South Park: The Stick of Truth (PC)
Pretty much the ultimate "fan service" game, The Stick of Truth delivered everything this South Park fan could have asked for. With Matt and Trey writing and voice acting (along with the other cast members), the content was typical South Park, but wrapped up in a good game. I want more, but given this has all the production of the TV show, and it had significant issues during development, it seems unlikely we'll see anything in the immediate future.
Which is very sad. The game seems perfectly built for add-on content. The graphics engine is already a perfect replication of the show, the gameplay is already good and content could be seamlessly dropped in to the open world.
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls (PC)
Despite all the original problems (and they were significant) with Diablo III, I still enjoyed it quite a bit. But the Reaper of Souls expansion (and the coinciding patch 2.0) remedied all the major problems with the game and made it a much more enjoyable game in the process.
It improved several components of the of the game, the loot, the balance of classes and crucially the end game with features such as Adventure mode. I spent many hours in RoS this year and I suspect I'll find myself spending even more in the future. It's a fantastic game now.
The Last of Us: Remastered (PS4)
Whilst I'll separate games released in previous years in a section below, this is a new release of an older game that I first completed this year, so I'm fine with including it here. I put up a brief review back at the time of release, so I'll leave it at that, but the inclusion of this game on this list should back up that review.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (PC)
This game has been cited often as an example of 'next-gen' gameplay, and whilst I'm not sure there's anything conceptually about the Nemesis system that couldn't have existed on earlier generation systems (and in fact, it did, in this game on the PS3 and 360, not quite the same but the concept remained in tact from what I could tell), I do feel like it is an experience that hasn't really been seen before in a game, and regardless of whether this is what constitutes "next-gen gameplay", it's notable.
The game didn't provide all that much in regards to a compelling story, world or even characters, but the gameplay was all I needed to see it through. The mechanics were fun and satisfying and the evolving enemies provided motivation. It has been described as an "orc murder simulator" and I think that's mostly accurate, it doesn't offer much outside of that - but that was all that was necessary for a good experience.
Forza Horizon 2 (XBO)
Responsible for a significant percentage of total gaming time (of those mentioned in this list), Forza Horizon 2 hit upon a really great formula. A set of varied racing types, events, cars, an open world and online design that made participating almost effortless and a reasonably good progression system were all reasons this game grabbed hold of me and didn't let go until I had completed hundreds of races, collected lots of cars and levelled up to the maximum wrist band (Gold). The recent DLC release had a similar effect, Storm Island provided more of what made the main game so compelling but in a different locale and with some new interesting twists (like more extreme weather and terrain).
Lovely Planet (PC)
Some may find this an odd choice, but this is a title I kept coming back to in my mind as one I found enjoyable and interesting. This small game combines twitch FPS mechanics (speed, precision) and good arena style movement with a sort of puzzle-style level design. With the mechanics focused around completing levels with as few 'deaths' or checkpoint restarts as possible in the quickest time, it is to me a great demonstration as to why I, and many others, like other FPS games - it isn't because I like shooting people or things, it's the mechanics, what I am shooting at or from doesn't factor into my enjoyment of that sort of game.
They're satisfying and fun, in this game - you're not shooting at people, you're firing square objects at inanimate objects in the level, firing from an object that doesn't resemble any sort of real gun.
Divinity: Original Sin (PC)
Unfortunately this game came at an odd time for me, I haven't played that much of it. I have played enough to get a feel for the combat, quest structure, and most major components of the game and I'm liking what I see. But I left the game not so long after getting that feel for it, with the full intention of returning because as it does seem to tick a lot of boxes a good CRPG. I'm listing this here as a "I'll probably enjoy this from what I have played, and it's a notable release".
But who knows, with the limited game time (5-6 hours, including a restart) I have had in it, it's hard to judge just how much I will enjoy it over a long period of time.
Elite: Dangerous (PC)
Along with Star Citizen, Elite: Dangerous is leading the space sim renaissance, and whilst they're going for fairly different things (Star Citizen is absolutely ginormous in scope, even in comparison to Elite:D), I jumped on Elite to scratch a certain kind of itch that any space simulator would probably do at this point.
Again, it is still too early for me to come to a conclusion on this game - but from what I have played so far, I could see myself sinking a decent amount of time into this. It has been described as "Eurotruck simulator in space", and to me, that sounds great. The core mechanics feel great, although I think I'll need to invest in a new flight stick sooner or late, I don't think my current one would be up to the job even if it was reliably compatible with anything newer than Windows 98.
Velocity 2X (PS4/PSV)
Watching Velocity creator FuturLab grow over these years has been great to watch, from the release of the first Velocity title on PlayStation Minis, to Velocity Ultra and now Velocity 2X. Their growth not only as developers of great games, but in popularity has been really cool to observe.
Velocity 2X is a great evolution of the what was laid down before it, tight mechanics, great art and visuals, addictive time-based objectives, Velocity 2X stood out in my mind when making this list and for good reasons.
For one reason or another, these games are notable. That isn't a comment on their quality or my enjoyment of them, but games I feel I should comment on.
