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GOTY 2014

2014 was another year where big releases went completely over my head. Partially because I decided to wait on making the next-gen jump, partially because I didn’t give a fuck about most big releases, partially because my backlog and newfound obsession with Counter-Strike and other multiplayer bullshit stopped me from taking on more games. So for me, 2014 was a year of indie games, and not even big indie games every one was pumped about, but weird, smaller releases that I bought on impulse because they were pretty. It’s also been a year of exploration – I learned new things about myself not only as someone who plays games, but also as a person, even if it was through games.

So yeah, let’s get this show on the road.

List items

  • Gods Will Be Watching is not perfect.

    It’s super frustrating, I believe you have to finish it to get everything it’s trying to do and it’s clear that the game’s idea of tying moral choices directly to percentages and RNG did not resonate with others as hard as it did with me. But for me, it’s the most important game of the year.

    Deconstructeam crafted a title which for the first time ever actually had me question what the fuck I’m doing. It was the first one to force my hand into making a choice that I did not agree with at all, but I knew was necessary. It was the first to put me in a situation and not give me a perfect way out. And it did all of it without resorting to sob stories, making me bond with kids and asking me to choose between burning orphanages and rape-murdering plush bunnies. It just gave me some tough fucking situations to handle and gave me one goal: handle it, or you won’t progress. And I handled it, for better or worse.

    Once again, Gods Will Be Watching is not perfect and won’t – or didn’t, really – work for everyone. But it taught me something new about what games can do and something new about myself.

    And this is why it’s my game of the year.

  • The Binding of Isaac – a game which Edmund McMillen kinda farted out as a side thing with frequent collaborator Florian Himsl – was my 2011’s game of the year. It just clicked as a fast-paced roguelike with a lot of depth and one of gaming’s most interesting, or at least most interestingly presented narratives. The Wrath of Lamb gave a sequel’s worth of content to an already packed game which I gobbled up happily, even if I wasn’t fully on board with some of the imbalances it brought into the mix. So as a fan, let me say something: Nicalis’ Rebirth is a million times better than that game. It fixes those balance issues, manages to run on a calculator unlike the original’s Flash disaster, introduces a metric fuckton of new content, puts a pretty retro-spin on McMillen’s signature art style, costs fifteen bucks, revamps old bosses and AI, introduces proper goddamn interactions and synergies and it probably gives oral sex, fixes your car and makes a mean mojito. And these crazy sons of bitches promise more content incoming.

  • PAYDAY 2 is a 2013 release, but a) it’s my list and b) the bulk of its most interesting content came out this year. And boy, what content it was. The folks still waiting for GTA Online to introduce heists after more than a year since launch are missing the fucking point – PAYDAY 2 is the real deal. It’s co-op at its finest, with great gunplay, intriguing stealth mechanics, great stress generation and a lot of personality. It’s also being flooded with content. Overkill Software has proven that they have cracked the code in terms of supporting a game, whether it’s through weapon packs, bug fixes and rebalances, cool new heists or through its insane anniversary event, the Crimefest, which culminated in the ultimate crowd pleaser with Hoxton Breakout. And the best part? We’ve only just finished one third of the game’s three year cycle. This alone makes me insanely excited for what’s to come.

  • I just realized that I’ll have five roguelike-inspired titles including the one coming up in a sec. It’s a good thing that they all put very interesting spins on the formula and make the challenge lie not only in one’s faith in RNG, but also mastering the mechanics. And Dungeon of the Endless seems like the king, though, being a super weird mix of turn based strategy, RTS, 4X and tower defence. And somehow, it all works. The game is hard as shit and has a tough learning curve, with a billion floors to clear before you even get your first actual “win” of the game, but manages to be fair – it requires enough strategy and quick thinking that even when you get fucked over on the coin toss, you can still squeeze out a win. And obviously it’s fun to the point of putting the “one-more-turn” syndrome into full gear. Outside of pure gameplay, it hits the nail on the head on every front: the writing is clever and cheeky and seems like a well enough introduction to Amplitude Studios' Endless series while allowing for interesting stories to develop between its characters, the OST is very atmospheric and has the elusive quality of being very, very listenable outside of the game and it features some of the most gorgeous pixel art I’ve ever seen, all of which contributes to the game’s odd atmosphere.

