We’ve all said it at one point or another, but it bears repeating: 2014 was pretty much ass. Purely focusing on the games-side of things, there were far more disappointing and broken games that released this year than any of us would have expected. Still, even in this most ass-y of years, there were still games that came out that were worth rewarding. But before we get to those games, let’s start off with a category that’s pretty representative of 2014 as a whole.
Best 3 out of 5 of the Year
Mario Kart 8
We here at Error! Not Found aren’t normally in the business of awarding mediocrity, but for once we’ll make an exception. Mario Kart 8 was the best game out of a so-so bunch, the sort of game that you might call “solid” on a good day. To its credit, Mario Kart 8 does a better job than most of its predecessors at iterating on this long-running franchise: the tracks are more ambitious, the karts more customizable, and the visuals on display will likely make you forget you’re playing a Wii-U game. But it also features lackluster online options in an era that practically demands them to be successful, and the new battle mode outright sucks. But still, solid game.
Runner-ups: Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, Assassin’s Creed: Rogue
If there’s one thing everyone on staff can unequivocally praise about Transistor, it’s the terrific soundtrack. The OST’s main appeal is the excellent beat-work from Darren Korb, which has the composer taking inspiration from drum-and-bass to provide songs with excellent progressions. Whereas his work on Bastion had a distinct folk-rock edge, Korb opts for creating soundscapes that are simultaneously subtler and busier this time around. Much of it recalls the melancholy moods conjured up by trip-hop greats like Portishead, particularly during tracks featuring Ashley Barrett’s excellent vocal accompaniment, who gives a passionate performance in every one of her features. As a part of the main game, Transistor‘s OST feels as important to Transistor as the Transistor.
Runner-ups: The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth
Oh Destiny, how we wanted you to be good. And by all accounts this should have been the case: a loot-based multiplayer-focused FPS doesn’t seem too far from what Bungie was doing during their work on the Halo series. To its credit, Destiny gets right the bare-minimum of what you would expect: shooting and moving around in Destiny feels great, even great enough to make the first few hours of the game worthwhile. But unfortunately, there simply isn’t enough content in Destiny to sustain itself: initial exploration soon gives way to repeated missions and convoluted monetary systems, and the mangled execution of the main narrative certainly doesn’t help matters. Maybe in a couple of years down the line when Bungie has filled things out, Destiny will be worth playing. Right now though, we’re left with a shell of what could have been.
Runner-ups: Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, The Walking Dead: Season 2
The Last of Us: Left Behind
Yep, we gave the award to The Last of Us DLC. But considering the multitude of problems with the main game proper, it was surprising that Left Behind succeeds half as well as it does. Left Behind keeps the already strong mechanics of the main game, but cuts out most of the story’s fat to focus in on the relationship between Ellie and Riley. Removed from the issues of Joel’s character work, Ellie is free to shine in what ends up being some of the most natural scenes of dialogue of the year, and the added interplay between humans and infected show a willingness from Naughty Dog to innovate months after the original game.
Runner-ups: Bayonetta 2, Alien: Isolation
Best New Character
Rei – Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth
Upon initially meeting Rei, I thought that she seemed pretty cute and fun. After about twenty hours in, this gave way to gradually mounting frustration: Rei’s heavy focus on eating seemed as over-played as Teddie’s repeated attempts at picking up the girls and Ahihiko’s never-ending use of the word “protein.”
But then the reveal happens, and it turns Rei from one of the Persona series most paper-thin characters into one of its most uncompromisingly depressing. It gives the final hours of Persona Q a sense of purpose that the early ones seemed to lack, and it concludes not with any tricks, but with a sense of acceptance.
Runner-ups: Nagito Komaeda – Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, The Iron Bull – Dragon Age: Inquisition
Hideo Kojima has admitted to turning down the graphical quality of P.T. in order to make it appear more like an indie game. If you’ve played P.T., you know how insane this sounds. I find the never-ending stride for photorealism in games generally tiresome, but P.T. leverages this to its advantage: the way the hallway of P.T. gradually shifts from the familiar to the very unfamiliar is the one of the many ways the game executes its horror.
And seriously, that hallway pretty much looks like a real hallway.
