What brought me to a game in 2014? Like most years, my favorite times playing games this year didn’t involve games that came out this year. A lot of that has to do with my affection for online multiplayer. And while I do stay on the look out for new games that can grab me, my standards for competitive multiplayer are pretty high and I’m content to go back to games I love if people are still playing them. What I’m saying is that there was no Dota 2 this year.
I did have a lot of fun playing games that were new to me this year, but Payday 2, Arma 3, and Trouble in Terrorist Town are not 2014 releases. So with my desire for more gamey-games being filled elsewhere, what I wanted from new games this year was generally storytelling. I wanted games that gave me a reason to play them. Games that grabbed me and carried me through to the end. That’s not true for every game on this list, but it is the driving theme. That’s the best explanation for why these games are on my list over other games.
10. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
This game feels like it came out of a blender. The illegitimate child of Ace Attorney, Persona, and Battle Royale. It doesn’t live up to the highs of those properties. The nature of the story prevents the game from going all the way with social links. The game is bad at contextualizing failure during the trials. The gameplay of the trials is a weird hodgepodge of mini-games and isn’t… good. But this is a visual novel game, and the story is worth seeing. Starting with archetypes the game twists and pushes these characters in interesting ways. I don’t want to oversell it, but it grabbed me and carried me through to the end. That’s what I’m looking for here. Although not the only thing… <b>
9. J. U. L. I. A.: Among the Stars
Old school point-and-click adventure gaming with enough modern game sensibilities. This game proves to me that adventure games don’t need to reinvent the wheel to work today. Just tell good stories and put some thought into puzzle design and how that fits into the story. Having said that, this is not a particularly great story. It’s good and the early mystery stuff is particularly strong, but where it goes is pretty cliche. Where the game really shines is the character work. Their reactions really save the weaker parts of the story and made me invested. They’re smartly written ad the voice acting is really good. The game looks good for the most part but occasionally looks real bad. The character model for the main character, Rachel, in particular looks fine in the profile picture you usually see, but she’s terrifying in the couple cut scenes she’s in. What puts this here over Danganronpa is the presence of actual puzzles, and ones that make sense at that.
8. Mario Kart 8
Some people claim that everyone’s favorite Mario Kart game is their first. That does not hold true for me at all. I think this series has been iterative in all the right ways. If I’m going to sit down and play any Mario Kart game today, it’s going to be Mario Kart 8 and that’s what matters to me. That’s not to say I wouldn’t go back to an older one, but this is my new go to. Yea it sucks that they threw battle mode under the bus, but I haven’t cared about battle mode since I was a kid. I don’t think that mode is that fun anymore. This is the game I bought my Wii U for and I had a lot of fun with it this year. <b>
7. South Park: The Stick of Truth
I loved South Park when it first started but I don’t watch it anymore. I got burned out on their commentary style episodes when I could basically play out how they would tackle something just from the premise. Also there were some episodes that were just bad. The theatrical movie, Bigger Longer and Uncut, just topped out at such a high point for me that it also sort of became my jumping off point. But hearing good things about this game, it sounded like a good time to revisit this world. Very glad I did. This is a tight, funny RPG. There’s a good, dense amount of fun to be had here and the combat is just deep enough. The novelty of the game so perfectly matching the look of the show is just the icing on the cake. It’s really hard for an RPG to be well paced, but this game pulls it off.
6. The Wolf Among Us
The episodic structure did not do this game any favors. Each episode felt too short and the time between releases killed the momentum. But looking back on it, I think this was a really neat story with compelling characters. I really like Bigby. I’ve looked into the comic and it honestly doesn’t really grab me at all, which just makes this game that much more impressive to me. Like in The Walking Dead, your choices here affect the flavor rather than the content of the story, but honestly, that works better in a story where your decisions aren’t always life and death. Choosing whether or not Bigby is smoking in a scene is the most honest choice any video game has ever given me. This is one that’s grown on me with some distance, and it’s probably the best story in games this year.
5. Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth
I’ve put about 8 hours into this game as of this writing, which means I’ve barely scratched the surface. But I’ve played enough to know that A) The story is fun but frivolous, and B) The RPG mechanics are stellar. This is a crossover that combines the mechanics of its originators: The Pokemon style Persona combat and the dungeon puzzles of Etrian Odyssey. It’s great. The story didn’t hook me here though, it’s just too frivolous, too much a side thing with nothing at stake, but it’s a really impressive RPG. This came out too late in the year for me to get through it, but really that’s just because I wanted to put this list together, and I understand what I think about this game. I didn’t need to see how the story plays out. The Persona trappings are enough to bring me in, in a way the Etrian Odyssey games haven’t. And this is addition by addition as far as the gameplay goes. I’m going to spend a lot of time with this game in the next year, but I can’t put it any higher than this considering other games have stolen my attention from it.
4. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax
Did I mention I really like Persona 4? This game continues the story from Persona 4 arena, but it fixes that game’s major issue. Namely that to see all the story content you were replaying the same event over and over with different characters. It became tedious. P4AU has a single story mode that branches off periodically to other characters. This story flows and has actual pacing to it. It also made me happier than any other story this year. Look, Persona 4 is a strong contender for my favorite game. I’ve played through the original version on PS2, The Golden on Vita, and I watched the entire Giant Bomb endurance run. That’s like 300 hours of Persona 4. This game felt like I was seeing these characters again in a new adventure. In a way that Persona Q doesn’t quite manage. As far as the gameplay… It’s fine. I don’t like the fighting enough to put in the time to be able to play online, but it’s a well executed fighting game that looks really nice. This was my favorite story in a video game this year.
3. Dragon Age: Inquisition
Dragon Age: Origins did not hook me at all. Coming off the Mass Effect games, it bothered me that the player character wasn’t voiced. Which seems silly even as I write it, but it was a thing. And nothing in the early hours hooked me in. Not the case here. Inquisition hooked me right away and stayed on point enough to keep me hooked. I don’t play many open world games anymore because I lose focus too easily. I need that carrot on a stick in front of me, giving me a reason to keep playing. DA:I balances constantly presenting you with small tasks with keeping the larger goal in focus. Every small thing you do feels meaningful because they all feed into the narrative of strengthening the inquisition. Throw on top of that BioWare’s focus on characters and you’ve got a game that had me enthralled. There are a lot of tiny annoyances that drag down the experience for me though: No run button; looting should have been streamlined; engaging with a mount is tedious; occasionally brutal A.I. Bugs; slightly unclear content progression; the vast fluctuations in how the game looks (sometimes great, sometimes real bad); Questline bugs that prevent them from being finished; and a lackluster ending that fails to bring all of this building to anything. Hmmm… some of those are bigger than minor issues… Some of the writing let me down too. The Iron Bull is a really neat, complex character, but at the turning point of his character quest he feels like a small child looking to you for validation. It was contextualized poorly. This game isn’t a step forward for BioWare. It’s them getting Dragon Age where it needed to be in the aftermath of Dragon Age 2. It’s a really good game, but it could have been a great game. It needed more time in the oven. I want BioWare to figure this shit out, because as good as their games are, they have it in them to be so much better.
2. Gods Will Be Watching
This game is not for everyone, but I loved it. The brutal puzzles had enough character hooks in them to push me through trying them over and over again. The game jam version was in my top ten from last year, and while that’s a more pure experience, I really like how they fleshed it out. Exploring the different riffs on their high stakes life and death puzzles was a thrill. While Dragon Age: Inquisition felt like BioWare catching up to itself, Gods Will Be Watching feels like it’s pushing forward, pointing the way toward more interesting games.
