January 07, 2015

Matthew's Favorite Games of 2014

I'm often behind the times. While I played a fair number of new releases in 2014, I played a fair number of older games as well. In no apparent order, this is a list of my favorites that I dug into this year.

Titanfall

I bought an Xbox One Titanfall bundle a few months after it was released.  The game sat in my digital library for far too long before I took the time to properly engage it.  It's best played with a group of friends.  Getting together regularly with the Nerd Surge gang for a few rounds of Titanfall has been a blast.  The game play is fast and fluid.  It feels like Titanfall popularized a new kind of kinetic FPS where movement is just as fun and interesting as shooting.  For the most part, the changes they have made to the game since I first played it in June have been good.  The DLC maps are a great value.  The free "Frontier" co op mode has remained fun as we play it week after week.



Dark Souls II

I played Dark Souls and Demon Souls before it, but I never completed them.  I enjoyed Dark Souls II more than either of those previous games in the franchise and saw it through to the merciful end.  AND I PLAYED IT AS A MELEE CHARACTER BEFORE THEY PATCHED THE SHRINE OF AMANA.  You think you have seen some shit?  I have seen some SHIT!

Dark Souls II is not any less "hardcore" a game, it just feels like some of the obtuse design decisions of the earlier games took a back seat.  It was a...  well I won't say "fun", but it was a detailed and memorable world to explore.  I haven't played any of the DLC for the game, so I'm considering another round of pain on the next gen consoles when it is released with all existing DLC later this year.

Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare

This game is the reason I didn't get into Titanfall until recently.  I don't think another game this year occupied more of my time or made me smile more often than Garden Warfare.  EA did a fantastic job of bringing the Plants vs Zombies world to a class based shooter.  I like the fact that there is a triple-A third person shooter out there with tactical depth and a light hearted aesthetic.  The military themed bro-shooter was getting old.  I think this game had legs because of its solid shooting mechanics, addictive unlockable challenges, and colorful aesthetic.

Mario Kart 8

It's Mario Kart and it's the best one in years.  Even the online is good this time.  Believe me!



Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

At first I was impressed that the game held my attention long enough to get through the tutorial missions.  Then I started to enjoy the setting and all the great environmental design that went into recreating the colonial Caribbean era.  Then I got my ship.  Then I started building a fleet by accruing more ships through theft or purchase.  Then I killed a shark with my bare hands.

I beat the first Assassin's Creed out of a begrudging interest in justifying my investment during a time when I had few gaming dollars.  I never enjoyed an Assassin's Creed game until this one.

Terraria

Even though I put many hours into the PC version, these cunning developers released this game on the VITA and then the new consoles in 2014.  I can't escape it's perfectly pixelated gravitational pull.  Minecraft doesn't work for me.  Terraria cannot be stopped.  What's that?  They added MORE new items and features to the PC version?  Bye for now.

Ikaruga

Hardcore Japanese games are starting to become more and more available on the PC.  The shmup genre is well represented and one of its flagship games was released on Steam this year: Ikaruga.  It was a great time on the Gamecube and I'm having a great time again with the fantastic port on the PC.

I'm Ikaruga dammit.

Soul Sacrifice and Soul Sacrifice Delta

They aren't great games, but they are relaxing and addictive games to me.  It's a rapid-fire Monster Hunter clone with oodles of checkboxes to tick.  Just one more of this item and I can create a new item type.  Just one more mission in this set until I complete them all.  Just a handful more sacrifices until I level up.  Delta addressed a lot of the problems that I had with the original game.  There's so much new content and so many fundamental changes to the mechanics of the game that they could have called it "Soul Sacrifice 2" if they had just redone the missions in the single player campaign.  Bonus points for being a special kind of hellish weird.

Bayonetta 2

I haven't beaten it yet.  I don't want it to end.  It cannot be overhyped.  It's audacious, violent, unapologetic, and everything that the video game industry feels it should move away from in recent years.  Bayonetta is hyper-sexualized in an empowering way.  There is a reason why so many women enjoy her character.  She delights in the power of her sexuality and she will use it to kill you.  The fighting system is as deep and interesting as ever and the game maintains a silky frame rate during all of its outrageous combat sequences.  If you have even a passing interest in third person action games, you should not miss it.



Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition

It's 2014 and I'm calling Diablo III one of my favorite games of the year.  How did this happen?  I loved the first two Diablo games, but after playing the third game about a month after its release, I didn't have a desire to play through the campaign more than a couple of times.  The Reaper of Souls expansion changed all that.  Blizzard took the best criticisms of the best game and turned Diablo III into something worthy of the franchise.  When its release was announced on the next-gen consoles with the bundled Reaper of Souls expansion and some console exclusive features, I scoffed at the asking price of $60. "This game is more than a year old!  How dare they ask that much for it!"  Hogwash.  I took the plunge and it was more than worth it.  This is the first game I platinumed on the Sony platform.  I couldn't stop playing.  I want to play it now, but I realize that it is an illness that can only be treated by time apart....  though.... absence does make the heart grow fonder.  And I never did completely tweak those handful of equipment slots on all 6 of my max-level characters.  And there are still more paragon levels to obtain.  And what about that Hardcore character I never got to level 60?  And they've probably put out another patch with new content by now!

Wolfenstein: The New Order

This game was better than it had any right to be.  The marketing campaign leading up to its release made it look like a cheap B shooter with a layer of gore on top.  It isn't.  I got my hopes up when I heard the development team was made up of a group of former Starbreeze devs.  They know how to make interesting characters and believable worlds, but I still wasn't convinced that they were a good fit for a new Wolfenstein game.  After all, this is a shallow game about killing scores of Nazi's, right?  I've spent plenty of time with previous games in the franchise and I didn't even know the player character had a name.  What did they have to work with?

Apparently their vision was enough because BJ Blazkowicz is a fully realized character in "The New Order".  Up until this point his sole purpose in life might have been to heap dead Nazi's onto a pile, but there is real depth to his character here.  He has real motivations in this totalitarian world. It's much more thoughtful game than I was expecting.

But the game doesn't succeed solely on its character development or excellent story.  I was surprised by how great the actual shooting felt in the game, and how well the stealth mechanics worked as a valid alternative to going in guns blazing.   You have options in this game and it is fun to explore them.  It was the biggest surprise of the year for me.

The most memorable scene in any game I played this year.

Disgaea 4

Over a decade ago when a guy from down the hall in the dorm pulled out a copy of the original Disgaea for the PS2, I knew the game would hold a special place in my heart.  I bought a PS2 to play it.  I bought a PS3 to play Disgaea 3.  I bought a PS4 because I'm a middle aged player with mad disposable income...  oh and it will soon receive Disgaea 5.  Strategy Role Playing Games (SRPGs) have been my bread and butter since Final Fantasy Tactics.  I love them.  There's something about finding out how to best exploit a set of characters' available resources on a grid that I find endlessly entertaining.

I put over 300 hours into the first Disgaea before my PSOne memory card finally gave out.  Then I started the game again on the PSP.  I played a good amount of Disgaea 4 when it was released on the PS3 in 2011. When Disgaea 4 came to the VITA earlier this year, I started to play it again.  This series consistently finds a perfect balance of complexity, tactical depth, and approachability.  This is my island game.  Well...  maybe you'll let me take more than one Disgaea game to the island?

See you later, dood!

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