Man, another year has blinked by. It doesn’t feel like it’s been 12 months since I last did one of these lists but it’s time to put my brain to work again. I actually look forward to doing this now as I’ve found it’s a great exercise for my critical thinking skills. It took me quite a few hours of thought to figure out this year’s list. Like last year, I had hoped to do a video companion to go along with this but alas, I’m getting used to some new medication that’s caused me a lot of unexpected down time and has put a kink in a lot of my holiday content creation plans. Figures. I’m still gonna’ get this done dammit! On the plus side, I’ve taken to reviewing games on this blog sometimes and some of the games I covered are in my list so at least there’s those to check out if you’re so inclined.
2014 has been kind of a rough year for me personally (for the world as a whole too) and it certainly was for video games. Numerous broken game launches, even more broken promises, new consoles that are selling well despite a disturbing lack of promised new ideas, outrage culture roaring into gaming in a big way, propped up by a crooked, arrogant “enthusiast” press that refuses to be accountable and profits from controversies they stoke with one hand and decry with the other and people who have turned being offended into a hobby and in some cases, a career. That’s not even to mention the anarchist scumbags who have gone out of their way to get all gamers painted as hateful harassers. The games industry has a long and turbulent year coming in 2015 but despite everything I just mentioned, I’m hopeful things are going to right themselves again. I’ll save a lot of that speculation for my Bold Predictions post later. That said, there were still a bunch of amazing games this year and anyone who says this was a bad year for people who like good games just plain isn’t looking hard enough (and you don’t even have to look that hard.) Narrowing my list down to 10 was harder than I expected and I still have tons of Honourable Mentions this year. In short, I found no shortage of stuff to enjoy this year and yes, much of it was in fact available on or exclusive to consoles.
Alright, let’s get down to it! This isn’t an in-depth critical analysis of the titles. That can be found in any number of places, though there are convenient links to my reviews and videos on titles I’ve covered personally. Each game comes with a little blurb just casually explaining why I think the way I do about them.
As per tradition, let’s get the negative out of the way first. This is exactly what the title implies, games that disappointed me. Some of these games and concepts are bad, some I actually liked but still fell well short of what they were promised to be.
Destiny – As someone who has been at best, ho hum on the stuff Bungie has put out, Destiny’s grand promises looked like something that could finally get me on bored with them. Instead, we got a massively hyped product with a pretentious, impenetrable story, spoon shallow characters, an embarrassing lack of content that was padded out with grinding, dull multiplayer (normally Bungie’s strong suit) and the best content gated off for only the most hardcore players. An epic disappointment all around. I’m done with Destiny unless it gets a major overhaul and truthfully, I think I’m largely done with Bungie in general.
CounterSpy – I like stealth games and the idea of a 2D stealth concept with a ton of style was very appealing to me. CounterSpy is a good idea drowning in bad execution. Poor control response, pseudo randomly generated levels that often aren’t conducive to stealth, a lousy combat system and short length make this feel like it was a crappy mobile game blown up to full size. Given that this has mobile versions, I think that’s likely the case.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection – I don’t even like Halo that much but I bought this at launch to co-op with my friends and get in some multiplayer. It was completely broken then and despite numerous patches and promises later, it still doesn’t really work right. An outsourced nightmare of a product, Microsoft should be ashamed of themselves for letting this ship when it did.
Broken Age & Double Fine – I was among the many who defended Double Fine tooth and nail for years. They seemed to be a virtuous independent developer succeeding in spite of the industry trying to beat them down. This year, they showed themselves to just plain be badly run. Despite earning 10 times it’s required budget, Broken Age was split up, the first part shipped late, the second part is still nowhere to be seen and though I appear to be in the minority, I thought the first part was underwhelming to say the least. It looks nice but it’s boring, slow and has story cohesion issues, despite a great cliffhanger ending. Maybe they should have constrained their budget a bit more instead of paying Elijah Wood who knows how much to completely phone in a lead role. Then there was launching Space Base DF-9, funding it with Early Access and abandoning it, dumping a bunch of customers with half a game while still leaving it up for purchase. Despite all this, they have multiple projects in the pipe and have decided to get into publishing as well. This is a company that needs to restrain itself. I’ve pre-ordered several Double Fine games in the past and backed Broken Age at the $100 tier. I won’t make those mistakes again.
