These are the five best games I played that were released in 2014! To see a list of five things I hated in 2014, click these words right hnyah. I'm going to do things a bit differently this year by starting with my Game of the Year Winner before listing runners-up 2 though 5. Without further adieu...
Game of the Year 2014: Freedom Planet (PC)
(with Wii U and Vita releases planned for 2015)
Freedom Planet is not only the best game that came out in 2014, it's also the one that, far and away, surprised me the most. For anyone who kept up on my previous articles about Steam's matchmaking queue services, you'll know I'm very fond of spending a few hours every month or so checking out what sort of games are coming through the indie pipeline. This was one of those. I was extremely impressed by the trailer, and I almost ignored it during the last Steam sale... And boy, am I glad I didn't. Freedom Planet might be one of the greatest platformers ever made, and almost nobody knows about it.
I've done some reading on it, and this game apparently started its life as a Sonic fan game, and it shows, especially in the first couple of levels. As the creator (Danish developer GalaxyTrail Games) kept developing the project, however, he wanted to break free of the limitations that creating a tribute game could afford. Calling in help from the Sonic fan community on Deviant Art, the character designs, art assets, music and voiceover were all redone from scratch. And, honest to god, what these people created is exceptional. The soundtrack is fantastic, a mix of midi synth and Asian influence that would have felt right at home in top-quality PS1 or Saturn game. The art is just gorgeous and full of life across the board. The voicework is really good, especially considering it's an indie game that may very well be using amateur actors. But the game itself... Hoo boy.
This is the most fun I've had with a game in years. As a man who grew up playing Sonic as a kid, the influence definitely hits a nostalgia chord... But that's not what this game is. Instead of merely paying tribute to nostalgia, the game feels like a true evolution; it feels like what Sonic might have become if Team Sonic could lay off the cocaine. The gameplay runs faster and smoother than even Blast Processing can allow. There was not a single moment in this game where I was bored, but there were many where I audibly said, "Oh my god, this is fucking amazing!" The enemies are widely varied and require different strategies to attack. There are speedy segments, but the game does slow down to let you explore or solve an obstacle. The bosses are phenomenal, including one particular boss (the highlight of the game for me) that involves fighting a dragon several times larger than the screen as you dash across a room 5-6 screens long. There are three different campaigns, each with a different character, with different skills and storylines. I think the only complaint I would have is the kiddy feel some of the story segments have, but these are completely skippable, and by and large, they are very well done, and I probably would have loved them when I was younger.
This game is a monumental achievement, and the fact that's it's gone completely ignored by the gaming world while games like Shovel Knight and AVGN, which merely ape games of the past to capitalize on nostalgia, get the lion's share of promotion. Buy this game. Seriously, you will not regret it. There's even a demo linked on the Steam page, and on the game's official website!
Runner Up #2: Wolfenstein: The New Order (PC, PS3, 360, XBone, PS4)
I swear, every year I have a "not all shooters" game, where a shooter holds a middle finger to the Call of Duties of the world and creates a bloody fantastic game with a great story and an atmosphere that demands all your senses. Last year, it was my GOTY-winning Metro: Last Light. Before that, we had Resistance 3, Singularity, Metro 2033... There's always one.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is set in an alternate history, where the Nazis won World War II and conquered the world. The resistance has been quelled, and the hero, BJ Blaskowiecz (I think I spelled that right), has returned to consciousness after 14 years of derping it up in a mental hospital. I won't get too much into the story, because it's really something worth experiencing blind.
The gameplay is really good, giving you a metric fuckton of cool weapons to use, excellent enemy types with solid AI and multiple methods of defeat, and loads of secrets and collectable goodies to uncover. And there's lots of sci-fi bliss to be had here, from some really inventive Nazi killing machines to an arsenal of weapons that always satisfy. And of course, being an id game, there are plenty of moments in the game that'll make you feel like this:
Runner-Up #3 Azure Striker Gunvolt (3DS)
Mega Man ZX 3 Azure Striker Gunvolt is the best Mega Man game not called Mega Man. Created by Inti-Creates (developers of the Zero and ZX series), ASG is basically an Inti-Creates Mega Man game that's just different enough to avoid copyright infringement. If it were a true Mega Man release, it would be Inti-Creates' best entry into the series to date.
