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Cream Of The Crop: 2014


      What's that? It's too late to do a 2014 top 10 games list? Well...well, you're certainly right. It is ridiculous to be doing this at the onset of March. But - being the stubborn individual I am - I'm taking time out of my woefully short spring break to put this together; it's my 2014 "cream of the crop" list, as I like to call it, and contains the games I'm looking forward to the most this year.

      So, where have I been lately? I guess you could say writing for Push Square, trying to maintain a 4.0 GPA at my university, and - of course - playing other video games in my spare time have kept me from writing anything out of my own volition, so I'm glad I have some time to sit down and work on this idea I've had in mind for a couple months. There are even some games on this list that are releasing in a matter of weeks or days, so you could say I'm just in time to put this out!

      Something I'd like to stress before I begin is how loose the list is in regard to order. Some games have shot from the top to the bottom in less than a month, and there are several titles I've left out that I'm anticipating just as much as the ones I've picked out here, which is why I'll be including an 'Honorable Mentions' section at the end.

      I've covered 2012 and 2013, and now I present Cream Of The Crop: 2014. I hope you enjoy it, and please let me know in the comments what games you're excited for this year!

10. Murdered: Soul Suspect

Genre: Action-Adventure

Developer: Airtight Games

Publisher: Square Enix

Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360

Release Date: June 3rd

      Detective Ronan O'Connor is in a dark, wooden room of an apartment building, and he's come face to face with his killer. In a struggle to subdue a mysterious figure with uncanny skills and strength, Ronan is eventually thrown through a window into the night, falling to his untimely demise onto the cold, unforgiving street pavement. But his journey ends there, doesn't it? On the contrary, his soul is given a ghostly form in which he can traverse among the living world. Though no one can see, hear, or feel him, Ronan is going to chase after his murderer on a bizarre journey that will lead him to dangerous, unnatural, and dark places.

      Never before have I seen a story premise quite like this for a game (it's similar to the movie Ghost). By playing as a ghost, you obviously can't truly affect any real-life people or objects, so how on earth can there be any compelling gameplay? Airtight Games have found a lot of clever ways in which a player can interact with physical reality as Ronan, such as by walking through walls, temporarily possessing people to see something through their eyes, putting thoughts into others heads to instigate revealing dialogue, and more. Akin to L.A. Noire, Ronan will need to uncover clues with these methods and come to a final conclusion to solve any given case. Elementary.

      You'll also be able to explore the haunting city of Salem in an open world fashion, which looks like an eerie yet beautiful environment that reminds me of Bright Falls from Alan Wake. By roaming around, you can continue the main story or help other people who are in Ronan's state by figuring out how they died. In the process, you'll be taking on demonic forces with stealthy gameplay, too, which looks to spread out the long bouts of thorough detective work with tense bits of conflict.

      I've heard mixed reactions to the previews of Soul Suspect, but regardless of what critics say, the game's on my list because I think the developer's honestly attempting to be innovative: the oft-used word that gets thrown around with describing games every day. Soul Suspect has a distinct story and situation for its protagonist, and playing as a ghost - with its advantages and limitations - makes the gameplay sound genuinely interesting. I can't wait to see how this mystery thriller makes its debut.

9. The Elder Scrolls Online

Genre: MMORPG

Developer: ZeniMax Online Studios

Publisher: Bethesda

Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One

Release Date: April 4th (PC), June 2014 (PS4 & One)

      MMO and Elder Scrolls fans alike have had an overall "meh" reaction to The Elder Scrolls Online after playing the beta. Many of them conclude that the combat feels floaty and a bit unresponsive; the menus that involve upgrading skills, equipping items, and crafting armor or ingredients are too convoluted and unattractive; the story itself is confusing and seems to conflict with Elder Scrolls lore; and the way in which players interact with each other is annoying, especially since they can clear out dungeons for you before you get a chance to do it yourself.