Ubisoft – This once fantastic AAA publisher went full on anti-consumer this year. Multiple big projects shipped broken and some of them are still broken. Watch_Dogs (which I did enjoy) ended up being far less both visually and game play wise than was actually demonstrated to people prior to its release. They continue to show complete disrespect to the PC audience. And let’s not forget the damn Ubisoft open-world formula that is as tired as it has become boring. For Pete’s sake, they figured out how to put world revealing towers in The Crew, a racing game! Enough already! This is a company who is letting the scope of its projects run away with themselves in directions nobody asked for while still trying to keep some of them a yearly affair. They continue to do this despite making it abundantly clear this year that it’s not possible. Slow down and get your heads before you have no customer good will left!
The “Because Random” Genre – What the Hell is this? “Because Random” is a genre term I invented to apply to games that seem to think endless non-sequiturs or just throwing darts to come up with their subject matter is somehow equivalent to clever humour. Games that fit this genre based on what I’ve seen are things like Jazz Punk, Frog Fractions, I Am Bread and Goat Simulator. The two latter ones are also often called “YouTube fodder” because they’re designed to sell copies because lazy YouTubers can use them for cheap laughs. Maybe it’s just my personal tastes but I find this kind of humour to be very lazy and just not funny. It’s Seth MacFarlane, Anthony Burch type humour in that all it involves is pointing at random things and going “Funny rite LOLZ?!” instead of actually formulating and tuning original jokes. You have to make me laugh, not just expect me to because you say so.
Consumers for Failing to Support New Ideas – I’m pretty sure I’ve complained about this before. One of the things you’re going to notice in my top 10 is that there’s at least a couple of games in it that despite being great, were commercial failures. Gamers constantly bitch and moan that there’s no new ideas, everything’s the same and that the new consoles are seeing more safe bets than ever. You know why? Because when new ideas do come out, no one buys them, instead running back to Assassin’s Creed again, even when it’s not only a weak game but completely broken to boot! We as consumers don’t get to demand new things when we don’t step up and support them. Stop buying the same old crap again and again and support something new if you want to see more of it!
These are games that I think had potential to make either my top 10 or my honourable mentions but which I just couldn’t play enough of this year to judge.
Dragon Age: Inquisition – I haven’t played Dragon Age: Origins yet but I intend to and will get to this after.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity – I got this for free with a video card. I’m a big enough Assassin’s Creed fan that despite this being a mess, I will still give it a chance.
South Park: The Stick of Truth – I’m not a huge South Park fan but heard this was great. I just bought it in the Steam sale but I won’t get to it this year.
Wasteland 2 – I actually backed this and have it waiting for me but just haven’t had time.
Divinity: Original Sin – I bought this at launch to co-op with someone and it hasn’t so much as been run once yet. I really do want to play it with another person so I hope I can do so soon.
Far Cry 4 – I’ve just started this so I haven’t played enough to form an opinion. Based on what I’ve seen, I’m sure I’ll love this but because it’s basically Far Cry 3 II, it would probably get an Honourable Mention. You get this one Ubisoft but the next one better change things up.
These are games that weren’t quite good enough to make my top 10 but which I still really enjoyed and wanted to shout out. I’m not ranking any of these and the order they are listed in is just the order I thought of them.
Transistor – The second game by Bastion makers Supergiant Games, this isn’t quite as good as its predecessor title but it’s still very cool in its own right. Gorgeous visuals and music, unique combat system and a good setting, despite the story not making much sense in the end. It also has a rather weird mechanic where doing badly in battle actually made the game harder, a lofty idea but one that also caused a lot of frustration. It’s still a wonderful experience though. Supergiant is a talented bunch.
D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die (Xbox One Exclusive) – I’ve always meant to play Deadly Premonition but haven’t gotten around to it so I’ve only heard of the insanity that is SWERY games from others. After playing D4, I get it now. This game is batshit crazy and doesn’t make much sense, yet it kind of does and it’s really endearing somehow. I can’t explain it but I still really had fun. It’s supposed to be episodic and was apparently a flop so I really hope more comes soon. If you have an Xbox One, this isn’t very expensive and I highly recommend giving it a go to see if you also get it.
