Johnny’s ‘Games of 2014′
It’s been another year of ‘exclusives’ and ‘reveals’, another year of major expectations and grave disappointments. New developers have begun the hopeful ascent into ‘beloved creator’ while major companies have taken steps towards an evil, dark throne of deception. There’s no arguing that the industry has indeed gone through an awkward growing phase in 2014 on multiple fronts, so let’s raise our champagne in hopes that broken bones will mend, but stronger.
Although it’s been said, mostly by cynical teenagers on message-boards, that 2014 was a lackluster year for videogames, I had a very difficult time omitting titles from this compilation. In the interest of keeping things “top 10″, I went with my gut and chose titles that aren’t necessarily the best games, but the games I had the most fun with this year. In order to prevent sticking and stoning I’ve also decided to later write a few fun categories and honorable mentions for specific notable qualities. But, on to the top 10.
10 Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze
As we now know, the WiiU has had a career year. Releasing major Nintendo exclusive titles and recapturing the hearts and minds of it’s fans, Nintendo’s 2014 run started with this game. Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze was challenging as it was nostalgically charismatic, something we would later learn Nintendo would echo throughout the following months. The game immediately hearkened back to the days of sipping Capri Sun and sitting indian-style with my eyes glued to the tube, as Donkey, Diddy, Dixie and the rest of the Kongs delighted my senses. With the original composer returning, the game boasted an expertly crafted balance of catchy music, colorful characters, and fantastic level design, landing it in my top 10 this year.
This year I tried something new. For the most part, every month I tried to host a tabletop game day at my place, inviting friends, and friends of friends to celebrate traditional gaming, and to do what games should do, which is bring folks together. Competition as well as co-operation were employed without ever being at the expense of sportsmanship and good fun. We played dice games, card games, chance games, and skill games. Little did I know that a game that forces us to lie to eachother would leave us reeling from laughter. Jackbox, famed for the You Don’t Know Jack collection has perhaps unintentionally ushered in a new generation of party gaming by giving us Fibbage. The biggest problem when company is over to play games is providing them with a controller, and with controllers at a premium, it’s no wonder we have only 2 to cater to a room of people. Jackbox has done away with this problem by enabling players to use their smart phone, a device people are commonly carrying today, to connect to the game via internet without the need of ample controllers.
Once logged into the game lobby using your self-appointed, hilarious nickname, you then go on to best deceive your opponents. A vague question or statement typically with a comedic blank is left for players to fill in, and the objective is to fool your opponents into choosing your ‘fake’ answer, while you take a stab at the correct answer. Our group typically conceded to on screen hilarity, which established some great one liners and memories we all won’t soon forget.
8 South Park: The Stick of Truth
Trey Parker and Matt Stone have done it all at this point, it’s no wonder that any doubt I had about this game was dissolved after getting my hands on it. The misgivings I had weren’t unwarranted though, as the warning signs were there. A licensed game with multiple delays and a publisher that’s in hot water, managed to produce something I’ve dreamt about since I was kid , watching this small construction paper Colorado town face it’s first alien abduction. Here, nearly 20 years after it’s 1997 debut on television, do we get our first fully realized South Park videogame. We’ve seen South Park in videogames before in the form of first person N64 games, divisive platformers, and tower defense, but never as wonderfully crafted as The Stick of Truth.
Graphically, the game has no visible difference from the show, and while this may not be impressive technically, given your familiarity with the show it is a feat that is aesthetically immersive. Make no mistake, you are playing a season of South Park. Comedy is not in short supply as you, the ‘new kid’, explore an accurate realization of South Park, meeting characters from a long list of favorite episodes. The RPG elements are turn based, borrowing such interactive combat features as timed hits and buffing attacks, which are relative to gear you find in the world. Everything has been seasoned with the South Park flavor we all love, and that’s why it’s here.
7 Wolfenstein: The New Order
Undoubtedly the most surprising franchise of the year, Machine Games has managed to re-ignite Wolfenstein in a way that had people feeling as though they had to ‘admit’ to loving it. The New Order does something risky by trying to meld fast, dual shotgun wielding, ostentatious game-play with a heavy and well crafted narrative. Yes, Wolfenstein had a well crafted narrative, and the same is to be said about it’s cast of characters. In this alternate history, you’ll meet a ragtag group of rebels and cast of hated villains who are diverse, well performed, and memorable (Max Haas!)