      As an unfortunate soul who has only had time to play Skyrim, the idea of playing - basically - a multiplayer version of that game excites me to no end. I've personally never been interested in MMOs due to their required time investment, learning curve, and heavy focus on social interaction (since I tend to play solo), but after I played the fifth Elder Scrolls for dozens of hours, I've been raring to jump into The Elder Scrolls Online since it was announced. However, after playing the beta (and moving this game from the #1 spot to here), I now have my reservations from playing about 3 hours of the game.

      There's a lot to love and dislike. The graphics are formidable for an MMO; the environments and their aesthetic design are absolutely stunning to look at; the ability to play from a third or first person perspective is surprisingly intuitive to switch between and use; I found myself caring about the missions and characters I was given and met, respectively; the character customization is one of the simplest yet most advanced ones I've yet to use in any other game; and the audio (notably the voice acting) is as top-notch as Skyrim's audio.

      However, I do agree with some of the negative criticism thrown at the game. The combat does feel less reliable than it was in Skyrim, which isn't helped by the latency and lag I often experienced. The way my world is connected with others annoyed me at times, especially since two missions I went on ended up with me receiving unasked help in killing enemies I could've handled myself. The menus are a bit complicated, too, and the long traveling required to get from place to place can be tedious. But there's so much to love about The Elder Scrolls Online despite its current state as a beta. If ZeniMax can resolve most of the issues players are experiencing by the time it's unleashed upon the world, then I would be willing to shell out money for the controversial full retail price and monthly fee. But if I feel like the game's content and quality won't live up to my money's worth after reading people's reviews and opinions post-launch, I'll pass on this. I'm still excited for the release, but color me ambivalent after my first impressions of the game.

8. The Order: 1886

Genre: TPS

Developer: Ready at Dawn, Santa Monica Studio

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Platforms: PS4

Release Date: TBA

      The Order: 1886 is poised to be the best looking game the world has yet to lay its eyes on. It also helps that its setting and story are so darn creative and intriguing. A steampunk, industrial London inspired by medieval, alternate history, and mystical stuff? Count me in.

      In a world where a portion of the human race turned into bestial creatures around the 8th century, the course of history changed forever. Up to the 19th century, humans and these half-breeds have been fighting a never-ending war, and the former have been losing it for a long time. However, King Arthur formed an elite group known as the Knights of the Round Table, and once they discovered the magical Black Water (which grants extended life and regenerative properties), the odds turned in their favor. With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, technologies were created that came into being in our world within the past century or so (and some of which that still don't exist) like wireless communication and airships. And now, in the latter part of the 1800s, the threat of the half-breeds grows stronger and there's a major upset between the social classes of London. A group of four Knights will play their role in responding to these events, and - in doing so - decide the fate of the world.

      Let's not dress this up: the premise is just awesome. Although we've only seen major aspects of the graphics and storyline, the gameplay has yet to show much of its true face. While the weapons themselves sound great, the third person shooter gameplay looks a bit, shall we say, uninspired from what footage there is. Of course, this is too early of a call to make, but for a game that's pretty unique in its genre, it looks like it plays eerily similar to the Gears of War games. There looks to be a lot of cover-based shooting with sporadic QTE events, but I think The Order: 1886 has a trick up its sleeve. The developer has assured that the game will carve its own path and do some unique things to shake up the third person shooter genre. Let's hope they're right because if there's evidence of this at E3 2014, let's say this game will be significantly bumped up my list.

7. Dark Souls II

Genre: Action RPG

Developer: From Software

Publisher: Bandai Namco Games

Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360

Release Date: April 25th (PC), March 11th (PS3 & 360)

      If you'd asked me a month ago if I was getting pumped for this highly anticipated sequel, I would've told you that the game series as a whole only intrigued me due to its popularity, esoteric audience, and strange appeal. I'd always thought of trying Dark Souls for the heck of it, but didn't because of all the horror stories surrounding it due to its insane difficulty and fetish-like fixation on death. I'd gone as far as to brave the waters of Demon's Souls several years ago, but couldn't stand the time required to make the slowest of progress.

