SeveralÂ critics have declared 2014 one of the worst years for video games. While I can’t deny there were a number of overhyped yet mediocre titles (Titanfall, Watch_Dogs, Destiny), and plenty of outright garbage, there were still some genuinely impressive works. Independent and mid-tier studios truly shone with unconventional, artistic works such as Transistor, Shovel Knight,Â Never Alone,Â Jazzpunk,Â Monument Valley, and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. And for all the ire directed at AAA developers and publishers, there were people committed to creating quality products that outshone the bland tripe. It’s time to look at what I considered the best 2014 had to offer.
Note: Due to personal issues, I was unable to complete a review for every game on this list last year. I will attempt to rectify that in the coming months. Also, this is a tentative ranking. If I play something I missed last year that impresses me more than what’s currently on the list, I will change it to reflect my new opinions.
#5 (tie) – Alien: Isolation/Fables: The Wolf Among Us: My shared #5 spot this year goes to a pair of games which break free from the mold of soulless, generic licensed titles.Â Alien: Isolation was a breath of fresh air for horror fans who’d grown tired of big-budget titles that offered more action than terror by creating a tense, claustrophobic, unnervingÂ atmosphere which almost perfectly recaptured the terrifying fight for survivalÂ of the originalÂ Alien film.Â The Wolf Among Us, in addition to being a faithful adaptation of Bill Willingham’s acclaimed comic series, delivered an intriguingly gritty noir mysteryÂ with plenty of twists and difficult choices.Â While many atrocious tie-in games clutter the market (Amazing Spider-Man, Rambo, etc.), it’s refreshing to see developers that actually put care and effort into creating something that will appeal to both players and fans of the source material.
#4 -Â The Talos Principle: Puzzle games tend to repeat ideas to the point where they become cliched. The Talos Principle demonstrates that this isn’t necessarily a problem as long as they’re implementedÂ well and framed with a compelling narrative. Philosophical without being pretentious, The Talos Principle offers a gradually unraveling mystery that discusses issues of faith, hubris, and the nature of humanity. Clever challenges and hidden secrets further engross players as it drives them to uncover the truth. It’s perfect for anyone looking for an intelligent title that doesn’t talk down to them or a puzzle game that doesn’t shamelessly try to copyÂ Portal.
#3 (tie) – This War of Mine/Valiant Hearts: The Great War: Slowly but surely developers are breaking free from the shackles of simplistic, “hardcore” modern warfare games and offering a more mature, nuanced portrayalÂ on the true nature of armed conflict.Â Valiant Hearts is a compelling character study told from multiple perspectives about the madness of the first World War.Â This War of Mine, while less character driven, forces players to decide how far they’ll go to survive in an active war zone, if they’ll give in to barbarism simply to make it through one more day. Not since Spec Ops: The Line have any games perfectly encapsulated the aphorism “War is hell.”
#2 – Child of Light: Ubisoft did not have a good year in 2014. So many of their excessively promoted big-budget titles failed to deliver the impressive experiences they promised. As it turns out, their best games last year were twoÂ downloadable titlesÂ that for some odd reason barely received any press. I’ve already mentioned Valiant Hearts, but what stood out more was Child of Light,Â one of the most beautiful games I have ever played. The world of Lemuria is fantastic, the characters leave a strong impact, the combat is simple yet strategic, and the art style is simply magnificent. I could gush about this game for hours. It is one of the finest examples of gaming as art, and I cannot recommend it enough.
#1 (tie) -Â Dragon Age: Inquisition/Wasteland 2: This was a very difficult choice to make. Both of these RPGs, great in their own rights, impressed and disappointed me on different aspects.Â Wasteland 2 had complex moral dilemmas, impressive turn-based combat, and a wide array of approaches to take on various missions, yet the characters were bland,Â there were several jarring tonal shifts that made it hard to take the story seriously, and the clunky inventory system could be an annoyance at times.Â InquisitionÂ had a much richer world, stronger narrative, and a very well-developed cast, but lacked the tough choices and more advanced gameplay features ofÂ Dragon Age: OriginsÂ (persuasion, specialized class skills), plus the ending was somewhat unsatisfying. In the end, I decided that both titles would share the distinction of game of the year as they complimented one another, each making up for the other’s deficiencies. Your personal tastesÂ may lead you to prefer one over the other, but whatever the case I recommend playing both for some of the best times you’ll have with an RPG.