by Matthew Thompson
I’m back to reveal the second half of my top ten games of the year for 2014 (you can check out Part 1 here). While I enjoyed all ten of the games in this list, I felt like these five really were a good bit ahead of the rest of the pack. Well, here they are!
5. Bayonetta 2
I still don’t care much for the aesthetic of the series or the lead character and I feel the story gets in the way of my fun at times, but with combat this good none of that makes much of a difference. The depth on offer here is simply unmatched in the action genre today. It brings back a lot of what made the original great: the excellent Dodge Offset and Witch-Time mechanics, the wonderfully over the top scenarios, the fun yet outlandish weapons, the top of the line boss encounters, the pitch-perfect controls. But Bayonetta 2 also improves on the original’s formula by adding new mechanics like Umbran Climax, delivering a better performing more beautiful experience via the Wii U hardware, and even trimming some of the first game’s fat by sticking to the core gameplay more and being less obnoxious when it doesn’t. The end result is my favorite pure 3D action title outside of the first two modern Ninja Gaiden games… which is to say it was really awesome.
4. Wolfenstein: The New Order
Wolfenstein: The New Order wasn’t even on my radar coming into the 2014. Suffice it to say, I didn’t expect it to top much-anticipated titles like Destiny or find itself in my top five come year’s end. With their first effort, MachineGames delivers one of the best FPS campaigns around. I love the way it blends new and old school FPS design. You can run and gun with a pair of shotguns or creep around stealthily taking enemies down with throwing knives. The game is level-based, but allows for lots of options and paths despite its linear structure. Side objectives and the game’s upgrade system encourage experimentation. It combines to create a gameplay experience that feels expertly crafted and more importantly is just plain fun. The most surprising part of the year’s most surprising game though is the narrative. There is an unexpected amount of heart for a game that has you blasting away at giant Nazi robots and it helps to create a more well-rounded experience. Wolfenstein: The New Order is a top-notch effort and not to be overlooked by any gamers out there, but especially FPS fans.
3. Mario Kart 8
Mario Kart 8 really ticked all the boxes for me in what I want from the series. Tight controls with an analog stick? Check. Inventive new courses and a myriad of quality classic tracks? Double check. Great local multiplayer with plenty of customization options? Yep, it’s got that too. It also delivers some fun new additions like the cool anti-gravity mechanic, new items like the Boomerang Flower and Super Horn, and Off-TV Play. We are seeing new content added to the game via DLC for the first time, something I’ve always hoped for. Even the graphics are beautiful, not something I usually expect from the series. It’s unfortunate they’ve botched the battle mode yet again, but as far as racing goes it is as fun as multiplayer gets. It’s my favorite Mario Kart title and sure to be a staple when gaming with friends for years to come.
2. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
I think part of the reason I loved Tropical Freeze so much was because it was really the first time the DKC series clicked with me. I think I was a little late to the party on the original on SNES and I don’t care much for the controls of the Wii’s Donkey Kong Country Returns whereas neither was an issue when I played Tropical Freeze. But it is mostly just because Tropical Freeze is such an excellent game. Few games nail the aspect of challenge better than TF. Even when I’m dying (which I admit I did fairly often), I was never frustrated and finishing a tough sequence was always rewarding as a result. And similar to Bayonetta 2, the aspects I didn’t care much for in previous DKC games (mine cart and rocket barrel levels) are both less prevalent here and of a higher quality when they do pop up. And then there is the soundtrack which I can’t say enough good things about. Above all else though the game just excels so much during the more traditional stages. The level design is exquisite in its appearance, deep with its use of mechanics, and creative with its layouts. I appreciated the longer length of each individual one compared to Returns as well. And it all controls perfectly this time around. As a platformer fan, this is what I live for in games and no other title this year delivered on this front like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.
1. Far Cry 4
By and large Far Cry 4 gives us more of what was great about Far Cry 3, but when you loved that game as much as I did that isn’t a bad thing at all. Like its predecessor, Far Cry 4’s open-world delivers memorable moments in spades. Some will feel familiar like random encounters with the ferocious wildlife that inhabit the game’s fictional nation of Kyrat, chats with its eccentric leader Pagan Min, or stalking baddies silently with your bow. Others though are unique to this fourth entry. Like flying over enemies in a one-man chopper to pepper them with explosions from your handy grenade launcher sidearm. Or climbing the mountainous terrain with your new grappling hook. There’s siccing your ghost tiger on enemies in the fantastical Shangri-La levels. Or how about racing up alongside an enemy vehicle and hopping across to take them down before zooming off down the road in their ride.
And then of course, there are elephants. If you thought taking down outposts in FC3 was fun already, they are even better here. Just imagine riding into one on an elephant, blasting away from on top of your noble mount with a shotgun, slamming enemies into the ground with its trunk, and charging into a convoy of reinforcements to send their jeeps tumbling away. It may be because of my love of elephants, but nothing in gaming this year was more fun than going to battle atop one of these huge creatures.
It may be a cliché or even a little silly to say a sequel is like the previous game on steroids, but it seems really apt here. Far Cry 4 is like FC3, but better in every area that matters. As a result, it is my game of the year and one of my favorite first-person shooters of all-time.
That will do it for my top ten games of last year. Feel free to let me know your picks below or if you have GotY blog of your own, shoot me a link. I’ll have one more blog focusing on games in 2014 with picks for favorite DLC and a few other oddball awards, so look out for that sometime this week. Thanks for reading!