I’m going to save you the whole dialogue of “2014 wasn’t a great year for games but it wasn’t a bad year for games” and just say that 2014 was alright. A lot of the stuff I liked the most came from smaller developers, new ones, indies, or otherwise anyone who wasn’t okay with shipping a broken game.
This list isn’t my “Best Games Of 2014” list. I didn’t play every game from last year so it’s just one of some of what I went through that I think you should check out too.
Murdered Soul Suspect
If I was doing a set of awards I’d be very tempted to give Murdered Soul Suspect the one for “Most Overlooked”. From what I saw there weren’t many people calling the game outright bad so much as just not knowing it existed. That’s a big shame because while Murdered isn’t perfect it tells a compelling murder mystery story involving your very own death. The slight faults come down to the noticeable forced-in stealth sections that only break the pacing and the massive collect-a-thon if you want to unravel some other neat short stories. Even so it’s a pretty short game with a surprisingly likable main character (with a normal sounding adult male voice) that’s good for a quiet evening.
Unfortunately I haven’t played as much Freedom Wars as I wanted to for this article but I did get enough hours into feel pretty safe in saying this game’s world is amazing. The universe of Freedom Wars is one where humanity has endured some sort of apocalypse that caused nearly every resource to become extinct. Instead of an overplayed story about individuals fighting over sparse resources and working to restore order, order already exists… for the most part. Rather than “people” fighting over food, it’s entire countries called “Panopticons” that do the fighting. And in this world you are quite literally born a sinner. By the very fact that you exist and need food and a place to sleep you have to work of thousands of days of sentencing to have free reign over your life again. The gameplay sits somewhere around the Monster Hunter camp with missions involving toppling giant mechs from other Panopticons and collecting resources and it’s pretty alright. Really though it’s the setting that makes this at all worth checking out. The idea that you have to buy entitlements like the ability to speak to people of the opposite sex or just to run for a few seconds sounds grating but it does a great job of setting in the tone that whatever you do you’re wasting valuable resources and time. In this sense I think Freedom Wars is more interesting than the worlds of The Walking Dead or Day Z will ever be.
I don’t think Sunset Overdrive is the best designed game I played all year, and most certainly not the funniest (blame Jazzpunk), but it has a really nice style to it that I don’t believe I’ve ever seen before. I have to wonder if a lot of the hate for its hot topic clothing choices and reddit jokes coming from the older writers out there is simply because they didn’t grow up with that. Personally I thought it was a pretty cool look and while the beginning didn’t have much going for it the latter half of the game is where the writing and gameplay shine. With the ability to air dash and grind along rails while shooting hundreds of fireworks at energy drink monsters it’s hard not to grin a little while playing this game. It’s pretty lighthearted, dumb, and fun.
I rarely get the chance to play games with friends locally so I’m very glad that out of all the local multiplayer games vying for my attention this year Lethal League was one of the few that I chose. LL is some kind of mix of racquetball and dodgeball with a Jet Set Radio aesthetic and it doesn’t take long at all for the action to become nearly impossible to follow. Even so we quickly found ourselves shouting every time we managed to hit the ball and keep the momentum going. With 4 player local multiplayer and an easy to learn but insanely difficult to master gameplay style it makes for a great party game.
Call of Duty Advanced Warfare
After the massive flop that was Call of Duty Ghosts I don’t think anyone expected Advanced Warfare to be good. Decent maybe, but not good. And yet here we are with the game out and it’s actually pretty awesome! Maybe it’s just because COD has had some serious stagnation issues over the year but AD was a joy to play from beginning to end. It featured a story that, while predictable, was fun to watch, it had some genuinely good quiet moments that featured no combat, the new movement felt great, and all the aesthetic improvements were for the better. For the first time in years it felt like the team at Sledgehammer really cared about the campaign in a Call of Duty game instead of just treating it like a back-of-the-box item.
