'Tis the season to make lists, so once again we decided to give our wonderful contributors a chance to step outside their roles as critics and just straight-up enthuse about their favourite games of the year. Feel free to offer your own lists and calm disagreements in the comments!
4) Wasteland 2
In many ways, Wasteland 2 had more to prove than most other Kickstarter RPGs. Brian Fargo was laying his company on the line for the game, and a second Kickstarter project already in the works would have to deal with any failings Wasteland 2 had. Thankfully, the game is a success. Deep combat, and enough content to keep a wasteland ranger busy for weeks proved that passion and an appreciation for your core audience can lead to great things, and can even find an audience outside hardcore. Roll on Torment!
3) Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Directors Cut
Shadowrun Returns didn’t quite hit the mark for me when it released. It came very close, but the lacklustre story and general absence of polish hurt it. Dragonfall not only fixed most of the sins of the main game, but this expansion provided more compelling and interesting content than the main game ever managed to. The expand-alone Directors Cut again lifted the bar, and is the game every Shadowrun Returns backer was hoping for, and something every RPG fan should play. A cyberware toting delight from start to finish.
1) Divinity: Original Sin
Falling somewhere between the classic Ultima games and Baldur’s Gate, Divinity: Original Sin used the extra funds garnered from eager Kickstarter backers to breathe new life in to the tactical fantasy RPG genre. Its fresh take on combat and unique co-op conversation mechanic gave a bit of the new to go with the unashamed old school design ethic that infuses every molecule of the game. Dozens of hours of interesting and varied content made it the standout RPG in a year filled with many great Role Players. It’s simply the most charming game to enter the genre in a good long while – that signature Larian Studios wit gives the whole thing a unique personality you can help but adore.
I spent more time on Kim K Hollywood than I spent on any other game this year (almost). To be a list snob about it would be to deny myself. It’s great, too: a sly satire of the fame machine, where every waking hour is a working hour; an addictive point-and-clicker with a well-measured difficulty curve; and a truly ‘social’ game, one that elevates your friends list to more than grist for the candy-crushing mill. Seriously, give it a shot. Let celebrity sink its claws into you.
4) Monument Valley
Monument Valley wasn’t the only perspective-based puzzler to come out this year, but a) I haven’t played Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and b) even if I had, that wouldn’t cancel out how much I adore how Monument Valley looks. Ingenious Escher structures in bright pastel colours: a beautiful backdrop to the sparse, tranquil tale of Princess Ida’s journey home.
The walls go up and the robots appear: stop. Of all the ways that Supergiant broke from the Bastion mould, the most fascinating was the move from real-time action – a world of reflexes and reaction – to the act of planning: building and tweaking your repertoire, setting up your attacks and watching them play out. For an eerie story about hubris and helplessness, about the slow collapse of best-laid plans, they couldn’t have picked a better, more resonant way to play. Stop.
2) Octodad: Dadliest Catch / Goat Simulator (tie)
CHEATING, YES, BUT: I’ve already written about my love for Octodad, that wonderful cephalopod Magoo, and I fell similarly hard for Goat Simulator. 2014 was the year physical comedy came in into its own as a game mechanic, because games like Octodad and Goat Simulator built on its foundation: by drawing on narrative and formal influences like Charlie Chaplin and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, they gave their central joke more context, more grace, and more variety.
1) 80 Days
“Passepartout, we are going around the world!” Inkle’s Choose Your Own Adventure reimagining of Around the World in Eighty Days is a diabolical delight, in part because the fine balance of its systems sneaks up on you: surprise windfalls in multiple US markets saved a run I’d written off since Moscow, while time pressures in another saw an easy passage through Europe transform into a nightmarish scramble across the Indian Ocean. It’s dynamic, funny, and wonderfully sensitive on both personal and political levels; so good, you can even (begrudgingly) forgive the steampunk.
5) Mario Kart 8
Mario Kart finally gets a proper online treatment. Looking brilliant (until you play four to a screen, but that's forgivable) and playing as smoothly as you think you remember from the N64 iteration, Mario Kart 8 verges on deserving the title "definitive". Getting up to speed single player then roasting all-comers to your home with perfectly timed green shells is one thing, but having the very real opportunity to smoke some Australians without leaving the house is a true virtue. Even the DLC released later in the year was fairly-priced and drew some palpable hype, which seems novel in 2014. Give it a whirl.
