all of it while playing the game, and wasn’t incredibly impressed once I read up on it.  I liked Elizabeth as a companion and thought the game was slightly worse when she wasn’t around, but I can understand not liking her.  BioShock just isn’t the sort of game I get excited to play, and playing it didn’t really do anything to change my mind.

11. Batman: Arkham Origins (PC)

I prepared myself for the worst when I started playing this game, but it turns out I was being needlessly pessimistic, as it turns out Origins is a perfectly competent Arkham game.  Of course, if yet another game comes out in the series that is basically Arkham City again, I may be less forgiving, Origins was not the straw that broke this camel’s back.

10. Shin Megami Tensei IV (3DS)

Shin Megami Tensei IV is just a super solid Japanese role playing game.  It doesn’t do anything horrendously wrong and offers a few interesting bits of story, but ultimately how much one enjoys SMTIV is directly related to how much that person enjoys a very traditional JRPG experience.  It doesn’t really do anything outrageous enough to change anyone’s mind on way or the other.

9. StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm (PC)

The campaign in Wings of Liberty was perhaps the most enjoyable and well designed single player real-time strategy experience I’ve ever had.  Heart of the Swarm takes the ideas established by the Wings campaign and takes them a step further: changing more mechanics to improve the single player experience and adding more mission variety.  The story is kind of frustrating and silly if you take it as seriously as it takes itself, which is a shame, but Heart of the Swarm is an RTS campaign just about anyone can enjoy.

8. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)

I think Christian Nutt summed it up best when he said something to the effect of: Blue Dragon in 2007 was basically what Ni no Kuni is in 2013, except it was actually a better game, but it got mediocre reviews while Ni no Kuni reviewed pretty well because of how starved for Japanese roleplaying games people had become.  There is nothing really special about Ni no Kuni outside of how it looks, but it looks so special, that it makes the game better.  Playing Ni no Kuni feels good, even if it is mechanically underwhelming.

7. Guacamelee! (PS3)

I enjoy a good Metroidvania, and Guacamelee! is a great Metroidvania.  Guacamelee! focuses more on platforming and combat than the acquisition of power ups and character progression I like most about the genre, but all three elements are still well done, especially, and maybe surprisingly, the platforming.  This game is fully deserving of the exclamation point in its title that I try never to forget

6. Saints Row IV (PC)

Saints Row IV is just good, dumb, fun.  It is a game that took what little restraint was left after Saints Row the Third and threw it out the window.  Maybe Volition won’t be able to get away with taking this approach again in the future, but at least with Saints Row IV and for me, it worked.

5. Pokémon Y (3DS)

Pokémon has never looked this good or been this accessible (though you’ll still need an outside resource if you hope to stand a chance in wi-fi battles and min-max your monsters).  It does one big thing (3D) and a ton of little things that make this the “best” Pokémon game ever, but it’s still just Pokémon, so the actual best Pokémon game ever is still Gold and Silver for reasons that make it almost impossible to dethrone.

4. The Last of Us (PS3)

The Last of Us is perhaps the most impressive and special game to come out this year, if not this generation.  It has stellar writing, is visually stunning down to the tiniest detail, and has gameplay that picks and chooses elements from just about every genre in a way that makes so much sense that you often forget that it’s an action/shooter/stealth/survival game.  The only reason The Last of Us isn’t running away as my favorite game of 2013 is that–whether by design or not–I didn’t enjoy it as a game that much.  It’s an impressive gaming experience, but not one I get excited about playing.

3. The Stanley Parable (PC)

It may seem strange to have The Stanley Parable this high up when I have some very high quality games lower on my list than others because they’re not what I look for in games and some would argue that The Stanley Parable isn’t a game at all, but that’s how much I enjoyed my experience with The Stanley Parable.  Everything thing I tried to do was accounted for and every response was delightfully clever.  There were times when I couldn’t tell if I was playing the game over and over again or one long instance because of how deftly the game controls your perception of what you can do, what you can’t do, what you want to do, and what you don’t want to do.  I don’t think I’ve played anything this brilliant since Portal.

2. Rayman Legends (PC)

I loved playing this game and I loved looking at this game.  I have a sneaking suspicion that if I had a Wii U and a copy of Super Mario 3D World I would forget all about Rayman, but I don’t, so I get to stay enamored with Rayman Legends.

1. Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)

Fire Emblem is perhaps the most complete package I played in 2013.  It was also the game that surprised me most.  I expected to enjoy the character building and combat, what I didn’t expect to enjoy, and enjoy so much, was the characters and the stories that were told between each and every one of them.  This added an element that I thought was sorely missing from XCOM: Enemy Unknown just a few months prior, and, along with Fire Emblem’s solid mechanics, produced my favorite game of 2013.

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