While 2014 might have lacked a substantial amount of prominent major releases or those of an exceptional quality, there were still countless titles that proved to be memorable in other ways. The following selection consists of titles that resonated with me on some level but would have otherwise gone unmentioned whether that be because of other significant flaws or merely disinterest in the whole product.
However this shouldn’t be taken as a selection of games that simply didn’t make the cut for what I considered the best of the year nor should one assume these are automatically deeply flawed games. This is merely my attempt to highlight certain releases that wouldn’t fit on any of my other year-end lists. So while the relatively brilliant Wasteland 2 suffers from a horrendous quantity of technical issues, Octodad: Dadliest Catch is an otherwise flawless game.
As already mentioned previously, Early Access titles such as The Forest or Rust have not been considered given they have technically not officially released. Also while there are definitely a multitude of titles that should easily be deserving of praise or some sort of high merit, they may have been omitted due to a lack of personal interest on my part.
So while Farming Simulator 15 was rather amazing and has already claimed hours of my free time, it was too similar to its predecessors mechanically to justify any significant attention past simply detailing a boost in graphical fidelity and physics. And while the same might be said for Far Cry 4 which is included in this selection, the simple fact that it is the game I spent the most time on this past year serves as an exceptional qualifier by itself, despite its complete lack of creativity or innovation.
Lastly while unintentional, it bears mentioning that the following selection may seem to cover smaller releases unequally. While I made no purposeful actions to do so, it might be indicative of the vast disappointment with major releases this year that largely made up my previous selection. But in addition, with the absence of the major studios putting out regular titles it seems there was more attention focused to smaller developers especially with the aid of Youtube coverage.
And while there were definitely both good and bad releases, many simply waded in that experimental territory where they might do one particularly thing extremely well but lacked as a finished product like in the case of Spintires with its sophisticated mud physics but absence of a robust gameplay framework in support.
To preface, the selection of ARMA III in this list specifically concerns its single-player campaign which has largely been considered secondary to its multiplayer gameplay. And while ARMA III technically launched in 2013, the episodic campaign didn’t fully release until well into this past year. With that said, ARMA isn’t exactly what most people think of when considering riveting scripted FPS gameplay.
And to a certain extent ARMA as a franchise has remained somewhat of a niche title mainly enjoyed by enthusiasts or the simulator-inclined crowd. The release of mod DayZ however has done much to widen its audience but ARMA III remains primarily as a realistic simulator of modern military combat over providing any sort of narrative-driven gaming experience.
It simply isn’t Call of Duty or Battlefield, rather a toolbox for those who enjoy essentially playing with digital toy soldiers. And unlike its more popular contemporaries, ARMA III focuses on accurately depicting everything from inventory management to ballistics which can prove to be intimidating to new players. The sheer amount of interactions and its various complexities is extremely substantial, resulting in a steep learning curve.
Mechanically the single-player campaign serves as a steady lesson book in how to play ARMA III and make full use of it as a toolset. So for example the first episode largely has players simply learning to navigate the terrain, shoot at targets, and get a handle on the inventory system. As the campaign progresses, more complex interactions are continually added on such as driving vehicles or commanding a platoon.
What is ultimately intriguing about ARMA III’s campaign however is in its ability to truly bring up a real emotional response to the events happening on screen. While the Michael Bay-esque action sequences of Call of Duty titles might have a certain appeal to them, it is extremely difficult to entirely buy into it as something that can actually happen.
Players for the most part are aware of the fiction mechanically, and no longer feel like they are actually beating out the odds. ARMA III on the other hand with its very real difficulty and realism provides a true sense of accomplishment when players actually complete a specific objective. Speaking from experience, one can expect to reload and replay lengthy sessions over and over again. And each play through will often present different emergent narratives dependent on the sophisticated ingame systems like AI instead of pre-scripted events.
While Lifeless Planet received lackluster reviews and overall failed to impress most critical outlets, something about it simply resonated with me. When taking a look at the game from an objective angle, it does seemingly appear dull and rather “lifeless.” Critics labeling it a “walking simulator” are not that far off, considering the bulk of interaction is simply moving the protagonist to the next objective.
