Continuing a tradition from the last two years, I’m devoting a sentence to every game I began playing in 2014. Consider this a small apology for not writing substantive entries on any of them save Mass Effect 3. More in 2015 (I promise).
Also, if you haven’t already, please consider buying my book (and seven better ones) in Video Game Storybundle V!
Anyway, to our main attraction:
Absolutely fails to justify the creator’s decision to make a video game rather than a short film.
Always Sometimes Monsters
Tries to spice up its slice-of-life drama with increasingly dramatic scenarios, but these only distract from what makes it distinctive.
My favorite Twine game so far, and a good argument for soundtracks in interactive fiction.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations*
The most hateful, unnecessary standalone expansion I have ever played.
Assassin’s Creed III*
Inconsistent but earnest attempts to complicate the American narrative of the Revolutionary War are the most interesting thing going on here, but the Templar/Assassins nonsense that is the series’ albatross weighs even that down.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag*
Introduces a lovely core loop in the form of naval combat, then sets 70% of the main game on land doing the exact same things you’ve been doing for the last five Assassin’s Creed games.
The Banner Saga*
A haunting, powerful tale of survival whose apparent failures are a very intentional and necessary part of the design.
Takes the basic combat/exploration of the roguelike and layers on goofball humor and an unusual dynamic campaign structure.
This follow-up to the rather staid Blackwell Legacy is more grounded and has a compelling lead, though still feels amateurish relative to many other adventure games.
The Blackwell Convergence*
Trades the grounding of Blackwell Unbound for a deep dive into the metaphysical, though its interest in NYC history is charming.
The Blackwell Deception*
Like a season of a TV show that isn’t actually better than the last but is more enjoyable because of a comfortable familiarity.
Most famous for having its notes cribbed by Angry Birds, it’s also one of the few games that feel truly at home with the Wii’s motion controls.
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter
While radical for a JRPG, this dungeon-delver’s careless storytelling and hardware-constrained room sizes make it hard to return to.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons*
Easily the best use of bloom lighting in a video game, though the storytelling is obnoxious in how desperately it wants to make you cry.
Card Hunter: Attack of the Artifacts
The brutal difficulty of some of the later levels demonstrates that Card Hunter really is the anti-Hearthstone.
Costume Quest 2*
This lovely follow-up reduces the grind while keeping the simplicity that makes this one of the few good RPGs for children.
A Dark Room*
I wiped my browser cookies and lost my save progress >: (
Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition
Infamous for its unforgiving nature, Dark Souls really should be remembered for level design that meshes perfectly with its fiction (in other words, the world-building is in the world building).
One of the best time-killing, ultra-light strategy games on the web.
Dog of Dracula 2*
The One True Sequel to Dog of Dracula feels rushed, but is still chock full of quotable sentences.
Wiping the player’s base and constructions after death is far too unforgiving for my tastes (and free time).
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
Distinct Capcom RPG features excellent character customization and the most kinetic combat this side of Dark Souls, but ultimately tries to correct for its low inherent difficulty by giving enemies enormous health bars.
Draw a Stickman: Epic
I remember that there were stick figures and puzzles.
The first episode features storytelling as good as anyone could hope, but the “X Will Remember” prompts lifted from The Walking Dead give the experience of being forced to play with the commentary mode on.
Even in alpha, this is probably the best tile-based RPG combat ever made.
Strips exploration down to its basics, leaving an experience as meditative as Proteus but many times larger.
More games should open in libraries.
The first game since Shenmue to recognize that there is a pleasure in waiting.
Endless Ocean: Blue World*
In a just world, this would have been the best-selling third-party title on the Wii.
Europa Universalis IV
I admit: the tutorials scared me and I never returned.
From the Candy Box school of game design comes this dark tale of infinite cash.
Doesn’t really transcend the limited browser “gameplay” of its peers, but it certainly has an excellent sense of style.
Those who dismiss this as a silly joke reveal themselves as hateful people who don’t like silly jokes.
Hearthstone: Curse of Naxxramus*
The best writing in a Blizzard game since Diablo (a low bar, admittedly, but dem is good puns).
A finally wrought but largely traditional hack-and-slash that couldn’t hold my attention in this age of radical new gaming experiences.
Hexcells is to Minesweeper as Diplomacy is to Risk.
