Game of the Year 2014: 20-11
2014 is over. Looking back on the gaming landscape of last year, there were plenty of excellent titles, from AAA to indie. As is the yearly tradition, the Thunderbolt staff locked themselves in a small room and squabbled, sumo wrestled, high-fived and hammered out a list of 20 of our favorite games of 2014.
Below you’ll find numbers 20 through 11 listed in descending order, with numbers ten through our Game of the Year coming tomorrow.
Nobody knew what to expect when Blizzard announced their plans to expand outside of their holy trinity of Starcraft II, World of Warcraft and Diablo III. Of these new ventures, Hearthstone has proven that a free-to-play, digital iteration of their now retired trading card game can be balanced, polished and fun. It’s the type of game that you sit down with to kill a few minutes, only to have those minutes turn into hours as you battle online and seek to build that perfect deck.
Jazzpunk is a special piece of work. It’s funny on purpose, built with mechanics that are loaded with intent for comedic payoffs. The compact adventure employs a signature style and want to do its own thing and so it feels separate and new on a list of like things and understood quantities.
18th. Divinity: Original Sin
A Kickstarter success, Divinity: Original Sin is a true PC gamer’s (C)RPG. It’s gorgeous, well-written, funny and offers expansive, yet finely crafted and compelling environments to get lost in, with little details and rewards hidden in every nook and cranny. Add the ability to play the entire game with a friend via seamless and fully integrated co-op and you have arguably the best RPG experience of 2014.
17th. Super TIME Force Ultra
Super TIME Force Ultra, or STFU for short, is one of those games that revels in being a game. It’s pop culture inspirations are so numerous – from games to comics to movies to Saturday morning cartoons – one could likely write a lengthy dissertation over it. Alas, time is not on my side, this is but a ‘brief summary’. All you really need to understand about Super TIME Force Ultra is that it’s stupid, silly, infuriating fun. It’s the kind of game where you restart a level immediately upon completion to find the do dads you missed and improve your times. You run an elite group of time hopping chumps who aim to save the world but really muck it all up by screwing with the space time continuum. But who cares? Time is on your side, literally. Just make sure you blow the right shit up the second time around; or third; or forth; or fiftieth.
16th. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Few companies outside of the indie sphere are tackling the platformer genre these days, so it’s a special treat to see a AAA developer like Retro Studios create such a masterful love letter to old school gaming. It’s a Donkey Kong Country game, to be sure, with watertight platforming, fantastic and original boss fights and, yes, even mine kart levels, but the layer of HD polish and overall care put into the game’s design, pacing and presentation (David Wise’s soundtrack here is arguably his best ever) make Tropical Freeze one of the real gems of 2014.
Calling a titan and watching it crash down from space is a fantastic sight to behold time and time again, but it’s just as thrilling to fight on foot. There is a strong sense of mobility that is granted that turns up the pace of the game. And then the titans drop. They’re not win buttons waiting to be summoned, but exist rather to change the flow of combat. While the package as a whole is far too emaciated, from its brief campaign of sorts to its slight degree of loadout customization, what is here is highly polished and most refined.
14th. Super Smash Bros.
Since the Nintendo 64, every Nintendo home console has been graced with a Smash Bros. title, and the most recent entry in the series for Wii U and 3DS certainly lives up to the lofty pedigree of those that came before. Now in full 1080p HD (on Wii U) and with the largest roster yet (nearly 50 in all), Super Smash Bros. is colorful, balanced, feature-laden and just plain fun, with plenty to offer both casual and hardcore fans alike. Nothing quite beats brawling with a roomful of friends and/or family, but Super Smash Bros. also offers up robust online multiplayer, with some of the most stable netcode found in a Nintendo-developed title yet.
13th. The Evil Within
Ideal in a personal way, The Evil Within is proof that a vision can still exist in the retail space for a horror game. It comes with the top pedigree of famed designer Shinji Mikami and is the first work from his new studio Tango Gameworks, under the publishing arm of Bethesda. The product of this relationship is the familiar and everlasting design of Resident Evil 4, which many would argue is the last progress in horror, combined with the production that only a big publisher can allow the budget for. What’s great about The Evil Within is that it is not deterred by any modern standard and thoroughly comes through as the vision of a great auteur, the custodian of a genre’s progress.
12th. Wasteland 2
Wasteland 2 likes to remind you (a lot) that it’s the sequel to a 25 year old game you’ve never played and more than likely never even heard of – and, oh yeah, it inspired that Fallout series we’re all so justifiably smitten with. Wasteland 2 is all of those things, as well as one of the major Kickstarter success stories, but take away all of the noise surrounding Wasteland 2 and you’re left with a thoroughly solid, occasionally brilliant post-apocalyptic RPG. An expansive over world, grim decision making, nutty factions, frequently over-encumbered party members, it’s all here, and when all of the disparate parts of Brian Fargo’s long overdue sequel work in bleak harmony it’s one of the better fictions to wander. At times it seems overly ponderous and at others it fills you with a swelling sense of urgency, which are hallmarks of a great RPG. Taken at face value, that’s what Wasteland 2 essentially is.
11th. Mario Kart 8
Some may argue that Nintendo has taken its time embracing “next gen,” but Mario Kart 8 is proof that the company has come along way in this regard. Rock solid online play, gorgeous HD visuals and other features like YouTube and Miiverse integration make this the most polished, social, and forward thinking Mario Kart yet. Few games in 2014 offered a better one-two punch of offline-online multiplayer entertainment, and a special mention must made of the game’s wonderful soundtrack (recorded with live instruments – a first for the series), which stands as one of the best of the year.