The outstanding nuance is a product of that alternate history, for example collecting vinyl records which have real world, yet Nazi influenced outcome, and seeing a civil rights movements bloom from a different past. At a very comfortable length, and at least one painful game altering choice, this new entry has a highfalutin series of interactive set pieces, that are crafted with love and creativity, and always leave you to exhaust a breath of tension when it’s all over. A bit of an odd mention, but the game has an interesting sex scene, that oddly enough treats sex like well, sex. It’s short, and maybe insignificant to some but it wasn’t overly comedic, sexualized, or fantasized as it often is mishandled in gaming. From the trigger happy, feel good gun-play, all the way to the bedroom Wolfenstein: The New Order gracefully nails it.
The excitement starting during E3 2013, when Respawn Entertainment announced a brand new name to welcome us into a new generation of gaming. People were hungry during that year’s E3, salivating at the idea of something fresh and progressive. It can, and has been argued that Titanfall fell short in certain crucial areas where it preemptively boasted innovation. An online based campaign? Intriguing in theory, lackluster in execution.
What I find Titanfall did do best was transcend genre in a way that seems to be under-appreciated. At first glance it comes off as solely a multiplayer shooter. Sure, it can be boiled down to that, but I would argue that Titanfall stepped in a direction that shook things up in a great way. As somone who has played mech games such as Mechassault and Mechwarrior, I could only imagine the battlefield being as active as it is in Titanfall. Both AI and player controllers characters unleashing flurries of missiles and ballistics back and forth across the horizon fighting for a hardpoint. As someone who plays shooters, it brought speed, traversal and highlight reel level acrobatics to the living room, which has now seemingly set a precedent for future games. The major endorphin release that occurs is visceral. Turn the corner as you drop a grenade to take out three grunts, jump to run along a wall, fire several rounds at an enemy pilot, just in time to slide below and into the cockpit of your titan that just fell from the sky, all in the course of 5 seconds.
Yes, Titanfall leaves plenty to be desired. Longevity and replay value do come into question and Respawn has released several content packs since launch to a steadily declining player base. Truth is, I believe Titanfall was so enjoyable moment to moment that we burned ourselves out too quickly to truly enjoy anything long-term it had to offer. That said, I truly believe much has been learned, and the great stepping stone that Titanfall was has it’s sequel poised to be something great.
5 Valiant Hearts
If you haven’t heard of Valiant Hearts, don’t let the aesthetic fool you into believing this is a cheerful, fuzzy, warmhearted, cartoon comedy. There’s at least one game every year that forcefully blasts me in the gut emotionally and demands my tears like salty liquid recompense. Valiant Hearts is that game.
World War I is a war scarcely covered by comparison in the gaming world, and Valiant Hearts catches you up to speed quickly by sending you hastily through bootcamp and directly into the absolutely horrible conditions and events braved by those in the Great War. The narration, and historical notation throughout this puzzle/platformer sets a grim and informative tone explaining actual battles, machinery, equipment, and hardships as you trudge through trenches solving puzzles.
Despite that seemingly hopeless paragraph, the light that shines through and makes Valiant Hearts glow like fire is the charisma found in the souls of it’s simple characters, and their relationships. Without every using coherent sentences, the relationship between the three playable characters Anna, Emile and Freddie (yes, and the dog) grows parallel to an overflow of player empathy. Using speech bubbles with pictogramss and grumbled yet passionate murmurs, interaction between characters throughout the game is undeniably charming. From fortunate and unfortunate coincidence, to symphonic car chases and lovable characters, Valiant Hearts made it’s way into my heart and into my top 5 this year. Bring tissues.
4 Sunset Overdrive
With the way news was covered in 2014, both pertaining to games and to the universe outside, it’s no wonder people have seemed to be weighed down by the informational burdens of the world. When this weight is carried with us, sometimes we just don’t have the will to take on a whole set of long winded and heavy videogame protagonist problems. That being said, Sunset Overdrive is a silly game. It’s a silly game, with a silly plot, and silly people set in a silly city. Sunset Overdrive was to me as “Let it Go” was to 9 year old Disney lovers.