      So, naturally, I couldn't help but recently buy Dark Souls for an excellent price, and I can confidently say that I adore this masochistic deathfest as I'm 30 hours into it.

      I could write a dissertation on why the game is so addictive and appealing. The controls are easy to get a hang of, but require meticulous timing and precision during combat and even while travelling through some areas. The gameplay is extremely challenging and rewarding, but rarely feels unfair...every death is a learning experience that makes me a better player, making victory over the seemingly insurmountable more sweet and satisfying. The sorrowful and sometimes dissonant orchestral score perfectly fits the game's tone, the RPG elements are well organized and implemented into this action-oriented experience, and the somber environments and characters are weird and wonderful in this game's expertly laid out open world. For Dark Souls II, From Software just followed the age-old philosophy: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

      The game takes everything incredible about its predecessor and gives it needed improvements and more polish. The environments are even more diverse and impressive this time, assisted by better graphical fidelity for greater draw distance, textures, and lighting. General tightening and additions (such as proper duel-wielding) to the already solid gameplay are being done. Covenants will play a more pivotal and useful role to unite players, and the UI is visually more attractive and easier to navigate. There are things I'm certainly leaving out, but all that's necessary to know is that anyone can jump into this sequel since the first game's story isn't tied to it (although it takes place in the same universe). While it may not be for everyone, Dark Souls II is bound to be a bigger success than its predecessor, which is why I can't wait to go beyond death very soon.

6. Transistor

Genre: Turn-Based Action RPG

Developer: Supergiant Games

Platforms: Linux, PC, OS X, PS4

Release Date: TBA

      Bastion remains one of my favorite Indie games to this day. The art direction is vivid and popping with imagination and color; the action-based gameplay with RPG elements is an absolute blast as you use a sundry of weapons like a machete, artillery cannon, dual pistols, and a longbow to take out waves of challenging enemies; the side content is compelling in that you can earn valuable items by completing timed trials with specific weapons; the narrative is powerful - with its well-paced story and powerful ending - and groundbreaking in its presentation since the entire story is told through an omnipresent narrator; and the audio is near-perfection, with excellent sound effects, spine-chilling "acoustic frontier trip hop" music, and voice acting from the narrator.

      Supergiant Games is back on the horizon with Transistor, and they're building off of their commendable first title with what might just be a possible contender for GOTY.

      The story begins with a professional singer named Red, who is nearly assassinated by a mysterious organization known as The Process. When fate allows her to find a formidable sword called the Transistor, she must use this conscious, talking weapon and figure out how to save it and herself from The Process. All of this takes place in a futuristic cyberpunk world bursting with the brilliant color and aesthetic beauty of Bastion. It also features the now-famous Logan Cunningham as a narrator once more (he will be voicing the sword) and Darren Korb, who will direct and record all of the audio. However, although the game is like Bastion as an action RPG, it will be implementing a new style of gameplay. There's a focus on turn-based combat, which will allow a player to strategize on where Red should strike, how many enemies can be taken out, what attacks to carry out, etc. It's a unique twist that will definitely make Transistor stand out from its predecessor, while still invoking aspects of Bastion that are indicative of Supergiant's distinct style. This developer is an Indie darling in my book, and I can't wait to see their work come to completion later this year.

5. The Evil Within

Genre: Survival-Horror

Developer: Tango Gameworks

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Platforms: PC, PS4. Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360

Release Date: August 26th

      Let's say you're Detective Sebastion Castellanos and you arrive on the scene of a crime at an asylum. There are police cars everywhere, but no officers are in sight. You decide to enter the asylum and discover the bodies of your fellow comrades littered in pools of blood, brutally murdered by an unnatural, unknowable creature. Suddenly, you're knocked unconscious after discovering this information and wake up to find yourself hanging upside down in a room filled with bodies. There's a chopping sound coming from another room, and you look to see a butcher casually dismembering people with his back turned to you. You take this opportunity to escape, and the butcher begins running after you down the narrow hallways and unfamiliar layout of the asylum. What would you feel? Fear. Pure fear.

