Best of 2014: Honourable Mentions
There were a lot of good games this year. I played a surprising amount of them, at least in comparison to previous years. Before I get into my personal favourite game of the year, I would like to take some time and talk about some of the other games that I enjoyed that didn’t make the top three. So in alphabetical order, here are the honourable mentions of 2014.
There’s something comforting in knowing how Broken Age came to exist. If you really don’t know, Broken Age was one the first games to be put on Kickstarter back in 2012. It ended up raising over $3 million of dollars, well over the $400,000 goal. Broken Age (merely known as “Double Fine Adventure” back then) immediately became the champion of underdog game developers. It was proof that you didn’t need to be lucky or jump-through-hoops to succeed in this industry.
Earlier this year, this first half of the game (titled Act One) finally made it onto Steam. Somehow, it manages to live up to the pressure. Broken Age does so many things at once it feels wrong to categorize it. It’s different and unique, yet familiar. It’s a funny game, yet its also somewhat tragic. Ultimately, it’s a coming-of-age adventure for it’s two protagonists.
My admiration for story-driven adventure games is no secret. Broken Age puts the “game” in adventure game with some really clever puzzles. Most of the time, this leads to the brilliant “eureka” moment where everything clicks together. The art direction, voice acting and story are all of the highest calibre. Broken Age is always firing on all cylinders and doesn’t let up until the credits are rolling.
This is a wonderfully crafted game that’s well worth your time and money.
Five Nights at Freddy’s:
Five Nights at Freddy’s is the scariest game I’ve ever played. This game absolutely terrifies me. Consider this. I just talked about how Alien: Isolation is essentially a near-perfect horror game. It took two hours for Alien: Isolation to scare me to the point where I needed a break. Five Nights at Freddy’s accomplished this in nine minutes.
This game nails the ingredients of horror but also does something that few horror games have ever attempted. This game actively uses the player’s paranoia against them. The animatronics have no distinct pattern to their movements (other than one coming from the left and another coming from the right). Knowing where they are puts the player at ease but also requires them to check camera, which drains the power. This in turn, makes the player nervous which makes them check the cameras. You can probably see where this is going.
Alien: Isolation makes you feel like you’re the kids in Jurassic Park hiding from the raptors in kitchen. Five Nights at Freddy’s is being Dr. Grant, staring at the T-Rex in the rain. While Five Nights at Freddy’s is scarier, it’s over a lot quicker. Much like the jump scares it’s famous for, the fear in Five Nights at Freddy’s is a fleeting moment that vanishes as quick as it appears.
I played through Jazzpunk one time in the summer and I still smile when I think of the game. It’s refreshing to play something that’s completely antithetical to dark, serious and factory-made franchises. Jazzpunk embraces its indie roots with as much charm as you can pack into a two hour game. It’s the video game equivalent of eating pop rocks.
If I were to give an award for most criminally underrated game of the year, Jazzpunk would win it. While everyone was winding down 2014 with their top games of 2014 lists, I felt like the only one who remembered this charming little indie game. It’s one of the few games I’ve played that is legitimately funny, worthy of games such as Portal 2 and Psychonauts. The genuinely bizarre tone, combined with the 1960s cold-war spy aesthetic makes the humour even more effective. It catches you off guard at just the right moments.
Mario Kart 8:
For all the squabbling between owners of Xbox Ones and Playstation 4s, neither of those consoles have what I would call a “system seller.” This game nearly singlehandedly convinced me to buy a Wii U. It’s a bit of a narrow category, but it’s easily the best kart racing game I’ve ever played. It’s second best racing game I’ve played, right behind Burnout: Paradise.
There are few games that are simultaneously joy-filling and rage-inducing as Mario Kart 8. It’s a prime example of the Goldilocks approach game design where everything feels “just right.” Everytime something happens while playing this game, I have an immediate reaction.
There’s that moment of anger, preceded by dread when you spot an incoming red shell. The feeling you get when you hit a perfect drift. There’s the silent-fist pump when the racer ahead of you drives into the banana you threw just moments ago.
This being a Nintendo game, it only gets better with friends. If you have someone to play this game with you’ll be in for a treat. Failing that, there’s always the excellent online mode.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes:
I find it hilarious that the much-maligned $40 demo of 2014 has better gameplay than most of the $70 games; it also actually works. No game is perfect but I find bashing a game for it’s length to be the least constructive, creatively dead pieces of criticism you could possibly offer a game. It isn’t without flaws (read my review if you wish to know more) but in terms of pure gameplay design, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is hard to top.
There are more gameplay possibilities in this game’s small map than in entire games. It was the first game outside of the Elder Scrolls series to remind me why I like open-world games to begin with. It also brings into light how most open world games are absent of creativity. Open world games are ultimately about gameplay possibilities; Ground Zeroes may have surpassed the mighty Skyrim in that regard.
For all it’s flaws, I take Ground Zeroes for what it is. It’s a teaser of what’s to come and it overwhelmingly succeeds in this goal. This game truly delivers an open-ended stealth experience. It breathes new life into a series that I was convinced had run out of ideas.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor:
It’s funny that a game that drew so many comparisons to the Assassin’s Creed games upon its reveal, surpasses them in just about every way. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is essentially what the Assassin’s Creed series should have been. It competently throws together stealth, action and traversal in an enjoyable and functional package.
I’ve never seen such a high demand for developers to copy a specific feature from a game. The Nemesis system drastically improves what would’ve otherwise been a solid, if not standard game. Every enemy feels unique, with their own personality, strengths and weaknesses.
The result is an experience that is truly unique to the player. I feel this game is comparable to Dead Rising in that it’s the first game that could only be truly be accomplished on current-gen consoles.
Given how much work that went into the gameplay, the dreadful story is somewhat forgivable. The main character may be as interesting as a wet piece of cardboard but it doesn’t change how good this game is.
Games that I missed:
I’ve reached the awkward moment where I’ve put an honourable mentions category within the honourable mentions category (try wrap your head around that one). I simply didn’t have time to play every notable release this year.
Among the truly exceptional games that I missed this year include Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Banner Saga, Super Smash Bros, Far Cry 4, This War of Mine, Bayonetta 2, Transistor, Shovel Knight and Wolfenstein: The New Order. I can’t speak for the quality of these games but I know plenty of people who can. Take that for whatever it’s worth.
Next up will be my personal pick for the 2014 game of the year.