7) Civilization: Beyond Earth
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
I’m a sucker for Civilization games. I love the strategy involved in building a civilization and making it thrive against competitors. So I was going to like this game no matter what. But it took a lot more imagination because this title starts where most of the other Civ games end. Humanity takes to the stars in search of a new habitable planet. From the moment I landed on a new world, I was in trouble.
Giant siege worms and other creatures kept on attack my lone city. I expanded until I ran into another civilization. And while I was busy waging a war against the aliens, my neighbor launched a surprise attack on me. I had to fight off that evil bastard and try to keep my economy from sinking at the same time.
Civilization games are complex by their very nature. But when you get the hang of it, there’s no better feeling. It’s like winning a chess match against a grand master. And in this case, everything is fresh. You have to research all sorts of cool sci-fi technologies, build the right armies, collect resources, and learn about the alien life at the same time.
8) Wolfenstein: The New Order
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: Windows, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
There is a lot of disturbing imagery in this follow-up of id Software’s classic first-person shooter game. In this tale, the Nazis have won World War II. You have to play the last surviving American fighter, William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, who is injured in the war and is in a coma for 14 years. He wakes up with the Nazis in total control of the world and on their way to conquering space and the moon.
The game is a difficult shooter, but it also has a complex story and some interesting characters, both on your side and on the German side. There are times when you will feel like you are inside the film Inglourious Basterds. In contrast to the old Wolfenstein game from the 1990s, this isn’t purely a one-way corridor quest. You have large fighting spaces and multiple options to clear them. You can go in with guns blazing or just use stealth and a knife.
The game is really long. You can shoot Nazis forever, and they just keep on coming. You are always the underdog, except when you steal a Nazi Mech vehicle at a concentration camp. You move from one impossible firefight to another, and you have to deal with some memorable bosses like the London Monitor. This game was so tough that I almost went wacko playing it. But it was very satisfying when I was finally done.
9) The Walking Dead: Season 2
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Platforms: Windows, Mac OS X, PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, iOS, PS Vita, Ouya, Android
Sequels usually aren’t that much fun. But Telltale has The Walking Dead series figured out. The zombie apocalypse has come, and the zombies always force you to make tough decisions like choosing which one of your family members or friends to save.
That’s wrenching enough when it’s adults making these decisions. But in Season 2 of the Telltale series, you play Clementine, a little girl who has lost her parents. Clementine gets thrown into the gladiator pits, and she has to quickly figure out who her friends are and who is likely to get her killed. The choices are tough because the characters are almost always flawed.
She’s a tad too mature for her age, but she’s a well-crafted character. I’ve come to expect that from the folks at Telltale, who have learned to tell their episodic stories with high drama and suspense. I’ve had to make a lot of hard choices in this game, and then, at the end of each chapter, I get to see how my decisions stack up against everyone else’s. That’s a formula that will keep me coming back.
Developer: Super Evil Megacorp
Publisher: Super Evil Megacorp
Vainglory is a new breed of hardcore game designed for the tablet experience. It takes the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre popularized by League of Legends and simplifies it for a touchscreen experience. The result is a game that is easy to get into and effortless to play. But it is also engaging enough to keep you furiously pounding on the tablet screen with your fingers for a half hour for just one match.
The title has just three human players fighting against three human opponents, compared to a typical 5-vs-5 MOBA. But there are plenty of tactical options. You can charge down the main lane with your minions, but you have to take out some big guns along the way. Or you can disappear into the Jungle below and attack gold mines, sneak up on enemies, or free the deadly Kraken, the giant monster that will deal a lot of damage to your enemy.
I haven’t spent much time with MOBAs, partly because they’re just too fast for me to grasp. But Vainglory has held my attention, and it’s an accessible game that makes it easy for anyone to learn. That’s an important accomplishment, since it could have hundreds of millions of potential players. As with Hearthstone, I love the give and take of the chaotic battles. Just because you get the Kraken on your side doesn’t mean you will win. Individual effort matters. And you can turn out to be the loser or the hero multiple times within the same match. That’s what makes it a high-adrenaline experience.
Runners-up: Dragon Age: Inquisition, Flappy Bird (yes, it started in 2013 but became a worldwide hit in 2014), Monument Valley, Destiny, Far Cry 4, Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Company of Heroes: Ardennes Assault, Ultimate General: Gettysburg, Sunset Overdrive, and Threes!. I was very tempted to pick The Last of Us: Remastered, as the PS4 version is a considerable improvement on the PS3 version that was my favorite pick for last year. The same was true for Grand Theft Auto V, which debuted on the next-generation consoles this year. There were also a lot of great games that I didn’t have time to play, but I guess that’s a vote in itself.
What’s your vote? Let me know in the comments. And check out the poll below.