OPINION: MCV and Develop’s Games of the Year

OPINION: MCV and Develop’s Games of the Year

There's no arguing that Heston Blumenthal's snail porridge is anything other than a technical masterpiece, but would you choose that over a doner with chilli sauce at 11pm on a Friday night?

The point of this seemingly conspicuous aside? Asking what the best game of 2014 was is very different to asking what game you enjoyed the most. And that, surely by definition, has to be your game of the year.

The trade journalists of MCV and Develop may by day concern themselves with the delights of marketing revenue and Q&A outsourcing but in the wee hours they occasionally find the time for a game or two.

We asked four of them what games they enjoyed the most over 2014, and these were the picks.

Ben Parfitt – Associate Editor, MCV
DARK SOULS II (PC, Bandai Namco)

2014 is perhaps the epitome of what can be called a ‘mixed bag' for video games, delivering one of the best games ever made, a decent number of very good titles, a surprising number of disappointments and far, far too many outright broken releases.

There's a school of thought that will allow no positives to be said of Dark Souls II. ‘From B-team' is Neogaf's go-to rebuke, referencing the omission of Dark Souls's director Hidetaka Miyazaki from the development team. And once the game was tarnished with the (admittedly scandalous) removal of its pre-release lighting system, it had committed a sin that the angry internet could never forget. But such people, if there is in fact any real-world substance to their anger, are missing out on what I will happily call my favourite game ever.

Yes, DSII falls short of its predecessor in a number of aspects. The clever interlinked world design is mostly gone and the bosses are somewhat less ambitious. And other changes, such as unlocked bonfire warping and a finite number of enemy spawns, while not necessarily ‘better' or ‘worse' are certainly divisive (although I prefer the majority of them).

But it improves upon its predecessor is so many respects I don't hesitate in calling it the better game. The combat is sharper, the inventory far better – including the wonderful assortment of boss weapons – and the range of items is much improved. There's nothing that stoops to the lows of Lost Izalith and even the dreaded Shrine of Armana has its own charms once you're equipped to deal with those sodding Shrine Maidens and Clerics.

Areas such as Dragon Aerie are beautiful to behold, the Memories of the Ancients are superb and lore-tastic and the Bonfire Ascetic levelling mechanic is clever and wonderfully flexible.

Plus the DLC was fantastic and one of the few times where dropping 20 on content post-release has to me felt perfectly justified. I can't wait to get my hands on the DirectX 11 version next year – which will almost certainly be my 2015 GOTY.

Let's put it this way – I'm just as likely to play a game for 30 minutes and not return to it as I am to invest any amount of time. I've played Dark Souls 2 for over 100 hours.

RUNNERS-UP

It seems absurd that I haven't named Hearthstone as my GOTY, really, as it's wonderful. Glorious, even. It would easily have won the title in any other year aside from 2011 (Dark Souls) and 1990 (Super Mario World). And maybe 1996 (Sensible World of Soccer). And it would have tied 2010 (Heavy Rain).

There have been lots of other games I've loved to bits this year, though. Forza Horizon 2 didn't get the credit it deserved and is easily my console game of the year. Spintires and Banished were awesome, while my eight-year-old daughter would undoubtedly vote for Goat Simulator. You won't have heard of Crimzon Clover: World Ignition, which is a shame as it's incredible, while iOS saw classics such as Monument Valley and Desert Golfing, plus the wonderful iPad release of FTL. It would be wrong not to give shout outs to Far Cry 4 and Luftrausers, too.

There are probably more contenders but several games still sit unopened/uninstalled in my 2014 pile of shame, including the next-gen version of GTA V (I'm waiting for the PC release), The Last of Us: Remastered, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Divinity: Original Sin, This War of Mine and Alien Isolation to name but a few.

I'll stick my neck out and name a couple of disappointments, too. Console exclusives Sunset Overdrive and InFamous: Second Son did very little for me. Although that's not to say there's been nothing I've enjoyed on consoles this year - Trials: Fusion was decent, (2013's)Resogun is a cracking little game that I've kept going back to and FIFA 14 (before the arrival of the Ignite-based FIFA 15on PC- although that was pretty disastrous in single player before it was patched), as well as a steady suppy of Instant Games Collection titles, have ensured the PS4 has remained pretty active..

