Why top 5? Well much of the year I spent catching up on games from 2013 and playing even older games so my list doesn't really stretch to top 10 unless I start to include games that didn't really matter much to me.
To me, 2014 was the year coach co-op came back and you'll see that represented here in my list. SportsFriends is missing though as the PC version was only recently released and I've yet to play it.
Dark Souls II
In a lot of ways, Dark Souls II is a disappointing game. It's too easy for one and while that's an odd complaint, it's one that only works for a series known for being hard as nails. I was able to beat many bosses on my first try but DSII came alive for me the more I became involved in the PvP, something I actively avoided in the original. There are even entire secret areas that troll you the second you walk in them as 2 or 3 high level players suddenly appear just to murder your ass. It's a great feeling to turn the tables however when you successfully beat them. DSII may not be a better DS but it is a smarter one.
Shadow of Mordor
A game that started life as a Batman game later turned MiddleEarth game (if rumours are to be believed) probably shouldn't be this good. But this is Monolith we're talking about. A developer that can seemingly make anything work (that Batman shooter was surprisingly fun). SoM isn't breaking any new ground but it does almost everything so well. The biggest downside to the whole game is its length. Completing just the story missions will clock you in around 10 hours and the side activities are mostly centred around the main ones anyway but the reason to come to the game in the first place is its nemesis system which it pulls off flawlessly which each nemesis having their own personality and social standing. Seeing enemies return in different ways was a real treat as they became stronger and one strategy that worked before, they may now be immune too. It's certainly a system I'd love to see used elsewhere.
Most would consider Windows 8 to have its share of problems especially the store as it has to cater to mobile processors due to Windows RT and doesn't really allow for more graphically intensive games you'd see on Steam or Origin. This weekend however I discovered a great little gem in the Windows 8 marketplace: Game Dev Tycoon.
I started my new business in my garage with my desk pressed up against the green peeling wall, a poster of Pong besides me and my car and work tools behind. As with any new company, you need to have a name so being the twat I am, I went with DickTit Games and named my character Titty. With my first foray into game development I went with the PC. The upside was that development was cheaper over the G64 but it didn't have as much marketshare. As it was the 80s I thought I'd make something space so I made a Space Action game called Space Conflict. For my first title it sold reasonably well with just over 10K units and was profitable enough for me to release the sequel Space Conflict HD. Due to its success I was able to research new genres and made SCHD a Sci-Fi Simulation for the G64. Both of which reviewed decently with scores around 6.5/10. Success only got better once I continued research and invested in my own gaming engine and made the pirate adventure game Muhngkee Ahyluhnd selling over 40K units.
Soon after, Ninvento joined the gaming industry so far dominated by PCs with the TES which was met with hesitation by press but loved by consumers and quickly rose to take a large percentage of the market from PCs. I recognised I had to get onboard but a development license for the TES was 80K so I released a sport sim game in the meantime to raise the funds. It did well enough to help me get the money but was met with middling reviews after the success of my previous game. Once on the TES though, I was unsure of the demographic so I played it safe and went with an action racing game under the name of Small Cars. The game continued to bring in money but again was met with average review scores.
At this point I decided to research Fantasy for an upcoming RPG I wanted to make called Fahynl Fantuhsee. Some reviewers saw it as niche but others loved the combination between fantasy and RPG. Unfortunately it wasn't the sales boom I was hoping for but did allow me to research in target demographics which would help with my next game which was a casual sports game for targets towards children that I unfortunately forgot to title so went to press as Game #6 and was critised for it.
After that mistake I decided to essentially remake the game with a few changes to graphics, sound etc but keep it mostly the same but release with a name this time: TES Sports Party. Biggest mistake yet. Critics panned it for lack of innovation especially considering my past work and its quick release schedule after Game #6 was still on shelves. Consumers also hated it with only 9K units sold, lower than my first game even though I had built up my skills.
I had to turn this around and make my company profitable. While my games had been selling well, it simply wasn't enough to keep going due to the flop TES Sports Party was. I even had to do some contract work to raise some money to help with production. It was very risky but my time was coming to an end with the games 5 year trial so I bet it all on a mature rated medieval action game with the titled JumpingScreamingMan. Due to the nature of the console and my previous titles, this lead to my company being interviewed and building up hype for the game which no previous game had. Once the game came out however, critics absolutely loved it earning 9s and 10s and destroyed previous sales of any other game I had made and thus ended my 5 years.
If you've enjoyed Game Dev Story on your phone, chances are you'll enjoy this and while the game launched exclusively on Windows 8, it will be coming to Steam via Greenlight but it's available now via the devs website for PC, Linux and Mac.
