VGBlogger Year in Review: My Favorite Games of 2014

2014_YearinReview.jpg

I don’t know about you, but for me 2014 was largely a year marked by disappointment, both in gaming and on the personal side. I’m not sure what it is, but I find myself growing increasingly disinterested with the current direction game design is headed, particularly on the console side, which is a main reason why I have been turning more and more to PC games and indies. This is the first new console generation in some time where I felt no urgency to buy a system at launch, and even when I did eventually break down and buy a PS4, a full year into the console’s lifespan I have only played maybe a handful of games that have truly left an impression. On a personal level, the year didn’t get off to a great start as I had my PC kick the bucket. Then shortly after I did buy my PS4 it too died and had to be replaced. I also had a weird and thankfully minor health scare, as well as other little things that just kept me from ever getting into a constant flow. But I’m hitting the refresh button and aiming for bigger and better things in the New Year!

2014 wasn’t all bad, though. I played a lot of awesome games, some of which I know you’ve heard of, many a lot of you probably never played, and since we don’t really get into all the “Game of the Year” awards hype here, I thought I’d simply close out the year by talking about some of my favorite games from the year that was. I’d also love to hear about some of your favorite games or gaming memories, so please do chat away in the comments!

Thanks as always for reading and supporting VGBlogger. Happy New Year!

Cloudbuilt:

Cloudbuilt.jpg

Equal parts Mirror’s Edge and Mega Man, this underappreciated gem is a third-person speed run parkour action platformer that has you wall-running and jump-boosting through a cloudy dreamscape brought to life by a striking cel-shaded art style. Cloudbuilt was not an easy game to get into. I struggled with the controls and became frustrated dying and retrying many of the later levels, to the point where I almost gave up on the game entirely. But I am so glad I persevered, because with a little more patience I was finally able to obtain a certain degree of mastery with the mechanics, and all of the falling and getting back up to try again only made completing the game and uncovering most of its secrets that much sweeter. Spotting a crazy speed run line through a level and then actually pulling it off provides a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I also have to give major props to developer Coilworks for continuing to update the game all year long since its initial release in March, releasing excellent DLC offerings (both free and paid), and maintaining regular contact with the Steam community to gauge feedback and consider ways to make the challenging gameplay more approachable for the masses, which it has followed through on.

Styx: Master of Shadows:

StyxMasterofShadows.jpg

Move over, Garrett, there’s a new master thief who has claimed dominion over the shadows, and his name is Styx. (No, this game has nothing to do with the rock band.) Styx is a goblin assassin. You know, the potty-mouthed rogue sidekick originally seen in Of Orcs and Men. Here Styx is the star, and he proves he has the gameplay chops and personality to carry not only one game, but hopefully what will become an ongoing series. This is a game of pure stealth, in which ghosting is not only a viable option, but also encouraged. As cool as Styx is as a new leading man, the real star of the game is actually the world itself, its intricately layered, vertiginous level designs offering multiple strategies and pathways, both high and low, for getting from point A to point B unseen and unheard. If you’ve been disappointed by the severe decline in stealth game design in recent years, as the genre has all too often been dumbed down and streamlined beyond recognition, you’ve gotta check this game out. Styx is the return to hardcore stealth you’ve been waiting for.

Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F:

HatsuneMikuProjectDivaF2nd_E32014

I’m a sucker for niche Japanese music games. Ever since Gitaroo Man, my favorite rhythm game of all time, infected my brain with its bizarre imagery and catchy tunes more than a decade ago, I’ve always been on the lookout for the next great game of obscure anime J-pop. The two Hatsune Miku: Project Diva games released in the U.S. on PS Vita this year may not be as weird, wacky or addictive as the musical adventures of U-1 and Puma, but they come pretty damn close, which is saying a lot from me, because until now I haven’t been able to find anything comparable to my love for Gitaroo Man. (Elite Beat Agents was in the ballpark, but not quite there.) I honestly have no clue what the characters are singing or what in the hell is happening in the background music videos, and just keeping track of the swooping note icons amidst all the anime chaos becomes sensory overload. But those are the things that make the gameplay and music so damned catchy and addictive. I am a total Hatsune Miku fanboy and I am not ashamed to admit it.

