We’ve had plenty of good games this year and quite a few great ones, but truthfully I don’t view 2014 as a very memorable period, which made this list tricky to write. Picking the number one entry was difficult because while there was plenty of games that I enjoyed there wasn’t really anything that stood out as the immediate contender, whereas in past years there has almost always been a title or three vying for the top spot. That’s the problem from this year, there’s just nothing that stands out, nothing that made a truly lasting impression. Last-gen has seen solid releases, but current-gen still has yet to give me that defining moment, that big thing that makes me thing, “This is why I spent over £400 on a new console.”
With one possible exception that I sadly didn’t play. I honestly think that Dragon Age: Inquisition would have topped my list, but no review code was forthcoming and I didn’t have the cash to grab a copy, thus I’m now waiting until after Christmas for a price-drop. But everything I’ve seen suggests it would have been right at the top of my list.
Edit: On Christmas morning I was lucky enough to get a copy of Dragon Age Inquisition on PC from my sister. Sadly I don’t think I’ll be able to put in enough time with it before this list gets published to include it, but don’t be surprised to see me write about the game at some point.
You’ll note this list is short by five games. Normally I do a top fifteen games of the year list because there’s plenty of titles I really want to talk about, and trying to whittle them down to just ten leaves me with a nosebleed and a mad glint in my eye. This time, though, actually thinking of ten games to put on here was surprisingly tough, hence the first game on this list which will doubtless irk some people. Maybe I’ve been more cynical this year, or maybe playing so many games all the time for review has finally started to blunt my passion. Or maybe it just hasn’t been a great year. Or maybe I just missed all the good stuff somehow.
I’ve also opted not to put them in any specific order this year because again it seemed unusually hard. Don’t get me wrong, ranking games is always a tricky process, but normally I have a good idea of where most things deserve to sit. This year, though, I found that it was difficult to really put them into order, thus I’ve left this list unranked.
Before we get going here’s some basic and obvious disclaimers:
It’s all opinion: Clearly this should be common sense to all, but amazingly there’s still people who don’t understand the concept. This list is based entirely on my own preferences, and moreover is not dependent on the scores I myself awarded said games during reviews. These are my favorite gamed of the year, which is different from what I view to be the best titles when I put my Hat of Sort Of Fairness +10 on.
It’s Based On What I Played: Again, obvious, but worth saying. I game on Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC which means things like Bayonetta 2, Mario Kart 8 or any PS3/PS4 exclusives will not appear on here. I also fully acknowledge that both the Sony machines and the Nintendo consoles have had some stellar titles this past year. Furthermore I am but just one person, and ergo I haven’t played everything. I missed Dragon Age: Inquisition, didn’t catch Sunset Overdrive, play Forza Horizon 2 or experience Endless Legend.
So, before we hit the list let’s put a few other categories up:
Worst Game: Guise of the Wolf
A benefit of being a one-man operation is that I get to pick and choose what I cover to a large degree, and so I tend to avoid the obviously truly terrible titles. But during a quiet period I took a risk and contacted the developers of Guise of the Wolf, and was kindly granted a review code. While it’s not the worst game I’ve ever played, an award that would probably still go to the shockingly bad Amy, Guise of the Wolf is naff in every sense of the word, representing all that is wrong with the current disturbing trend of releasing half-assed material on Steam. The graphics are atrocious, the writing horrible, the gameplay stilted and dull and there are problems galore. It’s just blood awful. Never play it. Ever.
Surprise of the Year: Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare.
I expected nothing of Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare going in. Imagine my surprise then when it became one of my favorite games of the year, soaking up a lot of my free time during the early part of the year, providing a hefty dose of multiplayer fun before Titanfall arrived in an explosion of huge mechs and wallrunning. I initially got the game for review on Xbox 360, but eventually upgraded to the Xbox One version because I was just enjoying it so much. In fact, I’ve had an urge to go back and play some more over the past week or two, and the only thing holding me back is the thought of having to download a load of updates.
Because it came out so early in the year I feel like Plants vs Zombies got forgotten about too quickly and will be overlooked by the vast majority of people when considering their favorite games of the year, and that many people probably never even glanced at it due to the visuals and even just the name.
Dissapointment of the Year: Destiny
Let’s be very clear about this, disappointing does not mean bad. It just means that it didn’t meet expectations. Destiny is not a bad game in my eyes, as evidenced by a score of 3.5, but it is a disappointing one, a fact that’s partially my own fault as I try to go into everything with no set expectations so as to provide the fairest review I can. More than anything Destiny was just another victim of the ridiculous artificial hype train. Swathes of previews trailers and marketing tactics painted it as something it could never hope to be, and the final product is enjoyable but somewhat hollow, a game that relies way too much on repeating a few missions over and over and over again. I played it for quite some time, but mostly owing to several of my good friends playing at the same time. But then one day I wondered why I was bothering, because I wasn’t having fun, and hadn’t been having fun for a while.
