Video games are as diverse an entertainment medium as any I can think of. In 2014, competitive collectible card games that you can play on your tablet competed against racing games with classic Nintendo characters like Mario and Luigi. Action games and first-person shooters compete against turn-based RPGs starring the characters of South Park. Classic characters we played as kids faced off against brand-new IPs.
These differences are more stark than their equivalents in film. The way a game like Wolfenstein: The New Order plays compared to Mario Kart 8 is mechanically distinct in a way that simply isn’t a factor in film or television. One moviegoer may prefer comedy to drama, but they can just as easily sit and watch both types of film. Someone with no experience playing shooters might be perfectly skilled at a racing game but woefully bad at running and gunning.
Add to this the various platforms games can be played on now, from multiple consoles to PC to phones and tablets, and the problem with rating games becomes even thornier.
As such, it’s often difficult, if not impossible, to say one game is “better” than another, all other things being equal—since very rarely are “all other things equal” to begin with. Picking the top video games in a given year is not just challenging, it’s very nearly impossible. But we’ll take a crack at it nonetheless.
In choosing the Forbes best video games of 2014, several factors have been taken into account.
First is the vote. Our video game contributors have each come up with ten (or so) best titles of the year, and I’ve taken a tally. I then look as objectively as possible at the quality of these titles and the number of contributors playing on each platform. For instance, some of our writers did not play any Wii U games this year, which meant fewer votes went to some of the best games of the year. I then looked at the quality of the releases of these games, from launch issues to bugs to the tightness of the mechanics in each game on the list, and weighted them accordingly.
Finally, I disagree with the concept of placing each of these games in a best-to-worst style Top 10 list. Instead, there is a Game of the Year, then three tiers of “best games”—Gold, Silver, and Bronze—with a handful of games in each bracket. Again, this is because I believe that while you can say Game A is objectively better designed than Game B, it’s much harder to say well-made Shooter A is better than well-made Racer B.
In terms of a “point” system, the Game of the Year was on nearly everyone’s “Best Games” list; Gold medals have the equivalent of about 4 votes; Silver 3; and Bronze 2.
Ultimately, the list is also subjective. We haven’t played every game out there. Our contributors played fewer mobile and handheld games than some other outlets. We have a smaller team of game writers than many dedicated gaming publications. Our list is skewed toward our own personal tastes. And regardless, lists have limited utility and something like this serves mostly to entertain and to acknowledge achievements in video games. It’s not a hard science.
Now, off to the races….
Our Bronze Medals go to five games.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is a controversial entry in BioWare’s fantasy RPG saga. It may be the best thing the EA-owned developer has produced in years, but it’s also split fans down the middle. Some love it, some hate it, but there’s no denying that for all its flaws Inquisition is a tremendously ambitious video game. I called it “the hit BioWare needed.” Time will tell if that’s the case.
Bungie’s return to video games after leaving the Halo franchise is even more controversial. Praised for its tight shooting mechanics, Destiny also faced criticism for its repetitiveness and lack of a compelling story mode. Nonetheless, many here at Forbes and the world over have gained an unhealthy addiction to the game.
“Mechanically, visually and conceptually, it’s nothing other than phenomenal,”writes Forbes contributor Paul Tassi. “It just needs to focus on a few more lingering problems before it can reach its true potential as the series everyone dreamed it would be.”
Shovel Knight also earns a Bronze for its retro 2D platforming goodness and extreme challenge. The funky indie hit has been both a fan favorite and a critical darling.
Alien: Isolation turned out to be one of the scarier games of the year, and a nice change of pace from the last Alien branded video game, the disastrous Aliens: Colonial Marines. Forbes contributor Jason Evangelho calls it “survival horror at its finest.”
Dark Souls II was a letdown in many respects, falling short of both its predecessors. Still, it was one of the best games of 2014 in spite of its shortcomings. The DLC trilogy was even better than the base game. Lots to love in this challenging, dark RPG, even if it fell short of the greatness the original Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls achieved.
Four games received a Silver Medal for 2014.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was, in many ways, the year’s dark horse. Early previews made the game look a bit like an Assassin’s Creed with orcs. Instead we got an action-adventure title that makes Assassin’s Creed look simplistic by comparison. I found it “remarkably satisfying” and “one of the best experiences I’ve had on PS4 to date.” The unique Nemesis system was one of the most effective gameplay innovations we’ve seen in years, making enemies far more interesting and giving death in a video game a cool new twist.
