Games of the Year 2014: Our picks
Was there any agreement on what was 2014's GOTY?
It was a year of some disappointments, some hidden gems and the usual AAA sequels.Here, the Games team (James Thomas, Leon Matthews, Manny Brown, Mark Botwright, Niall Gill and Ste Carter) highlight the titles they think should be considered the best of 2014. Not for the first time, there's little agreement, but if you want to hear a more in-depth account of why we chose the titles below - as well as what we're looking forward to in 2015 - the full discussion (or argument) can be found on the GOTY edition of the podcast.
Far Cry 4
Although Far Cry 4 was an evolution of its predecessor, it was still an amazing sandbox to explore, no two sessions are the same as the multiple AIs collide to create random situations which kept making you smile and laugh as you explored the beautiful scenery. The next iteration of the franchise most certainly can't get away with this format again, but for now Far Cry 4 can and does in spectacular fashion.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Go ahead roll your eyes. Feel better? Good. Now believe me when I tell you this is in my opinion the best Call of Duty game since Black Ops and gives lapsed players a reason to revisit the franchise. The campaign is decent, showcasing the abilities, and is buoyed by some Kevin Spacey acting chops. In the multiplayer the series shows its version of the en vogue enhanced mobility that is the buzzword for all shooters in the new gen, and it works well adding another dimension of skill to layer onto the series trademark gameplay. Simply put, it's a blast to play.
I like to laugh. Sunset Overdrive makes me laugh. From the wacky character customisation, tongue-in-cheek dialogue and the respawn animation in-jokes, Sunset Overdrive is constant nudging you in the ribs whilst delivering its brand of fast paced colourful on rails shooting. Seemingly carrying the nostalgia flag for several fan favourites, such as Tony Hawk and Jet Set Radio, it provides a traversal and combat system which can feel like patting your head and rubbing you stomach at first, but once you unlock the full suite of abilities and find the rhythm it becomes very satisfying. This is a fantastic new IP.
It's a weird world we live in when Sega and Nintendo can co-habit on the same screen space, but Bayonetta 2 is proof that the collaboration of rivals can produce some truly spectacular results. The credit in this instance deserves to be aimed directly at developer PlatinumGames, for taking their original best-in-class brawler and producing a sequel that somehow out-muscles it in every way. Bayonetta 2 is deep, accessible, and offers spectacle like no other action game this year.
I hate myself even as I'm writing this, but underneath the confusing currency systems, agonising drop rates and sheer dearth of content, Bungie also crafted some of the most polished and enjoyable shooter mechanics to date. And that's the crux really. Destiny would have been terrible were it not for the slickness of those moment-to-moment encounters, and the six-man raids are what keep drawing me back, time and time again.
South Park: The Stick of Truth
As a long-time devotee of the show, it was an absolute delight to pick up The Stick of Truth and not be greeted by the sort of average or terrible South Park games of yore. This is a lightweight role-play-game that can be breezed through in a short period of time, but the writing, callbacks and fan service are so well-developed that it's easy to mistake Stick of Truth for an elongated episode of the show. It's funny, and so, so utterly wrong on every level.
The game I had no idea I wanted, but the one I loved the most out of 2014. It's a town builder in the vein of SimCity and Dwarf Fortress. Smash the two together and you get Banished, a harshly difficult but very rewarding game. It's an impressive achievement as it was developed by one guy with occasional help from an artist. Surprise hits were vastly outweighed by shockingly poor hype trains in 2014 and Banished is the definition of surprise hit. It has a steep learning curve and an even steeper one to finally master the game, but no towns ever feels like a waste. Your town being wiped out by a tornado only makes you want to try again and make something bigger, better and more efficient. It nailed the feeling of never being cheated despite a very difficult set of circumstances, somewhat like FTL did in 2012. Without a doubt my game of 2014.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Another title I had no idea I'd like, but after giving it a go it's another one that was a surprise hit with me. It's a competitive trading card game, sounds exciting I know, but when you mix in the technical wizardry of Blizzard the whole thing comes together to form an immensely satisfying, intriguing and fun game. Back when I first played it in Beta the amount of cards wasn't as large as it is now. I feel getting into the game might be daunting for new players, and it's an understandable situation. It's free, though, so it doesn't cost anything to try.
