Top 10 Games of 2014
This year has seen the release of many great games. So much so in fact that the DarkZero team cast their votes more widely than ever – some writers’ second or third favourite games this year didn’t make our list.
Jorge: Even when the curtain was pulled back early to reveal P.T.’s status as a Playable Teaser for the upcoming Silent Hills, the game still managed to become an incredible experience on its own; the visuals are fantastic, often photo-realistic, and the atmosphere is some of the most chilling and terrifying since Amnesia, bringing back the original sensation of wandering through an unending nightmare that was sorely missing in the last few Silent Hills. Despite its simplistic one-room setting and short length, P.T. still managed to be far more terrifying and entertaining than Alien Isolation and The Evil Within combined, and the surge of YouTube videos showcasing the collective fright of players everywhere proved that real horror games have made their way back in a big way.
Monument Valley iOS
Ben: Monument Valley is the perfect combination of creative beauty and fun simplicity. Traverse Escher-inspired levels while marvelling at the excellent art direction. Even on a small iPhone the interactions to move around the are flawless, leaving you free to enjoy the game while relaxing to the soundtrack. Each time your brain determines the ‘impossible architecture’ solution to a level it makes you smile.
Destiny PS4, Xbox One
Anthony: Bungie have done such a good job in making the players of Destiny work incredibly hard for those best pieces of equipment; making them strive to be among the highest level players by completing the absurdly difficult ‘Raid’s which yield only a chance of getting great gear. Not only is it such a task to get the best weapons and armour, but finding the materials and experience points to upgrade them also takes some dedication. The Fallen, Vex, Hive and Cabal are common but very different enemies fought throughout the various planets, and each create new challenges and experiences. Destiny is a great game to sink your teeth into, particularly with a friend or two.
Wolfenstein: The New Order PS4, Xbox One, PC
Thomas: The FPS genre certainly did not let up in 2014, with a steady stream of releases to keep fans satiated, and a handful of more interesting entries to keep the faith in those that were growing weary of shooting down sights. For fans of the genre’s single player content, The New Order was undoubtedly the best shower of the year, with appealing gameplay, great content, and a fantastic story to match. The gunplay is right up there with the best FPS games in recent history, and it’s made all the better as it is not afraid to be ludicrously OTT at times. Perhaps the game’s compelling story is one of the bigger surprises of 2014, as who could have ever imagined caring for a character called BJ Blazkowicz. Machine Games combined a mix of fantastic singular concepts that when brought together should not work as a whole, but still do. That alone is worth celebrating.
Dominic: MachineGames’ take on Wolfenstein was a nice breath of fresh air in the first-person shooter genre. It was a title that the developers had full confidence in, which is evident by the lack of any multiplayer components, a feature normally shoehorned into a game to give it a tick on the box, but not here. Instead, what you have is arcade shooting that feels great, responsive, but not in the autopilot snapping Call of Duty way, and features a neat leaning mechanic that helps players pop out of cover at various angles. Its level design is something that should be noted as being excellent, offering ways to play the game stealthy – you can actually finish some levels without killing anyone, but if you don’t want to do that, you don’t have to and can go all guns blazing, shooting up every Nazi that stands in your way.
Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd Vita, PS3
Dominic: I’m a big fan of rhythm games, but it’s been a sad time for fans of the genre, as the past few years have been dead. The quirky magical rhythm games that used to brew on the PSX and PS2 are no longer alive, but Sega single handedly offered me a sweet reward with Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd this year. Featuring a more varied selection of tunes, Project Diva F 2nd is an addictive, charming rhythm game that challenges not only your fingers, but your taste in music, as the game’s soundtrack becomes more than just a guilty pleasure – I can listen to these tunes on a daily basis. Hatsune Miku’s second English release supplies more wonderful visuals, catchy tunes and addictive gameplay that was my go to game for some quick fun, and the only rhythm game worthy noting for the year.
