So this is what next-gen gaming is all about.
Just in case you didn’t join the Xbox One/PlayStation 4/Nintendo Wii U in 2013(and hey, you couldn’t be blamed), along came 2014, the year in which video games found new horizons and challenged the bounds of what you can expect from gameplay.
There was a new way to an open-world crime game, a new size and scope for role-playing games, a new level of visually stunning reality in Call of Duty, and a new brand of addictiveness in iPad gaming. Even those venerable consoles, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, produced a few last-gasp hits in what was a banner year for the gaming industry.
So as 2014 rolls to a close, let’s count down the top 50 video games of the year.
50. Freedom Wars
The PS Vita isn’t completely dead, thanks to this satisfying Monster Hunter clone.
49. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
A quietly charming puzzle-solving title for the Nintendo Wii U.
This Xbox One exclusive failed to be the game-changing shooter it wanted to be. But its attempt to tell a story in multiplayer may inspire other titles in the future.
WatchDogs falls well short of being revolutionary, but that doesn’t take away from the fun to be had in this futuristic open world.
46. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
The story is confusing and Lightning isn’t nearly as compelling as Square may think, but the battle system shines once again.
45. Halo: Master Chief Collection
Online issues persist but the compilation of Master Chief’s games is still plenty of fun, and much of the gameplay still holds up.
44. Tales of Xillia 2
A classic Japanese role-player that follows last year’s solid Tales of Xillia. Sometimes you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to be fun.
43. Phoenix Wright vs. Professor Layton
The ultimate puzzler game, a blend of two of the most beloved characters on the 3DS. And it lives up to its billing.
42. Kirby: Triple Deluxe
Nintendo’s enemy-swallowing star is back in this 3DS adventure. And nobody does platforming quite like Nintendo.
41. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel
Borderlands one more time? Handsome Jack’s origin story isn’t quite all that, but the action and the new ground pound maneuver are as fun as ever.
40. Metro Redux
An underrated rerelease of two post-apocalyptic games, Metro: 2033 and Metro: Last Light, that look tremendous on next-gen machines.
39. Valiant Hearts: The Great War
Another artsy title from Ubisoft, this one daring to tell a story that subtly reminded of the grittiness of war.
38. Hyrule Warriors
It was easy to be skeptical of the Zelda-meets-Dynasty Warriors marriage. And then you heard those familiar chimes from Zelda and fell in love.
37. Fantasia: Music Evolved
Another game destined to be underappreciated, Fantasia put a unique spin on the motion-controlled music game.
A brilliant, Metroid-esque reimagining of a cult hit from the Sega Genesis days.
35. NBA 2K15
2K’s basketball hit feels good on the court, but off the court, the decision to tie the game too tightly to servers is hurting.
34. LittleBigPlanet 3
New developer Sumo Digital brings new ideas to the series in the form of a quartet of stars, and while it doesn’t revolutionize, this is still the best creating game on the market.
33. MLB 14: The Show
Sony continues to churn out the finest baseball video game in the business. There were few true additions this year, but pitching and hitting remain sublime.
32. Kingdom Rush: Origins
Yes, another iOS game! The third game in this tower defense series was addictive as ever, although it should have released with an endless mode.
31. inFamous: Second Son
Sony’s take on the superhero tried to do too much with its story at times, but it was fun to unleash super powers on this future take on Seattle.
30. Pro Evolution Soccer 15
FIFA continues to set the soccer bar, but Konami’s series is catching up, and it may have been easier to learn than its EA counterpart in 2014.
29. The Evil Within
OK, the story gets a bit too crazy at times, and the enemies can be bullet-sponge annoying. But when this game is at its best, it’s what survival-horror is all about, a tense experience that keeps you on your toes. And the cutscenes, wild as they are, are quite fun to watch.
28. Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes
The finest game in the toys-come-to-life category got a serious boost from the likes of Iron Man and Rocket Raccoon. The campaign leaves something to be desired, but the freedom and limitlessness of the Toy Box mode continues to give this game life.
27. Civilization: Beyond Earth
Firaxis Games’ future world take on Civ is packed with variety, and it feels exceptionally fun to explore a new world. The freedom of the tech tree is the best part of this game; there are no limits or set pathways in this future, and each civilization can end up vastly different.
26. FIFA 15
EA’s regular soccer release was once again at the top of its game, an excellent and fun take on the action on the pitch.
25. Diablo III: Reaper of Souls
Blizzard’s expansion to Diablo III brought new heroes, quests and items, and while it didn’t truly reinvent the wheel, it didn’t have to. Giving gamers reason to revisit the world of Diablo III was perfect enough.
24. Lords of the Fallen
What Dark Souls started continues in Lords of the Fallen, another challenging action RPG. This game has a bit more of a narrative, but its gameplay still manages that balance between difficult yet perfectly satisfying.
