We continue our look back at 2014 and the veritable riches it plopped in our consoles. Andy reveals his newfound dislike of Assassin's Creed: Unity, Rob flies the banner (saga?) for Kickstarter and PC gaming, while resident mobile expert Steve reflects on a strong year for time-pinched commuters. Read on and, as always, let us know whether you agree or disagree...
Andy Phillips, News Editor
My Top Five:
4. Forza Horizon 2
3. Diablo 3 Ultimate Edition
2. Dragon Age: Inquisition
1. Shadow of Mordor
Game of the Year - Shadow of Mordor
The world needs more sandbox titles with this style of brutal, tight, flowing combat. When people compare this to Assassin's Creed it does Mordor a big disservice. The fluidity of movement and combat in Mordor is streets ahead of a franchise that has had umpteen games to find its feet. If I was Ubisoft, I'd sack the Assassin’s Creed teams and outsource that shit to Monolith.
The “Is this really it?” Award - Destiny
"Dude, shall we do that level 20 strike for the 30th time?"
"I can't mate as I just realised there are miles better things for me to be doing with my time."
The Most Unfinished Game of the Year Award - Assassin’s Creed: Unity
Started Assassins Creed Unity, wooow huge backwards step - not sure I'm going to be able to do it— Andrew Phillips (@rpcdrag0n) December 27, 2014
Completely recreated Paris and there's 200 people on screen but character control is still horrible - basics are still all wrong #ACUnity— Andrew Phillips (@rpcdrag0n) December 27, 2014
Completed Assassin's Creed Unity, the credits list testers and QA leads, I'm confused #broken— Andrew Phillips (@rpcdrag0n) January 3, 2015
Rob Kershaw, Staff Writer
My Top 5:
5. Year Walk
4. The Banner Saga
3. Broken Sword: Serpent’s Curse
2. Wasteland 2
1. Dragon Age: Inquisition
Game of the Year – Dragon Age: Inquisition
With Dragon Age: Inquisition, Bioware not only mended the oft-broken hopes of a gaming nation, but their own reputation as the foremost purveyor of adventuring. An absorbing, utterly enjoyable open world experience which took the addictive exploration of the first game, overhauled the combat of the second game, and melded it with the strong characterisation from both, resulting in a near flawless RPG of staggering scope.
The DotA Award for F2P Mastery – Hearthstone
It seems only fitting that Blizzard should put out the best, most addictive free-to-play title of the year. World of Warcraft had already cornered the MMO market with the equivalent of gaming crack, and many predicted that stepping into a niche market to compete with a behemoth like Wizards of the Coast could only end in failure. Six months later, twenty million players proved Blizzard’s gamble had paid off in dramatic style. Whilst Magic: The Gathering may be tactically richer, Hearthstone demonstrated Blizzard’s mastery of two key factors: accessibility and F2P. Opening up the game to allow anyone to progress for free – albeit, at the expense of many, many enjoyable hours – showed that their knowledge of what drew gamers into a genre and kept them there was the same thing that encouraged them to part with their cash, even though there wasn’t strictly any need to. With a blindingly polished yet simple interface, cross-platform multiplayer and a bunch of additional content released throughout the year, Hearthstone was the runaway winner of the F2P crown for 2015.
The Dungeon Keeper Award for Gouging Gamers – Magic 2015: Duels of the Planeswalkers
At a time when some areas of the industry were under heavy scrutiny for their blasé approach to in-game purchases, Wizards of the Coast blithely rolled out a half-baked full-price rehash of the previous year’s instalment, but with most of the best content missing. Having the nerve to then ask players to fork out even more for decks which previously came for free was the excremental icing on the already festering cake.
Runner-up: F1 2015 (same game, fewer modes)
Special mention: Assassin’s Creed: Unity (for offering a not-so-microtransaction at a stonking $99)
The “Holy Crap, Kickstarter Works!” Award – Wasteland 2
Crowdfunding a sequel to a twenty-six-year-old game was a risk. The fact that it raised three million dollars was incredible enough, but that it recouped half of that cost in its first four days on sale alone was testament not only to the platform, but to the belief of both the developers desperate to deliver a reimagined, reinvigorated nostalgia trip, and the gamers desperate to see that vision realised. The result was a tactical RPG which appealed not only to those drifting along on a quarter of a century’s worth of sentimentality, but anyone who appreciated a pitch-black, often hilarious post-apocalyptic homage to the original Fallout series.
