By the Last Token Gaming Staff
Well…what a year it’s been, huh? 2014 was, to put it concisely, insane. From the terrifying (the rise of ISIS), to the improbable (the Kansas City Royals playing in the World Series), to the tragic (the death of Robin Williams), to the joyously surprising (who the hell thought The Lego Movie would be so damn great?), the 14th year of the new millennium might have been the most surreal and eventful one yet in every facet.
Fittingly, the world of video games was no small part of what made 2014 a decisive year from beginning to end. The latest next-gen battle between the PS4, Xbox One and Wii U was just the most prominent example, giving the gaming industry its most pervasive single-year growth since 2007. The lion’s share of gaming news was consumed by the incendiary politics of Gamergate, which, while blessedly ignored here at LTG, made national headlines and was even discussed on The Colbert Report. Survival horror took on chilling new dimensions with the likes of Alien: Isolation and the first two Five Nights at Freddy’s titles. Hideo Kojima’s P.T. proved a superbly terrifying prelude to his forthcoming blockbuster Silent Hills (which will be realized with the help of Guillermo Del Toro and Norman Reedus). Nintendo, after much ridicule upon the Wii U’s release, saw the system earn greater respect thanks to titles such as the latest Super Smash Brothers.
Amidst the excitement of the new wave of consoles, though, came some crashing disappointments. Destiny frustrated many with its relatively incomplete first incarnation, in spite of the assurances that any gaps will be patched in over an ambitious 10-year DLC release plan. Assassin’s Creed: Unity came under intense fire for being embarrassingly buggy and underdeveloped, evening eliciting a comparison to Atari’s E.T. from Cracked.com. Also, you know….Sonic Boom. If anything, though, even the biggest disappointments reflected the unprecedented level of expectations that now accompany every major release. After years of being seen as a niche market of “nerd” entertainment, video games have quickly morphed into a vital and profitable industry that’s steadily rivaling (and could end up exceeding) Hollywood.
Against this backdrop, Last Token Gaming grew exponentially in ways we never could have imagined when the doors closed on 2013. Our staff grew to include over 20 members, giving us greater mobility to keep up with the breathless pace of gaming in 2014. Thus, with only a few days left in this epic year, it’s time for some of the staff’s picks for their top five games of the year.
The criteria for the following lists, however, isn’t a standard list of a staff member’s picks for the five best games released in 2014. If they choose to write such a list, they can. But one’s list can also be more about the five best games they played over the course of the year, regardless of what year they were released. They’re the five games that made the past 365 days unforgettable, whether as nostalgic favorites, the cream of this year’s crop, or indie gems you might have missed. Enjoy our picks, and see you all in 2015!
All the best, and thanks for your continued support,
Last Token Gaming
Our Top 5 Picks
- Alien: Isolation: I choose to give this the number one spot for a few key reasons. To start, it’s the first current title I’ve purchased in god knows how long, and one I treated myself to on my birthday no less. And how could I not? The 1979 and 1986 Alien films are not only permanent fixtures in my top 20 movies (within a top 100, mind you), but they’ve needed a truly great video game to do them justice for a long time. When I heard Alien: Isolation was coming this year, I was so excited I gushed about it exclusively in our E3 recap back in June. Having just finished it, I can say it fulfilled my high expectations. Flawlessly recreating the taut atmosphere of the first film, this game is a milestone in survival horror, stripping away the use of gaudy weapons and forcing you instead to improvise by the skin of your teeth to outsmart an alien with terrifyingly advanced A.I. Rather than pulpy action, its aesthetic emphasis is on lighting, setting detail, music, strategy, and sound to create a challenging and innovative experience. It still has some flaws (chiefly the occasional stretch of of non-alien enemies and the Crew Expendable DLC’s disappointing refusal to go outside canon), but I’d imagine it’d make my top 10 of 2014 if I were a current game reviewer. Above all, it gave me a feeling I hadn’t experience since 2003, when I walked into Hollywood Video and rented the classics on creaky old VHS tapes. Those movies changed my life, leaving a potent mix of fear, intrigue, uncertainty, insecurity, and exhilaration no other movies have been able to equal. Seeing that complex impact replicated a decade later on my Xbox 360, both with new characters and old, is something that I can’t measure with any critique or ratings scales. It’s a part of me that I needed to reconnect with, and for that I can’t thank Creative Assembly enough.
