At the start of this year, some friends and I talked about what some of our most anticipated games were for 2014. Alien: Isolation, The Evil Within, Destiny, Batman: Arkham Knight, The Witcher 3, Evolve were but a few of the many titles that were feverishly discussed. The funny thing, though, is that half of those games were delayed until 2015, and the other half were incredibly divisive.
The past 12 months caught a lot of gamers off-guard, including myself. It was a year of broken promises that changed the way that game reviews were treated, and a year where fan favorites appeared seemingly out of nowhere. But by the end of this 52-week wildcard we call 2014, five games have resonated with me the most, earning a spot on my Game of the Year list.
Game of the Year: Bayonetta 2
If you’ve listened to our year-end PUGcast, you may have heard me mention that Shadow of Mordor was my pick for game of the year. Since then, however, I’ve had the chance to play through Platinum’s latest action title, which forced me to make adjustments to my 2014 list, and give a regretful boot to Super Time Force – one the smartest side scrolling shooters to date.
I’ll try to refrain from the using the onslaught of F-bombs that I threw at Facebook chat with the rest of the PUG team, but Bayonetta 2 is f…rrreaking incredible! Perhaps my excitement for this game came about because of my severe disappointment in the first title, which had noticeable design and mechanical issues. Perhaps it comes from the fact that it was at the very bottom of my list of games to play this holiday – which I happened to stumble upon while taking a break from a bevy of open world games.
Bayonetta 2 is Platinum at their absolute best. Bayonetta’s impossibly flexible attacks and the painfully satisfying Witch Time are inseparable, something that the original Bayonetta couldn’t always claim. Pummelling your enemies in Umbran Climax mode depicts epic levels of ferocity that even God of War couldn’t match. And the game’s over the top, world-defying sequences are only bested by the insane boss fights, which go from “insane” to “Platinum, you’ve lost your god damn minds!” over the course of the 10+ hour story. Everything is wrapped up in an incredibly tight, satisfyingly challenging, gorgeous-as-candy package that non-Wii U owners are sorely missing out on.
Many of the best games this year felt like they fell into place simply because, when compared to other releases in 2014, they just faired better. That said, Bayonetta 2 isn’t only my pick for GOTY, but it is easily the best character action game I’ve ever played.
Honorable Mention: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
There couldn’t have been any less fucks for me to give when details began to emerge for Shadow of Mordor. A game that would ape the Assassin’s Creed franchise’s tropes while set in the Lord of the Rings universe didn’t exactly spell success, especially given the fact that there has yet to be a great Lord of the Rings title, and that the Assassins Creed series was waning critically with the exception of Black Flag.
But despite the odds stacked against it, Monolith’s latest game turned out to be far better than it had any right to be. Just saying that Shadow of Mordor is the best Assassin’s Creed game of 2014 alone doesn’t serve it justice, as scaling towering strongholds and assassinating over two dozen uruks with unparalleled ease made me feel like a boss. The combat itself has been lifted straight from the Batman Arkham series, and even managed to trump the formula Rocksteady is known for by allowing you to transform it into something unfamiliar and ever more empowering.
Now, Monolith may have shamelessly ripped assets out of other franchises, but they’ve also built an AI ecosystem that should be iterated in future games: the Nemesis System. By allowing you to create your own stories of vengeance, politics, and manipulation through emergent gameplay, the Nemesis system ultimately positioned Shadow of Mordor to be considered the first “next gen”-feeling game in this new round of consoles.
Honorable Mention: Titanfall
I have a soft spot in my heart for Respawn Entertainment, the former veterans that disbanded from Infinity Ward after creating some of my favorite shooters from last generation.
Titanfall, Respawn’s first game, is the Call of Duty title I never knew I wanted. The dynamic between pilots, minions, and titans create a bit of a story arch in each match. Every game begins with pilots gunning down other pilots and minions alike, then they summon down titans to stomp on ground soldiers and blast away other titans; once those titans get destroyed, the cycle continues until the epic finale where one team must hunt down the others before they escape. It all creates an ebb and flow that’s rarely seen in multiplayer games.
Titanfall is also an incredibly fluid moving shooter; it’s almost what we’d imagine it would look like if Mirror’s Edge and Call of Duty had a jetpack wearing baby. Ultimately, Titanfall is the shooter to lead the genre into a much more mobile future, and the next game wasn’t too far behind…
Honorable Mention: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Now admittedly it would be unfair to accuse Sledgehammer of copying Titanfall, as Advanced Warfare was well into development when Respawn announced their game. Nonetheless, comparisons can only be flattering, as both are excellent shooters.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare came at the best possible time: it’s the first full year into the new console generation, after the unequivocally disappointing Call of Duty: Ghosts. The exoskeleton makes Advanced Warfare the most competitive Call of Duty yet, as you’re not just monitoring pathways and sprinting down corridors; you can also dodge oncoming fire by dashing left or right, block bullets by erecting shields, and flank enemies by boost-jumping on rooftops to then get the drop from behind. As I declare with full confidence that Advanced Warfare boasts the best multiplayer the franchise has seen, I’ll wait with bated breath hoping that future installments will follow in Sledgehammer’s footsteps.
Honorable Mention: Sunset Overdrive
About a month ago, I would have put Grand Theft Auto V on this list, as to this day it remains an incredible open world game. But after playing Sunset Overdrive, I’m impressed with what Insomniac has done with their open world structure, and even more impressed by how they’ve translated that into multiplayer.
Sunset Overdrive literally rides with style. As it dons a punk rock aesthetic, the game urges you to stay in constant motion. You’ll grind along rails and power lines, bounce off cars and surf across rivers all while throwing obnoxious bullets at your enemies. The co-op multiplayer takes this concept and transforms it into something even more chaotic – I guess that’s why they call it Chaos Squad.
After racing each other across the city just to earn points for getting to a mission first, you’ll be mesmerized… heck, even hypnotized, as you watch seven of your comrades create a cacophonic symphony of bright orange explosions and comic-inspired mushroom clouds all while fixated on the action. It’s one thing to make a functionally sound yet conventionally styled game, but it’s even more commendable to depart from the modus operandi and execute it so successfully. That’s the best compliment I can give Sunset Overdrive.
Looking back again, I couldn’t see myself making a case for most of these games six months ago. It might have taken a couple of delays, plenty of broken games, and a number of disappointments, but I’m glad that these five have risen to the top for me.