      Shinji Mikami is the creator of the original Resident Evil and Vanquish, undoubtedly making him a legendary figure in the video game industry, and now he's back to bring survival-horror to its undiluted roots with The Evil Within. You may think that Mikami would aim to create an experience similar to the unanimously praised Resident Evil 4, but - excluding the similar third person perspective and basic gameplay in The Evil Within - he wants it to be something that invokes the same kind of fear the Amnesia games and Outlast are known for. While there will be (predictably) excellent shooting mechanics behind tense combat scenarios, Mikami mostly wants players to feel a "subtle, anxious, shapeless, unknowable sort of fear" while playing the game.

      By relying on terrifying sound design and the power of atmosphere and ambiance (like in Dead Space), players will be fleeing from grotesque enemies: praying and hoping they can find a place to hide. Since no one will initially understand who their enemies are, what's going on, and exactly how to escape this hellish nightmare, The Evil Within sounds like it will actually test our limits to withstand fear like no other survival-horror game has done before. In truth, it sounds weird, but I'm heavily anticipating this terrifying game from the mastermind behind my favorite survival-horror franchise.


4. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Genre: Open World Action RPG

Developer: Monolith Productions

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360

Release Date: TBA

      Who isn't a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's work? The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are two of the greatest fantasy epics ever produced, rivaling the legendary Beowulf, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the Nordic myths of old. However, no one in the mid-1900s understood Tolkien's genius when he arguably conceived the most convoluted, detailed, and tightly woven fictional lore a man could ever hope to create in one lifetime. Therefore, it's always been a daunting and rare attempt by anyone to add to what he's already written. Who would take on such a task? Developer Monolith Productions (behind the F.E.A.R. franchise and Guardians of Middle-earth) is doing just that with Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor.

      As a Gondor Ranger in between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings, Talion lives with his family along the Black Gate, protecting the land of Middle-earth should Sauron ever return with his armies. And return he does, killing Talion and his family as his slow grab for power begins. However, this isn't the end for Talion. He's resurrected and intertwined with a Wraith who's trying to remember his own past, and now these two must stop Sauron and his armies in a bid for both revenge and justice.

      What's really great about this game is that it takes inspiration from the open world of Red Dead Redemption, the smooth, free climbing and 'Eagle Vision' from Assassin's Creed and the combat of the Batman: Arkham franchise. Indeed, people have noticed how similar it is to these games, and they wouldn't be wrong. Regardless, it looks like a hoot to play from gameplay footage. You can approach a situation in a stealthy manner or go all out with violence, and the world is shaped depending on how you play. This is where Shadow of Mordor sets itself apart with the ambitious, groundbreaking 'Nemesis System'. How this works is that your enemies in the game are unique to your own playthrough (having individual characteristics, names, and history), and you choose how to handle them by killing, recruiting, or releasing them. Whichever path you choose will send ripples across the entire game and story, influencing the organization of enemy territories, allowing foes to grow stronger or weaker, and more. Your enemies will remember you and your actions. But this is just one character, and you can analyze countless enemies in an RPG-like list that tells you information about them (what they're doing, how strong they are, etc.). It's a jaw-dropping system that'll be among the first games to take real advantage of the PS4 and Xbox One's capabilities, as evidenced by the fact that the PS3 and Xbox 360's versions of the Nemesis System will be significantly downgraded.

      It's easy to tell that I love the Middle-earth universe as I've read all the main books and kept up with the movies. The developer is taking on quite a project with this ambitious game, and I'd love to see it not only become the greatest game based off Tolkien's universe, but also a GOTY contender.

