8. "Splinter Cell: Blacklist" (Ubisoft, multi) -- Super spy Sam Fisher returned in a big way in 2013, sporting a new voice, a new attitude and a new team to help him keep the world safe. Best of all, "Blacklist" put the covert back in covert ops, re-emphasizing the stealth game play that the "Splinter Cell" franchise helped revolutionize years ago. An engaging story with an interesting villain helped drive the campaign, and the return of the fan-favorite Spies-vs.-Mercs multiplayer mode kept players busy after the credits rolled.
7. "Animal Crossing: New Leaf" (Nintendo, 3DS) -- No game on this list has sucked up more of my free time than this. "Animal Crossing: New Leaf" excels because of its simplicity -- you spend your time walking around your town, talking to the cutesy animal residents and tackling tasks such as catching bugs, pulling weeds and picking fruit. This may seem mundane, but the fact that there's always a goal waiting to be achieved makes it all worthwhile. You're always striving for something, whether it's paying off your house, saving to buy something nice for your town or trying to catch that rare fish to complete your museum's collection. The best games are the ones that keep you coming back for more, and "New Leaf" did that better than any game this year.
6. "LEGO Marvel Super Heroes" (WBIE, multi) -- Surpised to see a LEGO game crack the Top 10 list? Don't be. Developer Travellers Tales has been polishing its tried-and-true formula in recent years, as evidenced by the excellent "LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes" and "LEGO The Lord of the Rings," but "LEGO Marvel" is the studio's best work yet. With more than a hundred characters to unlock, plenty of secrets to discover and a fully Marvel-ized New York City to explore, "LEGO Marvel" offers dozens of hours enjoyment for gamers of all ages.
5. "Tomb Raider" (Square Enix, multi) -- Lara Croft is unquestionably one of the most recognizable video game characters of all time. But this franchise reboot offered a refreshingly different take on the heroine, presenting Lara as naive, vulnerable and unsure of herself. Playing through "Tomb Raider," we got to experience Lara's first steps on her voyage to becoming the confident treasure hunter we know and love. It's a gritty, raw and emotional journey, and one that every gamer should take.
4. "Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons" (505 Games, multi) -- There were plenty of heart-wrenching stories told in 2013, but none resonated with me as much as this downloadable gem from Starbreeze Studios. Using a simplistic approach to design in which the player controls two brothers simultaneously using only the analog sticks and triggers, the process of actually playing "Brothers" quickly becomes an intuitive experience that allows the user to soak up the fairy-tale like environments and engaging narrative. Just be sure to keep the Kleenex handy for the final act.
3. "The Last of Us" (Sony, PS3) -- In most any other year, this gripping tale of survival from the creators of "Uncharted" would have topped the list of the year's best games. While it didn't pull down the top spot, "The Last of Us" deserves all of the praise and accolades that have been heaped upon it. From the opening scene until the final climax, the story of Joel and Ellie grabs you and doesn't let go. And the stealth-based game play isn't bad, either -- some of my most memorable moments from 2013 involved sneaking past the mutated humans that exist in "The Last of Us'" post-apocalyptic world. In a year filled with sequels and familiar brands, "The Last of Us" was a welcome breath of fresh air.
1. "Grand Theft Auto V" (Rockstar Games, multi) "BioShock Infinite" (2K Games, multi) (tie) -- In all the years I've been covering video games and compiling these "Best of" lists, I have never awarded co-Game of the Year honors. Even when the races were tight, I drew a line in the sand and declared an undisputed winner. After all, somebody has to make the tough calls, right? But this year was different. "Grand Theft Auto V" and "BioShock Infinite" offered such unique experiences -- one was an ambitious, over-the-top open-world crime caper that offered near-limitless replayability; the other wove a tightly wound narrative that tugged at gamers' heartstrings thanks to some of the best voice acting I've ever heard and featured a finale that left players with as many questions as answers. Each raised the bar for its particular genre, and to chose one over the other seemed a disservice to them both.
So for the first time, two titles -- "Grand Theft Auto V" and "BioShock Infinite" -- will share the somewhat prestigious honor of being the Gazette's Game of the Year. I offer congratulations to both and a heart-felt "Thank you" to their respective development teams for providing me with hours upon hours of entertainment. Hopefully 2014 brings more of the same.
Reach Jeff Rider at 304-348-5122 or jri...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/gazette_gamer.