Game Of The Year 2014: Tom's Picks
2014 will be remembered (by me) as the year I went a little bit peculiar and bought more games than in any previous time of my life. I also didn't play a AAA game until I bought my PS4 in September. The sheer quantity and quality of 'indie' games meant that I was never short of something to play, and local multiplayer came back in a big way making it fun to be on the sofa with friends again. On the downside it has made choosing a top 10 really difficult. I'm nothing if not dedicated however, so here are my picks for this year. Feel free to disagree with me in the comments, or even recommend me games I might have missed!
10. Sproggiwood (Freehold Games | October)
Sproggiwood was a big surprise for me. Coming out of nowhere it grabbed my attention and didn't let go for quite a few hours. On the surface it's a cute-looking turn-based dungeon crawler, all bright colours and an art style that might not look out of place on a Nintendo system. Once I got into the game however I found a surprising depth, in large part thanks to a variety of characters and a fairly unique loot system. Procedurally generated dungeons, a splash of humour and lots of colour means that Sproggiwood is definitely worth a look. If you've ever felt like smacking a slime with a shovel, this is the game for you.
9. Threes! (Asher Vollmer | February)
The only thing I need to say here is that Threes! has made every single hour that I've been on aeroplanes an honest joy. It's just taxing enough to make you feel clever, but relaxing enough to play for three or four hours without stopping. The simple nature of the game - combine tiles of 1 and 2 to make three, and then threes to make sixes and so on - has kept me thoroughly entertained throughout my travels. The understated music, charming characters and lack of any sort of grinding or in-app payments make Threes! a simple and addictive pleasure. Please do buy this, and not one of the horrible free clones that came out straight after it.
8. Hatoful Boyfriend (Mediatonic | September)
Definitely the weirdest game of the year, Hatoful Boyfriend probably isn't for everyone. An avian dating simulator on the surface, you play as the only human in a school for gifted birds. While the school term progresses, you get to know some of the feathered friends that share the classroom with you, with the ultimate goal of starting to date one of them. That's already odd enough, but then each bird has a choose your own adventure type backstory that range from the ridiculous to the sublime. My first romance ended up protecting a bird on the run (wing?) from shady Yakuza birds, while my second involved some spooky goings on. I didn't write a QuickPlay as it's almost impossible to capture the unique atmosphere in mere words. Go take a look!
7. The Journey Down (Skygoblin | August (Chapter Two))
I am cheating a little bit here as the first part of this episodic point-and-click adventure came out in 2013. Chapter Two dropped in August this year however, and was well worth the wait. The game centres on Bwana, a pilot and gas station attendant who gets involved with a mysterious plot involving gangsters, his missing father and a strange book. The music and the art are stunning, and the game itself is full of life and warmth, and features puzzles that tease the brain rather than frustrate. The Journey Down is a 100% lovely experience and I recommend it for all point-and-click fans. It seems Skygoblin are hard at work on Chapter Three, so the wait shouldn't be too long!
6. Enemy Mind (Schell Games | June)
Enemy Mind is a side-scrolling shoot-em-up with a twist. Your ship has a very limited amount of ammunition, but luckily you have the power to teleport and take over enemy ships and turn their weapons against them. Choosing the right moment to switch is as important as having good reflexes and a keen eye. The multiplayer version is also amazing and with up to four players jumping ships things can quickly descend into hilarious chaos if you aren't communicating. Cool music, nice art and the aforementioned twist keep me coming back to it.
5. OlliOlli (Roll7 | July)
Skating games became fun again when Roll7 and Devolver Digital dropped OlliOlli on us in the summer. Stripped down 2D arcade joy, complete with tricky objectives, a decent difficulty curve and an absolutely banging soundtrack took me back to my days with the early Tony Hawk's games, and that can only be a good thing. Simple controls disguise a deep array of moves, and the whole package is satisfyingly tight.
4. Transistor (Supergiant Games | May)
Coming off the back of the wonderful Bastion, Supergiant Games delivered another gem with Transistor. A beautifully colourful and interesting world, a haunting female protagonist and an odd but cool combat system combine to make one of the most interesting games of the year for me. The musical score is excellent as well, as has been a regular fixture on my Spotify playlist.
3. Dragon Age: Inquisition (Bioware | November)
I am a born sucker for RPGs, and the latest instalment in the Dragon Age series ticks all the boxes necessary to make me a very happy man. I finished the game in about 90 hours, so you won't be short of content. The characters are very well-written and stay well outside the typical RPG tropes. Banter between your party members is routinely laugh out loud funny, and gender and sexual stereotypes are handled very maturely. There are a huge amount of sidequests, often multi-part, and a deep loot system, with item crafting that justifies grabbing every resource in sight. Epic dragon battles (I had a 20 minute fight with one dragon that left me victorious but physically spent), varied landscapes and a huge amount of backstory fill out the game wonderfully, and there are even a few familiar faces popping up. Bioware seem to have learned from their mistakes with Dragon Age 2, and barring a few obvious bugs and *that* quest with a buffalo, the game is simply a masterpiece.
2. Actual Sunlight (Will O'Neill | April)
A short but emotional gut-punch of a game, Actual Sunlight tells us the story of Evan Winter, a young man struggling with depression. Wonderfully written, the game captures the existential angst of modern life perfectly without ever being over the top. As a piece of interactive fiction Actual Sunlight is powerfully moving and the emotional impact stayed with me long after I finished it.
1. This War Of Mine (11bit Studios | November)
A complete change of pace for 11bit Studios, This War Of Mine focuses on the desperate struggle of a group of survivors in a war-torn town. Part resource management sim, part exploration game, This War Of Mine is a deeply affecting look at the sacrifices made in times of hardship. Every decision is a struggle and keeping your morality is as important as keeping yourself alive. A unique gem of a game, I think it is one of the most important games of the year.