15
Dec

Player Research’s Games of the Year 2014

It is the end of the year and time to reflect on another great year in games. It has been a fantastic year at Player Research, so for the last blog post of the year we thought it would be fun if we would post our (the team’s) games of the year.

Each team member’s individual top five games are presented below. But, I am sure the question is which game came out on top?

Well, given there are only five of us it doesn’t really seem fair to give points to the games as they appear on team members lists, add them up, and then declare a winner. That wouldn’t be statistically sound so we won’t be naming a game of the year (if you want do the math yourself, but don’t say we didn’t warn you!). Instead, we will be giving you a look inside our teams heads with their games of the year. So with that safely not covered, on with the team members lists (in their own words).

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Alistair Gray

Alistair’s Top 5

  1. Out There: Most engrossing – the game I thought about the most when not playing, harsh, unforgiving, but well worth the effort
  2. Threes: Most fun for significant other – A nomination for my partner. She put SO MUCH time into this game this year. I woke up in the middle of the night last night to find her playing, not the first time… this week!
  3. Nidhogg: Stab-iest – including thrown swords, buckets of pixel blood and outrageous underhand tactics.
  4. Diablo 3: Click-iest – great gameplay, great loot rate. [Editor’s note – technically it is not a 2014 game… but it was re-released this year, so…]
  5. Banner Saga: Great aesthetic – soundtrack, and genuinely tough choices. Had to sleep on a few decisions, and still not sure I chose well.

Honourable Mentions:

  • Gang Beasts: Most Laughter – party game where it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, the key is everyone enjoys it and laughs, a lot.
  • Monument Valley: Calmest – for distracting and calming my friend during a particularly tough birth.

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SPACE MAGIC!

Ben’s Top 5

  1. Destiny: Dragon Age: Inquisition almost pushed Destiny out of this slot. Almost. But my inner SciFi nerd shouted down my inner fantasy geek. No other game experience this year has been as fun as the moment to moment gameplay of Destiny. On top of this has been the experience of playing with friends and taking on the challenges set by Bungie together. The game has a deliberate feel throughout which makes every gunshot, every double jump, and every UI interaction feel handcrafted.
  2. Dragon Age: Inquisition: While the post-Skyrim open nature of the world has diluted it somewhat Dragon Age: Inquisition is a masterpiece of storytelling. Bioware continues to push the medium forward by addressing issues of religion, belief, sexuality, gender identity, family, loyalty, leadership, and more, in a believable and living fantasy world. As serious as all that may sound, and it is, the story is delivered in a range of ways from the mundane, to the dramatic/epic, to the comedic. Killing Dragons is good fun too!
  3. Sunset Overdrive: The most fun I have had traversing and open world game since Saints Row IV. Sunset Overdrive is, as they say, a “gamey game”. It glories in and embraces its systems and while it takes a bit to get going, once it does it is a great ride.
  4. Shadow of Mordor: Shadow of Mordor would likely not be here if it wasn’t for the Nemesis system. But messing around with this system, hearing the orcs chant, and dominating them was all great fun. I am looking forward to seeing how other games try to expand on this idea.
  5. Divinity: Original Sin: It was a toss-up between this and Banner Saga. But it has to be Divinity. Simply for its scope and its interesting combat. It is a fun RPG in the old school sense. It does, sadly, feel a bit front loaded and drops off near the end – perhaps a sign of its early access development. But it was still an enjoyable experience, especially in co-op.

Honourable Mention:

  • GAME OF THE YEAR 420 BLAZIT: It says “Game of the year” right there in the title.

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Pagan McAllister

Graham’s Top 5

  1. Far Cry 4: FC4 has its issues, the skill tree isn’t very engaging and most of the key skills you need you get very early on and the later skills are either not particularly useful or uninspiring. As for the leaves, I rarely used them in the game, and they’re also cumbersome to use requiring the player to use a complicated interaction method (a wheel within a wheel). I could talk about the outstanding visuals, but the reason this game makes the top of my 2014 game of the year list is how the world feels. Again, this is a game where it seems only possible on current-gen hardware, we’re finally at a stage where the visual fidelity is matched by the intelligence controlling the game world. With other games, even those on this list, I felt I could see the algorithms working, good games, but I could see the underlying logic, but with Far Cry that disappeared leaving behind a real world which was wonderful to spend time in.
  2. Shadow of Mordor: This nearly lost me within the first 10 minutes due to the flawed tutorial. How does that work, what does that mean, what, what? I could leave, or push through. Push through I did and glad I did as it’s wonderful. It’s the first I played game this year that felt like it needed a current-gen machine to play the way it did. The key feature is the Nemesis system which leads to permanent change in the world. If a captain gets killed you can’t just restart, he’s dead, now deal with it. This leads to each player having their own unique stories about the game, I have mine, you’ll have yours. It’s also worth mentioning that it has one of the best tech trees, I could genuinely see the benefit of the next items, and had real desire to try them out as I knew they’d change how I played the game. A tech tree with retention written all over it. Probably in Elvish though.
  3. GTA V: Despite the awful car handling and awful shooting controls and awful UI and awful … I’ll stop, Los Santos is a wonderful city. In particular the lighting and weather effects deserve special mention, often very beautiful indeed. Yes, the world feels dead and very much last-gen but there’s not many games where I steal a car just to drive off into the hills with the music playing. The use of the speaker in the PS4 controller is a nice touch, but not convinced by first person mode at all, especially in cars where the controls feel far too twitchy. And it has Trevor. [Editor: Another 2013 game sneaks in, but again, there was a remastered version…]
  4. Watch Dogs: Above all else, it’s the idea behind the world that I like here. A city which has an Operating System? I’m in. I hugely enjoyed the information being overlayed onto the world, Google Glass style. Flaws – yes, it has quite a few, but this is a world I want to see more of, would certainly be interested in seeing a more polished sequel. I’m also looking forward to the 2015 movie Blackhat which seems to be on a similar theme.
  5. Drive Club: When first released I didn’t mind that it had tech issues, but I did care that it wasn’t particularly beautiful and there was very little motivation to continue playing. However, the car handling was good, very good, in the sense that the car reacted in a predictable way and you always felt in control. Any mistakes were your fault. With the recent dynamic weather update the visuals are highly impressive, the best weather effects I’ve seen in a game, and they actually affect the car’s handling too. The game can still be rather dull, but I do find myself wanting to return. Perhaps my biggest issue now is that the AI seems unfair – cars with worse specs seem to be overtaking me or accelerating faster, and if this turns out to the case that the AI is unfair, I’ll never come back to it.

