2014 was a pretty great and a pretty bad year for videogames. We saw lots of horribly broken games and the complete mess of whatever gamergate was (I still don’t even know). But on the bright side, it was the first full year of the next-generation consoles and with that we saw many risks on new intellectual properties that paid off wonderfully, with plenty of refreshingly fun new games. In fact, 5 of the 6 games here are new IP. Industry trends that I really like are the new rise of local multiplayer games and the continued growth of indie games and developers. Out of everything in 2014, here are the games that really stood out to me. (Consoles listed are the ones I recommend playing on.)
Honorable Mention- Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor by Monolith Productions (PS4)
Shadow of Mordor was a game that game that honestly came out of nowhere for me. I had heard some talk about it here and there prior to release but had written it off due to the Lord of the Rings license. However, after hearing praise about the game and seeing some videos after launch I decided to bite the bullet and try it out, and I’m really glad I did because it really is one of the best new games of 2014.
Shadow of Mordor borrows a lot from other properties, namely Assassin’s Creed and the Arkham games, but also adds a lot like the Nemesis system and the bow to make it unique. The Nemesis system is incredibly interesting and has the potential to be really deep. It’s also really remarkable how many animations and models they had to make for all the enemies, and it’s cool how death is punished by making enemies stronger instead of taking away from the player.
It’s a shame that a few things drag this game down though. A lot of the map is an incredibly dull brown and the story, although well-acted, is seriously forgettable. Quick-time events make up the final fights, which is a shame because it makes so many gameplay advances in the main game. Shadow of Mordor feels like a great first step in a franchise, and hopefully the sequels will iron out the problems and make the game truly great.
No. 5- Towerfall: Ascension by Matt Thorson (PS4)
Towerfall: Ascension seemingly came out of nowhere and has really become one of my favorite games on PS4. It’s basically a single screen four-player brawler a la Super Smash Brothers, but with archers. It’s a simple idea that’s executed brilliantly and is an absolute blast if you have three to four players to play with. Everything is balanced very well and there’s a ton of different special arrows, maps, and gameplay variants that make the game feel different and greatly increase replay value. Somehow most game’s I play of Towerfall always come down to the very end, which makes games even more intense. Besides that, there’s really not that much to say about Towerfall. It’s just a super fun party game if you have some mates over.
No. 4 – Transistor by Supergiant Games (PS4)
Transistor, like Shadow of Mordor, was a game that I had heard bits and pieces of in the months prior to launch but just never really paid much attention to. However, after hearing a lot of good things at launch I decided to try it out and I’m really glad I did. Transistor has such a beautifully encapsulating world, and very refreshing gameplay, that it immediately became one of the favorite games of the year.
As mentioned in my full review, Transistor is an isometric game with a mix of turn-based and real-time combat. It stars a woman named Red, a woman who has lost her voice, and her talking sword, who used to be her lover but lost his body. The juxtaposition between these two creates a very fascinating dynamic and, combined with the slow stream of story information, a very interesting experimental story in general. The art style is pretty incredible too, and helps create an atmosphere that’s just so entrancing.
The gameplay, though, makes up the core of Transistor, and it’s clear a lot of work went into it. Transistor’s gameplay is so completely refreshing and unlike anything I’ve ever seen or played before. There are 16 total moves, and any of those moves can be applied to an active position, passive position, or enhance position (applied on top of an active position). It doesn’t sound like much but that creates so many different combinations of moves that Supergiant had to program and sometimes animate individually. I had a really fun time testing out new combinations and actually playing through the world too. The combination of really memorable gameplay with a wonderfully realized world created one of my favorite games of 2014.
No. 3- Far Cry 4 by Ubisoft Montreal (PS4)
Far Cry 4 is my first foray into the Far Cry series, and so far it has been an incredibly fun one. I rarely ever do first person shooters, but really wanted to get into this series after hearing so much about Far Cry 3 and now 4. Far Cry 4 doesn’t really do anything unique, and from what I hear is almost exactly like Far Cry 3 from a gameplay standpoint, but what it does it does exceptionally well.
Kyrat is the setting this time around and it looks just incredible. Some of the vistas when you’re flying around in the buzzer are just insane. The game does a good job of giving Kyrat a sense of place, even if that’s thrown a little off by your random guy single-handedly taking down an entire country. The shooting and actual gameplay feel really good, and makes this feel a lot more of a hunting game than a shooting game, since it actively encourages stealth in very natural ways. More importantly, Far Cry 4 is just a very fun game depending on whether or not you want to approach things in stealth or guns-blazing.
The actual structure of Far Cry 4 feels very much another fitting of the standard Ubisoft formula, but what makes this different than other Ubisoft games is that everything feeds back into the main gameplay loop of upgrading skills and getting better weapons. There actually is a point here to doing side missions and getting collectibles. The only issue I actually have with Far Cry 4 is that tonally it can be a little off sometimes. Besides that though, Far Cry 4 is a ton of fun and by far my favorite AAA game of the year.
No. 2- Nidhogg by Mark “Messhof” Essen (PS4)
Nidhogg, like Towerfall, is a game that is only really worth it if you have friends to play with. For $15, a simple pixel-y fencing game like this might seem overpriced, but it is hands down the most fun party game money can buy. Nidhogg features very simple mechanics that make it easy to learn and still capture the essence of fencing. The gameplay is just so fun and fair that this is easily the most fun game there is to play with friends ever. Like Towerfall, there’s really not much more to say about it, but I really cannot recommend Nidhogg enough.
No. 1- Child of Light by Ubisoft Montreal (Vita, PS4)
I actually initially bought Child of Light once it came to Vita partly because I was fairly interested in it and partly to help convince Ubisoft to bring more games to Vita. I’m really glad I did because I absolutely fell in love with Child of Light and became enthralled with it for the time it took me to finish it. Child of Light tells the story of Aurora, a little girl who gets transported to this mythical world and must figure out how to get out to help her ailing father. Along the way, she meets a lot of people from that world and decides she needs to help save them from their crisis too.
As mentioned in my full review, the game is a western-made JRPG and basically centers on one central mechanic, the combat bar. The bar creates another weird mix of real-time and turn-based combat, similar to yet completely different than Transistor’s system. Character move across the bar, and their moves execute once the reach the end. However, stronger attacks are slower, and characters can be knocked back if they get attacked while in the “act” portion of the bar (the last quarter of the bar). It’s a very simple idea that creates a very deep system. Every battle felt like a different challenge because it was such an active system. Every move had to be momentarily decided right after the next depending on the situation on the bar. It was very intense and thrilling, something I really didn’t expect from such a charming game.
On top of that, the game looks simply beautiful. Everything looks hand painted and a ton of detail was put in to make it feel very much like a children’s storybook. All the characters even speak in rhyme which is a nice touch even if it’s charmingly bad. This all contributed to a game I just couldn’t stop thinking about all day while I was playing through it. I just wanted to play this all the time for the week or so it took to finish it, and I’ve never experienced something that before. Child of Light is just an incredibly solid game with one of the most fun mechanics I’ve ever encountered in games, and so that’s why it’s my favorite game of 2014.