For as much as I’d like to say about the multiplayer though I’m still pretty terrible at it and without friends to play it that can get frustrating. Considering how much I loved Titanfall though I’d bet that if I really buckled down and worked toward getting good at it I’d have a lot of fun. If you haven’t played a Call of Duty game in a few years then you’ll be surprised. Call Of Duty might just be the king again.
I think what Insurgency does best is find a great mix between the arcade-y manic shooting of Call Of Duty and the extremely slow and plodding gunfights of Arma. Maps are decently big with multiple avenues of attack, there’s almost no HUD to speak of (no ammo count or map), and friendly fire is always on. This means that people are careful to move around corners and hesitant to shoot the first thing they see. Gunfights can be over in moments with only a few bullets used. Luckily though matches don’t take very long to complete and you won’t go too long without finding someone else to engage with. Also props to the developers for the constant free updates to the game including night maps that most other devs say can’t be done well in shooters. For fans of Counter Strike or shooter fans who want something a little different I highly suggest you to check out Insurgency.
Dark Souls 2
Expectations can be a harsh thing to handle. When you’re trying to make the sequel to what some people consider one of the greatest games ever made, you’re likely not going to hit your goal. Dark Souls 2 was like that for a lot of people (me included). Even so I liked DS2 quite a bit, but just how This War of Mine was for me DS2 was for others. To those people whose expectations were shattered, I would implore you to try Dark Souls 2 again. It may not be the masterpiece the first game was but it’s still an extremely solid Souls game. The combat is still rich, environments and enemies inventive, and the story obtuse. Just all a little less so.
Far Cry 4
I played a lot of games this year that I’d consider “fun”, and of those games I don’t think any of them provided such a primal sense of “fun” more than Far Cry 4. Starting to set up for any outpost and deciding what to bring is fun in itself but that enjoyment doubles when you play the environment to your advantage. Placing mines on the ground that a car normally patrols, riding in on an angry elephant, or my personal favorite of flying around the outpost in the buzzer with a one-handed grenade launcher. What makes FC4 impressive though is that the chaotic moments are great fun, but so is the stealth. It started in 3 with just the bow and camera and now we have throwing knives and a crossbow added to the arsenal. The myriad of takedown possibilities helps this too. Even apart from that though the story is actually pretty decent this time around, even though the villain once again completely steals the show. And while the environment of Kyrat isn’t quite as vibrant and different as The Rook Islands from 3 it’s still a new place to explore when most open worlds settle for dense urban areas. Really the only thing holding this game down is that it’s iterative in a lot of ways. What was fun in FC3 and FC2 is still here and parts that were just okay have been tweaked yet again to make them better. Man is it fun though.
Humor has always been a hard thing to do in games so it’s that much more impressive that Jazzpunk actually made me laugh out loud during most its run time. It relies on a lot of absurdest humor that’s much in the vein of classics like “The Naked Gun” and doesn’t overstay its welcome at about 3 hours of playtime. Not all the jokes come together and when you really think about it all you’re doing is walking around and clicking on things, but Jazzpunk is just too funny and endearing to pass up.
Middle Earth: Shadow Of Mordor
I’ve got some real mixed feelings about Shadow Of Mordor. For as much as I love the combat and like the nemesis system that gives every boss a personality I just could not get over the joke of a story and completely unlikable characters. Even putting that aside though I think my problems run deeper. For all the love it got by being “a really good Assassin’s Creed/Batman game”, I’ve already played those games. Mordor may have the mechanics down better than the games it cribbed them from, but I feel like it lacks the heart. Assassin’s Creed’s climbing may be a bit clunkier and slower but the buildings you’re traversing are these beautifully recreated historical monuments that show the love and care the architects put into them. In Mordor you climb half broken walls of bricks and logs tied together by ropes. In Batman you get to become the hero that’s spanned decades and fight for justice against thugs but never kill them (because Batman adheres to his moral code to a fault). In Mordor you some random guy slaughtering completely unredeemable enemies in the most ruthless ways possible because you’re angry. And that’s it. There’s no secret twist about how Talion’s anger became his downfall like I’d expect from a game in this universe. Talion just kills every and wins. The end.
