Game of the year awards 2013: personal picks

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Welcome to the PC Gamer Game of the Year Awards 2013. For an explanation of how the awards were decided, a round-up of all the awards and the list of judges, check here.

There are always nominees that mean a lot to just one or two judges. In past years these might have been included as runners up, but this year we wanted to recognise them in a more substantial way. In addition to the main awards, we've each taken a personal pick, and written about why that game made such a great impression in 2013.

Tony Ellis - Total War: Rome 2

So Rome 2 didn’t fix the flaws of the Total War series. Here’s the thing: it didn’t have to. The original Rome was so damn good, all they ever had to do was give it prettier graphics and not break it. I’m still madly tackling armies twice my size, because I know that if I can just massacre this unit and this one before they join up, I have a chance. I’m still dry-mouthed at the sight of a wavering company of Hastati, because I know everything is lost if they rout. When Rome 3 comes out, that’ll probably be my game of the year too.

Andy Kelly - Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs

I could never enjoy The Dark Descent because of the sanity system. For me, it got in the way of the story. So I was happy to discover that not only would the sequel not have it, but it was also being developed and written by Dear Esther creators The Chinese Room. As someone who plays games for atmosphere and storytelling, Machine for Pigs is ideal. It spins a strange, compelling yarn, and the increasingly terrifying depths of that awful factory will stay with me forever. I haven’t been able to look at bacon since.

Chris Thursten - Saints Row 4

I’m easily won over by a good music cue, and SRIV makes phenomenal use of them. Its best bits made me happier than any other game released this year, and it is way funnier, more adventurous and transgressive than a game about gangsters has any right to be. The series has climbed from a GTA alsoran to gaming’s answer to Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker comedies like Airplane! and Hot Shots!, and the fourth game in the series was my favourite mainstream game released in 2013.

Ben Griffin - Sim City

OK, let me explain. Look beyond the conga line traffic, broken leaderboards, idiot citizens, shrunken plots, saved game corruption and what might be the most catastrophic launch in gaming history, and you’ll find SimCity is quite good. I love the tilt-shift aesthetic. I love how tactile it is. I love watching streams of tourists gamble at my garish casinos. Most of all I love how Maxis made the insane complexity of running a city beautifully simple. There’s a brilliant game here – it’s just really well hidden.

Evan Lahti - Papers, Please

It hands you power and helplessness. As an impoverished checkpoint border officer in a pseudo-Soviet state, if you perform poorly at your miserable, taxing job, you won’t be able to keep your family alive. But despite this low position, you’re granted enormous influence over the lives of others. With one stamp, you can separate spouses, quash a conspiracy, liberate a killer, or save victims. The way the game stacks these moral quandaries atop your own instincts as caretaker is a big part of what make it worth playing.

Cory Banks - Tomb Raider

More than a reboot, this is simply a better take on Lara Croft. Previously, she was little more than an avatar, climbing poorly rendered cliffs in short shorts with a polygonal smile. Here, Crystal Dynamics turn her an actual person, a 21-year-old with faith in her convictions but fears that she’s making the wrong calls. We see her struggle and suffer in the game, an aspect that made many uncomfortable, but we also see her become a hero. She’s a Lara Croft I want to follow into future adventures.

Tom Senior - Assassin's Creed 4

Open-world games are benefiting hugely from new technology. Black Flag’s tropical paradise is a technical marvel, a bustling archipelago bound together by dynamic oceans full of storms, colonial fleets and vulnerable trade schooners. Whether freerunning through jungles or sailing the high seas, mere traversal feels dramatic, while those islands have a knack for drawing you away from the prescribed path to hunt animals, capture forts and commit piracy. It’s 2013’s most vibrant adventure.

Phil Savage - The Stanley Parable

I’d played the original mod, so I thought I knew what to expect. Sure enough, I was led across the abandoned office, past the doors, through an underground complex and on to the canonical end. That was the last time across the many different branches and endings that I could confi dently predict what would happen. Nothing else I’ve played this year had the same feeling of weird, hilarious and surprising discovery. The beauty of The Stanley Parable is that anything can be on the other side of a door.