So that is another year just about wrapped up and done. 2014 has been a complicated one for the gaming industry and in many ways, it was a year where lots of previous hot topics boiled over into more concrete circumstance. Publishers beings slaves to their release dates caused a large number of games to arrive partially broken, big games that were meant to be the arrival of 'next-gen' stumbled and, of course, the nastiness that has surrounded the gaming community with GamerGate.
That is why I think it is important to take a moment and celebrate the previous year and hand out a few congratulations. Some people hate the idea of bodies handing out awards, but honestly, I love the practice. It acts like a bookmark that can then be used for people to look back on and remember what was great about the gone year. For me personally, it helps me make sense of the last year of game playing and come up with some kind of definitive statement on experiences that deserve kudos.
So yes, here are a couple awards I really wanted to highlight as exceptional bits of game making from the last 12 months. (I'll get to what's happening with Game of the Year at the end of the post)
Clementine – Melissa Hutchison (The Walking Dead Season 2)
Melissa Hutchison really grew her performance of Clementine in the second season of TellTale's The Walking Dead. Having her as the protagonist in front of great writing certainly didn't hurt, but Hutchison gave a nuanced performance of a girl who is caught between being a child and a stark survivalist. That transition would have fallen flat were it not for Hutchison's input. She continues to give this series a human heart, which is the best compliment you can give an actor in a video game.
Iron Bull – Freddy Prince Jnr, Pagan Min – Troy Baker, Kenny – Gavin Hammon, Bigby – Adam Harrington
This was easily the hardest award to decide upon. I could have made a compelling case for all of the titles below, many which I loved. It has to go to Destiny though. In what will prove to be the last soundtrack with Bungie, legendary composer Marty O'Donnell has bowed out on some of his finest work. That isn't forgetting the likes of co-composer Michael Salvatori. The soundtrack is constantly inspirational and mysterious which isn't an easy balance strike. It really speaks to this majestic world that is on the brink of being snuffed out.
I believe to be one of the finest sci-fi soundtracks, in any medium, of the last few years.
Transistor, Crypt of the NecroDancer, Titanfall,The Walking Dead, Dragon Age, Shovel Knight, Child of Light, Kentucky Route Zero: Act III
Best Environments/Art Direction
Sevastopol really was the star of Alien: Isolation. Some might think that it had a leg up over other games coming from a property that has a strong established art direction, but I think that makes it harder. The level of research that went into creating Sevastopol, the derelict station of the game is set in, is staggering. The station is big, it's bleak and it's depressing, but it's also beautiful. This really feels like Ridley Scott's Alien, and that isn't easy to recreate. This environment was crafted with such love and care, it won me over when I was thinking about who should win this.
Dragon Age: Inquisition, Destiny, Assassin's Creed Unity, Child of Light
Dragon Age: Inquisition
Dragon Age: Inquisition is a remarkable role playing game that puts you at the head of an Inquisition. It makes you feel like a powerful political player in a complex climate while also giving you several diverse and beautiful locations. It has a solid combat mechanic as well as fleshed out characters with their own archs that you can interact with at your whim. All of this is what I look for in a great RPG, and Dragon Age excels at all of it. This is the game Dungeons and Dragons players dreamed of pre-21st century. That wins it RPG of the year in my book.
Child of Light, Shadow of Mordor, South Park: The Stick of Truth, Transistor
While there certainly cases to be made that some of the games below are better 'overall experiences', that isn't what I'm giving away here. This is specifically about how good it feels to pop off shots at a poor enemy AI. That was Destiny. We knew Bungie understood how to make a first person shooter, and that knowledge didn't waiver in Destiny. Be it an assault rifle or a hand canon, taking off the heads of one of the several alien races that populate Destiny's universe was always satisfying. And it had to be. A game based on that much repetition needed to be continually gratifying and the fact that a ton of players are still dedicating their evenings to the game is a testament to that.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Far Cry 4, Titanfall,
Telltale Games have been on a roll ever since The Walking Dead Season One launched and that has come into a peak in 2014. The developer released ten episodes this year across four series and all of them were pretty much great across the board. That is an unbelievable achievement in a fast paced development cycle, especially when you consider the company is dealing with huge licences like Game of Thrones and the Walking Dead. One day, one of their titles won't work, but right now, they continue to be the consistent gold standard for narrative storytelling in games.
