Before I crack into the list, I just want to give a bit of context for some of my choices. There are a load of games that are appearing in other peoples’ lists that I bought but just haven’t gotten around to playing yet1. So that’s why it’s really important that I stress that this is just a list of the best games I played this year. Are we all clear? Great! Let’s crack on, so.
I played PT in late at night during the summer. I was wearing shorts and at one point about an hour into playing the game, my dog brushed against my legs as he walked past. And it actually hurt. I was so tense my leg-hairs were standing on end so hard that they actually hurt to touch. That’s never happened to me before. And all it took for PT to scare me more than I’ve ever been scared in my life was just two perfectly-rendered corridors. Even the ridiculous sink-baby couldn’t ruin this for me.
Kentucky Route Zero
The episodes in Kentucky Route Zero are coming trickling out of the developer, Cardboard Computer, like a pitch drop. You couldn’t accuse it of being an episodic game in the way that Telltale games are episodic. And that’s a great thing. Once you’ve played the first episode in a Telltale game, you’ve pretty much seen everything the entire series is going to throw at you. What makes Kentucky Route Zero so special is that each episode has done something completely different, something completely surprising. In the second episode, you actually arrive at the titular Route Zero and it’s a beautiful, twisted nightmare with its own dreamlike logic. The third episode’s musical interlude was a brave, ballsy piece of gaming. Up until that point, the game had mostly been about making dialogue choices, but suddenly you take over a lounge-singer named Junebug and you’re constructing an entire song from your choices. A gorgeous, haunting song straight out of Twin Peaks. It wouldn’t work in any other game but Kentucky Route Zero. Loved it.
This War of Mine
I actually haven’t played that much of This War of Mine because it’s a tough game. Not in the sense that it’s hard, but rather it’s an emotionally gruelling experience unlike anything else I’ve played this year. It’s a game where you control a group of survivors during a war (roughly based on the Siege of Sarajevo) and the entire game is just about keeping your group alive and together — both physically and emotionally — for as long as you can. Everything you do, every awful decision you’re forced to make will affect your group in some way. If you break into an old man’s house and steal his food, your group will survive a bit longer, but the character who did the actual stealing will be racked with guilt for the rest of the game.
The Talos Principle
I already described this on Twitter as “Portal with a philosophy degree”. You could throw some Myst in there too for good measure. There’s no combat. It’s just a solidly-designed puzzle game, but it’s also got a great story that unfolds in front of you as you play it. One layer peels back to reveal another, to reveal another and so on. And all this from the people behind Serious Sam – I know, right? It’s probably not for everyone. I can imagine some people getting ticked off at the being questioned on their moral and ethical beliefs by a slightly dickish, super-patronising terminal. But that shit just worked for me. (Also, this will sound fierce wanky, but you know that first world, the one set in Roman ruins? No game has captured Italian light like that. Really small detail, but jesus, it felt great.)
Mario Kart 8
The best Mario Kart since the original.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
If you’d have said to me last year that Wolfenstein: The New Order would one of the best games I’d play in 2014, I’d have called you a fucking liar. I had no interest in the franchise and this particular iteration was completely off my radar. But here we are. Solid, visceral action and some of the best storytelling of the year. It basks in its B-movie, grindhouse roots (I mean, that scene on the train feels like it’s lifted straight from Tarantino) without ever winking at the audience in a “we’re actually too cool for this shit” kind of way.
For a while there, Desert Golfing was all I played. I mean, for weeks on end. Remember I said I bought a load of games but haven’t played them yet? It’s probably because I was too busy playing Desert Golfing instead. I’d say I’ve sunk more time into this than probably any other game on here. It’s also the smallest, quietest game on this list. There’s a ball, a hole, and the landscape. For as far as you can go (there’s no ending, as far as I know), that’s all there is. Occasionally, you might come across something else – a cloud, a cactus, a vase — but for the most part, for the majority of the 2,500 holes I played before I finally deleted it, that’s all there was. And that’s all it needed. You could talk about how the game is like an interactive art installation, a commentary on futility and perception, with the background changing so slowly across hundreds of holes. You could shite on about this and I’d listen and I’d nod at the points you were making. But that’s not why this game kept me playing. It kept me playing because it was near-perfect.
Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes
Gather round kids, old man Kelly’s got a story to tell. Back before Metal Gear Solid came out on the original Playstation, they released a demo of the game which was just the first area before you get onto the lift — the pre-credits introduction. I lost days to that demo. It was a short thing, and you could complete it in less than ten minutes, but I was absolutely obsessed with it and I played it every way I could. I wanted to milk every drop of entertainment out of that because, back then, it felt perfect. Ground Zeroes is does a great job of recreating that feeling of the original Metal Gear Solid demo. It’s a small sliver of a game — an amuse-bouche to keep us entertained until the actual release of Metal Gear Solid V — that you could easily beat in ten minutes. But it’s also the type of thing you could easily lose days to.
Nidhogg, Starwhal: Just the Tip, Gang Beasts, Sports Friends, Tennes
One of my favourite things to come out of 2014, at least in the indie space, is a resurgence in local multiplayer games, so I’m bundling some of my favourites together here. Or at least the ones that we’ve had the most fun with in our office. Online multiplayer games can have 256 simultaneous players, and that has its own brand of chaotic fun. But there’s something genuinely beautiful and special about being able to yell and laugh with the person (or people) you’re in a room with. With all the gamergate shit this year making me feel more and more disconnected from gaming and gamers, it was really nice to be reminded of the feeling of two (or four, or with Johann Sebastian Joust, seven) people in a room having fun together.
- including Dark Souls 2, Far Cry 4, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Bayonetta 2, Super Smash Bros 4 Wii U, Alien Isolation, The Evil Within ↩