So here it is, Game of the Year, where I'm gifting the grand title that acknowledges the excellence in gaming in 2014. If you didn't check out the list of individual awards I handed out yesterday you should take a look.
It has been an eclectic year for games with no real front runner emerging from a pack that includes cartoon racers, sobering explorations of war, triple AAA pizzazz and experimental indies. That is kind of exciting. I love to see diversity in the best games of any year.
Now, the reason I've landed on doing a list as opposed to just giving out one award is that Game of the Year should be about congratulating a bunch of games. If I can introduce smaller titles that people might have missed, then all the better.
Having said that, this is still a competition and there will be a winner as well as four highlights that stand above the pack. For the majority, this is a descending list and you will no doubt end up disagreeing with me on pretty much all of this. So please, do tell me your game of the years in the forums.
(Side note: Because I am only one man, there are inevitably a few games that could have made this list that I just don't feel confident I had enough time with. So on this list, you won't see: Bayonetta 2, Super Smash Bros Wii U, Sunset Overdrive, Wolfenstien: The New Order or Dark Souls 2. I've played each, but not to a point where I'd want to force a position.
Also, perhaps you'd be pleased to know that there will be no remasters or rereleases. You won't find Grand Theft Auto V or The Last of Us on this list. Everything else is pretty much fair game!)
That's enough bluster though, let me get to the games.
The Long Dark
The Long Dark is the first of a few survival games on this list as that genre has exploded in the last few years. Off the bat, it's worth saying, this game is in Early Access and it shows. It's in need of much more depth. That doesn't mean it isn't worth highlighting though. What The Long Dark does so well, is that it really is all about survival. There are no complex morality questions, no quirks to the gameplay and no real humanoid enemies. It is just pure survival instinct. This is a game that plops you right in the middle of a frozen wasteland and tells you to survive with what you can find. It is the loneliest game I've played this year, but it's designed in a compelling enough way to make you want to keep breathing. I even began to think about my own mortality when I was playing. Any game that gives me the room to finally get to that place is not without merit. Just hoping for a little more to do over time.
Game of Thrones: A Telltale Series – Episode One
It's hard to really justify putting it any higher than this, since our time with Telltale's Game of Thrones adaption is so incomplete. If the quality of the next few episodes is at the same level of the first, it would feature much higher. Looking at what we have though, I'm surprised this game worked as well as it did. While it had weaker spots, the game excelled when it was dealing with the politics of Westeros, putting you in a position where you had to be careful in how you conducted yourself. It's a smart decision and shows why Telltale and Game of Thrones should make such good bed fellows going forward.
South Park: The Stick of Truth
I must confess, South Park isn't really my 'thing' which is a pretty big entry requirement going into the Stick of Truth. Also, while fun and light, the RPG mechanics of the game do leave something to be desired, especially the longer the game goes on. Having said that though, quality is obvious when you see it. Recreating the exact aesthetic of the show is compelling. It would be easy to fool anyone into thinking you're just watching an extended episode of the series. The humour is a highlight too, characteristically crude but on point as the series often is. This is a work of love by the Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Obsidian Entertainment and there is every reason to congratulate the creators of an incredibly popular show coming into a new medium and putting as much care as they did into this game. For fans of the show, it's a must.
If you forgot about Titanfall, I feel for you. The game got a lot of mixed press when it came out and had a severe drop off for a game that depends on an online community. The lack of single player certainly seemed to hurt this game, but don't let that cloud your judgement. Titanfall is a ludicrously fun game to play. The shooting is razor sharp, the mobility is freeing and jumping into a Titan to lay waist to the battlefield is entertaining as all hell. It certainly needs to work on a way to keep players coming back, but Titanfall is some of the most fun you could have online this year.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
This is a surprise to me, and honestly, I'm incredibly happy to be putting a Call of Duty on a Game of the Year list again. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is one of the best titles in the franchise since the first Modern Warfare and I don't say that lightly. Sledgehammer Games have revitalized the series by adding a sense of verticality and tactics to the play. Multiplayer is well thought out with tons of rewards and while it gets ridiculous, parts of the single player campaign are a joy to play through. If you wanted a reason to jump back into Call of Duty, this has been your best excuse in years.
