I felt like this was sort of a down year for games overall. Big name monstrosities like Watch_Dogs, Destiny, and Assassin’s Creed Unity came out and disappointed while a lot of other big games like Evolve, The Witcher 3, and The Division got pushed into 2015 because they needed more time in the oven. That’s not to say that all the games this year were bad because that is never, ever the case. I’m saying that when Game-of-the-Decade caliber games like Grand Theft Auto V, The Last of Us, and Bioshock Infinite come out the year before, the following year’s offerings are going to unfortunately look paltry by comparison. All things considered though, there were a lot of good games this year and I definitely enjoyed myself.
Honorable Mentions: Transistor, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Phantoms
10. Far Cry 4
Coming off of what was one of the best games of 2012 in Far Cry 3, Far Cry 4 felt a bit like retreading old ground. Kyrati felt like Far Cry 3 in winter, Pagan Min felt like Vaas but more metrosexual and having a better sense of dress, and the main character Ajay felt just as inconsequential and uninteresting as Jason Brody. But I’ll be god damned if I didn’t say I had fun. When it comes down to it, exploring, hunting, skinning, crafting, and the little dynamic stories that happen during your adventures remain just as exhilarating as they always were. And honestly, riding into an enemy camp on the back of an elephant while yelling “SSSSUUUUPPP BBIIIITTTCHESSS?!” while unleashing holy hell will never not be entertaining.
9. Out of the Park Baseball 15
I am incredibly boring. You wanna know how I know I’m incredibly boring? Because a text-based baseball simulator is one of my top 10 games of this year. Strange pick? God-damned right it is. But that doesn’t change the fact that there has not been a deeper baseball simulator made than this. I’ve spent countless hours trying to take my Cubs to the title and every heartbreak taught me a new lesson and made me double my resolve. As a baseball fanatic, this one hits right in the pleasure centers of my strange, boring brain.
8. The Wolf Among Us
I didn’t know anything about the Fables series before jumping into The Wolf Among Us. All I knew is that it was being made by Telltale Games and with them coming off of my 2012 Game of the Year The Walking Dead, I was willing to follow them to the ends of the story-telling earth. Well, five episodes and seven deluxe editions of the Fables series later, I kinda think I like what I saw. Boasting some of the best action sequences Telltale has ever done and an outstanding portrayal of The Big Bad Wolf in the modern world, The Wolf Among Us takes old famous fairy tales, hits the right film noir notes and wrings a gripping, mature story out of it.
7. The Walking Dead: Season Two
Telltale was no stranger to making adventure games as evidenced by their delightful work with Sam & Max but The Walking Dead was just on another level and is what really what put them on the map. Season Two, in my mind, somehow found a way to surpass its predecessor by making the 11 year old Clementine one of the best written characters in gaming. Period.i Her character arch from Season One into Season Two was one of the most incredible things I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing this year and allows her to stand toe-to-toe with any of her adult contemporaries in the medium. She literally is that good. This paired with another real, fleshed-out supporting cast, an outstanding villain, and more incredible shades-of-grey choices to make, Telltale took its game of the year and made it even better.
6. Mario Golf World Tour
I love me some golf. Especially video game golf. And Mario Golf World Tour is some of the best video game golf I’ve ever played. Its 3-click system is tried and true but extremely tight and I was always aware of what went wrong with my shot and why it was my fault. The courses are fun and inventive and the visuals are bright and colorful as Mario games typically are. When it came to the 3DS, this was the game I poured the most hours into and I took it with me everywhere I went. Also it confirmed that Birdo was a girl. What more could you ask for?
5. NBA 2K15
The best basketball game ever made. The best sports game ever made. Call it whatever best *blank* ever made you want to, NBA 2K15 is the game I poured the most hours into in 2014 and I play it almost every day. The game still looks jaw-dropping by any standard. So much so that as cliché as it may sound, if you’re not paying attention it really does look, sound, and feel like an actual basketball game. Its horrible menus from the previous year are now slick and stylish and the revamping of My GM mode provided me with literally hundreds of hours of entertainment and let me be the basketball GM I know I can be. I’m also the best in the world at this game. That probably helps too.
4. South Park: The Stick of Truth
No one had any idea what this game was going to before it came out. Yes, you could see early on that Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s fingerprints were all over it but sometimes that much creative control can do more harm than good. This paired with a developer track record as spotty as Obsidian’s led to a lot of cause for concern. As soon as I played the game, all of those concerns were jettisoned right into the sun.ii This game is the South Park game we all dreamed of. It looks indistinguishable from the show’s trademark visual style and its writing and dialogue feels actually a little sharper here. Without the FCC breathing down their necks, the South Park guys took their new found freedom and did things they could only dream of doing on TV and it has to be seen to really be believed. For the good long time this game was truly a Game-of-the-Year contender, as it is well earned.
Words cannot describe the emotions I felt the first time I played Titanfall. It was like a breath of fresh air after being in a long cloud of smoggy shooter sameiness.iii I had never played anything like it. Its parkour movement added an extra dimension to shooters that I never thought possible and the breathtaking, breakneck speed of the Pilot-on-Titan gameplay was something I never knew I wanted until I had it in my hands. No shooter has made me feel this way since Call of Duty 4. That title changed the game when it came to multiplayer shooters. So has this one. Since both games were made by the same developer, I’m not surprised in the slightest.iv
2. Dragon Age: Inquisition
I thought Dragon Age 2 was kinda alright. I had fun with it. I mean, I thought its ending was complete horseshit but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the game. Even so, I was a little dubious going into Bioware’s next title. Since Mass Effect 3, I was getting worried that Bioware was starting to buy into their own hype and that we were about to witness the decline of one of the elite developers in the medium. Then Dragon Age: Inquisition came out and said “Nah man, we’re still pretty good at doing this.” And boy are they. Dragon Age: Inquisition feels like a return to form with wide-open, sprawling environments reminiscent of Skyrim and is really the first game since Skyrim that filled me with the “Hey, what’s that? Let’s go check that out” sense of truly going on an adventure. Its writing is as good as it ever was and with it being the final game in the trilogy, it felt like a high school reunion of all the game’s previous characters and that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Even though it may lock some of its content behind arbitrary “Your Power Must Be This Tall To Ride” barriers that sometimes break flow, it doesn’t change the fact that it is a drop-dead gorgeous, crafted experience that is some of the best in the genre. On this list, it is my number two game of the year. The Game Awards gave it the number one spot. I wasn’t even mad. I clapped anyway.
1. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
The biggest surprise of the year is the also the best game of the year. Shadow of Mordor takes the best parts of Batman, Assassin’s Creed, and Far Cry and blends them with their homemade Nemesis system to create something that feels incredibly fresh and ridiculously fun. Its combat is fast and visceral, no game has ever blended stealth and action as well as Shadow of Mordor and I don’t expect any game will do it better for a good long time. Quite simply, no game I’ve played this year was more fun than this. And that is why it’s the Game of the Year.