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Jeff Gerstmann's Top 10 Games of 2014

Let's sift through the remnants of 2014, declare a handful of things as "good" or "great," and plow onward.

2014 was our first full year with new consoles, and what did it get us? A bunch of arguments over the relative power of two seemingly underpowered platforms, a bunch of developers getting caught flatfooted and shipping a pile of ports and/or a pile of broken games, and... well, we've already devoted weeks of podcasts to the messed-up business that happened this year, and perhaps that's enough for at least a couple of weeks. Let's wrap it up, talk about a handful of games that I really enjoyed this year, put a bow on it, and come out swinging for 2015. Cool?

I hate you, epic pro Alberto Del Rio card.
I hate you, epic pro Alberto Del Rio card.

Before we get started, a word about a game I played too much of this year. WWE Supercard is barely a game. It's a product that has the look and feel of a bootleg wrestling game--you won't hear any real wrestling music or voice quips in it. And it's barely more than a basic play on Top Trumps. But the cards dance around and pull suplexes and giant swings on each other. And it's blindingly quick, letting you rattle off a full match in around 20 seconds. And it's constantly giving you new cards with the hope that you'll eventually pull something with some actual rarity and usefulness as you claw your way up the tiers (which, by the way, just means that you're getting cards with somewhat higher numbers on them than the cards you currently have.

I hate you, WWE Supercard. I gave you money, WWE Supercard. You're a reskinned NBA game with wrestlers instead of basketball players, WWE Supercard. And I'll probably keep fooling around with you whenever I'm waiting for a flight or find myself standing around somewhere, waiting for something more engaging to occur. Ultimately, this is all my fault, WWE Supercard. I hate myself, WWE Supercard. Don't play WWE Supercard. Actually, that new Road to Glory mode is pretty decent, though it'll probably be over by the time you read this.

Let's get on to something resembling a proper Top 10 list.

10. Trials Fusion

The addition of a trick system didn't really help Trials Fusion, but there weren't enough trick-focused levels to cause that aspect of the game to detract from the overall package, either. That might sound a bit like faint praise, but the core aspect of Trials--namely, the part where you're participating in motocross time trials on impossibly constructed tracks--is great, resulting in a more honed and pure version of the obsessive, leaderboard-focused behavior brought on by its predecessor. (As a side note, I probably played just as much Trials Frontier this year, too, but the way its free-to-play side manifested harder and harder as time went on eventually made this one a real bummer.)

9. Jazzpunk

I'm trying not to talk about or think about Jazzpunk. My ultimate goal is to forget the game ever existed and completely lose all memory of its gags and how well its sense of style comes together. Then, and only then, can I play Jazzpunk a second time. If you haven't played it once, I consider you to be lucky: you can still play and enjoy what Jazzpunk has to offer.

8. Lethal League

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The competitive action in Lethal League gets fast and stays nuts. I found it to be at its best as a one-on-one game--the four-player support is much too wild for normal use. It fits in the same spot as something like Divekick or Samurai Gunn. Lethal League is fast, simple, and brutal competition that backs up its solid core with fun presentation, from great music to a wholesale boosting of the Super Smash Bros. UI. That's just weird. Play more Lethal League.

7. Titanfall

Titanfall is a great game that had too many expectations foisted upon it from external sources, whether it's EA, who published the game, or Microsoft, who saw this exclusive-to-its-console release as an early victory for the Xbox One. It's not some world-beating Call of Duty Killer, especially in a year that saw Call of Duty make some meaningful changes to its well-worn formula. On its own merits, Titanfall is an extremely exciting multiplayer game that was among the first games of the year to help bring extended mobility back to competitive shooters. It also offered big-ass robots, which probably made the game a little divisive. Personally, I enjoyed the addition of the titans when the game was first released, but grew a bit tired of them as the months wore on and players became far more adept at dropping titans. Nice maps and some solid playlist and mode updates over the rest of the year helped it out, too. It's not a world beater, and I still maintain that the level progression feels pretty empty without more gear to unlock, but as a first attempt and a bold first stab into the new generation of consoles, Titanfall stands out.

