These lists have been shaken up a little since I announced them on the podcast that was released today. If I’m being honest, I didn’t put much thought into the back half of my top ten games because I couldn’t really think of ten games that I totally and completely enjoyed. So, in the heat of the moment I spat out a few games and some Other Things in an attempt to keep the podcasts moving. As it turns out, I forgot about some neat-o things! Anyway, others have shifted their lists around slightly, mine just might be a little more noticeable.
This was a real shit year, wasn’t it? Generally when it comes to Game of the Year, I’m excited to talk about how that year shaped games. The “Big Releases” were mostly not that great or competent, but lacking in any meaningful change, or just downright bad. Not to mention the back half of the year being absorbed by a vile and disgusting hate group that (more than once) caused me to stop and wonder if any of this was really worth anything. But I also think this year has allowed me to explore my identity as a critic and I think more interesting, more dynamic conversations about games have occurred because of that.
To start things off, how about a list of the other things that grabbed me this year that aren’t video games?
Clint’s Top 5 Other Things of 2014
Honorable Mention: Graduation
Yay, I graduated! Yahoo! Freedom, the likes of which I’ve never seen! The past few weeks since I graduated have been terrifying and panic-inducing. I have no idea what I’m doing, where I’m going, or where I’ll be in six months. My days are largely spent sitting around either sending out applications or reading rejection letters. It’s not really a net positive on the whole, but I suppose it’s worth mentioning because that means I’m movin’ on up in the world (or something)! I also don’t really want to put this on my actual list because, well, frankly I didn’t walk and I have a totally embarrassing story to go along with that (which you know if you listen to the podcast).
5. Tabletop Games
I’ve gotten really into tabletop games this year. During the cast party for a stage show I was in, someone brought out Resistance. We were all a little drunk at the time, but damn if the five rounds we played weren’t an absolute blast. Resistance’s only real mechanic is deception; who is lying, who looks like they’re lying, is anyone telling the truth? Playing with a large group of actors only exemplified the amount of chaotic fun that came from lying with friends. Subsequent games have been all about subverting each other’s ideas of how we play. If I hang back, does that mean I’m planning something, or am I a resistance member who doesn’t want any undue suspicion, or am I a dirty spy you think is on your side? If Resistance came out this year, it’d probably be my Game of the Year.
Chief among tabletop games is D&D. You know why. I love crafting stories and going to strange, new places. D&D allows that on a scale only limited by the imagination of players. The recently released 5th Edition seems to remove many of the nagging rules and focus more on imaginative storytelling. I’ve got a group all set up and we’re about to start a campaign that I think I’m DMing. Somehow that’s more terrifying than doing Family Game Night.
4. Arrow/The Flash
This season, Arrow has struggled to find its footing. But The CW launched The Flash this season, a show that hit the ground running with a great cast and fun super hero stories. The Flash sidestepped the growing pains of Arrow’s first season and immediately knew what kind of vibe a second show in their Arrow/Flash universe should have. The highlight of all of this comes with the crossovers between the two shows. In some ways, having Barry Allen show up on Arrow helped that show find itself in the third season. Oliver Queen showing up in The Flash helped that show discover a darker tone, while still keeping the dialogue light. I’m really excited for what these shows will bring with the rest of their seasons.
3. TV Miniseries
Matthew already discussed this in his list, so I won’t linger too long. Fargo and Over the Garden Wall were both absolutely fantastic. In a year of mostly bad TV, these two series pulled me out of cancelled comedies and aping dramas that flooded networks. Maybe shorter, more structured shows are something we should see more of in the future! (Please?)
2. Mad Men
The story of Don Draper has alluded me for years. I tried to get into the show before, but something always held me back. This year, though, I changed that and watched all six (and a half) seasons in quick succession. Mad Men happens to now be one of my favorite shows. It is the story of an ad man who has everything and loses it all. You kind of hate Don Draper, but you’re supposed to. He’s not the hero of the story — I’m not even sure there is a hero, everyone is kind of an ass. The highlight of each season are the handful of episodes that break the narrative structure and try something entirely different. They are some of the absolute best. I kind of want to run through the entire show again now.
1. 1989 – Taylor Swift
My girl TaySway knows what’s up. She made the best album of the year. She’s killin’ it on all levels.
Now how about some video games? I’ll get jabs by the rest of the crew about my list, but I don’t really give a damn. These are the games I loved the most in 2014 (Some of which, it seems, no one else does. Which is fine. They’re wrong. But it’s fine.)
Top 10 Games of 2014
10. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
“Allow me to cut through those words!” “No, that’s wrong!”
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair fixes many of the problems I had with the first Danganronpa. The cases were better (largely, though I think the 4th case is the weakest of both games), the characters were better (largely, though there were a few that did not do anything for me and some that never really became much other than their Ultimate status), and the larger story does a better job at nailing its main themes of hope and despair (of which you will never forget through the course of the game since they mention it as often as possible). The fifth case in Danganronpa 2 is a personal highlight just in how wild and crazy it gets; from there the game fires on all cylinders right to the conclusion.
