For the first time in a long time, I find myself unable to fill out a top 10 list. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there weren’t 10 games worthy of consideration – we’ll get to what I didn’t play in a bit – but it means that, of the approximately 60 games I did play this year, I only really genuinely liked a small handful, and it feels weird to round out a list with stuff I didn’t care for.
And even if I still felt compelled to get to the magic number 10, then I’d have to get over my weird feelings about including games that I already played last year, but with more pixels per inch or whatever. For example: I think the PS4 versions of both The Last of Us and Diablo 3 are the definitive editions of both games, and my experience with both of them radically changed the way I’d previously viewed them, but… I’ve always tried to keep these posts focused on new games, and I can’t rightly call either of those two games “new”.
And this isn’t even taking into account stuff like P.T., which I don’t even know how to classify. It’s a teaser for a new Silent Hill game, but it’s also an unsettling and thoroughly creepy experience in its own right, but as a game in and of itself, it’s awfully clumsy… I didn’t play anything like it all year, but does it belong in a Top 10 list?
All this navel-gazing is a bit meaningless, though. Because when I look back on 2014 in a few years, I’m not going to remember any of this stuff. I’m going to look at this year and think of two things: (1) overhyped, broken blockbusters, and (2) Gamergate.
Regarding (1): I’m not a developer, but I get it. I get that 2014 was a transitional year in terms of new hardware and developers were trying to develop for two different console generations, which means four different systems (five if you count the Wii U, and most developers didn’t), and getting shit to work is tough. But I am a consumer, and I spent a lot of money on games (and game systems) this year, and most of what I played required rather sizable day one patches before I could start playing, and even then some of the games still didn’t work. As of 12/18, Assassin’s Creed Unity’s fourth significant patch has been released, weighing in at 6.7GB – although due to an error, the Xbox One version makes you re-download the entire 40+GB game; the multiplayer component of Halo Master Chief Collection, arguably the primary reason for this thing to exist in the first place is apparently still broken; and the PS+ edition of Driveclub may not ever come out.
Regarding (2): I can’t even. Nor will I pretend to be a good enough writer to articulate just how thoroughly disgusted and embarrassed I am to be a member of a community that allows this sort of thing to happen. I am ashamed of myself that I didn’t do more to stop it. I attempt to justify my inaction by saying that I’m not a good enough writer, that I have a very small audience at my blog, and less than 200 followers on Twitter: I scream into a gaping void. These “shouts from the couch” are just a miniscule part of the collective, deafening noise. But that’s no excuse. In this era of hashtag activism, I need to do more than simply RT someone else’s hard work. I’m putting it upon myself to be more aware of these issues, to be more proactive in speaking out against it, and to be more supportive of the people whose lives are being turned upside down because of it.
Let me switch gears here for a moment, because this is all going to fall apart pretty quickly if I don’t. Despite all the ugliness above, 2014 was a significantly positive year for me as a writer. I got a piece featured in Unwinnable, which totally made my day; I put in some time at Gamemoir and hit the biggest traffic numbers I’ve ever gotten in my life; and I got a piece in Videodame, which subsequently got featured on Critical Distance – not a Blogs of the Round Table, but an actual honest-to-goodness weekly roundup.
I may still be a long ways off from being as good of a writer as I want to be, and considering the current state of the game journo industry it is probably very unlikely that I will ever be able to do it full-time, but I’m still here, and I’m trying to get better, and considering how many times over the last 2-3 years that I’ve considered folding up shop and walking away from the scene entirely, I guess that’s a good thing.
As far as actual gaming is concerned:
Last year I was something of a PC hermit, but this year I officially joined the new console generation. I filled up my PS4’s hard drive; I bought a PS Vita during a moment of weakness and ended up loving the hell out of it (even if I don’t play it as much as I’d like); I went from being an Xbox One skeptic to a rather happy Xbox One owner.
My PS3 is currently in my bedroom where it ostensibly functions as a blu-ray player and a backup in case that TV’s Roku stops working, and my 360 is, sadly, no longer with us.
Regarding Nintendo: my 3DS has been collecting dust all year, and I still have no desire to get a Wii U, Bayonetta 2 notwithstanding.
