Wulfy’s Notable Games of 2014
First a small disclaimer: I tend to listen to music while writing. This was written under the influence of this song on repeat. It’s the ending theme to the excellent Psycho-Pass series, and I make a note of it mostly because I wonder if it will affect my writing at all.
2014. What a year. It has not been the best year for games. It might be the worst year ever when it comes to the gaming community. It’s also been pretty bad for personal reasons, the last six months especially. I’m in all honesty fairly glad it’s over.
However, there have still been games that stood out for some reason or another, so here’s my rather long list of games I took note of in 2014. There are things missing that might have been on the list had I gotten around to playing them, but due to a large free-lance contract I didn’t really play much of anything in November or December. And I restrict the list to stuff I’ve actually played. I am also generally not considering episodic games that haven’t finished their last episode yet.
Honourable Mention: Valkyria Chronicles
Most Anime Europe in Gaming
This didn’t come out this year originally, but it was ported to PC this year. As someone who has never owned a Playstation anything, it was my first chance to play it, and as such it gets an honourable mention.
I liked it quite a lot. I was not able to play as much as I would have liked before I got too busy, but I found the art-style and presentation charming, and the turn-based combat was quite satisfactory. This pseudo-Europe they have put together is fascinating from the viewpoint of an actual European, and I’m very much looking forward to playing more of it.
This is the first time I’ve done one of these lists and felt the need to add more than one game as a dishonourable mention. I am generally quite good at avoiding games I would not like, but this year I was less fortunate in that regard. I do not dredge through the sewers of Steam like Jim Sterling does, but I still ran into several games I ended up disliking, and there are three I would especially like to shine a light on.
Avoid At All Costs
This really is an awful kind of game. See, it starts out alright. Not good. But alright. It has a somewhat interesting concept, and might be somewhere around a 7/10 or something like that, if you like scores. And for the first 4 hours or so, that’s where it hovers. You’re a person possessed by a fire demon thing, and while the combat is somewhat annoying, and the characters a bit bland, surely it can only get better as you unlock more stuff?
But no. No, it only goes downwards from there. It gets so much worse, and it just makes me so, so angry. The final boss was like the final insult on top of the shit pile of a cake they had assembled. I gave it a 3, and I’m not the least bit sorry. I sometimes wish I would have given it a 2, when I remember some of the shit it made me sit through.
There is no merit to playing Bound By Flame. It’s not worth it. Not just to check. Not for any price. Not if they give it to you. It’s not worth your time. Avoid it like the plague.
This might be puzzling to some of you, as Divinity: OS seems to be on the list of so many people’s favourite games of the year, but trust me, I’m putting it here for good reason.
I actually started out with a positive impression of this game. The first hour or so I quite enjoyed it. Even saw hints that this might be one of the greats. Then Act 1 got started proper, and I really began resenting the game. It left me with little direction or idea as to what I was supposed to be doing, and a few vague tasks, to which all my attempted solutions got quickly shot down. And it began making me really angry. There were still good points in there, and things I liked, but the sheer frustration of it overall really overshadowed any good it was trying to do.
Act 2 was actually a fair bit better, and I started getting somewhat into it again, feeling that if this was how things were going to be from here-on out, I could at least finish the game. Then I got to Act 3, and it brought back so much of the frustration I’d felt in Act 1. There’s this dumb village full of Orcs and Norsemen, and after fighting broken questlines for hours trying to do what the game kept hinting I should do, I just gave up, murdered EVERYONE (aside from one enemy NPC which turned out to be invincible and began following me around everywhere, though not attacking), wandered into the forest, and lost interest.
I liken the game to a DnD campaign run by an inexperienced DM. Full of grand ideas, but sorely lacking on the execution. No real clue as to when to dispense advice and hints, and when to hold back. There is so much stuff, even very basic things, that the game never truly explains to you. I lost interest in trying to figure out how crafting works within the first 90 minutes of the game. And any guides you might care to look for back then were very basic, and not at all helpful. So all in all a very disappointing and frustrating experience.
I’ve heard it’s better when played in co-op, but basically any game is better (or at least more enjoyable) with friends, so I don’t feel like that defence is valid.
Most Disappointing Sequel
I will admit I had pretty high hopes for Dark Souls II. It really did not live up to them.