Runner-ups: Transistor, Alien: Isolation
There were certainly more polished, better designed multiplayer games in 2014, to a degree that I sort of feel bad about Velvet Sundown winning. But there’s something undeniably intoxicating and strange about Velvet Sundown, its collection of mechanics somehow congealing into much more than the sum of its parts. The text-to-voice implementation feels, as Evan put it, like you’re talking to people in Twin Peak‘s Black Lodge, and it dramatically enhances all of the weird role-playing Velvet Sundown facilitates. Also, fuck Boyle.
Runner-ups: Cannon Brawl, Fibbage
Best? Open World
In a year that featured a grand Ubisoft-ification of open worlds, Sunset Overdrive made a setting that was bright, colorful, and uniquely interacted with. Sunset Overdrive is uncompromisingly colorful, and its focus on quick movement ensures that navigation is rarely too dull. Perhaps it adheres to this ethos a bit too strictly, but Sunset Overdrive does deserve points for creativity.
Runner-ups: Divinity: Original Sin, Far Cry 4
Ubisoft’s Best Game of the Year?
Assassin’s Creed: Rogue
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Has there been a worse year for Ubisoft, period? Every heavily hyped game to come from the studio has been at least somewhat underwhelming, if not outright broken. It’s at the top of this heap of trash Assassin’s Creed: Rogue stands tall, a game that seems to succeed precisely because Ubisoft wasn’t paying all too much attention to it. While the failings of its sister game Assassin’s Creed: Unity are varied and well-documented, Rogue manages to pull together a pretty decent time with the best, most concise mission design the series has seen in years. And hey, who doesn’t love Christopher Gist?
Runner-ups: Child of Light, Far Cry 4
Rei’s Memories – Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth
Both of the other runner-ups for this category both serve to deepen already established characters in well-presented but ultimately expected ways: the imaginary fighting game with Ellie and Riley makes the relationship between the two all the more touching, and the true depths of Nagito’s depravity are excellently explored in Goodbye Despair‘s excellent fifth trial. The difference is while Rei’s Memories similarly serves to deepen the character of Rei, it does so in an entirely unexpected fashion. About forty or so hours into Persona Q, it’s revealed that Rei is actually dead, and the entirety of the game has taken place within an interpretation of her memories during life. Rei, understandably, reacts to the revelation that she’s dead with despair, as she had lived most of her life in a hospital dead. The strength of the scene is really sold through Ashley Burch’s delivery, who makes the revelations as appropriately heart-wrenching as possible. It makes the line “Rei most likely ate so much because she wanted to live…” have a sting I wasn’t expecting anything in Persona Q to have.
Runner-ups: Trial 5 – Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, Imaginary Fighting Game – The Last of Us: Left Behind
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
Some things about Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair are still a bit of a bummer, like the minigames and a handful of plot issues, but Goodbye Despair still represents a major improvement over everything Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc was shooting for. Most importantly, the cast of Goodbye Despair is far more rounded out than its predecessor, boasting a well-rounded group of students with few weak links. The cases are more difficult and twisty right from the start, and Jabberwock Island makes for a more varied and interesting setting over the original’s Hope’s Peak Academy. The game struggles a bit with executing some of its meta-narrative aspirations, but it does produce an unqualified success with Nagito Komaeda, a character that uses cold logic to advance his insane philosophical ideals. It’s a success story from a series that had an initially rocky start: let’s see if it can do just as well in Round 3.
Runner-ups: Dragon Age: Inquisition, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Most Original Game
For better or worse, Alien: Isolation cannot be said to lack vision. Alien: Isolation most clearly draws influence from indie games like Slender, but with a huge budget and sense of ambition. Alien: Isolation is something of a 15-20 hour cat and mouse chase (where you’re always the mouse); shooting plays a tertiary role within the game. Instead, you’ll mainly be hiding from the game’s Alien and contending with other personalities like Working Joes and other humans aboard the ship. It seems no one ever told The Creative Assembly to pull back on anything they were doing with Alien: Isolation, and it’s resulted in a game that’s surprising to exist at all.
Runner-ups: Transistor, Velvet Sundown
Best New Mechanic
Nemesis System – Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
There’s plenty of stuff to rag on Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor for, but it’s hard to deny the strength of its main selling point: The Nemesis System. The Nemesis System represents an encouraging innovation in video game A.I., meaningfully reacting to actions the player performs in Shadow of Mordor. Died to the hands of a grunt orc? He might be put in charge of his own small group of underlings as a result. And that’s just one example: things like branding provide enough small wrinkles on the general experience of Shadow of Mordor to sustain it throughout its runtime.
