GOTY 2014 (Adjusted)

Same deal as the 2015 GOTY (Adjusted) list (and also the others, found here (2013), here (2016) and here (2017). The idea is to build GOTY lists that are constantly in flux, ever adapting themselves to a new year's worth of catch-up gaming. Like the Borg, but for video game lists. With enough time I should be able to play through every 2014 game that piqued my interest and construct a list that ideally represents what that year meant to me in terms of games, but that wasn't going to happen on the year in question: too many full-price new releases, too little time.

For 2014 in particular, the consensus seems to be that the year offered a considerable number of quality games but few that would qualify as anyone's all-time favorite. Not so much a year of once-in-a-generation highlights as a year of general competency, as the various consoles of the current generation found their stride if not their respective killer apps. It's easily the largest list of games I've been compiling for these "Adjusted GOTY" lists, though I could credit that to any number of reasons, not least of which is the large number of 2015 and 2016 games I still mean to check out.

My original 2014 GOTY list is here.

(Currently owned 2014 games to explore in 2017 and beyond: Wasteland 2, Outlast, Risen 3: Titan Lords.)

(Currently unowned 2014 games I hope to check out in the future: Bayonetta 2, Sunset Overdrive, Drakengard 3, Tales of Xillia 2, Elite: Dangerous, Tales of Hearts R, Dark Dreams Don't Die.)

(Extra note: This list is a lot bigger than the 2015 list, so I'll only include appraisals for the first thirty games and the rest will just get their past and current ranks. 11-30 appraisals to come later.)

List items

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: 1

    2016 rank: 1

    In some respects, Dragon Age Inquisition probably doesn't rate in the grand pantheon of recent open-world CRPGs. The genre's come back in style of late, and The Witcher 3 more or less ate Inquisition's lunch. However, Inquisition represents the Dragon Age series if not at its zenith, then at a zenith that we could reasonably expect. BioWare's Dragon Age and Mass Effect began in similar circumstances and evolved to streamline a lot of what most would perceive as more "RPG" conventions, focusing instead on tight, speedy real-time combat and a larger emphasis on characters, story and setting. Inquisition thoroughly explores two whole countries and attempts to make the player's actions have significance and consequences in the political sphere as well as in the standard "chosen hero saves the world" sense. Here, the hero is definitively trying to save the world, but also navigating a lot of red tape and diplomatic mishaps to do so. It's not quite as tedious as it sounds, and there's ample time for taking a group of bros with you to the middle of nowhere to search for gem fragments or flowers or whatever grabs your interest that day. It may overindulge in parts, and provide players the opportunity to do the same far too often (*cough*Hinterlands), but I can't see BioWare making a better CRPG with their current philosophy of less is more.

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: N/A

    2016 rank: 2

    Similarly, Divinity: Original Sin takes the potential of its forebears, particularly the first with its idea of an open world with incidental treasure-finding and questing in every direction, and elevates that to a level that feels both contemporary and a throwback. The game has these gorgeous fully 3D painterly environments, but in many respects is still the isometric dungeon-crawler the first game was, adopting a similar bird's eye perspective that shrinks the major characters to make its large fights easier to fit on-screen. The tactical combat with its numerous attempts to draw in level features and elemental environmental trickery makes each battle feel distinct, and though the player is limited to two created characters (though I believe options are available to craft your own hirelings too) there's a lot of variation. My favorite part of the game, perhaps after the combat, is how Original Sin endeavors to make both the player's constructed protagonists feel like their own characters with their own relationship with one another; the way the player can engineer arguments between the two based on personality-driven choices and includes a rock-paper-scissors system to allow them to resolve those arguments is a neat feature that the player can use for an additional level of role-playing. You are essentially holding up two sockpuppets and making them argue, but it's still a novel and player-enabling role-play feature. If you asked me on the right day, I'd probably say I prefer Original Sin over Dragon Age Inquisition. On most days, though, I remember this game's awful final boss fight and bump it down to second place accordingly.

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: N/A

    2016 rank: 3

    The Talos Principle succeeds because of its layers. It is, by every sense of the word, a puzzle: from the many instanced box manipulation puzzles that comprise the game, to the meta narrative concerning this island and the rules the player must follow from a heavenly voice from above, to the greater narrative mystery concerning the many computers scattered around with snippets of a contemporary digital human civilization that first hints at an apocalypse of sorts and later confirms it. Each layer offers a carrot on a stick for the player: if they're interested in the puzzles, great, they're all over the place. If they're more interested in finding answers to their questions, the puzzles are there to push them forward. Each new PC and its notes, each new interaction with an ambiguous but friendly AI who wants you to defy the laws of this place, and each new bit of graffiti from one of the travellers that have come before you keep you spurred on, even as the puzzles themselves threaten to grind down your mental energy. It's rare to have a puzzle game of this magnitude that I neither lost interest in or burned out on, and it's probably my favorite of its type since the original Portal.

  • 2014 rank: 1

    2015 rank: 2

    2016 rank: 4

    This is a little disingenuous, because I've yet to play the superior Wii U version of the latest Nintendo crossover (not a) fighter. This ranking is based on my time with the 3DS version, and when I ranked the game highly back in 2014 I did so under the assumption that the Wii U playthrough would help elevate it. I love the grind of these games because the action feels more like a single-player action-platformer than your standard fighter: using my skills to defeat AI opponents, defeating the game's many devious scenarios and its adventure mode, collecting that huge amount of Nintendo nostalgia. Each new Smash Bros game has me spending hours just getting my fill of what it has to offer long before I ever attempt to play another person at it. A fighter game rarely has enough hooks and mileage for a single-player experience - so far only the Smash series, Persona 4 Arena's visual novel mode and a few "quest modes" in Soul Calibur games have managed it, though I certainly appreciate the attempt Mortal Kombat took with its challenge tower - but when they have it they're the encouragement I need, as someone who rarely likes competitive multiplayer, to get to know the fighter game and to get better at it.

  • 2014 rank: 2

    2015 rank: 3

    2016 rank: 5

    As I get further away from my playthrough of Shovel Knight, it takes me a second or two to remember why I enjoyed it so much and what elevated it above the many other throwback retro Indie platformers with which it shares digital shelf space. It's not just a combination of NES tropes, from DuckTales' pogo-ing from Zelda 2's ridiculous townspeople to Mega Man's array of colorful jerks for its bosses, but the way they've been combined together knowingly to create a "best of" NES game that has recognizable elements but a cohesive and entirely distinct whole. Shovel Knight doesn't just sit on its distinct whole though: the game manages to pack some poignant drama, some fun moments with characters like the Troupple King, more hidden treasures and collectibles than is entirely healthy and a damn fine soundtrack by chiptune master Jake "Virt" Kaufman. It's not a SpaceWhipper, but it also sort of is and so much more besides. Plus, there's been like two whole entirely free DLC campaigns since I last played this, so even a couple of years later Shovel Knight's worth coming back to.

  • 2014 rank: 3

    2015 rank: 4

    2016 rank: 6

    Curtain Call is spectacular because it does everything a sequel should: be bigger, be better, and address everything its predecessor did wrong and fix it, while adding more besides with a confidence that suggests that they won't make the same mistakes twice. Everything I didn't care for in the original Theatrhythm Final Fantasy has been amended here - from the occasionally repetitive Dark Notes to the lack of button controls to the dearth of tunes and characters to select from - and the game feels at least twice as big with all the additional content. In some respects I feel bad for having bought the original when this one surpasses it in every way, but I can't hold that against this game. Anyone who calls themselves a fan of the music from this franchise, or a fan of the franchise itself, probably owes themselves to get on this. Just remember to bring a thief along, yeah? Otherwise it might take a while to unlock the other characters and songs. (And for Mog's sakes, couldn't they have put more than two Mystic Quest tracks on there? It only has the best soundtrack of any FF game...)

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: N/A

    2016 rank: 7

    Shadow of Mordor ended up being less influential than everyone expected, creating an elaborate AI enemy hierarchy that would dynamically shift with or without the player's intervention that seemed like the coolest thing ever but has yet to reappear in any other form since. Beyond what should've been one of the greatest advancements to the over-populated open-world action genre, the game itself is solid but a bit off in spots due to a reversed difficulty curve - the abilities you get in this game borders on ridiculously overpowered - and the often samey nature of the player's directives. The game's format essentially gives the player all the tools that need to sew chaos among the orcish ranks with a handful of introductory missions, and then has them "create their own fun" to reach a certain threshold of discord whereupon one of Sauron's lieutenants is drawn out of hiding and executed. It's in a similar vein to something like Crackdown - and I'm hoping the third one of those tries a variation of the Nemesis system for its criminal gangs - in that it's happy to let the player move at their own pace and discretion once the game's assured that they have a good grip on the mechanics. I admire its freeform gameplay and novel features, but even with the LOTR license it all feels like the same kind of open-world blur that will no doubt go on to define the previous ten years of gaming whenever I reminisce about them in the far future.

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: N/A

    2016 rank: 8

    In most respects, Legend of Grimrock 2 is the game I wanted from Legend of Grimrock. Not just a regurgitation of the old pits n' pressure plates model of old-school first-person dungeon crawlers that populated my youth, but one that takes on more elements of modern game design to create a game that could bridge the two eras and feel entirely new in the process. With its open-world format, allowing the player to chase after shiny McGuffins in whichever order they wished, the game manages to expand its variety of puzzles, its challenging monster encounters and the endless feeling of exploration and discovery. I didn't hate how it ended either, which was an improvement over the original, and some ideas like a finite pool of golden keys that opened the way to unknown treasures and a convenient teleport system that gave you a giant hub room with wall niches for storage purposes made the world of Grimrock 2 just that little bit more enjoyable to uncover.

  • 2014 rank: 4

    2015 rank: 5

    2016 rank: 9

    The humorously puerile The Stick of Truth is like the South Park movie, in that Stone and Parker clearly felt obligated to introduce the South Park boys to a new format in the best possible circumstances. South Park games had existed before, of course, but they were all terrible licensed nonsense and this RPG provided the duo the chance to do right by this medium. On top of South Park's own brand of humor, which you can take or leave, the game was actually a fairly solid turn-based RPG underneath in the vein of Zeboyd's parodies. The game was balanced in such a way to offer a challenging battle every time, with little chance to grind to an overpowered state or get totally blindsided by an absurdly tough boss in turn, and it never stopped incorporating dumb little jokes into the gameplay mechanics or spiking the world with endless amounts of legacy fan service. It certainly wasn't the most impressive RPG of the year, but Obsidian did exceedingly well given the circumstances and past history of the license.

  • 2014 rank: 5

    2015 rank: 6

    2016 rank: 10

    The New Order represents how a reverence for an archaic but important trailblazer doesn't necessarily mean never wanting to modernize or upgrade it. We've seen it time and time again with various Arcade classics, usually with mixed results, and there's an earnestness nestled somewhere in the financial considerations of revamping a name everyone's heard of. The New Order followed the 2009 Wolfenstein reboot, but while that game was an attempt to jam the Wolfenstein aesthetic into a generic modern first-person shooter blueprint, The New Order endeavors to evolve the systems that made the original work. The New Order manages to modernize the frantic Nazi-hunting of the original Wolfenstein 3D with a myriad of clever systems, such as having distinct skill trees that reflected how a player might go all-out or take a more cautious stealthy approach and reward the player with bonus perks that made their chosen approach more tenable. It's an impressive feat of modern game design, to retain the qualities of the old while compensating for a few decades of game evolution, and helped set the stage for a similar revamping accomplishment with Doom in 2016.

  • 2014 rank: 6

    2015 rank: 7

    2016 rank: 11

    Jazzpunk stands out as being the video game equivalent of a Zucker movie - it knows video game humor is hard to do right, and adopts the Zuckers' approach of tossing dozens of jokes at the player in quick succession in the hopes that enough of them hit to elicit some laughter. Video games also have that extra hurdle where many players won't even see all the jokes you've written, so Jazzpunk does its darndest to ensure there's ample reason to scope each stage for goofs hiding in the corners. It's not much of a game by any traditional metric, but it's remarkable for being an important step forward for games looking to make people laugh above all else.

  • 2014 rank: 7

    2015 rank: 8

    2016 rank: 12

    Dark Souls II falters a little trying to chase the highs of Dark Souls 1, often creating sub-par approximations of the more memorable moments of DS1 rather than taking charge and being its own thing. That's not to say that it doesn't make some important changes - I particularly appreciated the new and improved transportation system - but right now it feels like the nadir of the Dark Souls trilogy and its least essential entry. Even so, a less essential Dark Souls is still head and shoulders above most of the competition.

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: N/A

    2016 rank: 13

    Shantae does its thing and does it well, even if they tend to feel a bit similar after a while. I mentally place it in the same pool as the portable IGAvania games, and not just because both series are in that particular subgenre: though the games are similar and reuse a lot of assets, there's a consistency to the quality level and enough of a desire to see what's changed to keep me coming back for more.

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: N/A

    2016 rank: 14

    Nidhogg's nothing without a rival to play against, someone who can give you a run for your money (or snake-y death, as the case may be) and keep you on your toes as you swing, riposte and evade your way past each other. For that reason, it's a game I rarely have the chance to play, but there's no denying it's one of the strongest couch multiplayer games out there. Like Divekick or Mario Kart, its greatest strength is making the controls simple enough without sacrificing the complexity that might emerge in any battles of the mind and will the game engenders.

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: 9

    2016 rank: 15

    Far Cry 4 definitely felt like a repeat of FC3, which saw the exotic open-world series hit the mainstream with a system of familiar Ubisoft trappings, beautiful vistas and a lot of "emergent" chaos. 4 almost definitely has a better story than 3, not to mention a large number of minute improvements, so while it felt less revelatory than its predecessor it's probably the better bet if you were looking to play one of them now.

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: N/A

    2016 rank: 16

    Supergiant always lays on the style with a trowel, so there's no impugning Transistor's presentation and music. I appreciated that Transistor's mechanics were balanced in such a way that you can pretty much stick with any combination of skills in any order (every skill has a distinct "active", "passive" or "augment" mode) and still succeed, and I enjoyed its subtext-heavy plot for the most part, but I was just about ready to check out towards the end. That might be more on me though; the indecisiveness of that full spread of abilities and the way enemies required different approaches became kinda stressful after too long. A fine game, but not one of my favorites from 2014.

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: 11

    2016 rank: 17

    Likewise to Transistor, the clever strategy RPG mechanics, wonderfully distinctive presentation and somber but mature story of The Banner Saga was overshadowed by just how stressful it was to play in long stretches. Every decision inevitably led to misfortune and pain for somebody, and the whole game basically became a long series of "trolley problems" to torment oneself over. I can't begrudge a game for being hard on its player in a narrative sense (as opposed to making the actual gameplay unpleasant, which doesn't do any favors to anyone) because tragedy and drama is a cornerstone of any storytelling artform. It doesn't mean I have to enjoy it.

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: 12

    2016 rank: 18

    The Fall was a promising first chapter in what I hope becomes a serial exercise in exploring the legitimacy of machine intelligence, especially one that is forced to adapt and evolve in order to survive or, in the case of The Fall specifically, complete their primary objective of keeping a human being in their care alive. A synthetic intelligence forced to break its own rules to ensure it doesn't fail its sole reason for existing is a strong idea to base a game on, and the inventive 2D action-adventure game mechanics and puzzles recall something like Delphine's Flashback in their execution.

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: N/A

    2016 rank: 19

    Second Son has a number of unfortunate flaws, from its obnoxious anti-hero to its story, but I appreciate its take on a near-future oppressive Seattle and that it recognizes the importance of brevity in an open-world game. That's not to say open-world games should always take 20 hours or less even on a completionist run, just that it's worth being conservative with the level of additional, optional content like collectibles and side-missions if you only have so many ideas to go around. I'm sure Second Son's sleek runtime, possibly spurred by Sucker Punch trying to get it out of the door to coincide with the PS4 launch, irked some who enjoyed the more languidly-paced inFamous predecessors and expected more out of a full-price game, but I found it more than acceptable for the £15-20 I paid for it.

  • 2014 rank: 8

    2015 rank: 13

    2016 rank: 20

    Reviewing any Mario Kart is tough, because it's a completely different game depending on whether you primarily play it for the single-player or bought it almost solely to play with others. As a single-player game, it's arbitrary and unfair to a frustrating degree, not helped with the inclusion of such competency-punishing power-ups like the notorious blue shell. In multiplayer, it's a racing game anyone of any skill level can enjoy, because there's always a chance you'll catch a lucky break and find yourself going from 8th to 1st. It's a breezy, casually fun party game with a crowd, and a capricious nightmare solo. Certainly looks great, though, and it sounds like it's found its niche on the more local multiplayer-friendly Switch console.

  • 2014 rank: 9

    2015 rank: 14

    2016 rank: 21

  • (Enchanted Edition)

    2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: N/A

    2016 rank: 22

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: N/A

    2016 rank: 23

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: 15

    2016 rank: 24

  • 2014 rank: 14

    2015 rank: 16

    2016 rank: 25

  • 2014 rank: 11

    2015 rank: 17

    2016 rank: 26

  • 2014 rank: 12

    2015 rank: 18

    2016 rank: 27

  • 2014 rank: 13

    2015 rank: 19

    2016 rank: 28

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: 20

    2016 rank: 29

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: 21

    2016 rank: 30

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: 22

    2016 rank: 31

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: 23

    2016 rank: 32

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: N/A

    2016 rank: 33

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: 24

    2016 rank: 34

  • 2014 rank: 15

    2015 rank: 25

    2016 rank: 35

  • 2014 rank: 16

    2015 rank: 26

    2016 rank: 36

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: 27

    2016 rank: 37

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: 28

    2016 rank: 38

  • 2014 rank: 17

    2015 rank: 29

    2016 rank: 39

  • 2014 rank: 21

    2015 rank: 30

    2016 rank: 40

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: N/A

    2016 rank: 41

  • 2014 rank: 18

    2015 rank: 31

    2016 rank: 42

  • 2014 rank: 18

    2015 rank: 31

    2016 rank: 42

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: 33

    2016 rank: 44

  • 2014 rank: N/A

    2015 rank: 34

    2016 rank: 45

  • 2014 rank: 20

    2015 rank: 35

    2016 rank: 46