2014 is the year gaming culture went mainstream. It’s true games themselves have been part of the mainstream culture for a while; but actual gaming culture itself has been vanquished to the darker corners of the internet, conventions, and dank-dark basements. Whether it was the popular #GamerGate controversy, or the variety of social issues explored through online journalists, 2014 was a year unlike most others for our favorite media.
For me personally, it was a special year because it marked my return to games journalism or, broader, media criticism. Working with the guys and gals at SmashPad over the years, I’ve come to love writing and thinking about games almost as much as I do playing them. Like many of you, the industry itself and the cultural motions games reflect on and participate in are just as interesting as the actual games themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I love video games; yet still, I love the entire idea more.
It also marked a special year for me because it’s a time when I jumped back into portable gaming with the purchase of a PlayStation Vita. I have had a 3DS since it came out, but I haven’t found much to play on it that is up my alley. There are a few games here and there, but the Vita was more to my speed as a console and PC gamer. I got to replay Persona 4 which, in my opinion, is one of the best games ever made. Also, it got me into The Walking Dead: Season One, which my package came with for free.
I had never enjoyed the television show so I was a little disappointed that was my free game. But my goodness, I was wrong to judge it negatively. To me, Telltale knocked it out of the park. And that’s where 2014’s greatest games really comes into focus in my opinion. You’ll see. Stay tuned…
10. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor – PS4, Xbox One, PC
From time immemorial we’ve had franchised games based on other media. Most of the time, they’re garbage. There are the rare exceptions… games such as GoldenEye, The Chronicles of Riddick, and even Disney’s The Lion King. But by and large, they’re weak cash-ins used as marketing props typically duping parents into spending their hard-earned money on something unworthy. Shadow of Mordor, surprisingly, is one of those very good games based on a universe pre-existing the product. From the open-world exploration to its excellent combat design, it brings you into Middle-earth and allows you to really feel as if you’re participating in something bigger than just a level-based action game. Overall, the gameplay could have been a little bit better and the story could have been tightened up a bit too, but generally speaking it’s about as good as any Lord of the Rings-based game we’ve seen yet. It’s highly recommendable and should satisfy fans of the genre, the series, and the universe.
9. Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars – Vita, 3DS
I know what you’re thinking. This is an odd choice. To be honest, I wasn’t going to pick it for fear it might turn too many people off. But something about Conception II has stuck with me since I first played it last spring. Its off-the-wall bizarre characters and setting have been burned into my mind quite unlike any other RPG this year. Not to mention, as a Vita game, the dungeon crawling was well paced and the combat was addicting in the way a game of this type should be. What I’d really like to say about this game is don’t let the strange qualities outweigh the good ones; it is legitimately well made and it’s downright fun. Conception II is borderline sexist, slightly racist, and even vaguely offensive−but its charming. There’s nothing really I can say that defends it other than that. But I think if you’re interested in Vita RPGs, it’s one of the year’s best games and it’s deserving among the year’s ten best.
8. Diablo III: Reaper of Souls Ultimate Evil Edition – PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
I didn’t get a chance to play Diablo III on consoles when it first released for PS3 and Xbox 360. I was very skeptical of its translation. I did, however, play it a ton on the PC when it first released. I love this style of gameplay, the point-and-click hack-and-slash loot-gaining dungeon-crawling level-upping (okay, that’s enough) majesty of Diablo has long since been one of gaming’s staples. But to a die-hard PC gamer, I couldn’t fathom this working out on a console. Then, as a gift, I received the Ultimate Evil Edition on the PlayStation 4 and I was shocked. Not only did it play very well, it was… arguably even better than the PC version. To my surprise, and much to my disbelief, I found myself loving this game. I sank dozens of hours into it and am still playing through it frequently on higher difficulties with other class types. If you have yet to play Diablo III, this is the definitive edition. If I hadn’t already played it on PC, it might even be my Game of the Year.
7. Wolfenstein: The New Order – PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
When Wolfenstein 3D came out, I was only but five or six years old. My Father had received a bootlegged copy from a friend at work and I would sneak sessions of watching him play it. Soon, I learned how to unlock his computer and instead of sneaking a watching session, I played it myself. I loved that game. When it was announced there would be a new entry into the series I was obviously very excited. The New Order is a fantastic game from start to finish, although it could have been even better with a little more polish and some more options for gameplay. The story is fast-paced and thrilling, and the new characters are also very well done which is a rarity for a shooter these days. If you are looking for the year’s best shooter, I think The New Order is ultimately the victor. That said, I love Nazi Hunting−so perhaps I am a little biased. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend it and hope we eventually see some good DLC or even a sequel during this new generation.
6. inFamous: Second Son – PS4
I had played inFamous, but I never played the sequel. The second game came out right when my PlayStation 3 broke down and also when Sony was hacked by Anonymous. As an early adopter of the PlayStation 4, I was starved for original content early on. Kind of bored by the lackluster offerings, I was anticipating Second Son but not with a lot of glee or fervent hype. When it finally downloaded and installed, it took me a couple of days to even try it out. But when I finally did, I was pleasantly surprised by how good it looked, how tight the controls were, and how interesting I found the protagonist and the storyline it offered. There’s nothing bad I can say about this game, other than I wished it was longer. Fortunately, First Light came out and continued the storyline and offered more of the essential goodness I came to love from Second Son. I ended up getting 100% completed in my playthrough as a hero (not a villain), and have since gone back to pick up more trophies and play it again. That is very rare for me, so it is clear that this game is not only one of the year’s best, but in my opinion one of the best games you can get so far on the PlayStation 4. I hope we get more!
