The new year is well underway, and with huge releases on the horizon, 2015 looks set to be a blockbuster year for gaming. That being said, 2014 for many was a year of transition. The new generation became the current generation, but in the midst of all that, some truly fantastic games were released. So with that in mind, we asked some of our writers what they thought was their favourite game of the year, so let’s kick things off!

Imran’s pick – Dragon Age: Inquisition

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2013 was a great year for indie games and 2014 continued on that trend, but it was nigh impossible to ignore the slew of big-name releases. We saw a reinvigorated Call of Duty, Nintendo finally made the Wii U relevant, and the surprisingly awesome Shadow of Mordor was released, as well as some minor to monumental disappointments from the likes of AC Unity, Watch Dogs and Destiny. But 2014 stood out for me as the year of redemption for one developer in particular, thanks to BioWare’s return to grace with Dragon Age: Inquisition.

It’s hard to think of any developer that’s suffered from a huge backlash and criticism more so than what BioWare has had to put up with in recent times, but they’ve silenced the doubters quite spectacularly with what I think easily sits as one of best RPG’s of all time, let alone for 2014. The game feels and plays like a love letter to the RPG’s of yesteryear: gone are the tiny corridors and linear paths; gone are the scaled back role-playing features we saw in Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect 3. Instead, we’re given a full bore, full roar RPG that’s almost intimidating in its scale and ambition.

You could easily invest 100 hours of your time without even touching the main story and still feel like you’ve barely scratched the surface. But more significantly, it kept me up at night languishing at my decisions, had me laughing one moment and then crying the next. It made me care about everything I did and reminded me once again why Bioware are considered masters of story telling. It’s a no-brainer for me, Dragon Age: Inquisition was my favourite game (still playing it now) of 2014.

Honourable Mentions: Child of Light, Shadow of Mordor, Hearthstone

Bernie’s pick – Hearthstone

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The last couple of years have seen the rise of free-to-play games, such was Mechwarrior Online and League of Legends. World of Warcraft will never go free-to-play and Blizzard’s answer to LoL and DotA 2 in the form of Heroes of the Storm is still under development.

Enter Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, a simplified, digital version of the now-defunct World of Warcraft Trading Card Game. Most card games are full of various rules and exceptions that would require time and dedication to learn, but Hearthstone’s gameplay is simple enough to learn within the span of an hour at the most.

Matches in Hearthstone are refreshingly unpredictable. There were many games where my opponent had me on the ropes, only for me to play a card that completely turned the game in my favour. Likewise, there were games I was expecting to win in a few turns, only for the ordeal to be dragged out in a long slog. Hearthstone is not even a year old, yet with two expansions already out, great things are still to come.

Honourable Mentions: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Total War: Rome II Emperor Edition, Super Smash Brothers for Nintendo 3DS

Dan’s pick – Mario Kart 8

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There are many a racing game around, from The Crew to Forza to Gran Turismo, and while all are great, none have the fun factor of Mario Kart. The latest installment features a chaotic environment that is one to cherish and with a whole new set of weapons to enjoy in Mario Kart 8, the question need not be whether this is the best racing game of the year (it is), but whether this is the greatest Mario Kart of all time.

The title of greatest Mario Kart game of all time is an incredibly hard one to choose. The original Super Mario Kart on the SNES was filled with fun but was fairly one-dimensional. Then we reached the 3D versions which brought a new lease of life to the budding franchise. Mario Kart 64 featured a whole set of new tracks, battle arenas and the multiplayer feature on it was second to none, expanding the amount of players from two to four. Mario Kart Double Dash was innovative and the fact you could have two people playing on the same kart was astounding; to this day it holds up as such a great game. Mario Kart Wii introduced the franchise to the motion control era, and turning your remote as you would turn the wheel was just a fantastic addition to an already legendary game.