Simon: I am hugely into music and sparkly wonderful showyness, and yet somehow I managed to avoid becoming a raving Hatsune Miku fanboy before now. Because now I am. Seriously. People run away. I don’t know exactly what clicked for me this year, but the clickyness was absolutely profound, and I’ve bought three games and a limited edition concert blu-ray in the course of roughly a month. Suffice to say, Hatsune Miku is the most influential pop culture thing that has happened to me this year, and even though I owe that more to the first game – which I ultimately consider superior thanks to its soundtrack – the second, and Dominic’s review and YouTube footage thereof, was what made me take notice. With hundreds of hours spent across this and its predecessor, view my placing Project Diva F 2nd atop my GoTY list as a ringing endorsement of them both, and a symbol of my newfound love for the entire vocaloid phenomena.
Super Smash Bros Wii U, 3DS
Jorge: The Wii U release of Super Smash Bros deserves to be on this list for its presentation alone; a gorgeous HD gathering of some of the most beloved videogame characters in the world along with an uncountable number of easter eggs, cameos and other nostalgic callbacks. The gameplay is also incredibly addicting, whether you’re smashing solo or with friends, and the frustration is an equal terms with the fun you’ll be having.
Ben: Super Smash Bros is both a celebration of Nintendo history and the ultimate party game. Everyone can enjoy it regardless of whether they like the fighting genre. The chaos of an 8 player brawl ensures even the most experienced gamer will find it a challenge. There will be plenty of hilarious moments – sooner or later – at everyone’s expense.
Transistor PS4, PC, Mac, Linux
Ben: Transistor’s excellent artwork and soundtrack captured my attention straight away. The sci-fi world has a great atmosphere and the action-RPG gameplay will sustain your interest. Availability on multiple platforms is a real bonus as Transistor is easily one of the best indie games of the year.
Thomas: I did not review Transistor. Most reviews I write, even for top scoring games, will at least have some small section describing parts of a game that disappointed me. So, I think it is worth noting that if I were to write a review for Transistor, I don’t think I could find a solid complaint to put to paper. Sure, you could highlight the game was similar to SuperGiant’s previous effort, but seeing as Bastion was high on my personal Top 10 of 2011 (has it really been that long?), a game that builds on ideas brought forward there can not be seen as a disappointment. Transistor most certainly builds on it predecessor, and builds well, resulting in a game that is a triumph in almost every way.
Forza Horizon 2 Xbox One, Xbox 360
Simon: Horizon 2 corrects everything I found to be an issue in 1. The locales are beautiful, inviting and super fun to drive around in, and the handling – though arcadey – now has distinct characteristics that provide an engaging experience, while reducing the punishment for cocking things up a little. It’s frankly a complete joy to simply spend time inside its world, and I cannot recommend it enough. Ask me on the right day and it is probably my favourite racing game, period.
Dominic: Forza Horizon was my favourite racer of 2012, so I was stoked to see that the Xbox One would receive a sequel to what was probably the best arcade car racer since Project Gotham Racing 4. Forza Horizon 2 takes the open world concept of the first game and increases the location by three times the size, while also adding a more varied location than the brown deserts of Colorado by moving to Europe and using Southern France and Northern Italy as its locale, bringing lush green fields, forests, mountain roads and glowing cities for a more interesting open world and race course layouts. There is something exhilarating about driving an expensive car, speeding through a field of corn at 100mph and then smashing through a fence to the finish line. Forza Horizon 2 is full of these moments, and the inclusion of dynamic weather is a much needed feature that the main Forza series really needs to include. Weather makes racing in Horizon 2 more exciting, as you fight the ground for grip and fine tune your sight to look past the hammering rain for the next upcoming corner. With more events spread around different car types, a huge amount of content and the newly released add-on that takes the weather to the extreme on Storm Island, Forza Horizon 2 is the best car racer this year that will last weeks before anyone is finished with it.
