Kotaku UK's three main contributors share five favourite games each from 2014.
It seems a bit strange, writing a games of the year list when I feel like I'm still working through some very worthy potential choices. I've only clocked a few hours of Dragon Age Inquisition, for example. While Assassin's Creed Unity (which, for some reason, I've had no trouble with) is still hovering around the 10-12 hour mark. But in a way that's a good sign - there are plenty of things that could take a GOTY spot, too many to have actually played fully. There's quality and quantity this year. So I can only really speak definitively for the games I've finished and spent some substantial time with, which is the list you see here.
There's also a noticeable omission in the shape of Destiny. It's a game I thoroughly enjoyed, completed and spent some time with afterwards, but I moved on at the level 26+ grinding stages - an area of the game that many of my friends committed to but didn't entirely seem to be enjoying, as they chased the obtuse requirements for higher levels. My memories of that game are all about the experience of playing with those friends and, while it was a great few weeks, it didn't even cross my mind as GOTY material until I found the disk in a pile I was checking for ideas.
I'm a huge fan of survival horror, so this was all win for me. Especially with that unpredictable AI. Sure it was glitchy and weird at times, but having the alien look straight at you, then walk past was somehow no less terrifying than being caught. And the payoff was a brilliantly taut tension. With no obvious rules to dull the scares, it keeps you jumping to the end. The atmosphere and attention to detail are also superb. If nothing else, Creative Assembly should be thoroughly rewarded for such a fantastic recreation of 70s tech and the original movie. Despite the well-trodden source material it still managed more surprises and memorable moments than most games achieve.
In many ways this is Far Cry 3.5. But when the original formula worked so well I'm quite happy to play a re-skinned rerun (although 5 will need a few ideas of its own, or things will get stale fast). What works so well for me is that sense of stumbling into things. Most evenings have involved setting a map marker, setting off and then immediately being distracted by any number of occurrences. The main missions might feel pedestrian thanks to the familiar guns and shooting setup but this lives on the 'and then, and then, and then' tumbling storytelling of its unpredictable world: '... and then I got into a vehicle shootout with a courier, and then a rhino turned up, and then the forest caught fire, and then, and then...' Plus, accidentally or on purpose, the animals - already the surprise stars of the last game - have been pushed further to the fore. As a result that chaotic gameplay blender gets an extra shot of juice from the likes of honey badgers and eagles. Both of which are bastards.
I'm a notorious non-replayer of games. I like the story, and for me the discovery of it is the point. Once a game's given that up there's nothing left. I do return to things I've played occasionally a few years down the line but usually I'm just constantly thinking 'this is where that bit happens.' So I was surprised to find myself not only playing The Last of Us through to completion a second time so soon, but also finding it as fresh and meaningful despite knowing what happens. I think it's because the writing was so strong that the replay felt like it involved people I knew, not characters hitting their marks at key points. Decisions and reactions that flew by in the first playthrough suddenly had more meaning when approached with hindsight.
This really stuck with me for being different and atmospheric with it. I don't agree with a couple of things it does towards the end but, for the most part, it's an unexpected journey through an interesting story. The idea of an unrestrained narrative, where you can go anywhere and do any of it in any order, works well enough that you do feel like you've had a part in the story's construction. That said, it does struggle a bit towards the end with making sure you've seen enough to progress, and there are couple of poorly explained bits that just frustrate. But these are minor annoyances compared to its spooky murder mystery atmosphere and investigation mechanics. It also looks lovely.
Sunset Overdrive's biggest issue is its godawful attitude and its belief that every single thing it does has to be a joke of some kind. It's easy to see why people were put off: it's obnoxious, loud and, while there are laughs, it never lets anything breathe. Still with me? Good. Because mechanically it's great fun. The wire-grinding, wall running traversal and constant motion of the crowded combat is unashamedly old school fun. Insomniac seemed to have turned back the clock to some extent and made a new Ratchet game, only one with a different skin and ziplines. The mid- to late-stage game, with plenty of movement upgrades and guns unlocked, is unapologetic shooty fun, helped along by missions designed to exploit the mechanics beautifully.