I hesitate to call the game bad. I don’t think it actually is. But from the point of view of someone who has close to 200 hours in the first Dark Souls, and still goes back to play that every so often (working on a sorceror as of this writing), the sequel seems to have missed some of the fundamentals as to what makes a Souls game a Souls game. It doesn’t really seem to get why or how Dark Souls was difficult. It seems to have just stuck on the idea that “Dark Souls is HARD” and piled on stuff to up the difficulty while making things more unfair. Mix that in with a world that makes less sense, characters that are nowhere near as memorable and the daft idea of tying your timings and windows into how much you had invested in a certain stat along with some dodgy hit boxes, and all of a sudden you had a very different game.
The first Dark Souls I almost thought was not a thing for me. But as I put more time into it, I started to see the world as a puzzle, and I made it mine. That save-file is my world now. I have many unique feelings for that game. After 40 hours of Dark Souls II I had to just face the fact that all the little changes had added up to a game that was no longer for me. I just couldn’t get myself to enjoy it. So it’s been abandoned.
It’s not a bad game, it’s just different, and in a way that I don’t enjoy. If you like DS2‘s way of doing things better than DS1‘s, then that’s totally fair.
Games I Actually Liked
Or at least found interesting for some reason or another. Games that had something notable, something remarkable. We’ll start with a game from early in the year, but from there on it’s really no particular order, more as I remember them. Though I am saving my GOTY for last.
Consortium is a game I thought about writing a thing about back when I played it, but I wasn’t able to find the words before I moved on.
This game is basically as meta as you can get while still playing it straight. You are Bishop Six. Except you are not. You are a player controlling Bishop Six, through the use a special satellite made by a company called iDGi, same name as the game devs. It transmits a signal into a possible future, and let’s you control Bishop Six, just like a character in a videogame. Then it’s up to you how you want to play it. As a player you have no fore-knowledge of the situation, unless you’re re-playing the game, so you have to choose whether to try to play along, whether to try to convince everyone that you are actually from a past and alternate timeline, or whatever else you feel like doing.
The game presents you with a situation and several mysteries, and it’s up to you how you want to deal with them. The conversation system is quite intriguing to me, and while you aren’t able to make any massive changes to the events, there’s still significant stuff you can alter the outcome of. It’s not too long, so multiple playthroughs are easy to pull off, and practically necessary if you want the full picture of what is going on. I’m still a bit sad I wasn’t able to engineer events such that I figured out who the mystery killer was.
All in all, it’s just very unique and interesting in many ways, more so than it is actually good or outstanding, I suppose. The devs say they have a trilogy planned, and I kinda hope they are able to continue with the series.
Brutal Turn-Based Tactics
I almost forgot that this game actually came out this year. For some reason thought it was last year until someone corrected me.
I tried to play UFO: Enemy Unknown (X-COM: UFO Defense for you Americans) back in the day. I wasn’t very good at it. Then XCOM: Enemy Unknown came out a few years back, and I got really into that, even more-so when Enemy Within expanded it. So once Xenonauts launched, which looked like much more of a call-back to the old X-COM, I was naturally interested. After playing for a few hours, I was convinced I needed to do an LP series, and as such Xenonautical Adventures was born.
I find this game very interesting not just because of how absorbing it is to play, but because of how it mixes the old style with certain more modern sensibilities to make a much more approachable game, that still retains the style and spirit of the old game. And it’s still absolutely brutal. I’ve only played on the lowest difficulty, and even that can be more than a match for me. The RNG is just as fond of screwing you over as giving you a break. Yet the combination of base management, technological advancement, alien discoveries, clever writing and tactical missions keeps me hooked and wanting more.
While Ubisoft’s big titles are all turning into basically the same game, their smaller titles on the UbiArt framework tend to be much more interesting.
Child of Light is certainly no exception, even if it’s not the strongest title they’ve produced. It has a gorgeous art-style, and it’s about a young princess who has to save the world. Two worlds, really. The combat system has a lot of hidden depth to it, the characters are all pretty interesting and distinct with their own motivations (okay, maybe not so much the villains), and the whole thing is done in rhyme. And yes, that does mean there’s quite a lot of bad and forced rhyming too, but personally I just found that endearing. If that turns you off the game, I totally understand, but I do recommend giving it a shot. It’s not all it could be, but it’s still interesting and different and fun, and that counts for a lot for me.
