And so it comes to this. After two weeks of Staff Picks and genre awards, we come to the ultimate showdown. When we look back, what will we say was the best game of 2013? What game best represents the quality we've seen over the past twelve months? The nominees below are all worthy, and all should be somewhere in your collection.
We've had stronger years, to be sure, but coming up with a shortlist and an eventual winner in 2013 for Game of the Year has still been tough. Not because of games lacking quality, but once again because there've been so many cracking games from which to choose.
"Animal Crossing: New Leaf is an utter delight, but then you knew that already. For all of the little tweaks and new treats, the core experience remains the same. But stepping into the role of mayor connects you better than ever before to this joyous world of camaraderie and generous spirit. New Leaf is a game that lets you fashion an identity in whatever manner you choose, and then share it with the world. It's the best game in the series so far."
"Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is a wonderfully harmonious game. It's enormous, packed with more things to see and do than ever before, but Ubisoft have managed to make every little thing mean something in tangible, impactful terms. Black Flag is a wonderful piratical romp that manages to revive the stealthy focus of earlier series instalments, whilst delivering an outstanding naval sandbox, an excellent setting and story, and lashings of swashbuckling action. Unmissable."
"Bioshock Infinite's final moment is one that will leave the player anywhere between gobsmacked and muted, but regardless of how the game ends, its journey is a thoroughly engrossing rollercoaster ride in a crumbling, thought-provoking paradise with one of the finest AI companions ever created. Irrational strike gold yet again."
"Fire Emblem Awakening is an absolute masterpiece, whether you're a series veteran or rank newcomer. As one of the finest Strategy RPGs available on any handheld format, not to mention the best game on the 3DS thus far, you owe it to yourself to plumb its tactical and emotional depths. Do not, for any reason, miss this triumphant saga of love and death."
"Rockstar have created their most technically astounding game world to date. Los Santos is enormously diverse, extraordinarily well-researched, and almost impossibly detailed. But GTA V proves too in love with its own narrative to ever really encourage players to create their own. As flawed as it is as an open-ended game, Los Santos and Blaine County will delight and dazzle long after the script has been left behind, even if its ambitions promise extravagances that are never quite delivered here."
"One of the best JRPGs of the last decade, Ni No Kuni is in many ways a love letter to a genre slowly fading away into obscurity. Brimming with imaginative aesthetics, and packing a hefty emotional punch or two in spite of its rather clichéd story, Level-5 and Studio Ghibli have worked wonders to whisk us away to another world. An utter triumph in roleplaying escapism in a game that manages to stand on the shoulders of the genre's best to deliver a modern classic."
"It's effortlessly charming, fiendishly challenging, mechanically sublime, and stuffed with enough content to keep us coming back for more long into the winter months. It's a blast solo or with friends, whether you're playing together directly, or trying to best one another's scores in asynchronous fashion in the challenges. Put simply, Rayman Legends isn't just one of the best platformers we've seen in twenty years, but one of the very best games. Absolutely stunning."
Super Mario 3D World
Every level boasts a new mechanic or feature, that's tossed aside almost immediately once the level is done. It never gets staid or boring, never loses its whimsy or charm, and Nintendo have managed to delight both solo players and the multiplayer crowd, with some fantastic level design that manages to capture the playful relationship between designer and player and translate that into something truly satisfying for multiplayer audiences.
If the Wii U has a killer app, this is it.
"The Last of Us tells a cracking story, but it does so in such a heavy-handed way that it's difficult to feel totally engaged come the conclusion. Well paced, superbly written, and boasting some of the best visual and audio work of this generation, Naughty Dog have once again produced a fine game. This is linear blockbuster gaming at its best, and it dazzles the senses, even if the form disappoints the mind a little given the genre."
"The Zelda franchise normally serves up games of very high quality and the original Wind Waker was no exception. What the HD remake manages to do is provide solutions to all the bug bears of the original to provide a sublime experience for all. It takes a great game and makes it simply unmissable. Plus for veterans of the series, stick the game in Hero Mode and see your love affair with the series rekindled anew. A perfect example of how to do a remake."
"The Stanley Parable is one of the bravest, most anarchic, funniest and worthwhile games you'll play this year; as incisive, cutting and profound as you want it to be. An unpredictable recursive gem in which player agency is both supremely important and entirely non-existent. Once you've experienced it, you'll never look at videogames - or play them - in quite the same way again."
"Boasting a dynamic platforming playground that reveals itself slowly but surely, the entire Tomb Raider experience is built around the (re)birthing of an icon in terms of action-adventuring. Deliciously tight mechanics, combined with a fine balance between scripted setpieces and player-driven action deliver an immaculately paced piece that grabs hold and never let's go. It might not prove transcendental, but it points towards a future of great promise for the franchise. Simply outstanding."
Game of the Year 2013 | Rayman Legends
We called Rayman Legends one of the best 2D platformers to be seen since the SNES era, and we weren't lying.
Imagine the best pieces of music you can think of, where each and every note is perfectly pitched and weighted, and you wouldn't dream of adding more or changing the positioning. Well, Legends feels like that: the levels have been designed to provoke interest and challenge skills, to promote mechanical concentration even as you begin to lose yourself in the sumptuous aesthetics. It's a beautiful, grin-inducing game, and it's not afraid to make things really difficult for you.
It's Super Smash Bros., Mario Strikers, and (quite literally) Rayman Origins all rolled into one game, with a host of innovations, lashings of personality and charm, and utterly gorgeous visuals. It's fun whether you're on your own or playing with friends, there's online and offline co-op, not to mention simultaneous and asynchronous multiplayer.
But then there's also the perfect controls, the beautifully-wrought and inventively-functional aesthetics, and the host of gameplay twists that pop up in every single level, with each new mechanism discarded before it can overstay its welcome as the developers constantly seek out new weird and wonderful ways to dazzle and delight.
There are precious few games out that can illicit the pure joy of gaming that this title can, and it's a worthy winner of our Game of the Year 2013 award.
Don't be alarmed by the lack of a poll below, there'll be massive community voting station live on site in a couple of hours where you can get stuck in and decide which game with top the Readers' Choice list this year!