Ladies and gentlemen, the Xbox One is hungry, and it can only be satiated by devouring all of your discs. Many, including myself, knew they had made the correct budget-friendly next-gen console launch-day decision when videos like that started appearing, a satisfying send-off to the previous gaming cycle for Sony fanboys and fangirls who put all their stock in the PlayStation 4 and let the chips fall where they may. With the PS3 and Xbox 360 entering the halls of gaming relics, 2013 will likely come to be known as the year of forward movement filibustered by a final burst of impressive current-gen titles. The PS3 arguably received its two most defining games in the form of The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V, both master classes in maxing out the hardware before it becomes obsolete.
It's impossible to argue with the fact that, even with the too-close-for-comfort November releases of the PS4 and Xbox One, 2013 was extraordinarily frontloaded in terms of top-notch product flooding into the marketplace. The first quarter alone brought the likes of DmC: Devil May Cry, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Antichamber, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan, Tomb Raider, God of War: Ascension, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, and Bioshock Infinite. All terrific games that either landed on our annual best-of list or were in firm contention. In the aftermath, there was a mild drought that made the summer somewhat of a letdown for gamers, so it was off to the cinema with the lot of them until August, when the skies opened up and Pikmin 3 hit the scene, charismatically watering the parched gaming landscape. Leave it to Nintendo to save the day, right? It's kind of their thing now.
This could also be seen as the year video games and movies faced off in no uncertain terms. Planning a release schedule for interactive media is different than doing so for films. Purchasing games is more costly than buying a movie ticket, and absorbing the material takes longer than sitting down and viewing a two-hour film—well, most of the time. So, it begs the question, will—or, rather, can—playing video games eventually overtake watching movies as the universally accepted pastime of choice? Have they done so already? The new generation, with all its attractive bells and whistles (sans disc-munching), should provide a fair amount of answers to these questions. Let the games begin. Mike LeChevallier
22. Dragon's Crown. A tantalizing conglomeration of ravishing hand-drawn artwork and approachable yet deceptively devious 2D side-scrolling beat-'em-up mayhem, Vanillaware and Atlus's Dragon's Crown just about singlehandedly resurrects the arcade-style four-player cooperative couch game in a quietly grand fashion. Put aside the overly voluptuous bosoms and backside lady parts bouncing around without much restraint or good taste in mind and what's left is an action RPG that invites numerous replayings of its gorgeously designed, seamlessly controlled hack-and-slash havoc. Not since the quarter-eating golden age of Streets of Rage and Double Dragon has a game been able to capture the symbiotic alchemy that comes along with barreling through a dungeon with three friends by your side. Score another solidified win for Vanillaware, an outfit that's made a name for itself with a résumé of eye-popping titles; their track record remains as clean as a freshly forged battleaxe. LeChevallier
21. Tomb Raider. Of all the properties crying out for a reboot in 2013, Tomb Raider was one of the most deserving. As a series that has stagnated since its earliest sequels, the time was right to see the iconic Lara Croft reborn, and Crystal Dynamics took exactly the right approach: hiring an experienced female video-game writer to craft a strong, realistic character within a gripping narrative, and updating the classic gameplay with current mechanics. Rhianna Pratchett's terrific writing reinvents Lara as an actual human being instead of avatar eye candy, enduring her first adventure on the dangerous island of Yamatai with modern action-adventure and stealth gameplay elements. The game combines exploration with desperate survival to make a particularly compelling, intense experience, one enriched with startling and beautiful visuals. At times empowering and thrilling, at times cruel and grueling, this new Tomb Raider shows the evolution of both the series and the medium. Aston
16. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. Yes, I know that I was supposed to head to the Caribbean island of Grand Inagua, meeting with James Kidd to unite my fellow pirates of Nassau, but out of the corner of my spyglass, I saw a ship laden with metals and rum. After firing mortars to slow it down, I pulled up beside it, gave it a full blast from my broadside, and then swung aboard and slaughtered her captain. I then had every intention of going to my main-mission meeting at Inagua, but I happened upon a stray bull shark and figured I might as well try my hand at harpooning it. I swear, I tried going to Inagua next, but how could anyone resist exploring such an inviting island, especially with a treasure map linked to those coordinates? I'm sure once I finish raiding this plantation, I'll be ready, assuming I'm not first distracted by some multiplayer. In any case, blame Ubisoft, for finally—after all their baby-step improvements—perfecting the Assassin's Creed formula. Riccio
14. Pokémon X and Y. With the introduction of Pokémon's sixth generation, Game Freak made a monumental leap forward with one of the most bankable franchises in Nintendo's coveted arsenal. Rather than simply churning out an incrementally prettier Pokémon game on the 3DS, a considerable overhaul of the core presentation was enacted. Admittedly, it's at first a bit jarring, probing the expansive region of Kalos from a 3D perspective, but soon the updated visuals grow just as familiar as the enduring mechanics that have delighted Poké-fanatics for years. With the more-than-welcome debut of a new type, Fairy, and a veritable flood of revelatory features, including the flawlessly integrated ability to be constantly connected to other players around the world, making trades and battling to your heart's content, X and Y declare themselves as the beginning of an endlessly profitable next-gen life for the series, adapting to the times while still giving diehard fans everything they desire. LeChevallier
1. Grand Theft Auto V. It's only been available for roughly three months, but Grand Theft Auto V has already approached Breaking Bad levels of "What else is needed to be said about how amazing this is?" ovation, and rightfully so. Rockstar North has accomplished something no other developer has ever done with such utter faultlessness, crafting an ancillary version of our own modern America, where veracious appetites for virtually every breed of sin or virtue can be brought to life in an authentic, meaningful manner. Michael De Santa, Franklin Clinton, and Trevor Philips are a trio of protagonists for the ages, each of their individual personalities and fully realized stories meshing together to paint a stunningly broad portrait of how the drive to succeed and attain self-worth can be unknowingly coupled with the internal craving to cause mass chaos and destruction. There were so many days this year when I inadvertently responded to the question of "What did you do today?" with a detailed retelling of my latest exploits in San Andreas. This is as possessive a game as has ever been made, bewitching not only in its remarkable design, but in its prodigious capacity to integrate the player into its sublime alternative cosmos without so much as a hint of unwanted turbulence. LeChevallier
Fav game of 2013???