Goat Simulator is not a good game. I could never claim it was. It is broken, it is stupid, and it is very buggy. But it’s also very, very funny, and probably the ultimate expression of the all the dumb simulator games that have been made and will be made. Plus it features a goat, and goats are awesome. The fact that the devs really committed to it, and have released two big, free DLC patches just helps secure it a place in my heart.
Plus you never really forget the first time you see Giant Goat. For me it was on a Loading Ready Run stream, and I felt close to dying from laughter. Not a good game, as such, but definitely remarkable. Watching other people play is just as fun as playing yourself.
Longest Playtime on my 3DS This Year
I know this technically came out at the end of 2013, but I didn’t play it until 2014, plus the NA version was 2014, and it’s MY list!
Square Enix’s return to top-down, turn-based JRPGs took them quite by surprise in how popular it became, and the rest of world face-palmed at their surprise.
I don’t really blame people who feel the game gets too repetitive after the Big Twist™ happens, but I still had an absolute blast with it from start to finish, and I still occasionally think about it. It’s nice that a big company like Squeenix can still put out stuff like this, even if it is only for handhelds. Looking forward to Bravely Second!
Shadowrun Returns came close to making it onto my list last year, but considering the excellence of other titles last year, and the issues that Shadowrun Returns suffered from, I left it off.
I amend that this year by mentioning Shadowrun: Dragonfall. Originally released as an expansion campaign to the base game, it has since gotten its own separate release in Shadowrun: Dragonfall Director’s Cut. I have not really dived too deep into what is new in the DC, but I have been watching someone else play, and the devs have clearly added neat stuff.
It was clear for me very early on that Dragonfall was a cut above Dead Man’s Switch. Not only had they fixed some of the issues the game engine suffered from, but the writing was stronger and the missions more interesting and varied. There was a whole mission I managed to bluff my way all the way to the end by having the right disguise, high enough charisma and the right dialogue etiquettes. And you can’t deny that hunting a dragon is a bit more epic than just fulfilling the will of an old friend.
Most Norse-Inspired Original Setting
Norse-inspired is really the best word for it. It borrows virtually nothing from actual Norse myth, but it manages to feel very Norse. They get the names right, the look, the personalities, the attitudes. And the art-style is absolutely gorgeous.
While the combat system could use a little tweaking, which they will hopefully do for the sequel, it is still a very interesting take on turn-based combat. I’d also say that the story feels like it has the right to go by the term ‘saga’. It’s an interesting world they have crafted, and travelling through it was more than interesting enough to warrant two full playthroughs, if only to see what I could and couldn’t affect with my choices. I would have maybe liked a little more context at times as to what a certain choice actually meant. Not directly telling me the result, but at least giving me some insight into what the character I was currently controlling was thinking. The lack of context would sometimes lead to ‘gotcha’ moments that felt cheap when picking an option didn’t do what you thought it would.
I’d still recommend giving it a look if a game with Oregon Trail inspired travel and turn-based tactical combat sounds like it could be a thing for you.
Return of the FMV
When this came up on Kickstarter, I must admit I never saw it coming. I played most of the Tex Murphy adventures back in the 90s, with the very finest FMV technology of the day. I loved them all, so of course I supported this.
Seeing Tex Murphy again, with proper, modern video tech, but the same cheesy, adorable acting and super-pulpy detective noir style… it was the biggest nostalgia trip I’ve had in a long time. I love it so much, warts and all. I’m also thankful that they toned down the moon logic a bit, even if it’s still present to a degree.
Tex Murphy is Tex Murphy. It was made by the old team, with several of the same old actors, for the old fans, funded by the old fans. It is the very definition of niche title, but I would still say it has some merit in today’s gaming world, and is worth giving a look.
I was tempted to just make this a collection of various atmospheric horror games I played this year. Betrayer, Dreadout and Neverending Nightmares all delivered their own brand of unnerving atmosphere with effective NOPE moments, but in the end I figured I should pick one of them, and partly due to nationalistic pride I went for Among The Sleep.
There is just something about being a toddler out and about when you don’t really understand what’s going on, and dark forces seem to be afoot. Part of the efficiency of horror games has often come from clunky controls that are especially hard to handle in stressful situations, and when your protagonist is barely 2 years old, you have a good reason for them to not be the most mobile yet. With you so small, everything else looks so big.