Bayonetta 2 Wii U
Thomas: An unrelenting descent into madness is not something that should work, but it does here. If you start with a bang, you really should complement it with a quiet moment of reflection, but that does not happen here. When you are working with lesser hardware you should not be continually impressed with what you see, but that most certainly happens here. A story should at least make some sense, it doesn’t here, but I don’t care. You should not want to play a game through 4 times when you have 5 others vying for your attention, but that is exactly where I am right now. Bayonetta 2 is beautiful, well made, mindmelting, heart warming nonsense – and I could not be more happy about it if I tried.
Dominic: I see Bayonetta 2 as the Super Mario Galaxy 2 of the character action genre. The first Bayonetta was a brilliant game with the best and most refined combat mechanics out there. It’s a game that was close to the perfection of the art of action fighting, a genre that Platinum Games knows all too well. The game didn’t need a sequel, because if Bayonetta 2 didn’t exist, then the original game would still be the best going, just like Super Mario Galaxy. But we do have a sequel, and just like Super Mario Galaxy 2, Bayonetta 2 takes the concepts from the first game and refines them to get closer to perfection. The addition of Umbra Climax adds a bit of seasoning to the combat, enough to appreciate the inclusion, but not spoil what was already mechanically brilliant. The level design is better and much more colourful, and the plot takes Bayonetta through set-pieces that had me smiling in so much enjoyment that I had ice packs on my cheeks from the muscle strain, while at the same time in disbelief that this crazy shit on screen was actually happening on my Wii U. All these tweaks to the existing Bayonetta formula means Bayonetta 2 is the best character action game ever, my Game of the Year for 2014 and one of my favourite games of all time. I have to offer my thanks to Nintendo for allowing Platinum Games to prove again that they are the masters of action.
Mario Kart 8 Wii U
Ben: The best Mario Kart yet – the gameplay is incredibly polished and the excellent HD visuals have really brought the series right up to date. This is easily one of my most played games this year and was the game that made me take the plunge and invest in a Wii U. With the two DLC additions this is the most complete Mario Kart experience ever. I only wish the time trial friend comparison chart from the Wii version was included so you can view your friends’ times and ghosts – please Nintendo! Otherwise very hard to fault.
Simon: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh. How do you love and hate something in such surgically exact equal measure? There are moments when I want to rage quit my entire existence and disappear into a dimension where blue shells are tortured perpetually (they are also sentient in this proposed dimension for some reason), but there are also so many moments where the simple pleasures of Ninty’s best attempt at Mario Kart since the first one makes it worth all the agony of rubber band AI and having all sorts of garbage fly at your head – BECAUSE you’re doing well. Precisely half of the time Mario Kart 8 is a complete delight and without hesitation one of the best games I played this year.
Dominic: I have heard people say that the first Mario Kart you play ends up your favourite. That was never the case for me. I have played each Mario Kart release before the next one, starting from the genre defining Super Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo. My favourite Mario Kart is actually Mario Kart 64, but now after the release of Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U, that is no longer the case. Mario Kart 8 is not only a beautiful game to look at that oozes Nintendo’s charming art direction with crisp, colourful graphics, but it’s the track design that really shows what the designers can do at Nintendo. The new zero gravity elements add a much needed refresher to the karting formula, used in ways to craft some of the best tracks in the series. The only bummer is that battle mode sucks, but with online working so well, you’ll be glued to racing on the clouds of Cloudtop Cruise or driving down a waterfall in Shy Guy Falls to care. It should be noted that I feel Mario Kart 8 received some of the best downloadable content of the year, touching upon non-Mario franchises, such as The Legend of Zelda and F-Zero to bring characters and courses based on other Nintendo games. With the DLC looking like it is leading to some sort of Mario Kart: All-Stars racing game for the next instalment. The future is looking even brighter for Mario Kart after this brilliant sequel.
So there we have it, a list of intrigue and a few surprises! We could quite easily have done a top 30, such was the number of games put forward by the team.
In a year many will remember as PS4 vs Xbox One, the Wii U has been raising its game considerably. 2015 will be an exciting year for gamers.
From all of us here, Happy new year!