Let's spare a moment, too, for the shamefully broken titles that have sullied the year. The DriveClub fiasco was shocking and, truth be told, even now the game is working I find it very hard to like. Although yes, it looks very nice. Watch Dogs was a real kick in the guts while technical failure and spiritual failure let down The Master Chief Collection and Destiny respectively. I will say, though, that despite Assassin's Creed: Unity's problems I actually really enjoyed it and preferred it to IV. And III, obviously.

Chris Dring – Editor, MCV
SUNSET OVERDRIVE (Xbox One, Microsoft)

I didn't get to play as many games this year as I would have liked, but I did make sure I played all of the big new console IP. Everything I played was full of potential, and I can't wait to see what they do next, but in truth most games disappointed me a little bit. It was, in all honesty, a bit of a poor year for video games.

There was one new game that stood out for me (although really I'm not convinced that even this would have made the list in previous years) and that was Xbox One exclusive Sunset Overdrive.

The open-world comic book action game was far from clever. It was largely a series of quests that involved travelling huge distances, completing a job for someone, and then travelling back. Complete with a nonsense story about an energy drink that has transformed the city's inhabitants into mutant. Its ‘comedy' also appears to have been written by a group of 30-somethings that spent their youth watching Jackass, listening to Limp Bizkit and riding skateboards (that would be me then).

But all of that detracts from the fact that everything you did in the game was an utter joy. Developer Insomniac made traversing the universe, which you did via bouncing, grinding, dashing through the air and gliding on phone lines, an absolute delight. I would switch on the game just to ride around a bit and see what I could get up to. Combat was also a lot of fun, with a number of crazy weapons to use – some just obscure versions of a grenade launcher or a shotgun, others a bit more inventive.

Also, for all my digs at the humour, as the game progressed, the title found a heart and a voice that you couldn't help but smile at. It may have been intended as a shallow romp with some cheeky self-referential humour (the game made you acutely aware of the rubbish tasks it was making you perform), but by the end you will have found yourself warming to even the more irritating characters.

I hope it has done well enough to justify a sequel. Because this is Insomniac's best work since Ratchet and Clank.

RUNNERS-UP

Horror games enjoyed a mini-renaissance in 2014. Alien: Isoation and Outlast were truly terrifying experiences, but I feel it was the return of horror guru (and Resident Evil creator) Shinji Mikami that really stood out. The Evil Within is a Resident Evil game in all but name, there were even scene-for-scene remakes of iconic moments from that franchise – including the memorable Zombie head-turning scene.

Heck, the first section was even largely based in a run-down village, filled with infected villagers wielding torches, farming instruments and chainsaws. It was Resident Evil 4 all over again.

But that's not a bad thing at all. Mikami's Resident Evil titles were by far the best Capcom have ever produced, and a greatest hits package – albeit under a different name – is something worth investing in (especially seeing its already down to under 25). Genuinely scary and a welcome return from the master of horror.

Then there wasTitanfall. Respawn's debut shooter may have been light on content (at least initially) but it was a brilliant multiplayer shooter that showed the game's developers – the same group that invented Call of Duty and then the Modern Warfare sub-brand – know what it takes to create a well balanced and exciting multiplayer effort.

The titans stole the show, of course. Titan vs Titan multiplayer matches remain my favourite, although you can't beat the satisfaction of bringing down one of these hulking machines on foot.

The series does not quite have the polish and perfection of the Call of Duty franchise (this year's Advanced Warfare was a cracking return-to-form for that IP), but it is already showing huge potential and its inevitable sequel is likely to be a real contender for the games industry's FPS crown.

