Well, this didn’t turn out quite like I thought it would 12 months ago
2014 has certainly been a memorable year for gaming, though maybe not for all of the right reasons. The past year has been home to what seems like an equal share of stunning releases and a deluge of disappointment from titles we fully expected to blow us away. From the surprisingly mediocre releases of would-be blockbuster titles such as Watch Dogs and Destiny, to the emergence of Nintendo’s struggling Wii U as a seemingly viable outlet for stellar software, the year has been one of the most unpredictable times in recent memory of the industry, in which we witnessed titanic developers tumble and some of gaming’s old dogs learned new tricks.
That said, while the sickly stank of disappointment may have hovered over a good portion of 2014’s releases, there were more than enough exceptional titles to go around as well. Here are ten of the best games to release over the past twelves months that worked as a soothing salve to get me through s0me of the year’s myriad digital disappointments.
As a huge fan of the NES original, who spent hundreds of hours scouring the dank catacombs of Shadowgate’s titular keep in my formative years, Zojoi’s reboot of the classic ICOM Simulations MacVenture title was one of my most desired releases of 2014. Thankfully, the final product is a more enthralling quest than any armchair adventurer could hope for. From the game’s lushly re-imagined catacombs to its devilishly cerebral puzzles, this unforgiving trek through familiar point-and-click territory is rife with new perilous traps and pitfalls poised to punish dungeon-delving novices and seasoned sorcerers alike.
Thankfully, the game’s credits end prefacing the reboot of another classic adventure in this beloved series. Here’s hoping Shadowgate is just the tip of the bloodied spear when it comes to adventures from the brilliant sadists at Zojoi.
#9: Wolfenstein: The New Order
After plodding through Raven Software’s ultimately uninspired 2009 reboot of id’s pioneering Nazi fragfest, I have to admit that my hopes for MachineGames’ debut entry in the ancient FPS series weren’t especially high. Needless to say, when I eventually stepped into the shoes of Nazi killer extraordinaire William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz in The New Order, I was taken aback by the game’s almost supernatural ability to make gunning down fascists feel fresh again; thanks in no small part to its edgy, Tarantino-esque direction and no-holds-barred action that feels punchier than ever.
Wolfenstein the New Order was easily one of the most exciting releases of the past year, and a huge step towards making the aging brand relevant for a new generation of gamers.
#8: The Evil Within
Even though the game may pack as many technical horrors as it does supernatural, Tango Gameworks’ survival horror debut still manages to succeed in bringing a nightmarishly satisfying experience to scare-starved gamers. Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami’s experience with Resident Evil 4 is palpable throughout your bloody experience with Detective Sebastian Castellanos, as you run from chainsaw toting madmen eager to tear you apart at the seams, and crazed maniacs who’d look quite at home in Resident Evil 4’s dingy European hamlet.
While it may be hard to shake the familiar feeling that permeates almost every scare-filled step of The Evil Within, the game is dark and full of terrors, and its ability to get into your head is admirable, offering the most unapologetically sincere survival horror experiences we’ve played in years.
#7: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
It’s hard for me to decide which is more noteworthy: the fact that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare manages to shake free of the shackles of sequelitis to offer what feels like one of the freshest shooters of the year, or just how deep the game’s digital Kevin Spacey’s soulless eyes can cut into a fragile mortal soul.
I was fully prepared to write Advanced Warfare off as yet another middling military shooter, but Activision apparently got the memo after last year’s humbling Call of Duty: Ghosts. Advanced Warfare ups the ante of both the multiplayer and single player components of the series, offering an exhilarating roller coaster ride of a campaign starring Spacey opposite of this year’s requisite gun-toting jarhead, and a reinvigorated multiplayer mode that finds new legs in the form of exo-powered abilities that dramatically change the gameplay dynamics.
#6: Shovel Knight
As a product of the 8-bit generation, Shovel Knight’s sprite-based trek through a fantasy land full of gems to collect, bosses to battle, and perilous pits to avoid offered a proverbial toolshed of excitement for me, driving itself into my heart like a pixelated spade of nostalgia. Yacht Club Games’ NES-centric platformer could have carried itself on its charm alone, but instead offers a lovingly designed masterpiece that would have felt right at home on Nintendo’s 8-bit console alongside even the best Mega Man and Castlevania entries.
While its brevity may make you hang up your shovel and move onto more fruitful pastures after just a handful of hours, that didn’t stop this azure hero from tunneling his way into our hearts.
