By MICHAEL EMERSON
1. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
2014 featured several games worthy of regard. Shadow of Mordor is the best example of this because it fits the mystical and medieval world crafted by Tolkien’s Middle Earth and the gameplay fits just as perfectly. The game features a sprawling world to explore as the revenge-hungry ranger, Talion, who is banished from death and uses his connections to bring down the Orc leader who killed his family. The game’s battle system can be described as one part Assassin’s Creed and one part Batman: Arkham Asylum. Each encounter is enjoyable as well as challenging. The real highlight of the game is the newly minted “Nemesis” system which, does a fantastic job of randomizing each orc you run into. This system also gives each enemy their own traits and weaknesses that you can exploit making no one play the same. Shadow of Mordor deserves the top spot for the refreshing way in which a game based off of a pre-conceived property can stand on its own.
2. Dragon Age: Inquisition
This game is an outstanding return to form for Bioware after their last entry in the Dragon Age franchise left fans and new gamers confused on what was so special about the series. Inquisition offers the tried and true Bioware experience in every little side quest. From collecting flowers to hunting dragons, tiny story elements add up to compel the player to rush towards the next task no matter how small. The player also gets more than nine companions to fight with, interact and even take control of. Top it off with a compelling worldly story and stopping an evil force from destroying the world you have an expert entry from the creators at Bioware that fans have come to expect.
3. South Park: The Stick of Truth
There’s something to admire about a game that can sport some of the most shameless toilet humor, not only present it in a completely straightforward and clever manner, but also make it actually a part of the plot. Of course if anyone can commit to such a feat it’s the brilliant minds behind the long running South Park Franchise. While most licensed games sport some of the laziest game designs in order to catch a quick buck from the popularity of a new film or TV series, Stick of Truth shows how to recreate the feel of the original product while making a game that can still stand on its own. Brilliantly executed RPG combat developed by Obsidian meshed with the crass but expertly handled portrayal of South Park makes Stick of Truth the benchmark when it comes TV/Movie spin-offs.
4. Infamous: Second Son
As cookie-cutter as Second Son feels it still represents a game company that isn’t just filling out a check list but crafting something they can be proud of. Sucker Punch Studios crafts a true representation of the fabled “next gen” graphics. Second Son dazzles with particle and lighting effects that are impossible not to notice such as reflections on rainy streets to the vibrant neon powers, a huge cityscape playground in the Emerald city. With seemingly never ending enemy variety and a protagonist who can actually smile at the prospect of using these new powers make Second Son a great start in a new age of super hero games.
5. Far Cry 4
It’s a double edged sword and Ubisoft knows this parable more than anyone in the industry. The fourth in the Far Cry family seems to ironically break tradition by making a nearly identical game as Far Cry 3, just based in the Himalayas. This is both good and bad as it technically shares the fun of Far Cry 3 but it suffers from “sequel-itis”. What made Far Cry 3 brilliant wasn’t just its amazingly unique gameplay and setting but its presentation and story mixed perfectly with it. It’s a quality game we’ve come to expect and with its own twists and turns to keep the player guessing and enough things to do to warrant a full price.
6. Watch Dogs
While an endless stream of PR problems and informational mishandling plagued this new IP (intellectual property) from Ubisoft, a very unique and incredibly fun game still lies at the heart. Ubisoft stays true to their basic Assassins Creed formula of a huge city to explore and towers to find and climb to unlock new areas and multi layered story to inspect. Despite this Watch_Dogs keeps its own flavor of hacking everything within range to affect the environment to your advantage and the extremely robust identification system which scans every NPC you cross and gives you basic info into their lives giving the city a life that has yet to be matched by other games. While this game came out with Ubisoft going through growing pains it shows that the high production expected from Ubisoft is still present and ready to give us surprising yet familiar experiences.
7. Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze
The second Donkey Kong offering from Retro Studios packs quite the chilling punch. This installment pits the titular Kong Family against a legion of marauding Vikings called the Snomads who turn the tropical DK Island into a frozen wasteland fit for fun platforming. Tight gameplay, colorful design and beautifully composed music make this latest entry into the DK franchise stay true to its revolutionary pedigree and definitely earn a spot on this list.
The card game genre, at least in video game form, has remained unchallenged and dominated by Wizard’s Magic the Gathering, whose offerings were passable until Blizzard’s Hearthstone came along. Leave it to the creators of World of Warcraft, a game you never stop playing or paying for, to create the most formulated example of how to create a free to play experience without feeling paltry. Using WoW’s decade of lore and characters to make a compelling card game that is so uniquely designed that every turn you feel a great sense of excitement. Laying down a big creature with a satisfying oomph or seeing a fireball physically shoot at an opponent never gets old and makes the somewhat mundane act of playing a card game that much more satisfying. Hearthstone sets the example for not only creating a compelling strategy game but one that is equal parts accessible, affordable and fun.
9. Shovel Knight
Retro platformers are a dime a dozen in today’s independent market but Shovel Knight was a success story no one could expect. The people at Yacht Club games, after a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign, takes tips from classic platforming staples, such as Mega Man and Duck Tales the game, and uses them to create its own unique flavor. Shovel Knight does more than pay homage and creates one of the most beautiful experiences to come into the genre. Memorable and challenging boss fights, hilarious character moments and music to rival the old masters make this game one not to be snubbed and deserve a look from even the most jaded gamers.
10. Five Nights at Freddie’s
At first glance FNF might seem like the most obvious YouTube bait but there’s more to this game then a few jump scares. The game features a compelling gameplay mechanic in that the experience isn’t getting a jump scare but trying to avoid them with the limited tools at your disposal. Each of the four monsters trying to give you a nasty surprise have their own pattern you must learn and combat as you try to survive the night at a haunted Chuck E. Cheese homage and each of the five nights you feel compelled to survive unfurls more of the interesting story that bases itself of real world events.