1/2/15

The 10 Best Games I Have Played In 2014


As the existence of this post proves, the obsessive side of my personality always drove me to have a soft spot for the acts of cataloguing and making lists. That's exactly why, when the end of the years gets near, I give up everything productive that I could be doing and instead start playing all the games that I missed during the rest of the year. The goal is simple: being able to list all my favourite games of the year in an orderly and popularly accepted matter, meaning a yearly top ten.

This year I surprisingly ended up playing almost everything that has been released, missing only Wolfenstein: The New Order and Assassin's Creed Unity amongst the major releases (and while I hear great things of the former, I doubt I would have ever appreciated the latter, having been bored with the franchise since Assassin's Creed 2), and having played basically every indie with lots of "buzz" around (plus a handful of hidden gems). Naturally "playing everything" is a utopian concept, but this year I feel pretty satisfied with my "playing habits".

Talking about things I feel satisfied with, this year has actually been pretty cool for games (and I'm wilfully ignoring all the toxicity stemming from stuff like gamergate, because, putting it bluntly, fuck them). We had a bunch of pretty decent "triple A" games like Alien: Isolation and Dragon Age: Inquisition, some flawed works that show lots of potential like Shovel Knight and Gods Will Be Watching, and generally a lot of really good stuff. I'd say that it was a year with lots of "pretty good" games, but without any kind of "excellence", but then there's my "game of the year" that disproves that claim in any kind of way. So... yeah, lots of good games.

Now before we start, some ground rules (because, as games teach us, rules are FUN):
  •  I use European release dates to determine what came out in 2014
  •  I don't consider portings and "HD editions" as new releases (Ryse, for example, is still a 2013 game for me, despite coming on PC in 2014)
  • I consider episodic game to come out in the year in which their last episode is released (And that's why Kentucky Route Zero is not on the list)
  • No early access games (apart from Crypt of the Necrodancer, but I have reasons! I swear!)



10. WASTELAND 2

Wasteland 2 was the first game announced in what we can now see as the Isometric-RPG-Kickstarter-Boom, and so far it's also the more interesting of the bunch.

Despite directly taking almost every mechanics from Fallout 2Wasteland 2 doesn't stop there and it in fact masterfully repurposes those mechanics to completely change the game experience. Where Fallout 2’s ludic architecture was designed to deliver a solitary archetypal journey drenched in satire, Wasteland 2 brilliantly twists it and bends it to transform the game into a action-y A-Team-in-the-apocalypse type of story.

Really solid and inventive design and just very fun to play in general.



9. WITH THOSE WE LOVE ALIVE

Probably the best Twine game I have played this year. With Those We Love Alive mixes digital and physical interaction to great effect, forcing the player to mark the choices he makes in the game on his own skin.

While this approach could have easily felt gimmicky, the minimalism of the writing and the emotional rawness that transpires through the plot help the game come together as a cohesive and refreshing whole.

Yes, it feels a bit adolescent in parts, but I really do not consider that a bad thing.

Also you can play it for free here.



8. GODS WILL BE WATCHING

I already wrote extensively about Gods Will Be Watching here.

To quickly sum it up: great sci-fi thriller that perfectly uses the ludic medium to make the player empathize with the scenarios he’s playing.



7. FRACT OSC

Fract OSC is a game that I almost overlooked this year. At a quick glance it may look like just another of the post-Portal Myst-inspired bunch, a “genre” that I always felt worked better as Youtube fodder rather than as games in their own rights. Fract OSC though is not comparable to those games, if not in its confusing first 10/20 minutes of game.

After getting a grasp on what to do and where to go Fract OSC reveals itself for the beautifully minimalistic puzzle game that it is. Solving puzzles, while the soundtrack gains momentum with each step forward towards the solution, is a truly unique experience that has never been portrayed this well in the history of “music” games.

Basically the lovechild of Rez and Portal.



6. CRYPT OF THE NECRODANCER

This is still in the “early access” stage of its production, but there are two reasons why I genuinely felt this should be here: 
  1. I played this a lot during the year, and when I say a lot I mean a LOT
  2. The main reason why I adore this game is also the main reason why I think it works perfectly despite its early access status: the design is incredibly well focused on the concepts of rhythm and patterns. Crypt of The Necrodancer has a perfect core gameplay (available and “complete” since the start of its early access) and every piece of content that is gradually added around, is designed to play with that core mechanic rather than “adding” to it.


5. A BIRD STORY

While I liked To The Moon, I also always felt it was a deeply flawed game. The game was filled with odd moments that didn't seem to properly fit the tone, from the borderline annoying “scientist” narrative to some extremely baroque gameplay sequences. It surely was a good starting point, but since its release I had been waiting for a new Kan Gao-directed game, just to see if he could manage to “evolve” from that original ludic approach. A Bird Story does exactly that.

While the plot itself is an extremely simple story about a kid taking care of a hurt bird, where the game shines is in refining Gao’s form of oneiric storytelling, beautifully mixing fantasy, memories and reality.

The game sometimes still feels like it doesn’t really “trust” the player, making some sequences non-interactive for no real reason, but when the game works it really works, thanks to its minimalistic but well thought design and genuine charm.

Also pixel-art sprites have never had cuter animations.



4. THE WOLF AMONG US

The Wolf Among Us is the demonstration of how versatile Telltale Games is as a studio. Despite using the same engine and basic mechanics of The Walking Dead games, The Wolf Among Us manages in the difficult task of feeling as a separate and unique game.

Good characters, amazing action sequences, the right dose of gritty violence and a really well portrayed noir setting. Honestly, I couldn't have asked for more.



3. THE EVIL WITHIN

This is another game on which I already wrote a whole lot.

The sum of Shinji Mikami’s directorial path and his true coming of age as a horror-game director. It takes bits and pieces of mechanics that we have already seen, to create a game that for once is just genuinely scary.



2. GLITCHHIKERS

Glitchhikers is a unique spin of the Lynchian themes of alienation and the bizarre. A lonesome drive through an almost empty highway, that will bring the player into meeting bizarre events and characters, with the radio as his only companion.

The player is always in control, but at the same time he is never in control. The minimalist approach to both visuals and mechanics only helps the game to bring its unsettling themes forward.

The game is also free and you should definitely try it, like, now.



1. ROAD NOT TAKEN

A lot of people like to call this or that “The Citizen Kane of videogames”, while I find this practice quite ridiculous, I would be lying if I’d say that Road Not Taken didn’t gave me a Kubrickian chill in the spine when playing it. That feeling that one has when in front of something so universally perfect that even the act of writing about it seems diminishing for the work.

Road Not Taken is a game about many things: personal relationships, sorrow, loss, the inevitability of death, and much more. The most important thing about it though, is that it conveys all of that almost entirely through its perfectly designed interactive structure. It’s a game in its purest form, and also one of the most deeply emotional works of art I have ever played.

You shouldn't let the game’s aesthetics, directly borrowed from Triple Town (Spry Fox’s previous game), fool you. The game is much more than a simple puzzle game, and it’s definitely a milestone for the medium as a whole. Also it’s my game of the year, but that seems to be implied in my loving description of it.

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