Runner-ups: Mixing and Matching Abilities – Transistor, Using Phones as Controllers – Jackbox Games
2014 Presents: 2014’s Most Borked Game of the Year
Assassin’s Creed: Unity
There have been worrying signs for years that publishers are beginning to take a “release first, patch later” approach to putting out new titles. In 2014, the issues with this methodology became wholly apparent: the year was defined by games that were buggy, unfinished, or straight-up did not work. That were plenty of games that released in an unfinished state this year, but by far the most egregious was Assassin’s Creed: Unity. This is a game that ran in a sub-20 frame rate when you were merely climbing buildings and would refuse to animate characters, just to a name a couple of examples; these issues and far, far more could stack up at any point in the game. Ubisoft’s solution to this problem was to permanently reduce the graphical quality of the game on both next-gen consoles; if you were downloading this patch on the Xbox One, you may have had to re-download the game in its entirety. Congratulations Assassin’s Creed: Unity, you were the most borderline unplayable game of 2014.
Runner-ups: Halo: The Master Chief Collection, The Evil Within
The Last of Us: Left Behind
What’s so wonderful about The Last of Us: Left Behind is that it retains all of the original game’s narrative strengths but presents them in a much smarter way. On one side of Left Behind you have the present day situation with Ellie searching for supplies to heal Joel. These segments are as tense as anything in the main game, and a whole lot more lonelier without someone else to bounce back and forth with. The other side features Ellie and Riley hanging around a mall, which is a real joy to experience. The events of this flashback work on their own merits, with the two’s friendship displayed through a number of great sections that twist The Last of Us‘s normal mechanics on their head. Better yet, the two sections inform and play off each other, and serve to deepen Ellie in ways the main game occasionally struggled with.
Runner-ups: Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, Dragon Age: Inquisition
Watch_Dogs is clearly a game portioned off and developed by several different groups in tandem, with little communication present between them. This design philosophy extends to what could generously be described as its narrative, a hodge-podge of cutscenes and themes that don’t congeal into much of anything. If that was all that was wrong with Watch_Dogs‘s narrative however, it wouldn’t be winning this category. In addition to being nonsensical, Watch_Dogs also succeeds in being gross, conflating Aiden Pearce’s douche-y hacking activities with being a rad, cool, empowerment fantasy; it expects you to laugh while invading people’s privacy because “Look! This person is acting funny!” Watch_Dogs is more successful at commenting on the attitudes of its writers than it ever is talking about anything within the game itself.
Runner-ups: The Walking Dead: Season 2, Destiny
The Last of Us: Left Behind
Hey, look, it’s Left Behind again! The ending of Left Behind works so well for the same reasons as the rest of its narrative: it echoes the best of The Last of Us proper with none of the weak bits. At the end of Left Behind, Ellie and Riley are bitten and consider ending their lives. Instead of choosing to do so, they decide to live out what they believe to be the last few hours of their lives; at the same time, the game shows Ellie caring for Joel with the supplies gathered from the mall. It’s a lovely, life-affirming ending that deals in a more potent form of the ambiguity of the main game.
Runner-ups: Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, The Fall
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
The ending of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is very well displayed; it’s just a shame that the content of it is as shitty as it is. Everything wrong with the ending of Ground Zeroes can be boiled down to the treatment of the character Paz, which is rather revolting. After a gory, minutes-long sequence in which a bomb is removed from her stomach (with no anesthetic), Paz is revealed at the end to have had a second bomb in her vagina. Then it blows up and she dies. In addition to being an undeserved fake-out, It’s the pinnacle of using a female character’s suffering to make a flat-character (in this case, “Skullface”) seem more developed. It’s the ultimate punctuation of a troubling narrative from the entirety of Ground Zeroes.
Troy Baker of the Year
Additional Voice Talent – Titanfall
There was a point in time not too long ago where the announcement of Troy Baker in a video game was a reason to get excited. That time has long since passed; the appearances of Troy Baker in games like Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor show the voice actor being used as more of a selling point than anything else. “People want that Troy Baker guy, dammit!” What more fitting way to reward this homogenization than with his excellent performance in Titanfall as “Additional Voice Talent.” Why yes, he was in that game!