It's weird how 2014 sort of solidified in my mind the sorts of games that I really like. Things have changed so much in the last few years, and I've found myself sometimes a bit at sea with the whole thing - I've never been much of an online player, I've not so much as touched a MOBA and - while I love everything I've seen of it - I'm just not that into things like eSports.
So while I was worried we'd be drifting away from a world where I'd be able to tell everyone in my life to sod off while I plunged face-first into 300 hours of gaming on my lonesome, 2014 proved otherwise. Seems rumours of the death of single-player weren't just greatly exaggerated - they were WRONG.
Oh, and then there was Mario Kart. I'm allowed Mario Kart because it's Mario Kart and it proves I'm not a total husk of a human being.
It was really easy and had some basic issues - and bugs - that ruined it for some, but for me South Park was just sublime. Absolute bliss from start to finish. After watching that show since it started back in 1997, you have no idea how happy I was that the Stick of Truth wasn't a total piece of crap. I've endured, and I was rewarded.
Rewarded with a 12-hour episode riddled with hilarity, obscenity and cries of 'Excelsior!' Rewarded with the ability to interact with Randy Marsh, to be mocked by Cartman and to learn how to fart from Terrance and Phillip. Rewarded with Chinpokomon.
I was worried for a time that you'd only be able to play the new Elite in multiplayer form, with stupid fat idiots in their Vipers coming and shooting me down when I was trying to innocently scoop some cargo from that transport ship that just happened to explode in front of me after my lasers accidentally fired.
So it was glorious when I found out you could still play it solo, without the risk of other sentient berks ruining my fun (you've still gotta be online, of course). It only released properly the other day, but already it's clear that being a space-bastard has never been more fun.
Confession: I liked Dragon Age 2. I played through it twice. Still, I was wary the third game would keep going down a similar path and end up nothing like the game it should be - a vast, open RPG I could lose myself in for dozens of hours (and make a non-human woman with a stupid face as my avatar because shut up that's why).
Inquisition turned out to be a vast, open RPG I lost myself in for many dozens of hours (and I made a qunari woman with a very stupid face as my avatar). Bioware knocked this one out of the park for me.
I was on the fence about this one before it came out, simply because I was never big on the original. I was too young when it came out, and by the time I was into RPGs of its ilk... well, Fallout had happened. Turns out Wasteland 2 was Fallout 3 minus Bethesda. Good job I backed it on Kickstarter even while being on the fence then, really.
Anyway: a massive cRPG in the inimitable style of all those games that came out in the 90s, Wasteland 2 was - is - home to brilliant writing, an endless array of outcomes and a hell of a lot of dark shit. I love it. I was wrong to doubt.
Oh alright then, let's have one traditional multiplayer game thrown in there. I'm kind like that. In the year when everyone realised that, actually, the Wii U is great and we should all have one, Nintendo went and brought out another Mario Kart game. Another brilliant Mario Kart game that I played to death with friends and enemies alike, online and off.
It even got DLC right, charging a reasonable amount for a decent amount of additional content a fair amount of time after the vanilla package first came out. That shouldn't be an achievement, but it is. And it was only ever going to be Nintendo behaving in that way.
2014 has been a strange year for me. I spent much of the first half of it launching this website, which was an all-consuming endeavour, and far too much of the latter four months mired in dark, formless anger/despair about gaming culture and where it's going, thanks to the Internet. Neither state was particularly conducive to spending a lot of time with games, but then, it's also not been a truly amazing year for them. Many of favourites have been smaller, lighter things, games that bear the touch of the people who made them.
Not all of them, though. For about two months between the release of Mario Kart 8 and Gamescom, what I did most evenings was play Mario Kart 8 online with a gigantic glass of wine, but Ian already covered that (apart from the wine). I thought South Park: The Stick of Truth was gross, cleverly made and extremely funny. After spending about a month reviewing Grand Theft Auto 5 and GTA Online back on IGN last year I thought I never wanted to see that game again, but since the new-gen re-release I've spent a lot of time back in Rockstar's beautiful, awe-inspiring, conflicted Los Santos. Oh, and I spent about half of the year playing Persona 4 Golden for about 100 hours. In the interests of variety and sticking to games that actually came out for the first time in 2014, I've left these off the list, even though they defined my gaming year as much as any of the things below.