Survival games have taken over the PC market this year with a new title seemingly popping up out of no where every few days. There are so many of them and a good chunk are in pre-release in near unplayable states. The Forest is one of the Early Access titles that has risen above that status to offer something unique and worth experiencing right now though. It's easily the most gorgeous survival game going and it does something a lot of other games like this fail at. It has a keen eye for detail. While in many games you'd hit a tree, get wood and that would be that, in The Forest you chop down a tree and watch it silently fall to the ground. As you build structures you see where each piece you are placing goes. It's all cosmetic, but it is so refreshing to see that kind of polish on a survival game. Adding to that it also sports some genuinely unnerving enemies who are sporadic and brutal. It still has quite a bit of work to go in terms of the depth on offer, but The Forest is quickly becoming one of the best survival games out there.
Far Cry 4
Far Cry 4 at one point was much further down this list. The story is a mess and it leans back far too often on the good graces of Far Cry 3. What previously made the franchise interesting is that each iteration felt completely different from the last, using the same mechanics but infusing them with the new ideas. Far Cry 4 just wasn't doing that for me. That was until I had a friend over this weekend and we just played the game for hours. We would wander around and make our own fun, traversing the world, hunting wildlife and obliterating enemies. That is when Far Cry 4 is at its best. It's a ludicrous sand box with limitless opportunities to do something ridiculous. While I still wish they would've changed it up a bit more, if you loved Far Cry 3 this is more of the same. It's outlandish and boisterous and that is what makes it a ton of fun.
Child of Light
Child of Light is one of the most beautiful games of 2014 in many senses of the word. It's soundtrack, its art direction, it's narrative, it's all beautiful. Taking place in a story book world, the game tells its narrative through iambic pentameter to (mostly) great effect and it's a joy to explore the gorgeous world of Lemuria. It even has some modern twists on classic Final Fantasy inspired turn based combat that keep things fresh and flowing. If I had a problem with it though, it is that I'm personally not a huge fan of that kind of combat. Because of that I found myself trying to avoid combat as much as possible. That is my own personal hang up though. It doesn't mean that you won't love it that kind of system, and if you get the chance, I encourage you to jump into this poignant fairytale.
This is probably the game I had the most love/hate relationship on this list, but in a way, I think that endears me to it more. Alien: Isolation is needlessly hard and overlong in spades. It can be an incredibly frustrating experience that has you throwing your controller across the room while at the same time, it'll wow you with its attention to detail in recreating the feeling of Ridley Scott's Alien. It's easily the scariest game of 2014 and has some interesting ideas when it comes to you being stalked by the Xenomorph. Add on top of that it all takes place in one of the years most engaging environments and you'll realise there is tons to admire here. Despite all of its frustrations, Alien: Isolation was a game I couldn't help but love.
Destiny has damn near split the gaming community in two. There are those who hate it and those with addiction like relationships with the game. While I don't fall into either camp, I am inclined to say I think it's a really exciting experiment in the AAA market, even if it has some glaring problems. Yes, the story was awful. Yes, it's based on repetitive loops, but it has such refined fundamentals and plays with really exciting connected world ideas, I can't help but be a little enamored with what Bungie have created. Add to that a career best soundtrack by Marty O'Donnell, breathtaking vistas and you have a game that is incredibly strong when all is said and done.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor was the game that surprised everyone this year. This was a Lord of the Rings game that aped both Arkham Assylum and Assassin's Creed. On paper, that sounds like another licensed game disaster. In action, it could prove to be one of the most important titles this year. The Nemesis system opens up tons of avenues for emergent storytelling going forward in systems that'll allow players to craft genuinely unique narratives for themselves. It had really solid combat that made you feel powerful, while still being vulnerable to death. The main narrative stumbled more often than it hit, but that is only a minor blight on an incredible experience.
Supermassive Games hit the big time with their release of Bastion back in 2011. Since then, fans had been eagerly awaiting their next game which arrived earlier this year in the form of Transistor. You play as Red, a singer who has lost her voice and finds herself in front of a mysterious talking sword called Transistor. It's tells a noir murder mystery that takes place in a crumbling sci-fi utopia. It really is a gorgeous experience. Pair that with a killer soundtrack from Darren Korb, really fascinating play and you have a very strong game. The story is often obtuse and doesn't hang around long to tell you what is going on, but that only adds to the mystique the game is built around. It's a great top-down RPG and if you liked Bastion at all, you should give it s whirl.
If you, like me, spent a long time playing difficult platformers on the SNES in the 90s, you will get a pretty good kick out of Shovel Knight. If you didn't, well you'll still probably get a kick out of Shovel Knight. While it's built around nostalgia, the game stands up on its own. It brings in ideas laid down by games like Megaman, Ducktails and Castle of Illusions and brings in modern sensibilities. It's a tough challenge, but masterfully designed and charming as hell. If you're not careful you might also find yourself caring about your journey to save Shield Knight.
