Best Games of 2014

August 2, 2014

Best Games of 2014

Bravely Default 

So what if it’s basically Final Fantasy V reimagined, or that the game’s latter half has serious shortcomings if you’re not a fan of repetitive filler? Bravely Default stands as a love letter to fans of fantasy games that eschew restrictive D&D-style class systems and make no apologies for combat mechanics that unfurl turn by turn, though in Bravely Default‘s case, the latter design vamp seems novel enough: a hedging system, whereby you can either save or deficit spend battle points against enemies.

Nintendo 3DS

 

Child of Light

Ubisoft’s budget-priced side-scrolling fable — told using poetic stanzas — riffs on roleplaying tropes while serving up an evocative, hand-drawn fantasy pastiche with traces of Yoshitaka Amano and Hayao Miyazaki. It’s an experience that deftly melds its painstakingly painting-like environs and allegorical fable-inspired narrative to a first-rate battle system: one unapologetically inspired by Final Fantasy-style roleplaying games, but with its own hidden depths and wrinkles.

PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, PS Vita

 

Dark Souls 2

Does it matter whether Dark Souls 2 is the greater (or lesser) Dark Souls? It shouldn’t — not when it’s this good. Series newcomers Tomohiro Shibuya and Yui Tanimura recapture most of what makes Dark Souls feel like a Dark Souls, scaffolding to foundation, the world swathed in plaintive John Barry-ish piano strains, melancholy lighting and baffling alien architecture. Ironically risk-averse, the sequel plays like an extended version of the original moody hack-and-slash.

PC, PS3, Xbox 360

 

Entwined

You can’t really lose in Entwined, you just swing back and forth along a tug-of-rope-style progress meter, which fits the game on a shelf somewhere between “relaxation exercise” and “pattern puzzler.” The goal is to unite an origami-like fish and a bird, which you do by piloting each discretely with left and right thumbsticks through target chains. The trick is getting your single-tasking brain to coordinate those left and right actions simultaneously.

PS4, PS3, PS Vita

 

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

Part of the allure of Blizzard rolling its bejeweled horse carriage through the hoof-tramped mud of a played-out genre is the Blizzard name. And that’s what you’ll get in this free-to-play confectionary: an otherwise vanilla collectible card game wrapped up in Blizzard’s trademark audio-visual razzle-dazzle. Playing Hearthstone is too easy and compulsive not to play Hearthstone, which is why the game’s clocked over 10 million accounts since it launched in March 2014.

PC, iPad

 

Infamous: Second Son

Infamous: Second Son gets unfairly compared to Grand Theft Auto V because they’re both lazily categorized as “open world” games. But Infamous: Second Son is about letting you do crazy, cathartic, building-bounding superhero stuff in the best-looking metropolis-playground yet devised for a video game (until GTA V remastered arrives late this year, anyway). That, and developer Sucker Punch spins a decent yarn with more than passing emotional resonance, thanks in part to visual technology that allowed it to craft character performances even more lifelike than the ones being touted in Activision’s ballyhooed Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare spots.

PS4

 

Mario Kart 8

Imagine a carnival of race tropes, a grab bag of driver profiles, tactics and race types, a melange of little gameplay iterations and configuration tweaks and “Holy crap, I’m racing up and down that?” moments jammed into a single game. To sum up my affection for this best-of-all-Nintendo’s-Mario-Karts-to-date in a few words: lavish, kaleidoscopic, gasp-inducing, ingenious, exotic, balletic and — let’s switch from words to statements — something worth playing for a long, long time.

Wii U

 

Nidhogg


Remember Karateka? Nidhogg feels kind of like that: a game about dueling to your left or right with some light environmental (walls, ledges) vamping. Part of the charm’s in the pixellated look, of course, coupled with the overblown kinetic scenery and crazed, oscillating backgrounds teeming with strange, wriggling creatures.

PC

 

Shovel Knight

Shovel Knight would have been a winner had it arrived back in the 1980s alongside obvious inspirations, like DuckTales for the original Nintendo. Bask in its unabashed genuflection to 1980s game design tropes. Bathe in its classic NES color palette. Chuckle at the notion of a horn-helmed knight nobly brandishing a sharpened spade he can bounce on like a pogo stick. William Faulkner said it best: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Faulkner would have understood (and probably played) Shovel Knight.

PC, Wii U, 3DS

 

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Take the incredibly popular “Assassin’s Creed” franchise, add pirates and toss in an open environment, where players can break from the main storyline and adventure on the high seas and you’ve got a recipe for success.

Fans universally loved the game, but initial sales were weaker than its predecessor (something Ubisoft blamed on the console transition).

 

Grand Theft Auto V


It came out last September, but demand for this long-awaited installment in the “Grand Theft Auto” series has remained strong in 2014.

That’s due in part to the game’s rich multiplayer mode, which has retained players long after they’ve finished the (extensive) single player mode.

 

Battlefield


The game had plenty of bugs and glitches when it was released, but Battlefield 4 is still one of the best looking games for any of the next generation systems—and that graphical prowess has helped keep it on the sales charts.

 

Call Of Duty: Ghosts


Activision’s juggernaut franchise has consistently been in one of the top two spots in the mid-year rankings for the past five years.

Ghosts received good critical marks—and the addition of a playable German Shepherd named Riley to the squad certainly turned heads.

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