GOTY 2014

This year in video games was an enjoyable one, even though the good releases had some hefty amounts of time between them. I ended up finishing a good number of games this year (a little over 80), including multiple Final Fantasy games, a glut of other RPGs, and even a month of horror in October. Here's what I think was the best of the best.

List items

  • Just like Gone Home the year before, I knew this was my GotY the minute I finished it. Continuing the tragically unliked FF13 series, Lightning Returns is just the complete package. The world and characters are fascinating, exploring concepts I've never seen in a video game before. The way it manages to wrap up the INSANE storyline the series has is nice--if a bit too neatly. Combat never gets tiring and requires some serious mastery to perfect. To top it all off, the art design and music are top-notch. It was the most impactful game of the year for me by far.

  • Here's another game no one played, sadly. While Drakengard 3 features some very rough edges with its repetitive combat and often busted framerate and visuals, it also manages to tell a very mature story at a level that never makes it into video games. Its focus on sexuality and a truly realistic and strong female protagonist--who even mentions unheard of things like having a period--is fantastic. The story itself is quite good as well, twisting in a manner that fans of the developer (who also made Nier) will enjoy. It was the most unique experience I had with a game this year.

  • I ended liking Transistor more than I thought I would--even more than Bastion before it. While I thought the interesting tactical combat was fun to play around with and learn the ins and outs of, what kept me playing a second time was the story. Like Bastion, Transistor hides much of its story in the small, almost unnoticeable details; unlike Bastion, Transistor forces the player to really think things through, looking at every little thing as potentially meaning more than it does. I was enthralled with the world for several days, trying to figure out what it all meant. It left me wanting more, just as any good game should. Also, that soundtrack is killer and everyone should own it.

  • What a shock that TWO amazing rhythm games came out in the same year. Please developers, continue this trend! While the sequel to Project Diva f features more songs, better design, and a lot more to do, I can't help but love the original more. It has a much better soundtrack, doesn't overwhelm the game with too many note types, and was the start of a great series that I hope continues.

  • Man, I wasn't expecting this one. I played the original Grimrock earlier this year and had a decent time with it--it didn't blow me away or anything but I enjoyed it overall. Grimrock 2 grabbed me and didn't let go. For several days, all I could do was play this game, trying to figure out the various secrets and storylines I found in the world. The level of improvement and refinement in this over the original is astounding: an open-world to explore, extremely smart changes to the class and leveling systems, some really clever puzzles (barring a few poor ones). It's a vast game that just begs players to spend hours upon hours in its world.

  • If you had told me this would end up so low on my list earlier in the year, I would have called you crazy. How could the sequel to one of my favorite games of all time not manage to crack the top 10? While Dark Souls 2 is a solid Souls game, filled with great new areas and encounters, it just didn't grab me in the same way. Blame the hours I spent with the original or the sometimes questionable changes to the combat and design, it just didn't stick with me. I still need to play the PC version, which I bought and never finished after first playing the PS3 version. I'm looking forward to trying out the (supposedly fantastic) DLC in the new year.

  • Alien: Isolation was a HUGE surprise for me. While I enjoy both the Alien universe and horror games, I never expected much from Isolation, likely due to the seeming inability of developers to get the franchise right. The Creative Assembly absolutely nailed it here, making the Xenomorph a truly terrifying foe to try and avoid without incident. This game made me the tensest I've ever felt in a video game, with sections that took upwards of 30 minutes to navigate, the promise of a gruesome death only seconds away at any time. This game is also impressive in its atmosphere, absolutely fucking nailing the feel of the universe and sporting some impressive graphical moments. It's the best horror game of the year.

  • I'm pretty shocked this ended up on my list. While I have enjoyed my fair share of D3 in the past, it always felt a little thin and simple when compared to its predecessor. This was the year that I realized that I just have to have fun with it, not really worrying about depth but instead about enjoyment. This "ultimate" version for the PS4, including the FANTASTIC expansion content (Crusader, Act 5, Adventure Mode), is a perfect storm of action-RPG goodness. Having it all in one package--and being able to play it on a console!--is a wonderful treat.

  • I watched ALL of South Park--some 250 or so episodes--this year in order to play this game, knowing that knowledge of the show would make it much better. I was right. Maybe more than most people, I was able to appreciate just how much referential material and humor Obsidian (and the guys at South Park) managed to pack into this game. Every second is packed with reference after reference to even the smallest of throwaway gags featured in the show. The story is pretty damn great as well, with some setpiece moments that have to be seen to be believed. It's all held together with a decent combat system reminiscent of Mario RPGs with its timing-based attacks and defends. If the game had a little less combat--or a bit more variety to that combat--it would have ranked much higher. Still, it is more than deserving of a spot on this list.

  • I wasn't expecting to put this on my list, even after playing it to completion. It took me a few days to realize that even though the story and gameplay are practically identical to 3, I didn't care. I had such a fun time exploring the fictional world of Kyrat that I didn't mind the laughable story, awful (and annoying) characters, and repetitive side content. This is still a formula that works really well, with just enough variety to keep things interesting and a solid shooting and movement base that is constantly enjoyable. While I do hope Ubisoft mixes things up next time, I didn't mind retreading some ground this year.

2 Comments

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GrantHeaslip

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Lightning Returns made a surprising number of appearances in GB GOTY lists this year. I was personally pretty lukewarm on a lot of (except for the soundtrack, of course), but there's there's no denying that it's a unique game. If the ways it's unique spoke to me more, I could see myself having a lot of enthusiasm for it. It's interesting to me that despite press ambivalence and (some) longtime-fan hostility, the game has cultivated its own pretty passionate fanbase.

I gave PDF2nd the edge over PDF (#1 and #2 on my list), and I'm feeling better about that as I play PDF2nd more. That may have something to do with the fact that I played both on the Vita and the first game forced you to use the touch screen for scratch notes. Those new linked scratch notes are a bad addition, but they're way less of an issue for me in practice than having to use the touch screen. The soundtracks of each game have a lot going for them, of course.

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Wemibelle

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Wemibelle  Online

@grantheaslip: I think a lot of both press and fan indifference/hostility comes from the fact that everyone has dismissed the 13 series after the (admittedly rough) FF13. Sadly, no one was willing to give both 13-2 and LR a solid chance, even though both of those games fix nearly all of the problems that the first game has. Since many of LR's strengths rest so heavily on being acquainted with the series and its characters/world, I'm not shocked (but a little sad) that few people gave it the time of day.

Using the touch screen for scratch notes doesn't actually bother me; in fact, I prefer it over using the sticks (except for doubles), even with the option now. As for the soundtrack, I find the new game has far fewer songs that stand out to me, with nearly half of the original's soundtrack being songs I love both hearing and playing. Maybe the upcoming DLC will start to change my mind.