One of the most time-honored traditions among gaming websites is to declare a site-wide game of the year. IGN did it, GameSpot did it, and even Polygon did it! Naturally, we here at Gamnesia also wanted to give it a go, but we’ve decided to do things a bit differently. To spice things up a bit, we’ll have five of our talented writers talking about their own personal game of the year, so let’s get cracking!
Colin McIsaac, Editor-in-Chief: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze has been criminally overlooked in many awards ceremonies this year (I’m guessing because it came out so early on), but it remains nonetheless one of the best games of 2014, and in fact one of the best games this generation.
Donkey Kong Country rears its head once again for a platformer unlike any other, with its famous difficulty and a certain weight to every movements that make the game truly feel like a gorilla leaping from platform to platform. I could talk about the introduction of Dixie and Cranky Kong, or the amazing work done by the animation and art design departments at Retro Studios, but there are two things I really think set Tropical Freeze apart from the rest of the games this past year: its soundtrack, and its level design.
The soundtrack has been the subject of extremely high praise for Tropical Freeze. The series’ original composer, David Wise, returns for this score, and brings back old classics and creates dozens of new tracks. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Wise’s scores are his ability to turn ambiance into a memorable tune. Tropical Freeze’s music is always a fitting backdrop for the level in which it plays, setting the mood, using any number of musical techniques, to fit each level flawlessly. Yet at the same time, each piece stands out as its own independent piece; you can listen to this on its own, and it’s just as enjoyable out-of-game as it is technically impressive in-game.
From a more gameplay-oriented perspective, each level in Tropical Freeze has a unique (and always impressive) setting or mechanics to call its own, which keeps things consistently engaging through one’s entire play time, and each level acts with a dynamism that demands players don’t cede their attention elsewhere. What Retro Studios has, in effect, done, is crafted a smaller collection of their most enjoyable levels and cut out everything that doesn’t qualify as “excellent” in the process. The end result is a consistently high quality series of jumps and grabs that is far more entertaining than a game twice as long padded with filler levels. Perhaps the best example is the level Grassland Groove, which toys with new ideas in each section of the level, and wraps them together in a brilliantly cohesive way for its third act. As you make your way through the level, the music grows, the sun sets, and Donkey Kong’s actions become faster and more graceful. These stunning visuals, music, and gameplay combine to create an empowering sensory experience, and perhaps even the greatest platforming level made to date.
Tropical Freeze is a masterpiece of mechanics and level design that has more than earned my personal choice for Game of the Year.
Steven Rollins, Associate Editor: South Park: The Stick of Truth
With the massive failure of a launch that Assassin’s Creed Unity had, it is easy to forget that Ubisoft actually published some quality titles in 2014. At the top of this list lies South Park: The Stick of Truth. While many dismissed the title as being an attempt to milk the ever-increasing popularity of South Park, those who played it found an extremely enjoyable experience that stayed true to its source.
As a show, South Park is best known for its raunchy humor and satirical commentary on modern events. Unsurprisingly, The Stick of Truth continues this standard while managing to uphold the quality of the show, a feat unheard of in most licensed games. This is truly where the game shines. You aren’t playing a game, you’re taking part in an episode of South Park. All the characters you know and love are there. The town and its surrounding areas are full of references to the show, from collecting Chinpokomon to finding $3.50 in Chef’s P.O. Box and everything in between.
The gameplay itself is reminiscent of Paper Mario. Your character runs around on screen either avoiding or contacting enemies to engage combat. Combat takes the form of both sides taking turns performing various actions. Each character gets two actions per turn, during which they can do a variety of attacks, use an item, or cast magic. During the actual attack (from either side) there is either a quick-time event or a simple timing mechanic that will alter the damage done by the attack, providing some interactivity to the combat.
With so many games that have released in the past year, it can be quite a challenge to judge their quality against others. Many games take elements from their competitors and adapt them for their own use. For me, this means game can be fun and enjoyable at a base level, but the true test of a memorable game lies in the small details. Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Obsidian Entertainment have successfully crafted a masterpiece by flawlessly utilizing these small details and references to bring the world of South Park to life. Because South Park: The Stick of Truth provides one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever found in a game, it deserves the recognition of 2014’s Game of the Year.
Natasha Arishenkoff, Junior Editor: The Walking Dead: Season Two
Telltale remembered everything that made The Walking Dead: Season One incredible and added even more to Season Two. The gameplay is improved and varied, and even more incredible characters with at times questionable, but understandable motives are added into this post-apocalyptic world. Telltale has kept its signature gameplay and comic book style art, and much like other Telltale games, The Walking Dead Season Two is all about making decisions and building relationships with characters in a choose your own adventure/ point-and-click style of storytelling. Decisions, whether they be the fate of a character or just small dialog choices can have lasting impacts on the story and your relationships with that character and others both directly and indirectly. Each decision can have lasting impacts on the story, and can leave you shock and wondering what you could have done differently or in extreme cases, “How could I have saved them?”