Runner-ups: Far Cry 4 – Pagan Min, Delsin Rowe – Infamous: Second Son
Terror! Report Presents: Best Horror
Clint Prentice and friend-of-the-site Kyle Lock host a series of videos where Clint plays scary games and gets terrified. You should check it out! Their pick for best horror game of the year is Alien: Isolation, a game that Clint has described to us as “Threat Level: Red, Extreme, White-Hot.”
Runner-ups: P.T., Five Nights at Freddy’s
Series Regular Presents: Best TV Episode
“Beyond Life and Death” – Twin Peaks
Conversely, Evan and I have been putting together podcasts since spring this year about different television shows. “Beyond Life and Death” was a pretty easy pick for both of us for best episode we’d watched this year, as it channeled some of the best Lynchian horror the director’s ever done, period. Agent Cooper’s trip through the Black Lodge is a disturbing and off-putting one, culminating in a wonderful scene where Cooper attempts to escape the Black Lodge before his doppelganger. With a third season of Twin Peaks coming 25 years later, maybe we’ll finally get an answer to the question “How’s Annie?”
Runner-ups: “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” – The X-Files, “Opening Night” – Curb Your Enthusiasm
Best Game Evan Doesn’t Like Very Much
Evan’s a great guy, but sometimes he wouldn’t know a great game if it hit him over the head. There were many games that Evan unjustifiably turned his nose up at during 2014, but the most ridiculous of all was Alien: Isolation (which if you haven’t noticed EVAN, won Terror! Report’s award for Best Horror). Alien: Isolation combines a loving recreation of the original source material with an inspired relationship between the player and the Alien. What’s not to love? Only Evan knows.
Runner-ups: Wolfenstein: The New Order, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
The Evil Within
The Evil Within is a rough, rough video game that gets torn apart attempting to homage Resident Evil 4 whilst still remaining modern. The Resident Evil 4 influence can be seen in the moment-to-moment gunplay with The Evil Within‘s strict focus on gunplay; whatever charm this initially has is undone by inaccurate targeting and unforgiving ammo drops. It falls into a trap of withholding necessary abilities behind its upgrade system, only alleviating core issues through said upgrades. And then there are stranger problems: an aspect ratio that is far too wide, making it difficult to see enemies above or below you. The general bugginess and unpolished state of The Evil Within don’t help matters, resulting in 2014’s worst game of the year. Congratulations!
Runner-ups: Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, Assassin’s Creed Unity
ERROR! NOT FOUND’S TOP TEN GAMES OF THE YEAR
- Octodad: Dadliest Catch
And here we have the little game that could! Octodad: Dadliest Catch is a joy of a time, an experience explicitly designed around eliciting laughs. The writing is mostly successful, with Octodad’s family being surprisingly enjoyable to hang around with, but not every single joke works. It’s a good thing then that Dadliest Catch makes the act of moving around Octodad quite a lot of fun; simple actions like climbing up an escalator become multi-tiered puzzles within the context of Dadliest Catch, and it’s all the better for it. Even if it wasn’t as fun as it is, Dadliest Catch would still indicate a bright future for comedy games by deriving the comedy of the experience from its mechanics. It’s an added bonus that Young Horses, Inc. nailed it on their first try.
I don’t think you need me to explain the appeal of Threes!, but I’ll go ahead and do it anyway. Threes! is a match game given variety and depth; every time you add the same two numbers together, they’ll combine. The goal is to create the biggest number possible. The problem with games of this sort is that it often becomes a chore to top your last high score, but Threes! alleviates this issue by making high numbers of points take only a few minutes. It’s pick-up-and-play at its most inventive.
- Velvet Sundown
I could point to a bunch of weird things about Velvet Sundown: the text-to-voice implementation, the odd methods of item interaction, the random bouts of player-created insanity. I could point to that stuff (and just did), but just go onto YouTube and look up some of the music. Velvet Sundown is fucking absurd and we love it all the more for it.
