As our own British gentleman and exemplar contributing writer, it’s Gareth Brading’s job to open up our top picks of 2014 with his own list of games that spiked his interest during the year.
Without further ado…
Game of the Year
Best Multiplayer – Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
The best game I played this year is a free-to-play collectible card game from Blizzard Entertainment. No I haven’t fallen into some alternative universe. At the start of the year, I’d never played a Blizzard game and had no intention of doing so; whilst I admire Starcraft, its aesthetic isn’t something that appeals to me, and I never felt any compulsion to play WoW. Then along comes Hearthstone, a 1v1 card game using characters from Warcraft lore as a starting point. With more than a hint of inspiration from Magic: The Gathering, you pick which cards you want up to a deck of 30, and then match up against real players to try and defeat your opponent using a mixture of skill and luck of the random number generator (RNG). Win the match, you win gold with which to buy new cards, and the cycle repeats. Hearthstone is a classic easy to play but difficult to master game, especially as the element of luck involves can often sway the game against you at a moment’s notice. With new cards being regularly released, it seems like Hearthstone will have plenty of life for years to come.
Best DLC – BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea
Burial at Sea is the retconniest of retcons. In many ways it ham-fistedly attempts to justify the plot of not only the original BioShock but also BioShock Infinite, whilst in others it actively diverges from it. As the last piece of entertainment created by the renowned Irrational Games, Burial at Sea is a swansong to the BioShock series which revisits its origins and then gets under the hood and tinkers with the engine. Whilst you’re either going to hate or accept the retconning, Burial at Sea includes many excellent moments throughout, and Episode Two introduces completely new stealth-orientated gameplay whilst you play as Elizabeth, something which really helps to freshen up the BioShock formula. Throw Andrew Ryan and the coldly sinister Atlas into the mix and a lot of the lustre of the original BioShock manages to shine through the murky water.
Best Reboot – Thief
The new Thief is far from perfect. It isn’t a particularly good sequel to the old Thief games, and it isn’t as open ended as other games like the marvellous Dishonored or Deus Ex: Human Revolution. That said, Thief isn’t a disaster. The world of The City is dark and mysterious, the graphics are excellent, the level design sprawling (although you are forced to do far too much backtracking), whilst the gameplay and stealth mechanics are perfectly sufficient. The plot is silly, but I enjoyed my time with Thief until it sagged towards the end. Perhaps it was simply my longing for Dishonored 2 or another Deus Ex, but Thief is an interesting, if flawed, experiment.
2014’s 2013 Game of the Year
Best Soundtrack – Remember Me
Remember Me was a divisive game when it launched, and it’s a divisive game today. Some people hated how resolutely linear it was, how there was way too much fighting and not enough customization to the moves you could pull off. Whilst all this is true, I absolutely adored Remember Me, mainly for its astounding art design, deep characters and soundtrack that is second to none. The lead character of Nilim is an intriguing, troubled soul fighting with herself and her motivations, and while in many other games amnesia would be a tired cliché, here it is an integral aspect of the plotline which plays with the philosophical ideas of memory and free choice. I also unequivocally love the original soundtrack by Olivier Deriviere, which merges orchestral and electronica in a mesmerising fashion.
Best Point and Click
Best Story – Kentucky Route Zero
Kentucky Route Zero is now three chapters in to a five chapter arc and shows no signs of tiring. If anything, it continues to defy belief at every turn. It begins with what seems like a simple premise; a man trying to make a delivery to 5 Dogwood Drive. The trouble is, 5 Dogwood Drive doesn’t seem to exist, and the directions he gets lead him down increasingly bizarre and strange paths. Kentucky Route Zero is a Lynchian-inspired adventure into the unknown where the journey is always more important than the destination. Although there is no voice acting, the story is nonetheless marvellously brought to life through a combination of beautiful graphics and haunting music.
Funniest Game- Jazzpunk
Jazzpunk is silly. It’s ridiculous. It’s also rather funny. Although it only lasts a couple of hours, there is never a dull moment in this gloriously stupid game, crammed full of asides and throwaway jokes. Set in a retro-futuristic 1950s in a Japanese-occupied, Red Scare-obsessed world, you play anonymous spy Polyblank as he is tasked to infiltrate embassies and assassinate cowboys. The best comparison to Jazzpunk is the film Airplane! because like the film, Jazzpunk refuses to take itself seriously and neither should you. Graphically it’s not the prettiest looker but it manages to keep you entertained throughout, and elicits plenty of laughs.
Best Art Design – NaissanceE
NaissanceE has no plot to speak of, no characters apart from the person you control and certainly no dialogue. Despite this, NaissanceE creates some of the most memorable environments this year, and does it almost entirely using monochrome-styled graphics. About half the game is grey and black with occasional splashes of light, but there are some incredible vistas and environments which feel ripped from some sci-fi epic or a prog rock album cover. Despite NaissanceE ending with its most frustrating sequence, its mysterious, uninhabited world is incredibly intriguing, and it will be fascinating to see what the developers can do next.
Best Adventure Game
Most Atmospheric Game – Eidolon
I have never played anything like Eidolon before. It cannot be easily pigeonholed into a category; it’s a walk ‘em up, a survival game, an adventure and an open world all in one. Eidolon is set hundreds of years in the future after an apocalypse that has wiped out seemingly all human life on Earth. You’re deposited in this post-human landscape of eastern Washington State, and left to roam free without any specific objective. The world is enormous; walking across it will take many, many hours whilst you scavenge for berries, build fires and fish along the way. Every so often you can find notes scattered in the wilderness which fill out a little of the back story of what happened to civilization, and helps to humanize many of the people who used to inhabit the world. I’m still not done with Eidolon, and I’ll definitely play it again if anything just to stare at its gorgeous starry sky.
Dishonourable Mention: Worst PC Port – Deadly Premonition: Director’s Cut
Deadly Premonition was clearly broken when it was first released on Xbox 360 in 2010. It was somehow even more broken when it was released on PC in 2013. The so called “Director’s Cut” was locked to 720p and suffered frequently crashes to desktop for zero reason, with many branding the port unplayable. Only with a mod can you force the game to run in higher resolutions, and post release support has been extremely minimal. It’s truly disappointing because Deadly Premonition has a unique Twin Peaks-inspired story with many memorable characters, and it deserved a better treatment than it got.