Sunday, January 4, 2015

My Favorite PC Games of 2014

As many of you already know, I've been deeply immersed in the process of creating a new game of my own over the past several months. Prior to that, I was all-but-consumed with my previous non-gaming-related job going all the way back to mid-2013.

As a consequence, I didn't play many games in 2014– or more accurately, I didn't play many games for very long during the past year. I did; however, find a few that managed to really impress and entertain me when I needed it most and I want to call them out here.

Unlike previous years, where I played most everything of significance and felt comfortable making a "Best of" list, I'm simply going to focus on the games I played and ignore the ones I didn't– ergo, a given game's exclusion from this list should not be taken as a comment on its quality.

With all that out of the way, I want to throw out two quick honorable mentions for the PC (Steam) versions of "Dead Rising 3" and "Valkyria Chronicles" that came out in 2014. Even though both games originally shipped in previous years, they're both quite good and deserve a play– especially if you've never played them.

#10 - Meltdown

Good co-op games are generally few and far between in my experience and "Meltdown" is a good, fun co-op game. The premise is pretty simple as you progress through a series of procedurally-generated "space dungeons–" leveling up your character and unlocking new weapons and abilities. There are some interesting little mechanical wrinkles such as cover and some cleverly-designed puzzle-like encounters to boot. Unfortunately, those wrinkles do tend to be overused a bit by the time you see everything the game has to offer but overall, "Meltdown" is a game that fans of co-op, isometric shooters with RPG elements should have in their library.

Meltdown (via Steam)

#9 - Gods Will Be Watching

This is a love it or hate it game. I love it but I can absolutely see how others might not. The core concept involves guiding a group of characters through a series of seven or so scenarios by making what often end up being life and death choices about what should be done with the limited resources available to them. The pixel art visuals and retro audio are well realized though they might not be everyone's cup of tea. The mechanics of the scenarios are generally interesting and often creative– though the trial-and-error nature of the gameplay can be frustrating and (one might argue) excessively cruel. Still, this was one of those rare games that I just couldn't stop playing once I got into it. Ultimately, I include "Gods Will Be Watching" here because I feel it would be a shame for anyone who might enjoy what this game has to offer to miss out on playing it.

#8 - GRID Autosport

In a lot of ways, this is the GRID game I've been waiting for since the series first started. "GRID Autosport" is a racing game with a nice balance between simulation and arcade physics, a good selection of vehicles and tracks to race, and some clever multiplayer options that helped keep it fresh and interesting for me much longer than the average racing game. Unfortunately, a major bug in multiplayer, multi-event Custom Cups with AI that basically killed the game for my group once single races lost their appeal keeps it from appearing higher on the list. I'm still waiting on that patch Codemasters and my offer to buy the season pass if you fix said bug still stands.

GRID Autosport (via Steam)

#7 - ZMR (Zombies Monsters Robots)

Free-to-play games and free-to-play shooters in particular are a dime a dozen these days. The interesting thing about ZMR is not so much what it does but how it does it. The developer/publisher's prior work on "Gears of War" and "Tera" no doubt helped them craft some of the most fun and compelling third-person-shooter gameplay of the year. ZMR isn't a particularly deep game mechanically but there are oodles of options for playing it competitively and cooperatively in a wide range of game modes spanning many diverse environments. The "Monsters vs. Mercs" PvP mode and the "Assault Ops" and "Extinction Ops" PvE modes stood out to me in particular.

#6 - Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

Like many others, I used to play a lot of "Magic: The Gathering" back in the day. I even still pick up the occasional annual PC game based on that TCG (Trading Card Game) but I haven't really played a TCG seriously in years. "Hearthstone" is a close as I've come to that level of obsessive madness since the 90s. In typical Blizzard fashion, they've managed to craft a perfect little hamster wheel that keeps you coming back over and over and over again until you've managed to wring every last ounce of entertainment value from the game's dead husk. Is "Hearthstone" a good game? Yes. It is; however I can't help feeling a little dirty when I load it because part of me knows that it's playing me as much as I'm playing it.

