published Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Best video games of 2013

"BioShock Infinite"
"BioShock Infinite"
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The year ends and the Top 10 lists come out. It's as predictable as heat in summer and cold in winter. Here's a list of the best video games of 2013:

• 1. "BioShock Infinite" (Irrational Games, for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC): The latest adventure from provocateur Ken Levine asks tough questions about the bloody path of American history. And it doesn't provide easy answers -- indeed, the more you learn about its setting, the flying city of Columbia, the loopier it gets. No other game this year bent my brain as much.

• 2. "Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag" (Ubisoft Montreal, for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC): Stealth and swordplay have always been at the core of this series, but "Black Flag" adds a stirring new element: engrossing sea battles, as you and the crew of your pirate ship romp across the Caribbean of the 1730s.

• 3. "Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch" (Studio Ghibli and Level-5, for the PlayStation 3): The Japanese studios behind movies like "Spirited Away" and games like "Dragon Quest" collaborated on this sprawling epic about a kid transported to an alternate universe. It provides all the pleasures of a deep role-playing game with the charm and humor of great anime.

• 4. "Tomb Raider" (Crystal Dynamics, for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC): Video-game icon Lara Croft gets an origin story, as the shipwrecked heroine fights for survival on an island full of goons. As teenage Lara evolves from helpless to deadly, you can't help but think this kid's got a bright future.

• 5. "The Last of Us" (Naughty Dog, for the PlayStation 3): This journey across a post-apocalyptic United States presents one nerve-racking confrontation after another -- but it will be best remembered for the smartly written, subtly acted relationship between its protagonists, a bitter survivor and the lively young girl he's sworn to protect.

• 6. "Gone Home" (The Fullbright Company, for PC): Remember that feeling of returning to your childhood home only to realize you don't really know anyone who lives there? That's the mood captured by this sweet, sad yet hopeful mystery, told entirely through the things a family has left behind.

7. • "Device 6" (Simogo, for iOS): This witty mystery reminded me of the classic text adventures of the 1980s -- except now, you have to rotate your iPad to follow along. The elegant design, with just a smattering of pictures and music, makes the creepy story all the more effective.

8. • "The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds" (Nintendo, for the Nintendo 3DS): Nintendo opens up the magical land of Hyrule -- and its darker twin, Lorule -- with a looser storyline that invites more exploration. It's the most challenging "Zelda" in years, and the most rewarding.

• 9. "Peggle 2" (PopCap Games, for Xbox One): The killer app for Microsoft's new Xbox One turns out to be ... a juiced-up pachinko game. But fans of the original will get exactly what they were hoping for: a game so addictive that, even after bouncing through 120 new levels, you want more.

• 10. "Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn" (Square Enix, for PlayStation 3, PC): This massively multiplayer online game was so poorly received in 2010 that its publisher pulled the plug and rebuilt it from the ground up. The result is nearly a miracle: a lush online world so compelling that even anti-social gamers can enjoy it.

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