2014 was a strange year for videogames. The start of a new console generation brings a lot of potential for innovation and exciting steps forward in game development. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case, and more often that not, AAA developers tend to play it safe. So this year we had a lot of games that were not nearly as good as they were advertized. But that doesn’t mean that this year was entirely disappointing. Just like last year, this isn’t a list of the best games of the year, but the most interesting. There was something about these games, be it in their design, their narrative, or something else entirely, that made them stand out. It goes without saying that this list is limited to games I’ve played. As much as I’d like to put Valiant Hearts, This War of Mine, Framed, or Bayonetta 2 on this list, I haven’t played them so I don’t believe I know enough about them to talk about them. So with that said, let’s begin!
It’s difficult to explain exactly what makes Destiny such an interesting game, because on the surface, it seems to be the exact game that most of the AAA industry wants to make. The shooting is nothing particularly special, the RPG elements are bare-bones and its MMO mechanics seem to exist solely prolong the amount of time that people play it. Everything about it seems designed by a committee going down a checklist of “what should be in a videogame?”
Maybe it’s precisely because of the MMO elements, but for some reason, I can’t stop playing Destiny. I have a Level 26 Warlock and a Level 9 Titan. I’m also considering getting the recently released expansion! I don’t even really play it with friends. I do the Strikes with random people and still have a great time. I don’t really understand why. But I cannot deny that I have a lot of fun with it. Maybe it’s just fun to shoot a bunch of aliens in the head. So congratulations to Destiny, for being the best time-waster I’ve played this year.
Since its release, Watch_Dogs has become the leading example in the cautionary tale against falling for marketing and hype. Its initial demo at E3 2012 showed a lot of promise with its gorgeous graphics, hacking mechanics that looked extremely fun to play with, and setting up interesting commentary on surveillance and personal security. We heard about the game’s excellence for months on end.It was supposed to be the first true next-gen gaming experience. Ubisoft even went as far as to call out Grand Theft Auto V in its marketing.
But when it came out, the final product was a far cry from what we were expecting. It didn’t look nearly as good as the initial reveal, the gameplay was a sloppy and unfocused mess, the protagonist was completely uninteresting, and its commentary on surveillance was shallow. All that hype, all that buildup, all that excitement, wasted on an ultimately mediocre and disappointing game. This has become a bad problem recently especially in the AAA industry. There’s so much marketing and hype around games like Watch_Dogs, Titanfall, and Destiny that we expect them to be the biggest, most fantastic masterpieces to ever exist that it just gets tiring after a while.
I’ve written about this game at length already, so I’ll keep this brief. Action Henk is the only game on this list that is still in Early Access, but it’s already absolutely worth playing. It’s fast, fun, and feels fantastic to play. It’s a platformer that’s all about using momentum and skilled reaction time to set the best times on a short track. But what makes it so interesting is that it has one of the best thematic uses of nostalgia I’ve ever seen in a game. But in the interest of time, I’ll link you to my previously written piece.
Supergiant’s previous game, Bastion, was one of my favorite games of 2011. So it goes without saying that I was very excited for their followup. When it came out, it definitely did not disappoint. It was visually stunning, had a gorgeous soundtrack and a great world to explore. But what really stands out is its emphasis on mechanical depth and how it affects the exploration of the story that took place before the events of the game.
It sets up a world that you have to discover for yourself by experimenting with the different combat abilities because each of them is tied to the memories of the inhabitants of the city the game is set in. Combining them in different ways with active, passive, or upgrade slots unlocks new snippets of important backstory. This system forces the player to experiment with the mechanics instead of sticking to one setup for the whole game. I’ve never seen a game that doesn’t just encourage exploration but downright enforces it in a manner that benefits the player.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
For a long time, the Assassin’s Creed franchise dominated the action/adventure genre. It was the gold standard that all games would be compared to. But when Shadow of Mordor came out, it didn’t just raise the bar, but completely break through the roof. It brought more and better stealth back into the genre, makes side activities in the sandbox feel less pointless by incorporating the lore into them, and taking the best parts of the combat in Batman’s Arkham games and adapting it to the Lord of the Rings setting.