Now some miscellaneous stuff before the number one:
I still haven’t finished this. I like it, but it kinda burned me out. The story is just such garbage. I fucking hate Loki in this game. I had to turn the voice language to Japanese because I could not deal with him. This is a spectacle fighter, but I don’t care about the spectacle. It’s too one note, all bluster. Also to anyone who wants to compare this to Asura’s Wrath… stop just stop. You make me want to hate this game. The gameplay is fun, but the hype drives me kinda nuts on this one.
Look, this is a fun, streamlined digital CCG. But I basically spent all of high school playing Magic the Gathering everyday. I’ve spent more money on MTG: Online than I want to even know. When I play Hearthstone I feel like a former heroin addict who just decided to start taking methadone for fun.
Pokemon Alpha Sapphire
Remember what I said about Persona Q? Yeah, this came out the same week. Have not sunk enough hours into this to put it on the list. It’s Pokemon, I know what it is. I’ll play more of it at some point and love all my time with it. Didn’t make the cut this year.
Super Smash Bros. For Wii U
If I had more that one person over to play couch co-op with ever this year, this probably would have made the list over Mario Kart 8. You need at least 3 people to really make Smash multiplayer sing though. The lack of a real single player mode also really hurts it. I’m a person who really liked the Subspace Emissary for what it was and without it, this version just feels thin. Also, the online was just laggy enough that I had no patience for it. The core gameplay is still great, and if I had a bigger more consistent group to play with this would’ve been on the list for sure.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
There are levels here I love. And just the fact that they fixed the controls from Returns is a big plus. But not as many levels stood out here for me as in Returns. The emphasis on water and ice levels harshed my buzz.
Love the music. Love the style. Love the game-feel. But the phase locket just breaks the game and I didn’t love the latter level design. Just missed being on the list.
Haven’t actually played it yet, but I will. I fucking will!
Puyo Puyo Tetris
Fuuuuuucccckkkk… Dude, this game looks so good! I never played this game in 2014 dude! I fucked it up dude! What the fuck was I doing with my life dude! Now this is a fucking video game! Stupid Japanese hoarding all the Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. Stupid Ubisoft having the North American Tetris license at the moment. (Seriously, how fucking terrible was Ubisoft this year?) Why did I not learn about this game until the very end of the year? Fuuuuuuuuuu…
Games I Respect But Can’t Wrap My Arms Around
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
The right game at that wrong time for me. This is what the original game should have been. It’s a great remake of a game I loved… and yet I still like that original shittier version better. A lot of that is nostalgia I guess. The aesthetic of Isaac worked better for me when I could tie it back to New Grounds animation stuff. Stuff that was crude and lowbrow but still kinda groundbreaking and fresh at the time. It just feels played out. “Oh great, another room full of poop and flies.” And while the new soundtrack fits better with the aesthetic and vibe of the game, I still kinda prefer the original music. Particularly the opening menu track which always put me in the right mood to play some fucking video games. I just can’t find it in me to push through the shit in Rebirth. This is a game that kinda makes me disappointed in myself for not liking it more. <strong>
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
A game I barely played, but probably the most important game of 2014. The Nemesis System is pretty cool and is positioned to be this generation’s version of “cover,” in that every action game in development is probably putting it into their game as we speak. So, wake me up when it winds up in something worth playing. I don’t like Assassin’s Creed climbing, and I don’t like the Arkham combat. I tried this game out, and yeah, that still holds true. Also I’ve seen parts of the story, it is some white hot garbage. I also feel like people are overstating how amazing the Orc dialogue is. They’re just Orcs, saying like one line an encounter. It’s cool, but it’s not that cool. The combat does seem crazy cool by the end, in a power fantasy way where it also seems too easy. However, I find actually playing the early parts of this game coma inducing, so I don’t care. Also, to anyone who says the story doesn’t matter, they upfront that shit so heavily it’s ridiculous. Even skipping every cutscene it takes too long to get to the gameplay. When a game with a good story uses the Nemesis System it is going to be amazing. But not this game… not this game.
