Some great games debuted in 2014, but I feel like it was an in-between year. Last year, the previous generation of consoles peaked and the next-generation consoles debuted. This year, more big titles were supposed to arrive. But some highly anticipated games like Evolve, Dying Light, and The Order: 1886 slipped into 2015.
That made it seem like 2014 was actually a disappointment compared to 2013, when titles such as The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite held me spellbound. I am glad that my pick for my favorite game of the year, Watch Dogs, made it out the door after more than five years of development. But I’d hate to think that every big game has to take that long to complete. I also don’t want to criticize the developers who did ship some beautiful games this year. I hope to use my visibility to encourage and inspire developers to make awesome games on every platform.
These games below are epic achievements. Some are long and some aren’t, but they consumed many hours of my life this year.
It’s good to see from my picks that the next-generation consoles are holding strong. The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 became strong platforms for both heavy-duty console games and indie titles delivered via digital means. The consoles were my preferred platform for most of the games on this list. Steam and the Windows PC were also great platforms for strong computer games such as Civilization: Beyond Earth and indie titles like Ultimate General: Gettysburg.
Mobile gaming also rose in prominence this year. Two of my picks were great iOS games: Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft and Vainglory; and I also played The Walking Dead: Season 2 entirely on the Nvidia Shield Tablet. These picks show that the mobile devices are becoming more and more powerful, and that it doesn’t take a huge amount of processing power to run a well-designed game. Next year, I hope to see something different, like a virtual reality game on my favorites list.
I am disappointed in Nintendo this year. It shipped some great games like Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U, but those titles are getting old to me, and I find them unoriginal in comparison to so many other fresh brands. But Nintendo did what it needed to do this year to make the Wii U into a healthy platform, and it extended its dominance with the 3DS handheld.
I’m sure that many readers will find this list to be uninspired. It’s full of commercial blockbusters, but I have to say that the big companies really delivered this year. A few of the games show my own unique biases. I’m sure that many folks didn’t have the grit to fight through the enormously difficult Wolfenstein: The New Order. But difficulty isn’t always a bad thing. And hey, it’s my list.
For the sake of comparison, here are my favorites from 2013, 2012 and 2011. And be sure to check out the GamesBeat staff’s own votes for Game of the Year and the best individual favorites of the staff next week. We’ve also published the top original games of 2014 and the best indie games of 2014. The links for the games go to our full reviews or other significant related stories. Be sure to check out the runner-ups at the bottom and our reader poll where you can sound off on these choices.
1) Watch Dogs
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Platforms: Windows, PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U
Ubisoft’s cyber-thriller about a rogue hacker who takes control of a modern city lived up to its billing. It was original, had a good story, and the characters were interesting. The game had its faults, and its writing wasn’t as strong as some of last year’s big titles. But I poured hours into it, and so did 9 million other people who bought the game and made it one of the most successful new game franchises of all time. The game held my attention for dozens of hours, and that’s more than I can say for a lot of the blockbusters this year. After playing this game, I could understand why people become hackers. It’s such a power trip, and it sucks you into a life that you really don’t want to leave. Through the character Aiden Pearce, a vigilante who is guilt-ridden about the harm he brought down on his own family, Ubisoft captured the contradictions about whether hackers and vigilantes are really good or bad for society. The game also raised an alarm about the wisdom of connecting everything in our electronic lives.
Many reviewers felt that Watch Dogs didn’t live up to its hype. But if you played it all the way through, for somewhere around 40 hours, you’ll come to see that it is an enormously complex game on the order of Grand Theft Auto V. At the same time, it was simple to learn and control. Driving was fluid and easy. Hacking into the smartphones of other people was fun. You could peer into their private lives and feel like a voyeur. Pulling tricks on people was half the fun, and it wasn’t too hard to do. When a police car was chasing you, all it took was a well-time button push to raise a drawbridge and watch the cops fly into the water below. You could cross an intersection and cause some cars to crash. And you could raise concrete pillars and watch your pursuers smash into them.
But life on the run was tough. The police were relentless in trying to hunt you down, and sometimes it took a half hour just to get them off your trail. I also enjoyed some epic gunfights against gangs and cops as they surrounded me. All of that speaks to the vast breadth of gameplay in this open world.
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Titanfall didn’t have a single-player campaign, but it was full of innovations and fun with its multiplayer combat that combined futuristic ground infantry and hulking Mechs. It gave you instant action as you fell to the planet from orbit in a single-person pod. You emerge into a world of combat. That’s a rush, and it’s just the beginning of an intense firefight. The game had such nice touches. You could run on walls and jump to the top of buildings, thanks to the power of your exoskeleton.
And even though the multiplayer was fierce, the developers wisely chose to put non-human grunts into the action. You could shoot them more easily and score some points. So you never went through a match where you were completely skunked by the other players. That was a nice touch that made the first-person shooter more accessible. And then, if you earned enough points, you could get in a Mech. I loved jumping into a steel machine and spraying grenades in every direction. No other game this year had so many explosions per second. Its only drawback was its short level cap. But Titanfall brought a lot of joy to a crowded and tired genre.