Posted Tue Dec 23, 2014 at 08:00 PM PST by Brian Hoss
A year of transition.
It's that time of the year again. With 2014 quickly drawing to a close, it's time to look back and ponder over the game of year. When it came to picking High-Def Digest's Game of the Year for 2014, I pulled from our staff, whose genre and platform tastes really range, and I also pulled from some colleagues in the hopes that nothing impressive was truly overlooked. Naturally, the discussion always came back to the year's premiere platforms, but that did not make things all that simple. Several high profile games suffered from serious technical launch failures that are still being "fixed." Meanwhile, some favorite games from the past year ('GTA V,' 'Tomb Raider' etc.) fall entirely into the HD remake category, with not even an extra mission added to justify any kind of 2014 GOTY consideration. Even so, it seems pretty clear that most of the games that we played (and enjoyed) in 2014 were designed with the 360/PS3 generation in mind, and thus, have left users wanting more.
At the same time, that old 360/PS3 design template has seen some excellent games year in and year out. With that in mind, here are nine games whose developers and publishers can considered printing up GOTY version without any kind of smirking. Listed far below at number one is The High-Def Digest Game of the Year for 2014, which is followed by a smattering of games who can be considered standouts for their respective platforms.
With 'Game of Thrones,' 'Tales from the Borderlands,' and now 'Minecraft' in production, Telltale Games may be spreading their special ways thinner than many fans would prefer. (In terms of the PS4 & Xbox One in particular, Telltale Games ought to raise their production standards.) But in 2014, 'The Wolf Among Us' went from a proof of concept to a game series that will easily endure for years to come. Those that take the lunge will find that being sheriff, big bad or no, is far from a comfortable existence. In 'The Wolf Among Us,' the world of 'Fables' lives and in turn, burns with a seedy underbelly. There is power in that desperation.
It might sound cliché, but 'Far Cry 4' is never about the journey, or about finishing the whole. Instead it's a sandbox game come alive with elephants and rhinos that can be explored and toyed at with friends online. To be clear, Kyrat is very pretty on the new systems, but it's pretty unambitious to think of those characters as the end-all be-all in Xbox One/PS4 visuals.
2014 saw several big swings in terms of the racing genre, but one game really put it all together. With 'Forza Horizon 2' players can race their rivals (or their rivals' Drivatars), can form clubs and crews, and can do so while feeling part of an open world online and offline. Heck, even the DLC (think 'Storm Island' rather than car packs) is meant to be fun. It's a shame that microtransactions have slithered in, but they are minimized.
It's very hard for me to play 'Dragon Age: Inquisition' and not pine for the wonderful gameplay of 'Dragon Age: Origins' (or even 'KOTOR'). Fortunately, that older title is still available to play, and at the same time, the third-person action style of the new game can exist and even offer some of that wonderful RPG story and depth. There is no denying that the game is both fun to play, and addictive. In spite of mimicking of the sandbox game style, this is still a worthy RPG.
Every time I fire up 'Super Smash Bros.' on the Wii U, I have to face the question of "can Smash Bros. be all things to all gamers?" The game is immediately familiar to series' fans, but still packed with foreign aspects. It's a casual brawler and a competitive fighter. It offers a wealth of digital collectables and ties into Nintendo's new physical collectable kingdom. It's a love letter for Nintendo fans as well as a mainstream system seller. It's 8 players, and online, but there is an addictive single player wagering system hidden within. It's HD, but it offers things like a nuanced level editor.
Back when 'Diablo III' launched, I would have never have guessed that the staff here would still be singing the game's praises through an expanded console version. Somehow though, 'Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition' has its hooks deep into some of the pickiest players around. That persistence, coupled with the expansion means that this 'D3' is worth considering for GOTY where other re-releases are not.
'Super Smash Bros.' may be new and shiny, and may still be adored by legions of fans a decade from now, but it's 'Mario Kart 8' that has been prying reviewers from their assignments over the better part of a year. For me, the Wii U version is so much better than the chart crushing Wii version, that it is not even funny. While it looks pretty in HD, offscreen play means never having to stop karting, which is a very dangerous, yet pleasing characteristic.