The Dishonorable Mention
The Evil Within
I was obsessed with this game this year despite A) Not playing it at all, and B) Having no desire to play it. I watched a full 18 hour play-through plus additional bits of gameplay here and there. Add in time of people talking about this game in podcasts and I consumed over 30 hours of content on The Evil Within. It’s like some cruel joke: “Oh, you thought Resident Evil 6 was a bad horror game? Well you ain’t seen nothing yet!” This game has the worst protagonist in video game history. Sebastian sucks so bad. This is a grizzled cop who cannot run for shit, in a game where you really want to be able to run.
Having the control taken away from you sucks. It is not fun. And that’s kinda the name of the game here. The design of this game operates on the theory that if horror games don’t need to be fun to be great, then clearly you just need to make a game that’s not fun and it’ll be great horror. This game teases fun, and is full of the most cliche things that are in fun games, but it twists them into something not fun, something boring. It’s kind of incredible that way. Also bad. Really just, awful. I love how the collectible documents tease at how Sebastian is a tortured alcoholic (because of course the detective is a tortured alcoholic) but that there’s nothing in the actual game to indicate or make use of that at all.
This game has it all: crates, exploding red barrels, a sewer level, a giant spider, forced scrolling shooting galleries, turret sections. All the horror classics! I’ve never seen a game that so clearly understands what would be fun, and then refuses to give the player any of that. That’s not entirely fair, there are moments here, but they’re always punctuated by a slap in the face. Even the games greatest high, the moment of pure silly joy that comes at the end becomes a sad joke once it all plays out. I don’t know why this game hates its players so much, only that that hate is sort of glorious. I was entranced by this turd, but a turd is a turd.
The Top 10 Video Game Songs of 2014
10. Shovel Knight – “Strike the Earth! Plains of Passage”
9. Bayonetta 2 – “Tomorrow Is Mine”
8. Transistor – “We All Become”
7. Gods Will Be Watching – “Gods Will Be Watching”
6. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze – “Homecoming Hijinx”
5. Dragon Age: Inquisition – “Sera Was Never”
4. Super Smash Bros. Wii U – “Ashley’s Song” (EN)/(JP)
3. DANGANRONPA – “DANGANRONPA”
2. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax – “Break out of…”
1. Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth – “Maze of Life”
And now my number one game of 2014…
1. World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor
I was out. I was done. But they hooked me again. When Mists of Pandaria launched I was burned out on WoW. My plan was to hit max level and then quit forever, but I couldn’t even make it that far before giving up. It might sound crazy, but it was the story that killed it for me. The story of Pandaria seemed small, flippant and disconnected from what makes the Warcraft universe interesting. Cataclysm, for all its faults, did a lot to show the potential for storytelling in an MMO. But it couldn’t keep up the pace, and eventually dragged. Leveling through Draenor was fun the whole time. Hitting it strong with really streamlined quest lines and enough of an ongoing story to push you forward. The end of each zone giving you a great cutscene with actual storyline consequences.
In Cataclysm, zones had their own storyline, but here it all plays into the main storyline much better. This is progress for the Warcraft universe, even if it does involve going back in time. On top of all that, I love the PvP in WoW, and Draenor saw a bunch of new additions: A 25 man free-for-all that takes some work to unlock so only those invested in PvP engage with it; a 100 vs 100 blood bath that tries to recapture what Alterac Valley (One of the early PvP battlegrounds) used to play like; and the return of skirmishes, unranked arena battles you can queue for solo for fun or practice.
WoW has changed so much over the years. If it were still the same game it was at launch I wouldn’t still play it. Its ability to adapt and devour its competition keeps bringing me back. Hell, a lot of my tiny issues with Inquisition not being streamlined is because WoW does that stuff better. World of Warcraft is the champion that stays on top by continuing to outwork his competition, even after they’ve all dropped dead at his feet.
Thank you for your time.
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