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GOTY 2014

The common narrative you’ll hear is that 2014 was a disappointment; it is a notion I've personally bought into at times.

2014 undeniably is a disappointment for common decency and gaming community itself (on that front “disappointment” is massive understatement), but is it true for the actual games released this year? You know after making this list, I kinda don’t think so.

Looking at the candidates for my personal list I saw a lot of really good games, but few if any truly great ones that we will be talking about for years to come. But then as I made this list I thought Danny O’Dwyers episode of the Point where he talked about Expectations and how my generation has really been spoiled by constant dramatic technological improvement for decades.

And I realized that I myself had an expectation this year to see something that may have not been realistic or fair. And that was I wanted to see something that “justified” these new consoles that truly felt “next gen”, that showed an experience these consoles could offer that the previous gen obviously could not, Even though I personally decided last year to sidestep the console cycle by going PC this gen (and thus really had no rational reason to want to see this happen). Maybe that's not a fair expectation anymore with graphical improvements getting harder and harder for the human eye to even discern.

I don’t really think anything came out this year that sold me on a PS4 or XboxOne. So yes that clear slate of games doesn’t exist as of yet, what we have is more nuanced and iterative improvements. So if you were looking for that big tech leap you probably were disappointed.

Still if 2014 was the year of the pretty good and really good but not great games, well you could do a lot worse. If you didn't have fun this year, you probably didn't approach it with an open enough mind.

My usual disclaimer applies: Many of these games in the list I have not nearly played enough, but at my age and what I know of my tastes. I generally know how I feel about these games. Like any normal non professional reviewer I haven't been able to play every relevant release due to time and $ so this list could change as I eventually get to them. It's the nature of the beast that many of these user lists are won and lost at time of purchase.

This year in particular this list is likely going to change radically in the next 6 months as I’m just really starting to get into some key 2014 releases now (Divinity, Wasteland 2, Wolfenstein e.g.) and there’s still a few key ones I haven’t touched at all (Dark Souls 2,Mordor) and some I’ll likely never get to unless I buy hardware (Danganronpa, Freedom Wars e.g.).

List items

  • If there is one word that exemplifies why Bayonetta 2 is the best game this year it's execution. Platinum has long been recognized for their craftsmanship when it comes to combat systems and they really hit out of the ballpark this time. B2 May have not broken any new ground, but it's a game that knows what it is and does it flawlessly.

    It’s a bit odd, really odd, to award a GotY first place to a Game I’ve barely played that I don’t own on a system I also don’t own, but Bayonetta 2 has the highest praise I can think of from me in a practical sense. For me personally it’s a system seller for the WiiU. It’s just a question of money and time now.

  • South Park belongs in a rarified group of truly amazing video game adaptations and is arguably the best video game adaption of another media’s property ever made.

    The hallmarks of Trey and Matt are all over this game, from the pixel perfect look of the characters and settings, to the motion perfect movement animations, the note perfect script that feels like an extended episode of the series, the numerous perfectly nailed references and fan service and as far as I can tell 100% participation from the series’s vocal cast. You can’t make a game feel more like South Park than what Obsidian achieved.

    What was truly surprising was how brisk and well balanced the actual mechanics were of the game (well unless went the completionist route, then it was pretty easy to overlevel as is often the case on RPGs). While mechanically South Park may not reinvent the wheel, the game cuts out a ton of the filler fat most Console RPGs have which really helps the game flow naturally and never drag. That briefness is a more important feature I think than most people give it credit for, as a property that relies on humor has to keep moving to keep the laughs going. And yet somehow the battles always remain engaging enough (although not very difficult) that you have to pay attention in order to succeed. And I wanted to since even if the combat itself wasn’t terribly challenging (even on the highest difficulty), there were often enough humorous nods in the combat itself to make me want to pay attention.

    Essentially South Park takes Costume Quest’s game and does it better.

    Video Games have a pretty bad track record with humor but SP nailed their brand of it. And if there is a critical flaw with the game, it is that humor. It’s basically impossible to like if you don’t enjoy South Park’s sense of Humor, which will push things well past the point of good taste.

    Luckily for me I enjoy the heck out of it.

  • On the other side of the coin from Bayonetta comes the main line finale of the Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy Xiii-3 Lightning Returns. A series know for being a serial innovator, LR might be the most daring and dramatic departure yet from series conventions. While I personally found the Doom Clock time limit mechanically irritating (since I like to poke around worlds at a slow pace) and the execution sloppy in parts (and some parts of the game seemingly oddly under produced including very low budget looking NPC character models), the sheer mechanical ambition of Square tried to accomplish makes this game worthy of recognition.

    Even more notable is the fact is how few large games tried anything like this year. While we got a year of quality refinements (like Mario Kart) and even more not so quality ones (Assasin’s Creed: Unity), Square Enix nearly rebuilt Final Fantasy’s primary gameplay mechanics from the ground up.