Best Racing/Sports Game
Mario Kart 8
Honestly, this wasn't a tough one for me. Perhaps it is because I didn't play Forza Horizon 2, but even then, I wouldn't expect to be writing anything other than Mario Kart 8 here. This is a must for anyone who owns a Wii U and it's a game I've consistently come back to this year. The balance of the play is much more stable than in previous titles and it keeps players on their toes consistently. The imagination on show in track design is a real plus too. This is pure unbridled joy in video game form. Mario Kart 8 isn't just the best racing games I've played this year, it is one of the best games I've played period.
FIFA 15, Madden 15
Kentucky Route Zero: Act III
This is something I really wanted to hand out, because sometimes it is the experimental ideas that push the medium forward. In this case, I can't think of a better title than Kentucky Route Zero: Act III. In a way this feels like cheating. The episodic game has had such a prolonged journey into production that it only put out one episode this year, its third. That doesn't matter though since that episode is one of the series' high points. There is nothing like Kentucky Route Zero. It's a surrealist dream-like game that is driven by the experience as opposed tied to a deeper meaning. It is an interesting look at what game narratives can be and it could become influential to those trying to design non-conventional games.
This War of Mine, Crypt of the NecroDancer, Shadow of Mordor
Best 'Indie' Game
This War of Mine
This War of Mine is an extraordinary game. It drops you in a depressing war torn world and tasks you with surviving. Putting you in the shoes of war-time survivors, the game was constructed using first hand accounts of war to construct an authentic experience. It is easily the most emotionally challenging game I've gotten my hands on this year as it makes you face the realities of surviving in an unjust world, and how little room for morality there is. It really has clever writing that is informed by the mechanics which can be a rarity these days, especially when done this well. This War of Mine can be an upsetting and uncompromising experience, but that is entirely the point. This is a well researched and thought out piece of art and it is highly deserving of this accolade.
Kentucky Route Zero: Act III, Shovel Knight, Crypt of the NecroDancer, Transistor, The Forrest
The Walking Dead Season 2
While it isn't the surprise and breath of fresh air that the first season was, perhaps controversially, I think the latest Walking Dead Season 2 is a better story. That is surprising even to me. This exploration of Clementine taking her from where she was after Season One to the end of Season Two is quite a trip. While no relationship is as strong the one between Lee and Clementine, there are several interesting ones you'll forge that continually twist an turn. In fact, I'd say this season even benefits from not having a central relationship or protector. This is purely about her survival in a bleak world. Clementine is a joy to play as and Telltale have continued to tell their incredible story in 2014.
Dragon Age: Inquisition, This War of Mine, The Wolf Among Us, Transistor, Child of Light, South Park: The Stick of Truth.
Patrick's Spotlight Award
Crypt of the NecroDancer
This award doesn't necessarily have any parameters other than I wanted to give something to a game that deserves recognition and didn't quite fit as a winner of any of the previous awards (although it was close in a few). This award is going to one of the most charming and challenging games I played this year. Crypt of the NecroDancer is part-Zelda, part-Dance Dance Revolution. If you can't picture it, that's great. It's something really unique and it's a game that revels in simplicity. You can only move and attack on the beat of the song and as the game throws more enemies at you, you are forced to learn their movements, attack and move all while considering the music. It's an intoxicating experience and one that is only getting better with content added frequently as the game is in Early Access. If you want something funky, simple but incredibly challenging, you owe it to yourself to check this game out.
Game of the Year
And the game of the year is…being revealed tomorrow, December 19th.
I'm going to put out a long list of the best the year had to offer tomorrow all culminating in what I thought was the best of the year. I do that because Game of the Year should be about championing many games and not just one!
I hope you'll hop back in tomorrow to see what made the list.