Top 10 videogames of 2014

The end of the year looms, and it's the season for best game of 2014 lists, so here's ours...

It’s fair to say that 2014 has been a very mixed bag in terms of videogame releases. We’ve seen plenty of big name releases arrive, as well as some totally new IPs. Some big titles have arrived only to disappoint, whilst previously unknown games have emerged to impress. We’ve also seen an increase in the trend of buggy release heading to store shelves, with patches and downtime being required to make some releases playable.

Yes, 2014 has been interesting, to say the least, and let’s not even get into the whole Gamergate débâcle and recent issues like GTA V being taken off store shelves in Australia. What we want to focus on is the great, and the good. We want to celebrate those releases that have deserved our time, our money, and our praise. 

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the top 10 games of 2014.

10. Valiant Hearts: The Great War

If there was an award for the most moving, and respectful tribute of the year, we’d unquestionably put Ubisoft’s Valiant Hearts up for it. This lovely tribute to those who fought in World War I is simply brilliant, from its striking and charming art style, to the wonderful tale it has to tell. It’s a game with a single goal, and that’s to showcase the events of World War I, and their impact on those involved.

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Over the course of the game, it explores the lives of a number of people, on both sides of the conflict, and it manages to convey the hardships and horror of the war, all the while retaining that charming aesthetic. I remarked at the time that it had far more emotional impact than any shock-scene of Call Of Duty, or so-called real world combat titles, and I still stand by that.

This isn’t a game you play for cutting edge tech, new gameplay mechanics or impressive action sequences, it’s a game you play to witness the true art of our beloved pasttime, and a true example that there’s far more to games than violence and controversy.

9. Hearthstone: Heroes Of Warcraft

The trading card game is nothing new. In fact, it’s now a very well established genre of gaming, video or otherwise, and there are many competing titles on the market. So, it’s even more impressive that Blizzard managed to make such an impact into this already competitive market with Heathstone: Heroes Of Warcraft.

Based on the Warcraft world, Hearthstone is a trading card game, in the same style as Magic The Gathering, and using your deck, you have to draw your cards and play them with supreme strategic skill to defeat your opponents. It draws upon the colourful characters and lore of Warcraft, and delivers its own twist on the classic, card battling formula.

What makes Hearthstone so good is its simplicity. Whilst other games like Magic can seem daunting to the beginner, Hearthstone is immediately welcoming. Even if you’ve no prior experience of trading card games, this is an easy game to pick up, but like all good games, it’s also very hard to master. It’s also ridiculously addictive, and when you really get into the online competition, be prepared to kiss a major portion of your spare time (if not all of it) goodbye.

8. Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition

Although Diablo III may have had a very troubled initial release date on PC back in 2012, its arrival on console was far smoother, and players also got the Reaper Of Souls expansion too. The game was updated with better visuals, 60fps play, and a new control system to tailor it for consoles, and the end result is a fantastic, old school role player.

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A huge game, with its ever-present emphasis on loot and finding increasingly more powerful equipment, Diablo III features a satisfying and constantly evolving story mode (thanks to free DLC), and it has a unique and satisfying multiplayer, with co-op play included too.

There have been more technically advanced and accomplished role players released this year, but it just goes to show that if your core gameplay is polished and refined, technical tricks don’t really matter.

7. Grand Theft Auto V

Granted, it’s a remaster of a game that was only released last year, but omitting Grand Theft Auto V for current gen from this list would be careless. Rockstar didn’t just remaster GTA V, instead it radically revamped the game, adding in a new first person mode, improved online modes, and more details and depth to the world. What’s more, the first person mode actually incorporates totally new controls and mechanics, with a new driving system and real, first person gunplay, and this marks the transition to GTA Online too.

Boasting more settings and options than many PC titles, the re-release of Grand Theft Auto V is one of the only remasters of recent times that I can wholeheartedly say needs to be grabbed, even if you’ve played the original to death. Not only is it a great game, and the best GTA to date, but it represents a big step forward for the franchise, and a great sign of things to come from the controversial developer. It’s still a re-release, though, so comes in at number seven.

6. Alien Isolation

It had to happen eventually. We had to finally get an Alien game that delivered what we really wanted, to be put up against one of film’s most iconic and terrific foes, and Alien: Isolation delivers.

Casting off the stifling cliché of space marines and armies of cannon-fodder aliens, Alien: Isolation instead put us in the shoes of Amanda Ripley, and dared us to survive against a single, and downright terrifying alien. Stealth and survival are the name of the game here, and with no weapons to hand to kill the alien, all players can do is run and hide, making use of makeshift equipment to survive on an isolated space station.

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Sure, there are other enemies to contend with, like desperate human survivors and those creepy Working Joe androids, but all the time you’re being stalked by the alien, and the sense of fear is palpable. Just hearing that hiss, or the thudding of footsteps is enough to drive you into the nearest locker for a cry, and it’s just great.

5. Far Cry 4

Far Cry 4 may well be more of the same, and even as a die hard fan of the series, I can clearly see UbiSoft has played it very safe, indeed. The thing is, it doesn’t matter. Far Cry 4 stands as a rock solid example of just how to create an open world FPS, and with the increased power of current gen tech, the open world here is even more impressive.