The season is broken into five episodes, with the story taking place directly after the events of season one. The story really is The Walking Dead’s strongest attribute, with each episode having its own individual tales that eventually tie into an over-arching plot that runs over the entire season, focusing on many groups of survivors, and the ruthless but commanding Carver and his gang. With the new characters and the new force that is added stakes are higher for you and the people you meet, and this season is sure to get your emotions flowing. The gameplay is mostly talking to characters, both new and old while getting from one point to another, with a few combat sequences added in. While the combat can get repetitive, as it is mostly quick time events, being thrown into a horde of walkers while trying to find your friends on the way out is one of my biggest gaming highlights of this previous year.
The Walking Dead Season 2 has some of the greatest stories and characters in gaming, and is one of the few games I can recommend to gamers and non-gamers alike.
Harrison Bolin, Junior Editor: Destiny
Destiny is one of the first games on a console to fully combine an actual social experience, RPG gameplay, and MMO like constantly evolving gameplay. It was created by Bungie, the famed makers of Halo, and was met with high expectations, and sold extremely well, even outselling Advanced Warefare in the digital market. It is easily one of the best games of the year, shining in areas previously unexpected.
Since launch, you have always been able to go into any mission with a three person team, and in certain game modes, a six person team. There’s a special type of bond formed between players after defeating a horrifying moon monster, then going to chill and play soccer in The Tower. It’s something easily found find in most PC MMO’s, but it’s the first time this type of community has been realized on a console. I’ve played with people from across the globe, people who I’ve been able to help and have helped me in the game. This isn’t always found by everyone players of the game, but it’s exactly what the developers were looking for, and are working to flesh out more.
The game has a soul to it, one that is fiery and slightly sarcastic. Every one of the hundreds of weapons is unique as well as the countless pieces of armor, ships, and emblems. Each item comes equipped with a description, like the gun B-Line Trauma, which asks one to “Take one to the forehead and call me in the morning”, and the Ether Torch, which “is not, strictly speaking, a recognized form of barbecue.” The story is getting better with each expansion, the most recent continuing a storyline that was started in the very first few missions of the game, and will most likely go on for a while. More mechanics are being added with each update, with the developers are clearly invested in the games future. The game is growing, a force to be reckoned with.
Being able to upgrade, change, and modify your character in ways so drastically different from others in your own class, let alone other classes, is also something rare in first person shooters. Instead of there being a handful of generic classes with slight changes to damage or accuracy, the classes and customization options in Destiny allow for anyone’s playstyle, no matter how eccentric, to be catered too. You can change anything from how your weapon operates (explosions or heat-seeking, m’lord?) to the way you jump. Love running through a rain of bullets in able to shotgun a 15 foot tall giant in the face? Like being able to snipe from far away, clearing a path to the boss? Or do you prefer raining a maelstrom of bullets while your teammates do the other two? The heart of Destiny is that your character is your own, and while there are recommended upgrades and such, your path is chosen by no one else.
Destiny provides the community, gameplay, sass, story, and visuals that consoles need, and is my personal pick for Game of The Year.
Ryan Dinsdale, Junior Editor: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Deciding upon a game of the year for 2014 wasn’t difficult for me. Why? Personally, only one game brought something new to the table. The Nemesis system in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is completely innovative, and adds genuine personalisation to the game, giving even basic grunts the ability to grow in ranks and become even bosses of sorts. One particular Uruk, Nazdug Corpse-Eater, killed me not long after starting the game. Since then we had clashed a few times, but as I kept failing to kill him, he grew stronger and higher in rank. Eventually I managed to knock him off a cliff, believing it was over, but even then he came back, battered and bruised from our last encounter. When I did finally chop his head off and put an end to our rivalry, the finishing blow felt as satisfying as defeating any boss. It’s these “build your own story” moments that make Shadow of Mordor so special.
Nazdug was just one in the hierarchy though. From captain to war chief, many Uruk play many different roles. You can meet the lovely fellows at various events around the map: feasts, battles, hunts, executions, and more. No matter how these encounters go down, with either party’s death, success, fleeing, or otherwise, an interesting series of events follow. The Uruk may become more powerful than his own rival ,for example, defeating him and taking his place in the hierarchy. Even without your help, the Uruk’s live and breathe on their own. Mordor doesn’t revolve around you.
Monolith Productions also nailed the combat. Imagine Batman, but with a sword, fluent animations, and lots of gore. In the beginning, getting into fights with too many Uruk’s would simply result in death, but as you level up skills, gain new runes, and gradually master the mechanics, Sauron’s army becomes less intimidating. You progress in power at just the right pace, while always feeling a chance of defeat, keeping things interesting.
As a Tolkien fan, exploring Mordor was interesting in itself. Tombs, ruined castles, caves, and more populate the map, along with, of course, lots and lots of Uruk’s. Halfway through the campaign, a second area opens up; a brighter, greener map compared to the murky wasteland that you start in (and can return to.) The new area brings a new hierarchy too, with plenty more of the ghastly creatures to kill or control.
You also acquire the ability to brand Uruk around halfway through the game, gaining control of them. This is when you can really make in impact on the hierarchy of Uruk, sending your minions to assassinate, betray or fight other Uruk, creating power struggles behind the scenes. Power struggles that can be taken advantage of.
When it released last year, Shadow of Mordor brought something new to the table. That something was personalized enemies that you learned to love to hate, and a system behind them that further emphasised their existence in a well-established world. The nemesis system is what makes Shadow of Mordor, but so many other things make it a great game.