3. Super Smash Bros. Wii U

Genre: Fighting

Developer: Sora Ltd., Bandai Namco Games

Publisher: Nintendo

Platforms: Wii U

Release Date: TBA

      Do I really need to make a description? It's Super Smash Bros.: One of the - if not the - greatest fighting games of all time. The controls and mechanics are...well, perfect, the gameplay provides endless fun and excitement that any gamer can join in on, the diverse character roster features some of the greatest characters in video game history, and the memorable stages, music, and general importance of the franchise have made it a legend among video games.

      Yes, I laud it with praise, and I think only a rare few would disagree with what I've said (especially if we're talking about Brawl, which I personally loved as much as Melee). With the latest game in the franchise, there will be small adjustments and additions to the mechanics, new characters like Mega Man and Rosalina, and flashy new graphics. There's no question that this is going to be a smash hit, and it's even coming out for the 3DS with unique content and a different art style akin to Street Fighter IV's heavily outlined characters. What's not to love?

2. inFAMOUS: Second Son

Genre: Open World Action-Adventure

Developer: Sucker Punch Productions

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Platforms: PS4

Release Date: March 21st

      inFAMOUS easily ranks among the likes of Uncharted, Killzone, and God of War as one of Sony's powerhouse IPs. Having been able to play as Cole MacGrath in the first two games was an empowering experience, giving players free reign with a host of electricity-based powers (and - in the sequel - ice or fire) to humbly save those around Cole or decimate them all for selfish gain. And while the morality system is blatantly black and white, it serves as a nice touch to the open world exploration, abundance of side missions, awesome melee/ranged combat, and entertaining story that's straight out of a comic book. With inFAMOUS: Second Son, Sucker Punch looks to raise the bar yet again with a next-gen escapade backed up with a new story, new character, new setting, and new powers.

      You play as Delsin Rowe, a young graffiti artist, in the city of Seattle. It's been seven years after the shocking (no pun intended) events of inFAMOUS 2, and a government organization called the DUP has been established to control the US population in an effort to squeeze out any Conduits (humans with superpowers) that are still alive. After coming into contact with one of these people, Delsin discovers he's a Conduit as well, and - with a group of close friends - sets out to break the oppressive hold that the DUP has on Seattle.

       For this adventure, you'll be in possession of wacky powers unlike anything you've ever seen. Smoke allows Delsin to easily move past enemies and transport through air vents, whereas Neon (which functions like electricity) will let him rapidly scale his environment in a blinding streak of light. There are more powers yet to be revealed, but with the promise of improved melee combat, better parkour movement, and new ways to approach combat, the gameplay looks more exciting than ever before. Seattle looks gorgeous and authentic, too, which will have me exploring the city for hours just to take in the visual splendor. And most notably, the morality system is getting an overhaul to make the choices between good and evil harder and more ambiguous. Overall, it's the same inFAMOUS we've come to love, but with a substantial, fresh coat of paint that's set to make Second Son another massive hit for Sony and Sucker Punch.

1. Destiny

Genre: Open World FPS Action MMORPG (Yeah, Bungie said you can't really classify this game.)

Developer: Bungie

Publisher: Activision

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360

Release Date: September 9th

      Bungie is behind one of the greatest, pioneering first person shooters in video game history. With Halo, they created a new standard for shooters to meet with intuitive and tightly refined shooting mechanics, an epic sci-fi lore that has endless possibilities for future tales, memorable art direction and level design, and exemplary audio that's engrained itself into gamers' minds for years to come (looking at you, Martin O'Donnell). Over 12 years later, Bungie is poised yet again to shake up the video game industry with Destiny, which looks like a Halo and Borderlands mash-up with a distinct art style, an insane amount of customization, and an interconnected, fantastical world of epic proportions.

