Bård A. Johnsen’s top games of 2014

Another year, another heap of games played, enjoyed, hated and here’s yet another list on the internet of someone’s favorites – mine. As with all these lists they are of course personal picks. So what about Destiny, Dragon Age, Alien Isolation, Assassin’s Creed: Unity?

It’s kind of ironic that the game I played the most in 2014 isn’t on the list, but that’s the curse of Destiny. Blinded by a mechanical foundation that easily surpasses every game released in 2014, the true nature of Destiny’s painful grind and lack of content overshadowed the awesome designs and tight shooting that made parts of it so good. Dragon Age: Inquisition and Alien Isolation? Couldn’t find the time to play them to completion yet, and as such it would be unfair to consider them for this list based on just a couple of hours of playtime.

With the comeback that was Black Flag, it’s amazing to see Ubisoft piss all that away on Unity. Most of the technical issues were ironed out by the time I started playing it, but for some reason they have managed to make the free running worse than before. It might be that their running tech can’t hold up with the complicated architecture of Paris, I don’t know. Unity is also plagued with a godawful story, and they even had the audacity to not only put chests on the streets that could only be unlocked by using their companion app, but weapon and gear menus are littered with micro transactions as well. It feels calculated at the expense of a good gaming experience.

But this is about the games that actually made the list, so let’s get on with it shall we?


#5 South Park: The Stick of Truth

December 2012 wasn’t a good month for South Park: Stick of Truth, and thinking that the game would ever see the light of day seemed quite optimistic at the time. Not only cursed with THQ’s bankruptcy, a feud about the publishing rights between THQ and South Park Digital also threatened to put a stop to it all. Let’s also not forget that this is a licensed title with the track record that usually comes with those, although 2014 seemed to be the year where all of this changed. Despite its bumpy road to release, Stick of Truth did appear on shelves in March, and thank goodness for that.

An RPG at its core, South Park is a very shallow one at that but packs just enough tricks of the trade to warrant a spot in the genre. If you’re into hardcore RPG’s you need to lower your expectations drastically before jumping into this. What you do get is a 15-25 hour episode of South Park, and for a guy like me who’s not even a big fan of the show, it was brilliant and hilarious. I can only imagine what a big fan would think. Instead of orcs and elves you’ll fight hobos, drug addicts and school kids. Instead of a giant dragon you will fight a nazi fetus. South Park takes it all out and never stop to look back. Its turn based combat, slightly modifiable weapons and whacky powers makes it a highly enjoyable experience that doesn’t require a noteworthy amount – if any – grinding to proceed with a story that is supplemented with a healthy amount of quality side quests. And quality is the key word because the game oozes of it. This is partly due to the fact that South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone were so heavily involved in the development of the game, and there’s no telling what we would have gotten if this wasn’t the case.


#4 Valiant Hearts: The Great War

From Ubisoft Montpellier comes another UbiArt Framework game, but the somewhat whimsical comic look rears its innocent head and takes you down the rabbit hole to some dark, dark places.

Valiant Hearts tells a story firmly set in the trenches of World War 1 where we follow 5 souls in an adventure that deals with loss, friendship and the cruelty of battle. It’s a puzzle platformer at heart with a very heavy emphasis on narrative and it’s utterly captivating. It’s a short, compact and evenly paced game that shouldn’t be spoiled further if you have yet to experience it. For its light mechanics and length it sure packs an emotional punch.

We are humbled and delighted to be considered as one of the first video games to portray war in this way. Over the course of the game, while you play a soldier, you come to realize that war is the most horrible thing that humans have invented. We wanted to show that each character had a life, a family and friends, and that often the participants themselves didn’t even realize what the war was all about.Yoan Fanise, Ubisoft Montpellier (source)


#3 Far Cry 4

Perhaps the most polished game to come out of publisher powerhouse Ubisoft this year, Far Cry 4 takes what made Far Cry 3 such a good game, and improved it in every way including the villain. Pagan Min never succumbs to the ultimate uselessness of Vaas and he never overstays his welcome, but rather drops in on the radio with quality rants and an air of frustration. The time between his showings makes them all the more special. There is some superb writing behind his crazy exterior. The story itself does take a back seat to the astonishing views provided by the fictional country of Kyrat situated in the Himalayas, but where the story might fail to immerse you completely, the world never does. Whether you choose to hunt, quest or visit the hazardous tops of the Himalayas, the world never ceases to be interesting. There is a lot to do in Far Cry 4 and most of it is fun.