The Wolf Among Us
This Telltale game based on the Fables comicbooks was never really on my radar until I played the first episode of The Wolf Among Us. After that, I was hooked. This is probably the most complete Telltale season to date, mixing in a story of intrigue with a strong illusion of detective work. Playing as Bigby Wolf is a sharp departure from Clementine in the Walking Dead, but it's just as compelling. Less about character interaction and more focused on plot, this is one of the developer's best efforts to date.
The Walking Dead Season Two
This may be controversial, but I think The Walking Dead Season Two is stronger than Season One. It isn't quite the breath of fresh air that the first was, but it tells a more compelling and plot driven story. It may lack the central relationship that Clementine and Lee had, but watching a game where Clementine is forced to grow up fast and not trust anyone can be exhilarating and heart breaking. To see some of the best writing for games in 2014, you can't do much better than The Walking Dead.
Here is where I am going to break the mould a little bit. For the last five games on this list, I'm going to be giving four games a Highlight award and then, of course, Game of the Year. While all of the games above were more or less in a descending rank, these next four are interchangeable. Each as good as the other.
So here we go:
Game of the Year Highlight #1
Just because of my schedule and the sheer amount of games I have to get through, I don't get tons of time to revisit a lot of games I'd like too. That should speak to the power of Mario Kart 8 as I couldn't help myself from coming back to it every few weeks. This is a title that is bursting with ideas be it in the mechanics of racing or just some of the frankly insane concepts going on in the track designs. This is the best Kart Racer ever. Full stop. Period. If you own a Wii U and love to play games with your friends on the couch, you HAVE to get this game.
Game of the Year Highlight #2
I adore this game. There isn't much more to it than that. This is pure unbridled joy that mixes Zelda and Dance Dance Revolution into one fun and challenging package. The game is still in early access, but it's a complete experience. Any updates now feels like free content which is always a bonus. The trick is in the game's simplicity, but also it's ability to twist that into challenging situations. It forces you to learn enemy movements and assess the next best option all to the beat of Danny Baranowsky's pumping soundtrack. Give it a try. I can't recommend it enough.
Game of the Year Highlight #3
There is nothing like Kentucky Route Zero and that is the best praise I can give it. It's a surreal dream through mid-west Americana all in the framing of a point and click game. It's production has been painfully slow, releasing only its third act earlier this year. That hasn't dampened my enthusiasm for this series though as that Act was one of the high points of this 5 part journey so far. I implore you to check the game out if you haven't already. The less you know about it the better as this is an experience, not some narrative trying to get to deeper meaning. That is definitely a good thing in this case.
Lets just hope Act IV isn't too far away.
Game of the Year Highlight #4
I've written pretty extensively about This War of Mine and you can check out my thoughts on the game here. The short though? This War of Mine is one of the most special survival games in a time where they're a dime a dozen. Written and designed against the real world accounts of civilians who survived in wars, this a challenging experience. You will face tragedy and be forced to make immoral choices all in the name of surviving. It's stark, brutal and heart wrenching at times. In an industry that often glorifies war, this is a sobering shot in the arm and one of the very best games of 2014.
Okay, here it is.
Bleeding Cool's Game of the Year in 2014:
I know judging by the comments I got on the review, this selection might anger a few older fans of the franchise, but I draw a blank when I try to think of a more complete experience this year than Dragon Age: Inquisition. It's a 50-100 hour adventure that still has a finger on detail in a year where AAA titles have stumbled in that department on substantially smaller games. That's refreshing. Dragon Age: Inquisition has a compelling story and a living world where you are more or less given free reign to explore. The game is huge, polished, compelling and really well written, exploring issues deeper than its station would suggest. I am happy to give Inquisition this years Game of the Year award, because honestly, it deserves it.
There you have it. The year of gaming wrapped up for another 365 days. All said and done, while there were certainly some disappointing titles this year, I still think it was a good year for gaming. It had no flagship title and really, a ton of these games could have won the big prize. Some may be annoyed we didn't have that stand out game this year, but in a way that has gotten the community talking about the merit of certain games against others. Hopefully it has sparked intelligent debate and is forcing audiences to think about games more critically.
2015 is looking like it could be an overall more exciting year for games though, and I'll be here covering it for you. (I mean, I'll be here writing all the way up to the end of this year too). If you don't catch me again, have a Merry Christmas y'all.