- Read Dead Redemption: It’s no secret open-world games are my favorite type to play, regardless of my mood. First, they connect with the sense of adventure that drives my imagination and everyday life. Also, they provide a way for me to unwind and think about anything, a sort of therapeutic manner of gaming that balances out demanding tasks with leisurely indulgences and wandering. Throw in a dash of Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns to this formula, and it was only a matter of time before me and Rockstar’s 2010 classic Red Dead Redemption crossed paths. That finally happened this past July, and man, I wasn’t disappointed. Really, what about this game could I not love? The music sounds like it came straight from Ennio Morricone’s vaults, the horseback riding is basically an equestrian GTA (hold the slaughter of hookers, mind you), and the gunfights are incredibly frustrating yet perfectly satisfying at the same time. And John Marston is, without a doubt, a pinnacle character in gaming history; it’s a role Clint Eastwood himself would probably wish he had created. As I mentioned earlier in one of WWPTW articles, my Hall of Fame Review for RDD will sadly be delayed until later next year due to the apparent loss of my save files on the main game. (This occurred after an extended period of playing its zombie-themed expansion, Undead Nightmare.) Fortunately, playing through it again will be anything but a chore. That is, except for the mountain lions. Man, seriously. Fuck. Those. Mountain. Lions.
- Team Fortress 2: A cynic might say I’m about seven years too late to this party. But if anything, I arrived right on time. Make no mistake, I’ve been well aware of TF2’s vaunted reputation since the month it was released. (I distinctly remember being introduced to it via a YouTube Poop. Oh, bless you 2007!) What suddenly clicked this year, however, was my appreciation for the characters. I suddenly started to research every member of the lineup (including their hilarious introduction videos), and became downright obsessed with them. I fell in love with their quirky personalities, over-exaggerated accents, and the unique way they play off each other. (Given this comprised the heart of my love of the game, it seems timing it for 2014 worked out well with the release of their lengthiest and most entertaining animated short yet.) Especially when observing the bland, interchangeable way they looked in their first iteration, I’m all the more grateful Valve took their sweet time making the game to change them to the eccentric group they became. Aside from my sudden personal attachment to its characters and addicting gameplay, Team Fortress 2 also won my admiration as proof that if you respect gamers and tailor a game to their interests, rather than milk them for their cash (i.e. its transition to free-to-play in 2011 and players’ freedom to submit item ideas), you will win their allegiance to no end. Indeed, I’ll take seven years of one Team Fortress over seven annual iterations of Call of Duty: Advanced Modern Old Archaic Something Something Whorefare or whatever that’s called at this point. Not surprisingly, I’ll be giving TF2 a Hall of Fame Review in 2015, along with its Orange Box companions Half-Life 2 and Portal.
- Star Wars: Rogue Squadron: Well before the teaser trailer for The Force Awakens sent me into fanboy fits of joy and made we want to jump to lightspeed to December 2015, this 1998 N64 classic had me in a far, far away state of mind for a good slice of this past year. Granted, it made for one of the most punishing experiences of my gaming life when I struggled with the Raid on Sullust, but besides that it was just as engrossing as when I rented and played it growing up. As I said in my Hall of Fame Review, it’s the space battles that truly comprise the heart of Star Wars for me, and this game took the grandiosity of X-Wing/TIE fighter dogfights to a whole new level. Best of all, I ordered the game immediately after graduating college, making it a nightly fixture during the summer of my lifetime. It’s picturesque, really: Going to baseball games on golden afternoons, Game of Thrones marathons with friends, buying and listening to endless amounts of great music, trips to the Bay Area, writing incessantly about video games and baseball, and tying it all together each night by finding my inner 9-year-old and taking to the stars as Luke and Wedge. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
- Dead Space: This is a title my appreciation for which has grown steadily over time. I was introduced to it by my cousin Kevin, and while watching him play it in terror, immediately acknowledged its rich atmosphere and relative innovation for a genre whose tropes are highly familiar. Finally, last year, I borrowed it from my LTG colleague and friend Terry Randolph, playing sporadically at first before finally buckling down to enjoy it this year. Downright queasy as it makes me, I love not only the atmosphere of Dead Space, but the original and freakish creatures it throws at you in spades. Not to mention, it balances out the scares and shmup sections with original puzzles that would probably frustrate in a lesser game of this ilk, but here are perfectly executed. Especially dodging asteroids. Most definitely dodging asteroids.
