This year has been a memorable one for gaming. Developers started making an effort to leave the old generation consoles in the past, but they weren’t quite ready for all of the challenges that came with the new hardware. 2014 was the year of the patch more so than a year of success in the gaming industry. Personally, I found no reason to buy a PS4 or Xbox One, though I played plenty of games on PS3 and PC, including a number of 2014 releases. With the plethora of “Best Of” lists and end of year awards that come out in late December, I didn’t want NSF readers to feel left out. That’s why I have my own end of year video game awards. In lieu of a true “Best Overall Game” award, I decided to term it “Game You Need to Buy Right Now,” because, in my opinion, there was no definitively “Best” game this year. There are plenty of other categories below, including some truly great experiences and one that was notably terrible. I’ll also have some awards for games that were not released in 2014 because I only got around to them this year. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts and your award winners in the comments section or on twitter.
Best Mobile Game: iOOTP Baseball 2014
This is not the first time I’ve fallen in love with iOOTP, the mobile cousin of the popular PC baseball sim. The 2014 edition was headlined by a comprehensive player editor that took the game from great to nearly perfect. Even in December, the game keeps me coming back to play a few games here and there, getting my way through the season in search of World Series titles. Even though I’ve gotten pretty good at the game, I continue to open the app and follow this fictionalized version of Major League Baseball, game after game and season after season. Hands down, iOOTP is the best baseball game available on the App Store.
Best Game I Forgot About but Played Again and Still Loved: Heavy Rain
David Cage can write a compelling story about almost anything and that rang true in this 2010 PS3 exclusive from French studio Quantic Dream. The story unfolds like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel in which you have to solve a kidnapping before it becomes a killing. There are numerous plot twists and decisions that can be made throughout the campaign that affect the overall outcome, a novel setup when it was introduced. Though the graphics look dated, the story holds up well. I will continue to recommend this game to anyone with a PS3, especially after the disappointment of Quantic Dream’s most recent release, Beyond: Two Souls.
Worst Game: Watch Dogs (PS3)
This game sounded amazing with a Grand Theft Auto-esque open world and tech-savvy hacking mechanics. The trailer shown at E3 in 2012 was truly breathtaking, making it a game that I was looking forward to for two years. My high expectations were ruined once I popped in the disc of a good-but-not-great looking game with a poor storyline, a difficult and high learning curve, and overall lamentation throughout. I ended up doing the unthinkable with Watch Dogs, giving up on it midway through the campaign. The last time I can remember giving up on a game’s campaign was Super Mario Sunshine, and I was eight years old at the time.
Best Game I Bought Only because it was on Sale on Steam: The Stanley Parable
The former Steam Greenlight project was released in late-2013 to critical acclaim, but I was too cheap to pay $15 for it. When it was on sale for just $5.09 in October, I had to pounce. Man, do I wish that I had bought in sooner because Stanley is a wonderful mixture of satire and video game Meta culture. It is well worth $15 for a game that you will play through many times. I hate to divulge any major spoilers, but I recommend that you take your time when walking through the museum ending because it is a truly fascinating look at the creative process that goes into making a video game, complete with the evolution of The Stanley Parable as it went from a mod with a cult following to a standalone title with over one million copies sold. (NOTE: The Stanley Parable is on sale for the next couple days during the Steam Holiday Sale)
Best Movie Tie-In Game: The LEGO Movie Videogame
Full disclaimer: I did not see The LEGO Movie before I played the movie’s videogame. Though I did not appreciate the cutscenes much at first, the combat and exploration with numerous characters throughout a beautiful LEGO world made me want to watch the movie. There were so many characters from the movie that I could play as and the campaign was surprisingly lengthy, especially for a story based on a movie. There’s also a great open world aspect of the game aside from story mode that can add more hours of exploring to your total. Trust me, I did plenty of exploring after the credits rolled and the song “Everything is AWESOME!!!” got stuck in my head.
Best Game That Looks Like a Gamecube Game: Octodad: Dadliest Catch
This game epitomizes slapstick humor. Every action is made humorously difficult when you’re controlling octopus tentacles. The storyline is pretty basic, though there’s some humor involved in the tasks, which include sliding across a slippery boat and every man’s favorite task, grocery shopping. Yes, grocery shopping, because this octopus has a human wife and human children. I don’t understand how that is possible, but I don’t question it. The graphics look straight out of 2002, but it’s a stylistic choice that I prefer for a cartoony experience like Dadliest Catch. It’s a great example of what indie game studios can do, especially with Steam Greenlight helping their publicity.
