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2013 was a dark year for the best in video games

If the past 12 months have taught us anything, it's that if you want to make a gamer happy, make a game based on a sad story.

Dark themes marked the underpinnings of 2013, with bleak tales of apocalyptic woe topping the charts . Because really, what gamer likes a heartwarming tale of peace and tranquility? There are dreams to be crushed and NPC to be gunned down. ( This is for consoles; If PC titles were up for debate, The Stanley Parable and Gone Home would fit right in.)

I'll start with Dead Space 3, which many critics savaged over its emphasis on combat and quick reflexes instead of atmospherics and scares. But really, what else could you do with this story? Battle-hardened Isaac Clarke has a front-row seat to the end of the world. Nobody wants to skulk around derelict spacecraft when there are outer colonies teeming with necromorphs to blast .

The reboot of Tomb Raider was a welcome sight, with Lara Croft coming to the end of her second decade of release. There was some early tittering about Lara's apparent helplessness , but it all came together wonderfully at the end. By the time Lara shouts to the stranded cult members of this particular mystery island that she's coming to kill all of them, it's hard to stifle a cheer.

Just when I thought the Bioshock formula was getting tired, Bioshock: Infinite came along on a skyhook. It needed some polish, but following Booker DeWitt through multiple dimensions on his mission to rescue Elizabeth was mind-bendingly fun . Even if you were astute enough to realize the heart-wrenching twist of the story long before the end, fighting through a civil war, a kidnapping and fatal plummets was worth the trouble.

The king of all dark heroes returned in Batman: Arkham Origins, a prequel to prior installments Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. The story and execution were a bit on the clunky side, compared to those earlier efforts, but the game became a wild ride through the mind of an insane criminal named the Joker, so much so that you could easily describe the narrative as a love story, of sorts.

The real gem of the next-gen consoles was PlayStation 4's Killzone Shadow Fall. Picking up after the Terracide from the last PS3 installment, the series showed there are always more space Nazis to kill, even when you've already destroyed an entire planet. More than that, though: Shadow Fall showed why the new consoles could be worth getting at all.

Coming in close to the top slot was Grand Theft Auto V, the most expansive and ambitious chapter yet. The scene where you torture an informant alone casts a pall over the entire game. But these folks aren't angels, so there's only so much emotional investment you can eke out of this franchise.

But what scored the trophy for best (and darkest) game of them all? That's easy: The Last of Us proved to be the pinnacle of the console generation, as the PS3 headed into the autumn of its life. With stellar voice acting and a narrative that combined the best of source material like the The Walking Dead, True Grit and The Road, The Last of Us followed hard-bitten protagonist Joel from unwilling escort to grimly determined shepherd to Ellie. From the opening sequence, we know why Joel is the way he is. Through the adventures that followed, we know why Ellie became his savior. By the end, we know why he'd do anything to protect her. That's true storytelling, inspirational in its own way, even if the point is to make you ambivalent about what happens. Come to think of it, maybe 2013 wasn't completely full of dark narratives, after all.

— Joshua Gillin writes about video games for tbt*. Challenge his opinions at jgillin@tampabay.com

2013 was a dark year for the best in video games 01/03/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 3, 2014 4:58pm]

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