Murdered: Soul Suspect – There’s so much that’s wrong with Murdered and yet you can just feel this is a game that’s full of heart and good intentions. It’s one of the rare titles I was able to see and enjoy the good in beneath the layers and layers of problems. This can be found for a song in many places right now. I can’t in good conscience recommend it at full price but for a steep discount, there’s…something here.
Mario Kart 8 (Wii U Exclusive) – Double Dash!! is still the best Mario Kart (yes, it is) but man, this plays wonderfully and looks so good in 1080p/60. Nintendo also brilliantly allowed two people to play online from the same console (which my girlfriend and I love) and they packed an incredible amount of content into the game’s two DLC packs. This is an incredible Mario Kart experience and a good reason to buy a Wii U on its own.
Art of Balance – Shin’en Multimedia is this weird little team from Germany who mostly only makes stuff for Nintendo platforms, usually shmups. Their stuff is always solid and Art of Balance is an interesting shift for them into the physics puzzle genre. This little game is a ton of fun, challenging, packed with content and has a great audio-visual presentation. It’s also very simple. There’s no leaderboards, no scoring, no social hooks. you just get a pile of levels and beat them, that’s it. It’s fantastic in its simplicity and even though I’m not a big puzzle guy, I’ve had a lot of fun with it so far.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes – Yeah, there’s controversy because Kojima dared to offend the perpetually offended. That doesn’t make this bad. Called a paid demo by many (who aren’t necessarily wrong), this is a preview of some of what we’re apparently to see in the next Metal Gear Solid. If so, colour me impressed. It’s gorgeous, runs like a top and completely revamps the mechanics of Metal Gear Solid into something modern that doesn’t require yoga certification to play effectively. And I say that as a long time fan of the series. If you do all the challenge missions, there is more than enough content in this package to justify the price. Just seriously Kojima, bring back David Hayter. Kiefer Sutherland is a bad Solid Snake.
Strider – An old arcade game based on some anime got a new entry on modern systems. This sounds like it should have been a mess but it was anything but. The new Strider rode the middle-ground between the fast, fluid game play of the arcade game and the progression of the most story-heavy NES version and did it very well. It looks great, plays with fluidity and is challenging without being overwhelming and was a small, inexpensive downloadable to boot. I doubt we’ll see another of these but I hope we do. This was the perfect way to revisit Strider.
Threes! – My opinion on mobile games is well documented but Threes! is a simple to learn, brutal to master game about combining numbers to make bigger numbers. They even gave every card its own personality which just keeps you smiling as you play. It’s a shame this got so badly ripped off and crushed in revenue by 2048. This is the original and it’s so much better.
Luftrausers – I’d had my eye on this one for a while and it didn’t disappoint. This game will kick your ass over and over again but you’ll always enjoy it until the moment it does. It’s a shmup that’s free-flowing with physics and is somehow beautiful, despite only using a few colours. It’s not on mobile platforms but can be played so quickly, you almost think it should be. And dat soundtrack! If you like shmups even a little bit, you owe it to yourself to give this a shot in one of the many places you can get it.
Smash Hit– Two mobile games?! I know! I found this on some Best Android Games list and I’ve played it every day since. It’s really just an endless runner but it’s combined with constantly smashing glass objects in your way, something we all wanted to do as kids and couldn’t. That wasn’t just me, right? It’s free but I paid for the pro version just to throw the developer some money. It’s the kind of mobile game I like, one that’s fast with a cool idea and isn’t packed with scummy mechanics.
One Finger Death Punch – The developers who made this were famous for cranking out nothing but crap on Xbox Live Indie Games. They claim they bet the farm on this game and I hope it went well for them because it’s some of the best raw fun I’ve had in a while. A two button reflex game where you’re a stick man ninja brutally slaying hundreds of other stick men ninjas. It sounds stupid and in concept it is but it’s crazy fast and so satisfying. It’s packed with levels and I’m still working on it to this day. Get it on Steam, you won’t regret it.
My Top 10 Games of 2014
Here it is, the meat of this tasty, tasty gaming sandwich. As usual, this is the ordered list. I think any of these games are well worth your time but I order the list in the order of how I would buy them if I didn’t have the money to buy them all, from least likely to most likely. I still consider myself very fortunate to have the means to buy any games I want right now but if I wasn’t, this is how I’d do it.