- Crypt of the Necrodancer: Although it came rather late in the year, this game is one of the most impressive feats of addictive, fast-paced procedural awesomeness I’ve ever played. It danced its way into my heart and that’s that.
- Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead: This is another procedural roguelike (noticing a trend here?), but it’s much harder-core and complex than pretty much every other game on the market. On the surface it plays much like a single-player version of Dwarf Fortress, but the mechanics, balancing, challenges, enemies, crafting progression, and special events are all excellent and very different from DF. I’ve put more hours into this game than the other 4 on this list combined.
- Shovel Knight: I cannot believe this game came out just this year. What a sensation. All of the epicness of an old-school Megaman action platformer, but ripe with secrets, fantastic humor and an extensive soundtrack. I love it, even though I died going through it an obscene number of times.
- FTL Advanced Edition: Gee. Another turn-based procedural roguelike. TBH this update was one of the most fantastic things to happen in the history of indie gaming. One of the most finely balanced and elegantly crafted procedural games got a whole lot more in-depth and added many new strategies and obstacles to overcome. It accommodates many different playstyles and makes sure all of them are viable, if slightly crazy. Again, great music, too. Perhaps one of the best indie games. Ever.
- A Dark Room: It’s an idle game with a purpose. I love this game because it riffs on classic idle games and draws the player into its environment and asks questions only answered by further exploration. It’s also elegantly balanced and doesn’t punish the player for not micromanaging. If you’ve never played an “idle” game, I’d recommend starting elsewhere, but this is one of the best in the genre and I recommend it heartily.
- To The Moon (PC) – There’s really no way to describe this game other than it’s one of the most evocative pieces I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. To The Moon sets out to tell a beautiful story about regret, heartbreak, and love that will tear at you deep inside. Mechanics wise the game is simple, you explore areas and hunt for orbs to let you proceed to the next piece. However, the simplicity of the controls allows the game to maintain its focus on telling the story. Story writing wise, the game is exemplary in providing complex characters that range from comedic to heartwrenching. The best part? To the Moon’s pacing is perfect for telling its story. Overall, the game is short, but sweet, and is just so beautifully bittersweet that I can’t help not giving it my Game of the Year.
- Shadow of Mordor (Xbox One) – Personally, this game captured my award for biggest surprise for me. Initial trailers screamed mimicry of both the Batman Arkham and Assassin’s Creed series. While the game borrowed some elements of both games (the best elements, mind you), the game felt refreshing. Combat was fluid, fast and natural in look. Stealth felt lighter, quicker, and deadlier. Furthermore, the nemesis system the developers created is one of the coolest, most interesting mechanics to come out in a long time.
- Metro: Last Light (Xbox 360) – The Metro series doesn’t get as much recognition as it deserves for reasons worth praising. Each game focuses on delivering a powerful narrative determined by your choices throughout the game. Every decision matters and bears its own weight; from the way you react to people, to which bullets you use to take down enemies (the pre-war military grade bullets, or modern military grade ammo), each decision will affect your narrative later on. The brilliance behind this system is the morality system set up in the background that never takes precedence; instead, it stands out as part of the game without bludgeoning you to death with awareness of its existence. While the Metro series falls into the shooter genre, it certainly doesn’t go crazy with adrenaline laden action sequences. Rather, these games are slow burns that I highly recommend.
- Alien: Isolation (Playstation 4) – Holy shit is this game scary, and in a good way. This is a game that isn’t meant to be fun, but evoke the fear that the first Alien did when it first came out. The Alien A.I. forces you to adapt, think, and move quickly in order to survive…even though there’s really no safe place. You will die a lot in this game, because even on normal mode this game is going to make you frustrated. However, if you can get through it, you’ll find a game that’s immensely satisfying and a return to form for the Alien gaming franchise.
- Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance (NIntendo 3DS) – It had to be between this and Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remaster…which this one edges it out barely. The new battle system, known as the “Drop” system, is challenging and fun to deal with, and the new pet-like “Dream Eaters” you receive as companions are fun to work with in battles. Visually, this game is gorgeous and matches the equivalent of the what the HD remasters look like. It’s not the best story in the series (the best, I’d argue are Birth By Sleep and 1.5) but it’s certainly one of the better handheld games you could get.
