2014 was a shaky year for PS4 and Xbox One as both struggled to have completed, quality games. From AC Unity’s faceless, faulty frame rate assassins to Halo: MCC’s non-existent multiplayer, none were exempt from broken games. None except for Nintendo and the Wii U who had hit after hit in 2014. Needless to say, there were some standout games of 2014 that overcame new hardware to become something stellar. So without further ado here are my favourite games of 2014 based on visuals, narrative and fun.
10. Valiant Hearts: The Great War
Valiant Hearts tackles one of the most horrific historic settings ever: World War 1. This is also one of the least popular settings for video games. WWI lacked all the grandeur and bravado that WWII had in spades. There were no monumental battles that shifted the tide of the war, no glorious efforts to take back enemy territory. Instead, it was a long, brutal, muddy and bloody war that most historians have concluded was mostly pointless. Yet Valiant Hearts chose WWI as its setting, and I’m glad they did. Valiant Hearts absolutely nails the feel and mood that WWI veterans have expressed. It does so through the perspective of four lovable, endearing characters. And a dog. While every other war game ever made has been a shooter, Valiant Hearts chose to have the player experience their world through a series of brilliant side-scrolling puzzles. Most notable of all is the art style, which feels like a graphic novel brought to life. The art and storytelling somehow allowed characters who can’t talk to express so much emotion and draw so much empathy from me. All in all Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a wonderful first game from Ubisoft Montpellier.
9. Outlast (PS4)
Outlast is genuinely the most terrifying experiences that I have ever had in my life. The immensely talented studio Red Barrels have created a horrific and a terrifying setting in Mount Massive Asylum. Everything about this game is perfect. From the black light camera through which you view most of the Asylum to the scream-inducing sound design that caused me to cry out on several occasions. There was one point during my playthrough in which my friend beside me on the couch physically began to sob into a pillow because he was so terrified. Outlast achieves so much of its success from the lack of power the player has. There is no way to fight back against the deranged mental patients that relentlessly hunt you through the corridors, forcing you take cover in the vents and under beds and hope you aren’t seen. This helplessness creates so much more fear, knowing that once you are spotted and you hear that harsh screeching sound you have to run for your life. Outlast is so much more than just another scary horror game. It is an experience, one of the best I’ve ever had.
8. inFAMOUS: Second Son
inFAMOUS reached new heights in Second Son. First of all, this game is one of the prettiest PS4 games I have yet played. From the way that Delsin’s vest billows in the wind as he flies through the air to the rainy Seattle streets crafted with absolutely stunning realism, everything about Second Son is created with great care and attention to detail. Where previous inFAMOUS games only had one super power (i.e. lightning) Second Son had 4 unique and brilliant powers from which to traverse and destroy Seattle. Second Son also had a deeply moving story, specifically a gut-wrenching ending if you choose to be evil. And that’s another one of Second Son’s brilliant strokes. The different choices and outcomes of Delsin’s actions throughout the story made me want to go back and see what would have happened if I made a different choice, which I ultimately did. Second Son is a marvellous game for which Sucker Punch should be applauded.
7. The Swapper on PS4
Curve Studio’s The Swapper was a sleeper hit for me this year. I knew nothing of this game when it came out in August except that it was a puzzle game set in space and that was all I needed to know. But The Swapper is so much more than a simple puzzle game. The Swapper is a moral conundrum. The game revolves around a gun called the Swapper which allows the user to create clones of himself and transfer his consciousness into said clone. But as the game progresses the question I found myself asking more and more was, “Is it really me anymore?” This dilemma was explored to great success throughout the later half of the game and, without spoiling anything, a huge moral choice you are forced to make at the end of the game. The Swapper is one of those games that is going to stay with me for a long time and that’s what makes it such a special game.
6. Mario Kart 8
Mario Kart is one of the most beloved franchises in video games. This means there is a very high bar set for each instalment to achieve. That is why Mario Kart 8 is so exceptional. Not only does it achieve the franchise standard but it raises it to a whole new level. Everything in Mario Kart 8 feels polished and laboured over. From the 32 beautifully designed tracks to the way Luigi stares into your soul as he passes you on the track, every detail is done with exasperating care and attention to detail. The anti-gravity portions of the tracks also are an amazing feature that allows so much more to be done with one track. This feature is definitely one of Mario Kart 8’s crowning achievements. Mario Kart 8 is probably my favourite Kart racer of all time.
5. Child of Light
Child of Light is one of a kind. There have been plenty of turn-based RPGs over the years, and plenty of artistic indie games designed to challenge the status quo of game art. But Child of Light is both of these at once, something I haven’t yet seen. The oil painting art style is downright gorgeous and there were several times during my play through that I stopped what I was doing and just marvelled at what was on my screen. Aurora moves through the sky with such smoothness and grace that it’s fun to just fly around. When a game makes the act of movement something special it is already a step up from your typical game in which movement is an afterthought and in some cases just annoying. I also greatly admire the rhyming dialogue that is so well executed in this game. It fits with the world so well and adds to its artistic achievement. Now the turn based fights are on another level altogether as well. The time-based bar at the bottom of each fight is a fresh and unique way to have turn based fights and made the grinding feeling every time you get into fights in other RPGs almost go away entirely. Child of Light succeeds in everything it sets out to be and is truly a piece of art, something I would give to somebody who has never played a game before and say, “This is what a great game is, try it.”