Unrest is one of those rare RPGs that is actually all about the role-playing. It focuses almost entirely on dialogue and your interactions with others, as you take on the role of five different characters set in a fantasy version of ancient India. Sure, walking is a little awkward, and there’s not much action to speak of, but it does boast what could well be the best dialogue system I’ve seen in any game.
Seriously, anyone doing dialogue trees or dialogue wheels, take a few notes from this. It not only shows you exactly what you are choosing, but also what sort of tone you’re going for. It seems so obvious after playing Unrest. You are supposed to be this character, of course you as the player should know exactly what you would say, and how you would say it. Keeping that stuff hidden from the player with vague options that result in saying things they don’t feel reflect what they wanted to go for, that just creates a certain disconnect between the player and who they’re playing.
And it doesn’t exactly hurt the game that dialogue, story, back-story and characters all feel well thought out and written.
This one basically just fell into my lap, if you will excuse the phrasing. And then turned out to be one of the most interesting titles I ended up playing this year. Not so much for the gameplay, you should understand, even though it does some interesting things by informing via mechanics, but mostly for the story. The questions it raises surrounding artificial intelligence, programming, and where the line is drawn between someone/-thing being self-determining or merely sticking to its role are all fascinating, at least to me.
An investigation into the nuances of sometimes needing to break the rules in order to follow them. And all the nice touches of how it would sometimes use the UI to help tell the story. Very fascinating, and I hope they are able to continue with a sequel.
As I mentioned in the thing I wrote, I don’t see this as a horror game. This is pure terror. I still haven’t been able to finish it, even though I’ve tinkered away at it whenever I’ve found the courage. I can barely even watch other people play it without that feeling of terror creeping back. No matter how many times the xenomorph catches me, no matter how many times I slip away, no matter that I now have a flamethrower as a deterrent, that feeling of fear just doesn’t go away.
I am aware that this might be fairly unique to me. Other people have played it, and played through it, and while scared, have not had quite such a strong reaction. I know only one other person who has had equal ( or slightly worse ) issues about actually getting through the game. Still, it’s one hell of an experience. Must admit I had serious doubts they could pull it off, but I would say they succeeded.
I am not sure who first had the idea to mix together the Warriors formula and Legend of Zelda, but Omega Force and Team Ninja really seem to have put their hearts into the project.
As someone who has never really played the Warriors games, I wasn’t exactly sure if I’d like Hyrule Warriors, but it did look good in the preview showings, and I pretty much instantly fell in love once I started playing. I won’t try to claim it’s perfect, but it’s a lot of fun, and has a lot more re-playability than I thought it would.
The story isn’t exactly anything new, but it has a great assortment of characters, weapons, stages and attack combos to keep you interested as you play.
I have probably said it before, but I will say it again: Bayonetta 2 is as close to perfect as videogames get right now. When it comes to spectacle fighters, I don’t think there’s anyone who does it better than Platinum Games, and in my opinion this is their best work yet. Sure, I might agree that The Wonderful 101 has a bit more spark to it, but technically and mechanically I can’t find a single thing to criticise regarding Bayonetta 2. And I’ve written before about how much I enjoy Bayonetta’s ultra-confident character.
Yet even so, I did not give it my GOTY. For all that I enjoyed the story, it didn’t really cause me to reflect much, or stir my emotions to any great degree. And at my current point in life, I tend to value those things a little more highly than just how well a game works.
Mario Kart 8
While I still think of Double Dash as my favourite, I can’t really ignore just how well-polished Mario Kart 8 is. It just feels so well-balanced, and so good to play now. It’s hard to say if the formula has ever worked better.
Introducing the music box that can work as a counter to the blue shell adds an interesting new layer to the strategy as well, and the online match-making just… works. It took Nintendo a long time to get there, but it seems like they at least did it right once finally got around to it.
I still just boot it up and do a series of races every now and again. It helps that I can just play it on the gamepad screen wherever I want to sit or lay. Perfect thing to play around with while listening to a podcast or catching up on a TV series.
Lords of the Fallen
Heart In The Right Place
I was unsure as to whether I should include this one, but considering I talked about Dark Souls II and how I felt it missed the point, I figured I might as well bring up the one game I felt mostly got it right.
