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.
The first thing you see upon starting The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a quote: “This game is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand.” It’s a bold, self-confident statement, and it’s emblematic of the game itself; there’s a refreshing degree of trust given to the player in Ethan Carter, especially compared to many other adventure games of the modern age. The decision also manages to avoid unnecessary frustration due to Ethan Carter‘s relatively limited interactivity. It also serves as a bit of a snobbish remark, one of the few indications The Astronauts give that links them to their past work at People Can Fly (a studio known for it’s gonzo, high-intensity shooters Painkiller and Bulletstorm). The quote is an almost comical juxtaposition of “hardcore-gamer” sensibilities, for a game that shares a lot in common with so-called walking simulators, but Ethan Carter proves itself with its extremely effective use of world-building.
Outside of sequels to games I’ve really enjoyed, I typically only get excited for games that sound conceptually interesting. And if nothing else Murdered: Soul Suspect has a good conceptual hook. you’re cast as a ghost detective who has to solve his own murder. Now this sounds like an idea rife with potentially compelling mechanical and narrative possibilities (last I checked, “Ghost Murder Mystery” isn’t a super populated genre). Unfortunately, Murdered: Soul Suspect doesn’t really explore these to any meaningful extent. It’s a largely pleasant time for its eight hour duration, but my main take-away from Murdered: Soul Suspect was disappointment.
Wolfenstein: The New Order doesn’t make a great first impression. In its opening level, which takes place during an assault on Castle Wolfenstein in 1946, The New Order feels sluggish, looks underwhelming, and seems overly linear and generic. It also seems to fall into the tired loop of set-piece, gameplay, set-piece that colors so many modern day shooters. At that point, I wasn’t feeling hopeful for the rest of The New Order, but fortunately this opening was an anomaly; the invasion attempt fails, and the series protagonist BJ Blazkowicz is sent into a 14 year long coma. He awakes to a world where the Nazis have won World War II, and now control much of the planet. It’s at this point that MachineGames reveal their desire to make The New Order heavy on both pulpy thrills and sobering World War II-era realities.
I’m going to put this bluntly: I don’t like Kirby Triple Deluxe. It oftentimes feels like a product custom-built to represent all of my problems with Nintendo at the moment, particularly its reliance on nostalgia to carry the player through the beginning hours. By the end levels of Triple Deluxe, HAL Laboratory manage to make use of the installment’s meager innovations to end things on a reasonably high note, but there’s altogether too much tedium before getting there.
Making its way to western shores after nearly four years, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is simultaneously a familiar and fresh experience. Playing Danganronpa oftentimes feels like developer Spike Chunsoft took a lot of the best ideas from Japanese games of the last decade and threw them in a blender, with games like Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and Persona 4 being the most obvious examples. It’s easy to end it there, but Danganronpa is successful at combining its various influences into a game with unique ideas on its mind. Danganronpa is simultaneously dark, cute, and surprisingly relatable, making it one of the best times you’re likely to have all year.