In a year that saw Hideo Kojima at his most tactless with Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, it was a slight relief to see his talents put towards something actually worthwhile: P.T. As a self-described “Playable Teaser” for Silent Hills, P.T. does a terrific job of building excitement for the main game by offering one of the most singularly unique experiences of the year. The majority of P.T. has you simply walking through a hallway over and over again, continually lulling you into a sense of security only to surprise you when something unexpected changes. It’s a novel approach for a horror game to take, and it’ll be interesting to see how Silent Hills will branch out from here.
- Alien: Isolation
If you’ve listened to the GOTY podcasts, you’ll know that there were some pretty mixed feelings surrounding Alien: Isolation throughout the discussions. Specifically, Clint loves it, Evan and Ryan have rather mixed feelings, and I have no opinion. So on behalf of Clint, I’ll sing the praises of Alien: Isolation as best I can. For starters, Alien: Isolation is a clearly very lovingly rendered project, possessing an attention to detail that surpasses even Rocksteady’s Batman games in terms of accurately representing its source. Alien: Isolation is also rather adept at providing a sense of claustrophobia: the narrow hallways of its setting are the least welcoming place to be in when you’re constantly being stalked by the Alien. Alien: Isolation‘s A.I. systems should also be commended for the ways in which they play off each other, whether it be humans, Working Joes or the Alien itself. For delivering an extremely memorable experience, Alien Isolation deserves its place on the list.
- Bayonetta 2
“Ok Error! Not Found,” you may be saying, “These games seem cool, but what if I want to play something that’s super FUN?” Look no further than Bayonetta 2, a game that surprised many of us on staff. In Bayonetta 2, Bayonetta and co…well, ok, the story is sort of a mess, BUT SOME CRAZY SHIT HAPPENS. And the only reason that crazy shit ends up working so well is because of the strength of Bayonetta 2‘s core mechanics, particularly “Witch Time,” which adds a risk-reward factor to dodging that practically carries the game all on its own. It’s aided even further by a number of small touches, like an excellent camera that does a great job of framing the action and a neat ability to extend any part of a combo by simply holding down the corresponding button. And while opinions were torn on Bayonetta’s portrayal within the game (I personally loved essentially everything about it), it gave way to one of the more productive conversations about games this year.
- Dragon Age: Inquistion
Speaking of starting dialogues, Dragon Age: Inquisition broke a ton of new ground by offering frank discussions on a ton of issues video games seem hesitant to tackle. Where they might normally be merely a small part of the overall content (if there at all), issues like faith and sexuality are addressed head-first in Inquisition. And instead of merely delving into them as simple ideas, these themes of Inquisition became important parts of its world and characters, the cast of which is a high point for a developer known for producing great ones. With the recent departures of a lot of top-talent, it’s relieving to know that Bioware can still write some excellent stories.
- Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
As much as we love it, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is pretty anime. Like, really anime. If you don’t like anime, stay clear. For those ok with a bit of conceptual silliness, Goodbye Despair has quite a ride in store. Goodbye Despair has some similarities with The Last of Us: Left Behind in terms of the lessons it seems to have taken from the previous installment. Gone are the many of the cast issues and uninspired motivations; Goodbye Despair leaves behind only the most worthwhile material. Even stuff that comes off as clumsy still feels endearing, like many of the attempts at adding more direct meta implications. It’s a game that shoots for big ideas about personal responsibility and life attitudes; we can forgive a couple of mistakes.
- Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth
Ahhhh Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth. All of us on staff were relieved when, at its end-point, Persona Q took it upon itself to be a real Persona game. Zen and Rei essentially act as the best social link any of these games have ever done, following through with some of the more dire implications right through to the ending. Persona Q is ultimately a game about acceptance: acceptance of yourself as an individual, the people that you surround yourself with, and life’s greater inevitabilities. And yes, it’s also about beating those goddamn labyrinths.
- The Last of Us: Left Behind
It might be a bit cliché to say, but The Last of Us: Left Behind is a pretty sterling example of why we play video games. There’s a ton of excellent gameplay systems, ones that get twisted depending on the timeline of narrative. There’s a meaningful narrative between Ellie and Riley, one that never goes for unearned emotional moments. And there’s a wonderfully realized setting in each shopping mall; one cold and treacherous, the other colorful and inviting. All of these elements are intertwined skillfully together, creating a memorable ride all of us on staff thoroughly enjoyed. A lot of awful shit happened in 2014; Left Behind shows the value in pushing through the garbage, even when it doesn’t seem worth it.