Shadow of Mordor is certainly fun to play moment to moment, but compared to everything else I played this year I just felt like it missing some passion. The nemesis system was cool at least so maybe next time the devs can put it into a story and context that they care about more.
Neverending Nightmares is the kind of horror game I like to play. It’s not too reliant on jump scares, there’s not too many mechanics to worry about, and all the aesthetic choices compliment the the kind of horror they’re going for. I did end up having some problems with the use of enemies in the game, but it does little to detracted from the feeling of dread that overcomes you as you spiral deeper down into Thomas’ depression and insanity. Without spoiling the surprise I can also say that some particular scenes are almost too effective as being disgusting and terrifying, so either be forwarded or get excited.
A Story About My Uncle
A Story About My Uncle is sadly a game that was initially overlooked and will likely be forgotten by time pretty soon. It’s not a shame because it’s a very good game per se. The grappling mechanics are a little too loose and some areas are much harder to navigate than others for no good reason. What makes it great though is the personal story of a kid trying to find his Uncle. He makes new friends, explores big new worlds, and learns a bit about himself and his Uncle Fred. The ending is also nicely bittersweet, and too say much more would spoil this pretty short and imaginative game.
I don’t think anyone was surprised that SuperGiant Games made another amazing game. For better or worse it rehashes the same graphical style and most of the same voice actors and composer, but the story and mechanics are all new. Said story is pretty hard to follow the first time around, though you can unlock more background details by messing around with the skill combinations that you use in combat. And the combat is what stands out about Transistor. It stands somewhere between a turn-based RPG and a strategy game wherein you queue up actions while the action is paused and then execute them in real time. It’s wholly unique to the game and does a lot to make the encounters between heavy story bits interesting. And man I could listen to Royce talk all day.
The Wolf Among Us
I’ve gotten about halfway through The Walking Dead Season 2 from Telltale and thus far I’ve been pretty disappointed. Part of that is because TWD Season 1 was pretty great, and partly because I had just come of The Wolf Among Us. While the middle part of the game dragged a bit the overall murder mystery story is done with the expertise and flair that’s expected of a Telltale game. The world in which the characters inhabit (cribbed from the “Fables” comic book universe) is brings this game into near top tier quality. It’s new and exciting, and while the mechanics are tried and true TT the script and voice acting hold it together quite well. If you’ve never played a TT game or anything of it’s ilk, Wolf Among Us is a good start.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
I’ll start with this: A Wolfenstein game has no right to be this good and feature characters with this much depth. It continues to surprise me every time that I think about this game that a Wolfenstein game about shooting future robot Nazi’s features a real character having some pretty bad PTSD and makes me believe it. And it’s not just BJ either; most everyone in this series has a realistic backstory, real emotional responses to big actions and seem like they could be real people.
The thing that kind of set me back on The Order Order though was the gameplay. It’s not bad as an arcade-y guns a blazin’ all out shooter with some oddly fitting stealth elements, it’s just that it doesn’t fit with the story. The exquisite cutscenes show people coping with loss and trying to fight to save other at the cost of their humanity, and then you’re double wielding huge shotguns and sliding all over the place getting headshots left and right. It’s bizarre and I couldn’t ever really get over that.
Wolfenstein: The New Order has pretty fantastic characters, and alright story, and some fun shooting. Just don’t think too hard about how all those fit together.
Everything From Itch.io That I Played This Year
Putting all of these together isn’t to discredit the quality of these games. In the case of Glitchikers specifically I think it was one of my favorites this year even though it didn’t quite nail the feeling I wanted it to. Still all of these games are easily worth playing, are cheap, and won’t take up much of your time. I wrote about most of the itch.io games I played this year here.
If you’d like to hear me talk about some games from last year on a podcast then you’re in luck! I have a podcast with an episode specifically dedicated to that.
Anyway thanks for reading and here’s to a good 2015 full of interesting games to play.