6. Bayonetta 2

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I originally only liked Bayonetta from a distance. Its colorful, crazy style was amazing, but I felt no real draw to play it for myself. I eventually came around and had a great time, which paved the way for Bayonetta 2. I'm hardly a devotee to this genre or this developer, but Bayonetta 2 brings things together in a way that just about anyone can enjoy. It's flashy, fierce fun that, unlike a lot of other games in the genre, inspired me to want to get better at it as I continued playing. Also it has crazy hair beasts and ridiculous boss encounters that, in a lot of ways, make me just want to play another Metal Gear Rising. Is that weird?

5. Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition

The Reaper of Souls content added to Diablo III's base game is a good next act, but it's the nuts and bolts that surround that new act--like adventure mode and the numerous other little odds and ends designed to make the game more replayable--that make Diablo III stand out for me. This year, the console version of the game caught me by surprise. We'll probably never get another Marvel Ultimate Alliance, but adding direct control into Diablo III and putting it onto consoles that could handle its visual performance needs with fewer cutbacks made me feel a little more OK about the idea that MUA is dead and buried. If other games hadn't come along and dethroned it, I'd probably still be wandering around various hellscapes in search of more sticks or swords or helmets or whatever.

4. Luftrausers

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Luftrausers is beautiful in its simplicity, amazing in its sense of style, and smart in its sense of progression. It also gets hard as heck. In some alternate, cooler version of history, Luftrausers was released in 1982 and stole more quarters than Defender and Stargate combined. Also, I really can't say enough about the soundtrack and the way it reforms itself based on how you build your plane. What a cool idea.

3. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Take the tower-climbing and base movement ideas of Assassin's Creed, toss in the Batman combat, and layer on a system of enemy progression and promotion that gives the world a bunch of tougher-than-average mid-bosses to take on and you've got... well, you actually have something pretty special, really. When you talk about a game being greater than the sum of its parts, you're talking about something like Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. Personally, I couldn't care any less about the setting and the story is average, at best. But the developers of Mordor slapped those mechanics together in a masterful way, and the Nemesis system connects them all in a way that makes the entire game feel richer and more alive. It's an impressive trick, for sure. I wasn't expecting to care much about this one and found it to be quite the surprise--for once, a publisher talked up a new mechanical system as huge and meaningful and you know what? They were actually right. Nice.

2. Far Cry 4

I feel slightly guilty about putting Far Cry 4 this high on my list, considering how similar it is to Far Cry 3. But you know what? I really liked Far Cry 3. And I keep coming back to Far Cry 4. At this point I've got separate playthroughs going on the PC and the PS4, so I can skulk around the underbrush on multiple platforms. This time around, I'm digging more into the side missions, saving hostages, hijacking supply trucks, and so on. The online co-op is a nice addition and the story and its characters are a bit more realized this time out, which certainly helps, too. I don't think I'll feel the same way about all this if Far Cry 5 is pretty much the same game for a third time, but as a one-time re-do, Far Cry 4 is astoundingly fun.

1. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Here's a shot from the part of Call of Duty that nobody plays.
Here's a shot from the part of Call of Duty that nobody plays.

If you had told me at the beginning of the year that Call of Duty was to be my #1 game for 2014, there's no way I would have believed you. As word about what Sledgehammer was doing started to leak around the edges, it sounded a bit like Titanfall-but-bad. And the franchise has been slipping for a few years now. But the way Advanced Warfare makes it soldiers more mobile makes the multiplayer feel fresh and fun in a way I haven't gotten from the series in a very long time. As of this writing, I've prestiged, resetting my rank back to the beginning and starting over with a cool new "I prestiged" icon. You could say that this has just as much to do with the relative weakness of the competition this year as it does the game's own strength, but let's not take away from what the developer accomplished here. Sledgehammer has turned things around for a franchise that I figured I'd never be able to play for more than a week or two past its release ever again. In short, I'm as surprised as anyone to find this game at the top of my list, and it's left me really curious to see what Call of Duty ends up being next year. Because if it goes back to slow-ass, ground-based movement and more of that old left-trigger, right-trigger action with no nuance, you can count me out. Jetpacks or nothing from here on out, y'all. It's 2015.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+