Dragon Age: Inquisition (PC)
Dragon Age: Origins brought back a style of game I sorely missed. The combat, specifically on the PC version was satisfying, tactical, interesting and just what I want and expect from a game of this sort. Dragon Age 2 was a departure from that in the name of chasing a design more appropriate for consoles and as such I was sorely disappointed in it.
Dragon Age: Inquisition sort of promised a return to what many of us felt made Origins great, and whilst you can see what they've tried to do, I think they really over sold just how much they managed to merge the good points of Origins back into the new direction taken in Dragon Age 2. The combat was shallow and ultimately not very interesting, the encounters weren't most often also not interesting and the game was full of filler nonsense. Piles upon piles of meaningless side quests, mostly following the standard MMO design book of fetch quests, kill x amount of y, etc. The world was beautiful and rather large, the graphics overall were really great, excellent character effects, I really enjoyed looking at this game.
It was a good Bioware game in regards to the story and characters, and I mostly enjoyed those, but ultimately I was left rather disappointed by it. I don't think it is a bad game, I just don't think it is the game it should have been and I don't think it is the game it could have been. I sank around 53 hours into the game and I don't regret spending that time in the game, but it doesn't do much to dampen the disappointment.
Ryse: Son of Rome (PC)
A launch game for the Xbox One, Ryse didn't receive particularly great reviews - and I'm mostly behind the general consensus on the game. But I decided to give the PC version ago despite passing on the Xbox One version if not just for the graphical showcase (it was a quiet period in the gaming calendar!).
I found myself slightly surprised. I expected to mash my way through the campaign whilst stopping to look at the pretty things, whilst I certainly did just mindlessly mash my way through the campaign I found myself getting a little excited about a few things. The setting, the premise of the story and characters and what was clearly the design goals for the game. I felt it missed quite significantly on the execution of many of those things, but it was good enough for me to see it through to the end.
I suspect it was the realisation that we need more games setting in Rome (because Romans are cool) that clouded my judgement, but I did have a reasonable amount of enjoyment with this game. As I said, I feel pretty much all the important components of a game missed the execution quite severely (but that doesn't make them bad, just not interesting or satisfying), one thing they absolutely nailed is the presentation. A campaign of a Roman Centurion in the days of Nero, presented in an absolutely gorgeous package. It's a mostly forgettable experience, and that's why it isn't in the favourites section, but it is notable.
It's also notable that the PC version performed superbly well (as a performance vs visual pay-off), I got nice high frame rates (often 80-125fps+), and the game features perhaps the best anti-aliasing technique I've seen in a game yet. Astonishingly good performance and result.
inFamous: Second Son (PS4)
I'm a huge fan of the inFamous series, inFamous 1 and 2 are two of my favourite PlayStation exclusive games and were highlights of the PS3. inFamous: Second Son is as good if not better in many ways than those other games, but I felt it suffered from things launch games (or launch 'window' games) often do.
It felt a little sparse, they nailed the fundamentals but didn't have time for much more and for that reason, it didn't do much more than just feel like more inFamous. Which isn't a bad thing, of course, I love the inFamous games and how they play - but the result is still something that is ultimately not very memorable.
Not of this year
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (PC)
My most played game of the year by far. 2014 has been another excellent year for Counter-Strike, and again, its continued growth in popularity continues to amaze me. I'm grateful that a game that launched and often struggled to beat (at the time) 8 year old and 13 year old versions of Counter-Strike in player counts (often below 30k concurrent players) is now so popular. It was DOA, it seemed.
Two years on, it is the second most played game on Steam by a healthy margin (peaked at 348,000 in 2014, over 10x what it was 2 years ago), the competitive eSports scene is thriving, hitting peak viewers on streams (Dreamhack Winter 2014) of 409,000. Many within the community have criticisms of Valve's management of the game, and I do too, but when I take a few steps back and look what CSGO was and what it is now, and the fact that my favourite online FPS is once again one of the most popular games when for the longest time it looked to be going the way of my other favourite FPS games like Quake and Unreal Tournament, I am grateful.
No modern FPS game replicates or even gets close to what makes Counter-Strike so good. The amount of depth derived simple mechanics, the strategic and tactical nuance from variables that are nothing but presentation in other games, it's all something I feared I would be losing as Counter-Strike faded away, but it hasn't, and that makes me really happy. As I said, this is my most played game of this year, and if this weren't primarily a post about new releases of 2014, I'd declare this by far my favourite game of the year. It is the game I have received the most enjoyment from and I suspect it may end up being so next year, too.
Here's to another 1000 hours in CSGO in 2015!
Forza Motorsport 5 (XBO)
Forza 5 and Horizon 2 are responsible for a significant percentage of my play on the Xbox One (and across any console this year, in fact), and whilst I played quite a lot of Forza 5 back when the Xbox One launched, I perhaps played even more towards the start of this year.
It's a great game that I've enjoyed a lot. There isn't much more to say, Turn 10 did a great job that kept my Xbox One on and playing games longer than it otherwise would have without this game.