  • 2014 was a good year for old-schoolish PC cRPGs, with the release of your Divinities and Wastelands, but for me the real deal remains in Dragonfall. The standalone expansion for last year’s Shadowrun Returns improves upon its mother game in virtually every way. The combat and UI are slicker and more pleasant, it’s much more open without being aimless, the writing’s fantastic, with fun characters, twists and dialogue choices that actually require from the player to read, and even the narration itself gets deliciously Avellone-y at points. It’s also really pretty and atmospheric – Returns’ Seattle was a nondescript, boring place, but Dragonfall’s Berlin is a beautiful, varied city that feels truly like a separate character in the game, helped handsomely by the environment art. Returns was a promise – this is a great 20 hours of fun.

  • In a twist, I *liked* Diablo III when it came out. I didn’t play as much of it due to two reasons: lack of time and the exercise in skull-fucking boredom called Normal difficulty. Over the two years since launch, Blizzard did a lot of things to rectify those problems, until they hit the jackpot with Reaper of Souls and the months leading up to it, with the most important of the bunch: Loot 2.0, an absolute revamp of items and loot drops which finally gave people access to legendary items on a more regular basis, further improved the freeform skill system and made higher difficulties manageable. Further changes, like the addition of Adventure mode, Seasons and a revamp of the way the game handles difficulty levels also helped in turning Diablo III into a more accessible, simply more fun and much more rewarding game. The fact that Act V is a fun, diverse and long romp with a trio of the game’s most fun bosses doesn’t hurt.

  • I always look forward to ACE Team’s shit – those Chileans know how to make unorthodox gameplay and they have the best, craziest artists in the biz. Abyss Odyssey is by far the most conventional, but also the most enjoyable time I’ve had with their games. It’s a roguelike with a deep, but accessible combat system inspired by fighting games, with cancels, juggles, frames, sprinkled with co-op, loot, multiple characters, a cool system of taking over enemies (including bosses) and content patches tied to overall player base progression. It’s great. And it’s really pretty, too – the Alphonse Mucha-inspired art manages to look awesome both on 2D stills and in the game’s Unreal Engine 3.5 powered 3D models and environments.

  • It’s loosely based on the Robert Frost poem of the same name, but don’t let that scare you away if you expect walls of text. Road Not Taken is a balls-hard roguelike with a “match 3” puzzle mechanic and it uses exactly that to illustrate the themes of Frost’s text. And precisely through that gameplay it manages to be a really dark game – tying your choices and morality directly to your ability, or the lack of it, to suck up some really punishing puzzles makes for some really uncomfortable moments. And it’s fun. I haven’t seen a puzzle game like Road Not Taken and I have to say that it’s the most exciting twist on the block/match genre since Puzzle Quest.

  • The return of Wolfenstein happened to be one of this year’s biggest surprises. Not only is it really fun, with great gunplay and some completely stupid set pieces, it’s also a pretty touching story! There are some legit characters with legit, believable development, a lot of well served pathos, a touching love story, hell, the game even managed to handle a labour camp sequence with taste. The attention to detail is also beyond what AAA shooters do – like being fully multilingual, even with letters in proper Polish grammar. Seriously, I almost cried when I saw them finally address Blazkowicz’s Polish ancestry and had Brian Bloom speak some of my language. I want more Wolfenstein in the future if this is the sign of things to come, because this was fucking awesome.

  • After the heap of shit that was Gearbox’s blatant money grab titled Aliens: Colonial Marines, one would be wary of another game based on the Alien license. However, Isolation nails it. Instead of Colonial Marines' dumb fan pandering, Creative Assembly’s horror is a heartfelt love letter to Ridley Scott’s film. The plot is goddamn Alien, but it’s not a slight, since it creates a perfect backdrop for revisiting the film’s design, art and memorable moments. And there’s the star: the xenomorph. Isolation makes the “defenceless horror” formula popularized by Amnesia more exciting by giving you an overarching enemy hanging over your head and actually giving you some ways of protecting yourself and whisking out of tough situations. And finally, the game nails the weird relationship between Ripley and the alien, to the point where you’ll develop somewhat of a symbiotic relationship with it once you start abusing its AI patterns. The game would benefit from being maybe two hours shorter, but it doesn’t change that it’s one of the best licensed games out there and one of the best horror and stealth games.