The rest of the game in terms of mechanics doesn’t offer anything else that is particularly interesting or worth discussing. Players will find themselves engaged in simple jumping puzzles and controlling a crane that doesn’t provide any real difficulty past its annoying and somewhat nonsensical controls.
And even its narrative is hard to defend which is present but barely developed nor enough to justify the lack of proper mechanics. It seems Lifeless Planet presents this great mystery at the beginning of the game, yet fails to really deliver any sort of satisfying revelation or twist. Furthermore the personal conflicts of the protagonist never explicitly get resolved to a satisfying degree.
All that said and I still find can’t help but have an altogether positive experience with the game. From its aesthetic to its general tonality, there is something particularly special about its atmosphere. And much like in the vein of games like Gone Home, moving a character from point A to point B seems like a mechanic to spatially progress the narrative.
And while I typically don’t like to consider who developed a particular game and what their available resources were, Lifeless Planet does seem increasingly more impressive knowing it was largely developed by one individual, David Board. And I do get the sense that many of the criticisms were directly a result of the game’s limited budget over any sort of creative decisions on Board’s part.
However that shouldn’t in anyway serve as justification and I tend to still find value in Lifeless Planet regardless. While it may come off as incomplete, Lifeless Planet presents an intriguing and mysterious journey to traverse that tonally feels like LucasArts’ classic The Dig meets Twilight Zone.
The easiest way to describe Jazzpunk would be to say that it is some sort of blended pastiche of pulp magazines, cyberpunk, Saul Bass title sequences, and Reid Miles design mixed into an alternate reality where wooden board game chits populate the world. But it is probably more to the point to simply say that it is a rare attempt to do comedy within the video game format.
And honestly while there is plenty to love about Jazzpunk, its attempts at humor do fall flat seeming altogether random instead of any sort of thoughtful craft. However the completely unique world space that Jazzpunk encompasses presents reason enough to warrant a play. A world that is characteristically trapped in a surrealist nostalgic past amidst a psychedelic smog.
As Polyblank, players embark on a film noir-like detective espionage caper but without the characteristic “noir.” There is absolutely nothing gritty or dark about Jazzpunk’s narrative, and it takes every attempt to both make fun of itself and not take its own events seriously. And much like its attempts at humor, it is somewhat difficult to dissect whether its disjointed narrative is purposeful or simply random.
In this absence of coherence however, Jazzpunk still offers an incredibly captivating experience that will likely have players’ attention straight to its conclusion. And this leads to my main concern of Jazzpunk, and that is in its relatively short length even considering it isn’t a full priced retail release. The game is easily finished in about an hour and offers no real incentives to return. While the game does provide a good deal of exploration outside the main triggered events, most of it can be completed in a brief amount of time.
I feel that if Jazzpunk had been a bit more substantial and had a more coherent narrative to work with, that it could have easily been something special. Sadly however while it did present an extremely intriguing aesthetic, its gameplay and other concerns left much to be desired. But it has to be said that in the recent flood of altogether too serious and somewhat pretentious indie fare, that Jazzpunk was a breath of fresh air willing to completely go off the rails while taking some rather large risks.
As primarily a blast-from-the-past nostalgia trip, Wasteland 2 provides a robust traditional RPG experience in the legacy of the original Wasteland and Fallout titles. And while the game may lack the polish or sophistication of more modern productions, Wasteland 2 has an enormous amount of content to play through. For a Kickstarter project, I was admittedly very impressed by the amount of quests and missions that were available and my play-through clocked close to forty hours of which was far from a complete run.
The character customization is deeply complex allowing for a multitude of different play styles and combat. And there is plenty of further character tinkering through an abundance of loot and weaponry. The manner in which skills like lock-picking or safe cracking are handled however might seem somewhat simplistic, but does offer a way to specialize specific characters in one’s squad.
While Wasteland 2 isn’t particularly focused on player choice, the various quest lines do ultimately change dependent on how player’s interact with particular characters. Because of this and from a purely narrative standpoint, there is definite potential for replayability given certain quest paths can be mutually exclusive. The writing is definitely strong and while depthful characters might be lacking, there is instead the old-fashioned potential for creative role-playing in its place.