THE RAW DATA:
My spreadsheet is a bit of a mess compared to past years, but it looks like I played 62 games between console, PC and handheld (Vita/3DS), and I finished 15 of them. (I should’ve kept better track of what I played on my iPhone, but, alas, I didn’t.)
“Finishing” is, as always, a nebulous term; the only game I can claim to have finished to 100% completion is Infamous Second Son, and even then I didn’t play the DLC. So let’s say I saw the credits roll 15 times. I’ve put 40+ hours into Dragon Age Inquisition but haven’t yet finished it (as of 12/18), and I’d sunk 10-20 hours into Forza Horizon 2 before I got sucked into DAI. That’s a significant amount of time to develop opinions on games I haven’t finished, all things considered.
I’ve often thought that games are weird, in that I can have these sorts of statistics to throw around. When it comes to books, I finish at least 90% of what I start, and the remaining 10% is usually put down at the very beginning – I know pretty much right away if I’m going to remain engaged with something. But with games? I put a solid 10-12 hours into Alien Isolation before sending it back; I loved a lot about that game, but it would appear that I hit my final rage-quit moment at about the halfway point, which means there’s still at least 10 more hours to go.
More significantly, though, there are also 28 games that I’d consider “notable” that I did not play, at all; and I’d also say that of the 62 games I did play, there’s quite a few that I simply did not spend enough time with, either because I got distracted by something else, or because I bought a whole bunch of games during a Steam Sale without getting a chance to play any of them, or simply that the game in question just wasn’t clicking for me. (Speaking of which – as I type these words, the latest holiday Steam Sale has gone live. Goddammit.)
In the final analysis, I’m not sure I felt engaged with anything this year. I got sucked into a fair share of games, and I was pleasantly surprised more than a few times, and I probably spent more money on games and hardware this year than in any other… but I can’t say I fell in love with anything.
I guess I should start this thing already.
The Year In Achievements: After obsessively tracking my Achievement progress for the last 6 years or so, I’ve decided to formally retire this category for several reasons. Firstly, there was an 8-9 month gap between finishing South Park on the 360 and starting Sunset Overdrive and Forza Horizon 2 on the XBO, so the number is pitifully small. Secondly, spending 8-9 months with the PS4’s Trophy system pretty much rendered the entire purpose irrelevant; as much as I’ve enjoyed my PS4 experience, Trophies remain meaningless. Finally, the PS4 is probably going to remain my primary console for the foreseeable future, so tracking my Achievement progress kinda feels like a waste of time. All this being said, I have to admit that unlocking Achievements on the Xbox One is still a cool sensation, and the XBO’s Achievement tracking panel is really well done. It’s not important enough any more for me to play multi-platform games on the XBO, but it’s still a pleasant feeling.
- Unwinnable Magazine
- Treachery in Beatdown City
- Elegy for a Dead World
Favorite Weekly Features: In a year filled with mean-spirited misery at every turn, there were two always-reliable (and very different) features that put a smile on my face every time:
- SB Nation’s Jon Bois (@jon_bois) for Breaking Madden
- Kotaku’s Leo Wichtowski (@laserfrog) for Leo Takes A Look
Best Mechanic / Favorite Moments:
- Watch Dogs: There’s a tremendous amount of stuff to dislike and/or actively hate in Watch Dogs, but using the phone hacking device to eliminate a gang hideout without ever firing a bullet is the best thing that game has going for it.
- Desert Golfing: getting a hole-in-one after shanking a +20.
- Alien Isolation: any time I can get from point A to point B without being killed by the Alien is a win for me, basically. And yet maybe my favorite / most empowering moment came when I was backed into a corner, the Alien charging at me, and then I suddenly whipped out the flamethrower and startled it far enough away for me to successfully escape.