9.Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Liking this game as much as I did came out of nowhere for me. After the last few years of Call of Duty games I had no expectation this would be any good at all. But they did it. They changed up Call of Duty and decided to actually try with the story. It’s not entirely successful, but they manage to slow down the pace of the bombastic story and actually get you interested in what’s going on (hint: PMCs are evil). The changes they make to the movement do wonders to liven up the multiplayer. If a wider range of fast-paced movement is what we can expect from first-person shooters, I think we’re off to a pretty great start.
8. Cannon Brawl
Cannon Brawl mixed parts of Worms, Starcraft, and Combat with a steampunk/fantasy esthetic to make a multiplayer strategy game I keep coming back to. It takes all of these games and mashes them together into a wonderfully chaotic game about blowing up castles with towers. You want to play Cannon Brawl with me?!
7. Velvet Sundown
I haven’t played a lot of Velvet Sundown, but every time I do, something great happens. In my first game I found out I had a long-lost brother who was in cahoots with aliens who wanted to do experiments on me. My second game had me getting high and telling stories about my messed up childhood, only to get blamed for a murder I didn’t commit. I also had a game where I was trying to get signatures for the government to stop murdering all the whales because they are the True Gods who will deliver us from the blasphemous false prophets like Malik who will bless the unwilling into his cult of demons.
6. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
I did everything you could do in Shadow of Mordor. I just wish there was more of it. The nemesis system is a really cool mechanic that strikes an identity for itself, almost in spite of itself. The world and story are generic and pandering, they never go anywhere or do anything interesting. The combat is ripped from the Arkham games, the traversal ripped from Assassin’s Creed; combining the two and adding speed makes up for a bit of sameness. More than anything, it was a blast messing with the nemesis system and crafting stories myself, since the game didn’t really bother to do much on that front.
I like pretty much everything about Transistor: it’s mashup of real-time and turn-based strategy, the incredibly varied skill system, the beautiful artdeco meets steampunk painterly esthetic, and the absolutely wonderful soundtrack. Hell, I even love the more allusionary storytelling of a corrupt system attempting to overwriting life itself. It’s a pretty stellar package. I should play that again.
4. Persona Q
I played Persona Q the wrong way. I dashed through it in a week, on safety, and brute forced a few puzzles just to get it done faster. Sometimes I would get frustrated at the design of labyrinths and their crazed puzzles, but I realize that’s the point. The labyrinths represent a grueling task you don’t really want to complete, but your legs keep moving and you keep mapping. Since the structure of the dungeons don’t really give themselves to mazes, Persona Q creates the mind-bending lost feeling of mazes through the puzzle design.
I have a few problems with the representation of story in the majority of Persona Q, in that it’s mostly referential and tends to ruin some characters who I know to be much more than the nugget of personality the game gives them. I wish it held more identity in the first half of the game besides just “You like Persona, right?” But the story of Rei and Zen and the larger themes of growing up and moving on do much to alleviate my qualms. It condenses an entire games worth of large themes about life and death into what is essentially one long social link with Rei and Zen. I’m cool with that!
3.The Last of Us: Left Behind
I had to replay this after we started our Game of the Year deliberations. It came out way back in February (Valentine’s Day, appropriately!) and I guess I lost it among all the crap games I played in February. It’s a pretty stellar piece of DLC that both informs what came before and establishes new ground. The whole story plays out in Ellie’s monologue at the end of The Last of Us proper, but Left Behind gives way more meaning to her words. It’s chock full of great moments; I especially love the fighting game sequence, the Halloween store, and the dancing they do before the kiss they share. I’d say the only thing I don’t particularly like are the segments with Ellie in present day before humans show up. Once they do, a broader scope of combat encounters can play out by using the infected to your advantage.
It’s short, it’s sweet, it’s exactly what I want out of more DLC.
2. Alien: Isolation
I’ve made my feelings known about Alien: Isolation. I think it is the most terrifying game I have ever played. Every system in Isolation is designed to milk tension out of the player. From the constant beep of the motion detector (and the blurring of your eyesight as you stare at it) to the save system itself, they all work against the player to make a game about winning when all the chips are down. In that way, it excels at being one of the only licensed video games that accurately portrays the feeling of being in that world and experience what those characters experience. Alien: Isolation is also incredibly fucking terrifying and capitalizes on my own personal fears.
1. Dragon Age: Inquisition
No other game this year comes close to Dragon Age: Inquisition. I have talked at length in a number of podcasts and wrote my longest review on Inquisition (which you should read, please). It is a game that I really latched onto and never wanted to stop playing. Even the prevalent issues don’t bother me that much; the war table system is terribly managed and the menus are sometimes a chore to spin through since they sometimes take a moment to load properly.
But the world and story mesh together in a lovingly passionate game about why we believe in anything: friends, religion, love. It poses questions about magic and control that have metaphorical connections to real world problems that make Inquisition more modern than its fantasy trappings make it appear. I’d go as far as to say Inquisition’s writing (both in terms of characters and larger themes) are far more compelling to explore than any of the Mass Effect games.
You don’t agree? I don’t care. It’s the game I want to talk about more. It’s the game I want to play again and see different story outcomes. It’s my game of the year.