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Seb is Starving

Seb’s Top 5

  1. Don’t Starve (Console Edition): A delightfully difficult and macabre 2D survival roguelike, with a cheeky sense of humour and blatant disregard for the player’s hard-earned illusions of safety. With re-imagined controls for console (that are actually fairly nice when you’ve caught the hang of them), Don’t Starve is all the right kinds of creepy.
  2. The Banner Saga: Stoic’s strategy epic could perhaps feature in my top-5 for aesthetics alone, even if the gameplay weren’t so wonderfully fluid and engaging. Brutally hard with meaningful choice and compelling dialog, The Banner Saga was an instant second-platform-purchase when it was also released iPad late this year – I can’t wait to try out a different storyline!
  3. The Last of Us Remastered: How can any GOTY be complete without this obvious classic-of-our-time. Joel and Ellie’s plight against hoards of definitely-not-zombies was a genuinely emotional ride. Despite much critical to’ing and fro’ing over that ending, I think all can agree that TLoU was an expert marriage of narrative storytelling, visual spectacle and a soundtrack that resulted in something more than just a sum of its parts. A magnificent artistic achievement.
  4. Luftrausers: How can a control scheme be so perfect? Vlambeer must have bottled some voodoo magic to deliver a dogfighting game that feels like dancing in the air. The absolute pinnacle of perfection. Not to mention the well-structured unlocking and challenges, ace art style and one-more-go pacing. A masterpiece.
  5. Broken Age: I’ve never been a fan of point-and-click, always finding them too stuffy and self-aware. Knowing nothing of Broken Age except a few (very pretty) screenshots, I bought it sight-unseen, and was unable to put it down. Clever without being ostentatious, and with a ridiculous but somehow relatable storyline, Broken Age was a real surprise. Voice acting and visual polish, superb.

Honourable Mentions:

  • DOTA 2: Valve’s ever-changing MOBA is my new jam, thanks to Ben! [Editor’s Note – Yeah, it is pretty good, but not a 2014 game… I will allow it] New heroes, item re-works and in-game events have kept the title fresh and enjoyable (as well as incredibly well-balanced). Favourite hero: Don’t make me pick… okay… Leshrac… no, Lich! Hmm. Definitely Shadow Shaman. Damn it!
  • Cardhunter: A free-to-play card-battler with a strategy twist. Many a lunchtime spent fighting Trolls, Wizards and the occasional Dragon. Recommended, especially for newcomers (like me). [Editor’s note – I did say released in 2014, I tried, really…]

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Ugo's Creed

Ugo’s Top 5

  1. Assassin’s Creed: Unity: I guess I just miss running in the sewer system of Paris sometimes… And don’t even try to mention glitches or you’ll get a blade in the throat!
  2. Destiny: Disappointing story (is there a story at all?) but great setting, gorgeous visual and simply best FPS gameplay I’ve seen this year. Also, space cloaks.
  3. GTA V: I may be cheating a little bit for this one [Editor’s note – yes] but I have to put it in the list considering the bunch of hours spent driving and chilling around Los Santos. Support doesn’t matter, it was great, and I look forward to playing it all over again (with first person POV!).
  4. FTL Enhanced Edition (iPad): Just for all the ’10 mins play’ sneakily turned into 1h30, always ending with epic fail, great frustration, and tears. That was good (and all my fault).
  5. Watch Dogs: Far from perfect but nice attempts and ideas for a new IP. Hated it as much as I enjoyed it. But I played it from start to end, and most of the huge side content, even though I watched countless players do it in playtest, so I guess that’s what matters in the end. Blowing steam pipes on pursuers is always a blast.

Honourable Mentions:

  • Samurai Gunn: Great multiplayer fun, and I feel I’m finally improving after so many humiliating lunch breaks. [Editor’s note – Dec 2013 release…]

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And that is it. Thank you for reading! And thank you to the games industry for these, and many more, amazing games! Bring on 2015!