2014 has been a hell of a year for games. The new consoles finally gave the bigger publishers an excuse to up their graphics settings. E3 showed us what great games we’ll be playing in 2016. The term “bug testing stage” was replaced by “we’ll patch it later, what’s the worst that could happen?”. The fight of Sexism Vs Ethics In Videogame Journalism continued unabated. And the question of “oh, so you cover more than just strategy games?” was finally put to rest as Strategy Informer rose from the ashes as Game Watcher. Truly 2014 was a memorable year, far better than that miserable 2013, which was so forgettable we forgot to do a Game of the Year feature for it. Ahem.
Anyway, this year with so many good games to choose from five of our writers - Adam Standing, Nick Horth, Simon Priest, editor Jamie Davey and myself Chris Capel - will name their own personal Games of the Year followed by what they’ll be catching up on in the Holiday break. We’ll then finish off with the Honourable Mentions, at which point you’ll be able to catch a breath from all the awesome before the massive shock to the system that is our official GameWatcher Game of the Year 2014. Let’s get on with it shall we?
Adam says: “2014 was a year when I shied away from high profile, high expectation titles and enjoyed smaller efforts that ultimately delivered more than they promised. One game that stood out above the rest was Valiant Hearts: The Great War. We don’t see many, if any, video games that use World War One as a setting or for their inspiration and I was skeptical that Ubisoft could create an experience that would convey the horror, bleakness and humanity of a conflict that still haunts the world today.”
“It came as a surprise that Valiant Hearts through fairly basic puzzle/adventure game mechanics managed to convey exactly that and did it without passing judgement on who was right or wrong in The Great War. Once the comic-book villain was dealt with halfway through, Valiant Hearts turned its attention towards the main characters and created a melodrama that had me laughing at its slapstick comedic moments and weeping as the credits rolled. I don’t believe there are many games people should play, but Valiant Hearts is one of them.”
Nick says: “2014 wasn’t a classic year for video games by any means, but there were some very tasty treats hidden amongst the array of big-budget giants whose trousers fell down and showed their embarrassing arse to the world as soon as they made it out of the factory door. For my money, and I’m sort of astonished that I’m writing this, it was MachineGames’ reboot of Wolfenstein that I had the most fun with.”
“It could so easily have been different. It could have been another terrible, regressive, shonky mess like Duke Nukem Forever. Luckily, and against all odds, some snappy writing (likeable characters! Wit!) and imaginative world-building combined with tight, satisfying FPS mechanics to make a game that felt like an ode to the golden days of the classic shooter, when developers didn’t worry about Season Passes and pointless multiplayer add-ons, and instead concentrated on making the bloody thing fun to play. A late surge of quality in the form of Far Cry 4 and Dragon Age Inquisition almost swayed me, but the world MachineGames created was the one that stuck with me most this year. It was fun, it was exciting, it was occasionally really nasty, and if they don’t get a sequel out of it there’s simply no justice in the world.”
What I’m Playing Over The Break: “As a former franchise super-fan that’s rather lost touch with Metal Gear over the past few years, I’ve been reintroducing myself with the help of Ground Zeroes. I don’t really know what’s going on story-wise, but I am having a lot of fun winding up the enemy AI. The game features a particularly fine take on that old classic, the remotely detonated C4 package. Next year’s Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain seems a long way away. What else? Well, the new Way of Life expansion has given me another of my bi-monthly urges to go back to Crusader Kings 2. It’s a smart addition that focuses on the best part of the game; role-playing an insane medieval despot. I’m currently trying to build an incestuous dynasty of murderous, unhinged megalomaniacs. Which says nothing about me whatsoever [I don’t think it comes as a surprise to anyone, Nick - Chris]. Then there’s just the ten thousand or so games in my Steam back catalogue to get through…”
Jamie says: “2014 wasn’t the best year (I wish everyone would stop saying that. Honestly, we wrote these separately - Chris) for the most anticipated releases, with titles like Assassin’s Creed Unity and DriveClub launching with a multitude of problems, but I still managed to find quite a few unexpected gems. I don’t normally play football games, but after watching much of the World Cup in June, I developed a bit of an itch to try one of the FIFA games. I’ve spent hours creating a replica of Liverpool FC on FIFA 15 Ultimate Team, which has given me a lot more joy than watching their current Premier League attempts. Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare has to get a mention as well; after my nephew introduced me to the game I’ve been pleasantly surprised by its online team-based gameplay, which in my opinion is much better than any Call of Duty multiplayer mode I’ve experienced.”
“Although I’ve spent hours on the games mentioned above, I have to give my GOTY selection to Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. It’s an exceptionally crafted video game that excels in many areas and sets the standard for a new generation. The Nemesis system is just ingenious and I have, and will spend many more hours trying out different methods to see how it affects the Uruk captains and Warchiefs. If you haven’t already picked up Shadow of Mordor, I would highly recommend it. I can’t wait to see what Monolith does with the franchise next.”
What I’m Playing Over The Break: “I’ve been hearing great things about BioWare’s Dragon Age: Inquisition, so I’ve saved plenty of time for that over the Christmas holidays. All I’ve managed to play from it so far is the title screen, I just can’t stop listening to the theme tune… if we did an award for best song I’m sure it would win. I’ll probably try and finish The Evil Within and play the latest Game of Thrones game from Telltale as well!”