Amps up the difficulty above its predecessor, but gives you all the skills you need to succeed.
Released alone, I would have bounced off of this as impossible; having beaten two Hexcells games, I finished it with aplomb.
The Illogical Journey of the Zambonis (Full Version)*
The best edutainment parody since Frog Fractions.
I Love You*
I don’t really remember this game, which is a lesson that I should really write these summaries throughout the year rather than at the end.
A cornucopia of jokes about analog technology (i.e. you should buy it).
Myst without the bullshit.
Kentucky Route Zero (Episode 3)*
It’s surprising how much this relies on The Entertainment to flesh out its story.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn*
One of the cutest games ever made, and the rare game I’d strongly recommend for children.
Knights of Pen and Paper: +1 Edition
Strip away the charming D&D aesthetic and it’s just a grindfest.
Little King’s Story
A surprisingly dark tale of naive imperialism, it’s also the first original title to follow in Pikmin‘s footsteps.
Long Live the Queen
About as good as trial-and-error gameplay gets, but the win conditions are far too narrow.
The Civilization of score-attack shooters.
I have played this game a lot this year 🙁
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance*
Revengeance‘s tutorial is other games’ grand finale.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes*
One of the most engaging (paid) demos in recent memory, though we’re still waiting for the payoff on Kojima’s casting of Kiefer Sutherland.
Metro: Last Light*
A fine shooter, but the increased polish ends up removing the freedom and roughness that made Metro 2033 special.
Monster Loves You*
I love you too monster! <3
I have never had such a sudden shift from “Oh they this is pretty good!” to “wow this is just like every other MMORPG.”
“Eaten by the pink worm of victory” should become a widespread idiom.
One Finger Death Punch
The best two-button fighting game since Divekick.
I’m almost as bad at virtual pool as I am at actual pool.
Retro City Rampage
I suffered reference overdose.
Convinced me that we need more games with FMV cutscenes.
Saints Row IV*
You can’t make a caffeine pill better by increasing the density of caffeine, because it’s already 100%.
Just because I was capable of playing this surprisingly good retro shooter on a high difficulty doesn’t mean it was a good idea.
Makes me upset there are no badgers where I live.
Shogo: Mobile Armored Division*
At least 50% of the DNA of No One Lives Forever can be found in this hyperkinetic ode to bad anime.
The best thing to happen to local multiplayer since, well, Niddhog.
The year’s best deckbuilding card game, physically and digitally.
Star Trek: The Next Generation – A Final Unity*
Possibly the most expansive point-and-click adventure games ever made, A Final Unity comprises the equivalent of several TNG episodes and features 8 playable characters, multiple puzzle solutions, and a ludicrously detailed starship combat simulator.
Star Wars: Tie Fighter Collector’s CD-ROM
When everyone agrees that this is the best Star Wars game ever made, you probably should make more, yes?
You can tell it was designed for portables, but sometimes you just want a simple digging game, you know?
The Sun Does Not Exist*
Features the year’s best sight gag.
So good, I backed the kickstarter!
Tales of Maj’Eyal
In an alternate universe in which I played only a few games deeply, Maj’Eyal would be a strong contender for my time.
Single-player Talisman is one of the stupidest concepts in video game history, but I bought it, so who’s to blame?
The Temple of Elemental Evil
By far the best implementation of D&D combat ever seen in a computer game.
Beautiful, intelligent, charming, and yet somehow slight, an apparent symptom of a very small team trying to make a complex, detailed world.
Copious bugs don’t change the fact that this is the best (and possibly only) Gameboy-style action-adventure for sale.
A step in the right direction for edutainment, though it would be nice if we could figure out a better way than text dumps for presenting the historical context.
Typing of the Dead: Overkill
Typing of the Dead remains a brilliant concept, but the game’s now in on the joke, and that sort of kills it.
An absolutely fantastic successor to Wasteland that sadly collapses in the final act, something that will be hopefully be fixed in post-release support.
Wii Sports Resort
Flying around the resort in an airplane is one of my fondest gaming memories of 2014.
Having spent over 100 hours in this single-player MMO, I can reliably state that it is not the second coming of the JRPG.
Demonstrates that you *can* make storytelling the center of a local multiplayer game, if you have a truly masterful control of tone.