R.G. rounds up his favourite console and PC games from 2014.
So, it’s that time again when people make a list of the best and worst entertainment to sum up the previous year. 2014 for gaming was a year of over-hyped disappointments and a lack of polish. Watch Dogs, Destiny and Titanfall did not live up to their ridiculously high expectations, and particular “Triple A” titles like Assassin’s Creed: Unity were getting ridiculed for feeling unfinished on first release. Of course, many gems do pop-up.
Just to note, this is a subjective list, so I am only listing games that I have played and personally enjoyed. If a title you deemed worthy didn’t show up, it’s probably because I didn’t like it as much as you did, or I haven’t played it yet. And before it’s brought up, I haven’t played the obvious two contenders, Dragon Age: Inquisition and Shadows of Mordor, so they are unfortunately out.
What are the best games you’ve played in 2014? Let us know in the comment section below.
10. Alien: Isolation
Pretty much SEGA’s apology letter for how abysmal Colonial Marines was, Isolation is the quintessential video game for the Alien franchise. I’m not a fan of the survival horror genre, but my love for the film got me interested, and it is one of the curiosities that did not disappoint. It managed to capture the retro-futuristic design and the dreadful sense of Ridley Scotts’ sci-fi horror masterpiece, whilst being a solid stealth-survival horror title that relies on anticipation and atmosphere rather than jump-scares and loud noises. Developer The Creative Assembly, renowned for their Total War RTS games, delivered a quality product that looked like it was out of their field.
Aesthetically, the game is a visual and technical marvel that truly emulates what the original Alien looked and felt like, from the DOS-like computers to its sterile environmental design. Like a true survival horror, your only options are to run, hide and be as resourceful as you can. It boasts a simple yet effective crafting system and very competent stealth gameplay that lets you manipulate the environment to get an advantage.
The best and most memorable parts of the game are the numerous run-ins with the Xenomorph and the deadly hide-and-seek game that you have to play with it. Speaking of the titular alien itself, it is one of the best AI monsters I have ever encountered, as it roams wherever it wants and can pop-up when you least expect it, which makes the encounters more nerve-racking and terrifying.
The reasons for why it isn’t higher on my list is the game’s disjointed save points, the repetitive android fights, uninteresting characters, and sometimes punishing difficulty. Regardless, this game makes Colonial Marines completely obsolete to the point where it felt like it never existed.
9. The Wolf Among Us
I was contemplating even putting a game that was technically released in 2013 on the list, but since its episodic and the rest of the game completed its run in 2014, I think it counts.
Ever since they wowed me with their adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, I have always looked forward to the next piece of licensed entertainment Telltale Games would get their hands on. Adapted from Bill Willingham’s ridiculously enjoyable Fables comic series, The Wolf Among Us is Telltale at their usual best – good writing, unforgettable characterisations, hard choices, and faithfulness to the source material. Granted, it retains Telltale’s usual technical issues and some of the choices felt superficial, but it was difficult not to get sucked into the world of Fables.
While its gameplay style is pretty much the same as The Walking Dead’s, the title boasts a colourful, neo-noir art style, an incredibly fascinating mythos and a unique, gruesome take on hard-boiled detective stories and fairytales.
8. Child of Light
2014 was not a very good year for Ubisoft.
From broken first-launch releases to overhyped disappointments, the giant developer/publisher had a lot on their plate. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they haven’t made anything good, and Child of Light is proof of that. A smaller release from Ubisoft in comparison to their big titles, it evokes the feeling of reading a children’s book, from the water-colour visual style to its rhyme-told fairytale. The rhyming itself will either make or break your experience, as it sometimes feels forced and lacking in wit, but if you are willing to forgive that, Child of Light is like a nostalgic trip to your childhood when your parents read you a story before you went to sleep.