Sunset City, the games open world setting is a colorful playground fit to easily lose oneself in, particularly with extremely gratifying traversal controls. Bouncing, gliding and grinding your way to collectibles and objectives felt like a breath of fresh air that was necessary for the typical open world formula to remain relevant. This coupled with the cavalcade of colors bursting from a creative arsenal of ridiculous weaponry as you deftly defeat dozens and dozens of robots and energy drink monsters. Right so, the basis of the story is an energy drink company used it’s product to catalyze and capitalize on the apocalypse. See, it’s silly, let it go. The factions you meet that still inhabit the city including a bushido boy scout brigade and a kingdom of LARPers are funny enough for a laugh as is the rest of the dialogue, although sometimes the game gets a bit heavy handed with short lived and momentarily popular internet culture jokes. Once again, if you can let it go, Sunset Overdrive is visually pleasing, stylistic mayhem that plays tight, feels right, and reminds us all to put down the baggage and enjoy a friggin’ videogame.
3 FarCry 4
I suppose Ubisoft had realized what they’d accomplished with last years FarCry 3, so they took a gamble and let it ride. And yes since last year FarCry 4 is still a very, very fun ride. Not a direct sequel to FarCry 3, FarCry 4 has you take on the role of a new protagonist, facing off against a new insane sociopath. All of the greatest parts return with very minor deviance and innovation while keeping its feet planted ensuring no steps backward. Kyrat, our new setting always feels alive in FarCry 4. Whether it’s faction warfare happening in the distance or an animal attack on rebels near a dockside base, Kyrat has a heartbeat. There’s a variety of returning activities on the world map including outpost liberation and radio tower climbing. There’s also new activities called Strongholds, which are much more difficult outposts tied to specific characters in the story, which allows for some very fun and tense co-operative overtaking.
After introducing Vaas as last years villain, and one of the most memorable videogame villains of all time, they’ve done one better this year with the introduction of violent yet slightly likable, Pagan Minn. Pagan Minn evoked some of the most ambivalent feelings I’ve ever had towards a villain in a game, and those feelings come into play during the game’s many choices you are forced to make. These choices may not weigh in heavy on how the story is affected, but the choices you make are always met with stress, tension, and at the very least verbal consequence. There are some fantastic picturesque moments throughout FarCry 4, showing beautiful Himalayan statues and mountainous landscapes. It particularly shines when taking on some of the “spiritual” missions, showcasing surreal visual moments where you battle mythical gods, and animals.
FarCry 4 to me was like eating a bowl of my grandmothers baked ziti, familiar and comforting, maybe a little salt for flavor but otherwise it hits the spot.
2 Shovel Knight
I wrote a review for Shovel Knight which can be found here.
Shovel Knight was really something special and most of my feelings can be found in the review, but let me just say that this isn’t just one of the best platformers this year, but one of the best of all time. Formulaic in the best way possible, Yacht Club Games perfects the platformer. The controls are precise, the music is rich, and the characters are downright killer. Each major boss follows different themes aligned with their stage, offers diversity in mechanics. Be quick, be brave, “For Shovelry!”
No, Destiny isn’t perfect, and no, it wasn’t what many expected. Some may even use it as their most disappointing game on another list. There’s plenty to read out there about Destiny, the good, the bad and the ugly, but Destiny is something else to me .The fact of the matter is, Destiny has been more than a game for many this year, including our group.
Being in my late twenties I’ve lived enough time to go through a diverse number of changes, as we all have. From being a young elementary school dude, up through high school and into 2 different colleges, I’ve kept the friends I’ve made the best I could, hopeful that the ones worth it end up sticking around naturally. It’s been years since elementary school, high school, and now even college. As much as everyone says they’d love to go back to a time in their lives even for a day, or just an hour, I find a lot of comfort knowing that every Tuesday when Destiny’s weekly events reset, I can saddle up with a friend from my old neighborhood, my buddies from highschool, my college roomate, a close compadre whom I’ve never even met, and new friends, all acting co-cooperatively to tackle bounties together. Every day we partner up into fireteams to communicate, to compete and to grind down into what the worlds within Destiny have to offer. While what it has to offer may not be enough for some, for us it keeps us coming back. All these people know eachother by name, have inside jokes, and know about each others private lives, all while being from a completely different time in my life.
We’re all friends, we’re all Guardians, and Destiny brought us together.
Well that’s that , I’ll have my honorable mentions and notables coming up later in the week, as well as some of this years worst.