Another year gone, and one that will for the most part probably be remembered for its broken games and its things ending with “gate”. It was also the first full year for the new consoles, with the Xbox One and Playstation 4 vying for that early market lead that, let’s be honest doesn’t really mean a hell of a lot in the long run. But early kudos are important for their shareholders, and on that front, I think investors on both sides would look something like The Joker at the moment.
On the Nintendo side of things, i’m not sure it’d be all smiles for those with financial interests in the company, but strong performances from Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros showed that there’s life in the Wii U yet. More importantly sentiments toward the company have certainly improved, and ridiculous memes like the Luigi death stare in the middle of the year certainly kept the japanese giant in the headlines. This may not directly translate into sales this generation, but providing Nintendo doesn’t take any unnecessary risks in the design of their next piece of hardware and rather focus on competing on the service and content level, it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility that Nintendo will have an enormous rebound with whatever comes next. For now, it’s fair to say that while PS4 and Xbox One sales have dominated the year, you can’t help but feel Nintendo’s lack of sales success isn’t reflective of just how excellent its business strategy, and the quality of its software offerings, has been. Bayonetta 2, anyone?
What about the games? There weren’t a lot of them, honestly, with new generation titles few and far between until the last quarter, and the last generation hardware not terribly profound either, despite not being in any rush to take their last collective breath. But while there hasn’t been the quantity one has come to expect from the last few years of the old consoles’ prolific release schedule, the quality has been for the most part, a bouncer right at the noggin of our collective wallets. That is to say, it’s been bloody fantastic.
Sadly as a working professional and contributor to overall society, I don’t have the time to play them all, so this list represents only a fraction of the great games that hard-working developers have brought to market over the last 12 months. Keep that in mind as you notice the likes of Alien Isolation, Bayonetta 2 and Sunset Overdrive missing from this list, which I have absolutely no doubt I would’ve loved and played to death. So with that out of the way, read on to see what were my most agreeable games of 2014 (that I actually played).
Forza Horizon 2
I think we’d be doing ourselves and Playground Games a disservice if we didn’t come out and explicitly say that, by any reasonable measure, Forza Horizon 2 isn’t just the best racing game of the year, it is quite possibly the best racing game ever made. Following on from the already brilliant Forza Horizon, Playground Games took the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ approach to the sequel, instead focusing on making everything bigger and more beautiful. The driving is so absolutely superb and the Southern European setting a stunning realisation of places that many of us living in the southern hemisphere would have to pay top dollar to see, that its hard to see Forza Horizon as anything but a very very cheap way to experience some of the fastest cars in some of the most beautiful environments on the planet.
Watch_Dogs well and truly got its teeth into me. As someone who didn’t find a whole lot to like from the marquee open world games of last year, I was a hair’s breadth away from coming to the conclusion that perhaps the open world genre had worn thin, and that I was well and truly ready to focus my attention elsewhere. Well that all changed with Watch_Dogs, which not only did I play to conclusion, but wrung every drop of gameplay out of until there was almost literally nothing left to do. The combination of hacking and extreme firepower led to some truly amazing passages of play, and while unravelling the game’s plot wasn’t the main driver for me, the nice little allusions to current concerns around governments compromising privacy tied a neat little bow around issues that society is tackling all around the world right now.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
I didn’t expect Wolfenstein to be anything more than a solid, if derivative, run and gun shooter that was running on the fumes of nostalgia more than the strength of its gameplay. Boy was I wrong, because not only was the new Wolfenstein a brilliantly designed first person shooter, but it was also an at times touching, but always intelligent and thoughtful, look at what the world could’ve been like had the allies’ World War II campaign gone awry. Nazis have been Enemy #1 in videogames since what seems like the dawn of time, but I think Machine Games’ ode to shooters of yore is the only one to ever give a second’s thought to what nazism and the rise of the far-right really meant for the world. And it is an absolutely brilliant piece of interactive fiction. Oh yeah, and double-barrelled shotguns.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Shadow of Mordor is pretty much how I imagined Middle Earth to be when I first read Tolkien’s works as a little fella. Perhaps it was my overactive imagination, or my penchant for gritty and violent works of sci-fi and fantasy fiction and video games, but in my mind the world inhabited by hobbits and elves was a dark one full of cruelty and suffering. Whether the world envisioned by Tolkien was like that at all – although its allusions to real historical struggles would indicate that it was – Monolith capture this sense of struggle between and within races perfectly in a world that is far bleaker and more deadly than anything Peter Jackson put to film. The much lauded Nemesis system really is all that, giving real weight to what would otherwise seem like the mindless maiming of orcs across a condensed Middle-Earth. I’m not sure there’s been any moment in any game this year has topped the satisfaction of taking down an orc captain who had killed and then eluded you for a frustratingly long time. Revenge is worth it though, and the moment you catch them off-guard after taking down their henchmen is one of the sweetest victories you’ll have.
Special Mention: Best Portable Game of the Year – Demon Gaze
I am shocked as to just how little i’ve played in the way of portable games this year. Not because they’ve been particularly good this year per se and i’m feeling like I’ve missed out, but more because traditionally, they’ve been the meat and potatoes of my gaming diet. But with the upswing in the quality and quantity of seriously compelling titles on big boy consoles toward the end of the year – despite travelling incessantly for work – it’s been hard to find the right time to strain my eyes looking at a small screen. But when I did find time, usually right before bed, it was Kadokawa Games’ Demon Gaze that had me pulling out the Playstation Vita for a taste of good ol’ fashioned dungeon crawling. The popular(?) Etrian Odyssey series may be confined the Nintendo’s handheld for the moment, but as a serious alternative to those hardcorest of hardcore role playing games, Demon Gaze more than holds its own.
So that’s a wrap, although I think i’ll be playing the 2014 games I didn’t get to – like Bayonetta 2 and Alien Isolation well into next year! Have a favourite game of 2014 that didn’t make it? Tell me in the comments! And stay tuned for Lucius’ most agreeable games of the year sometime soon [UPDATE 20 December: now live!].