The Other Disappointment Of The Year: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
The first Lords of Shadow was a fantastic brawler, but its sequel was badly paced and introduced truly awful stealth segments which simply did not belong. On top of that there was the dull modern-day setting, graphical hiccups and plenty of other gripes, all of which sadly buried the enjoyable combat and inherent joy of playing as the blood-sucking dracula. Truthfully the score of 3 out of 5 was a touch too high, a more generous number granted merely due to a high degree of love for the first game and the Castlevania series in general.
It’s a true shame to see the potential of the first game be so wasted.
My Favorite Games Of 2014
Sniper Elite 3
There was quite the internal debate as to whether this slot would be filled by the hugely controversial Assassin’s Creed: Unity, a game that was crippled for many by terrible framerate problems and a variety of glitches that was nonetheless a title I hugely enjoyed. I got lucky and ultimately experienced very few glitches and framerate problems, and instead was only faced with frustrations like Arno refusing to clamber through a window. But ultimate Assassin’s Creed: Unity didn’t quite make the cut, and was beaten out by Sniper Elite 3.
Sniper Elite 3 is far from being the most technically well made game on this list, sporting questionable AI, iffy gunplay and an instantly forgettable storyline with a lead character so generic I briefly thought he was a parody. However, I had incredible fun playing the game, delivering perfectly placed sniper shots from across the well designed locations. Something about it clicks neatly with me, and I enjoyed going back to levels and lining up better shots. Hell, I even had a blast with the multiplayer mode, which sadly was somewhat short-lived as people moved on to the next big shooter.
Having said all this, there’s plenty more room for the Sniper Elite 3 series to grow, and I’d like to see the developers delve more into the intricacies of the sniping craft with far more challenging gameplay. Even on the hardest setting Sniper Elite 3 is an easy game, and screwing up a shot is little more than inconvenient. A truly challenging game like this, where actually having to lay traps in case of a mistake is vital, would be awesome.
Also, slow-mo, bone-crushing, organ-splatting, testicle-destroying bullet cam. Oh yeah.
What could be better than being the dictator of a tropical island? Well, being the dictator of an actual real tropical island, but failing that Tropico 5 does the job. Improvements over Tropico 4 aren’t many or vast, but it remains hugely entertaining and a peaceful way to spend an hour or two in the evenings. The relatively relaxed pace means you can just settle down and enjoy yourself, plus the sense of humour is very strong.
Despite lacking the actual skill required to play them well I love RTS titles, and thus the fact that Tropico 5 doesn’t sport constant armies trying to crush me is rather pleasing. The campaign is far too keen on telling you exactly what to build and when, but in sandbox mode it’s easy to just settle down and enjoy slowly building your island.
Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare
The last thing I expected was a spin-off of a turn-based such as Plants vs Zombie: Garden Warfare to actually be good, and yet here I am with the game on my list. It’s hardly a deep shooter where grizzled veterans will gather to test their mettle, but it is stupidly good fun, clearly relishing it’s absurd premise and vibrant colors.
After shooting things up in Battlefield or sailing the high seas in Black Flag it was nice to settle down to a few rounds of Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, and to my pleasant surprise the more I played the more I found that there was some good interplay between classes that gave it a little depth. Not much, but just enough to add a little more fun to the game. Plenty of free DLC was also launched, which was massively pleasing as well, and I believe there’s still a decent multiplayer audience. I really do need to install it again.
A simple idea with almost impeccable execution, Door Kickers challenges you with controlling a small team of SWAT, planning out their every movement and reload using a simple top-down viewpoint and slick interface. In comparison to triple A titles it’s amazingly simple stuff, but the satisfaction gained from planning a perfect assault cannot be overstated. Proof that the indie scene often throws up some of the best games around, be they strange explorations of the human psyche or titles about carefully planning the death of thugs. Plenty of gear to choose from and lovely level designs equal a tactically great game.
Shadow of Mordor
In so many ways Shadow of Mordor does not break new ground, despite being a new IP entering a challenging market. It takes the freeflowing combat of the Arkham games and mixes it with the parkour of Assassin’s Creed and throw in some basic stealth mechanics and an open-world for good measure. It does these things very well, though, arguably matching the feel of Arkham’s combat in the process.
