Dec. 16, 2013 at 8:56 AM ET
Whether you're the kind of person who loves cruising through a virtual version of Los Angeles while blasting classic '90s-era G-funk, decapitating zombies with makeshift survivalist gear, or just connecting dots on your iPhone when waiting for the subway, 2013 was an amazing year to be a gamer. Here are 10 of the best video games we enjoyed playing over the past 12 months.
A "Myst"-like puzzle game that uses the iPad or iPhone's touchscreen in some of the most intriguing ways, "Year Walk" tells a harrowing and tragic story about love and loss that's steeped in weird bits of Swedish folkfore. I never thought a game I could play on my tablet would move me — or scare me — as much as "Year Walk" did.
This adorable strategy game offers captivating challenges at every turn, tasking players with collecting bits of fruit and battling colorful monsters in the most absurd way possible: by chucking handfuls of the eponymous Pikmin creatures at them. Who knew a game about picking things up and carrying them from point A to point B could be so much fun?
Grand Theft Auto V
"Grand Theft Auto V" is one of those cases of evolution, rather than revolution, being a good thing for a series. Thanks to a long development cycle and a mammoth production budget (the credits for the game run for more than a half hour) Rockstar Games was able to bring an incredible degree of technical precision to the vibrant world of GTA V, making every part of it feel lived-in and lovingly crafted. The result is an unparalleled, captivating experience.
The Last of Us
Naughty Dog has always had a knack for cinematic storytelling, but even the most intense "Uncharted" fans will admit that those games' shooting mechanics didn't hold a candle to something like "Gears of War." "The Last of Us," on the other hand, combines the studio's trademark narrative craft with a thrilling mixture of shooting and sneaking around some truly terrifying undead. Killing zombies in video games isn't exactly novel, but "The Last of Us" is a vision so perfectly realized that it still manages to feel unique.
Horror video games, like horror movies, are an often stale sub-genre that basically exists to give players reasons to shoot at monsters year after year. The excellent indie PC game "Outlast" shakes up the first-person game by equipping players with a nightvision-enabled camera instead of weapons and dropping them headfirst into a zombie-infested insane asylum. Playing "Outlast" is like living through one of the "Saw" movies in all the best and worst ways. Not for the faint of heart.
When Sony launched the PlayStation 4 in November with one weak family-friendly title ("Knack," which was panned by critics), many disappointed fans were left wondering why the company hadn't gotten its first-party studio and "LittleBigPlanet" creator Media Molecule to help flesh out the PS4's starting lineup. A few weeks later, MM's absence from the PS4 was explained when the studio dropped the mobile gem "Tearaway" for the PlayStation Vita. Beautiful and inventive, this new platformer shows the true capabilities of Sony's mobile gaming console.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Producing a sequel to a classic video game that's now more than two decades old might sound like the last thing Nintendo should have been focused on this year, but for a company so often wrestling with its own nostalgia factor, "A Link Between Worlds" is surprisingly forward-thinking. The game removes the many arbitrary constraints that have plagued other recent Zelda titles, giving players ample room to explore the world of Hyrule at their own pace. Cute, creative and surprisingly challenging, this is Nintendo at its finest.
Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time
"Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time" is the best kind of sequel: It builds and improves on almost every aspect of the original "Plants vs. Zombies" (already an amazing game in its own right) while never coming across as derivative or repetitive. New power-ups and special abilities add to the core "Plants vs. Zombies" strategy game, making each level a tense battle between your strident flora and the living dead. A true classic for mobile gaming.
Square Enix's reboot of the storied "Tomb Raider" franchise transformed Lara Croft from the worst kind of video game heroine (the unimaginative and intensely sexualized kind) into an intriguing protagonist, and made one of the year's best third-person shooters in the process. With excellent platforming and shooting mechanics, the reimagined "Tomb Raider" delivers an adventure that's so fun you can easily forgive some of its more tired "Indiana Jones"-esque tropes.
"Gone Home" is the rare kind of game that has the courage to recognize its own humanity. Set entirely in protagonist Kaitlin Greenbriar's parent's house the night she returns home from a year studying abroad, the game tells a beautiful story through bits of pieces of information she uncovers as she snoops through the recently abandoned mansion. There are no guns, no demons to kill, no terrorist plots to thwart. Just a family with its own troubled history. "Gone Home" trims off many of the unnecessary bells and whistles that have made modern first-person games such a homogenous bunch.
Yannick LeJacq is a contributing writer for NBC News who has also covered technology and games for Kill Screen, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. You can follow him on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq and reach him by email at: Yannick.LeJacq@nbcuni.com.