Hohokum reminded me of a forgotten favourite from 2009: Noby Noby Boy, an aimless and endearing experiment from the creator of Katamari Damacy. It had no goals whatsoever, so you ended up making them up. You'd stretch your wibbly body and try to persuade flamingo-headed ballet dancers to ride on your back whilst you tried to hook a donut cloud out of the sky.
Hohokum is better than Noby Noby Boy, though, because it rewards your curiosity and exploration with just the strangest, most amusing happenings. You don't so much figure out what to do as happen upon it. It has been compared to Nokia's Snake on psychotropics. For me, it's an unguided tour through the dreams of a creative brain.
For most of January, I played Nidhogg all the time - its deft and thrilling swordplay and surreal arenas, so arresting the first time I experienced them, became part of my everyday. I knew instinctively that it was a game I'd play for years with different people. Even after hundreds of matches, the mechanics held firm - there were no cheat moves, no un-counterable techniques, no reasons to blame anything but yourself when you lost. It's a wonderful piece of multiplayer design.
Nonetheless, I stopped playing it for a few months after that; inevitably, my friends and I moved on to different things. But it found new life at the Kotaku UK x I am Arcade Game Nights that we've been running every other month in Brighton this year. I played it with a bunch of strangers and had a wonderful time. Those game nights have been some of the highlights of my year - we've had hundreds of people come along and enjoy a night of Nidhogg or Mario Kart or Towerfall or Gang Beasts or Sportsfriends over some beers, in good company. It's what local multiplayer is about, and it reminded me that games can connect people rather than divide them.
I liked the first chapter of Double Fine's Kickstarted adventure more than anyone else I know. It's wonderfully imaginative. None of the characters or ideas or bizarre places in Broken Age were something I'd seen before. I found both of its characters unusually relatable - Shay is trying desperately to escape the suffocating, infantile routine of his surroundings, whilst Vella decides to break a tradition that sees the young women of her village offer themselves up as willing sacrifices. And that twist ending!
It's got such heart and humour and creativity that I honestly didn't give a shit that it was over rather quickly. I can only hope that the second part maintains these standards.
I love Shovel Knight so much. It's brief, inventive, wonderfully designed and nostalgic without being over-reliant on its 16-bit platformer/RPG inspiration. I love it because the townspeople in the wee villages are deer in dresses and goats in waistcoats and grumpy frogs who like puns. I love it because I can just tell it's a game that somebody has had in their head since they were 10 years old, and that this was their chance to make it. I struggle to get on with games made before about 1992, generally, and I'm enormously grateful to the indie retro revival of the past 5 years for pillaging older games for their best ideas and presenting them in modern, quirky ways, so that I can experience them without wrestling with old hardware and technological constraints.
This is one of only four games I've ever started again as soon as it was over. It's challenging and good-hearted and funny and packed with little secrets, and the music is excellent. I played it on the 3DS, where it feels especially at home.
Dark Souls II is an exceptional game by any measure. Its locales are breathtaking, its challenge stiff, its cruelty creative and darkly amusing. It never loses the capacity for surprises, pleasant and unpleasant. Despite its unforgiving nature it's easier to play than its masterpiece predecessor, thanks to a raft of small mechanical improvements and changes that make a significant difference to the overall feel of the game. Its DLC, I hear, is even better; I look forward to getting stuck into it over Christmas.
I can't shake the feeling that there's something missing from Dark Souls II, something nebulous that I can't quite put my finger on. I think the absence of the Souls games' original mastermind, Hidetaka Miyazaki, can be felt in the lack of… majesty in many of the bosses, and sometimes its idea of difficulty is "let's just throw 5 or 6 enemies at you at once! Or 3 bosses!", which is the most creative approach. But a Dark Souls with a little something missing is still better than 95% of games. Bring on Bloodborne.