As many of you on TAY have noted, everyone has put out their various Year in Review articles. Hell, I've already published my best anime of 2014 list, and that went well... I think (I maybe should have switched Kill la Kill and Log Horizon's places, but that's my only lingering thought on that piece). That said, I'm still gonna do my Best Games of 2014 list, and I'm still debating on my Top Five Movies of 2014, so if you're sick of seeing these lists already, well...
bite me tough luck. Rules this time around are as follows: I am primarily an Xbox player, so don't expect any PC or Play Station exclusive games on here; apologies for that. Also, I'm only counting games that were originally released this year so remasters don't count, although I will give a couple of the better remasters honorable mentions. And as always, this is my personal opinion, feel free to let me know of your personal thoughts in the comments below, and try not to take any offense to what I type. We can start 2015 off to a good start, can't we?
I think I perfectly summed up this game in a comment I wrote a few months ago: "When you're shooting stuff, it feels like you're playing a next-gen Halo. When you're not shooting stuff, it's one of the most frustrating and anger inducing games out there right now". The Vault of Glass alone feels like one of the most well crafted gaming experiences I've ever come across, which is why I'm beyond baffled when it comes to other elements of this game. The idiotic economy, the thoughtless leveling system, and the downright hateful expansions/updates this thing has gotten. [deep breath] Bungie, WHY IN GOD'S NAME DID YOU NERF MY GEAR AND WEAPONS AFTER I PUT MONTHS INTO GETTING THEM TO THEIR PEAK LEVELS?! After the debacle that is The Dark Below, I'm off this game until all the inevitable updates and expansions come out, and send me back to square one. Or until Destiny 2 comes out, whichever comes first... or is cheaper.
Yes, it launched with (and still has) issues. However, I have yet to see a game on the Xbox One that has soaked up more time with the people on my friends list. The multiplayer is a blast now that it works (although I'm annoyed that Halo 4 doesn't have its own playlist yet), and Halo 4 now feels like the game it was meant to be: that game alone is a showcase of what the Xbox One is capable of by being incredibly pretty, playing and running smoother than silk, and it has gameplay that really shines now even two years after it came out. And with ODST getting a remaster later this year, this game is now a must buy for anyone who loves Halo, and/or owns an Xbox One.
You have no idea how much I wanted to put this game in my top 5. It looks great, the previous Forzas have all been on my previous GOTY lists since 2009, and it's great value for money. And yet... well, to put in in Top Gear terms, this one just doesn't have "The Fizz". Maybe it's that this vision of southern Europe isn't as... memorable as Colorado, maybe it's the lack of new cars, it might even be the mediocre soundtrack. I can't put my finger on it, but this is just a good game, which is a shame since the first Horizon is one of my favorite games to come out in the past five years. Still, all that said: the handling of all the cars is still amazingly good, the weather in this game is mesmerizing, and you can put literal days into this game, and still have dozens of races, events, and miles left to cover. It's still great value, it's still a good game... I just wish Horizon 2 was more of a driving revelation like its predecessor.
When I played both of these games on my Xbox 360, I actually had similar thoughts towards both of them: "just imagine what these would be like on more powerful consoles". I saw GTA 5 as a technical marvel on the nearly decade old 360, and Sleeping Dogs had frame rate and rendering issues. Different reasons, but both lead me to wanting the same thing, and joy of joys 2014 delivered for once. Both remasters have all the old content, both games are still blasts to play though, and in the case of GTA's new first person mode they now feel like completely different games. I do wish they weren't both $60, but hey I'll gladly play through Los Santos again, and thanks to Sleeping Dogs's brutal HD combat system I can't remember how many times I've screamed "DAMN!" so many times while playing just one game.
People have been saying for a few years now that Batman: Arkham City is one of the greatest games to come out in the past few years, but from what I've noticed I'll say that the original Arkham Asylum has had a bigger impact from just one design choice: the free flow combat system. This can turn damn near any game into a joy to play, even for someone who's in no way a Lord of the Rings fan. I would put this thing in my top 5, but the fact of the matter is that I haven't played enough of it, and after a couple of weeks of deliberation it ultimately lost to my #4 choice. Still, definitely give this a go: this game has enough decapitations in it to make Assassin's Creed blush.
With the runners up out of the way, here are my Top Five Games of 2014!
I never thought I'd feel sorry for this game. Because when I went back to this game a week ago, it felt as good as when it first came out. So why did the player base drop off so drastically, and why is it off so many best of 2014 lists? Well, as far as I can tell... it just isn't too memorable. It doesn't have a notable aesthetic, it's not particularly pretty to look at like, and it doesn't have a single character with a name you'd remember. And since Xbox for some reason isn't reminding gamers that it's still out there with any form of advertising at all, well... not much else can be said. All it has is its gameplay, and... goddammit, it's still great. The pilot movement, the weapon balance, a great selection of well designed maps; hell, it even has horde mode now, and that too is a blast to play. After multiple updates it now has the customization options it should've had when it launched, and in a year with too damn many broken games this one proved that the Xbox One could handle things just fine, when it wasn't even half a year old. It and all of its DLC are on the cheap right now, and if you've been out of a titan for some time, well guess what? It's still here, waiting for you to get in again.