One could argue that it doesn’t do a great job of making you feel like you’re in Middle-Earth rather than pretty much any other standard fantasy universe, and truthfully I wouldn’t disagree all that much. The narrative ties in nicely enough with the world Tolkien created, but during actual gameplay it never really felt like I was in the same world that the Fellowship would eventually step foot on.
The icing on the cake is the Nemesis System, a great invention that creates new enemies to battle on the fly. There will inevitably be a sequel, and I can’t wait to see how the developers move forward with the Nemesis system. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the system copied by other developers. Imagine a Batman game that used it, that would be pretty cool.
Far Cry 4
Yes it’s pretty much more of the same, but that does a discredit to how much fun Far Cry 4 really is. There’s a host of small refinements that make the overall experience smoother and more enjoyable. Full-on elephant assaults? Yup. Aerial takedown from a small gyrocopter? Yup. Luring tigers with bait? Yup. Sneaking in like Solid Snake minus the box? Yup.
Far Cry 4, even more so than its predecessor, manages to transition from stealth to gunplay with satisfying ease. It’s just a hugely fun playground to enjoy, and I was compelled to capture every outpost and climb to the top of every radio tower just because it was fun to do so. Plus, those brutal takedowns are just so damn satisfying.
Toss away expectation and hype for a moment because when you try to distance Titanfall from all the media noise it really is a damn good game, sporting supremely smooth movement and fun gunplay, plus bloody giant mechs that feel awesome to control. Better yet there’s a decently high skill ceiling to be found within the movement that most people didn’t even realise until quite a bit after launch when players finally started utilising a wider array of moves. That’s not to say it’s a hugely skillful game, but considerably more so than the likes of CoD.
Sadly I’ve not kept up with the DLC and so at this point I’m almost afraid to re-enter the world of Titanfall. The urge is strong, though, because I had loads of fun playing it. As a debut game from a studio that was untested, regardless of the experience involved, Titanfall was hugely impressive.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
A mixture of old-school bombast and new-school design it’s fair to say that Wolfenstein struggles a little to meld the two together correctly, but that doesn’t stop it from being a whole lot of fun. The contrast between dark, brooding monologues and the sheer insanity of the on-screen visuals and gunplay clicks with me wonderfully. It creates a dark comedy of sorts that requires a strange mind to enjoy entirely, and happily I have just such a dark mind.
Skipping out entirely on the multiplayer this is a singleplayer experience from start to finish. While I do think that your damage resistance needs to be a touch higher to encourage more daft antics in combat the gunplay feels lovely, and the light touches of stealth fit in rather quite well. This was a confident, beautifully presented and fun reincarnation of a classic series, and I hope to see another one in the future.
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments
According to Crimes and Punishments it’s not the police force and professional judges which sentence criminals, rather it’s Sherlock Homes himself. Apparently his word and opinion of events is iron law, and people are executed or jailed on his word. Regardless of the strange justice Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments was a lovely surprise, a great game that features some really good cases which demand your full attention to solve correctly.
On a technical level it’s often a clunky game, but what I love is that the developers were brave enough to let you fail completely, and that the correct answer isn’t clearly signposted for you to see from a mile off. This is how you do detective games, a stark, contrast to Murdered: Soul Suspect which had a lovely setting and atmosphere but couldn’t get the mystery solving right.
To be honest the constant parade of retro-inspired games irritates me a bit, especially since most of them only sport the aesthetic and never manage to capture the actual feel of their inspirations. Shovel Knight, though, gets it. It takes a very simple set of mechanics and adds in a series of levels that all introduce new, tricky ideas into the gameplay, creating a challenging game that seems easy to play from the outside but incredibly difficult to master.
So there we have my games of the year. There were a few titles worth a mention too, like Thief and even the South Park game, though that style of humour has never been my kind of thing. Mostly my list this year contains games that are easy to pick up and have fun with, and that’s largely because I don’t normally get time to actually sit down and sink a lot of hours into any given title past the time it takes for review, thus my once rather good Battlefield skills have diminished as I’ve had less and less hours to sacrifice to it. Games like Titanfall or Tropico 5 are easy to just play. Surprisingly few indie titles here as well, and doubtless some people will be screaming that This War of Mine wasn’t on here. It does look awesome, but again I never did get around to playing it. Looking back there’s a lot of games that I missed which I really wish I hadn’t, but I was already spending too much time sitting in from of screens and keyboards and almost lost contact with the outside world. Choices were made, and doubtless going into 2015 I’ll pick up and enjoy many of the titles I missed out on.
For now I’m going to go back to Dragon Age. As I said in my earlier edit, my sister snagged me a copy on PC for Christmas and I’ve really been looking forward to sitting down and flinging some spells around the place.
Categories: Opinion Piece