Those who know 'Dark Souls II,' already know that what the player puts into the game, it takes. For some, the product is nothing. But for others, there are speed runs, a marvelous world of online PvP and co-op, or just simply a game with many imitators but only one true accursed. As with other games in the series, 'Dark Souls II' chucks out the conventional game rules, such as holding the players hand, blasting a soundtrack nonstop, hammering home a story, and substitutes its own demanding set of rules. If it looks dangerous, it likely is. If it looks safe, it likely isn't.
It's at this point in the list that many readers will rip up their digitized reading material. And who can blame them? It's nearly impossible with 'Destiny' to completely ignore the game's purported budget or the talk of a ten year game or the listless blathering of the game's non-story. Worse still, these problems are only exacerbated by the recent paid expansion. But the game combines online, shooter, and gear grind into such a pretty package, that well, the result is millions of players' hours spent. Better then to think of 'Destiny' as the first loser when it comes to GOTY, and for those few still left, it's time to equip a new exotic and play a raid.
"The game that 'The Lord of the Rings' fans deserve" might have a nice ring to it, but ultimately doesn't convey the quality of 'Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.' When the game hit, its much ballyhooed Nemesis system felt like a breath of fresh air. There are stacks of games that feature a mix of completely indistinguishable AI enemies and a few bosses or named npcs, but 'Shadow of Mordor' added the kind of wrinkle usually reserved for indie roguelikes. I attempted to explore the game's importance here, and the ensuing months of big releases haven't yet put a dent into the areas where 'Mordor' surprised and succeeded. In what may be a more impressive perspective on the game's special mechanics, Ken Levine points out that how the gameplay of 'Shadow of Mordor' tells a story that could never exist in another medium."
But while 'Mordor' may be ground-breaking in its game design, it's hardly a one-trick pony. It looks good (brown in large parts, but good), and it plays like a wondrous love child of the 'Batman: Arkham' and 'Assassin's Creed' games while giving 'LOTR' fans a story to enjoy, now and in the future. 'Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor' is the High-Def Digest Game of the Year for 2014. Even if all you do is discover the weaknesses of a few captains and then plan and execute their demise, it is the one game this year that you should be sure to play over all others.
Whether it's on a phone, a tablet, or a more traditional handheld, millions of people play games on the go every day. And thus we recognize a few of those games as the best on their platform in 2014.
For the PlayStation Vita, 'Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc' and its sequel 'Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair' make for a series that could be labeled a visual novel if not for the wonderful investigative and trials phases. Even when the story completely goes off the rails, it's still a refined blast to play this PSP turned Vita pair of gems. High-Def Digest writer and reviewer Elizabeth Henges even had this to say about her favorite game of this year, "With its great writing and wonderful characters, 'Danganronpa 2' ended up being the best gaming experience I had during the year. It gripped me from the very beginning and didn't let go until the end."
Dollar for dollar, and for the kind of nostalgia that has players playing instead of just talking, 'Super Smash Bros.' has been a massively successful franchise in this century. But it wasn't until the 3DS version of 'Super Smash Bros.' that the series became portable. Even now, with the Wii U version out and about, many a player is traveling to see their families while expectantly looking for that next StreetPass meeting in 'Super Smash Bros.'
It's not every day that an iPhone or an Android title finds itself being considered "immersive" in the traditional game sense. With 'The Room Two,' however, immersion is the most likely scenario. The quality of the puzzles and the visuals doesn't translate into endless hours of play, but it doesn't have to. Instead the time spent in the game feels worthwhile and not throwaway.
Once again, the subject of re-releases rears its ugly head, but this time around, the re-release in question is not only new to the platform, but also adds content that was added as a free patch for all owners of the PC. 'FTL: Advanced Edition' isn't just a great port. It isn't just a great game. It isn't just addictive. It isn't just the sort of game that 'Star Trek' fans should have already gotten. 'FTL: Advanced Edition' is the single greatest reason to own an iPad. (Or not, depending on how much time you can risk on the ultimate "one more" title.)
And that's it. There were tough choices all around, and no doubt many readers not only disagree but hate the mere idea of GOTY. Feel free to let us know in the comments. Likewise, feel free to guess what our most anticipated 2015 titles are before they are published.
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