    What other AAA publisher would dare to so fundamentally reinvent the basics of their flagship IP as Square does with great regularity? None I can think of.

    Unfortunately it sold pretty poorly so the Status Quo seems to be winning out at the checkout line for now.

  • I don’t think I’ve ever played a game from South America before. Hopefully ACE team’s recent successes will spark more games from a region of the world we barely ever encounter in the video game world.

    ACE team brings their unique design sensibilities (Subterranean 19th Century Chile is a game environment I never imagined I’d see) to this year’s latest Indie fusion of a Roguelike + other genre. This time they smartly fused 2d Platforming to Super Smash Brothers controls with Roguelike standards procedurally randomly generated maps and (mostly) permadeath, essentially the game plays like Adventure mode from the Super Smash Bros games

    Throw in some unlockable characters, an equally quirky story and you have a pretty easy to embrace good time. Maybe it isn’t quite Spelunky or Rogue Legacy but it’s good stuff.

    A little rough in spots, but man was this game really intuitive and fun to play!

  • An almost return to form for Bioware, makes for an almost GotY.

    Sadly I don't know if Bioware will ever eclipse their Quirkier pre-EA days, but at least they seem to be making their way back to making games more of that grade of quality.

    The Flaws of the game are pretty well known that Yummylee laid out really well in his review. The pacing, the level scaling, the mechanical simplicity of the combat, dropping players into Hinterlands with too many distractions initially, some of the plot beats, the jumping - all undeniable issues.

    But there’s a core conceit to the game that seem to be getting taken for granted that game does really well. And that’s the world building of the Thedas and their characters. I think I spent a good 40 minutes juts looking at the waves on the Storm Coast, Maybe I’m crazy but I don’t think I’ve ever seen water look like that in a game. this game has really impressive locales and settings. Thedas may be still chopped into Zones, but it’s really come alive as a place In DA:I in a way Origins never achieved.

    Something I didn’t hear mentioned a lot when people have talked about Dragon Age, that jumped out at me right away was “holy crap this entire Inquisition is basically ruled by women”. Cassandra and Leilana basically led a coup d’état of the Chantry when their Divine falls. Since I happened to roll my Inquisitor as a lady and one of the advisors they brought in was another woman, it pretty much like an Amazonian Uprising (+ Cullen) against the world. And then later through the game as you accrue your motley crew of uh.. Inquisitors, Bioware continues to give you quirky and different folk to bring with you. Bioware clearly made an effort to diversify their cast in a way games of that scope virtually never do and it really helped set their characters apart from most other RPGs I’ve ever played.

    DA:I may be a flawed game, but I don’t care because I enjoyed exploring Thedas and interacting with its’ denizens so much.

  • Nintendo didn’t break the mold here, a few refinements here and there, a few new roster additions, that’s about what it feels like. But it’s hard to say they should have either, the challenge I suppose of getting it exactly right in previous versions.

    The Smash bros formula is nearly timeless and that’s plenty good enough to be a top 10 game this year especially given the competition.

    If you play Smash and don’t have fun, well I guess you probably don’t like Video Games very much.

    Or maybe you don’t like Nintendo fanservice much.

  • This is a game you should play for the story, and I don’t want to spoil that.

  • Despite the far too sudden end and abrupt disappearance of certain characters' storylines, The fusion of traditional SRPG combat with light Oregon Trail caravan management created an engrossing experience. The beautiful animation and music and a very somber grounded story helped really create a gravitas to this game, that many don't have.

    There were some strange creative decisions in this game in particular in regards to the combat , but in a year where AAA is safe I’m glad to see somebody is trying new stuff

    Far too many Fantasy games often neglect how important and trying the journey is for the protagonists in most Fantasy narratives. Banner Saga was an imperfect but very welcome attempt to share that dramatic & mechanical focus.

  • I generally dislike deliberate retro throwbacks as I don’t think yesterday’s great developers would do that if they had today’s tools available to them. I’d prefer devs use more of today’s tools, like Spelunky did even if they are bringing over olden mechanical platforming ideas.

    But Shovel Knight just really made a very solid platformer with a lot of heart. It’s a bit more very deliberately Capcom-esque than Nintendo than I would like in the way it controls and plays, but man the world and story around the platforming is truly fun and great and that’s what pushes it onto this list.

    Jake Kaufman continues to be my favorite Game composer in recent years, the man knows how to score some killer chiptune jams.

  • I’m just glad this exists. So many times in creative mediums we never get to the end of grand stories due to financial realities and to have that chance especially when it seemed like we would never would is very gratifying.

    I really loved the Longest Journey and Dreamfall. They are some of the very best Adventure games ever made.

    It’s hard to really evaluate what this will be after one episode and I’m mildly disappointed Zoe is just back after the end of the previous game but $hitbot is a damn promising start.