23. Bravely Default
The finest game on Nintendo’s portable 3DS. Bravely Default brought unique characteristics to the traditional JRPG, while never losing the heart or feel of that genre’s action.
22. Madden 15
Yes, seriously. Very quietly, EA Sports has made strides with its football franchise, and while there’s work to be done (tight ends should be more of a mismatch), the series did a nice job replicating true football this year.
21. Forza Horizon 2
Sony brought DriveClub and Ubisoft came with The Crew, but the finest racer of the year is this Xbox One exclusive, which let you embrace the open world in a fun and relaxing way.
20. Assassin’s Creed: Unity
Oh, boy, did Ubisoft take heat for the early glitches of AC: Unity. But don’t let that obscure how much fun this game is, either, or how vast and engaging its version of Paris can be. Patches have cleaned up many of the issues, too.
19. Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare
Destined to be underrated. PopCap Games’ daring move from tower defense game to tower defense shooter was a rousing success, especially if you can round up enough friends to play through the action. A shame this game doesn’t get more attention.
18. Child of Light
This downloadable that blended solid role-playing mechanics with unique writing (and occasionally got a bit too cute) will make you sure that games can be art.
17. South Park: Stick of Truth
You didn’t have to be a fan of South Park to appreciate how Ubisoft turned those crazy kids into a turn-based RPG. Spectacular writing is what makes this title truly worthwhile.
16. Wolfenstein: The New Order
This one was a throwback shooter, a story-driven experience in an alternate universe. What would have happened if the Nazis won World War II? Bethesda dared to imagine.
15. The Last of Us: Remastered
The best game of 2013 is back and rebuilt for the PlayStation 4 in 2014, complete with the excellent Left Behind DLC. And boy, does that scene with the giraffes look far more spectacular in next-gen 1080p.
14. Alien: Isolation
This is as much about what Alien: Isolation is supposed to be as what it is. The Creative Assembly builds a new and tense template for survival-horror gameplay, placing you on the Sevastapool with just one Alien, leaving you to unravel a story, fight off the alien and make sure to save whenever possible.
There were weaknesses in this game for sure, from the occasions when you spent a little too much time pressing buttons to open doors to the slow start. But once you were hunted, the experience felt just right, and the independent A.I. of the alien had you on your toes. A must-play for fans of the film series.
13. Sunset Overdrive
And the wackiest game of 2014? That was this Xbox One exclusive, a kind of Tony Hawk meets lots of weapons meets a massive open world. With a story. Of some sort.
Sunset Overdrive was one of the most distinct games of this year, a colorful, bright and irreverent open-world shooter that let you grind like a skateboarder then leap like Michael Jordan in a world that had a horde of zombies chasing you thanks to the toxic effects of a new energy drink.
Sounds crazy, right? It’s a game best experienced, not described. And as nonsensical as that experience may be, it’s plenty of fun.
12. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
The prequel to Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was an impressive game in its own right, dropping Snake into an army base sandbox that gave stealth gamers more options than they’ve ever had in an MGS game. The base was overflowing with things to do, with secret missions to undertake and Easter Eggs to discover, a unique brand of gameplay that blended the new of open worlds with the completionist feel of titles of yesteryear.
Sure, the game was tiny in scope, and sure, it was basically a giant ad for The Phantom Pain. But MGS stealth has never been quite this fun.
11. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
A Call of Duty game ranked this high? Yes, Advanced Warfare is basically your average Michael Bay film, in all its bombastic, nonsensical glory, transformed into an action video game.
But boy did the action look good in Advanced Warfare, with overwhelming variety in the campaign, and a brand new feel to everything courtesy of those human-augmenting Exo-Suits. The visuals were off-the-charts brilliant, with cutscenes that could have passed for high-level action film. And hey, Kevin Spacey knows how to play a megalomaniac, doesn’t he?
10. Mario Kart 8
Another Nintendo game that didn’t reinvent the wheel. But why would you need to do that anyway? Mario Kart has long been the perfect party kart racer, and Nintendo keeps that formula rolling on the Wii U, then adds a dose of new bits to generate even more action-oriented fun.
The addition of anti-gravity truly changed the way the game was played, adding a nifty speed boost element to the action, and every single level challenged you in new ways. Over the years, Nintendo has grown excellent at evolving its classic gameplay formulas; Mario Kart 8 was the latest example.
For a game that’s drawn a lot of heat and criticism, boy, is Destiny hard to put down. Bungie’s return to gaming wasn’t the game-changer many hoped it would be, but the world of Destiny, a sort of Star Wars meets Mass Effect meets Star Trek universe, was loaded with fun and things to do, and Bungie has worked hard to keep things fresh since the September release.