James Batchelor – Editor, Develop
MONUMENT VALLEY (iOS, Ustwo)

I can be shamefully close-minded when it comes to mobile games. Unconvinced that I'll invest enough time into premium games to justify spending the admittedly affordable 3 to 10 on the titles I'm tempted by, I instead largely stick to free titles. My mobile gaming time is dominated by uninspiring match three puzzlers, city builders and endless runners that I know I'm not particularly enjoying but seem unable to stop playing.

Monument Valley changed that. I'd read many good things about Ustwo's head-scratching puzzle platformer and finally took the plunge on actually buying a game for my phone. It was definitely worth it.

The ingenius premise of manipulating levels and architecture to create new paths for the silent protagonist could have been extremely accessible, but Monument Valley eases you into its concepts, introducing new mechanics at a slow but not patronising pace. Every lever and slider invites you to experiment with how it warps the environment, teasing you as you try to work out the correct path to the level's end.

Completing each puzzle gives you a sense of achievement rarely felt outside the best of Nintendo's Zelda dungeons or the utterly wonderful Portal series. While the earlier levels feel fairly simple, later ones will leave you stumped for minutes at a time before you reached that euphoric ‘Eureka!' moment and the path forward becomes clear.

Combine this with a beautiful Escher-inspired art style, and the serene audio – with levels responding musically to your every move – and you have something very special. The sombre tone of the game, with its understated but clear storyline and haunting abandoned monuments, is reminiscent of the acclaimed hits such as Journey and The Unfinished Swan.

Not only did Monument Valley open my mind to investing in quality mobile titles, it left me wanting more – something that was satisfied just recently with the equally sublime Forgotten Shores expansion. The outrage over the meagre 1.49 price point was beyond unjustified; the new chapters are just as ingenius as the standard game.

As mentioned below, I've played many titles on far more powerful platforms, but none surprised and delighted me as much as Monument Valley.

RUNNERS-UP

I've sampled a few of the high quality games released this year, but many of them feel like refinements of those that have come before. Destiny is difficult to put down, despite not doing anything particularly spectacular. Kevin Spacey pulled me through another mindless Call of Duty [Advanced Warfare]. And my oddly bug-free copy of Assassin's Creed: Unity was an enjoyable free-running romp back to the series' roots. But there were three titles that really stood out for me.

Mario Kart 8 nearly took the top spot as my game of the year. I've spent a ridiculous number of hours drifting around its courses, more so than with many previous Mario Karts. It's not just the fact that this is by far and away the most beautiful looking game has ever produced, or that the presumed gimmick of zero-G races allows for some incredible track design; the handling in Mario Kart 8 is spot on. It is the most fine-tuned, responsive iteration of Nintendo's long-running racing series – if you're able to blast around Rainbow Road without touching the sides, let alone falling off, you know they've got it right.

Elsewhere, Obsidian's South Park: The Stick of Truth proved to be worth the lengthy wait. The contribution of series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone is most definitely felt – this is the closest you'll ever come to visiting the titular Colorado town. While it nailed various RPG and video game tropes, it also highlighted how bloated some role-playing titles can be. 100 hours worth of content sounds impressive enough for something like Dragon Age, but I was beyond relieved that South Park can be polished off is a far more reasonable 15 to 20 hours. More RPGs of this length would be most welcome.

Beyond that, most of my time has oddly been taken by a seemingly unspectacular endless runner: Spider-Man Unlimited. While on the surface there is little to differentiate it from the plethora of near-identical titles out there – aside from the licence, of course – Gameloft's title fixed many of the problems that I have found with the runner genre. First, the Story mode and regular events means there's plenty to do beyond the usual ‘run till you die' mode. Monetisation is much more balanced, with Story handing out plenty of the virtual currency as you progress. And, most importantly, you can actually play the game even when you don't have 3G available – something other endless runners fail to enable.

Craig Chapple – Deputy Editor, Develop
ALIEN ISOLATION (PC, Sega)

It's not often a game offers a completely fresh experience, but that's something Creative Assembly took a risk with this year with Alien: Isolation, and it paid off in spades.

You've heard all the praise by now, the game is terrifying”, atmospheric”, evoking the horror” of the original Ali

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