Weirdest Game: Goat Simulator
This game should not exist, period. It started off as a tech demo showing the prowess of the team at Coffee Stain Studios. Rather than using a human model, the demo used a goat character that went around doing goat stuff. Then, gaming websites published videos of the demo and fan reaction gave Coffee Stain a reason to turn it into a full game. The most recent update added a Goat MMO Simulator mode, adding another level of satire to an already funny game. It is another example of a silly little game that doesn’t take itself too seriously and allows for jokes and creativity that would get a game canned at a major studio.
Funniest Game: South Park: The Stick of Truth
The Stick of Truth is a ridiculous game that blends RPG elements with comedy and satire. You do not have to be a fan of the show to enjoy the game; I had only started watching on TV before purchasing the video game and I never felt like I was missing much by not following the show from the beginning. I found myself laughing whenever I played the game, a feeling that began as soon as I entered my name and continued with every story quest, side quest, cutscene, and chinpokomon I collected. This game is the holy grail of video game tie-ins. Though The Stick of Truth never takes itself too seriously, the consistent wittiness and fluidity of gameplay allowed for plenty of great moments that had me laughing out loud at my computer screen.
Best RPG: Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire
My favorite Pokémon games from the Game Boy Advance era got remade in 3D with all of the Gen VI (Pokémon X & Y) additions and then some stuffed into a single cartridge. The Hoenn region is as beautiful as ever and many of the beefs players had with the original games back in 2003 (that makes me feel old) have been fixed or improved. I’m also glad that no new creatures were added because it’s becoming borderline ridiculous with the number of pokémon that have been added over the years. However, I still have some concerns with Mega Evolutions, concerns that weren’t exactly quelled upon learning about the processes of evolving my pokémon into Primal Kyogre, Primal Groudon, and Mega Rayquaza.
Best 3DS Game: Super Smash Bros. for 3DS
This one is simple: it’s the same Super Smash Bros. we’ve all played for years, in 3D and on a handheld. There was concern from fans throughout the development process that the game would look bad or that releasing on a handheld would ruin the core Smash experience. Then the game released and the critics were silenced. The 3DS version of Smash did not ruin the experience at all; in fact, it was the best looking and most expansive game in the series up until the Wii U version came out last month. It might even be too big. I’ve played a lot of this game, but I still haven’t played as every fighter and I’m not even close on the trophies. I thought I would have made a larger dent at this point.
Best Sports Game: NBA 2K15
This game is beautiful, turning the ballet of basketball into a showstopper. I’m a huge fan of the shot meter because now I don’t have to guess as much on a player’s perfect release point. It has made me a much better player and allowed me to play well with random teams because I can actually make shots! There are some issues with online play and I’m still undecided about 2KTV (though not host Rachel DeMita – she does a solid job), but these are lesser issues. Since I played on PC, I got a visual port on par with the new-gen consoles while also avoiding the early server issues. As long as 2K continues to release a quality port on PC, I will continue to buy NBA 2K because it is that good. It’s the only sports video game I have bought each of the last five years and I hope to keep that relationship strong next season on PC.
Conclusion: What Game You Should Get Right Now
Upon reflecting on all of the games I played in 2014, one thing has become abundantly clear: I am a gamer. I don’t play first-person shooters and my most powerful console isn’t console at all. When it came to deciding what game you need to buy right now, my de facto best overall game category, I think this influence rang true. After all the hours logged this year and all of the AA batteries I went through using my wireless Xbox 360 controller, my final verdict is: South Park: The Stick of Truth. Though I have logged more hours elsewhere (namely the triple digits in NBA 2K15), none of those hours were filled with the consistent laughter and enjoyment that came while playing the South Park game. In a year where the AAA releases fizzled and major bugs needed to be patched left and right, it is fitting that my personal favorite is a game that got the fundamentals right and wasn’t released as a broken title. I look forward to all of new games 2015 brings, though I hope fewer AAA releases are filled with the mistakes and glitches that haunted 2014’s top releases.