The HITC gaming writers share their personal favourites from 2014.
So, the ‘Top 5 games of 2014’ sharabang has to come pick me up and whisk me off to my metaphorical gaming desert island. In the rush of it all here’s what I grab to take with me.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Of all the games I’ve played on new gen consoles this year Shadow of Mordor is the one that stands out as giving something tangibly ‘new’ with the Nemesis system. Nemesis isn’t just a distracting ‘diplomacy’ sub-game or procedurally generated way of making mobs more ‘individual’ by RNG, but a push and pull of little story ripples created by your wins and fails, with some entertaining scripted Uruks and a load of different ways to approach challenges. For me, Nemesis provides more enjoyment than the over arching story which is just a meandering, beige, Tolkien derived splurge that ends with an underwhelming anticlimax. To be honest you’re always going to struggle to pen a Tolkien tale better than Tolkien. Maybe Monolith would have done better to write this as the clear Assassin’s Creed competitor that it is. Playing AC: Unity afterwards just made me think SoM had the better controls and combat system, and I would have liked to have seen more work put into the stealth mechanics in SoM.
I’ve already called out Blizzard’s stupidly-addictive, Warcraft-themed, take-over of digital card games as my number one fave this year, read more about that here. To summarize and expand, Hearthstone’s the one game from 2014 I see myself still being sucked into come this time next year and also the one I was most resistant to playing because I knew that would happen! But the game doesn’t have to be a ridiculous time and/or money sink and there’s a jovial benevolence to the way Blizzard let you get at the game with as little monetary investment as you want - as opposed to the absolute minimum required to stay in the game before you ragequit and curse yourself for being duped by microtransactions in an ever-spiraling Play-to-Win vortex. In terms of design, I like how your decks are tied to a character with their own cards and hero powers. This services that role playing/character building itch as well as those ‘munchkin’ deck building/strategy sensibilities. From the viewpoint of someone who’s played a lot of Magic the Gathering and collectable card games (CCGs) - (both physical and digital) Heathstone acts in a similar way in the CCG space as WoW has in the MMORPG arena, with Blizzard’s typical serving-up of established genres with a streamlined accessibility - there’s a lot care and poise of balance in the game and you know it’s just going to popular for years to come.
Mario Kart 8
Along came MK 8, and as you could have predicted a load of Wii Us sold as a result. With true Nintendo polish the Big N’s new premier kart racer brought a refinement of established MK ideas which balance well against new ones. Served up with some lovely graphics and jazzy ear-worms in the soundtrack I was wowed by the presentation and found myself wasting a lot of time replaying things in slow-mo, catching all the eccentric, shiny little details. Fast, fluid and as relentlessly snidey as it ever was, the competitive gameplay is a pure joy to revisit and I found Wii U’s new iteration of Mario Kart the most memorable in the series since the N64 version. When you read about big name studios abandoning Wii U you just have to look at games like MK 8 and Smash to realise Nintendo can shamelessly reuse core gameplay (and a host of popular characters) whilst managing to maintain the magic for the newcomers and nostalgia-trippers alike.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
There’s a very insightful interview Eurogamer did with Ethan Carter’s creator, Adrian Chmielarz that explains the vision behind the game with a lot more panache than I can (please do take the time to read it). One of the things Chmielarz talks about which is evident even in our post-The Last of Us world is the way games still flap about to give you a narrative via cutscenes and set pieces which is completely incongruent to the gameplay. A prime example of this in 2014 is Wolfenstein's New Order (A game i gushed about by virtue of being able to inexplicably dual-wield every gun in the game as if Blazkowicz was stashing them away in his giant glassy-eyed head) which has a lot of flat characters and interactions that serve to embellish the plot and make Blazkowicz seem more tangibly human, only to then see him running off and inexplicability dual-wielding every gun in the game (muhaha). After finally having a watch (definitely the better way of describing it) of Dear Esther I’ve been interested in the way first person, free roaming exploration can be used as medium to create you own movie if you will. Ethan Carter does a great job in this sense, despite being short and a bit more linear than I was expecting you’re drawn into the ‘next-gen-ness’ of the breathtakingly absorbing visuals and engage in the game’s mini plots without twitching to skip through to the next bit of action, simply because the game is limiting you not too. Here’s a great example of how you change the way games are put together with an emphasis on storytelling, it’s a ‘horror’ story but not one that slaps you around every corner with jump scares or contrived zombie slaying, and it’s cleverly made, thoughtful and a definite point of reference for future games trying to tell a good story that isn’t just fluff behind your next killing spree.
Dark Souls II
At the opposite end of the gaming rainbow from Ethan Carter sits the Souls series, not really anything new, in fact something quite old school in many ways but similar to the latter in the sense you’re not hand-held at every turn with tutorials and hint prompts when you’re left wondering what on earth you need to do. In a world where games can on the whole be as easy as you want them to be, Souls games remain the perfect antidote, not just because they’re a nuts hard challenge but also because you get punished for your fails. With Dark Souls II, things are a little easier but you still need to exercise patience, especially in boss fights, where staying alive long enough to learn the cycle of movesets then leaves you with almost no margin of error to fight against them. But getting the victory blow makes you feel like a total don every time. Add in Dark Souls’ sublimely visceral combat, a rewarding levelling system and more stats to muck around with than an accountancy firm, and you have (IMHO) easily the best RPG this year, despite the sense that DS 2 suffered from having From’s devs seconded to work on Bloodborne.
Have you enjoyed any of the games above? Let us know if so.
SEE ALSO: HITC Editors' Top 5 Games of 2014: Adam