Dave Lang is the inhuman monster behind Iron Galaxy, developer of well-regarded games like Divekick, Killer Instinct: Season 2, and Wreckateer. He also was instrumental in founding Team GFB, the most villainous stable in professional video game wrestling history. Watch the car crash unfold in slow motion via Twitter.
So, first off, a few caveats:
1. I didn't play many games this year. Work was busy, I had a record-setting travel year, and occasionally my family would elect to interact with me. So, not much gaming.
2. I don’t think I finished a single game on this list except for Trials Fusion (and that probably doesn’t count), so if you're wondering why I’ve got so many indie games here, that’s the reason. I had a lot of fun with stuff like Sunset Overdrive, Advanced Warfare, etc., but since I only scratched the surface of the bigger games, I had a hard time putting them on this list, whereas the 3 hours I put into Sportsfriends proved more than enough for me to whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone.
Extra-Life PSA: I’m still working my way through some of the Extra-Life reward stuff. I’m going to attempt to finish off the rest over holiday break, so if I owe you a game code, or a phone call wherein I tell you “Get Fucked Boi!” you can be reasonably certain that will happen soon. If the new year rolls around and you still haven’t heard from me, PM me here (my Giant Bomb user name is da5id).
Extra Game! I didn’t want to put this in my Top-10 because we did a tiny, tiny, tiny amount of work on it, but I really like Destiny. I have one character and he’s not close to maxxed out yet, so the most common complaint I’ve heard about this game (Not enough content) doesn’t exist for me. The core mechanics are amazing, I find the visual design of the world a great mix of familiar and mysterious, and when a Green orbs pops out of an enemy and rolls around their corpse I still get a shot of adrenaline. As a casual Destiny player, I love that I can hop into the world for 15 minutes or set a longer chunk of time aside for a Strike with friends. It’s a very low-commitment online shooter, which is something I can totally get behind.
This game baffles me. I think most people agree that for competitive games to be good, they need to be “fair,” and by “fair” I mean “you need to understand why you died and realize it was completely avoidable.” Strictly speaking TowerFall adheres to this rule, but only if you posses super-human situational awareness. With four players zipping around the same screen, environmental hazards, special arrows, etc., there’s times I die and don’t feel I could have done anything about it…and somehow in TowerFall this doesn’t bother me at all. I just laugh. You gotta laugh! Throw in all the custom ruleset stuff, and there’s always something new to try. Every time I play with with my kids (ages 11, 8 and 6) it’s a guaranteed good time.
I first played this at IndieCade a few years ago and bodied Adam Heart so hard he swore he’d never face me again. I think it’s the only video game I’ve ever legit beat him in. I crushed him in a ping pong money match once, but I kind of tricked him into thinking I stink at ping pong prior to playing, so I’m not sure that counts.
Nidhogg! Risk versus reward is a pretty common notion in video game design, but Nidhogg is a profound demonstration of just how far you can go on this alone. Should you throw the sword or hold onto it? Try to bait out an attack or charge in full-speed? Every choice matters, and much like a traditional fighting game winning is as all about predicting what your opponent will do, and then punishing them when you guess correctly. Also, it’s got a divekick in it. Pretty great.
There’s a lot I love about Lethal League. The character design is amazing; the fact that the “main” character is basically a member of the Baseball Furies should be enough to get any right-thinking person excited about this game, but in the event it’s not you’ve also got a skateboard riding robot, or an alligator that swats the ball with his tail (he’s an asshole) to choose from.
The quick pace of the game is its greatest strength. You don’t have to spend an hour getting crushed just to learn one or two valuable things for the next time you jump in. After about 30 minutes you’ve learned everything you need to know about that game, at which point you are on the long road to mastery. I lost more money matches in this game than any other in 2014 and I’m still in love. Hard to think of a better recommendation than that.
7. Hitman Go
Fun fact! We actually bid on this game and didn’t get it. At the time I was bummed out, but Hitman Go is probably better than what we were going to make, so I guess this is a classic "all's well that ends well” situation. It’s got a lot of things going for it; the board game visuals are completely complementary to what Square Enix Montreal did with the gameplay. The game is mechanically simple, but gets difficult quickly, and they sprinkled in just the right amount of assistance for the mobile crowd. It’s quite the departure from a traditional Hitman game, but I think they did a fantastic job of picking the parts of Hitman that are right for mobile, and exploiting them to the fullest.
I got this on Thanksgiving and wasn’t expecting much based on some of the Twitter chatter I had seen. Turns out Twitter is a bullshit factory (who knew?) and this game is certified rad. Playing through the campaign is super fun; the fact that no two play fields are the same isn’t just novel, learning the quirks of some of the more esoteric designs is super-fun in and of itself. The addition of boosters to your ship’s capabilities isn’t revolutionary design, but it successfully adds another variable to keep the game feeling fresh. I’m not stopping until I’ve crushed Nick Chester on every leaderboard, so I’ll probably see you in about 30 years.
Patrick made me play this during our Extra-Life Stream, and I got more into it than I ever would have guessed. Barely a game by any standard, but enthralling nonetheless. My time in Velvet Sundown is bisected into two discreet parts: I begin every session trying to sleep with someone, and when that (inevitably) fails I try to get to the bottom of whatever is happening on the yacht on this misadventure. The cast of characters, while an odd assortment of people to be sure, all have their own unique reason for being there, personality, and desires. The fact that I have a thing for Linda and want to see Jack rot in hell is pretty amazing, all things considered. Shoutouts to my big homie Boyle.
When I think about my best gaming moments of 2014, many of them are playing Sportsfriends. Me and Ramon bodying everyone in HOKRA, making people in the office rage quit during Super Pole Riders, that day BaraBariBall finally clicked with me, or watching my kids play JS Joust at Bit Bash are all stand-out moments for me. It’s an amazing value proposition, and it’s hard to imagine someone who loves games wouldn’t find something to like in Sportsfriends.
When I say this game is hard, I’m not referring to it’s difficulty. It’s a throwback to games like Baldur’s Gate where you could lose loved party members at the drop of a hat. When playing Banner Saga, I never thought “this game isn’t fair,” instead I thought “life isn’t fair.” So when I say it’s hard, just know it’s as hard as when Omar said “Oh, Indeed.” Possibly harder. Banner Saga doesn’t feel like a game made by a handful of people at a brand new studio.It excels at everything it attempts to do. Fully realized world? Yep. Amazing presentation and aesthetic? For days. Is it fun? Oh, Indeed.
This is probably the game I played more than any other in 2014. I’ve always loved the series, and in this edition I feel like they finally smoothed out the difficulty curve to perfection. There’s not too much to say about this one, you probably already know if you’ll love it or hate it. Guess how I feel?
One of the hardest design challenges of working on “big” games is fighting player boredom. How do you make doing (essentially) the same thing for fifteen hours fun? Some games tackle this by sprinkling in new weapons and abilities over the course of the game, others try to do it with an entertaining story, and some like to mix in different bits of gameplay to spice things up. Wolfenstein uses all of these tricks, and it uses them well.
The team at Machine Games made a modern World War II shooter, plucking the best parts of a World War II game (the cause) and replacing the bits that drag down that experience (archaic weapons, overused locations) in fun ways. I would have loved to have been in the meeting when they told Bethesda they were going to send the player to the moon on a space shuttle.