You’d definitely like to see more from Destiny in terms of storytelling and narrative and bosses who are more than bullet-sponges. But even in its current state, the game offers a heavy dose of fun, with top-notch visuals and shooting and looting as the main drivers.
8. Dragon Age: Inquisition
So this is Dragon Age done right.
Welcome back, Bioware. After releasing a quite inconsistent Dragon Age 2 a few years back, the company returns with Inquisition, rebuilding around a massive world and creating a story that manages to be both cinematic and vast.
The narrative gets off to a sleepy start, but give Dragon Age a chance, and you’ll find a world that’s teeming with things to do, where you can easily spend upwards of 80 hours, filled with callbacks to earlier games and and creative characters who come to life. This is Bioware at its finest.
7. Super Smash Bros. Wii U
The best fighting game of them all returned with a vengeance. Nintendo did everything right when it brought this fighter to the Wii U, choosing just the right characters (yes, the Wii Fit Trainer has some cool moves), bringing a hearty dose of power-ups, and innovating in new ways in every level.
There’s never been more movement and change and development in these tiny stages, and in every area, you found yourself fighting the average Smash Bros. mess, as well as constantly shifting environments. Battling for power-ups only added to the insanity.
It was as action-packed as any two-minute battle you’ve ever played.
6. Far Cry 4
Ubisoft does not reinvent the wheel with Far Cry 4. What it does do is flawlessly execute its Far Cry formula, building a vast open world called Kryat, giving it a bizarre, story, and overflowing it with things to do.
The antagonist, Pagan Min, isn’t around as often as you’d like and the PlayStation 4-exclusive feature that let you “share” the game with your friends online was an awful letdown. But you come for Kryat, and whether you’re riding giant elephants, setting wild animals loose in small villages, or simply hunting rhinos at a distance, this fictional country is well worth the price of admission.
Despite its imperfections, Far Cry 4 is a game that’s tough to put down.
5. Bayonetta 2
What a year for Nintendo, right? The return of Bayonetta caps a stellar year for the folks who gave us Mario, and the titular star made quite the entrance on the Wii U. This game was Devil May Cry on steroids, God of War with a serious injection of fun, so fast-paced and colorful and filled with variety that you could play for hours, feel you’d mastered the battle system, then see something jaw-droppingly new.
Bayonetta 2 is hack-and-slash gaming at its finest, and the anime-style narrative, as over-the-top as Bayonetta’s Torture Attacks, is underrated too.
4. Dark Souls II
Well, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 definitely aren’t dead yet. One of the most beautiful and enthralling worlds of the year came from Dark Souls II, the latest in a series that’s become known for its epic challenge.
The land of Drangleic is the centerpiece of a game filled with challenge and mystery, a game that had experiencing and living a story instead of ever listening to a narrative. Each and every battle against an enemy was tense, calculated, button-mashing held to a minimum, and a hearty helping of unique PvP actions added to the intensity.
Next-gen gamers can experience all of this in 2015, too: Namco will release Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin in March, which should make a great game even better.
That’s right, an iOS game. And a free game at that.
Blizzard’s Hearthstone was the year’s most addictive video game, a card game based on Warcraft that was got all the big things right (perfect, flawless balance) and added perfect little touches as well (make sure to make the rocket ship on the game board take off just once). Matchmaking was simple and easy, the series of emotes let gamers say just enough without letting them get abrasive, and while you could spend money in Hearthstone to by card packs, you never actually have to do so to be successful.
To top it all off, Blizzard’s kept the game supported and fresh all year, with a massive expansion earlier this year and a host of new cards released just this month. Yes, iPad gaming is here to stay.
2. Grand Theft Auto V
Yes, the second-best game of 2014 is a remake. Grand Theft Auto V was a hit on last-gen machines last year, and it gets your typical new coat of visual paint as it makes the leap to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
But oh, what a coat of paint it was! RockStar Games added a first-person mode that completely changes your perspective on all the open-world mayhem you wreak, letting you see the smallest details in Los Santos, showing you the insides of cars and giving you a different outlook on those you once pointlessly shot just for fun.
A great game in 2013, GTA V is even better this time around, and, remake or not, it’s easy to recommend.
1. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
No game this year was quite as good as Middle Earth. On its surface, Monolith’s alternate-universe take on Tolkien’s world was already brilliant, blending Batman: Arkham City gameplay with a distinct “Lord of the Rings” feel.
But things got even better once you met the Uruk-Hai and saw how they gradually adjusted to your actions, how one open-world kill could have ripples throughout their organization. The so-called “Nemesis System” pushed gameplay to be just a bit more realistic and less static, creating a tense and fun adventure.
Add in top-notch production values, and it’s hard not to love Shadow of Mordor
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