Games Where I Saw The Credits Roll:
- Broken Age Part 1
- Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition
- South Park: Stick of Truth
- MGS: Ground Zeroes
- Infamous Second Son
- Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea Ep. 2
- Diablo III: Reaper of Souls
- Watch Dogs
- Murdered: Soul Suspect
- The Lego Movie Videogame
- A Story About My Uncle
- The Last of Us Remastered
- Destiny (original campaign, up to level 20)
Did Not Finish, Would Like To Finish Someday:
- Dragon Age Inquisition (because I’m still playing it)
- Forza Horizon 2
- Sunset Overdrive
- Elegy for a Dead World
- Final Fantasy X (Vita)
- Valiant Hearts
- Oddworld New & Tasty
Will Probably Never Finish But Would At Least Like To Give Another Go:
- Olli Olli
- Mind: Path to Thalamus
- The Talos Principle
Did Not Finish, Still Unsure About:
- Far Cry 4
- Assassin’s Creed Unity (I’m so close to the end, might as well try, but ugh)
- Shadow of Mordor
- Child of Light
- Alien Isolation (debating whether to go back to it now that there’s a difficulty slider)
Did Not Finish, Will Never Finish:
- Trials Fusion
- Mario Golf: World Tour
- Dark Souls II
- Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
- Vanishing of Ethan Carter (I was really looking forward to this one and finally bought it, and then found out that the main dev is a GamerGate supporter. It shouldn’t matter – the game has nothing to do with it – and yet it makes my teeth itch.)
Not My Bag:
- Hearthstone (never made it out of the tutorial, I don’t think. CCGs just aren’t my thing.)
Games Played for 10 Minutes or Less:
- Rune Factory 4 (3DS)
- Sniper Elite III
Notable Games I Didn’t Play: As noted above, this is a rather sizable list. I’m only one man, a man with a day job and a small child to take care of. These things happen; please don’t think less of me.
- Shovel Knight (I think I heard there’s a Vita version coming? That’ll get fixed right away, then.)
- Professor Layton and Azran Legacy (first Layton game I’ve missed.)
- Titanfall (didn’t own an XB1 until way too late for me to be any good at this.)
- Elder Scrolls Online (dare I admit I’m still kinda curious about the console version?)
- MLB 14: the Show
- Super Time Force
- Mario Kart 8
- Forza 5
- Divinity: Original Sin (might pick this up in the Steam Holiday Sale.)
- Kim Kardashian: Hollywood
- Plants v Zombies Garden Warfare (I did download the PS4 version for free a few weeks ago…)
- Danganronpa (1, 2) (D1 is in my Vita as I write this, where it’s been for the last 2 weeks, and I still haven’t turned it on)
- Hatoful Boyfriend
- Disney Infinity Marvel
- 3DS Super Smash Bros.
- Bayonetta 2
- The Evil Within
- Civilization: Beyond Earth (again, might pick this up in the Steam Holiday Sale)
- Lords of the Fallen
- Assassin’s Creed Rogue
- Little Big Planet 3
- Captain Toad
- Five Nights at Freddy’s
- Never Alone (Definitely on my to-get-to list at some point.)
Best HD Remake: a category that we’re going to be seeing a bit more of, at least for the next few years. It’s not necesssarily the worst thing in the world; the developer gets to practice on the new console, and meanwhile the consumer gets to play a better version of something they might’ve missed the last time around. To that end, I really enjoyed The Last of Us on PS4, far more than I did on the PS3. The PS4 controller is such a better thing to hold in one’s hands, which made the gameplay far less frustrating to deal with; the photo mode was a ton of fun to play with; and the Left Behind DLC was absolutely gorgeous and beautiful and moving and important. (Carolyn Petit wrote about it quite fantastically in her 2014 GOTY post.)
For the record, I also considered:
- Tomb Raider (worth it)
- Diablo III (so much more enjoyable than on the PC, for some reason)
- Final Fantasy X (only gave this a few hours)
- Oddworld: New & Tasty (still need to finish this, but this is a pretty remarkable remake)
- GTA V
- Halo Anniversary
While we’re talking HD remakes…
A List of Possible HD Remasters I’d Be Interested In Checking Out, as long as this is a thing:
- we already know about Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle
- DmC and Devil May Cry 4
- maybe we find out about Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus HD? has Oddworld released sales figures from New & Tasty, the results of which would determine such a thing?
- I bet we see a Bioshock HD bundle as TakeTwo figures out what they want to do with the IP in the wake of Irrational’s closure
- Mass Effect 1-3?
- I still desperately want a Rockstar “Orange Box” with Red Dead, Max Payne 3 and L.A. Noire (and/or one of the Midnight Clubs)
- now that Disney controls Lucasarts IP, might we see older, classic Star Wars games get HD’d, in the leadup to Episode 7?