With that said and while Wasteland 2 is a thoroughly impressive return to traditional RPG fare, my personal experience with it was overshadowed by a litany of technical issues ranging from broken quests to constant crashing. For a game of this magnitude, a certain degree of glitches and bugs can be expected. However Wasteland 2 features an almost unforgivable amount of issues that renders the game often unplayable or impossible to continue. I frustratingly had to start my game over when my save would refuse to simply load and multiple quest lines simply had to be abandoned due to dialogue or other actions not properly triggering. It truly seemed as if Wasteland 2 never got a proper QA testing cycle, or at least one that wasn’t completely adequate.
Ultimately while I enjoyed my venture into Wasteland 2 and would be ready to recommend it to others who have an inclination for this particular genre, it’s hard to imagine I will ever want to play it again unless the technical issues get patched out.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch by all appearances seems like just another gimmick title that would quickly fall apart past watching some comedic “Let’s Plays” of it on Youtube, but surprisingly it is sort of a perfect game. While its mechanics and premise are both absolutely ludicrous, the QWOP-like controls actually perfectly fit with the unbelievable challenge of an octopus trying to pass himself off as a normal man.
As Octodad, the player struggles to simply walk without drawing attention, and doing what were once mundane tasks like grilling burgers for the family becomes a complex exercise in dexterity. And while its narrative is rather minimal, it fundamentally works to incentivize players to actually do the tasks required past simply a desire to finish the game. Players as Octodad actually want to look out for his kids, and somehow make his relationship work with Scarlet.
Octodad isn’t simply a character to laugh at, rather a character that is easy to sympathize with. And while the primary focus of the narrative is to create difficult situations for the players to traverse, they also provide a surprising degree of relationship development between Octodad and his family members.
There are even elements of stealth gameplay added in where Octodad must avoid detection or suspicion from regular folks or marine biologists who might have a more scrutinizing eye. So not only do players have to worry about properly controlling Octodad, rather they must do so in a manner that doesn’t draw attention.
Ultimately while most experiences with Octodad: Dadliest Catch will be quite brief, its gameplay transcends merely being a simple gimmick, and one I found myself wanting to return to. With the release of DLC Shorts and Steam Workshop integration, there is definitely potential for quality play past completion of its main story.
By most accounts, Far Cry 4 is basically a throwaway title that will likely not be remembered for much of anything good or bad. In a rather blatant and shameless attempt at replicating the successes of Far Cry 3, Ubisoft essentially repackaged the game with a different locale and various other assets into a new game. Some critics have questioned the notion of considering Far Cry 4 as a proper followup, instead opting to view it more as a standalone expansion to Far Cry 3.
And sure enough everything from the mechanical systems, various animations, and premise are quite literally lifted off its predecessor. The borrowing of assets is to such an extreme that it might honestly be difficult to differentiate between gameplay footage from both games assuming the setting doesn’t give it away.
But that said and whether or not Far Cry 4 is a mediocre release, it does unquestionably remain the one major release from this past year that I spent the most time playing. And my time with it wasn’t merely lengthy, but wildly entertaining. It also has to be said that Far Cry 3 was a rather brilliant game so it seems logical to assume that Far Cry 4 should at least in some way, retain much of its charm at least mechanically. And it does just that by providing the same level of quality gameplay with a good degree of refinement.
There is a wider selection of weapons to choose from with more depthful customization, hunting has been expanded, and the progression systems while mostly similar have been cleaned up. The primary issue however aside from the lack of innovation that keeps Far Cry 4 from being considered one of the better releases of the year, is in its complete lack of care when it comes to its writing.
The game seemingly continues the notion of injecting an outsider into a turbulent political struggle against the backdrop of a physically harsh locale, although with Far Cry 4, the rather heavy-handed Heart of Darkness-esque allegories are largely ditched. Instead the game presents a civil war where players much choose how to combat a tyrannical ruler.
The issue arises with the characters that present these choices, namely Amita and Sabal who are laughably simplistic. They are always conveniently diametrically opposed to present a mechanical choice that isn’t reflective of any sort of intelligent characterization. Furthermore dependent on player choices, these same characters completely flip later in the game to present a somewhat clumsy attempt at injecting political commentary that is altogether lost at the lack of any sort of meaningful connection to the player.