Why I Don’t Have A Game Of The Year For 2014.

To put it simply, I didn’t play enough major games that came out in 2014. Due to a combination of finances, my relative disinterest in the AAA games of the hour, and a few older games eating significant amounts of my time, I just don’t really feel like listing what my favorite games of 2014 were.

I could probably talk about the few 2014 releases I genuinely liked, but even out of that pack I never felt any major highlights. A handful are games I highly recommend, but I feel like I would be sort of giving them GOTY be default. I’m not quite sure yet how they’ll stand up in the plurality of this year’s releases when we look back on it all. 2014 is just a year of some games I played. However, most of the games I’m about to mention I feel are at least a little bit forgotten in the general GOTY conversation.

Maybe one problem is, to me 2014 felt like a year of sequels that were extremely similar to the last game. In terms of craft and hours of enjoyment the 2014 release that gave me the most was probably Dark Souls II, but once again I feel like I would be handing it to that game by default. It’s an excellent, sincerely-designed game in an industry that today seems mostly concerned with pushing players on to the endings of movie-like stories. It’s one of the only “big” titles I saw this year that respects the player a lot. But, it’s also very similar to the first Dark Souls and not as good. It adds things, but in the grand scheme of things I and a lot of other people probably prefer to go back to the first game or Demon’s Souls. Does the sequel really “earn” its praise among 2014’s best games?

I ignored basically every major AAA release of this fall and winter: Assassin’s Creed UnityFar Cry 4Dragon Age InquisitionCall of Duty Advanced Warfare, and couldn’t find the time or money for Alien Isolation and The Evil WithinUnity looks like… well, Assassin’s Creed, and apparently made it out the door before it was really done. Far Cry 4 looks and sounds a lot like “Far Cry 3.5,” and I felt like Far Cry 3 was a trek through safe places after the creatively riskier and more interesting Far Cry 2. I haven’t touched Call of Duty since Modern Warfare 3 (which I actually like a lot). Of these games, word-of-mouth tells me Inquisition is the one that really defied people’s expectations and earned some trust back after the disastrous Dragon Age II. I don’t know how many months it’ll be before I can get my hands on a copy though. The fall 2014 game I had the most interest in buying in the end was Isolation. It sounds like a fresh, interesting game despite the allegedly serious flaws in its execution.

One general development I’d like to point out for 2014 is that it might be the year indie games finally crossed over from “tiny” into something resembling the middle-budget games of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Maybe it started to happen last year or the year before, but 2014 is when I could confirm it. Indie studios this year gave us a healthy amount of full 3D games that feel similar to AAA games but are perhaps more efficient with riskier ideas. 15 years ago these games wouldn’t at all look out of place in a retail box. Betrayer was a successful open-world 17th century Virginia first person shooter. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was a big step towards the 3D open-world detective game I wanted to see for a long time, if a little on the short side. Kromaia was something people don’t attempt anymore — a Japanese-style 3D space shooter. 2014 had quite a few other games like these that I didn’t play but took interest in.

All this said, the “AAA” game I did love this year that people seem to forget in end-of-the-year discussions is Wolfenstein: The New Order. It’s certainly the best singleplayer shooter campaign of the year. It headed in a direction I’ve wanted to see FPSs take. It not only brought back the flexible combat and deep level design I missed from the genre’s classics, but managed to be a thoroughly modern game at the same time. Some say it was the breath of fresh air they needed after too many military get-to-cover-oscar-mike shooters. Others say it’s the sequel RAGE never got.

Favorite 2014 Game Nobody Else Played: Oniken  I imagine more than a few people are calling Shovel Knight the indie game of the year, but all the people who enjoyed that game will probably like Oniken. It’s great for basically the exact same reasons. It replicates NES hardware and design at least as faithfully, with the same tightly-designed action-platformer gameplay. The main difference is where Shovel Knight takes after Mega Man and Duck TalesOniken strives to honor the original Ninja Gaiden. It’s not hard to understand why Oniken didn’t get the love Shovel Knight did though — it’s PC-only and was made by two guys in Brazil who didn’t or couldn’t do a weighty PR campaign.

You know what the real problem with 2014 was? There were basically no games that got me fired up. I enjoyed a couple games a whole lot, but only after buying them. There wasn’t that game to get hyped over leading up to release and then lose myself in upon release. I think most years are supposed to have at least one game like that, and 2014 for me just didn’t.

One big reason for this is probably my current lack of a Wii U. Perhaps Mario Kart 8 and Smash Bros. for Wii U would be “those” games for 2014 If I had access to them. 3DS Smash is indeed the real deal, but even it is predictable in its quality like many aforementioned games. The Wii U version seems to be the more substantial step forward and true heir to the franchise. A lot of people seem to agree 2014 was the year Nintendo’s first party output made the Wii U impossible to ignore despite its almost total lack of third party support.

There are games for which I have serious hype, but they all moved into 2015. The Witcher 3 stands firmly at the top of that list, both as a continuation of CDProjekt RED’s uncompromising writing and game design and as a possible next step in immersive simulator RPGs. Right below is probably the PC version of Grand Theft Auto V. People joke that GTAV is going to be the GOTY three years in a row because of its staggered platform releases. After that might be Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom PainGround Zeroes has shown us the prelude to a shockingly systemic and open-ended Metal Gear, and all the details we’ve gotten on Phantom Pain make it look like very nearly the military action game I’ve always wanted. Rounding out my anticipation for 2015 open-world games are Kingdom Come: Deliverance and No Man’s Sky for reasons I’ve already gone through in previous posts if you search for them. I really do feel like 2015 will be the true debut of this new console generation the way 2007 was to the last one.

BULLETS:

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