The title is one of the most beautiful I saw in 2014; a testament to the power and simplicity of the UbiArt Framework Engine. Its side-scrolling perspective really hammers in the book-like structure and feel, accompanied by a very sweet story and a whimsical tone as a further touch-up. It also has very accessible RPG gameplay reminiscent of the classics like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, with an easy yet fun active-time battle system where you have the ability to manage your turns by using your firefly companion to slow down enemies and heal your party. This makes the combat frantic and dynamic. Because it feels like a children’s book, it’s a great game to play with your kids if you are a parent. It’s likely that Child of Light will become their new favourite story since it’s so enjoyable.
7. The Banner Saga
If a western developer made Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy: Tactics instead, this is what it would probably look like.
The Banner Saga is a beautiful-looking, darkly atmospheric, small yet epic tactical gem that is inspired by Viking mythology and the animation style of Ralph Bakshi. Created by Stoic Studio, who were former developers at Bioware, the game oozes with their previous employer’s knack for choice and consequence-based storytelling that gives repeated plays a lot of variety. The story is straightforward but there are many twist and turns that will leave you surprised at how different it was, and all of it is based on what choices you make. What’s brilliant about it is that, unlike Mass Effect or Dragon Age, where two polar opposite choices have a good or bad outcome, the kindest and most rational choices might lead to disaster. Since the majority of the narrative is told by text and still images, it is difficult to be invested in it, but it’s interesting enough to not warrant skips so you can get to a battle as soon as you can.
Taking a lot of pages from Nintendo’s Fire Emblem and Square Enix’s Final Fantasy: Tactics series, it’s a turn-based strategy role playing game that relies on keeping an eye on your enemy’s health, strength and armour points to plan out the most effective attack. You can either use a heavily-armoured character to reduce a lot of health, but at the cost of losing strength, or using weaker characters to bring down the adversary’s armour for a more effective attack from a heavy-hitter. It doesn’t bullshit around as you likely won’t leave a battle session with no wounds. The combat is simple at face value, but there is a huge amount of depth to it as the game progresses, even if there are unfair difficulty spikes at some points.
Like the aforementioned tactical series, it also lets you customise your own unique soldiers as well as managing supplies and morale, and they made each character have their own traits and personality, which makes the play-through very personal.
6. The Walking Dead: Season 2
Like The Wolf Among Us, this game technically came out in 2013 but became a complete product in 2014, so I will also count this one.
When the first season of The Walking Dead ended two years ago, it was an agonising wait until the follow-up came along. While not as good as Season 1, the second season was darker, hollower and less hopeful than its predecessor, maintaining the emotional harshness that Telltale’s take on The Walking Dead is known for. Playing as Clementine, the sidekick from the previous season, made a whole lot of sense since she was the emotional factor that kept you going for that entire season. Hell, probably the entire series in general since she was the reason why you wanted to keep playing through such a hellish world.
Aside from the usual technical faults expected from Telltale, Season 2 opts for a more action-oriented take on its point-and-click gameplay and a smaller, more personal story in comparison to Season 1’s lengthy and expansive journey, which is both a flaw and an advantage since the new characters aren’t as fleshed out as Season 1’s and the locations are not as varied. Nevertheless, this is a worthy follow-up to one of the best licensed video games ever made and, yes, it’s still better than the TV show.
The second release from Warner Bros.’ Supergiant Games, who you might know as the developer of the absolutely sublime Bastion, Transistor follows suit to its masterful predecessor. While its story comes off as vague and confusing – especially in the beginning – and the narrating voice does get grating at points, it becomes easy to be enamoured with it for its unique cyber-punk aesthetics, Daren Korb’s atmospheric soundtrack, and one of the most interesting and well-thought out combat systems I have seen in 2014.
Like Bastion, the title is seen in an isometric view but is more focused on strategy rather than Bastion’s full-frontal combat. The game involves a system similar to Fallout’s VATs, where you can pause a fight and plan out an attack. Unlike the latter’s method where you just mainly aim at the most vulnerable spot, Transistor lets you combine specific moves in a limited amount, resulting in very cool battle sequences. These are even more satisfying if the degree of success is high. The difficulty does spike at certain points, so you will rely on the mechanic for the enemy-heavy filled areas and boss fights. With so many options of approach, the fun comes from experimenting with different combos that will either make or break you in the battlefield.