While Trials Evolution doesn't set out to completely reinvent itself in this sequel, it does more than enough to earn its place in my top 10. The locations are much more varied and the gameplay even more addicting. TE's new tool set allowed for a whole community to get behind it and create some mind as well as controller-bending stuff. Just watching Brad or anyone else play this game made me instantly turn my Xbox on and just play.
BLR took me by surprise by being a F2P game that didn't suck. It has a number of issues but I still kept coming back for more. The gameplay is rock solid and Zombie Studios update it regularly to keep me coming back. While the game modes are your standard FPS modes, the huge draws for me were its futuristic art style and wealth of customisation options. As you level you don't unlock a weapon but parts to guns and other equipment that allows each player to be unique from someone else.
Rock Band Blitz
RBB took a week of my life away and I'm completely ok with that. I've been a fan of GH/RB for a number of years but never actually played any of the older Harmonix games simply because I didn't own a PS2 but with RBB I couldn't keep my fingers away. RBB finds this great line between enjoying the game and the music which can often be the opposite with RB3 where you play a song you love to listen to but it can be a dog to play.
The Walking Dead
What would a list of best games of 2012 wouldn't include TWD? Well, probably one that has to do with best gameplay but that's beside the point. TWD expertly crafts a story that absolutely captured me. I've not read the comics or seen the show but I've played a large percentage of TellTale's games so I was incredibley intrigued when I first heard they were doing something that wasn't something entirely comical. I didn't actually play TWD until episode 4 came out and played them one after the other with each episode more gripping than the last but it was episode 3s "fucking hell" moments along with a tug at the heard strings that forced me to take a partial break. With episode 5 ever so close, I went back in, completed the season and sat back in my chair as the credits rolled. Your choices may not come down to much but TT do an amazing job of making them feel important not only the story but to the player as well.
The game hooked me much in the same way the original did but refined a lot of it to improve that experience. The areas were more varied, the guns and armour were more dynamic and the writing and story were more interesting and funny. If you didn't like the first game or maybe even OD on it, it will have its issues of being too samey but I just wanted more Borderlands which is what the game serves up whether you liked it or not. The games loot-fest is as joyous as ever and it had me hooked. The Mecromancer was the perfect addition to what I thought was a quite lackluster character roster that tried too much please the fans of the original. She came a long at a perfect time when interest was just tipping off to get me back in the game again and approach what I had already played with Zer0 in a whole new way.
Far Cry 3
I didn't enjoy the original Far Cry. It promised this open world with intelligent A.I but playing it was a different story where you found yourself going around closed environments and the second one guard knew your position, they all knew which made stealth impossible. I didn't even bother with 2 as it just seemed very uninteresting to me despite a lot of interesting mechanics that got in the way of the game. With Far Cry 3, they took a lot of those systems out and retained what worked and made one heck of a fun game. Sure, like many, I was drawn into this game because of the amazing intro and a lot of people say that the story was shit but I quite liked the decent in madness Jason takes as he becomes more and more of a psycho. The game presents you with a ton of options on how to spec your character making you faster and more deadly yet still remain silent yet you can fight your way out of any situation.
I instantly fell in love with this bizarre little game after seeing it at this years Eurogamer mostly due to its fluffy little Pomeranian star but the game progression and challenge system are what kept me coming back. The gameplay throughout is often the same but it ultimately comes down to what's the quickest way to unlock the dinosaurs.
Story, graphics and world navigation mean nothing to Dragon's Dogma nor my overall enjoyment of the game. It is massively flawed in all of these areas but also part of the charm. Just having fast travel through out a world where getting to the location is part of the challenge and excitement would ultimately ruin it but after doing it a whole bunch of times also hampers that same experience that made it fun to begin with. The 2nd act of the game also doesn't help things which is more challenging with the enemies you face but just boils down to a dungeon crawler with copy/paste design. The real meat of Dragon's Dogma comes down to its gameplay that remained fresh and engrossing throughout my 80+ hours with it.
Journey's enjoyment for me came down to whoever I played with. If my first time with Journey were with my 2nd partner, I probably would've damned it along with many other games as my partner had little idea what they were doing and rushed about the place. Thankfully, my first playthrough was with the most wonderful person on PSN for all I care. From the moment we met, they didn't leave my side. It was the most bonding I've ever done with someone online and we couldn't even speak and I don't even know who they were. We explored and found items together, surfed down the sands and climbed the frozen peaks, huddling together for warmth as we could barely muster a peep.
Say what you will about Phil Fish but at the end of the day, he and his small team at Polytron have delivered a gameplay experience that no one was expecting. It's a gorgeous game just to look at with a rich world for you to explore and discover. The game had some bugs that hampered performance but they never got in the way of my enjoyment of the game and it's only when someone told me "Quick brown fox" was my mind completely blown. Outside of the game was a community that scrapped and scraped at ever inch to uncover its mysteries and one of the most special moments for me in 2012.