#5: Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure
PC gaming’s unluckiest private investigator was given a new lease on life when Atlus and Big Finish Games released Tesla Effect earlier this year. It’d been well over a decade since we last saw the fedora-clad sleuth, but this campy homecoming was well worth the wait. Chris Jones reprises his role as the wisecracking gumshoe in a mission to regain his memories, and ultimately save the world from a shadowy secret society.
Big Finish Games whips up a potent cocktail of old-school adventure and gorgeous, 4k FMV sequences to bring Tex’s latest adventure to life, and the game’s clever puzzles, multiple endings and hilarious writing ensure this will be one adventure you’ll want to see through to the end more than once.
#4: Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord
Growing up, games like Sega’s Shining Force II and Square’s Final Fantasy Tactics really made a strong impression on me. There’s just something about methodically positioning your forces across a sprawling map, picking off enemy units and pushing for a tactical advantage that I’ve always found instantly appealing. While these games haven’t been in especially short supply thanks to NIS and ATLUS, many of these games suffer from abundant menus and cumbersome rule sets that slow the flow of the action to a crawl.
Being both an SRPG and visual novel, Tears to Tiara II’s exposition-heavy adventure takes time to get going, but when it finally does it provides an SRPG that offers some of the most brisk and satisfying strategy combat I’ve experienced in years, feeling both refreshing in its streamlined approach to waging grid-based warfare and deep with its myriad tactical options, like mounting war elephants, taming wild beasts to do your bidding, and even conjuring the power of gods to tip the scales of war in your favor.
#3: Mario Kart 8
As someone who didn’t get a great deal of enjoyment out of the past several console and handheld iterations in Nintendo’s flagship karting series, I can’t get over just how much Mario Kart 8’s speedy, anti-gravity antics pulled me in. While the high-octane racing feels just as solid as ever this time around, it’s the intricately crafted stages and jaw-dropping high definition visuals that steal the show in this tuned-up kart racer.
Combine the huge selection of masterfully designed courses with some rock-solid online racing and you’ve got yourself a reason to dust off that Wii U for some white knuckle thrills as you push for the checkered flag. Since speeding onto retail earlier this Summer Nintendo has offered a wealth of superb DLC content to the game as well, making this easily the most robust racer the mustachioed plumber and his pals have participated in.
#2: Far Cry 4
Considering Far Cry 3 is one of the few games I’ve managed to award of perfect score, it goes without saying that Ubisoft really needed to step it up if they wanted to top that open-world masterpiece. Surprisingly enough, especially given the developer’s recent track record, they happened to do just that with Far Cry 4. The Himalayan kingdom of Kyrat serves as the sandbox for this ambitious shooter, dwarfing its predecessor’s island setting and offering a wealth of new settings to explore, creatures to hunt, and a new madman to overthrow. Speaking of madmen, Troy Baker’s performance as the dapper despot Pagan Min is simply brilliant, offering a villain you’ll love to hate throughout the game’s weighty campaign.
While that alone would have been enough, Far Cry 4 also offers a superb online cooperative component that allows you to tackle the game’s numerous outposts and heavily-armed fortifications with a friend. There’s nothing quite like riding into base, guns blazing, on the back of a war elephant while your pal hovers overhead in a gyrocopter, lobbing grenades at unsuspecting soldiers.
Moments like that are what dreams are made of.
#1 Bayonetta 2
If there’s one thing the folks at PlatinumGames know, it’s how to make a damn good beat-’em-up. Bayonetta’s Wii U debut may have taken its time stewing in a development cauldron, but the series’ bespectacled femme fatale delivers some potent magic in this bewitching sequel that delivers an Umbran Climax to claim my top spot in 2014.
Much like the superb Sunset Overdrive, Bayonetta 2 revels in its off-the-wall absurdity, snowballing from one insanely energized scenario to the next to create a virtual tsunami of wanton destruction and batshit insanity. Stylish it may be, it’s not without substance, as this challenging and highly kinetic slugfest demands precision from the player, forcing you to master a wide variety of offensive and defensive maneuvers to fight your way through hell and back. It’s a demanding but immensely satisfying experience from start to finish, encouraging multiple playthroughs to master your techniques and earn higher rankings.
If you’ve been on the fence about picking up a Wii U, Bayonetta 2 might just be the game that makes it worth your while. Offering a witches brew of adrenaline-pumping action filled with stunning set piece moments and gameplay polished to a razor’s edge, Bayonetta 2 delivers an unforgettable action experience that’s sure to put even the most jaded gamers under its spell.