In crafting my top five list for 2014, I was made suddenly aware of just how barren a year it’s been for quality games. The year after a major console launch is always a sparse time for gamers, but I’d argue that 2014 in particular is among the most disappointing post-launch years, especially for PlayStation fans. I wasn’t interested in a single PS4 exclusive past inFAMOUS, and even that disappointed. Meanwhile, many of the year’s biggest games launched in a borderline-broken state, with major titles like Assassin’s Creed and Halo suffering from glitches that have taken weeks to fix. That’s not to say there weren’t any quality releases in the year, however, and the overall dearth of quality content in 2014 made the diamonds in the rough shine all the brighter. Here are my picks for the five best games of 2014.
Favorite Game Released Before 2014, Played in 2014: Dead Rising 3
In a year where Microsoft suffered from one PR disaster after another, Dead Rising 3 served as the lone siren call luring me towards the Xbox One. In the end, I bought a PS4 last holiday and didn’t pick up Microsoft’s console until mid-2014. Dead Rising 3 was the first game I bought on the platform, and it served as the best possible introduction to Microsoft’s console.
Big, dumb, and full of zombies, Dead Rising 3 might just be the most fun I’ve had with a game so far this console generation. The massive number of zombies that Capcom was able to squeeze onscreen is something that even recent games like Assassin’s Creed: Unity haven’t been able to replicate without a framerate drop, and they serve to make the melee and vehicle action at the game’s core all the more ludicrously satisfying. Combo vehicles were an intelligent addition to the Dead Rising formula, and the new combo weapons were broken in the best of ways. Simply put, Dead Rising 3 was a game that prioritized fun at every chance, and it’s become one of my favorite games in recent years because of it.
5. Halo: The Master Chief Collection
The Master Chief Collection found itself at the center of much controversy this holiday, and rightfully so. During my many hours with the game, I experienced lost saves, over a dozen broken Achievements, and a matchmaking suite that still suffers from long wait times. It was a laughable wreck of a launch, and it was sadly indicative of the overall state of AAA game launches in 2014.
Unlike the rest of those games, however, The Master Chief Collection contains three of the best shooters of all time, and their pretty-good sequel to boot. I had an absolute blast playing through the first three Halo games with my buddy in splitscreen, and the updated graphics in Halo 2 looked flat-out incredible. 343 did a masterful job of updating Halo 2 for a modern audience without sacrificing the authenticity of the gameplay or the story, and aside from the shaky state of the game at launch, it remains a testament to just how ahead of its time the Halo series was.
4. Forza Horizon 2
Forza Horizon 2 was the purest fun I had with a game in 2014. Developer Playground Games did a fantastic job of empowering players to pursue their own narrative in the game’s gorgeous European countryside. Whether I wanted to blast through a vineyard in a Lamborghini Veneno, tear through the forest in a monster SUV, or burn up the asphalt in a tuned-up coupe, Forza Horizon 2 met my demands with childish glee. The team’s passion for cars and the games about them shone through loud and clear in every polygon of the game’s gorgeous visuals and massive environments. Factor in the rousing soundtrack, the plethora of multiplayer modes, and the massive catalogue of cars (and without a microtransaction in sight!), and this is easily the premiere racing game of the current generation.
3. Dragon Age: Inquisition
Dragon Age: Inquisition was perhaps the biggest surprise for me in 2014. Not only did it right the ship that Dragon Age II blew so tragically off course, but it actually managed to improve significantly on the solid formula that the first game established all those years ago. BioWare proved yet again that they are at the top of the class when it comes to crafting massive and immersive gaming worlds, and the intricate story warrants the hours of dedication the game’s systems take to master.
I spent more time reading Codex entries in Dragon Age than I spent playing many games in 2014. The depth and breadth of the lore in the game is simply staggering, and it went a long way towards drawing me in to the story and the world that BioWare had crafted. I loved every second of the story, from the complex political machinations of the early hours to the more hard-edged fantasy combat of the middle to ending hours. Inquisition was a game that felt epic in the true sense of the word, and its deep mechanics and vibrant world aren’t ones that I’ll forget anytime soon.
2. Bayonetta 2
It’s tough to think of an action game with more flexible combat mechanics, crazier setpieces, or more likeable characters than Bayonetta 2. This Wii U exclusive oozes energy and finesse from its very seams, and boasts a boatload of content to boot. If you still have any breath left in your lungs after the curtain falls on Bayonetta 2’s masterful campaign, a massive series of multiplayer missions and a superb New Game + mode await you with dozens of hours of extra content. New costumes, moves, modes, and weapons round out the experience, and a copy of the original Bayonetta is included with on-disc versions just for the heck of it. No matter how you slice it, Bayonetta 2 is an incredible value for sixty bucks, and I truly believe it to be one of the best character action titles of all time.
Buy Bayonetta 2. Seriously.
1. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS
When I think of my favorite games of all time, Super Smash Bros. Melee always makes the shortlist. Fast, highly skill-based, and full of Nintendo fan service, the Smash series earned hundreds of hours of time in my GameCube when I was a kid. But modern-day Nintendo doesn’t have the same place in my heart as it once did, and Brawl disappointed me with its unbalanced Smash Ball mechanic and underwhelming roster of new characters. I honestly wasn’t expecting much from the Wii U and 3DS entry. I’m very happy to admit that I was wrong.
Super Smash Bros. on the Wii U and 3DS goes head-to-head with Melee, and it might just be the Nintendo game I look back on a decade from now as my favorite. I could go on and on gushing about the things I love in this game, but suffice it to say that the mechanics are more balanced, the modes more varied, and the combat more fun than ever before. Many of the new characters have been culled from my favorite Nintendo series - Robin, Lucinia, Shulk, and Villager in particular are beloved to me - and those that aren’t are still fun to play. I scoffed at the Wii Fit Trainer’s inclusion at E3, but wouldn’t you know it, she’s incredibly fun to play. Factor in solid amiibo integration and eight-player brawls on the Wii U, and I’m falling in love with Nintendo all over again. Simply put, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS is one of the best games I’ve played in the decade since Melee.
Honorable Mentions: Transistor, Kirby: Triple Deluxe, Mario Kart 8, Sunset Overdrive, Valiant Hearts: The Great War