10. InFamous: Second Son (PS4 Exclusive) – InFamous will never win any awards for its story or characters but I’ve always loved them because they’re open world games with superpowers and play fast and fluid. Second Son is no exception and it shows off the power of the new consoles on top of that. You get to fly around blowing up an evil military in a representation of Seattle that’s bright, colourful and full of stuff to do without being too sprawling for its own good. This is one of those open world games where an afternoon will pass by without you noticing.
9. Wolfenstein: The New Order – Based on pre-release coverage of this, it was sounding like a cheap cash-in on a beloved retro property by a publisher that was squandering great potential. Everyone was wrong. Made by Starbreeze veterans, they actually took a series with a flimsy premise and characters with literally no depth and made something dark and compelling while still managing to bring all the whackiness and visceral fun of the original idea of Wolfenstein. They didn’t waste resources on a multiplayer mode that no one would play, they just made a long single player experience that was packed with content, gore, spectacle and even a few laughs here and there. Easily my most pleasant surprise this year. I can’t wait to see what MachineGames does next.
8. Dark Souls II – I always respected Dark Souls but even after playing it for Extra Life in 2012, it was just too nuts for me. With Dark Souls II, what’s awesome about this series finally clicked. Many say this doesn’t hold a handle to the first game but I still found it a great time, though I did a lot of it in co-op like a wimp. Unlike the first game, the PC port wasn’t a hot mess and was in fact pretty good. I don’t know if I have it in me to do a New Game Plus run on my own but I still intend to finish all the DLC. I really don’t understand the story of these games but it’s not the point. The worlds are amazing, the combat is complex and strategic, the depth of character customisation is mind boggling and if you’re willing to, you can put hundreds of hours into these games and still not experience everything they have to offer. I not only respect Dark Souls now, I can’t wait to dive into Bloodborne when it comes out.
7. Shovel Knight – A Kickstarter success story that I somehow completely missed prior to its release, a bunch of ex-WayForward developers decided to make their own version of a Mega Man game but with their own ideas borrowed from some other notable titles of the past. Then they wraped it up in an audio-visual package mostly based around the NES but with just enough of the SNES thrown in to make it pop, combined with one of the best chiptune soundtracks ever. I finished this tough but not crazy tough platformer and immediately started a New Game Plus. Yacht Club Games hit all the retro game points they needed to while still making something that didn’t feel dated, even though it was made to look it. I hope this isn’t the last of these games we see.
6. This War of Mine – I may yet do a video series on this incredible title. The previous two games by its developer were reverse tower defense titles that I actually liked a lot but this is miles away from that. You play the survivors caught up in a fictionalised version of the siege of Sarajevo, trying to do what you can to wait out the war. It’s a strategy and resource management game combined with The Sims, mixed with war-time horror. It constantly demands brutal choices from you where there is no right answer but one has to be given nonetheless. I’ve only played this game once and I knew how good it was because I felt genuinely bad with what I was having to put these characters through. Much like Papers, Please did, this is a game that conveys emotion and meaning through proper game play mechanics, rather than just leading you around by the nose through cliché like Gone Home does. It’s not for those who are easily upset, or maybe it is. It’s a unique game and one everyone should try but it’s not “fun” in the way many think of games.
5. Forza Horizon 2 – I like racing games and I finish most games I play but I always burn out on racing games before beating them, usually because they either get too hard or too repetitive. What I love about Forza Horizon 2 is that because it’s takes place in a fictional festival environment that’s wide open, you aren’t just racing on the same tracks with the same progression of cars over and over. Nearly every event is different and some are really varied because this isn’t a game concerned with simulating anything, only with having a great driving experience like you can really only get in your dreams. Playing this game is actually relaxing to me because it’s challenging but never feels tense during races and the world is just so pleasant to hang out in. I haven’t finished this yet but I have every intention to because I can just zen out to it and that’s rare.
