Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag is this year's Far Cry 3, which coincidentally happened to be my top game for Best of the Rest in 2012. Both games launched so late in the year and were saddled with incorrect expectations that it wasn't until folks actually played it en masse that the word on the street began to turn. It turned too late, once again, as is the case with Black Flag, which does feature the same incoherent storytelling that made Assassin's Creed 3 such an abomination, but finds redemption in what AC3 was lacking: a game.
Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag has that element I define in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood – which up to this point was my favorite installment of the franchise – as ABD (Always Be Doing!). Snap your fingers and there's another thing to grab or stab in Black Flag. Add to that the fuller realization of the sailing mechanics introduced in the previous game and Black Flag is primed to be a full-blown pirate spin-off. Black Flag is Sid Meier's Pirates! for a new generation and I certainly hope this isn't the last we see of it. What hurt Black Flag were the Assassin's Creed tropes, and it would be best for both to sail in separate directions from here.
Blue Manchu's deck-building RPG makes "good free-to-play browser game" something you can say with straight face. Card Hunter's narrative has players working with Game Master Gary to become a great GM, stick it to his brother Melvin and help you level up your tabletop characters. The game's difficulty spike did hold it back and there is a learning curve, especially in the complexity of multiplayer, but for anybody looking for a "real game" with just a browser, Card Hunter delivered. The game will probably find a much wider audience and acknowledgement when it eventually arrives on Android and iOS. Card Hunter isn't just a browser game for a core audience, it's a browser game for a hardcore audience.
Fighting games are the one genre that makes me wish I could stop time, devote some real effort to learning thoroughly and then compete. Alas, life gets in the way. Street Fighter 2 muscle memory is built into me, it's part of my DNA, so I will forever play all fighting games like Street Fighter 2, but the genre has come so very, very far. Like the Mortal Kombat reboot, Injustice was another engaging fighting game that gave genre fans what they desired, while still bring accessible to the version of me born in the prior decade – that one who will have Injustice-based muscle memory a couple decades from now.
If Rogue Legacy had been released 20 years ago it would have been positively groundbreaking. It's a classic platformer reinterpreted for a modern audience. It's the video game version of a Top Chef or Project Runway challenge where contestants have to take a well-known style or dish from the past and reinterprete it.
Of course, Rogue Legacy leaves its own mark that is sure to be cribbed by designers for generations to come. Each offspring of the game's doomed hero is stuck with some burden, like color-blindness, dwarfism, gigantism, near-sightedness, etc. What appears to be a gimmick at first becomes a clear design choice as players discover the castle and the potential advantages of their flaws. It's a good life lesson.
I still don't understand what happened in the end of BioShock Infinite and if I have to read a wiki to "get it," that's a failure. Infinite didn't make its way to my Best of the Rest for its story (which had me until the end), nor for its combat (the graveyard!?!?), but rather for its art.
BioShock Infinite is a visual masterpiece, and more than once I had an emotional reaction to my surroundings. I can remember locations in that game as clearly as I can recall European palaces and other architectural works that have impacted me. The visuals of Columbia will stay with me long after everything else is forgotten. Except for the Lutece twins. They are, were, will still be genius.
An exploration and survival game with a streamlined approach and robust world, Don't Starve is the first game since Minecraft which felt like it was letting the player figure it all out. Thematically, we've seen a lot of titles in 2013 where talking about the game too much ruins the experience. It's better to just say "play it." So, that's my advice about Don't Starve: Play it.
Joystiq is highlighting its 10 favorite games of 2013 throughout the week. Keep reading for more top selections and every writer's personal picks in Best of the Rest roundups.