Honorable Mention: Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD and 2.5, Never Alone, Super Smash Bros., Fantasy Life
- Capcom vs SNK 2 (Dreamcast Import): This game has become a favorite of mine and my wife’s cousin, Trevor, who moved into our house earlier this year. We both have our favorite teams and have been steadily improving our skills, which has resulted in a lot of close matches. It’s also influenced me to expand my own SNK/Neo Geo collection. It’s a solid fighter with the ability to distribute the strength levels of the characters on your team, making for some very close matches.
- Tomb Raider (Reboot, Xbox 360): The Tomb Raider series is one that became very stale up until the release of the reboot a few years back. Being a cheap ass gamer that holds out until a new game’s price drops significantly, I held out until I found it for $3 at a pawn shop in late 2013 and played/beat it in a weekend back in January. I was blown away at how well it played compared to other games in the series which felt almost clunky. The combination of massive set pieces falling apart and quick fluid motions was very impressive. While most of the characters are very cliche, the storytelling in the evolution of Lara Croft was quite good. Unlike what I did with this game, I’ll likely be buying the follow-up upon its release.
- Real Bout: Fatal Fury (Neo Geo CD): I’ve played the original four Fatal Fury games and the final release, Mark of the Wolves, but I’ve never played the Real Bout series that fell between. This game blew away the image that I had of the original series. The graphics were improved greatly, and it is just an all around awesome game from the music to each levels’ breakable out of bounds barriers. Roundhouse kicking someone off the side of a dock or into a departing subway train has got to be one of the most awesome things that you can do in a 2D fighter.
- Spec Ops: The Line (Xbox 360): Growing up, I remember picking up the Spec Ops games on the original Playstation because they were cheap. The low quality of these games completely justified the low price point. But, when I first heard about the premise of The Line, I threw away all preconceived notions of the series and became very interested since it was so reminiscent of the gritty war dramas that I’ve come to love. In a similar instance to Tomb Raider, I picked it up for $5 brand new on clearance at KMart, a source of ridiculously cheap current-gen games. This is the type of game that has a story that is so engaging that the mediocre Gears of War-like gameplay gets a pass. I beat this in a weekend and treated it like a good book that I was dying to know the ending of.
- Juno First (Emulation/Arcade): Like many of the retro games that I’ve come to love and have sought out, this was one that I found out about by watching Classic Game Room’s video reviews. Juno First is a fast paced shmup from 1983 that plays like a mix between Space Invaders and Tempest. I’ve found myself playing the rom of this on my Dreamcast and the actual game on a cocktail machine at the 2014 Classic Gaming Expo.
- Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS): I haven’t played all of the Fire Emblem games, but out of all the ones I’ve played so far, this game is easily my top FE game to date. Its Eastern Strategy aspect was just as pure as ever, as well as its challenge to keep the players on their toes to minimize the unit losses. The casual mode is a godsend for the casual audience, as it’s more forgiving when losing units (as they return in the next fight). Having the ability to utilize special class skills on the battlefield, pairing up units to net bonuses and build relationships among the two units, and having children inheriting their parents’ skills are the main reasons why I became heavily invested in building each of the units. The game utilized every opportunity to flesh out personalities of every character, and the fact that your avatar character (also known as Robin in Super Smash Bros.) played an essential role in the great story made this my top game of 2014. Oh, and DLC chapters added a nice touch for the players who haven’t played the series although they are pretty challenging.
- Super Smash Bros (Wii U): Even though I have had this game for a brief period of time, I have played it immensely prior to picking it up and I’ve enjoyed every second of it. I love that they kept the diversity of the roster up (aside from a few clones). The new game modes along with returning game modes gave me more reasons to play and I enjoyed every second of them. It comes to show that we don’t need a real first player campaign to enjoy a good Super Smash Bros. game *cough* BRAWL *cough* Subspace Emissary “cough*
- Resident Evil 4 (Wii): Yes, I was late to the Resident Evil 4 train. And yes, the experience was memorable. The atmosphere was very unsettling (great bread and butter), and the third person aspect added more to the atmosphere (especially when there were multiple enemies coming at you at once). Managing the space of your suitcase added a great dynamic to a great horror game. Every moment of this game is rather suspenseful (even quicktime events were a bit urgent and suspenseful). As much as RE4 is suspenseful, it is also very enjoyable and memorable.
