January 20, 2015 by Paul Curtin
2014 was a year filled with drama and disappointments in the gaming industry. After Naughty Dog’s masterpiece The Last of Us unanimously won Game of the Year in 2013, this year’s choice was a much harder decision that came down to twelve great games — but not a single one without its share of flaws.
Those looking for true masterpieces would need to pick up newly released remastered versions of the best games from prior years to fill in the void or look to DLC to keep their favorite games alive. Still, 2014 as a whole was another great year for gaming, filled with tons of great titles that kept players occupied from start to finish.
South Park: The Stick of Truth started the year off by finally giving fans of the show the game they’ve always dreamed of, but light RPG features and a lack of loot-grinding caused it to quickly fade out of the spotlight. After being unceremoniously released by Activision back in 2010, the creators of the original Modern Warfare released their highly anticipated followup, Titanfall. But even with its evolution of free-flowing player movement and exhilarating mech combat, it too couldn’t maintain high multiplayer player counts as its hype quickly died down just months after its launch.
The return of Wolfenstein allowed old school FPS fans to relive their glory days with a new and improved singleplayer campaign that didn’t include regenerating health. Dark Souls II and Bayonetta 2 gave fans of the franchises (who weren’t upset by exclusive deals) more of what they wanted from a sequel without straying far from what made the original games so successful. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor easily became the best new IP of the year after coming out of nowhere and shocking everyone with its revolutionary Nemesis system.
Two of the year’s best stories were from Telltale Games, who are quickly becoming the industry’s best storytellers and setting the new standard by carving out their own niche of choose-your-own-way adventures. Both The Walking Dead: Season 2 and new IP The Wolf Among Us were equally well-received, yet both were also still slightly shy of surpassing Telltale’s previous masterpiece and Game of the Year contender/winner, The Walking Dead: Season 1.
Ubisoft caught a lot of flak throughout the year for releasing games that didn’t look anywhere near as good as their debut footage and ended up at 30 FPS or riddled with bugs. However, the developer still managed to close out 2014 with another great installment in their open world free-roaming adventure, Far Cry 4, and also stole E3 with visually stunning new looks at The Division and Rainbow 6: Siege.
Similar to Ubisoft, BioWare’s Dragon Age: Inquisition stuck to their typical RPG formula that usually nets the developers numerous Game of the Year awards. And if not for one other game this year, Dragon Age‘s epic story, diverse combat, and wild dragon encounters would have been enough to win 2014 after its biggest direct competition, The Witcher 3, pulled out.
With the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One being released right at the end of 2013, it seemed as if 2014 would be Sony and/or Microsoft’s year for the taking. Nintendo’s Wii U had been struggling to sell with its inferior “next-gen” technical specs that were causing triple-A multiplatform games to be delayed or canceled only on the Wii U. The future of Nintendo’s latest system didn’t look too bright for most of 2013, but by having an extra year of development time, Nintendo ended the Wii U’s first year on a positive note with Super Mario 3D World — which was enough to help kick-start 2014 for the struggling publisher and console manufacturer.
Sony’s and Microsoft’s slow starts allowed Nintendo to powerslide in and steal the year with Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. on Wii U. The return of the two beloved series were arguably the best versions from each franchise and featured hilarious moments like Luigi’s “Death Stare” that became one of the year’s biggest and most talked about memes. But even Nintendo’s latest best games weren’t flawless with Smash‘s new 8-player brawls not being available online and Mario Kart‘s Battle Mode oddly using racing maps that just didn’t fit.
Yet, even with its unfavorable new take on battles, no game did a better job of bringing friends and family together than Mario Kart 8 – something desperately needed in a year filled with so much drama. The primary Grand Prix racing mode’s use of everything that made the original games so lovable, mixed with newly improved next-gen visuals, tight controls, catchy jazz/rock tunes, crazy anti-gravity courses, and finally a way to counter the dreaded Blue Shell, made for a flawless racer experience both online and off since its launch. For those reasons and many more, Mario Kart 8 is 2014’s Game of the Year.