4) Bayonetta 2
Hyper slick, sexy, and shooty. In an over-the-top sequel to an already over-the-top shoot 'em up, Nintendo found its first major third-party winner for the Wii U. The storyline is as bizarre as you'd hope to expect, the graphics are about as good as you can hope for from a couple of Gamecubes taped together, and the combo-laden action is among the best of a generation. It's a true joy to see a lady like Queen Bay boot so many arses in such spectacle. The game is bigger than it seems on the outside, there's plenty of adventure to be had, not to mention the deal of the century: Bayonetta 1 comes bundled in for free.
Stick a sword through a friend, to a bleepy bloopy soundtrack by quasi-Victorian hipster Daedalus. This 'running simulator with swords' was a surprise smash at LAN parties, and is now available on the console of your choice, providing you choose a PS4 or a Vita. It’s gloriously low-fi, with fast and fluid action that builds real-life tensions as players attempt to slash and dash to opposing ends of some fanciful landscape as quickly as possible. Go get on the 'Hogg.
Collectable space helmets, jet packs, alien monstrosities, and online raiding parties – what’s not to love? Destiny’s release was a boon to console gamers looking for a decent online RPG experience, and it was pulled off with aplomb. Normally I’m an elitist snob that peers down my nose at the feeble attempts of the lesser console gamer, but Destiny truly impressed and displayed an early glimpse of what the new-gen can do. The wise and noble members of the PC master race wait in hungry hope of a possible PC release so we can heal our sense of wounded superiority, because after Destiny we were spurned, eager, and jealous.
3) Dragon Age: Inquisition
Sure, it might not have been the best RPG ever made, but Dragon Age continues to do something that many games fear so much; it pushed social boundaries. Watching immature gamers squirm in front of their keyboards is fun at the best of times, and Dragon Age forced many to engage with sex and sexuality as well as swords and sorcery. Gaming is, ever so slowly, growing up. Good on BioWare for continuing to offering mature and sophisticated content for discerning gamers, who are tired of the one-size-fits-all culture still hopelessly endemic in this male-driven industry.
It’s rare for a game to come along that is instantly hailed as a classic. It’s even rarer for it to be on the crummy iPad. Hearthstone took all the best things we love from Magic the Gathering, smashed it together with Blizzard’s World of Warcrack charm, finished off with excellent online matchmaking, and came up with of the most addictive and entertaining mobile games ever made. I travel a lot, and the amount of times I tossed up between mortgaging my house for in-flight Wi-Fi or missing my plane just so I could keep playing this damn thing beggars belief.
3) Heroes of the Storm
OK, so it's in technical alpha and therefore not strictly a 2014 release, but it is the game I've returned to the most often in recent months for pure amusement. MOBA purists poo-poo Heroes' lack of complexity, but where they see oversimplification I see a game unburdened by unnecessary systems that add little real entertainment value and instead create the right conditions for player toxicity. Matches are either joyously or mercifully brief and the clever map design keeps things interesting. Best played with four friends.
1) Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
A robust action adventure made all the more enjoyable by the quality of surprise. Warner Bros. has done such little good with the Lord of the Rings license that the brand has almost become poisonous in the game space. In a single game, Monolith has turned that around. The story is hackneyed, the lore is a little patchy, and the geometry is far too repetitive. However, all these faults are largely smoothed over by the Nemesis system, an inspired piece of design that personalises every player's revenge quest and sells the concept of a dynamic world in a way no other action adventure title has.
4) Wasteland 2
3) Super Time Force
Humour in games can be hard, so if a game manages to be laugh-out-loud funny, it's an achievement worth celebrating. If it manages to be laugh-out-loud funny while introducing a clever time-rewind mechanic that allows one to play multiplayer with themselves, making a bullet-hell shooter also something of a puzzle game, that's even better. Wrap it all up in a gorgeously retro pixel art style that actually works with the subject matter for a change, drop in a tonne of visual jokes and pop culture references, and package it all up as an easy-breezy blast that won't consume your every waking hour, and you've got one of the best wee arcade titles in some time.