4. Elite: Dangerous – This came out in mid-December so none of the major places got to talk about it which is a shame. I love space games to death and have been so happy to see this genre make a comeback. However, I didn’t back the Elite: Dangerous Kickstarter because it didn’t look like Frontier Developments was in good health at the time and I decided to wait until release. I never touched it until it came out and well, I have a brand new flight stick that I bought just for this. In reality, this is a game that has a lot of customisation but due to its instanced nature, is very shallow. There’s a huge galaxy but there really isn’t a lot to do in it, there’s no story and no end game. The goal is just to keep playing in this somewhat sparse galaxy and advancing yourself until you decide to stop. The thing is, that’s perfectly fine. This is another game I can lose hours in and walk away from completely relaxed and chilled out. Just cruising around space, running missions with some ambient music on in the background is a great experience and if you want to get down and fight, there’s definitely ways to do that too. This is a great way to kick off the revolution of the space genre and even though I was maybe hoping for a bit more, this is another way to me to just shut off my brain and cruise and the $100 I spent on the game and the flight stick was well worth it for that.
3. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor – A licensed game that was apparently originally supposed to be a Batman title from a company that had never made an open world game before. How could it be good? I don’t know but man, Monolith landed something amazing with this one. It’s an open world game but they didn’t bloat it out to ridiculous proportions like Assassin’s Creed or Grand Theft Auto. They kept it big enough to merit exploration but small enough to be focused and not take a decade to make. They also introduced the incredible Nemesis System, which gave you a huge army of enemies, each of which had their own personalities, memory, all apparently ran in real-time and which could be manipulated behind the scenes to do your bidding either directly or indirectly. It was about causing internal strife as it was about it’s brutal, graphic, satisfying combat and this system could only have been done on the new hardware. Monolith has been a company that’s made incredible games that don’t sell. They deserve a hit and I hope this gives it to them.
2. Bayonetta 2 (Wii U Exclusive) – Bayonetta is an absolutely insane, fast, insane, intense, insane, tight and insane character action game that’s still widely regarded but which didn’t sell enough to warrant a sequel from the creative cowards at Sega. It’s a testament to how incredible games can be when you don’t care about realism at all. Everyone was stunned when Nintendo announced that not only was a sequel coming, not only was it Wii U exclusive but that they were also funding it. They clearly let PlatinumGames have the freedom they needed because Bayonetta 2 improves on the original in basically every way. It looks better, plays better, they’ve given multiple difficulty options to make it more accessible, added a weird online co-op mode and they used the Wii U’s bit of extra juice over the 360 and PS3 to amp up the insanity to 11 and beyond. Seriously, go watch some videos of this game, it has to be seen to be believed. The story is barely understandable and it’s too heavy on the cutscenes (well staged as they are) but this is one of the best action series I’ve ever played and I intend to beat this one at least once more. And if you never played the original Bayonetta (shame on you!), you get a Wii U port packed in for free! This is seriously worth buying a Wii U for and if you already have one, just go buy this so we get another one!
1. Sunset Overdrive (Xbox One Exclusive) – This was honestly a neck and neck fight with Bayonetta 2 but the open world, replayability and unique online mode in Sunset Overdrive pushed it over the top for me. I can honestly say I’ve not had more fun with any single game this year. Yeah, the game tries too hard to have an attitude and takes too long to click because of how it doles out new mechanics but when that does eventually click, this is a fast zombie shooter mixed with Tony Hawk and it doesn’t give a shit about realism, just about being as fun as possible. I love Insomniac’s work and am a huge Ratchet & Clank fan. I liked Resistance a lot too but Fuse was a horrible misstep for them. This takes something more realistic than Ratchet & Clank but retains all the mechanics and design elements of that series that makes it so fun. Like Bayonetta 2, this game isn’t selling well either and that’s a crime. We’ll never see this on another console but I do dearly hope it comes to PC like other former Xbox One exclusives Ryse: Son of Rome and Dead Rising 3 did. More people need to play this. It’s just so much damn fun!
Well, there we are. I think when you look at the whole picture, I’ve got a fairly varied list this year. I tried to condense things a bit so I’m only at 4,600 words as opposed to last year’s 7,000. Yay for compression I guess? Like I said above, gaming had its troubles this year but there was still a ton of incredible stuff to play and there’s more than enough fun in this list alone to occupy anyone for months. I hope 2015 is better for everyone and that we get even more cool stuff. Nothing would make me happier than this list being even harder to figure out next year.
I hope you all had a great holiday and I wish everyone a fantastic 2015! I would absolutely love to hear what your favourite games were thus year. Feel free to let me know in the comments. Stay tuned for my Bold Predictions post and as always, my YouTube efforts soldier on. Have a great year everyone!