Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Top 10 games 2014

It's time once again for a look back at another year of gaming!

I went through a period early this year where maintaining the weekly review schedule felt like a chore instead of fun. But I got over it - especially when I picked up my fancy top-of-the-line laptop in September, when you may have noticed increased quality in my screenshots and some experimentation with video reviews (now that I have a PC that can handle running a game and capture software at the same time).

As always, this is a list of my favourite ten games I played this year, not a list of the best games that released this year. Well, actually, this year it's eleven, because I just couldn't bring myself to cut any of those games off the list. So here we go - top ten eleven games, in (I think) the order I played them.
Titles are links to full reviews.

The Stanley Parable

I was disappointed to have bought this game on sale because after playing it I wish I had paid full price. The Stanley Parable is full of fantastic absurd-but-dark comedy with a top-notch narrator tying together the many, many possible paths and outcomes. The primary theme of the game is Stanley's struggle to break free from the narrator's control, but some paths have you subvert or confuse the narrator, who is sometimes an enemy, sometimes an ally, and sometimes just as confused as you are. Absolutely phenomenal and I'd recommend it at any price.

This is a real gem of indie gaming. Papers, Please has you play as an immigration officer on the border of a small fictional country as the government tightens its grip and policies. That may sound boring, but the game creates a lot of genuine emotion as you struggle to balance your job and your humanity. Do you risk your family's safety to admit refugees who will die if you turn them away, or by working for the rebels against the authoritarian government? While making decisions like these, can you actually keep up with the paperwork and regulations to meet your quota without making mistakes? Again, it doesn't sound fun, but it's a game you really should try for the experience.

Mass Effect 3

There was quite a lot of anger and controversy over the original ending of Mass Effect 3, but with the DLC in place, I was pretty happy with the conclusion to the epic sci-fi RPG. The universe is deep and well-crafted, the characters are excellent (Garrus and Tali all the way!), and gameplay is slick and full of action. But for me the real gems were the Citadel and Leviathan DLC packs. Leviathan fleshes out the origins of the Reapers and adds more to the ending. Citadel completely blew my mind with its deliberately B-movie action script and the best renegade moment in the series, but it also packs in a ton of great interaction with all your crew members to get you even more attached to them. Too bad the DLC costs Bioware points which almost never drop in price, but Citadel and Leviathan are absolutely worth it.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD

My favourite game from when I was in high school has been updated into HD (with a few refinements here and there) and it's even better than I remembered it. I love sailing, exploring the islands, the sneakily post-apocalyptic setting, the melancholic take on Ganondorf, the ahead-of-its-time action combat, and oh yeah, one of the most beautiful and personality-filled art styles in all of gaming. If you've never played it, you really should.

The Banner Saga

In my review I summarized this game as a tale of vikings, giants, and monsters in a world where the gods and the sun are dead. So, right off the bat, that's a pretty intriguing setting. The Banner Saga does a great job of balancing the relentless bleakness of the oncoming threat and the vulnerability of your caravan in a way that makes you feel constantly pressured but never helpless. The art style, music, and characters are great. My only real complaint is that it's part one and the rest isn't out yet.

The Last Of Us

To be fair I guess I should say I haven't really played that many PS3 games, but in my books The Last Of Us is easily the best game of the system. I've gotten tired of zombies recently, but the fungal creatures are a good spin with some different characteristics. The mushroom zombies aren't the real focus of the game, though - that's the relationship between Joel and Ellie. The voice acting and character animation are really great, doing an excellent job of building a believable, touching, deep relationship between the two characters. I really loved the true moral ambiguity of the ending and the highly personal reasons for the choice. Gameplay-wise, I was very impressed with how the game doesn't force combat, taking its time to let you explore the ruined but beautiful world and just listen to Joel and Ellie talk.

Dark Souls II

A lot of people thought the story and world of the sequel were weaker than the first game, but I disagree. I see Dark Souls II as the middle of a trilogy. The first introduces us to the cycle of light and dark, and the second shows us the inevitability of the cycle and the meaninglessness of the choice between fire and dark. Kind of bleak, but a great setup for a concluding third game where the cycle is finally broken. Leaving that aside, Dark Souls II is mechanically excellent, combining ideas from Demon's Souls and Dark Souls into a tightly refined experience. A few of the stats aren't explained as well as they could be, but the gameplay is fantastic. As always, fair, but punishing when you screw up.

Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem

The main thing I remember about Eternal Darkness is the pioneering sanity mechanic. I played Amnesia first, and I liked how the sanity mechanics affected the character and the player's willingness to take certain actions, but Eternal Darkness' tricks blew me away with how they affected me - the player - directly. The highly meta nature of the sanity scares are a very different kind of horror than being chased by a monster. And of course I enjoyed the plodding inevitability of the incomprehensible Lovecraftian threat.

Dungeons of Dredmor

I was never a fan of roguelikes because of the powerful effects of random generation on the outcome of my play, and because I like to actually finish games. Well, to be fair, I haven't played many of them. Anyway, Dungeons of Dredmor drew me in with its skill system, where before you start you create your character by selecting seven skills from a list of fifty-three. I had a lot of fun messing with the many combinations and trying to optimize my character, looking for synergy or just trying out some of the goofy options. Highly replayable.

Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea

I'm specifically listing the two-part DLC here. The main game was very strong on its own, with excellent character writing and some crazy twists to the reality of the game's world. But I was really blown away by the DLC and how it ties Columbia to Rapture without cheapening either experience. The return to Rapture brings back a couple of things that were missing from Infinite (like weapon upgrades and slightly more choice in tackling levels), and manages to expand on both stories in meaningful and intriguing ways. Plus the updated visuals and atmosphere are a great nostalgia trip.


If you read what I wrote about Mass Effect 3: Citadel, you'll already know I loved Vanquish. Cheesy cold war robot horde action with fast and fluid controls and a steady electronic beat make for a lot of fun. Rocket knees!
I... don't really have much more to say about that. So yeah. Rocket knees.

Super Smash Bros.

The 3DS version really impressed me with the quality on a little handheld, and it's a great portable Smash experience. But its big brother on the Wii U is way more than I expected - probably the best value of any game I've ever played, with the ludicrous number of features and modes and challenges. I'm not going to bother listing since it's so extensive. Smash Bros is the only fighting game I've ever really gotten into, and that's because of the high accessibility coupled with massive depth. I know I usually wait a while to play a game, but I just couldn't do it with Smash Bros because it's just too awesome.

Honorable Mention - The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

While it didn't do anything really new with the Zelda formula, this was an incredibly well polished game with some neat tricks up its sleeve, as well as really fantastic music.


Well, that's all. Another year of dozens of games completed. I've got a few reviews backed up now so I'm working on Pokémon Omega Ruby and Civilization V, both of which may well appear on next year's list. I'm looking forward to playing Red Dead Redemption, the Halo series, Journey, and Silent Hill 2, as well as catching up on some of the games I was really excited about in 2013 that I own but haven't got to yet, like Tomb Raider and Dishonored. So you could say I'll be keeping busy.

Thanks for reading!

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