My Top Games Of 2014 - GIReiner Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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My Top Games Of 2014

Another year brings another list. If all goes as planned, I'll update this blog frequently, and won't finish until the new year arrives. The purpose of this document is twofold. First and foremost, I'm using it to chronicle all of the games I enjoy playing over the course of this year. The list I created last year helped me keep track of the games I still needed to get my hands on, and also reminded me what games I needed to bring up for Game Informer's Game of the Year voting.

The second reason I create this list is to generate a discussion with you the reader. Last year, you provided great insight into games I may have missed and should give a look.

I'm once again creating my own scoring scale as a way of reducing confusion between my take on these games and Game Informer's official reviews. If I happened to review a game, I'll include that rating instead. My rating system is even more ridiculous than before and probably won't make a lick of sense to any of you. Just know this, I enjoy all of these games. There are no stinkers here.

Bravely Default

After putting a few hours into Bravely Default, I jokingly told Game Informer's Joe Juba that, at that point in time, I thought it might be the best Final Fantasy game I've played since Lost Odyssey. That isn't meant as a slight against the game, but rather praise for delivering an experience that pays homage to one of my favorite series in its heyday.

Bravely Default is an old school RPG at heart, delivering turn-based combat with a row of heroes staring down a row of monsters or villains. The complexity of combat is impressive, giving players plenty of strategies to tinker with and master.

Class selection is fantastic and is enhanced by the depth offered not just in their individual functionality, but the fun quests tied to them. There's a deep social element tied to this experience, where friends can help you build a village and be summoned into battle for a quick assist. As of now, however, most of my friends keep sending ridiculously high powered monsters to my town. I don't think they are helping my cause.
My Rating: I gaze into the eyes of a 16-bit angel and nod my head approvingly

The Lego Movie Videogame

An excerpt from my review: "The Lego Movie focuses on a society dictated by government and big business. Citizens are spoon-fed the same music, television shows, and overpriced beverages. These people gleefully swallow it all up, never once considering alternative options. The thinkers and dreamers who can make a difference in this world, and perhaps teach others how to unlock their individuality, are hunted and silenced by the powers that be. Under this rigid infrastructure of conformity, people’s lives move like clockwork, repeating the same steps every 24 hours.

This formulaic reality is a good home for The Lego Movie Videogame. This experience is built with the same set of instructions used to create over a decade’s worth of Lego games. While the Lego games are skinned differently each time, the act of smashing bricks and scampering to collect all of the loose studs hasn’t changed a bit. Neither has assembly, the search for Red and Gold bricks, or the heavy reliance of using character-specific moves to open up new passages. Developer TT Fusion falls back on the series’ tropes in this entry, and that’s okay. Much like Emmet, the film’s protagonist and the poster boy for obedience, Traveller’s Tales’ classic gameplay formula can surprise you, entertain you, and is periodically capable of amazing things."
My Game Informer Rating: 8 out of 10

Strider

Strider strikes two nostalgic notes for me: On the one hand, the unrelenting difficulty, swift-footed traversal mechanics, ridiculously over-exaggerated sword strikes, and unexpected shifts in action sequences remind me of why I pumped quarters into the original Strider arcade game. On the other hand, it does a pretty damn good job channeling the great elements of Metroid's world design. The sense of freedom of exploration is established in the opening minutes, and the hunt for hidden upgrades and collectibles is handled exceptionally well through newly unlocked powers and level designs that demand thorough exploration. Developer Double Helix puts on a clinic with this long overdue revival.
My Rating: A flowing, red scarf looks good with any sword


Thief

By the time I was done robbing the residents of The City, they had to eat all of their meals by hand, and drink their wine from the bottle. The reasoning for them turning into slobs? I stole all of their forks, knives, and wineglasses, often from right under their rich noses. Yes, Garrett fancies to fill his pockets with ordinary things most of the time, but that’s perfectly fine, as there’s almost always a thrill tied to snatching them up. The silver and gold items he lifts add up in the end, and are used as currency to buy useful items, upgrades, and skills.