Whether you’re taking over enemy bases, hunting dangerous animals, or delving into Shangri-La, Far Cry 4 is a constantly robust and enjoyable shooter, and given Ubisoft’s track record this year, that’s quite impressive in its own right.

Add to all of this a greatly improved co-op that makes use of the open world play, and great online multiplayer, with a map editor for endless content, and you’ve got one of the best FPS releases of the year. And, it has elephants.

4. Dark Souls II

Whilst Dark Souls II may have lacked some of the original game’s more impressive features, such as the interconnected world and greater amount of creativity and variety, this by no means robs the game of its superb hack and slash role playing. As punishing as ever, with a brilliant layer of tactical, defensive combat laid over everything, Dark Souls II further refines the series, and delivers more of the hardcore action fans want, whilst making the game more approachable for new players.

Just as Far Cry didn’t need to reinvent itself too much, neither did Dark Souls, but From Software still managed to mix things up enough to create a game that plays differently from its predecessor, and introduces a more fluid, and responsive combat system, better weapon and magic use, and a greatly improved interface. The online play was also improved, and the expanded faction system made for some truly interesting mechanics.

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3. Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor

Not falling victim to the mighty hype machine, Shadow Of Mordor is without a doubt the biggest surprise of the year for me. I didn’t expect a huge amount, as the game wasn’t rammed down my throat for the best part of a year, and so when I fired it up, I could only be impressed.

Monolith has managed to deliver a superb open-word epic that takes place in a new chapter of Lord Of The Rings lore, and it borrows mechanics from some of the best games and makes them its own. There’s the exploration and navigation of Assassin’s Creed, world progression of Far Cry, and combat of Batman: Arkham, all wrapped up in a brilliant Middle-Earth story.

Looking almost as good as it plays, Shadows Of Mordor has perhaps the most satisfying combat and finishers of any game in recent memory, and the effortless transition from exploration to combat, and the easy use of protagonist, Tallion’s array of abilities makes you feel like a true warrior hero. Oh, and that’s before you factor in the Nemesis system, which is one of the best new features I’ve seen in games all year. Excellent.

2. Destiny

I can already hear the furious tapping of keyboards as comments are composed to protest Destiny‘s number two slot. Bungie’s FPS MMO-lite is probably the most controversial game of the year in terms of fandom. Some love it, and plenty hate it, and I can see the point of both camps.

However, what matters here is fun, and if a game keeps you coming back for more. In this regard, Destiny hits its targets with ease. I’ve probably sunk more time into Destiny this year than anything else, and with the DLC about to land as I write this, I’ll sink even more into it in future.

Say what you will about Destiny‘s small locations, lack of content and repetitive grind, but regardless, everything you do in this game is fun, and enjoyable. The FPS mechanics are sublime, the character progression is decent, and the selection of exotic weapons and rare gear to hunt and grind for gives you a reason to keep ploughing away.

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Then there’s the multiplayer. Bungie’s pedigree in PvP is amongst the best around, and Destiny is no different, and playing through the infamous Vault Of Glass raid is one of the most challenging and rewarding FPS events of the year, with a real need to true teamwork. Bungie has already tweaked and refined the game, listening to plenty of fan feedback, and it keeps getting better, just as any MMO should.

1. Dragon Age Inquisition

There’s only one game that could really slot into the top position this year, and that’s Bioware’s excellent RPG, Dragon Age: Inquisition. Plenty was promised of this instalment in the series, and BioWare has delivered on pretty much every aspect of it.

Surely one of the biggest RPGs I’ve seen, Inquisition is an immense monster of an RPG that delivers everything you could ever want. There’s real-time, and tactical combat, a ridiculous number of quests and side missions, brilliant characters, flexible skill trees, a huge and varied world, great story, the list just goes on and on.

On top of all of this is your impact on the world, and as you progress through the game, your choices make a profound impact on the world and its inhabitants. It’s true role playing, and it’s just great, pure and simple. Then there’s the multiplayer, which lets you team up with friends for a good bit of co-op adventuring, which adds to the already extensive content. A true classic, and definite game of the year for me.

Honourable mentions

Of course, there were more than ten good games released this year, but not all can make the list. Still, some other games do deserve a mention, including the impressive showing from Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare. If not for series fatigue and strong competition, this would have surely made the list as it was a definite return to greatness. No other shooter is as solid and smooth in terms of mechanics, and the online multiplayer is superb.

Watch Dogs was an early hopeful of the year, and was a very good game that delivered a new twist on open world gameplay thanks to its unique hacking mechanic. Sadly, it just wasn’t as impressive as we’d hoped.

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The same can be said for Infamous: Second Son, which was another solid and enjoyable game, but one that didn’t do enough, so much so I thought if could have even graced the PS3. A true case of graphics over substance.

Shovel Knight was another release that I have to mention, and was a genuine love letter to retro, 8-bit gaming, as was the underrated Mercenary Kings, a 2D RPG shooter that many people overlooked.

Finally, and I have to mention it, comes Assassin’s Creed: Unity. Yes, it was buggy, yes it’s become a poster child for the rushed release, but underneath all of this lies a very good Assassin’s Creed outing, one that embraces the series core, and delivers some of the best actual assassination gameplay of the series.

And that’s it, my top 10 of 2014. Now, over to you…

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