And so we come to the end of the Top 25, with the final five titles. So far we’ve had military shooters, heartwarming family adventures and idiosyncratic island exploration games. What will be at the very head of our selection?
Well, you can scroll straight down there is you like, but you’ll miss four pretty amazing games on the way.
Thanks for reading — even if you haven’t agreed with the (extremely subjective) choices. This was never meant as a buyer’s guide — it’s a reflection of the games that we’ve written and thought about and enjoyed. You may have had very different experiences this year. Which is, of course, the beauty of this medium.
Have a lovely Christmas.
5. Papers, Please (Lucas Pope, PC)
There have been many and varied virtual vocations to be experienced through video games in 2013 but none quite so affecting as that found in Papers, Please, Lucas Pope’s harrowing game set in a fictional communist country’s border control booth at the dawn of the 1980s. Your task, assigned to you by the state, is to process the winding line of would-be immigrants each day, checking their passports and other supporting documents and, quite simply, confirming or denying their entry.
Each day you must contend with further bureaucracy and rules issued down from on high, a dual frustration as the fewer people you manage to process in a day, the fewer wages you take home. The quietly agreeable administrative power quickly dissipates in the face of the burden of your family — at dusk you must daily choose whether to buy food, medicine or heating to support them and there’s never enough money to go around. Likewise, the gently heart-breaking stories of the people you meet in the line make this a game quite unlike any other, one that, despite the rudimentary graphics, reveals the largely unexplored potential of the medium to build true empathy and understanding.
4. GTA V (Rockstar, PS3, Xbox 360)
Rockstar’s record-breaking behemoth crushed everything else this year in terms of sales, its super-charged mix of ultra-violence, scattergun satire and visual beauty ensuring hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Los Santos is a world realised in incredible depth and the fact that this sprawling landscape is still giving up secrets to obsessive players months after release says much about the care, attention and passion lavished on the game. We’d dearly love to have seen a female protagonist and we could have done with waaaay less bickering between Trevor and Michael in the main campaign. But for bombastic, brain-bludgeoning set-pieces, GTA V could not be beaten — and as flawed and broken as it was, GTA Online provides an intriguing vision of where online multiplayer can go. Enhanced PC version next year? Everyone knows it makes sense.
3. Gone Home (Fullbright Company, PC/Mac/Linux)
Like Proteus, Gone Home was a game that made people think about games this year — what they are, what they mean and how they tell us things. This very enclosed, almost neurotic game is like a modern day epistolary novel, it’s narrative told voyeuristically through private communications — letters, journals, answer phone messages. The house is as much a symbolic space as it is a real one — a place haunted by memories and disappointments. Ostensibly, it is Kaitlin Greenbriar’s story, as she returns from a long trip away to find her parents and sister gone, but of course, the ghost of Samantha haunts it.
Steve Gaynor and his team play brilliantly with notions of memory, nostalgia and love, and the psychogeography of home and family. Some see in this game a sallow ode to the point-and-click adventure, but actually it explores the first-person perspective, and the conventions of interactive narrative, in interesting and meaningful ways. We thought about this game all year, that is the main thing. The message lingers like an answerphone message you can’t bear to delete.
2. The Last of Us (Sony, PS3)
In Joel and Ellie’s story of survival against the odds — and against all reason — Naughty Dog provided us with one of the most mature and gruelling mainstream action adventures of the decade. While some saw it as little more than a post-apocalyptic palette swap for Uncharted, this is a very different beast — a true narrative journey in which characters and relationships eclipse all other concerns. But it is also exciting and involving, with a thuddingly violent combat mechanic and a continual sense of raw peril. So many wonderful dramatic moments too, from lovesick survivors committing suicide to giraffes wandering the sun-scorched city streets. Whatever you make of its devastating conclusions, the Last of Us was the moment that cinematic gaming started to mean something — something that went beyond form and into feeling. It hints at amazing things for the future.
• Last of Us — review
1. Super Mario 3D World (Nintendo, Wii-U)
It may not have the pioneering spirit of some of the strongest games released this year, but Nintendo EAD’s latest displays a restless brilliance in its reinvention of one of the medium’s most valuable and inspiring heritages. Super Mario 3D World is an undeniable retreat from the farthest reaches of space, which were so gloriously brushed against in the two Super Mario Galaxy titles on the Wii-U’s predecessor. But there is no such withdrawal in terms of its design and finesse; this game ranks amongst the company’s finest.
There’s an easy familiarity to the world, the way its stages are arranged, Mario’s suite of furry costumes and, of course, the seemingly endless levels themed around the seasons and elements. But the riotous imagination on display in its design ideas has an unexpected freshness: quite how these designers manage to mine gold from such a relatively thin rulebook is dumbfounding. Then there are the social features: the multiplayer that allows up to four players to sprint through the game’s levels in a heady concoction of competition and cooperation, and the online ghost data, beamed into your game without fuss in order to provide a person against whom to race. Super Mario 3D World is a warm and contemporary exploration of the medium’s past, rather than a bold signpost to its future, but celebrations are rarely so wonderfully unrestrained and stirring.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk