Game of the Year 2014
I must admit that it feels slightly unfair for the second season of The Walking Dead to claim my number one spot so easily. The degree to which it is a ‘game’ is perhaps much more limited than the others on this list (excluding The Wolf Among Us), and its emphasis on pure storytelling meant that its potential impact on me was likely to be far greater than any gameplay could ever hope to reach, however amazing it may be in its own right.
Be that as it may, no other experience in 2014 was as compelling. From its opening sprint to its last exhausted stagger, The Walking Dead maintains a mastery of tension so few games, adventure or otherwise, appear to even recognise. It has sympathetic and nuanced characters, thematic substance, and a proper story arc. That tears were routinely shed is perhaps of no great surprise, but the effect on me was so sustained and so effective that it made me physically ill. No other game before it has so utterly exhausted me, so thoroughly brutalised my heart, and made all that emotional torment so sublime.
Like the prettiest of flowers, The Banner Saga unfurls itself in the most beautiful of ways, slowly unfurling its wonderfully grim tale of a world on the cusp of terminal decline. The slow creeping anxiety of its inhabitants is made all the more delicious with the various social and racial tensions, and when added to the gameplay of managing and deciding upon the fate of these varied souls, it creates something akin to magic.
The combat is well done, and whilst the game isn’t the deepest or the most nuanced, it makes up for it with a greater sense of focus and better pacing to the experience overall. The aesthetic is also noteworthy in that it is stunning; the artwork, the UI, and the little animations to everything work perfectly in tandem with Austin Wintory’s score to immerse you in The Banner Saga’s cold and unforgiving atmosphere.
The best character action game to date, just about surpassing its predecessor with more glorious insanity. The controls, as ever, are tight and responsive, and the difference that makes to such a fast and over the top experience cannot be overstated. It’s just all rather glorious; incredible boss battles, amazing/terrible outfits; it’s enough to make me feel ashamed for not having my own heels sufficiently weaponised.
The Wolf among Us was a real step forward for Telltale in terms of narrative structure, if not content, where the story now has a proper arc and sense of direction. Not as emotionally resonant as The Walking Dead, but an impressive work nonetheless, mixing personal stories within a larger unfolding narrative about community and how society should be ordered.
AWOL story aside, Diablo 3 on the PS4 was an awfully fun ARPG romp. Great loot, satisfying combat and varied environments made it very easy to lose hours and hours hoovering up items and gold to satisfying my crippling addiction to getting the best (looking) outfits, and then dyeing them black.
Improves on its predecessor in pretty much every conceivable way; from story to level design, from music to artwork, and the addition of the on foot levels mixes the gameplay up sufficiently to make the experience much more than a simple continuation of the last game.
A very well made puzzle game, so elegant in design, where the different elements are introduced and incorporated so well that the difficulty curve feels like the softest satin. Looks great, wonderful music, and it was really refreshing to see a game use Philosophy as a device to assist the story, rather than (as is so often the case) as a pretentious display of the developer’s own intellectual self-regard.
It takes the Civilization formula to new and interesting places with a quest system, faction customisation, more nuanced and involving combat, with a striking aesthetic to boot.
By a long way, the best in the series. Frogwares continue to improve on each game and Crimes and Punishments added more clarity and structure to Sherlock’s investigations, whilst at the same time leaving you to decide for yourself who is guilty. That freedom to choose made for a much more satisfying whodunit experience over those that simply want you to follow the fixed path laid out.
Graphics may age, but good ideas seldom do, and long awaited sequel to Wasteland is full of smart ideas and design choices. Varied loot and character builds, tense and tactical battles made all the more engaging with some good writing and a world that encourages exploration.
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