Developer Eidos Montreal did a fantastic job empowering the player with the belief that Garrett is a master thief capable of stealing anything, even the earrings off of a fully alert woman. Feats like this are easily accomplished, thanks in large to the beautifully designed controls, and the decision to almost always show Garrett's hands on screen. 

Garrett's foil in this adventure isn't a rich political figure, or a fortress loaded with traps and alarms. It's The City that casts the shadows he hides in. Between missions, Garrett must navigate The City to reach his next destination, and find merchants that can help him out. Sounds easy enough, right? What if I told you The City was an unintentionally designed maze loaded with dead ends, hard to reach exits, and long load times that I believe are used mostly to try to make players daydream and think about something else before trying to figure out where they need to go next? Garrett also runs into a mysterious piece of wood in The City that follows him throughout the entire game, and whenever it shows up, forces him into a horrible button-tapping minigame. That piece of wood is currently my villain of the year.

But don't let The City (or the wood) scare you off. When Thief's stealth gameplay is clicking, it can be immensely rewarding, especially when factoring in you really have to look high and low to find rare collectibles.
My rating: Creepy hands worthy of touching gold

Infamous Second Son

A lengthy excerpt from my review: "I have to tip my hat to Sucker Punch for thinking outside of the box with the power types. A hero who channels neon colors may sound like the second coming of Jubilee, but Sucker Punch turns this strange ability into a surprisingly powerful toolset. Achieving similar success with smoke and the other power types – all while delivering a diverse move set for each – is an impressive feat that leads to a decidedly different super hero experience than we’ve seen before.

Delsin can morph from physical form into a puff of smoke that is sucked up through a ground-based vent that leads to a rooftop. From this higher vantage point, he can fire cinder shots at DUP troops, or absorb the neon from a storefront sign, giving him the power to rain charged energy beams down onto DUP troop transports – a move that will likely take out some of the other soldiers in the blast. When the DUP forces hone in on his location and retaliate with a hail of bullets, he can vanish in a second – either using his neon power to dash off like the Flash, or absorbing another power source to cloak.

Control over this mayhem is beautifully realized, allowing for attacks and movements to be chained together in an array of strategic and visually dynamic ways. Conflicts often showcase high levels of destruction. Towers crumble, cars explode, bodies ragdoll, and the sky is usually scorched with a ridiculous amount of particle effects. It’s a symphony of chaos, and the game handles it all with only the slightest of framerate drops.

I like the way that Infamous Second Son splinters off from the first two entries in the series. Delsin’s conduit ability creates uncertainty in the gameplay mechanics, and the choices he makes apply similar levels of ambiguity to the narrative arc. I never really grasped what was coming next from this tale, outside of knowing that the open world activities and encounters would be repeated ad nauseam."
My Game Informer rating: 8.5 out of 10

Titanfall

Titanfall strikes the perfect balance between high levels of mobility and slow-moving brute force – a feat that makes its average-sized humans and two-story tall titans equally fun to control. Humans quickly dart across the frenzied battlefields, cloaking to hide their movements, and leaping off of the walls like Samus Aran. With excellently crafted controls fueling these actions, humans always stand a chance.

Titans stand at the width of a city street and are armed to the teeth with the latest and greatest in weapons and protective items. They can shoot off swarms of rockets, throw punches to turn humans into a sizable red stains and rival titans into smoldering wrecks, and volley enemy fire back using a shied that catches ammo. These lumbering giants are fun to control, delivering a true sense of power on the battlefield.

When the two gameplay styles collide, which happens in every match, Titanfall becomes a radically different experience than we've seen before, one that is both bombastic and demanding of skill. It's a highlight reel of a game that sucks the hours away.
My rating: Giant mechs punching giant mechs. 'Nuff said

South Park: The Stick of Truth

South Park: The Stick of Truth is an RPG that plays by its own set of rules. Its own twisted, profane, and brilliant set of rules. Cartman and the familiar faces of South Park put on quite the show – blending crude humor with topic issues to create one of the most entertaining video game stories I've played through in quite some time. This is one of those experiences where I frequently found myself saying "I can't believe that just happened," followed by a chuckle or outright laughter. Obsidian's game design keeps pace with Trey Parker and Matt Stone's wild sense of humor. Combat is a little too simple in scope – I relied on the same strategy for half of the game – but the missions are rich in variety, and the world is a genuine pleasure to explore. I hope we see more gaming experiences just like it – not necessarily for the handling of popular licenses, but a short, compact RPG that keeps the story front and center and moves at a fast pace.
My rating: Hallowed be thy fart

