It’s the time of year where folks are snarking about Game of the Year lists, but I think they have their uses and are fun, so I’m gonna do one.
My Ten Favorite Games From The Year 2014
10. Dragon Age: Inquisition
There is no game released this year that I’ve had more ambivalent feelings toward. I love Bioware games. I think fighting the forces of evil while developing your relationships with your fellow quest members is a game make rather well. Dragon Age: Origins, though I wasn’t nearly as enamored with it as I was with Mass Effect for genre reasons, told a compelling yarn and had some memorable characters.
Inquisition tells more or less the same story (boo) but has more fascinating characters and couple of nice moments that are buried in the game’s ridiculous amount of filler garbage and terrible navigation system, both ripped from Bethesda’s games. Inquisition traded depth for scope, and I really, really hate that.
And yet, those little moments are just enough. Every conversation with Varric about Bianca or every time I tried to solve the enigma that is Iron Bull, got me to wade through all that mundane, design-contradictory nonsense for over 60 hours. And you know what? I’ve already started a new game.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is a mess of a game, but damn it Bioware got me again.
9. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
Danganronpa is probably the weirdest, zaniest game I played this year. It’s also one of the two reasons to buy a Vita. It’s a giant melting pot of various games (Persona 4, Virtue’s Last Reward, Phoenix Wright) that somehow works really well, even when it expects the player to sit through hours of reading text. The story is a familiar one, a Saw-esque spin of Christie’s And Then There Were None. The characters are funny and interesting enough even though most of them amount to little more than fodder.
Danganronpa is, in every sense of the word, a wicked game.
8. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Advanced Warfare is an impressive game on several fronts. The campaign is exactly what the series needed after Ghosts‘ tepid, boring one. The addition of exo suit abilities–jetpacks, ROBOT PUNCHING–gives the player a surprising amount of options when it comes to taking on foes in multiplayer and singleplayer. Equally impressive, is Sledgehammer’s attempt to tell a story that aspires to be just a little bit more than a white dude mindlessly shooting other dudes. Some aspects of that story, such as the villain, don’t work quite as well as I’d like them to, but other bits, specifically bits that incorporate a diverse cast and focus on disability, are impressive.
You can read the piece I wrote about disability and diversity in Call of Duty:Advanced Warfare for Paste here.
7. Queer Lovers at The End of the World
Queer Lovers at The End of the World is a twine game by Anna Anthropy. It’s the end of the world. You have ten seconds to spend with your lover. What will you do? The game’s free, so instead of telling you why it’s so great, I’d rather encourage you to take a minute of your day and play through it a couple of times. It’s a game that speaks for itself.
6. Alien: Isolation
I love Alien. Deeply. I think the 1979 film by Ridley Scott is one of the few perfect movies. Alien: Isolation is the best adaptation of that film (other games have sought to emulate the gun blazing action in Cameron’s Aliens) and is, separated from the source material, a really good game. For the most part. The majority of the game had me on the edge of my seat, holding my breath alongside Amanda as she hid in a locker, waiting for the creature to pass by so we could make a long dash down the hallway to safety.
If only the game was about five hours shorter.
You can read my review of Alien: Isolation here.
Glitchhikers is the most personal game I’ve played this year. As an eerie, surreal late night driving simulator, Glitchhikers made me recall a period of my life where I was on the road quite a bit, and it made me remember some old friends as well.
4. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Shadow of Mordor is brilliant and bland and delightful and infuriating, and good god I wished they would have just clipped the story. I’ve spent a lot of time with Mordor, toying with its rad Nemisis system, creating rise & fall stories about certain Uruks. I actually felt a tinge of sadness and disappointment when I accidentally beheaded one before I wanted his story to end.
But the rest of the game, the majority of it, in fact, is mediocre at best and absolutely horrendous at its low points. The protagonists are dull. The story is poorly written, with a lot of fridging and some damsel in distress quests.
But the Nemesis system? I could play in that sandbox forever.
You can read my review of Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor here.
3. Sunless Sea
Sunless Sea, by the makers of Fallen London, is a great game that lets you create your own story as a seafaring (or, Zeefairing, I guess) captain trying to make their living off an underground ocean. The game’s story creation tools, from the immense diversity available in selecting who your captain is to what the game win conditions are, are particularly impressive. I’ve gone mad at sea from staring at monsters in the murky depths too long, and I’ve had my boat sunk by a giant shark with a cage over its head as I sailed back to port. I have yet to beat the game, despite my many, many attempts, but nearly every run has been a memorable experience (including the one where my captain met his fate without leaving the harbor of London).
Alas, maybe the Zee will treat my poor captains better in 2015.
2. Velocity 2X
Velocity 2X is incredible to watch, let alone play. The game jumps across several genres, often instantly, with a rhythm that’s hard to believe. One minute you’re flying a space ship, shooting down alien ships in a typical bull-hell screen only to be running along corridors, collecting gems, and solving puzzles. The transitions never feel jarring and it’s kind of incredible how easily the various modes bleed into each other to create Velocity 2X as a single experience rather than a game made up of various parts that don’t quite mix well together.
1. Wolfenstein: The New Order
Wolfenstein: The New Order is the best game I’ve played this year. It’s a game made by developers that approach the game’s ludicrous, alternate-history subject matter with a serious face and a respect for both the world and its characters. The game’s shooting mechanics, rather than distract from the story like so many games do, compliment BJ’s character arc as a man proud of his work as a killing machine but also as someone who’s growing weary of war.
Wolfenstein is my favorite game from 2014 because it’s a game that works as a whole. Many of the games released this year (Mordor and Alien, for example) have bits and pieces that are absolutely incredible, but they often clash with other areas, design-wise. The New Order is, in contrast, a single, consistently great experience from top to bottom.
Bound by Flame
Worst Game I’ve Played This Year