It’s that time of year when everyone writes about the best games of the year, and thought I’d add my 2 cents. This list feels a bit disingenuous since I currently own or want a number of 2014 releases that I just haven’t had time to get to yet, but I can only play so many games in a single year!
I think 2014 has gotten a lot of flack, as many consider it a weak year for gaming. I disagree. The beginning of the year was a bit weak – the PS4 and XBox One had just come out, and there are always growing pains and a lack of games to play on brand new systems. Also, a number of games that came out this year were remasters of games that had come out over the last couple years as well. But as we got closer to the middle and end of the year, a number of real heavy hitters started getting released, and I think the year ended on a good note.
So here are my top 6 games released in 2014.
I struggled with giving a best of 2014 award to a game that actually came out in 2013 and only got a remaster in 2014, but Tomb Raider was so much fun that I just can’t resist. Crystal Dynamics rebooted the Tomb Raider franchise with aplomb. We got a Lara Croft origin story that was thrilling and Lara herself got her best makeover ever. I’ve written about all the things I felt Tomb Raider did right from a feminist perspective but, when it comes down to it, Tomb Raider takes one of the top spots because it was just so much fun to play. Set pieces and quick time events sent my heart racing. I flinched each time Lara took a blow. Gameplay was fast and smooth with super slick controls. Taking out enemies with my bow, traversing rock faces, swinging down ziplines, all felt so natural. The controls were so impeccable they actually ruined a number of other PS4 action-adventure games for me. I just couldn’t get into AC: Black Flag and Infamous: Second Son – where the characters moved oddly in comparison. I had to fight the controls to get Edward or Delsin to do what I wanted, whereas Tomb Raider made Lara feel like an extension of myself.
Valiant Hearts: the Great War
2014 was not a great year for Ubisoft’s big releases. However, in June Ubisoft Mountpellier put out a lovely puzzle adventure about love, survival, and sacrifice during World War One. The game puts you in the shoes of four different characters whose lives have been intertwined in strange and sometimes heartbreaking ways by the war. Though the game contains no dialogue, I always knew what each character was feeling, in part due to the excellent animation and music. Games often put us into the role of soldiers, but not many do it like this. Valiant Hearts is not a power fantasy, but a history lesson and an experience that makes us question war from an emotional and philosophical standpoint. It was really refreshing to see war from from a non-American view, as the whole game takes place in the period before America joined the war effort. It did make me tear up a few times, most notably during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
Mechanically the game is very enjoyable as well. Gameplay is quite varied, yet still manages to fit into the context of the story. It covers everything from operating machinery to turn off chlorine gas pipes, timing-based movement to sneak between enemy patrols, rhythm based medical procedures, and car chases set to amazing orchestral music. A number of the puzzles involve Walt, a casualty dog, who can help to fetch items from tight places and find injured soldiers. And who doesn’t love games with dogs?
Valiant Hearts is one of those rare games that combine both fun gameplay and a meaningful story to give a great gaming experience.
The Last of Us: Left Behind
Left Behind is not really a game on its own, but DLC for The Last of Us. Regardless of this, it’s an amazing experience that deserves a place on game of the year lists. It was great to step into Ellie’s shoes and see her past, as well as expand upon the Winter chapter of The Last of Us. Left Behind is a perfect 2-hour gaming experience that did everything the main game did, but did it better. The pacing is perfect, the dialogue is endearing and on point. It’s not as action-heavy, but it wastes no time – every scene matters. My emotions ran the gamut while playing this, from pure joy to absolute heartache.
I don’t play a lot of horror games, but PT showed me how great they can be. Though it’s really just a playable demo for the new Silent Hills game, it was one of my best gaming experiences of the year. PT created a taut, terrifying experience that delivered not just jump scares, but a truly unsettling environment and disturbing audio and visuals and wormed their way into my psyche. Perhaps it was partly the context of playing the game (I was with great company and a couple bottles of bubbly), but PT managed to keep me so engrossed and curious for more that I played it 3 times in a row. The fact that each playthrough was subtly different was just the icing on the horribly creepy cake.
I think PT was more successful as its own game than it was as a trailer. While PT was exceptional, I don’t have a lot of faith that a horror game can be 12 hours long with more involved gameplay and still be as compelling as this was.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
This was one of the few games whose development I followed closely before it was released, and I’m glad to say it did not disappoint. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand, and is a refreshing take on the weird horror genre. It’s also one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played, with photorealistic environments that put many AAA games to shame, and a gorgeous and moody soundtrack. Ethan Carter is a murder mystery that hints towards a greater darkness. It lets you explore the beautiful world and solve puzzles at your own pace, while still managing to maintain tension throughout its whole 4-5 hour playtime.
Dragon Age: INQUISITION
Four of the previous games on this list are there at least in part due to their short playtimes, which created a tight and well-paced experience. Dragon Age: Inquisition is the complete opposite of those. To be honest, the pacing of the game’s first 10-20 hours was complete shit. However, the game more than makes up for it with its huge, deep, engaging story, wonderfully written dialogue, and sheer enormity of the world. While the size of the game can be a bit overwhelming, this installment of Dragon Age had a sense of place and a real, living world like no other. Once I hit a certain part in the story (which I could have reached way earlier if I had just left the fracking Hinterlands), I was completely enthralled and immersed in the world. The characters, from those in my party, to my advisers, to the people hanging around Skyhold all felt like real people, who I wanted to talk to and learn about. The addition of the War Table made me feel like I was the actual head of an army, who had to make decisions and delegate, rather than a lone adventurer who needed to personally slay every demon and settle every petty dispute myself. I sunk a good 200 hours into this game, and besides those initial 10 or so, I loved every minute of it.
Those are my games of the year, what are yours?