Dark Souls II

I'm still working my way through Dark Souls II. My pace is slow – a result of my decision to grind zones for as many souls as I can. The hours are flying by, and I'm loving almost every second that I invest in this dangerous world. I enjoyed the combat in the previous Souls titles, but the little tweaks made in this installment up the excitement and difficulty. Other changes like the implementation of fast travel, and Majula serving as a hub world, remove some of the hassle found in the first Dark Souls, and best of all, allow players to allocate more time to exploring a world that is teeming with secrets. Yes, this game is difficult, but I don't think it's unfair in any capacity. Most of my deaths come from my own errors in judgment, like swinging the sword one more time when I should have been blocking or backpedaling away. These little missteps add up to a greater sense of satisfaction when progress is finally made. That's what Dark Souls is all about – overcoming great odds and your own failures. Game Informer's Daniel Tack said it best in his review: "Praise the fun."
My rating: Dead and loving it

Hearthstone

Given how often I carry around my iPad these days, my body might as well absorb it as another appendage. I try to get in as many matches of Hearthstone as I can each day. I sometimes battle my weaker coworkers, but spend most of my time in Ranked and Arena matches. Blizzard's sculpted a free-to-play collectible card game that is both easy to pick up and play and loaded with depth. It's the type of experience that makes me nervous whenever it's my opponents turn, as one great play can turn the tide of war, even if I think I have control of the board. This game speaks volumes to the collector in me with its wide variety of rare cards. Even if you've never played a card game before, you need to give this one a shot. It really is that easy to get into.
My rating: Knife juggling to victory

Wolfenstein: The New Order

You should never judge a book by its cover, and the same goes for a game and its demo. I walked out of last year's Electronic Entertainment Expo thinking Wolfenstein: The New Order was shaping up to be a dud. At the time, it looked like a generic first-person shooter that didn't grasp the vibe of the previous Wolfenstein titles. While that last comment still holds true, The New Order is a wonderfully inventive shooter that embraces madness. What kind of madness? Giant four-legged walkers that look like they are stripped out of the Star Wars universe. Blood-thirsty dogs outfitted with protective armor and metal teeth. Secret da Vinci-like machines. Secret moon bases. Secret prototype weapons. Unbelievable comic book-like villains. The list goes on and on and on, and it all brought a smile to my face. This experience ends up falling more on the side of science fiction than World War II, never once settling into familiar stride. The gameplay is equally as unpredictable with stealth, gun play, and big set piece moments all colliding at any given time. All of these avenues of play are satisfying, exciting, and fired from a cannon that specializes in ridiculous action. Long story short, I loved the hell out of it.
My rating: Sneak, sneak, sneak... UNLOAD ALL OF THE WORLD'S AMMO!!!

Shovel Knight

After I finished playing Shovel Knight, I was once again hit with the realization that video games have never been better than they are right now. We’re getting new experiences that push hardware to the limit, an influx of innovative ideas from the indie sector, and amazing throwbacks to yesteryear like Yacht Club Games’ Shovel Knight. It plays like a NES game, looks like an NES game, tips its hat to the NES’ Zelda II, Mega Man, and Super Mario Bros 3, yet is modern in design – giving players the best of both the past and present. Backed by pitch perfect controls (and the best bounce attack since Scrooge McDuck’s), Shovel Knight delivers a unique and challenging platforming experience, and stands as one of the year’s nicest surprises.
My rating: Every generation needs a great bounce attack