Far Cry 4 was one of the best shooters of the year, and while some found it too similar to Far Cr 3, others felt it took that game’s excellent formula and improved upon it, tightening up gameplay and improving the story and characters. Easily the best open-world shooter of the year with a co-op mode that allows players to play the entire single-player campaign with other players, Far Cry 4 is enormously fun and boasts some of the best graphics on new-gen consoles.
South Park: The Stick of Truth was, in many ways, a bit of a buggy mess when it released (after a year of delays.) Still, it was one of the best things South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have done in ages, and a great take on roleplaying games, youthful imagination, and the myriad familiar faces of South Park. It’s not the deepest RPG out there, but it’s one of the funniest video games you’re likely to come across. Indeed, I called it “one of the most enjoyable, hilarious, and disgustingly offensive roleplaying games I’ve played period.” David Ewalt agreed, noting that “it’s got to be the most disgusting and deliberately offensive mass-market video game ever made. I loved it. You probably will too.”
Divinity: Original Sin is another humorous RPG, though it takes a top-down approach to the genre, and allows players to play one or two PCs and have up to two extra companions. One of the neat innovations here is the ability to play the two main player characters in co-op mode and actually role-play with or against your player-controlled companion. Disagreements are worked out through a system of Rock, Paper, Scissors. The entire game is a wonderful, challenging experience and ranks among my favorite RPGs in many years.
Only three Gold Medals are going out this year, to three very excellent games.
Wolfenstein: The New Order proved yet again that rumors of the death of single-player, campaign-based first-person shooters are greatly exaggerated. This game is the yin to Titanfall’s yang, and for those of us reporting on video games at Forbes, a much more satisfying experience.
Tight shooting and stealth mechanics, well-designed levels, and an engaging story with top-notch voice-acting all made this one of the best single-player experiences of the year. The New Order followed in Dishonored’s footsteps in many ways, and publisher Bethesda continues to impress in their ability to publish SP experiences in an online age. I called it Shooter of the Year (so far) when it released, and it remains that even after all the competition.
“Bayonetta 2 is that rare sequel which improves on the original,” writes David Ewalt. And indeed, there is little to complain about in the Wii U exclusive. While some find the titular heroine a bit too sexualized, the majority of the game’s fans see Bayonetta as the badass she is—a ninja-witch-extraordinaire who kicks ass and takes names of each and every baddie she comes across. The combat is pretty much flawless, level design is excellent, and even though the graphics may not be as pretty as a PS4 exclusive, the art style more than makes up for it. A practically perfect game.
No game has so absorbed my time and attention in the past year or so as Mario Kart 8. Andy Robertson called it “the best Mario Kart experience I’ve has since is revelatory introduction some 22 year ago.” This second Wii U Gold Medal finalist is again an almost flawless game, with only the lack of a proper Battle Mode holding it back. Everything from the tracks to the graphics to the online experience is terrific, and it’s fun online but even better with friends and family on the couch. The very reasonably priced DLC only makes the game even better.
Game of the Year
Forbes’ Game of the Year goes to an unlikely candidate: Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.
Blizzard’s competitive collectible card game made just about everyone’s top ten list here. And while some of us played the game more than others—Paul Tassi spent over $600 on the free-to-play smash hit—we all agree that Blizzard has crafted something special here, on computers and tablets alike.
“Hearthstone is my game of the year,” Tassi writes. “It has no sprawling open worlds, nor pulse-pounding combat, but it’s done absolutely everything right over the past year from its debut to its expansions, and I only see it continuing to evolve in great ways from here. In an age when a shift to mobile and free-to-play is something to be feared, Hearthstone is proof that concept can work wondrously, if handled with care.”
Simplicity, balance, and attention to detail all make Hearthstone a tremendous achievement simply in terms of minimalist design even aside from its commercial success.
Of course, even this list leaves out many terrific video games. The Forbes Video Games team has a wide array of tastes. Some writers prefer much more eclectic games. Other than our GOTY, no mobile or handhelds made the cut. We’ll keep bringing you our take on 2014 and what it meant for games, what our favorite experiences were, and more in the coming weeks as we move slowly into 2015.
Hopefully this year will be even better for video games—and perhaps a bit less controversial, too.
Shout out your top video game picks in the comments and on social media.