2014 was indeed a disappointing year for video games, punctuated by some big-budget misfires. But hey, it's not like every game released in 2014 sucked. Some were OK! And some were even better than OK.
With everything from Watch Dogs to Destiny to Assassin's Creed Unity disappointing in its own special way, my list this year is defined by surprises. The good kind. The kind where a game can come from out of nowhere and - free from marketing, hype or even peer recommendations - not only get me to install/play it, but come away from it thinking "wow, that was a very good video game".
Here, then, are my ten favourite games from 2014. In no particular order.
It's funny. It's fast. It looks good. You can blow up everything. It has maybe too much electric guitar. It's pretty much everything I look for in a video game.
I had ridiculed this game publicly during development, because its marketing made it look like a stupid video game. The finished product was anything but. In some ways this is a very classic take on first-person shooters, but in others there's a dedication to the perspective, the world and its inhabitants that every other studio on the planet should take notes on.
Civilization Beyond Earth was a disappointment. Lucky, then, there was a replacement at the ready in the form of Endless Legend, a game that is very much like Civilization, and where it's not, it's often better. Ignore the fact it comes from a relatively small studio: the depth, unique setting and slick UI make this the first serious competition to Civ since, well, forever.
As you expect from Far Cry, the story and characters are dreadful. But as you also expect from Far Cry, the world is also beautiful, and dangerous, and so full of potential for adventure that every time you play the game you do something different, and exciting. Could do with less eagles, though.
Here's a weird thing: I haven't finished the game. I got to the penultimate boss, got my ass kicked, read how much grinding I'd need to do to beat it and just gave up. The game had already forced me to play through the same damn story 117 times in a row, and I'd had enough. BUT...even then, there's just so much to love about Bravely Default that I still had to put it on this list. Its fresh take on JRPG combat kept me interested until the very end (well, almost the very end), while for reasons unknown I fell in love with the cast. I blame Ringabel's voice-acting.
Blah blah blah, it's broken, it's compromised, it's boring. Whatever. I can see the game's flaws as well as anyone else, but I don't care, because I also see beauty and craft here that I can't help but enjoy. Also: once you play through Assassin's Creed Unity, the lighting, hair and smooching in other video games just isn't good enough anymore.
I think part of the reason people got so down on Assassin's Creed Unity was because this game came along and ate its lunch in terms of player control, stealth options and enjoyable combat. But Shadow of Mordor does so many other things so well: the nemesis system is more of a game than the actual story, and that violence, oh my, that violence. I just wish it was a better Lord of the Rings game, because as good as it is to play, it doesn't feel like a Lord of the Rings game...more like someone made a Tolkien mod for Generic Video Game Fantasy World
Nobody plays Titanfall anymore. There wasn't much to play in the first place, so everyone soon got bored and moved on. But I remember just how good it was when everyone was playing. The thrill of stomping around in a Titan may have sold the game, but it was your skillset as a pilot that really got me. I had way more fun in my short time playing Titanfall than I did in my much longer - and ultimately unfulfilling - months spent with Destiny.
Wait, didn't I say this was the lesser of two football games? Kind of. While FIFA is overall a more complete and polished product, I've found myself playing Konami's title a lot more. It's just such a better game on the pitch that, having settled into a Master League campaign with Valencia (Spain's La Liga is fully-licensed), I'm overlooking its deficiencies elsewhere. Once you spend a serious amount of time with Pro Evo's football, going back to FIFA's more floaty style is just too jarring.
Again, a video game that feels like it was made just for me. The art style, which is like a remastered Ralph Bakshi movie, is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen in a video game. But there's a good strategy game beneath that, where you must gamble your unit's health against their striking power.