#5 - Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

As a former "Battlefield" player, I never would have thought that Activision could have done anything to make me want to buy and play another "Call of Duty" (CoD) game. It probably helps that I hadn't seriously played one since "Modern Warfare 2," but setting that aside, I still feel like "Advanced Warfare" is a pretty great game. The exaggerated movement mechanics, the Supply Drops, the game modes and map rotations, and the overall feel of the total package just works. In a lot of ways, "Advanced Warfare" is the most fun I've had with an arcade/twitch FPS since the original "Unreal Tournament" and that's probably all I really need to say.

#4 - Fight the Dragon

Easily the best co-op game of the year, "Fight the Dragon" is in many ways "Adventure Construction Set" for a new generation. At it's core, it's a very Diablo/Torchlight-like gameplay experience, which might be good or bad depending on your point of view. Beyond that, and proper controller support, the real hook to this game is the user-created content and the fantastic tools the developers have created to empower even the least technically-minded players to create and publish said content. There are some mechanical limitations to what can be created with the editor and the pool of ready-made objects and enemies might seem a bit limited but it's nothing short of amazing what folks have already managed to do with what's currently in the game. With continued support from the developer and Steam Workshop functionality already in place, I see myself returning to "Fight the Dragon" on a regular basis.

Fight The Dragon (via Steam)

#3 - This War of Mine

Every so often, a game comes along that really blows me away to the point where I say it's a must-play title regardless of what sorts of games a person typically plays. For me, "This War of Mine" is that game for 2014. As I've said many times, there's no such thing as a perfect game, but this is as close as I've seen anyone come in a while. The basic premise involves guiding a small group of pre-determined and randomly-selected characters as they struggle to survive in a city being occupied by an invading army. Everything about this game is simply exquisite– from the gameplay mechanics, to the visual and auditory presentation, to the gut-wrenching, emotionally-poignant moral dilemas faced by the characters and you as the player. I'm generally not a fan of point and click, side-scrolling games but the user interface in "This War of Mine" is so well implemented and the pacing of the gameplay so deliberate and believable that it completely won me over. The only real problem with this game is that the subject matter is so serious and the manner it's presented in so convincing that I actually find it somewhat draining to play. As a consequence, I couldn't make it my game of the year but believe me when I say that "This War of Mine" is a title that any serious gaming enthusiast should play.

This War of Mine (via Steam)

#2 - Talisman: Digital Edition

Without a doubt, this is the game I got the most enjoyment out of in 2014. I never had the chance to play the actual board game– though I did once see a minor fistfight break out between some guys who were playing it across a room from me back in the day, which oddly enough always made me want to play it more but I digress. For me, "Talisman: Digital Edition" is one of those games that I can play and enjoy in just about any circumstance. There's something about the staggering number of things that can occur during a game (especially with the release of each new expansion pack) that keeps me coming back over and over to see what crazy new madness will happen next. It's true that Talisman is a far from perfect game that's often brutally unfair and unbalanced but there's something endearing about its rough edges that I just can't deny. Looking forward to more expansions and patches (Please continue fixing bugs Nomad!) in 2015.

#1 - The Crew

This is my favorite game of 2014 for one simple reason: More than any other title I played this past year, "The Crew" feels like it was made specifically for me. The open-world driving, the co-op functionality, the not-too-serious/not-too-cheesy story line, even the ridiculous difficulty spikes in certain missions all combine to make a game that compels me to play it. Am I always having fun when I'm playing "The Crew?" No. Sometimes it frustrates the hell out of me but if I'm being honest, I kinda like that– not because I enjoy being frustrated but because the overall game is good enough that I feel justified investing in it and pushing myself to be better and overcome the more challenging bits. And that's the magic of "The Crew." The crushingly-dificult parts of the game only work because I care enough about progressing to put the time in to get past them. It also helps that I can actually feel myself becoming better at the game with each hour I put into it. A lot of people complain about the random events and traffic patterns during missions but I see them as a long-term positive because they force you to become a better driver and to not simply memorize where things are going to be in a given scenario. As with most things that are a matter of opinion, I'm sure a lot of people will disagree with this selection but for me, "The Crew" is my favorite PC game of the year.

The Crew (via Steam)