Divinity: Original Sin
This isn't one I'd rant and rave about, only praise it for how well executed it is and how well it delivered on what it promised. It's a rare example of when Kickstarters go right, and it went very right indeed. A throwback to the old Baldur's Gate series, Divinity has a great combat system, tons of entertaining quests and a lot more beneath the surface. If you're not a huge fan of those old CRPGs or reading, it's one to avoid though.
South Park: The Stick of Truth
The perfect combination of genre, source material and input from the original creators helped make this actually feel like a genuine tie-in rather than a sub-par offshoot thrown towards gamers as a token offering. Full of references, it’s squarely intended for fans, and that helps it not be diluted which - as a fan - I was hugely appreciative of. It gave me the biggest laugh of the year, and - in these days of excessively bloated RPGs - should also be commended for sticking to a fairly short length, making sure it left you wanting a sequel.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War
I accept that at times it’s more commendable for its concept than its execution, but I still found myself thinking this was one of the more significant titles of the year. From its very inception, as being inspired by real letters from the conflict, through to the facts that littered the game, it was heartfelt, and that was reflected in the characterful visuals and some great use of music. It also showed that - shock horror - it is possible to make a game that informs as well as entertains.
Far Cry 4
It’s just a big dumb sandbox, and that’s not a criticism. The order of the day was “more” and even though it’s hardly groundbreaking, it was damn fun to play, which certain other first-person-shooter titles of the year failed to achieve. Jump into your gyrocopter, take in some scenery, blast a convoy from the air with a grenade launcher, wingsuit your way down into a firefight and try not to get killed by a rhino. What’s not to like?
My relationship with Destiny has been a turbulent one. It is by far my most played game of 2014 thanks to its tight gunplay, the ease of playing with friends, and some sublime raids having drawn me in for over a hundred hours. Yet equally I look at its repetitive level setup, the bullet sponge bosses, and the seemingly endless grind it promotes and I wonder why on earth I wasted so much time.
Update: I’ve currently uninstalled Destiny to stop me from mindlessly playing the dailies.
More importantly, the Vita version. The Vita was made for Rogue Legacy, where a few minutes here and there dipping into this rogue-like platformer set in your family’s haunted castle is all it takes to bring a smile to your face. It’s wonderfully charming, helped no end by ever new characters being the offspring of your last and usually suffering from some kind of genetic disorder. Be it gigantism, whereby you are twice the size of usual; short sided, meaning half the world is but a blur; or flatulent, which, well, let’s leave it there.
Mario Kart 8
It may not be different but when you’re still this good why change anything? Half of the joy of 8 is seeing Mario and his petrol-headed chums careering around the course in full high-definition. The beautiful worlds sing out from the screen as you hare through them in a game that doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel but is happy to refine it ever so slightly. Online is the star, however, with this version making it ridiculously simple to do away with the extreme rubber banding of the AI and pit your wits against players from across the globe.
Forza Horizon 2
2014 was a bad year for racers, but Forza Horizon 2 led the pack by a long distance by providing limitless amounts of fun in its French and Italian playground. By breaking the limits of track-based racers, Horizon 2 lets you go wherever you want, however you want, no matter what car you find yourself in. The showcase events are a real treat too; nothing compares to racing the setting sun in a Ferrari F40 down the coast of Italy.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Lord of the Rings has had poor service in the videogame world, and finally it has a release worthy of carrying the brand forwards. As Talion, you are tasked with taking the heads of every Orc you possibly can on your journey of redemption and revenge. The combat was brutal and the world looked fantastic, but boy could it be one hell of a frustrating challenge.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War
Rarely am I moved by videogames. Some storylines aren't always believable or the emotional connection between the player and the game isn't always there. Valiant Hearts however has a simple charm which has a poignant meaning coinciding with the anniversary of the First World War. At its heart, its a simplistic side-scrolling puzzler that isn't necessarily the toughest around, but its heart-warming story is what makes the game a real treat to play.
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