If you have ever played Bastion and loved that game, definitely check out Transistor.
4. South Park: The Stick of Truth
Huh, another Ubisoft release that wasn’t ruined on launch. Of course, the game was already far into refinement before the company got ahold of it after the title’s original publisher, THQ, filed bankruptcy.
Along with Spider-Man 2, Telltale Game’s The Walking Dead, Batman’s Asylum franchise, and Goldeneye: 007, The Stick of Truth is a licensed video game done absolutely right. The title looks and feels like the show, from how the titular town looks to how the characters get animated. With the help of creators Parker and Stone, the game delivers the same rapid-fire satire and ridiculous humour that the series is known for. Like its source material, it mocks everything and everyone, gaming conventions in particular, as it will point out things like your character never talking or the pointlessness of audio logs.
On the gameplay side, it is a solid RPG with a South Park twist. From the get-go, you get to create your own mute character and join the paper cut-out world. The combat system is reminiscent of the Mario RPG series like Paper Mario or Mario & Luigi, making use of button-prompted attacks to make the skirmish more involving and to have a bigger impact on strategy. Its low difficulty – even on the highest setting – and sometimes repetitive combat are its biggest detriment, but it wasn’t enough to ruin the experience of living and breathing South Park itself.
3. Mario Kart 8
Easily the best entry for Mario’s successful spin-off franchise since the DS version.
While the battle mode is disappointingly lacking, it offers beautiful high-def visuals, easy-to-learn/hard-to-master controls, fantastic and easily accessible online multiplayer, and probably the best track options I have ever seen from the series. All the new tracks are lovingly-designed, wonderfully-presented and fun to do laps in whilst the returning tracks from previous entries are welcome, complementary additions.
Not much to say about the gameplay but it’s the same intense multiplayer experience where you get to be a giant dick to whoever you are playing with, all thanks to its large arsenal of weapons and items that will mess up the other racer’s place in the race. The only criticisms I have for the title are the previously-mentioned lacklustre battle mode and some balancing issues regarding the AI, a problem that should be easily fixed with continuous patches. Even if the series hasn’t changed too much, Nintendo are always on top when it comes to more refined iterations, and Mario Kart 8 is proof of that.
2. Shovel Knight
No game this year has been more retro than Yacht Game’s Kickstarter darling Shovel Knight. The title is an homage to the glorious 2D platformers of the NES era, whilst being its own unique product. Being a giant sucker for these types of games, I instantly fell in love with it.
Shovel Knight is a showcase of old design and gameplay choices that are still relevant today. The game’s sheer simplicity is in its tight controls, near-perfect difficulty curve and ever-evolving level design which is a testament to those tried and true formulas that made those classic platformers great from the beginning. And it helps that it looks and feels exactly like an NES game, from its brightly-coloured pallet choices to a catchy and original 8-bit soundtrack.
If this came out on the era it’s honouring, it would’ve stood toe-to-toe with masterpieces like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Mega Man 2, as well as making the rest its bitches in terms of sheer quality.
1. Super Smash Bros. (WiiU)
For Nintendo’s struggling console, 2014 was the year where it finally started to pick up some steam, starting with Mario Kart 8 all the way through to the fourth iteration of the company’s highly-revered fighting series. My game of the year and easily the WiiU’s killer app, SSB4 is a testament to the machine’s power and Nintendo’s dedication to providing a highly-polished and content-packed piece of entertainment.
The game offers a consistent 60fps on local play, gorgeous visuals, tighter and more refined fighting mechanics, a gigantic, balanced and diverse roster of characters, and god knows how many stages, modes and options of play, with its only flaw being the inconsistent online multiplayer performance – something that can be easily patched. It’s a title that reminds us that playing with friends in front of a television together and having a laugh is still relevant in a mostly online-focused industry.
While the console version is the most definitive edition, both the WiiU and 3DS entries are some of the most fun you will ever have on a home or handheld system.