That being said, Mario Kart 8 left me speechless. The clarity and beauty of the graphics, the new designs of the tracks as well as the HD remakes of ones that featured on previous platforms, and the addition of anti-gravity was something that combined the two greatest racing games that have ever featured on a Nintendo console (F-Zero, I hope to see you again some time soon).

Sure, the gameplay can leave you with insurmountable odds to surpass; getting hit by five shells in a row is never fun. However, while other racing games focus on the reality of how the cars feel and drive, Mario Kart 8 relies on its fun factor. This year I definitely found this the most enjoyable game to sit down with.

Honourable Mentions: Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Far Cry 4

Ror’s pick – Dragon Age: Inquisition

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Rarely has a developer so competently responded to its critics, and rarer still has anyone done so in such comprehensive fashion. If you were put off by Dragon Age 2’s narrower environments and smaller scale world-building, then Inquisition will likely be everything you’ve been hoping for from Bioware’s premier fantasy series. Dragon Age: Inquisition is a vast, open adventure, taking in enormous swathes of both Ferelden and Orlais, that pulls together threads from both the previous games and the entire canon of novels while also offering an epic story that reaches back to the very birth of Thedas. This is a huge RPG that is very much for the fans, feeling as much a triumphant return to form as it is an apology for past sins.

As is the norm for the Canadian developer, BioWare’s latest venture offers a diverse cast of characters, and while they may immediately seem less memorable than past rosters, Inquisition’s cast comes into its own through a number of excellent, often humourous vignettes that occasionally delight in upending your preconceptions about any given character – witness stoic Cassandra’s infatuation with trashy romance novels, for instance. The almost-overwhelming scale of the game sometimes threatens to swallow your companions, but as always, doing the rounds after a story sequence to gauge everyone’s opinions will draw you closer into their past foibles, personal struggles, their unexpected strengths and even their hopes for the future.

Furthermore, BioWare continues its drive for more inclusivity in games, putting both men and women at every level of the Inquisition, continuing to include openly gay characters as party members and here even including a transgender character. These people aren’t defined by their preferences however; they’re merely one part of what makes them who they are, rather than their sole defining trait. BioWare should be applauded for striving to represent as much of the spectrum of the human experience as they have, especially in a year when such efforts may have drawn significant internet ire.

Honourable Mentions: Sunset Overdrive, Alien Isolation, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call

Neil’s pick – P.T.

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My choice for Game of the Year Can’t even be called a game as such, but I feel that it deserves the award purely because of the unique experience it provides. Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro’s marriage of ghastly horror and psychological suspense led to the creation of a an interactive teaser for Silent Hills, the new title in a franchise that was thought by many to be left for dead by Konami. The teaser itself, named P.T. (literally playable teaser), was released on the PlayStation Network as a demo by the fake 7780s Studio, which featured a grim story about a husband who murdered his entire family and shot his pregnant wife in the stomach before killing himself.

Players are required to traverse through the family’s home, interacting with their surroundings in order to pass through a door which loops them back to the beginning of the stage, albeit with the environment being altered each time. With its interesting puzzles that are reminiscent of old Silent Hill games, P.T. can yield hours of entertainment (or torture for many) and has managed to create a memorable experience for all players, like the combination of shock, disgust and intrigue at the sight of the undeveloped foetus wailing in the bathroom sink, the sinister voice on the radio bombarding you with orders, finally culminating in the dread-wrought request: “LOOK BEHIND YOU. I SAID: LOOK BEHIND YOU”, or even when the teaser seemingly appears to crash, tricking players into thinking that they’ve encountered a bug before the teaser is reset.

P.T. manages to not only scare the player, but it succeeds in creating a horrid sense of dread that something is one step behind you even if it might not be, and it ultimately puts you on constant edge; I find it remarkable that the repeated sequence of numbers of “204863” from the teaser can instil such a significant sense of dread within me, and it gives us a clear glimpse of the terror that the completed Silent Hills will bring.

