Jason’s Top 7 Games of 2014
Another one in the books! Hard to believe that the PS4 and Xbox One have already been on the market for over a year, and the Wii U for 2!
I think 2014 will be looked back upon for so many key moments in gaming. Fresh off wildly successful launches, the next generation battle began in earnest between the PS4 and the Xbox One, the former coming piping hot out the gate while the latter’s sputtering start eventually smoothed into an aggressive holiday push. Even Nintendo seemed to make their own statement, finally amassing a critical mass of must-haves in the Wii U’s previously fledgling catalog. We had an explosion of interest in streaming, no doubt bouyed by two strreaming-capable machines. We had an industry upheaved in vicious debate over so-called “GamerGate” and the flood of discussion it spawned about the representation and treatment of women in gaming. We had Facebook buy up the world’s leading virtual reality startup, while Sony threw their own glowing VR headset into the midst with Project Morpheus. We watched as game after game stumbled and sputtered in a rushed launch, and even more who admitted defeat and slithered into 2015. At the end of it all, it was an interesting, tumultuous, and ultimately fruitful year in gaming, although one without a true standout star. 2015 looks loaded in potential, but before we get there let’s take a look back at some of my favorite experiences from the past year:
7) This War of Mine | 11 Bit Studios
This War of Mine is a harrowing tale of the life of civilians struggling to survive in an active war zone. By day, your ragtag band of survivors work to build essential supplies and appliances, cook food, craft items, and barter with passersby. By night, you alternate taking your survivors to venture out into the rubble and scavenge for parts, food, and other supplies. You withstand looters and burn books to keep warm during the winter, among the many other things you’ll make your survivors do in order to make it to the end of the war. It’s undoubtedly a depressing tale, one that succeeds in chasing after complex emotional reactions to the kind of morally gray decision making found in series like The Walking Dead. Most impressively, This War of Mine manages to tell this tale with engaging game mechanics.
6) The Wolf Among Us | Telltale Games
While The Walking Dead‘s first season was my Game of the Year in 2013, it was fair to wonder whether Telltale’s gripping hit would translate into further success for their other upcoming games. While The Walking Dead: Season Two continued to mostly impress, it was Telltale’s other game that wrapped up in 2014, The Wolf Among Us, that I thought was the year’s better game. The noir-like fantasy world of Fables looks striking in its neon-imbued art style. On top of more stellar writing, Telltale also improved on the level of interactivity with a bigger set of action set-pieces, and finished with a shocking reveal that leaves you thinking back on the entire journey. I don’t know if we’ll get a second season, or whether one is even necessary, but The Wolf Among Us proved Telltale will be a force to be reckoned with in the realm of narrative-driven games.
5) Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare | Sledgehammer Games
Trust me: I’m as shocked as you are that Call of Duty is anywhere near this list given the series’ recent track record. But in case you haven’t heard yet, Sledgehammer has brought some swagger (and, more importantly, inventive designers) back to the series. The futuristic setting afforded the designers the playground in which they could devise some cool new toys that genuinely breathe life into Call of Duty‘s extremely familiar shooting gallery, and Advanced Warfare continued to introduce and iterate on fun, occasionally original ways to interact with the world in a first person shooter. On top of it all, Advanced Warfare is quietly one of the best looking games we’ve seen running on the current generation hardware. The multiplayer modes, while fun, don’t benefit from quite the same renaissance as the campaign–it ends up feeling like a clunkier version of…
4) Titanfall | Respawn Entertainment
A huge part of the staff that originally gave birth to Call of Duty was finally able to release their brand new IP to the world this year, and what a blast it was. Despite a disappointing multiplayer campaign mode (let’s be real, it’s regular competitive multiplayer with some voiceovers popping up every once in awhile), Titanfall felt like a shot in the arm for the entire FPS genre. Fast, fluid controls took awhile to get the hang of, but once you catch up with the learning curve, zipping across maps, along walls, and into giant mechs becomes such an exhilirating experience that it’s hard to put the game down. The introduction of the eponymous Titans, groups of A.I. fodder, and mostly excellent map design proved to be an exciting combination, underpinned by silky smooth controls that are a clear product of their pedigree.
3) Destiny | Bungie
I had a lot of fun with Destiny, as I went over in detail in my review, even despite its disappointing narrative shortcomings. While I similarly have complaints about the endgame now that we’re months beyond release, overall, Destiny was without a doubt one of the most memorable experiences of 2014. Bungie’s first game after its breakup with Microsoft felt both comfortingly familiar and yet fresh in many ways. The colorful world was refreshing in an age where military-themed shooters are notoriously dominant, and the melding of science fiction and fantasy worlds continues to feel wholly unique in the tapestry of gaming. Most of all, though, it’s Destiny‘s connectedness that it will truly be remembered for as it was, I thought, mostly successful in borrowing ideas from MMOs and infusing them into a cooperative Halo-esque shooter.
2) Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor | Monolith Productions
Shadow of Mordor has drawn a lot of comparisons to Rocksteady’s Batman games and Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series, and for good reason: mechanically, the game is a perfect amalgamation of some of those games’ biggest strengths, all wrapped up in the dressing of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendary world. Monolith is the first developer to truly emulate the feel of the Arkham series’ superb rhythm-based melee combat system, and the addition of swords and magic powers are a perfect match. The Nemesis system has been deservedly praised for being an exciting new design innovation that brings emergent gameplay to the forefront. While Mordor is a pretty drab and desolate place visually, it proves to be a great choice of setting for a Lord of the Rings game as it provides countless orcs and beasts to hunt down. The story is decent without being memorable, and the graphics oscillate from impressive to bland, but it’s impossible to deny how much fun the game is to play and how well the various borrowed mechanics work in harmony with one another.
1) Transistor | Supergiant Games
Supergiant’s follow-up to Bastion was hands-down the most beautiful game that came out in 2014. Sure, a lot of noise has been made about new consoles’ graphical prowess, but Transistor shines due to some genuinely spectacular artistic designs. Everything in the game’s dystopian techno world pulses with originality and smart design, and I’d often pause to take screenshots of protagonist Red’s pensively staring out at the gorgeous environments. More than just a looker, Transistor also brought plenty of new ideas to the table in its gameplay: an optional, almost Fallout–inspired combat dynamic that gave you the option of real-time or turn-based strategies; the inventive use of flexible character upgrades that could function as moves, attack modifiers, or passive buffs depending on how the player chose to equip them; and a genuinely cool use of the DualShock 4’s built-in speaker in the PS4 version all bolster the mesmerizing experience of playing this game. The story may have been a little muddled and the boss fights were kind of a drag, but overall, it’s hard to say a 2014 impressed me more than Transistor.