Titanfall has had the great misfortune of having everyone put their hopes and dreams for what the shooter on new hardware could be capable of being. And most of those people were disappointed with Titanfall because of those insatiable expectations. But when you take a step back and really appreciate everything Titanfall succeeded in doing you will earn a new level of respect and admiration. Let’s start with mechanics. As I played Titanfall and really got to know how it felt to jump, wallride, jetpack and land on a titan I found myself being able to plan my moves several seconds in advance. This I believe speaks a lot to the intuitiveness of Titanfall’s movement and the flow of traversal. You begin to feel confident in moving faster and faster which results in a greater sense of accomplishment when you successfully cross an entire map without touching the ground or getting shot. But even when you do get shot Titanfall gives you myriad responses that each provide an opportunity for survival.
Titanfall also has very creative weapons that make this game feel truly futuristic. The smart pistol is one of the coolest guns I’ve ever fired in a game. It is something no other game has thought of doing since it is at its core a counter-intuitive weapon to have in a competitive multiplayer game that is trying to have an even playing field. It is a gun that aims your shots for you! Yet Respawn finds a way to make this gun work and feel fair in Titanfall, which in and of itself is quite a technical feat and should be applauded. The game also succeeds in successfully fusing two very different styles of combat. As a pilot you feel versatile and quick, jumping and running through the tightest streets and alleyways of the map with ease. But then something special happens. Then you call down your Titan and step inside. Then the whole game changes. You are now, for all intensive purposes, a walking tank. But this transformation feels smooth and natural. It makes sense mechanically and feels great. There is no denying that Titanfall is not the greatest nor is it the best first person shooters ever made but it is certainly an exceptional one that makes traversal and combats fun again through its unique arsenal, jetpack jumping fun and most importantly: Titans!
3. The Wolf Among Us
The Wolf Among was the first game the new and improved Telltale Games had done since their monumentally successful hit The Walking Dead. Needless to say, the pressure was on. Yet they delivered a game that I would argue is better than The Walking Dead’s first season. Based on the graphic novel Fables by Bill Willingham, this game stars the Batman-esque rough and tuff character Sheriff Bigby who is in charge of protecting the creatures of Fabletown from harm as well as from exposing themselves to the surrounding citizens of New York City. The premise alone is wholly unique and fascinating.
Telltale delivers a riveting and engaging story that explores the many facets of contention and challenges that would face a character in Bigby’s position. The issue at the surface throughout the story is investigating a series of murders, but there is a deeper plot afoot. Telltale’s speech centred gameplay from Walking Dead is back in Wolf Among Us and is used to great success. I genuinely felt like what I did and said in the world was met with unique and meaningful responses from those around me. Telltale also creates a unique art style that compliments its diverse cast of characters. The art noir style with which the game is presented is exceptionally well done. The one thing that I knew for certain when I was done playing The Wolf Among Us was that I wanted more.
2. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Shadow of Mordor borrows mechanics from some of my favourite games of all time. The combat feels almost identical to the Arkham games. You attack, counter, and attack until you have built up your combo meter to a certain number and then you can perform a special takedown and stun moves. It’s a tried and true formula that feels right at home during a battle in the middle of a swarm of orcs. The traversal feels a lot like Assassin’s Creed. You can scale buildings with ease and run along rooftops and narrow precipices like a parkour master. But all of these systems would feel empty without the magnificent world that is Middle Earth.
Monolith captures the essence of Middle Earth in this game. Shadow of Mordor has a cast of familiar characters as well as the same desolate Mordor we have come to love through the books and movies. Shadow of Mordor also adds its own to the game. Talion is the main character and I instantly fell in love with him and his plight to avenge his family’s murder as well as his search for answers as to why he is not dead as well.
Shadow of Mordor also introduces the Nemesis system to its world. The Nemesis system is one of the first things I have seen that truly feels next gen. The idea that the world you are in is always functioning even when you are not in it is kind of amazing. That while you are off doing your own thing there are orcs battling amongst themselves for dominance in the Sauron’s army. This system is definitely indicative of what the new hardware is capable of and is an idea we will see iterated on in the future. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is an excellent blend of fantastic features from other games as well as new, fresh concepts of its own design.
1. The Walking Dead Season 2
Season 2 of Telltale’s hit 2012 game is an absolute masterpiece. Clementine and her struggle to survive in the post-apocalyptic Midwest are one of the most endearing and emotionally involved I have ever been attached to. My journey with Clementine and the kind of person I shape her into is very special to me and how I want her to be. The choices you make and the consequences that result from them are difficult and gut-wrenching. There is one scene near the end of the game which I won’t spoil for you that caused me to tear up. I’ve never experienced such a strong emotional response to a game before. This speaks volumes to how Telltale has created a game that you can get deeply invested in.
The people you meet and how you treat them has resounding implications throughout the story. Telltale has also greatly improved the cell shaded comic book style visuals from Season 1. Everything looks a lot more defined. The frame rate is also greatly improved from Season 1, especially on PS4 and Xbox One. The Walking Dead Season 2 is timeless. It’s a story that will transcend time. A story that you could give to someone 50 years from now and would still be relevant and impactful. That is why it is the greatest game to come out of 2014.
So that’s it. Those are my top 10 games of 2014. It was a good year in the games industry, with the highlights coming from unexpected places since the AAA games didn’t perform as intended. Now we set our sights on 2015 and another year promising a multitude of spectacular games.
Honourable Mentions: Watch_Dogs, Super Smash Bros. Wii U, Far Cry 4, Octodad: Dadliest Catch
What to look forward to in 2015: Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, The Order 1886, Batman Arkham Knight, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Halo 5 Guardians