This really looked like it was going to be Ubisoft's year, didn't it? Watch Dogs, the first Assassin's Creed made just for the new generations of consoles, a new competitor aimed directly at Need for Speed... what happened? Watch Dogs ultimately ended up being a wasted opportunity of a game, AC: Unity had a disastrous launch, and The Crew came and... what did it do again? After all of that, you'd think there should've been one Ubisoft game that was good, right? Well as it turns out one truly good game did come out from them, and it's actually one of the more progressive games I've seen come out this year. Child of Light has a brilliantly beautiful aesthetic, the entire thing is written in rhyme rather well, and it even has a good female protagonist, which is something Ubisoft could've really used after the "women are too expensive to animate" debacle. Heck, this game even shows a novel way to make turn based combat interesting. Who'd thought: amid three triple-A titles, a little arcade game would be Ubisoft's shining hour of 2014.
In May of 2014, we got two games, both with stark differences, and from I can see only one similarity: both started with the letter "W". One was a brand new IP, the other the newest entry from one of the oldest gaming franchises out there. One was open world that looked like it was going to give GTA a run for its money, the other only had a single campaign and was "just" a first person shooter. One came from a publisher and development team that looked like 2014 was going to be their year, the other... had Bethesda (as a publisher) attached to it, and that was it. All that said, guess which one was the better game? Nope, not Watch Dogs. No, this was the year Wolfenstein of all things came back swinging, and set the record straight on counts as a good campaign for a game.
In a year where it seemed every company was pushing for online only games, and where story seems to now be more of an afterthought rather than a main focus in the development process, The New Order stuck out almost ironically. It doesn't even have co-op. Instead, it's just BJ "bullet-sponge" Blazkowicz shooting his way through millions of Nazis, all the while thinking to himself how fucked up the world became in his 16 year absence, and helping what's left of a resistance try to make a stand against a horrifying new world. For some, only this and no online play may not sound like a great deal for $60, but trust me: it's worth every penny. Great gunplay, outstanding world building, level design that only lets down in one or two places, and an actual story with something of a heart and soul to it. Truly a standout of 2014.
No, this isn't a typo, I haven't switched out for another author. A Kinect game is my number two spot for games of the year, and the only reason it isn't number one is because, well, just look at what is number one. But before that, we have to talk about what actually is the dark horse of the year. The year when even Microsoft decided "to hell with the Kinect", this thing didn't pop up on my radar until I saw a couple of favorable metacritic scores, and heard some good word of mouth about it. Then I played the demo... and immediately started setting aside some money to buy the full disc. This game is great for music lovers in that it's in no way a run of the mill dancing game, but rather a game where you're moving your arms to the rhythm that's playing, and it somehow feels completely natural. If you can get a beat down, you can play this thing no problem at all. Not only is it a great game for people who don't really identify as gamers to get into, but it's also the first Kinect game that's been released that brilliantly shows off what motion control is capable of. The motion controls feel like they've been thoroughly tested (for once) and the actions never feel physically impossible to perform. Hell, even the menus aren't that bad (yes, I know what I just said)! I've said it before, and I'll keep on saying it cause it hasn't changed: this isn't just a good Kinect game, This is a Good Game. Period.
Yeah, anyone who's played this game would have seen this coming. It took home the proverbial gold at the
VGAs sorry, The Game Awards for best game, it's Polygon's best game of 2014, and it's my pick too. Not much I can say about it that hasn't already been said: a great cast of characters, it looks downright gorgeous, it has an imperfect but still damn good combat system. I could go into how many things this game gets right for pages, but I'll just go with the one thing that clinched it for me as my top game of 2014: this game, for the first time in 2014, felt like it was worth more than its $60 price tag. It wasn't broken when it launched, it has content that can keep any player entranced in it for weeks, it's almost never dull (insert Hinterlands joke here), it can achieve almost every tone and feeling imaginable in a game, from humor to bad-ass moments to "HOLY SHIT WAS THAT A DRAGON?!", and despite me not in any way being a Dragon Age fan (or even a huge fantasy RPG fan for that matter), I found it amazingly easy to jump into. In a year when it wasn't easy to find a game that had just one of those qualities, to take a chance and play something that had all said qualities? Not much else I can say: this is the best game I played in 2014, and if it ages as well as I suspect it well, it'll probably go down as a truly great game.
Here's to 2015. And to the opportunities that have thankfully, mercifully, etc. come with it. Cheers!