Game of the Year 2014: 10-1
Our look back at the best of 2014 continues with our top ten games of the year.
10th. Alien: Isolation
Alien: Isolation reintroduces fear to H.R. Giger’s most famous creation. It seems a simple concept for a videogame, tapping into the formula that made Ridley’s Scott’s seminal 1979 masterpiece quite so frightening, yet it took this long and the developers of Total War to finally realise it. In making the xenomorph the ruthless, unstoppable killing machine it was always supposed to be, Alien: Isolation presents an utterly terrifying game of cat-and-mouse. It dismantles the common videogame power fantasy in favour of a dread-inducing helplessness, all set against the backdrop of a stunningly-realised homage to Alien’s retro sci-fi aesthetic. Each tepid step down the Sevestopol’s winding and ominous corridors is a nerve-wrecking experience and one you won’t soon forget.
9th. South Park: The Stick of Truth
After numerous delays, the monumental implosion of THQ, a change of publisher and other disruptive issues during development, it’s a surprise South Park: The Stick of Truth even made it out in 2014 (if at all). That it’s quite so fantastic is an even bigger and much more welcome surprise. Licensed games are often the source of much chagrin (and for good reason), particularly when the South Park name is attached, yet the Stick of Truth manages to transcend the putrid pit of cheap licensed cash-ins that it’s difficult to imagine how you could make a better game starring Cartman and co. With Obsidian getting the show’s visual style down pat, South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker run amok with a sharply written tale full of fun fan service, a bounty of increasingly ridiculous and disgusting jokes and an amusing propensity to riff on the industry and the game’s own JRPG mechanics. The Stick of Truth feels like the best of South Park.
8th. Dark Souls II
I know all Souls games hate me, though to be honest, they don’t hate me specifically. They hate everyone. Doors open up to bottomless pits. Enemies bait you into falling to your death. Adversaries that are faster and tougher than you stand directly in your path. Beat them and you’ll only be rewarded with a new area to test your mettle so fiercely that only the best could even hope of achieving victory. This is, of course, not counting on the chance that other players might kill you. And yet I push forward, I persevere. A Souls game beckons me to explore the strange and dangerous at its best, and there are plenty of moments where I find my back pushed up against the wall and, by the skin of my teeth, pull through.
7th. Shovel Knight
There is a fad that covers the land, and its name is retro. Nestled within this genre is a plethora of pixelated homages to games long forgotten. Only a handful can even be considered half as good as the games they’re attempting to recreate. Shovel Knight surpasses its predecessors by making its mechanics both accessible and challenging. Its boss fights are creative without forcing you to learn patterns via death. And the tale of our shovel wielding adventurer, haunted by loss, elevates it beyond what the games of old even thought of attempting.
6th. Bayonetta 2
If the original Bayonetta was a delicious slice of old school gaming pie, then Bayonetta 2 is the full pie, lit on fire and thrown at your face at 200 miles per hour by a ninja version of Rodney Dangerfield. Everything is bigger, better and more polished in this stunning sequel from Platinum Games. Fighter jets are kicked and ridden, cigars chain smoked, bad jokes uttered and sexual innuendo spread judiciously over all; in short, it’s the perfect treat for action game fans and a chance to swoon all over again for the high octane antics of everyone’s favorite raven-haired, Umbran witch.
5th. Valiant Hearts: The Great War
Valiant Hearts is respectful of war in a way few other games are. By telling its intimate story of friends and family ripped apart by the events of World War I, it tackles war in a refreshingly nuanced manner. You’ll solve puzzles to heal the wounded, disable German tanks with Rube Goldberg devices and evade bombs to classical music, but nothing in Valiant Hearts ever feels trivialized. In a testament to both Ubisoft Montpelliers’ treatment and the power of great cartooning, Valiant Hearts is as charming, lovely and profoundly sad as many of the great Euro comics and animated films that have come before it.
4th. The Last of Us: Left Behind
Post-apocalypse stories are littered with the dead, both figuratively and literally. But the beauty, and true tragedy, of the genre always manifests itself in between. It’s the relationships made among the living that makes these worlds so fascinating and eventually heartbreaking. Left Behind does the previously unthinkable, at least in the annals of the ‘AAA’ game space, starring two teenage girls’ trip to the mall. Naughty Dog’s maturity shows through its characters, weaving an expertly paced narrative over a few short hours. In that time we really get to know Ellie and Riley in a way uncommon to what is still effectively a third-person shooter. We laugh with them, we cry with them, and all the while we catch a glimpse of our own adolescence, albeit one with hopefully less Clickers.
3rd. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
At first glance Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor looks like little more than another open-world stealth/action hybrid. Climbing over ancient ruins and stabbing oodles of enemies in the face and neck is all par for the course, and Mordor’s mechanics are so fast-paced, fluid and entertaining that it’s never not fun to do so. Yet what it does with its innovative Nemesis system elevates all of these moving parts into an emergent and inherently personal whole. This is a game shaped just as much by what you do as what everyone else in this bleak world does around you. Developer Monolith is so confident in Mordor’s systems that each encounter with this organic hierarchy of dynamic foes can’t help but be completely engaging. Every person who’s played it has their own unique tales of that bothersome Uruk who keeps getting the better of them, the psychopathic captain who just screams in their face or the one who speaks in rhymes and has pieces of metal bolted to his head due to injuries sustained in a previous skirmish. Mordor livens up a genre that has remained rigid for far too long. Expect to feel its influence in the years to come.
2nd. Wolfenstein: The New Order
Wolfenstein is old school with a heart. It is the finest example of a pure shooter that captures a classic essence while also being progressive. It has given soul and identity to the masculine blank slate that was B.J. Blazkowicz. It pits us into firefights that are weighted with the same gravity as their narrative buildups. This is the tried and true campaign without any multiplayer fuss, a straight-up return to the action and bravado of a very primitive thing, made new and fresh for the modern era. The bright minds at Machine Games have pushed a genre forward where there was no obvious progress to make and are sure to make waves with future projects. They are a top developer to watch and their present work shows no limits for their potential.
1st. The Wolf Among Us
Telltale have found their own form. The Wolf Among Us exemplifies all of the studio’s best qualities and the expertise of their craft. It is a statement of intent, give this studio any property and watch them flourish and bring it to life in a format they have renovated, where they are the singular experts in a genre of their own. The adventure resonates with a bold aesthetic that matches its narrative undertones, just the right balance between grime and glamour. This is a project living into the entirety of its promise and intent, that has delivered on its potential, and after a first season of established quality, is the game most commonly valued by our staff.