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Year In Review: Here are 2014's top ten video games

10. Wolfenstein (PC, XBox ONE, PS4, XBox 360, PS3)

In a year where plenty of games prided themselves on open-ended storytelling, Wolfenstein: The New Order stood out for a strong, linear campaign with top-notch gunplay and an outstanding alternate history sci-fi universe. Gunplay feels fantastically varied, with both stealth & direct attack feeling like the “right” way to approach every mission. Who’d have thought it would be the name that brought us the original first-person shooter that would provide one of 2014’s most modern games?

9. OlliOlli (PC, PS4, PS Vita)

Skateboarding games used to be one of the most reliable game genres. But as the trend of extreme sports fell out of the cultural mainstream – so did the flow of big 3D skating simulators. Thank god for the indies bringing us OlliOlli. This 2D deconstruction focuses on what matters – learning the layout of a level, and chaining together the perfect combo. It’s a game that will entrance you, until all you see is the ideal path of grinds, kickflips and ollies. All you will feel is the perfect timing of stick movements and button taps to nail a landing. OlliOlli isn’t a game – it’s a drug.

8. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (PC, XBox ONE, PS4 [360 and PS3 versions not recommended])

Last generation, Warner Bros. Interactive redefined what to expect from licensed games with Batman: Arkham Asylum. Visually stunning, true to the source, and innovative in its own right, it smashed every notion of how a franchise could expand into games. This generation, they did it again with Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. The world of Tolkien has never felt as gritty, intense or alive as developer Monolith’s digital epic. It perfects the open-world mechanics that the Assassin’s Creed franchise have been pushing around for years, and adds on top the Nemesis system, making every single player experience unique.

7. Jazzpunk (PC, Linux, OSX)

Easily 2014’s most unique game, Jazzpunk is an auteur work of absurdism – a throwback to the 60’s era of noir detective thrillers, technicolor visuals and heavy doses of psychedelics. The first-person open-world adventure game is densely loaded with visual gags, outlandish non-sequiturs and bizarre minigames (such as the brilliantly titled “Wedding Quake,” which is exactly what you hope it is.). Jazzpunk is the sort of weird, short, and wonderful experience that has to been seen to be understood.

6. Threes! (Android, IOS, XBox ONE)

If I judged the games of 2014 purely by how many hours I invested into them, Threes! would be No.1 with a bullet. There hasn’t been a day since it entered my phone that I’ve gone without playing it. This puzzler is addictively simple, beautifully self-paced and has a level of visual polish that I still don’t see in most blockbuster releases. It’s also difficult as hell, while remaining simple and presentable. If you found yourself in a week-long infatuation with 2048 this year, download Threes! and prepare for a lifelong obsession.

5. Bayonetta 2 (WiiU)

How far can a game get on a single excellent element? For a character action game, combat is everything. Bayonetta 2’s combat is perfect. The simple gameplay loop of timing dodges, chaining hits and learning the complex patterns of every enemy – it’s satisfying. It’s responsive. It’s the work of a creative team that are masters of their craft. Does it matter that the story is nonsensical? Is it so important that the game is little more than a series of enemy encounters and boss fights? Against Bayonetta 2’s triumphs, these issues are but a blemish. Imperfections that add charm, inspiring a more passionate love.

4. Sunset Overdrive (XBox ONE)

Often we praise games for being “cinematic.” For being so grand, so epic, that they transcend the medium of gaming and appear to almost be cinema. While these titles have their place, it’s mighty unhealthy of an industry to cheer for experiences that aim to love it behind. Sunset Overdrive doesn’t adhere to that philosophy. It loves that it’s a video game. Everything works, from the riffing on tropes, to combat that rewards creativity, to traversing across the gorgeously constructed Sunset City. Thank god that we’ve finally got a shooter that exists with a smirk, and colors the town with every crayon in the box.

3. Mario Kart 8 (WiiU)

How many trips around a track can you make while still feeling fresh and relevant? Unless you’ve never held a controller before, MK8 is likely not your first Mario Kart. Yet it feels just as fresh, just as awe-inspiring, just as fun as your first time with the franchise. The visuals are stunning: film-quality animation, wildly creative tracks, incredible music, all presented at a top-notch 60 frames per second. It is the perfect arcade kart racer.

2. Super Smash Brothers for WiiU (Also on 3DS)

There was no way in hell that Super Smash Brothers for WiiU would ever escape my 2014 Top Ten list. This is a franchise that I’ve spent countless hours with, experienced moments of untold triumph and has shaped my tastes in gaming as a whole. Opening this edition to find new fighters that overhaul the flow of combat, to see the wondrous attention to detail in animation, music selection and stage design, to witness Nintendo finally reaching out to the diehard Smash community in a way that was never dreamed possible…even my lofty expectations were exceeded.

1. Shovel Knight (WiiU, 3DS, PC – Coming to PS4 & Vita in 2015)

Retro throwbacks are nothing new in indie gaming, but Shovel Knight is so much more than nostalgia. It’s got the action platforming gameplay to justify the 8-bit look. The game feels like a relic of a lost age, one with the tight control, killer soundtrack and clever art design that we love from the NES era. Yet, it has the wisdom of youth and incorporates game design from classics both old and new. Shovel Knight is a vintage fantasy made reality.

Honorable Mentions

Best 2014 Game That Is Really A Game From 2013 – Grand Theft Auto V (PS4, XBox ONE, Coming To PC in January)

While it wouldn’t feel right awarding a spot on my 2014 Top Ten list to a game that nearly topped my 2013 list, I have to give praise to Rockstar’s gorgeous remaster of Grand Theft Auto V for the next-gen consoles. It would be enough to take a visually stunning game from the last generation and turn it up to 11 with brand new textures, animations and world detail. But this remaster’s introduction of full first-person control is what makes it incredible. It creates a game that spans genres in ways never thought possible.

Best Game I Can’t Actually Recommend  – Metal Gear Solid V : Ground Zeroes (PS4, XBox ONE, PC, 360, PS3)

Few experiences this were as polished, unique, or exciting to me this year as Ground Zeroes. Snake controls better than ever and combines with Metal Gear Solid’s trademark game design with a modern control scheme. It’s a visually stunning, showcasing the Fox Engine in all its glory. It’s also only two-and-a-half-hours long, and retails for $19.99. While I hesitate to call Ground Zeroes a “demo” for next year’s Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, it’s hard to justify the purchase to anybody who isn’t just looking for a taste of that upcoming game.

Best Game That Won’t Actually Be Out Until 2015 – Halo 5 : Guardians (XBox ONE)

While Halo: The Master Chief Collection was nothing short of a disaster this year, I have found myself loving one element of the flawed package. The beta for Halo 5: Guardians didn’t come along until the last three days of 2014, but it’s already become one of my favorite multiplayer experiences of the year. Halo’s iconic arena FPS combat is as frantic as ever, with a new set of visual upgrades and simple movement tweaks that have hooked me in a way the franchise never before could. It’ll be awhile before we know if the full game is this good, but I’m entering 2015 with a seriously positive impression.

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Chris Berg

Chris Berg