Valiant Hearts: The Great War

Powerful. Heartfelt. Crushing. Valiant Hearts: The Great War is an emotional roller coaster that focuses on the struggles and sacrifices made during World War I. This tale, which plays out like a colorful history lesson, is seen through the eyes of four characters; each showing incredible courage on the battlefield. Some of these characters contribute to the war's bloodshed, but their focus is hardly ever on combat. Most of the action is tied to puzzle solving, such as figuring out how to free deadly gas from a house, or finding safe passage through an enemy occupied city. These tasks are rarely challenging, but are fun and varied enough to keep the experience flowing. Valiant Hearts is worth playing for the art alone, but the real show stealer here is the message of war that unfolds across the entire game.
My rating: History with a heartbeat

The Walking Dead: Season 2

Any concerns I had of Clementine’s story continuing without Lee at her side are gone. In Season Two, we learn that this is Clementine's story, and her story alone. We’re watching her grow in an unforgiving world, hopefully from child all the way up to adult, safe and sound. For the second time, developer Telltale Games pens this journey in a way that is both riveting and heartfelt.

Telltale doesn't shy away from throwing Clementine to the undead wolves, placing her and the people she's come to trust in harms way time and time again. Giving George R. R. Martin a run for his money in good guy deaths, Season Two's story keeps the gravedigger busy. No one is safe. The story lulls at the right moments, giving plenty of time for character development to take center stage, and ramps up just when it seems like the Clem and her crew may be okay. I enjoyed this second chapter every bit as much as the first.

To top it all off, Season Two offers a branching conclusion, leaving Clementine in much different places, depending on what choices are made in the final moments. We'll have to wait for Season Three to see whether or not Telltale picks up these threads, or once again fast-forwards to a later date in Clementine's life.
My rating: LEAVE CLEMENTINE ALONE!


Destiny


I have no idea what is happening in Destiny, but I like it. The weapon play and skirmishes are excellently crafted, giving plenty of reason to jump into the same missions again, and again, and again, and again.

Yes, the game needs more content, but once the bullets start flying in any given conflict, that longing to see something new disappears for 20 to 30 minutes and is replaced by some of the best action I’ve experienced in a shooter. I’m currently sitting at level 25. My time is mostly going to the hunt for randomly dropped orbs, coins, armor pieces, and far too many kinds of currency needed to reach 26. Progression is slow, but the gameplay remains fun.

Destiny is the most played game by Game Informer staffers this year, and it’s also the game we rant about the most. We hate it at times, but we can’t stop playing it. Destiny is a case of great gameplay outweighing bad design.
My rating: Purple…sometimes blue and green

Skylanders: Trap Team



An exerpt from my review: "Adding Kaos to the playable character pool is just one of many ways that developer Toys for Bob turns Trap Team into the best Skylanders game to date. While the gameplay core of this annualized series remains largely unchanged, the functionality tied to Kaos (and the 40-plus other playable villains) adds an enjoyable layer of strategy to combat, inspiring collectors like me to scour levels for hidden areas that could contain chance encounters with these baddies.

The villains are bona fide game changers, often empowering the player with the might of a boss-like entity roaming the battlefield. The destruction they unleash is advantageous for several reasons. When used correctly, they can either be saviors who protect your Skylander from death, or the equivalent of high-leveled MMO players who power-level newcomers.

Since the villains are locked away in crystaline constructs, you determine when they are freed or imprisoned again. When let loose, they take the place of your Skylander, but only for a limited amount of time. When they sustain damage, their clock expires faster. Once depleted, they return to the trap. The villains cannot gain experience points or gold; all of these riches instead go to the Skylander they replace.

Level design is another area where Toys for Bob makes big strides forward. Yes, you still run in to an annoying amount of fetch quests, turtle-pushing puzzles, and lock-picking minigames, but the levels themselves are beautifully imagined this time around, rarely falling back on the elemental-based staples used in Spyro’s Adventure and Giants. Players traverse a clockwork world filled with spinning gears and transforming terrain, and a construct overflowing with food. This adventure even shows off what technology 10,000 years into Skylands’ future looks like.

Giving Toys for Bob an extra year to work on this sequel paid off, not just with the concept of villains partnering with heroes, but the world they inhabit feeling more alive. Trap Team is an expensive proposition, but one that pounds out thrills and gives fans plenty of reason to visit Skylands for a fourth time.

My rating: Spending lunch money on plastic things

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