Lords of the Fallen is essentially a homage to Dark Souls. If you have played Dark Souls, you’ll be able to get into this pretty much right away. The controls are virtually identical, and most of the mechanics function mostly the same. It shows that it understand the rules, and if you play it as you would Dark Souls, you will do pretty well. It is not as long, or as interesting, as Dark Souls, and it suffers from a whole host of technical issues and poor optimisation, especially on PC. There’s even a rumour that it destroys SSDs.
But in spite of all that, I ended up quite liking it. It felt more like Dark Souls than Dark Souls II did, even if you can tell that the devs have drawn more from western influences when it comes to the fixed protagonist, dialogue trees, audio notes (yes, I’m serious) and character/environment design. And eschewing all ranged weaponry in favour of just the magical gauntlet is certainly one of the weaker points of the game, but not everything they decide to add or change is bad. Being able to lift your shield while running to perform a shield bash charge is quite a nice, and satisfying, touch.
I also like how the game not just encourages, but sometimes forces you to learn before you can proceed. It brings back that feeling of being faced with a puzzle to solve. But it really could have done with more polish, QA and bug-fixing before they kicked it out the door.
What can I really say about The Vanishing of Ethan Carter? I don’t want to say too much, because it’s a game that really is best to just go into completely blind, so I will do my best to be abstract. Aside from mentioning that it looks fantastic and has the best trees I have ever seen in a videogame. The dedication to texturing overall is just superb. Things you find look like actual things.
I will say that I see this game as a fascinating exploration into what it means to be a videogame, and what they can become. A testament to how a game can stand on the strength of its own story-telling, atmosphere and environment, and not feel the need to compromise. The puzzles you face and the investigations you conduct become an integral part of the experience, and I’m just really glad this exists.
Best Movie Disguised As a Videogame
Speaking of an experience, I don’t know if there really is a better word for what Roundabout gives you. Initially I was only curious, and the rotating limousine gameplay seemed intriguing enough. But it was the cut-scenes that sold me on the idea that this game is amazing.
There is nothing really wrong with the gameplay, it is perfectly functional and even kinda fun, but it really takes a backseat to the epic story of Georgio the revolving limo driver, and the people he meets in his life. The adorably bad acting just makes this a game that feels tailor-made for me. I could not admire it any more than I do. I want to hug everyone who took part in making that game, be they developers or actors. Such a bright spark should be treasured.
Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna)
Small But Important
There is two sides to this game that hold hands throughout.
First you have the game itself. A little girl of the Iñupiaq people has her village assaulted by endless blizzards, so she goes out to find out where they come from. She quickly meets up with an arctic fox that can sense and communicate with the spirits of the wild, and together they go on a journey that you play as a 2.5D puzzle platformer. The narrator is also Iñupiaq, and I feel that lends a certain added charm to the whole game.
The other side of this game is the numerous little documentary clips that you unlock throughout the game to tell you about the Iñupiaq in their own words. Both to explain their history and culture, and talk about how their lives are today. As if to show they are still around, that they are still a living people. From what I gathered, the Iñupiaq are natives to Alaska, and as someone from another northern culture, I found it fascinating to learn about them and hear what sort of stories and myths they have.
The clips are often unlocked when you a reach a relevant part of the story, to give more context and information, or add little side-stories. My life certainly feels a lot richer for knowing that there has been an actual little girl that rode on an actual polar bear.
Game of the Year
And here we are. I predicted already back when I finished the game for the first time that it could be my game of the year. And nothing has really de-throned it. First I played Valiant Hearts for myself. Then I watched several other people play it just to see their reactions. The ending made me cry every time.
It might not be the ‘best’ game of the year, as such, but it is certainly the one that left the strongest impact on me. The cartoon style was used to great effect, and I got what they were doing by having some silly sections alongside the serious ones, as if to mirror the attitudes of the time. World War I was essentially what ruined our idea of what war was forever more, and opened our eyes to the harsh truth. They were so optimistic going into it, but then they came face to face with reality. War wasn’t glorious, it was ugly and destructive. Our weapons had become more harmful than ever, and it showed in the human cost and misery.
Maybe Valiant Hearts goes a little far with the silly sometimes, but… I honestly don’t care. This is my game of the year. The one I feel is most deserving of being played. For what it teaches us. For what it reminds us. For what it introduces us to.
There it is. Far too long, but so be it. I probably could have cut 5 games or so to make it the same size as last year, but I didn’t feel like it. It will be interesting to see what 2015 brings us.