2014 PUG Game of the Year Awards: Day Three

2014 has been an odd year for games; an explosive start with an ugly finish. Gaming rocketed to some truly grandiose heights, as the next generation arrived in earnest. Games such as Far Cry 4 and Dragon Age: Inquisition brought to life expansively intricate worlds that preceding consoles would have choked on. Alas, 2014 also siphoned a frustrating glut of bugs, glitches and empty promises. For every Dragon Age: Inquisition there was an Assassins Creed: Unity. For every Shovel Knight there was a Driveclub. It’s safe to say fans suffered some serious burns this holiday season.

Understandably exasperated gamers have been quick to label 2014 as ‘the year of bugs’. But I think it would truly be a shame if this were all we remembered 2014 for. Cue the motivational quotes about forgetting the negatives and dwelling on the positives. A handful of very dirty stains shouldn’t eschew the fact that 2014 offered some cracking digital highs. So with that nugget of life-changing inspiration, let’s get to the good stuff.

Game of the Year: Infamous: Second Son

A good superhero game makes you feel like a supreme demi-god who is not to be messed with. A good story presents you with empathetic characters who present compelling reasons to slog on. Infamous: Second Son did all this and more. Though it may indeed be short, almost every facet of Second Son oozes with quality. Sucker Punch crafted an explosive love letter to games, comics and childhood dreams.

Delsin quickly solidified himself as one of my favourite video game protagonists of all time. Be it in cutscene or out, Troy Baker set the world on fire with his electric portrayal of the game’s hedonistic hero. Travis Willingham’s burgeoning big brother, Reggie Rowe, complemented Baker’s efforts perfectly. The two played off each other for some Rain Man-style ruminations that were truly entertaining.

Infamous’ hearty cast was icing on a buttercream-stuffed cake. Second Son was a whole hearted, balls-to-the-wall iteration which built upon what had come before. Sucker Punch managed to evolve the Infamous formula without losing what made the series special in the first place. Now players could juggle, not one, but four different power types. The developer wisely chose to untether ranged attacks from past outings’ staple, tank-like aim mode. Combat was suddenly more frenetic than ever before, with intelligent foes turning every battle into a skill-reliant war of ruthless attrition. Utilizing Delsin’s broad power-set to annihilate battalions of smart, tricky enemies felt ceaselessly empowering. Second Son made you feel like that balling, crusading superhero you always wished you were as a kid.

Infamous: Second son is a complete package. It represents a how-to in character creation. It’s an engrossing extravagance from beginning to end. It collates tight, enthralling gameplay with classic characters and stunning visuals. And it’s my favourite game to come out of 2014. If games like this are what we can expect from next-gen consoles, then I’m started to get pretty excited for 2015.

Runner-Up: Destiny

With all the shit that gets heaped on it, it’s easy to forget that, at its core, Destiny was a very good game. So Destiny wasn’t the astronomically epic MMO-FPS fans had been expecting – was that such a crime? Evidently, yes. Legions of deflated hopefuls across the internet promptly designated Destiny atrocious, a resounding failure. It’s hard to feel sorry for Bungie; they frivolously aggrandized their new IP to the point where excited buyers couldn’t do anything but feel lied to come release day. In my review some four months ago, even I seriously doubted Destiny’s staying power. Yet here I am, naming Destiny my second favourite game of 2014.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; mechanically, Destiny is near-impeccable. It just plays so well. Commanding a wealth of slick super moves with such ease truly makes you feel like a badass. Destiny’s moment to moment gameplay is so infectiously fun that I rarely ever – even now, deep into my endgame levelling – feel like I’m grinding, even though it’s exactly what I’m doing. Every progressive loot grab is a minor triumph. The hunt for new, better gear is ceaselessly thrilling. Even without any semblance of logical storytelling, even with a relatively modest sampling of content, I can’t help but keep coming back for more. Bungie took a bucket full of simplified gameplay ingredients and polished them to brilliance.

Destiny also deserves special merit as my favourite PvP experience of 2014, and it’s all thanks to the smaller details. Admittedly, I’m not much of a multiplayer guy anymore. I generally find myself keeling over in frustration with multiplayer-centric titles such as Call of Duty. Too often I feel like winning is a case of who gets the jump on who first – most often determined by nonsensical spawn systems. These games create competitive atmospheres that encourage boring and downright frustrating practices like camping as the key to victory. Not for me.

Destiny obviates all of this frustration with a rudimentary enemy compass in the top left. These little things go a long way; not once while playing Destiny online have I seen someone snugly camping in a corner. Victory in Destiny’s crucible is about speed, accuracy and situational awareness; in other words, exactly what it should be. Add that to a healthy measure of mechanical excellence and you have a winner. Sure, special moves are cheap and there aren’t enough maps or modes, but Destiny is still some of the purest multiplayer fun I’ve ever had.

Honorable Mention: Minecraft (PS4/Xbox One Edition)

Click on my name above this article, I dare you. What you’ll find is a collation of all my articles. Among staple drudgery and all-around impeccable games journalism sits a biography’s worth of drivel, salivating soppy praise all over Mojang’s Minecraft. There’s no title I’ve harped on more about this year. I’m not typically one for revisiting the same game over and over again. But, four years later, I still happily find myself making an exception.

Minecraft’s next-gen reincarnation was the catalyst that jump-started my addiction all over again. Purists spit on me, but Minecraft on PS4 and Xbox One has been my favourite iteration to date. Minecraft’s console reincarnation ruminates the game of all the ancillary details which simply got in the way on PC. Multiplayer hijinks are now as simple to get going as they should always have been. Gone is the painstakingly stubborn (and sometimes, irreconcilably inconsistent) crafting system. Having to judiciously place individual ingredients into specific patterns is no more. Now you simply click on what you want to create – provided you have the necessary raw materials. Instead of having to constantly refer to the Minecraft wiki I’ve found myself actually just playing the game: which is all I’ve ever wanted to do.

Minecraft on current-gen consoles is more fun and accessible than it ever has been. Zoning out to a podcast whilst methodically scouring caverns for preciously scant resources has been one of my favourite ways to pass a couple of hours this year. If there’s any game that I will still be playing in 20 years, it’s this one. In fact, had Minecraft come out this year, I’d hand it my game of the year pick without a second thought. But I had to give this year’s contenders their fair shot in the limelight somehow.

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