But what makes this game stand out is the Nemesis System. The different personalities and skills of the randomly generated Uruk Captains makes the world feel a lot more organic, because of the constantly shifting power dynamic within the ranks. It creates a setup for emergent storytelling, because the player can analyze a specific enemy, set traps or ambushes, and plan an assassination or capture in their own way. The freedom that this offers is unheard of AAA action/adventure games, especially compared to the recent offerings of the Assassin’s Creed franchise.
Five Nights At Freddy’s
The popularity of Five Nights At Freddy’s sort of came out of nowhere, especially considering how hilarious the Steam Greenlight trailer looked. I initially wrote it off as another YouTube fodder game, so when it suddenly exploded, it took me completely by surprise. Mechanically speaking, it’s more about resource management than actual horror, with the jumpscares really only existing as a punishment for failing. Besides that, its antagonists are some animatronics that are scary for the three seconds that you first see them.
But what is legitimately surprising about this game is the massively devoted fanbase that it spawned thanks to the unexpectedly deep lore. Since the game’s release, there has been mountains of fanfiction, fanart, and original theories about the origins of the characters and animatronics. I haven’t seen a fanbase this dedicated since My Little Pony came back. It’s honestly quite amazing to see. That being said, I really don’t understand the appeal of the game, but it’s great to see such genuine enthusiasm for a game like this.
Goat Simulator is probably one of the strangest games that came out this year. It’s literally a big joke of a game. It started out as a game jam game that was later turned into a full game. Upon its release, all the bugs and glitches that wouldn’t completely break the game were left in. That is the entire joke. The game relies on the completely ludicrous situations that the player can create with the almost broken physics to be funny.
In a way, this game has brought us full circle. Surgeon Simulator started the trend of silly and LOLSORANDOM simulation games of mundane things, and with Goat Simulator’s utter ridiculousness and purposeful lack of logic, we have pretty much reached a point where making any more just seems unnecessary. Unfortunately, its success has only encouraged other people to make lazy and boring derivatives like Rock Simulator and Grass Simulator. The trend should have stopped with Goat Simulator, but unfortunately it started the cycle again, so we’ll have to wait and see if anything comes out of it.
I love Smash Bros. as much as the next guy, but if there’s one fighting game that really stood out to me this year, it was Lethal League. It looks deceptively simple, but contains a lot more subtleties than one would expect when looking at it. The concept of it is very simple: it’s basically dodgeball combined with Divekick, and all the ridiculousness that implies. The gameplay is extremely fast, the graphics are flashy and colorful and it’s amazingly responsive.
What makes it unique is that, in this fighting game, you never actually directly hit any of the other players. Instead, there is a single ball that player have to fight over and hit the other players with. Each character has their own special ability that they can use to manipulate the ball, like making it pass through walls or carrying it around and releasing it at will. As the game speeds up, it becomes increasingly difficult and requires more and more skill, but at a very comfortable rate. It’s the most fun I’ve had with a fighting game in a long time.
Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare
I don’t really like online competitive games. I’ve tried to get into a number of them, including Halo, Team Fortress 2, and Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. But none of them really scratched the particular itch that I really wanted. I couldn’t find anything that I felt like I could casually pop in and play every once. But this year, I found something from the most unlikely place: Electronic Arts.
When Garden Warfare was first announced, I was extremely cynical about it. Not only just another online shooter, but based on Plants Vs Zombies? It sounded ridiculous! And really kind of dumb. But when I actually sat down to play it, I found that it was probably the most fun I had ever had with an online shooter. It looks fantastic and plays like a dream. Best of all, it’s a very social, low-pressure game. There are no massively complicated strategies, no twitch reflexes, no yelling at each other. Just a fun, colorful playground for random people to get together and have a blast, both literally and figuratively.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch
I’ve made no secret of my love for the first Octodad. It’s one of the few games where the mechanics are creating the comedy instead of the writing. And it puts the player in situations that can become absolutely hilarious. So when a sequel was announced that promised to be bigger, better, and more refined, I was super excited. And it definitely lived up to its promises.
Dadliest Catch is a phenomenal game. Its story is heartwarming and the gameplay is absolutely stellar. To top it all off, there is an undercurrent in that is expressed through the narrative and mechanics about living with a mental illness. Its ending has a powerful message of accepting people’s differences and recognizing the struggle of those people living with disabilities. All of that and more, and in a comedy game to boot.