It's a technical cheat, because the first episode of Telltale's fairytale noir came out at the end of 2013, but four out of five episodes dropped this year so I'm going to include it. Grabbing me to a much greater degree than their more-celebrated Walking Dead games ever did, this dark tale gave us a host of a memorable characters, a mystery that kept players guessing, and a twist in the tail that suited the genre to a tee. It's also surely been the best fit of material to Telltale's art style to date. Those moody, neon-saturated opening credits! I want them playing on a loop on a wall of my house as wallpaper. Cast Hugh Jackman as Bigby in the movie version now while he's still young enough.
2) South Park: The Stick of Truth
Despite being something of an RPG-lite, South Park succeeded simply by being as tastelessly hilarious as the long-running TV show it spawned from. With top-notch writing and voice-work by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the game completely nailed the feel of the show, while turning the series' sharp satirical eye towards the world of video games. Fighting Nazi-zombie-aborted-foetuses has never been so much fun.
1) Dark Souls II
From Software's sadistic sequel dropped players in the beautiful, mysterious world of Drangleic, tempted them to admire the view, and then killed them over and over with such ruthless elegance it was impossible not to be impressed. It was a difficult game – yes – but also a fair one, and the resulting challenge provided a sense of achievement rivalled only by the previous game in the series. Praise the sun!
Honourable mention: Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
I have spent more time in Destiny than my wife appreciates – three actual days at last count. There is something immensely satisfying about the gunplay, particularly when felling those last few rampaging Thrall, nabbing headshot kills with throwing knives, or finally downing that boss you have been working on all night. Destiny is sooooo close to being perfect.
4) Trials Fusion
I love this franchise. What feels better than a perfect landing off a massive jump boosting you through to the next section? It’s especially sweet when said boost takes you right by the ghost rider of one of your friends, too.
3) The Last of Us Remastered
The original game was my top pick last year, and this new-gen update gave an already amazing title that extra polish. It was also nice to get all the DLC and have all game modes unlocked so I could play through again with no HUD. Unlike last year, I also spent time in multiplayer. For those new to the PlayStation family via the PlayStation 4, TLoU: Remastered is a must-buy.
2) Velocity 2X
The same lightning-quick top-down shooting of the awesome original game is here, but now with there’s an in-depth story, and the new platforming sections slot in surprisingly well.
1) Abe's Oddysee: New 'n' Tasty
Nostalgia can cause remakes of classic games to feel somewhat underwhelming, but that wasn’t the case with New ‘n’ Tasty. It looks just the way you remember it in your mind’s eye, the jarring static screens of the original have been replaced by scrolling camera, and there’s an easy setting for newcomers. I can’t wait for you PC and Xbox guys and gals to get your hands on it – it’s well worth the wait.
It drags on for far, far too long, but for the majority of its run-time, Alien: Isolation is a tense, moody title that perfectly captures the analogue tech and grimy, spooky atmosphere of its source material. If games like this one are going to be the result, The Creative Assembly should deviate from its Total War series more often.
3) Wolfenstein: The New Order
The New Order is everything Wolfenstein games should be: gory, grotesque, vicious, ludicrous, and slightly frightening. It reinvigorates a decrepit franchise, and I can’t wait to see where MachineGames take Mister Blazkowicz next.
Titanfall was one of the few games I played this year that felt completely fresh, despite its ‘COD meets Mechwarrior by way of Mirror’s Edge’ pitch. You have to try really hard to not enjoy yourself when everything you do in a game is this fun and this well-balanced. Even ejecting from a doomed Titan makes you feel like an action hero, and the fact that I frequently inhabit the bottom of the game’s leaderboards but have an awesome time doing so tells you all you need to know.
Wish I’d played: Divinity: Original Sin, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Sunset Overdrive, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, South Park: The Stick of Truth, Bayonetta 2, The Talos Principle, Grand Theft Auto V
Assigning each game points based on where it is in a writer’s list (5 points for first, 4 for second, etc), we find that our overall Game of the Year is Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, which gathered 16 points overall and showed up on a whopping six of our writers' lists. In fact, those who didn't mention it are fired.
Using the same method, our runner-up is The Wolf Among Us with 12 points, and third is Blizzard’s addictive CCG Hearthstone, with 11. How Goat Simulator wound up with 5 points is anyone’s guess.
Don't forget to vote in the Gameplanet Players' Choice Game of the Year 2014 poll – you could win $500 worth of games!