I’ve played Threes almost every single day since it launched earlier this year. It is a perfect game. Obviously easier to make a flawless game when it’s just a fundamental system of numbers being moved around a board. But nevertheless, it is perfect.
Destiny has been one of my favourite gaming experiences in years. But not for the reasons I normally enjoy games – great story, fascinating world, characters I care deeply for. Destiny is God-awful at that. It was the first time I’ve played a game with MMO mechanics and totally got pulled in. Playing the Vault of Glass for the first time, and eventually beating it on my second go, was something I’d never really felt in a game before – the pureness of working together with a team of other talented players, struggling against the (what felt like bad) odds and figuring out how to beat each new system the level threw at us each phase. The more I played Destiny, the more I realized how carefully, meticulously crafted its shooting mechanics are. Once the game ceases to be new and exciting, you realize that you’re still having fun doing what in other games would normally be rote and boring – killing thousands of aliens, over and over. Almost at Dirty 30, come on.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
On the opposite end of Destiny, here was a game that no one expected to have one of the better-told stories in a game in years. The story itself wasn’t anything spectacular, but the way it pulled together a cast of interesting characters and motivated me to hate-kill Nazis once again – all those years after I played the original game as a kid on my dad’s pc – was really impressive. It’s all just so simple and it works better than it ought to.
With Destiny as the lens I’m finding myself looking through with a lot of 2014’s games, Sunset can be easily compared – it’s a game with a detestable setting, story and characters but some of the best game mechanics I’ve toyed with in yonkies. Seriously, it feels really, really great to bounce around Paradise City (is that what it’s called? I don’t even care), grind and flop from wire to pole while splatting and popping juicy enemies left-right-and-centre. It’s genuinely a worthy successor to the tactile feel of Tony Hawk and Jet Grind Radio, and deserves more love than it got.
Shadow of Mordor
The Nemesis system. Who knew this derivative (on the surface) mashup of Assassin’s Creed and Batman Arkham Asylum would offer something we’d never seen in a game before? Enemies that remembered you, came back to haunt you, stalked you and drove you mad until you finally managed to assassinate them on the fields of Mordor.
Assassin’s Creed Unity
This was also a year of loving games despite their problems (see Destiny). Unity’s lack of polish – namely bugs – is well documented and accepted by the publisher themselves, at this point. And while I’m glad there has been backlash against releasing unfinished games, it honestly hasn’t been that bad. I have yet to encounter anything game-breaking, and as someone who doesn’t have much of an eye for framerate, I’ve been able to largely overlook the performance issues that everyone got so riled up about. What that has left is game built on a solid template (explore a city and do thousands of little tasks to improve your character and progress the plot) that features possibly the most amazing locale I’ve ever seen in a game. Paris is absolutely stunning, so meticulously detailed. I haven’t fallen in love with a setting this much since GTA IV so perfectly captured NYC.
Far Cry 4
Take a solid, addictive template (not too dissimilar to the AC one, really), and add a dramatically improved setting and toolset for your action hero character to play around with. Far Cry has basically become Rambo on an island, and it’s a fantastic playground for messing around in. Add in the best co-op feature I’ve played in years, and you have in Far Cry 4 my favourite game in the series by far.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Best game in the series since 2007’s Modern Warfare. Which, let’s be honest, was 7 years ago and God knows how many other COD games – we were really due for an improvement. The fact that someone managed to refresh this series without ever changing what made those mechanics work so well was an admirable feat, for Sledgehammer. Next time, I just hope they do something absolutely mental and form-breaking with the campaign – no one cares either way (most sales are for the multiplayer), and it could be a way to win over a still-jaded critical audience.
Destiny took shooter basics and polished them to perfection. Titanfall brought in a host of new things to the genre – mech warriors, parkour, buff cards – and definitely blew me away for a while. Still, once I got over that initial excitement, I found that I abandoned it a little. Awesome, but missing something at its core.
And the rest…
I haven’t put enough time into either Alien: Isolation, South Park: The Stick of Truth or Dragon Age: Inquisition (about 6-12 hours each, but they’re huge games) to be able to claim them as my favourite games of the year – but they will surely earn that distinguished honor when I do get around to them. Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls for the PS4 is incredible – but I beat the crap out of it in 2013 on PC. Oh and Watch Dogs? You broke my heart a little.