Transistor:

Transistor.jpg

Supergiant Games sure nailed this unrelated successor to Bastion out of the park. While at times I did feel a disconnect with the story, by the end of the game I was so immersed in the atmosphere and artistry of the world and attached to Red and her mysterious relationship to the man inside the Transistor that some of the plot’s emptiness and inconsistency didn’t bother me. Of course, it helps that the combat system, with its diverse array of functions and difficulty modifiers, is so completely enthralling. Even if all facets of the story don’t always click, you’ll be far too busy charging forward to face the next Process engagement and staring and listening in awe as the striking visuals and jazzy pop rock score sweep you away to a sci-fi world like no other.

Dark Souls II:

DarkSouls2.jpg

After roughly 100 hours and nearly as many deaths, I have completed Dark Souls II and its three excellent DLC expansions. Whew! My soul can finally be at peace. For now at least, because I still have yet to slay the Ancient Dragon (it’s the only boss I haven’t defeated), enter New Game+, or try even a second of PVP. As you know all too well by now from personal experience or have heard from others who talk about them, the Souls games are hard, which makes completing each one a triumph worth celebrating and bragging about to your friends. You can say that you survived one of the most demanding, soul- and time-consuming experiences in modern gaming. If you’ve been playing the series since Demon’s Souls, by now you’ll know the mechanics inside and out and have mastered all the tricks, so experienced players will probably find Dark Souls II to be the easiest of the three by comparison–the bosses especially. But in a vacuum it is still a tough-as-nails action RPG that loves to find cheap ways to inflict one-wrong-move deaths and confuse with its purposefully vague and obtuse design. Exploring every nook and cranny of the world, piecing together the lore based on what is seen in the environments and what is said by the often cryptic NPC conversations and by sharing theories with the community, studying the level design and enemy patterns, and figuring out how to make the game work for you is all part of the sense of accomplishment that makes a Souls experience so soul satisfying. I’m both looking forward to and frightened by the likelihood of spending another 100+ hours in Drangleic when Scholar of the First Sin comes out on PS4 (as well as PC and Xbox One) next year.

Alien Isolation:

AlienIsolation.jpg

The wait for an Alien video game worthy of the legacy of the film franchise has been long and painful, most recently coming to a head in the disastrous launch of Colonial Marines. For many fans that game was like a Xenomorph tail thrust through the heart. Fortunately, Isolation is the elusive great Alien video game we’ve all been waiting decades to get. Isolation shares influences with a number of recent games. The sprawling, interconnected world design reminded me of the best parts of games like BioShock and Metroid Prime. The stealth-based survival horror gameplay and cat-and-mouse interplay with the Alien stirs up similar feelings of dread and anxiety encountered in horror games like Amnesia and Outlast. More importantly, the game shows full respect to the source material, as the atmosphere, props, costuming and overall atmosphere are faithful to the 1979 film far beyond anything I ever could have imagined. Simply put, Alien: Isolation is a triumph of stealth horror game design.

The Banner Saga:

TheBannerSaga.jpg

Parts of The Banner Saga feel incomplete or less fleshed out than they could have been, and in some cases outright and purposefully unforgiving in order to match the storyline’s harsh tone and subject matter. But taken as a whole the experience is deeply fulfilling, thanks to well developed characters that you will actually care about and want to get to know, a narrative and game world of epic scope, and a tactically rich turn-based battle system that puts some smart twists on tradition. And what more can I say about the game’s stunning artistry? Some of the cutscene portraits and landscape shots made me wish I could print them out and frame to hang on my wall, instead of only being able to capture them as screenshots to use for desktop wallpapers. If Disney or Rankin/Bass ever made a mature cel-animated movie about Vikings, it would probably look a whole lot like The Banner Saga.

Betrayer:

Betrayer.jpg

Even though it was made by the original creators of games like F.E.A.R. and Aliens versus Predators 2, Betrayer is a different beast altogether, emphasizing non-linear, player-driven exploration, mature, nuanced storytelling, and a more subtle brand of supernatural horror that keeps you constantly on edge but never resorts to cliché scare tactics or gross out hyper violence. I wish the ending had been better executed, but all in all the story and characters are engaging and well written, and the process of slowly piecing together the treacherous tales behind the deaths and misdeeds of the former colonists is truly fascinating.

