Another year down and it is time for my top games list again. “2014 was not a good year for games.” That is what I would have said back in the middle of September. Fortunately half a dozen games in the last few months (the last few days even) have propelled this year from mediocre to almost as good as last year. Here are my Top 7 games of 2014:
7. BioShock: Burial at Sea DLC - The second part of this DLC came out this year and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Rapture is one of the best game worlds ever created. Up there with City 17 or anything in Deus Ex. Infinite was not a great game for me, but this DLC pack is fantastic because of the setting and the return of some mechanics that were lost. One of the longest DLC packs too, and worth every cent.
6. Age of Wonders 3 -The last strategy game I enjoyed was probably Starcraft 2, but I used to love the genre. Somewhere during the 3D transition my love was lost and infrequently rekindled. Age of Wonders 3 brings me back to the early days where I would play a strategy game for hours. A five hour session in Age of Wonders 3 was nothing out of the ordinary, nor was restarting a campaign mission after 3 hours just to improve my situation. It has gorgeous landscapes, wonderful music (just listen to this: http://youtu.be/ve2RgrC3OMA?t=47m57s) and addictive mechanics. The original gave me much the same feeling, so recreating the fantasy world was one of the pleasant surprises of 2014.
5. Last of Us: Left Behind (DLC) on PS3 -This DLC pack is so clever and well constructed. It details the back story of Ellie and transitions between a missing part of the original game. Playing this DLC and the full game in chronological order would be amazing. The juxtaposition of the two scenarios plays a key role in why this DLC pack is amazing. Everything feels handcrafted and important to the world and the characters. When naughty Dog is at their best, they produce something like this. It is so good that it makes me appreciate the original game even more.
4. The Talos Principle - Would anybody have guessed that Croteam are better at puzzles than shooters? Not me, but here is the proof. Talos gives you genius puzzles and a complementary story that is almost as thought provoking as the hardest tests. Pacing is up to the player as they decide which puzzles to complete and think about higher concepts regarding life. There is even some replay value as you solve side puzzles or choose alternative endings. It has some really clever puzzle designs that require almost no reflexes.
3. Shadow of Mordor – Assassin’s Creed meets Batman in Middle-Earth. But this is no sloppy imitation; it adds plenty of charm and style that suits the setting. The gameplay is excellent whether in stealth, fighting orcs or riding a Caragor into battle. Everything is so slick that is it easy to play for hours just killing the hilarious Orcs who make comments as they drink grog or get eaten by graugs. It introduces a procedural nemesis system that provides plenty of replay value as you battle varied captains. It is also one of the best performing and looking PC games this year. Monolith are back.
2. Dragon Age: Inquisition - Many games are large in scale, but few have massive scope. Inquisition is a huge game that overwhelms you with tasks and sucks you into the world of Thedas. The brilliant companions seem to have longer story arcs, the world is fun to explore and the decisions you make feel substantial. Between sessions it was hard to not think about my Inquisition and my next moves. On top of that it is one of the best looking games of the year. It has flaws, but they are pummelled into the ground by ambition. Up until December 25th, DA:I was my clear GOTY, but then I played...
1. The Wolf Among Us – After finishing this game in the last few days of 2014, it scratched around in my head until I could not ignore the call of the Wolf. The call was so strong that I replayed it again, with different choices, and went to read the comics. Telltale put themselves on the map with The Walking Dead, but there is something about this new series that captures my attention far more. Perhaps it might be because all the great characters are alive at the end of the first season. Or maybe it is because many of the main characters are intriguing, funny and likable. Or perhaps the setting and comic style plays so perfectly into the hands of Telltale. Of course I cannot forget that the story, involving murder, fairytales, ribbons, glamour and a toad has the best narrative arc of the year.
This story of the Big Bad Wolf treats characters with respect and allows many of them to survive to the final credits, although not necessarily unscathed. It centres on fairytale characters that have come to the real world after their land was taken. This creates a back story that is both familiar and fresh when some of the tales have been changed. The story ratchets up the stakes and introduces you cleverly to the world of the Fables as you uncover the secrets. The recreation of the source material (comics) is worthy of much praise, both artistically and contextually. You investigate crime scenes, talk to characters and decide where to explore next. Its narrative is exceptional with hilarious dialogue and a clever ending. It’s very much worth playing twice just for the different decisions. There is so much potential in this series and I truly hope they produce another season in the next few years.
My Previous Winners:
2013 - Metro: Last Light
2012 - Mass Effect 3
2011 - Battlefield 3
2010 - STALKER: Call of Pripyat
2009 - Uncharted 2
2008 - Fallout 3
The Walking Dead S2 - Just as good as the first season with a bigger emotional finish (I cried)
Far Cry 4 - More of the same, which is good. Unfortunately it seems to be afraid of fun, damn eagles
South Park: The Stick of Truth - Like a long episode of South Park with enjoyable turn-based combat
Valiant Hearts - Clever puzzle/platformer mix with a helpful dog set in WW1.
Wolfenstein: The New Order – When I look at this game I do not see an old-school shooter. I see a mediocre shooter with tacked-on stealth mechanics and fetch quests. The bullet shooting is barely passable and the laser weapon is overused in the last half. The AI is awful and I just did not find it all that enjoyable.
Alien: Isolation – While this game has good mechanics, it fails to use them well. Pacing is the biggest problem for me as the game drags with the alien and stumbles without it. The standard weapons were not needed, the back-tracking is dull and the story is weak. The artificial intelligence flaws also compound some problems with human and the alien.
Thief – Where to start with this one? On the surface you could probably be fooled into thinking this is a good remake but there are so many things wrong with the design. AI problems, circuitous city hubs, no jumping, bad sound design and escape sequences just to name a few. There are moments where the game is decent, but they are few and far between. At least the visual package is quite decent.
GRID Autosport – Codemasters have lost it, more specifically they have lost their desire to make a fun racing game. Instead they give you a tedious slog with terrible rubber-banding AI drivers. Even without those issues, this game recycles so much content that there are barely any new tracks. It takes out some of the best features from the original GRID, like team management and actual monetary income, and fails to replace them with anything of worth. Codemasters needs to refocus.
So there you have it, the highs and lows of 2014. Not a horrible year thanks to the last few months. Quite frankly it was not easy to pick my GOTY out of DA: I and The Wolf Among Us, it could have easily gone to Dragon Age. I think the main reason why I gave Wolf Among Us the GOTY was because it feels nearly perfect in terms of what Telltale wanted to achieve, yet DA:I is not quite there. One could argue that is because DA:I has far greater scope and that would indeed be true. In any case, both are amazing games and come highly recommended.
Hopefully everybody reading this blog is doing well. I spend most of my time with friends on Steam these days; there are quite a few Gamespot users there that keep in touch via the activity feed. I do still visit the forums from time to time, but nowhere near as committed as 2 years ago. So feel free to add me on Steam, under the same name as here, and I might catch you there. Hopefully 2015 is packed with gaming goodness.