Simon says: “It took its sweet time coming but for my money this year’s gaming gem would have to be BioWare’s Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s the return of a full blooded single-player RPG in a huge world full of interesting companions to chum around with, and freaking huge dragons to high tail it away from. Sure, it has its rough edges, but damn it I’ve sunk north of a hundred hours in my first playthrough and I know there’s many more ‘hundreds’ waiting… just as soon as they patch it a little more. It would have been swell if it had been a PC-first RPG, but tell-tale signs rob it of that cherry on top.”
“Still, it’s a rich RPG universe given a fresh lease of life with the Frostbite engine which really brings the world alive. We finally get some of the aching choices back that matter, like what tattoo should my dwarf rogue have? Are bald elves “in” right now? Plus there’s witnessing our previous adventuring coming back to remind us what royal jerks or sickly saints we were in past lives – there really are so few series that manage to pull off that kind of narrative nightmare, and it’s something Dragon Age and BioWare should be, if not commended, then at least given the tip of a hat.”
What I’m Playing Over The Break: “I’ve recently got back into the very early access Starbound (the Terraria of the stars) and with Chucklefishes’ winter update just around the corner now is a good time as any to mine blocks and pew-pew indigenous lifeforms. There’s also Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, when the co-op isn’t sucking with its latency woes. I’ll be probably spending some more time with my early access collection overall, like cyberpunk Dex or Satellite Reign, to see how they’ve shaping up for the New Year. Shadow of Mordor has that new Lord of the Hunt goodness going for it too. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone. Praise Andraste.”
Chris says: “You bastards. As I was writing this feature I did my contribution last, but I still made a list of possible candidates for my Game of the Year choice first. And what happened? Every single game on the list got chosen by those other guys first. Dragon Age: Inquisition is occupying all my free time. Shadow of Mordor greatly impressed me with its Nemesis system and the way the game completely changes halfway through. Wolfenstein: The New Order is the only game this year I’ve played through twice. And Valiant Hearts is the only one to make me cry. Fortunately though I was secretly hoping to get an excuse to choose South Park: The Stick of Truth above the others, and now I have just that!”
“While 15-20 hours may seem short for an RPG, no other game this year has kept me 100% entertained and not once frustrated. Most importantly though, no other game has made me laugh my ass off so hard I dislocated my jaw. And that was just the map screen! Stick of Truth gets South Park exactly right, including humour, characters, and intentionally shitty animation, but astonishingly Obsidian have also crafted a great RPG too with an entertaining battle system and fun gameplay mechanics. The worst thing anyone could say about Stick of Truth was that it ran a bit choppily and was slightly censored on consoles, but we don’t care about them right?”
What I’m Playing Over The Break: “The Steam Holiday Sale (and related gaming sales from GOG, Humble etc) has wrecked my wallet once again, so while I’ll be continuing Dragon Age most of all I’ll be also taking time out with Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, Wasteland 2 and Shadowrun: Dragonfall, not to mention a few other things I bought that I really shouldn’t have. And, er, I’ll probably replay South Park too now. Damn you Time, why have you forsaken me?!”
Alien: Isolation - I loved it, but it went on a little bit too long and got me frustrated a little too often to get a nomination. Came very close though.
Transistor - Our one and only 10 score of the year, Adam Standing loved it, calling it “an experience to be savoured, to lock yourself away in the confines of your gaming boudoir and revel in its luxurious design and perfection.” Sadly, I don’t think enough of the staff have played it to nominate it, and even Adam espoused Valiant Hearts instead. C’est la vie.
The Wolf Among Us - Nearly edging out South Park for my game of the year was Telltale’s great prequel to Fables, which was so good it made me go out and read all 146 issues of the comic. That said the slightly weak episodes 2 and 4 and the fact that the superb episode 1 was actually in 2013 nudged it out of the running.
Far Cry 4 - Another year, another great Far Cry game that arrives too late for anyone to love it. I did really enjoy this year’s entry, but it was just a mite too similar to Far Cry 3 to threaten becoming my GOTY.
Crimes & Punishments: Sherlock Holmes - One of the best Sherlock Holmes games, our freelancer John-Paul Jones called it “an excellent detective adventure” but sadly he wasn’t here to vote. Still, well worth an Honourable Mention.
Divinity: Original Sin - I dearly wanted to name this my Game of the Year, but sadly a dull central plot held it back. Nevertheless it’s certainly one of the top RPGs of the year in a highly competitive year for the genre.
Oh, okay, enough dicking around…
The Strategy Informer Game Watcher Game of the Year 2014:
You may have noticed that this one game was mentioned by all five writers, which happened entirely by accident. Simon Priest nominated it, Nick Horth and myself came very close to naming it ourselves, and both Jamie Davey and Adam Standing have bought it and can’t wait to play it. And not without reason. Dragon Age: Inquisition is an epic game, with a wide open world with a seemingly never-ending amount of stuff to discover, great characters with witty banter, a combat system that allows for both hack ‘n’ slash and slower tactical play-styles, and a rich universe packed with lore and history. It could do with a patch or two, but when I think of RPGs this is exactly what I want from the genre. We all can’t wait to sink another 100 hours in, and that’s why it’s our Game of the Year 2014.
Thanks for sticking with us throughout 2014 guys, we realise it’s been a tumultuous time with the transition from Strategy Informer to Game Watcher but we hope you’re all settling in to the new website and will still join us for what undoubtedly will be a great year in 2015. Hopefully the presence of The Witcher 3 and Batman: Arkham Knight will make up for the lack of hoverboards.