I swear every game on this list was my #1 game of the year at some point. What a fantastic slew of games all grouped together.
10. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
“Beneath all of that rot dark things grow”
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter blends an open world design with the poetics of a linear game — and gosh what a beautiful, haunting world The Astronaut studio has created to explore. As a cross-section between Dear Esther (2012), Proteus (2013), and Professor Layton (2007), The Vanishing of Ethan Carter can be moody and morbid, creative and surprising, but still manage to involve the player through puzzles and investigation. It’s not without flaws —like intrusive, overly gamey UI— but when The Vanishing of Ethan Carter works it’s one of the year’s most awe inspiring games.
9. Monument Valley
“Long have these old bones waited in darkness”
The elegance and grace of Monument Valley’s design is all too easy to be swept up in. It’s a spatial puzzle game that’s never confusing or deceptive, and while it is on the easier side of things, nothing could stop me from wanting to see it’s next horizon. I’ve heard a lot of bellyaching over the game’s length, and to that I say: how can you complaining about a $4 experience so worthwhile that you wanted to see it through quickly? Monument Valley is just that enchanting. You’ll peel away level after level until it’s done, and the expansion, Forgotten Shores, is every bit as good.
8. Dark Souls II
“#$%@ you! I swear I’ll ^*$@!”
Dark Souls is a masterpiece — Dark Souls II proves that it wasn’t a fluke. And while I still like the first one more, the sequel is a unique enough game in its own right to stand singularly next-to its predecessor instead of in its shadow. Part II is a bastion of crushing solitude, re-enforced by fantastic art direction and excellent level design. In a lot of ways I think the Souls games are the best modern manifestation of 16-bit design philosophy, and a big part of that is that in a post-internet world they’re brimming secrets and mystery.
7. Dance Central Spotlight
“My anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns hon!”
Sometimes a man just needs to dance. There’s no other game on this list I’ve played as much of —or had as much goofy-fun playing— as Dance Central: Spotlight. Spotlight straddles such a perfect line between being forgiving about living room space or just bad dancing, and also fidelity of movement. You won’t be waggling your way out of this one; you need to mirror the dancers exactly, their legs their forearms, everything. Even if my ego feels the need to yell out, “I don’t know why I’m not nailing this move!?” I know. The Kinect knows. Everyone knows. But more than that, as someone who sometimes struggles to remind myself why being active is important, Dance Central: Spotlight is some of the most fun I’ve ever had doing aerobics. I think it speaks volumes that the game is physically demanding and yet it doesn’t need weird psychological hooks like progress bars or achievements to keep you playing — it’s just unadulterated fun that makes it such a treat to use for exercise.
6. P.T. (Playable Teaser)
“You remember right? Exactly ten months back”
The best parts of Silent Hill are subtext; making manslaughter, infidelity, and abuse frightening, instead of upsetting, is no easy task. Without searching for these ideas you can feel them bubbling under the surface, and by flipping the camera behind the player’s eyes P.T. begs the question: what role do you play in these monstrosities? I’m so smitten with P.T., I love how surreal a game it is, how weird it can be, and I love how it blends haunted house jump scares, with something genuinely twisted and horrifying. I could harp on and on about all the minutia that makes it all come together so well, but I wouldn’t want to rob anyone of the surprises it has in store. All I can say is that you should try to play for yourself.
5. South Park: The Stick of Truth
“Uh no… Tell you what, how about just no shirt at all let’s try that”
I have unending respect for South Park: The Stick of Truth because, unlike so many other games, it feels like it had an editor making sure no individual moment felt too long. This is a phenomenal achievement in its own right considering how often big budget games are padded and repetitive, but that The Stick of Truth manages to pull off this organic feeling in the context of an open world is doubly impressive. Moreover, South Park: The Stick of Truth is so sincere it will be loveable even for people who couldn’t care a lick about South Park, because the game itself has such clear love for the medium. If you can appreciate Trey Parker’s brand of humour it will be all the sweeter.
“Look, whatever you think. Do me a favour. Don’t let me go.”
Transistor is layered to the point of chaos — and I think that is a crazy cool thing to say about a videogame. When Transistor starts it’s downright confusing, and it doesn’t let up. In fact, it’s a lot like unpacking a dense phrase or poem; when you start to really consider every component individually it’s all rather simplistic, but during the first playthrough it’s nearly impossible to discern the story, from the sound, from the art, from the gameplay. The biggest problem with Transistor is that the action is made fun through experimentation, and when you’re being so utterly bombarded by style, I think most people will cling to what they know works because everything else in the game is so consistently uncertain.
3. Alien: Isolation
“Yes, me, you sonovabitch”
It’s cliche to say, but Alien: Isolation is immersive in a way few other games on this list are; it is the kind of game where a trophy blinks onto the screen you say, “oh yes! that’s right, what I’m doing right now is playing a videogame.” A big part of this feeling comes from the constant stress and anxiety that there could be something hunting you throughout the space station — and make no mistake there absolutely is something lurking in the shadows. You can’t defeat the alien, and its AI is dynamic enough to be unpredictable. What you’re left with is a feeling of solitude; you alone with your thoughts waiting, and listening. It’s incredible. Isolation genuinely captures the feeling of being Ripley trying to make her way off of the Nostromo. It’s a flawed game; what it really needs is to have someone edit out some of the longer backtracking sections, but it has so much character it’s worth sticking through. The game has the forward momentum of something like Metro: 2033 (2010), coupled with mind boggling sound design and visual work. You have to play it.
2. Broken Age (part one)
“Oh, because I’m so short you mean”
I loved the first part of Broken Age. I just loved it. There’s a part of me that is livid that part one was put out so far ahead of its continuation, but at the end of the day it felt damning not including one of 2014’s very best games. What’s here is an excellent children’s story in the vein of a Roald Dahl novel that has been brought to life by fantastic production values and direction. Broken Age is Double Fine at their best. It’s charming as all hell, and extremely well written. Broken Age has a timeless quality, fingers crossed for part II.
1. Valiant Hearts: The Great War
Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a game about people who look up at the sky and ask, “why?” It doesn’t blame and it doesn’t glorify, because with war everyone loses. Everything from its music to its aesthetic is used to juxtapose some levity against the horrors of war — because no realistic depiction would do it justice. And yet, Valiant Hearts is a very optimistic game; it reminds you that soldiers risk their lives because there are things worth fighting for. It shows heart, and faith, and love. But most importantly, it remembers that there has to be hope, or else everything else is in vain. It uses fiction to teach, and it emphasizes that real people had to risk everything to end The Great War. Valiant Hearts is an incredibly thoughtful, intelligent game. It’s my game of the year.
- Valiant Hearts: The Great War
- Broken Age (part one)
- Alien: Isolation
- South Park: The Stick of Truth
- P.T. (playable teaser)
- Dance Central: Spotlight
- Dark Souls II
- Monument Valley
- The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
Don't forget to check back on Friday to see Castle Couch's overall Game of the Year, and listen to our 5+ hour deliberation podcast.
Visit our 'canon' page to see how 2014 looked compared to years past.