Runner-up: Broken Age Act 1
The Daikatana Award for Not At All Unexpected High-Profile Failure - Thief
It wasn’t for lack of hoping. Thief: The Dark Project was a fantastic stealth title which even dated graphics still can’t diminish sixteen years on. The reboot was a soulless, half-finished mess. Awful loading times, atrocious cutscene lip-syncing, a difficulty curve shaped like a transverse wave and a wholehearted lack of agency resulted in one of the most underwhelming franchise releases this side of Duke Nukem Forever. The warning signs were there from the start, not least in the unimpressive previews and clear focus on style over substance. But the more we hoped for a reversal of fortune for a title rapidly slipping into mediocrity, the more it was clear that Eidos’ heart just wasn’t in it. The end result just confirmed the fears of all, and the damage that has been done to the franchise will take a significant amount of time to repair.
Runner-up: Murdered: Soul Suspect (which claimed the scalp of developer Airtight Games)
Steve McCullough, Mobile Game Specialist
5. Valiant Hearts: The Great War
4. 80 Days
1. The Sailor's Dream
Game Of The Year: The Sailor's Dream
I may receive some flak for this choice from the type of person who has vociferously made themselves and their strict delineating, exclusionary criteria for game identification known this year, but if I'm honest with myself, few if any interactive experiences have resonated with me more. The fact that it escapes conventional classification, existing in a hitherto unexplored region of media that developers Simogo, among others, are making swift inroads into, matters not a jot.
When evaluated through conventional eyes you'd be hard pressed to find any challenge here, and this has been a deliberate choice; while the entirety of the raw content can be accessed with some patient exploring, devoid of any of the classically right-brained roadblocks, the understanding takes a little longer. The connections that need to be made here are not the physical, mechanical or electrical kind required to open a door or connect a circuit in order to progress, but rather narrative threads that must be woven together to form a coherent whole, with the part of your mind that can be prone to atrophy while juggling an inventory or headshotting grunts. Even now several months on, I feel my interpretation is far from complete.
Each nautical vista has been impeccably crafted in soft-tinged, sleepy-headed pastel hues, and though there are no puzzles to solve or enemies to fight as you drift across the ocean and through the other environs you will encounter, there is music to play, words to read, objects to consider and even drawings to print. Simogo have been steadily working up to this work with their previous masterful storytelling releases Device6 and Year Walk, but they've really reached a pinnacle here. Everything on show here deserves praise, from the sharp writing to world-weary voice acting, the watercolour seascapes to the marvelous wistful, shantyriffic soundtrack.
Oh, that soundtrack. I'm a sucker for diegetic music that is both rich in its own right and also serves to enhance the greater piece which includes it; favourite examples would be 'The Long Song' and 'Vale Decem' from Doctor Who, and Battlestar Galactica's use of 'All Along The Watchtower'. Contained within the already highly memorable soundtrack composed by Jonathan Eng we get not one but seven folk ballads performed by Eng and vocalist Stephanie Hladowski which act as musical audio diaries, charting the story's course in song. They have been on my iPhone since the outset and are not coming off any time soon.
I understand this won't be for everyone but I urge you to try it and see if it's for you, because if it is, if it speaks to you like it did to me, you'll be taken on very special voyage indeed.
The Sisyphus Award for Frustration Without End: Desert Golfing
Monochrome sky above, monochrome sand beneath. The singular bright orb seeks the static flag. We've been here before. But something is... different.
The dunes go on forever. This has now not only been confirmed but assured by developer Justin Smith, by way of a small recent update. You see, before this update, although the individual holes were generated procedurally, they started to flatten out and become a continuous plateau, bereft of challenge, somewhere around the mid-three thousands. The reason for this was simple; Justin didn't think anyone would stick at it long enough to get that far. In this way it was somewhat reminiscent of the kill screens that would afflict early arcade games like Donkey Kong; the scrambled mess of symbols which would occur when the game literally went too far for the primitive computer board to handle. Now, just as it was then, a game developer grossly underestimated the streak of perfective sadism that exists in the heart of certain determined persons. Now, there are as many holes of Desert Golfing as you can possibly bring yourself to play.
Glory or insanity awaits.