Honourable Mentions: Bayonetta 2, Layton vs Wright, Shadow of Mordor

Stuart’s pick – Bravely Default

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Released here in Europe at the start of the year, Bravely Default tells a familiar enough tale to veterans of Square Enix by this point. Veterans of Final Fantasy might be getting some deja vu here, and you’d be right to do so because the story takes cues from several of the Final Fantasy games. Rather than just being a rehash, it feels more like a distilled version of the best elements of various Final Fantasies without compromising on its own identity.

Jobs and abilities follow the Final Fantasy V archetype here. You get jobs, not from magic talking rocks, but from finding the person who holds the job and beating them up for it. Fighting the guys who have the job is a treat, because not only are you getting a new job, but their entire boss battle is designed to show the strengths and weaknesses of the job you’re getting, which requires you to come up with some clever strategies and preparation to dull their strengths while assaulting their weaknesses. It’s a tutorial disguised as a clever and interesting boss fight. Why more games don’t do this (looking at you Kingdom Hearts II) is beyond me. The battle system is made brilliant by the simplest of tweaks to the Final Fantasy turn-based combat system, allowing multiple actions per character per turn. And you can turn off random battles if you want to move on with the story.

The characters are all great. Not just your four party members who get plenty of development, although the main focus tends to be on Agnes, but all the villains too. They all have their own backstories, their own quirks, and as the game continues, even after you’ve dealt with them, you’ll find out more about them and approach them from different angles, making each of them a lot more fleshed out than traditional villains. Oh yes, and every single one of them has either a punny name or a reference and it’s brilliant.

If there’s one thing we’ve never had cause to complain about in Final Fantasy, its the music. And even without the Final Fantasy, Bravely Default delivers. Highlights include the Asterisk boss battle theme, and each characters theme that plays when they do their special attacks.

There are some issues with the game, mostly of a spoilery nature, but nothing that weighs the game down on its brilliant merits. Definitely worth a buy if you haven’t already.

Honourable Mentions: Pokemon Omega Ruby and Sapphire, Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney, Smash Bros 3DS

Sean’s pick – South Park: The Stick of Truth

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Kenny is a Princess. Scott Malkinson has the power of diabetes. You are Douchebag the Fighter/Mage/Thief/Jew. If you’ve a hankering for some Christmas Poo and more, South Park: The Stick of Truth gets its hooks in you quick and doesn’t let up. This game is so effortlessly masterful. Developer Obsidian Entertainment (Fallout: New Vegas) certainly has the pedigree to create advanced Role Playing Games but wisely opts to implement more basic (and arguably more accessible/enjoyable) elements from classic RPGs. With Triple A voice acting and storytelling that only Matt Stone and Trey Parker can deliver, there is no need for bloat and filler. But the efficiency here is far from surprising – considering these guys have been creating South Park on a six-day turnaround schedule for nearly two decades.

Of course, South Park looks hand-made but it also feels hand made. This is not your typical cookie-cutter RPG experience and was not popped out of a mold. TSoT is unique, clever, challenging, and irreverent. You’ll never be fighting with the controls or get tired with its story. I’m hard-pressed to think of any quests or arcs that overstay their welcome. This is thanks to the wonderful and masterful pacing throughout the 15 hour playthrough.

TSoT is one of 2014’s best games because of its skillful dichotomy of familiarity and shock ‘n’ awe. The mechanics are hardly revolutionary but this game often shows you something you’ve never seen before. We’ve all cast our fair share of fireball spells but you haven’t lived until you’ve detonated a distracting fart behind a guard during a stealth mission.

If you’ve seen “Make Love, Not Warcraft” and “Good Times With Weapons,” you’ll have a good idea of what you’re in for with The Stick of Truth. A perfect mix of parody, self-awareness, and over-dramatic presentation make this game an absolute must-play.

Honourable Mentions: Shovel Knight, Titanfall, Mario Golf: World Tour

So there you have it. Agree or disagree with our choices? What were your favourite games of 2014? Let us know in the comments section below!

 

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