- God, how I’d love to get an HD Burnout Paradise
Most Notable Voice Performance: I don’t know that I can pinpoint a truly great voice performance this year, but I’m sure we can all agree that Peter Dinklage’s dialed-in, dead-eyed monotone for Destiny is certainly the most memorable, for all the wrong reasons. I still maintain, though, that it isn’t totally his fault.
Most Disappointing: In a year filled with one disappointment after another, it’s hard to even pick just one. I could probably round out a Top 10 of Biggest Disappointments far easier and quicker than I can my actual Top 10 Favorite Games of the Year. I had high hopes for Trials Fusion, the HD sequel to one of my favorite Xbox Live games, but it never quite felt as right in my hands as I wanted it to. I had especially high hopes for Mario Golf: World Tour, as I’m a huge fan of arcade golf games and would’ve loved any excuse to keep my 3DS with me at all times, but there was literally nothing to that game at all. But in the end, I have to hand this award to Watch Dogs, a game that not only failed to live up to its own excessive hype machine, but which was also profoundly stupid, terribly written, featured dumb characters in a lifeless city, and focused on all the wrong things. The phone hacking – while absurd – is the only thing that’s worth holding onto for the inevitable sequel, and even then I’m setting my expectations very, very low indeed.
Best Podcast: Hard to choose between them, so let me cop out:
- Scoops and the Wolf
- Idle Thumbs
- Quality Control
Favorite Articles: I didn’t stay on top of this as much as I’d like, as especially towards the end of the year everything turned into responses to Gamergate and I couldn’t take it anymore. That said, nearly everything in this GoogleDoc is worth checking out. Some highlights would include:
- Stephen Totilo, “The Disappointment of Video Game Guns”
- Jenn Frank, “The Rolodex”
- Nathan Grayson, “The Best Non-Violent Moments in Video Games”
- Brianna Wu, “No Skin Thick Enough”
- Kirk Hamilton, “Destiny: The Kotaku Review”
- Kathy Sierra, “Trouble at the Kool-Aid Point / Why The Trolls Will Always Win”
Best iOS Games of the Year:
- Monument Valley
- Crossy Road
- Trials Frontier
- Hitman Go
- Desert Golfing
I haven’t yet had a chance to play Simogo’s “Sailor’s Dream”. That’s a notable omission on my part. I kinda want to play it on iPad, but I hardly use my iPad these days.
Games Of The Year: We’re already just about at the 3000 word mark and I’m just not feeling it. This is sad. It’s been a sad year. I enjoyed these five games a lot, even if I haven’t yet finished 2 of them. I don’t know that I can rank one over the other.
- Wolfenstein: Without question, the biggest and most welcome surprise of the year. a big-budget game that wasn’t broken, didn’t have an obligatory multiplayer mode, had a well-written supporting case of characters, and remained faithful to the source material while also having you shoot up Nazis on the goddamned moon? Yes, yes, and yes. I had an absolute blast with this one.
- South Park: Stick of Truth: What this game had to go through just to get released is a pretty remarkable achievement in and of itself; that it turned out to be a really, really funny South Park experience is even better. The RPG side of it is serviceable, if tedious, but the game’s aware of that, too. It also features the single best argument against the tired trope of voice recorders as exposition dumps of all time.
- Dragon Age Inquisition: I’m still in the middle of this one – well, does 45 hours count as “the middle”? It’s a remarkable return to form for BioWare considering their recent stumbles, and I’m very much looking forward to finish this one.
- Forza Horizon 2: At some point earlier this year I might have called this my new favorite driving game of all time. I’ll need to get back to this once I’m done with DAI, and I’ll probably want to give Burnout Paradise another go to make sure, but I could live with this being my favorite driving game of all time. It’s what sold me on the Xbox One, even if I bought the Sunset Overdrive bundle.
- Jazzpunk: This is a wild, extremely surreal and very funny indie adventure game, and I enjoyed nearly every minute of it. Highly worth checking out.
Is that enough? Can we go now? Let’s go now. Let’s hope that 2014’s miseries are quickly put to bed, and that 2015 comes in and obliterates any lingering memory of this god-forsaken year. Cheers.