      Destiny is about a future where humanity reached a point of endless prosperity. Our race had expanded to the Moon and other planets in our solar system, and we made leaps and bounds in technological and scientific achievements. But this wasn't of our own invention, for the Traveler, a mysterious planet-shaped spaceship, came to earth and allowed us to learn from its secrets and power. However, the Darkness (an enemy of the Traveler) came and brought ruin to our entire civilization until none remained...except for those who took refuge under the Traveler, which managed to protect a small portion of humanity that clings to survival to this day. Now, as a part of the Guardians who protect the City, you must venture across locations on the Earth and other heavenly bodies to regain what humanity lost.

      Upon creating your own Guardian by choosing a race and basic class, you can personalize yourself not only with special armor and cosmetic differences, but also with meaningful trees of stats, skills, and abilities that branch out and fit your playing style. They're called focuses, and you can even have several of them for different situations if need be (you could go from a healing focus to a stealth-oriented focus in a snap). You'll constantly be shaping your image along the way as you travel to exotic and jaw-dropping open world locations like the jungle-invested Venus, abandoned metropolises of Mars, or even Old Russia: a mountainous land replete with steppes that showcase the rusty, decaying remnants of humanity's prosperity from long ago. What's also incredible about this game is that your world is connected with all players, and you might just find yourself coming into contact with public events or small groups as you explore areas to fight a group of tough enemies or loot a protected stash of weapons.  Of course, there will be different objectives and missions to take part of, and the game looks as though it will have replay value that extends well past the story's conclusion.

      Ah, there's so much to talk about this game and I've really only discussed some of the game and level design! There's unique gear for your character, a central hub called the Tower where you interact with other players, a host of intimidating, surprisingly varied alien species you'll be fighting, the breathtaking science-fantasy environments (inspired by Star Wars, the medieval era, and apocalyptic stories), and much more.

      As a longtime fan of the FPS genre, Destiny is a surefire GOTY contender, and I can't wait to sink my teeth into Bungie's risky, ambitious, and utterly fascinating new IP. For me, this is the cream of the crop among a slew of great-looking games for 2014, and hopefully this year will be just as awesome as 2013 was.

 

Thanks for reading!

Dr. J

Honorable Mentions (Including but not limited to):

Kingdom Hearts III (Yes, I'm hopelessly optimistic it'll come out this year.)

The Last Guardian (It's been too long...will this long-awaited game finally make a definitive appearance at E3 2014?)

Quantum Break (Alan Wake was a thrilling adventure with a stupendous story. Do I need to say why I'm excited for this?)

Titanfall (I don't own an Xbox One, so I won't be buying this for a while. Trust me, Microsoft fans, you got a good one comin' to you.)

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (It's Metal Gear. Hideo Kojima for the win.)

Mario Kart 8 (Goodness, I loved Mario Kart Wii so much. This is going to be amazing.)

Dying Light (I know the developer doesn't like this comparison, but a survival-horror version of Mirror's Edge with zombies? Do want.)

The Witness (A beautiful island to explore, a mystery to unwrap, and innovative puzzle solving. I'm in.)

Tom Clancy's The Division (As the impressive E3 2013 demo showed, you can close a car door in a random environment if you move across it while under cover. Instant buy.)

Yoshi's New Island (I loved the color book art style and exciting platforming gameplay of Yoshi's Island DS, so I'm bound to love this too.)


...And these are games I forgot to add (for some unholy reason) that I have on my radar as well.

Batman: Arkham Knight (Completely forgot to add this. It would've made the list if I had known about it sooner!)

X (I don't know why, but once I start playing Monolith's Xenoblade Chronicles, I think my hype is going to go through the roof for X.)

Watch Dogs (For some reason, adding this game to my list - let alone here - completely alluded me. I'm definitely excited to see how this turns out since it got delayed for so long.)

Valiant Hearts: The Great War (Five letters from World War I tell the tales of five individuals and how their lives crossed. That is the premise for this game using the gorgeous UbiArt Framework engine from the new Rayman games. Can't wait to see more of this at E3 2014.)

Child of Light (Using the same UbiArt engine, this game is setting itself up to be a visually stunning adventure with a unique blend of platformer and Final Fantasy-esque gameplay.)

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