The story and dialogue are utter tosh. The dialogue is so cringe-worthy it feels like a Target advertising executive wrote dialogue that might appeal to "kids these days"; whoever localized this should be fired and banned from the industry. The story doesn't matter, because it's a Mega Man game, but I think there's something to do with a secret underground resistance, an oppressive world government/corporation, and a girl that gets kidnapped. It's definitely not created by people who played Final Fantasy VII before graduating game development school. No sir.
But those elements are just sprinkles on the Azure Striker Gunvolt cupcake. You can pick them off if you don't like them. The main draw of this game should be, and is, the gameplay. Instead of just shooting at enemies with a mega buster, you shoot at enemies with a gun that sort of works like the Bullseye from the Resistance series... You tag enemies with your weaker pistol shots, then hit them for larger damage with your electrical powers. If you pull off a good enough score, you'll charge a metre for super attacks that deal massive damage or provide perks like instant healing. It's a really good refinement of an old system, and it works really well. The bosses are tough as nails, but fun as hell. The levels are rarely boring, and are, thankfully, not quite as challenging as the "I never asked for this" default difficulty found in the Mega Man Zero series. It's a great game, and definitely a must-have for any 3DS owner.
Runner-Up #4: Armored Hunter Gunhound EX (PC)
Ever heard of an SNES game called Cybernator? It's pretty "meh". This game though? This game fucking rocks! While it's cheating a little for a 2014 mention, this 2009 Japanese indie gem finally got its North American and English-language release in 2014, after a Japanese PSP port in 2013. I think this game's been largely ignored thanks to another game trying to pay tribute to the Assault Suits series (which includes the games Cybernator and Target Earth, as they were renamed in the west), Gigantic Army, which, like Gunhound EX, made its way to Steam through the Greenlight service, and at around the same time.
Unlike Gigantic Army, however, Gunhound EX is very, very good.
While the game is very short (a skilled player can beat it in about 90 minutes), it's one of the most exciting games I played in 2014 - and probably the best mech game I've ever played. You pilot a mech that shoots at things that try to shoot at your mech. And there are lots of explosions. And the excellent guitar-heavy soundtrack keeps the pulse pumping throughout. Expect huge bosses, amazing sound design, and the feeling of being a god piloting a heavily-armed tin can. And everything explodes and... :'D If catharsis took on a digital form, it would be Gunhound EX.
And as an interesting factoid, this developer was given the rights to develop the next Assault Suits game! :'D
Runner-Up #5: The Wolf Among Us (Everything except 3DS and Colecovision, I think)
While the retail release of the 360 version was a crime against decency and the other complete Telltale release of the year, The Walking Dead 2 hates you and everything you hold dear, The Wolf Among Us is an excellent game set in a fascinating universe with a great story to support it, even if it sags a bit in episodes 4 and 5 before concluding with an ending that rewards those who paid attention.
Set in the Fables universe of the comic book series of the same name, the game follows The Big Bad Wolf - renamed Bigby Wolf and donning the new role of sheriff - as he investigates the brutal murder of a fellow Fable. If you've ever played a Telltale game, you know how this game plays. Unlike other Telltale games, the lore on which this game is based is incredibly compelling, and the universe works on a different set of rules that reality, making it an exciting journey into a world worth visiting. The game starts off fairly dark, but unlike the Walking Dead games, explores a lot more character development and creates better story arcs than it really has any business doing as a licensed budget title.
The Wolf Among Us is a great game worth experiencing, especially if you're looking for a slower pace to compliment all the fantastic action games releasing in 2014. I can't really divulge much more; it's better to go into this one blind, I feel. So have at 'er!
That concludes my article on the five best games of 2014. It should be noted that there are three titles I want to play but did not get a chance to, including Pokemon Omega Ruby, South Park: The Stick of Truth and The Evil Within, which should be considered honourable mentions until I can properly get to them.
I definitely encourage readers to check these titles out, especially since most of them launched at under $30. This was a great year for indie titles, and a pretty poor outing for AAA gaming.
So what do you think, TAY? Do you agree with my choices? Hate them? What were your favourite games this year? Let me know in the comments.