No preamble today. Straight into it.
Ordinarily I rank games with numbers, but this year there’s no particular order.
- Valiant Hearts – A simplistic game but one with a powerful story and message. Americans probably don’t have as close of a connection with the First World War as Australians or the British, which might be why it’s probably a bit misunderstood in mainstream gaming, but this was a very well made story-driven platformer slightly hampered by some odd design choices. Their willingness to show fields of men cut down by machine gun fire and blasted into pieces with artillery for tiny gains (which is what actually happened) stands in stark contrast to their fear of showing the player characters doing anything really violent. That aside though, it’s a brilliant game.
- Endless Legend – A 4x TBS with a twist, a slick interface, and great gameplay. The inclusion of a quest system that drives your game, rather than the bland faction vs faction affair that we’re used to, actually makes Endless Legend stand out from the pack. The various factions are also quite different from each other, allowing for varied playstyles. It also has a really great UI and slick presentation, with a colourful and animated world map that I just love. Well worth picking up.
- Shadow of Mordor – I’m absolutely shit at this hack and slash third person action game, but I still love it. There’s a lot of content to work your way through, and it’s just fun to mow through orcs and goblins. The nemesis system is slightly overhyped but it’s nice to hunt down targets and crush them beneath your bootheel. Worth getting if you haven’t got it.
- Wolfenstein: The New Order – A straight up hyper-violent FPS game with supervillian ‘comedy’ Nazis that harkens back to the simpler days of FPS games. It’s fairly heavily scripted, and BJ’s voice is fairly ridiculous, but it doesn’t matter. It’s just fun to play, and that’s ultimately all that matters. There’s no political commentary, no message, no satire, nothing of the sort. It’s just a game intended for fun, and it’s nice to play something like that for a change.
- Viscera Cleanup Detail – I never knew playing as a frustrated janitor could be so much fun. The end.
Hall of Disappointment
- Goat Simulator – While it’s vaguely amusing to play for a few minutes, it quickly wears out its welcome. You go around destroying things. The end. Nothing even remotely clever or long-lived here.
- Watch_Dogs – Oh such potential, absolutely wasted on a boring plot with boring characters and nothing exciting whatsoever going on. Being a megahacker in a city of technology has never been so boring.
- Most of the indie sector, again – Like last year, much of the indie sector has been focused on mechanically simple games with retro or basic graphics, banking on their enigmatic story or ‘so ridiculously basic it might just sell’ hook to get you to buy into it. Except this year we’ve added political commentary to the mix, basically telling us that we’re all horrible people who should feel ashamed for playing or enjoying games. Unless it’s underground indie stuff, of course, because that shit’s gold. (Sarcasm, in case you can’t tell).
- Xenonauts – Again, a lot of potential that never materialised into anything. Xenonauts is slow, clunky, has some questionable changes to the XCOM gameplay formula that don’t seem to add anything (and in some cases hurt the game’s flow) and generally just doesn’t live up to expectations. Unfortunately, it seems to directly port most of the bad things about XCOM along with the good, while trying a few different things that don’t really seem to do all that much to advance the game. Also it’s pretty bland.
- Civilization: Beyond Earth – This is a technically competent yet somewhat underwhelming game to play. It’s not bad – in fact it’s fairly good. But it just seems like there should be something more here. In slightly more cynical terms – this is going to be a platform for the inevitable expansion packs, similar to Civ V. In a year or two it’ll probably be awesome.
Predictions for 2015
My predictions for 2014 weren’t too far off the mark. The SteamBox and SteamOS still haven’t done jack shit (the former is practically dead in the water right now). Windows 9 details did technically appear in the form of Windows 10. Apple did release some new stuff this year, but nothing exciting – their biggest announcement, the Apple Watch, is delayed for next year. The Xbox One is starting to gain ground on the (still superior) PS4. I did get some things wrong though – Windows Phone hasn’t gained much ground at all, and nothing really leaked about HL3. But I always joke about that.
- Windows 10 doesn’t fix anything but is popular – Any gains by Windows 10 will rely on the solid foundation built by Windows 8, much how Windows 7 wasn’t vastly different to Vista but is hailed like some sort of massive overhaul. It’ll be an incremental change welcomed by everyone, while Windows 8 will be forgotten as the OS that actually paved the way.
- OS X gains a bit of ground – Apple’s desktop operating system might be playing second fiddle to iOS but they’re starting to pull people in with Continuity and Handoff (along with other features). Whether this will continue and Apple will appear as an actually significant market share in the desktop sector remains to be seen.
- Steam Machines and SteamOS still don’t gain any real ground – It didn’t happen this year, and if anything they’ve gone backwards. Very few people are using SteamOS. The SteamBox/Steam Machine initiative appears to have stalled. Mainstream and widespread Linux support hasn’t really materialised. We’re still using Windows. The revolution didn’t start, and it’s not likely to happen next year either.
- The Apple Watch isn’t revolutionary – But it might actually be one of the better smartwatches. Samsung’s attempts are ham-fisted at best (in typical Samsung fashion, they try a bunch of nonsense to see what sticks, being jacks of all trades but masters of none), while some of the other Android smartwatches are fairly competent but hampered by abysmal battery life. Apple’s Watch won’t fix the latter, but it might have the UI to show the others how it’s done.
- Surface Pro 4 is slightly better, slightly worse – There are rumours flying around that the new Surface Pro will use lower powered CPUs in an attempt to fend off some of the issues with the device. If so… well, it’s going to be a poor laptop as well as an inconvenient tablet, and there’s going to be very little reason to actually use one. Microsoft come so close with their Surface line, but they just keep missing the mark.