The ability to play non-quest mission with a friend in co-op is a great feature only inhibited by the fact that progress only unlocks for the host player, making the mode sort of pointless. The pure multiplayer experience of Far Cry 4 is not worth mentioning further; do yourself a favor and stick with the campaign. And while satellite dishes in The Crew come off as mundane and the perch on top of Assassin’s Creed’s mostly indistinguishable towers are dull, the bell towers of Far Cry 4 creak heavily as the wind takes hold during your efforts to reach the top, providing important and highly needed polish to a Ubisoft-trope so ingrown it should almost be made illegal. More important than anything though is the fact that Far Cry 4 is a joy to play – pure fun wrapped in staggering vistas and eagles from hell.


#2 Velocity 2X

There are fun games, and then there are fun games. Velocity 2X from FuturLab firmly owns the category with a sizzling combination of arcade space shooting and fast paced platforming. It is a game of mastery, quick reflexes and a sharp eye and it’ll take you a lot patience and cursing to be great at it, but boy what a feeling when you get there. Velocity Ultra was pretty darn good, but it’s all better in this sequel. It’s not the be all end all of stories, but it’s told with an elegant art style, backed with music made by a superhuman (Joris de Man) in some sort of retro heaven and features a badass protagonist in the form Lt. Kai Tana. The ever increasing mayhem over the 50 story mission will surely put your skills to the test, but the real core of it surfaces when you try to perfect them all. Boss fights combine the two types of gameplay which is incredibly cool.

To me there isn’t a better arcade game in 2014, FuturLab has conjured some sort of addictive magic with the series. Super accessible if you want such an experience, but it also carries enough weight to it to please the hardcore. If this isn’t your type of game you are crazy, but make sure you at least give the soundtrack a listen. Damn.

We threw out the old code and started again from scratch targeting next generation hardware. We hired AAA engine and visual effects programmers to bring a highly polished modern feel to a classic genre, and we’ve pushed our house art style to the next level.James Marsden, FuturLab


#1 Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

It’s another licensed game, it also happens to be the best game of 2014. While it might look like “just” another open world game – this time in the Lord of the Rings universe – Shadow of Mordor stands on its own like it never did anything else. You’ve probably heard “Nemesis system” being dropped more times than you’re comfortable with but I assure you it’s a thing, and it’s important. It is important for several reasons, one being that it makes your actions inside the world matter. You can manipulate hierarchies to your own good and turn the forces of evil against each other. This creates a dynamic within the enemy groups that is surprisingly fun to mess with. But perhaps even more important, at least to me, is that this gives a huge amount of personality to what in most games would just be generic enemies. Every enemy you encounter has the ability to be someone with a name, features, weaknesses, strengths and an enormous wish to cut your head off, and they have no second thoughts about being vocal about it. It’s pretty amazing and a sure fire way to drag me into the world and keep me there.

Rumored to originate as a Batman game, Shadow of Mordor’s combat will seem familiar to fans of the caped crusader. It flows, it’s deeper than I thought and more often than not heads will end up rolling at some point. The skill tree features enough fancy stuff to make life (and death) easier, but I have to admit there were some really uninteresting skills to unlock. All that means though is that there are more points to spend on the fun stuff.

With a big world, a more than serviceable story, smooth combat and fantastic enemy interaction, Shadow of Mordor seals the deal by having sky high production values that never gave me any issues during my countless hours in the game, while also being a tremendously fun experience. In other words, my game of the year.

  1. What are your top #5 for 2014?

Post over. Insert comment to continue