Ed Power rounds up the best games of 2014 and looks forward to the most exciting upcoming releases
GAMING did not lack for controversy in 2014. There was the Gamergate saga, a toxic online spat that threatened to metastasise into an existential struggle for the soul of the industry. Kevin Spacey terrified the digital bejaysus out of us with his dead-eyed guest spot in Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare (never had the uncanny valley felt wider, deeper, scarier). Flappy Bird was a reminder the era of the Angry Bird-style viral hit wasn’t quite over. And, oh yes, some vaguely decent games were released too.
Though it was inevitable gaming would eventually have a conversation with itself about sexism, it was a shame it took the form of Gamergate, the clunky affix applied to the deluge of online vitriol directed towards several outspoken female gaming figures.
The howling irony, of course, is that, as the abuse ratcheted up, so the mainstream media rushed to typecast the entire gaming community as three-toed misogynists.
It was a reminder that the stereotyping of geeks — yes, we’re claiming ownership of the label — as dysfunctional 40-year old virgin types haunting their elderly parents’ basements, endures. For those of us raised on Tolkien, Magic the Gathering and HP Lovecraft, such school yard taunting has been a reality literally since… well, the school yard — so it was instructive that, as Gamergate became a meme, the hobby community once again ended up the punch-bag (rather than that tiny minority of sad, bitter men who delight in spewing bile at women— a cultural cul de sac by no means confined to gamers).
Setting that unfortunate affair aside, there were reasons to be positive about gaming in 2014. Next generation consoles cemented their presence; mobile gaming reached new heights of sophistication. And the boundary between digital and tabletop turned increasingly blurred. Here, then, is our countdown of the essential titles of 2014, and the some big 2015 releases to look forward to.
BEST GAMES OF 2014
1: Flappy Bird, iPhone, iPad: The visuals were ludicrously clunky, the gameplay somewhere between torturously frustrating and straightforwardly maddening. Oh, and, it was withdrawn from release almost as soon as it became a sensation. Nonetheless, Flappy Bird was one of the compelling gaming stories of the 12 months just past, with its perfectly-tweaked addictive properties and a learning curve that, though somewhere past the north face of the Matterhorn in difficulty, nonetheless had you coming back again and again.
For gamers with a masochistic streak — there are lots of us, it turns out — here was a quirky aberration to be cherished (or at least that was the case until its Vietnamese creator, Dong Nguyen, delisted the game, aghast at his overnight celebrity). And yes we are aware Flappy Bird technically came out in 2013: however, this was the title that dominated conversation in the industry through early 2014.
2: Game Of Thrones, iPhone, iPad: Another innovative mobile title, Game of Thrones immerses you in the world of Westeros almost as compellingly as the HBO television series and George RR Martin’s original novels. With an emphasis on storytelling and fast-moving narrative, GoT on ios truly feels like an extension of the TV show. Some dexterity-based challenges along the way remind you this is a video game rather than a multi-media project— nonetheless, Game of Thrones is at its best when the pace slows and you can luxuriate in the scale, beauty, and endless skulduggery, of Martin’s magnificently gloomy setting.
3: Alien: Isolation, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC: It’s one of the quirks of the Alien sci-fi/horror franchise that while, in its cinematic manifestation, movie-makers have tried to remake the Ridley Scott original over and over (giving short shrift to James Cameron’s equally worthy Aliens), in video games exactly the opposite instinct holds sway. A succession of tie-ins have channelled the lusty gunplay of Aliens — resulting in some decent entertainment yet leaving those seeking deep-space chills short-changed.
That problem is emphatically addressed with Alien: Isolation, a superlatively creepy ‘haunted house’ romp aboard a vast, decaying space-station. It’s just you, an infinity of gloomy elevator shafts and, oh yes, a Xenomorph eager to introduce you to the business end of a Facehugger. Scary does not even begin to do justice to the results.
4: Dark Souls II, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC: Fantasy gamers had a good innings in 2014, with another decent Dragon Age release and Tolkien-tie in Shadows Of Mordor bringing Arkham Asylum-esque immersive gameplay to Middle Earth. However, the fantasy franchise to rule them all remains Dark Souls which, via this sprawling sequel, draws you into a swords and sorcery universe of syapse-melting complexity and beauty, and where one prerogative rules over all others: if it moves, cleave it with thy battle axe. Murderously difficult and eye-poppingly gorgeous, even if you can’t tell the difference between a Kobold and a Carebear, here’s a game you simply can’t walk away from.
5: Golem Arcana: Not a video game in the strict sense, Golem Arcana is a table-top skirmish title in which players guide huge lumbering beasts into gladiatorial battle.
The innovation comes via a point and click interface that allows you track your play on an iPad app, so that a physical battlefield became a digital realm and your mobile device takes care of the pesky number crunching.
Thus you have the best of two universes: the Golem figures are gorgeously tactile; at the same time, how wonderful to have your iPad take care of the mental heavy lifting.
MOST ANTICIPATED OF 2015
1: Everyone’s Gone To The Rapture, PS4: ‘Arty’ games can be easier to admire than enjoy: often a pretentious concept is at the price of decent gameplay. You wonder if Welcome To The Rapture might be different. With only a few teasers, we remain largely in the dark over specifics, though it is known it will feature a cast of six characters and is set in rural England.
The world has been depopulated via some manner of divine intervention, possibly the Rapture which many American evangelicals truly believe will take place any day now, if not sooner (and which, alas, has nothing to do with Bioshock).
Set against this howling emptiness, the player must negotiate the traditional first person shooter environment.
2: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, PS3,PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC: Solid Snake debuts on PS4 and Xbox One, with a hugely-anticipated reboot. One of the saga’s winning features is its ability to cleave to emerging trends in gaming and yet remain true to its original ‘stealth em up’ narrative style.
From what we’ve seen, MGS V will feature sumptuous visuals and hair-trigger tension.
3: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, PS4: Surely the best coming together of story-telling and joypad action of the decade, the Uncharted saga is a reminder that pulp adventure doesn’t begin and end with Indiana Jones. The latest is set a number of years after Nathan Drake has hung up his figurative bullwhip. Events conspire to draw him back for one last payday: cue all your favorite Saturday matinee cliches, upholstered by stunning gaming architecture.
4: Halo 5, Xbox One: The last several entries in the Halo series have told a story of diminishing returns, as the franchise tried, and largely failed, to recapture the majesty of the original Xbox titles. Perhaps this sad slump is set to end with Halo 5, exclusive to the next generation Xbox One format and accompanied by a Steven Spielberg-produced television tie-in.
5: Cthulhu Wars: Not a digital title but a table-top war-game by Sandy Peterson, creator of the influential Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, and one of architects of the original Doom first person shooter of the ’90s. Three to five players control a faction of Lovecraftian monsters seeking to destroy the earth.The gameplay promises fast-paced mayhem; towering ‘Great Old Ones’ miniatures are probably enough to justify the estimated €100-plus purchase price.
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