Given the less-than-impressive list of next-gen games available for the new console cycle, 2013 is going to be remembered for the last-gen gaming moments. This year saw huge leaps forward in in-game storytelling, from the post-apocalyptic The Last of Us to the multiple personalities of GTA V. It wasn’t all about telling a story, though, as gameplay and content were also well represented in re-imaginings of some of our favorite classics. Here you’ll find my five absolute favorite games from 2013.

5. DuckTales: Remastered

I love classic platformers, so DuckTales was naturally one of my favorite games way back in the halcyon days of the NES. Hopping around on Scrooge’s cane, trouncing Beagle Boys was one of my favorite childhood pastimes. Remastered wasn’t a re-imagining of the original, either. It was the same gameplay, but it had modern mechanics like saved games, as well as updated and finely polished graphics. They even went so far as to add voice over for much of the story dialogue, voiced by none other than the original Scrooge actor from the cartoon.
Given how true to the original DuckTales: Remastered is, you’ll find that it continues to present quite a challenge to anybody that isn’t an expert platformer. It offers easy mode for those of us who aren’t up to the white-knuckle challenge of having only three lives to work with, but purists will definitely want to play on normal or hard. Ignoring the nostalgia I have for the game, the gameplay is just as much fun now as it was 20 years ago, and the updated mechanics will make it more palatable to today’s gamers.

4. Grand Theft Auto V

I haven’t played GTA since I was still rocking the PS2. I guess that was probably GTA 3, but I can never remember for some reason, despite the fact that I probably sunk hundreds of hours into that game. For some reason, though, the intervening games never really caught my attention. Then Greg Tito stirred up some controversy with his GTA V review, and I was ready to dive back into the mayhem.

I’m not your typical gamer, though, so it wasn’t the action sequences or the rampage missions that got this game on the list. It’s the fully fleshed out world that really impressed me. My wife was playing a mission and ended up in a house where a TV was on in the background. So we, like any reasonable people, stopped playing and watched with rapt attention. We spent a full hour watching television in game. And it was good. Any title that integrates fully realized TV shows into the game really deserve some kind of recognition. So here we are, recognizing GTA V.

3. Need for Speed: Rivals

Rivals is potentially the title that most deserves to be on this list. It’s not the best game of the year or anything, but it is possibly the single most surprising. You see, I don’t like racing games and I don’t care much for cars. Yet, when I played Rivals, I was enthralled. It’s less of a racing game and more of a car-based adventure game, with myriad things to do for people of whatever gaming tendencies.

I didn’t really thrive in the Racers campaign, so I played mostly Cops. Busting Racers in Rivals makes you feel invincible as you ram them into walls and oncoming traffic. The Pursuit Tech is reminiscent of power ups from Mario Kart, from the EMP (Red Turtle Shell) to the Spike Strips (Banana Peel) you’ll feel right at home playing Rivals, regardless of your prior experience. It’s a car game with more to offer than just cars. It offers a genuinely good time for players of all stripes.

2. The Last of Us

The not-quite-father-daughter dynamic between Joel and Ellie really sells this game. It’s not just another zombie game, as it focuses more on the story than on the gameplay. I’m a sucker for a good story in games, so The Last of Us was a shoe in to be one of my favorites this year, being that it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever seen told in the medium.

Not only does The Last of Us weave a tale that tugs at the heartstrings; it also offers a really enjoyable gaming experience. From the scarcity of ammo to collecting and using crafting components, resource management is a very real thing in The Last of Us, making the gameplay less about being the fastest gun and more about being the most savvy planner. You can use your last shiv to take out that Clicker, you can try to sneak by, or you can just run out there guns blazing, and hope there isn’t another one around the corner. The Last of Us offers intense action and emotional storytelling, a combination worthy of a spot on any favorites list.

1. XCOM: Enemy Within

Enemy Unknown was my number one last year, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Enemy Within earns the top spot for this year. XCOM continues to be my favorite franchise ever, and the additions introduced in Enemy Within somehow make a near-perfect game even more enjoyable. From MECs to Genetic Modifications, your soldiers now have an even greater degree of customizability, not to mention raw power.

In addition to Genetic Modification and MEC troopers, Enemy Within also features a couple new aliens, namely the Seeker and the Mectoid, which cooperatively offer new early-game challenges for experienced players. There are even story elements, like the traitorous EXALT group, which add to the canon, while also providing some variety in in-game missions. Even if you played Enemy Unknown as much as I did, there’s so much newness on offer from Enemy Within that it’s a whole new experience. Now, sign my petition to nerf Sectopods.

With 2013 out of the way, we get to look forward to a new generation of console gaming. I’m excited to see what 2014 has in store for the gaming space, although I’m most excited about the prospect of a next-gen XCOM reboot.

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