Bound By Flame:

BoundByFlame.jpg

Another sleeper on my list this year is the latest RPG from Spiders, the studio behind similarly overlooked titles like Mars: War Logs, Of Orcs and Men, and Faery: Legend of Avalon. While the game’s storyline is riddled with clichés and the dialogue is poorly written, there is something very distinct about Spiders’ signature art direction and creature design that sets the Medieval high fantasy world apart from the countless other RPGs. I didn’t become attached to any of the characters or feel that I was making choices with earth-shattering consequences (although there are certain choice moments that are worth replaying to see how events unfold differently), but I was drawn into the world nonetheless. Some players may find it overly difficult, but I absolutely loved the skill-based combat system, which mixes real-time with tactical pause, once I got used to its nuances and intricacies, and the weapon and armor crafting system is also really cool, both for upgrading equipment and adding visual flair to your hero’s gear. In a lot of ways Bound By Flame feels like an indie game trying to be a AAA RPG like a Dragon Age or Mass Effect. It’s rough around the edges and has ambitions grander than it can achieve, but there is also a certain charm and niche appeal to it that won me over.

Strider:

Strider.jpg

It doesn’t seem to be remembered alongside many of the other classics of the 80s and 90s, but in my early development as a gamer Strider was just as important as the Zeldas, Marios, Metroids, Metal Gears and Sonics of the world. Apparently Capcom forgot about the series for a while as well considering the last installment came out way back in 2000. Playable appearances in games like Marvel vs. Capcom and Namco × Capcom aside, Strider Hiryu hasn’t had his own game in nearly 15 years. But finally he is back. Better than ever? I would say so, yes. Stripping away its title and historical context, purely as a side-scrolling platformer, this game is a tight, beautifully paced action experience, and should be an enjoyable time for anyone who likes games that let them run from side to side, climb walls, pull off all manner of stylish acrobatics, and slash through increasingly difficult gangs of enemies. As a franchise reboot, Strider is every bit as successful at reviving a forgotten Capcom franchise as Grin’s Bionic Commando Rearmed from half a decade ago.

The Last of Us Remastered:

TheLastofUs.jpg

This one’s a no brainer. The Last of Us was my favorite game in 2013 when it came out on PS3, so naturally the enhanced PS4 version comes out high atop my list of favorites a year later. In a way it’s both a testament to the quality of the game and also a bit of a sad statement on the current state of the console’s software library that The Last of Us Remastered, a subtly improved port of a last-gen game, is the best experience the PS4 has to offer.

Ryse: Son of Rome:

Ryse.jpg

I don’t own an Xbox One yet, so I never played Ryse when it first came out as a launch title for Microsoft’s new-gen console. However, I did play the recently released PC edition and I have to say I think it is way better than it has gotten credit for. In a nutshell, Ryse takes the setup to the movie Gladiator and turns it into a cinematic video game. Sure, it’s what some–or most–people might call a “repetitive” game (I put that in quotations because I think criticizing games for being repetitive is a bit silly since all games are inherently repetitive to some extent), but it looks so gorgeous, animates so smoothly, and is so satisfyingly violent that chopping up similar-looking enemies for half a dozen hours never got old for me. In fact, I enjoyed myself so much I immediately replayed the campaign a second time on a 100% collectibles run and spent a number of hours in the Colosseum Mode just to unleash my inner bloodlust. It is a short and shallow game, but it sure is bloody good fun. Emphasis on the bloody.

Red Faction: Guerrilla:

RedFactionGuerrilla.jpg

I know what you’re saying into your computer monitor while reading this: “Hey Matt, did you forget what year it is? Red Faction: Guerrilla came out way back in 2009, dude. What the hell is it doing on this list?” It’s a fair enough question, but no, I haven’t completely lost my mind or anything here. Earlier this month the game was migrated away from Games For Windows Live and officially optimized for Steam with all the works, including DX11, trading cards, achievements and a bunch of other content and feature updates. Even though I already played the PS3 version to death five years ago, I couldn’t resist nabbing the newly enhanced Steam edition for cheap during the holiday sale. It was the best $2.99 I’ve spent on games all year. Even after half a decade, this game holds up fantastically well and is still my favorite open world game of any kind. Cruising around Mars and blowing the ever loving shit out of EDF buildings hasn’t lost any of its fun factor.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!