Gotham City Imposters
While GCI cuts from the same CoD cloth, it does enough unique things to set itself apart with its cast of zany, cartoon characters and sometimes oddball weapons. Unfortunately the game never reached enough of a popularity to really stick around. It did eventually go F2P but I've not played it since to see if it has a community.
Max Payne 3
I'm a huge fan of the original games but MP3's story and change of direction are what put me off playing it for a long time. When I did get around to playing it though, I found that Rockstar has made their finest shooter to date. The core gameplay is incredibley tight and extremely satisfying but in some ways feels like a step back from MP2 that took bullet time an extra step further whereas Rockstar felt the need to add cover mechanics. The games brutal difficulty on hard also left me frustrated as I found myself dying after 1 well placed shot. Modern day gaming has pretty much killed a lot of what made the original games a lot of fun. Due to the likes of Quick Saving and being able to carrying every single gun, you could be incredibly experimental and approach any situation the way you wanted, not the way the game dictated to you. Instead, MP3 opts for a 2 gun limited at all times. While you can carry 2 small guns and a larger weapon such as a shotgun, if you dual wield, you'll toss your shot gun away. It's a few small niggles such as these that really hampered my overall enjoyment of an otherwise fantastic game.
PS2 is a truely massive world, the likes I've never seen in any shooter before. The scope is incredibley vast and even whilst driving around I've found myself in awe at some of the beautiful landscapes that SOE have created then you ignore all of that as you roll into a base being defended by hundreds of players. It can sound quite daunting and even useless as you question how useful can 1 person out of a thousand really be but in the right squad, every member can be extremely effective. From defending a base against a massive platoon of tanks on the ground, holding off dozens of soldiers with jetpacks in the sky to going lone wolf and secretly capping enemy bases, PS2 is just a ton of fun.
As much as I'd love to put HLM within my top 10, I simply just haven't spent enough time on it to really make a fair judgement call. The game oozes style from the moment you start with its trippy start menu to just the flow of the game where each room can be handled as its own separate puzzle.
FTL: Faster Than Light
There seemingly isn't much to FTL on first glance with its stark interface and minimal graphics until you find yourself hours in, cautious on what you should do next as your ship is invaded during a storm so you can't see anything inside your ship or your enemies. That is when you discover how brilliantly designed FTL is. The reason it only makes my honours list is that I beat the game on my 4th try and I just haven't gone back to it.
I've been playing Darksiders 2 over the past few games and while I'm enjoying the combat, there really isn't much else to the game. The story is thin and padded to hell with every task being a fetch quest. The game has gone too far into an MMO type of game where you talk to the quest giver, complete said quest and into return you get to move on to another quest giver for more money and loot. So many aspects have change that don't suit the game at all. Even Death seems like a massive pussy rather than a badass. I really miss a lot of the Zelda in this game because it feels like a much weaker game without a lot of that stuff. The worlds feel too large but also barren and boring. While DS1 was smaller and on the short side, it felt focused. It had a much interesting moments more frequently.
Backtracking in most games is a chore but DS1 let you get around fairly quickly and DS2 is better and worse when it comes to this by allowing you to quick travel at any time but then there are moments within the story where the game just won't allow you and it won't even give you a reason why and you only find out when you go to use it. This is when it's way worse than the original game. Travelling around is just boring is DS2 where stretches of land can take several minutes to cross where you're just left taping R1 to make your horse run faster and you don't even care to just avoid the enemies as they're few and far between and usually of a lower level. In the 2nd area of the game towards the end your quick travel will be disabled and travelling back was a huge pain. There are a couple of times where you have to get off of your horse and navigate through these mini dungeons but they don't add anything, they're just there to pad the game time even more.
The original game took me around 15 hours to complete and was a blast. At roughly the same time in this game, I have no idea how close I am to the end and I'm desperate to just get it over with now. I'm struggling to just understand why this game is so different from the first. While it was no masterpiece, it knew what it was. DS2 feels like it's having an identity crisis. While the original game was pretty shameless in its ripping off Zelda, did anyone really care? The game was what we've all wanted Nintendo to do for a long time but Vigil brought us this new world with an interesting premise and characters but that's all but gone here. The story is practically the same 15 hours in as the first minute. Death wants to save his brother, corruption as taken over, Death doesn't care, repeat. Now go fetch me these 3 items. I think I've lost track of how many fetch 3 items quests there have been, it's mind numbing and now I'm just going through the paces. I may write a review at some point and try and turn this from a rambling mess into something coherent but so far, this game does not feel like a worthy successor.
EDIT: Just want to leave some notes here for future reference:
Thane asks you to kill 4 people as a true test of your skill as a warrior. After killing all 4 he has zero reaction but hey, you got loot that will last you a couple of levels.