- Shovel Knight (PC): How great is it to play a fun “NES” game that broke the limits of NES hardware? It is such love letter to NES platformers that has the classic Mega Man platforming, roaming boss levels like Super Mario Bros. 3, and is chock full of secrets that are present in certain NES games. Not to mention that the composer of Mega Man series even taught the composer of Shovel Knight and lent a hand! How awesome is that? It gave everyone a wonderful dose of NES goodness!
- Game of Thrones Episode 1 (PC): Oh man, if you think playing The Walking Dead is gripping enough, imagine going through Westeros in the same interactive fashion. This game serves as a gripping reminder on how unfair and unforgiving Westeros can be, and it’s even more gripping when you interact within this world. Telltale Games did a fantastic job on staying faithful to the series, not to mention making you feel uneasy when you see the following words, “Cersi will remember what you said.”
Honorable mentions: Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Mario Kart 8
- Bayonetta 1 and 2: Really one of the best gaming deals this year. Bayonetta 2 is already a crazy ride but to include a solid port of the first game made it an instant purchase for me. They didn’t have to, they could have sold it on its own and I’d probably pick it up again later but nope, they clearly wanted to please the fans. Mature gaming with a serious story that is both as complex as it is interesting, if not enjoyably confusing. I mean to say it had me guessing all the way to the end. Sure I could see the cliches, and I knew there was a plot twist coming, but in the end the first game pretty much ended the way I wanted. That is to say it involved space….yes….they go into space, ya spoiler but trust me it’ll feel perfect once you get there. As for the second game, it’s hard to explain why I like it so much. I’m still working on completing it but the story seems to be getting thicker and thicker as I go. I can’t stop be be intrigued and I had to force myself to stop just to take a break. I couldn’t let it go without at least looking at the next chapter. Certainly one of the best games on the Wii U, with a ton of style class and polish.
- Smash Bros 3ds: The Wii U version was mentioned earlier, but I’m gonna point out the 3DS version. While I would have prefered some D-pad controls, the overall package puts the console experience into the mobile arena. I feel like I can practice more than I ever have, and with the new balanced mechanics and crazy unique fighters I find myself always jumping back in for a quick practice match. Now I just need to find a group of Smash Bros 3DS owners to play the game with as I’ve yet to play Smash Run with real players. Still a fun little mini adventure mode if you think about it.
- Doom: Yes good ol’ classic Doom. This year I played a good bunch of it and explored the insane mods that I missed in the past few years and new ones that were released in this one. It’s hard to find a game you can come back to so much, but it simply never got old for me. I played it a ton this year and I plan to come back to it and explore the next mod as I don’t think the Doom mod scene will ever really quit. Plus, mods like the Donkey Kong game remade using a doom source engine is a pretty big feat and totally worth noting.
- Shin Megami Tensei SNES: Ya before I went down every source port and mod I could find for Doom I was going through translation hacks of the original Shin Megami Tensei game on the SNES. Persona brought the popularity to the states, but the original Japan-only SNES game where you play as a kid stuck in a town lock down while demons seem to pop up out of, well, everywhere. The end of the world looming over you while strange events occur, and even stranger the fact you must recruit demons to help you. Even with the limited power of the SNES it was a surreal experience. Reminding me how much I need to grab the latest games in the main Shin Megami Tensei series. Challenging as well as any real gamer would want with such a thought provoking experience. We didn’t get another Shin Megami Tensei game this year, besides Persona Q, so I suppose the original held me together for the year.
Freedom Planet: Pretty much the 2D Sonic game fix I hadn’t had in a long, long time. Fast paced and full of plenty of mechanics and rather nice voice acting. Story was about what I expected nothing surprising but had the charm I was hoping for. Though Hard mode had disappointed, the overall game was enjoyable and had that Sonic-style charm that I’d gone without for so long. Though a heck of a lot cuter with its all female cast of protagonists. Sure it left me wanting more out of it but it was a game I wanted to see very badly. We do have a large update coming soon enough though so I have plenty of reason to come back next year. Now if we could just get a few pointless spin offs just for the fun of it.