5. Transistor – PS4, PC
I’ll be honest, I’m only just playing Transistor now. I’m late to the party. I haven’t even beaten it. That said, I’m floored by how beautiful this game is artistically and how well crafted its universe is. Reminding me of classic neo-noir and cyberpunk videogames, I have come to see Transistor as one of the year’s great games not only for its style but also its content. The combat is addicting and also refreshing; not only this, the characters are well tailored to the universe and keep me interested, wanting to complete the game in full. If you are able to spend the pittance on this downloadable game, you will not regret it. This is undeniably one of the year’s most original titles and also one of the best. Certainly and unequivocally, it proves the developers have a knack for spotting what’s lacking in games and offering up content that shines when most games are derivative or lackluster. I cannot speak more highly about this game.
4. Child of Light – PS4, PS3, Vita, Wii U, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
Another downloadable game, Child of Light really surprised me. As I said before, the early offerings on the PlayStation 4 were rather weak. We had a few mainstream retail releases, but they were mostly ports or remastered content from last generation. I was getting sick of it. Then Child of Light came out and changed the conversation and showed that the PlayStation 4 was not going to sit idly by and collect dust. From its awesome visuals to its exciting RPG combat, I found all the mechanics in Child of Light to be spot on and, indeed, delightful. Loving it on the PlayStation 4, I have even downloaded it for a second playthrough on the Vita. That may still yet be the platform it is best suited for. If you enjoy RPGs, there’s hardly a better game on the market today. Child of Light is the outstanding game in its class this year.
3. The Walking Dead: Season Two – PS4, Xbox One, Vita
Remember when I said I wasn’t into the show? It’s true. I’m really not. I don’t care about it one bit. But the first season of the game blew me away. The relationship between Lee and Clementine was, in my opinion, one of the best developed storylines I’ve ever seen in my life. I couldn’t begin to comprehend why I cared about these two as much as I did, but I found it both emotionally riveting and intellectually stimulating. Now as Clementine, the second season of the game brings this brilliant plot even further. It was just as haunting as the first season but even darker yet. I don’t want to spoil any of the story if you’ve yet to play it, but I think this season’s offering is a brilliant episodic masterpiece that will cement Tell Tale Studios as the chief storytellers in videogames today. To be as clear as possible, this is a must-own and a must-play. As a complete package, I loved The Walking Dead: Season Two.
2. The Swapper – PC, Vita, Wii U
Here it is, folks. This is my favorite game not offered for retail purchase and also one of my favorite games of the year. The Swapper is almost indescribable and it came very close to receiving the highest score I could give all year. I would have given it five stars, but I have a hard time giving any game such a score unless it truly is legendary. The Swapper’s puzzle designs are so boggling and the mechanics used to solve them will test even our most intelligent gamers. If you have the patience to really think, you’re in for a serious treat. The Swapper is, in my opinion, a fantastic game that is not only worth the purchase but also worth recommending to anyone with even a passing interest. It may go unnoticed by most gamers as it doesn’t quite stack up to the common retail releases, but I think you might find this is one of your favorite games this year if you give it a shot. If you want a game that’s visually arresting, intellectually stimulating, and beautiful to boot, The Swapper is the game for you. It’s remarkable, chilling, and will stay with you for a long time to come.
1. The Wolf Among Us – PS4, Xbox One, Vita
I’m not a big comic book guy. I don’t read them and I don’t really follow the culture around them. I had never even heard of Fable until The Wolf Among Us was first announced. To be clear, I’m a total newbie to this series. I didn’t even play the game as it released episodically. But when it finally came out on PlayStation 4, I figured that I had loved The Walking Dead so much, I may as well give it a shot. My God, I was hooked. I played all five episodes in a day and then I went and downloaded the first volume of the graphic novel on my Kindle. Since then, I’ve read even more. As Bigby Wolf, you are cast into a dark and deceptive reimagining of New York City as you try to solve a murder spree in Fabletown. I’m not going to tell you anymore than that, but I thought this was one of the most harrowing and engrossing storylines I’ve yet seen in a game in years. The setting and visual style were out of this world, bringing out the best in classic adventure games while staying true (I think) to the subject matter. I’m eagerly awaiting the second season and, until then, will continue reading into the universe through the comic books. The Wolf Among Us is not just my Game of the Year, but it’s the game I think indicates we are at a tipping point in story-driven content. Certainly, I recommend this game with my highest honors and I think everyone should give it a shot. After all, who really is The Wolf Among Us?
Forward Unto Dawn! …or at least 2015!
Ultimately, these are my top ten games this year. Is it just me, or was 2014 a strange year for videogames? We were more caught up with social and cultural phenomenon and I think we were offered a weak selection of retail games. An outstanding year for episodic content and downloadable games, for sure, but the majority of the retail games were disappointing. Hopefully 2015 can change the conversation a little bit, refocus our dialogue onto the content in the games, and still yet propel gaming culture further into the mainstream.
Oh, and my most disappointing game of the year was Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth. Boo! Shame on you, Sid Meier.
What are you most excited about for 2015? The prospect of another #GamerGate? The release of Grim Fandango? The moment Nintendo goes third party and starts making games for the Dreamcast 2? Stopping Lan Di and saving Shenmue 3? Yeah, I bet!
Here’s to another year down the (Mario) pipes and another year yet to come. Happy New Year!