GOTY 2014 - Doug's Honorable Mentions
No process—even a process six years in the making—is perfect. And while our collaborative list of the top ten games each year is the result of an equal effort from each of us, there are also bound to be casualties of the debate. That's where Honorable Mentions come in, serving as a sort of Home for Wayward and Misunderstood Games. Today, we'll take a look at Doug's list of favorite games that didn't make the cut.
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls Ultimate Evil Edition
Blizzard | August 19 | PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
While I purchased Diablo III on Mac right after its launch in 2012, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time with the game. There’s a few reasons for this—I was trying to coordinate playing with friends, and when they left me in the dust, I lost confidence and interest. Despite having experience with Diablo II, it’s still a stretch of sorts for me to play a real PC-exclusive as well. And above all, despite being more approachable than Diablo II, I felt the new one just wasn’t terribly fun. I was tired of wielding a mouse and clicking.
All of that changed once I tried the PlayStation 3 demo for Diablo III: Reaper of Souls Ultimate Evil Edition. All of a sudden, the game clicked for me; the move from keyboard and mouse to a more traditional controller layout may be heresy for Diablo series stalwarts, but I’m a heathen who grew up with an NES controller in my hand, and I’d prefer a D-pad to WASD any day of the week. Just moving the game to consoles sparked my interest, but all of the updates included for the Reaper of Souls expansion smoothed over the wrinkles that tripped me up the first time around. I was hooked -- I’ve finished the story once and I’m ready to roll another class through. If this game was eligible I would’ve fought to put it in our top 3, no question.
The Walking Dead: Season 2
Telltale Games | Release Date | PC, OS X, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Android, iOS
The first season of TellTale’s The Walking Dead left me speechless. If you’ve played through its five episodes, you know why. While I appreciated The Walking Dead: Season 2 and was looking forward to seeing what TellTale had in mind for Clementine, the first few episodes left me feeling let down. The story wasn’t quite as engaging; maybe running from zombies gets mundane the second time around. But from the third episode on, I was engaged, caring about Clem and her crew and their struggles, trials and tribulations. And when the series concluded, I was almost as shocked as at the end of the first season.
Season 2 may not have flaws itself, but it lives in the shadow of its predecessor. It doesn’t quite do enough to match the highs of the first season, which is why it just barely missed our list. But I’ve become a sucker for TellTale’s brand of narrative adventure games and if there is a third The Walking Dead season, I’ll be there, too.
Inkle | July 31, 2014 | iOS, Android
From one game about making choices in a story to another! There have been plenty of great mobile games this year (just see Nick’s Honorable Mentions for a primer) but I want to throw my weight behind one in particular: 80 Days, which is a spin on the Jules Verne classic. I say “spin” because while the story still revolves around Phineas Fogg and Passepartout (who is the player’s character in the story), there are some wonderful, fantastical changes to the Victorian-era setting. Advanced steam-based machinery and flying machines are introduced early on in the journey, and feature throughout. In the vein of the Verne novel, the world-wide trip is hardly a humdrum affair, and while I would regale you with details and side-stories gained on my many attempts and one successful trip around the world (I made it in 70 days!) I’ll leave you instead with a recommendation to buy the game on iOS or Android and set out for adventure yourself.
2K Games | August 14 | iOS, Android
I promised I’d never do it. I’d never fall for a simple free-to-play title. But then, this fall, WWE SuperCard was launched and...well, never say never. While it’s a frustratingly simple premise -- it’s a simpler card game than even Hearthstone for crying out loud -- I got hooked and soon was spending minutes and hours of “dead time” tapping on cards and making them grapple. Walking to the train? SuperCard. Waiting for lunch? SuperCard. A couple minutes free during work? SuperCard. It took over my life for a couple stretches, and I’m pretty sure my iPhone’s battery took the toll the worst.
I’m not sure I’d ever play the game if it wasn’t for the WWE trappings, but given how bad a history there is of non-wrestling wrestling games turning out badly (hello, WWF Crush Hour) I was surprised how capable SuperCard turned out to be. Not just capable, but accessible, too. It’s hard to put $5 or $10 into the title and become a world-beater; dedication and time allowed me to make further strides than even $50 in upgrades would have given me. So it lives up to the “free-to-play” billing better than many other titles do. But between stagnation after more than 5,000 rounds of SuperCard and some questionable update patches (bring back old-style King of the Ring, please) I’ve taken the app off my phone for now. But that doesn’t erase the good memories, at least as good as memories of a mobile F2P title can be.
EA Sports | September 23 | Windows, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One
I was a dyed-in-the-wool Pro Evo Soccer fan for a long, long time. I count Winning Eleven 9 to be one of my favorite games of any genre, ever. There was a brief time early in the last generation when I jumped back to the EA Sports FIFA side of the debate, but in recent years I’ve done well with PES.
Until this year, that is. After the last few PES titles failed to hook me in the same way that older ones did, I thought long and hard about switching sides this year. I did, and I’m glad -- FIFA 15 provides one of the best sports experiences I’ve had in years.
The reason I stuck by Konami’s PES titles for so long was the gameplay. In older FIFA games, it felt like there was a single best way to score goals; PES titles, by contrast, allowed for various attack styles and strategies, thus replicating soccer better. This year, FIFA 15 has provided me with the same feeling that goals can come from any number of methods. In my (still brief) time with the game, I’ve scored on breakaways, crosses, tiki-taka around the box, headers from corners and crosses, and even free kicks. Moreover, I’ve had a number of shots blaze agonizingly wide -- and seen the AI do the same. This is a game tuned to be fun and frenetic, and if that’s not 100 percent realistic, that’s okay -- it nails the feeling well.
As well, the aesthetic and licensing is miles better in FIFA 15 than in any recent PES title. Does that make me shallow? A little bit -- but it’s hard to get enthused by the drab surroundings of PES’ single-player offerings when across the way, FIFA gets it so much better. During single-player Career mode games, the announcers will mention my players -- those that have done well, those that have struggled, those out through injury, or those facing an old team. One player sent me an in-game e-mail before a recent game worrying about playing time and chances; I gave him a start, and the announcers mentioned the storyline as well. In the game he proceeded to score two goals, and added one more in the next game too. Now, he’s been mentioned by the announcers as being on a hot streak. It’s these details that make it look and smell like contemporary sports coverage, and help make the on-field action all the more substantial.
Gran Turismo 6
Polyphony Digital | December 5, 2013 | PlayStation 3
Last, but certainly not least, is a title which weighed in on the 2013 Game of the Year list. Gran Turismo 6 was launched last December and immediately lived up my pre-launch hype. I’ve been a fan of the GT series for years, but the previous few titles left me feeling lacking. However, GT6 launched with a bang, and lived up to my high expectations.
Most importantly for reasons of this list, it kept growing throughout the year. There have been new events and DLC updated, for free, throughout the game’s year. The Vision GT concept-car focused collaboration project continues to roll on (Nissan and Chevrolet have just announced contributions to the project, and Subaru’s has been added in-game recently), in-game events have continued to rotate week by week, and some of the immediate post-launch holes have been filled with content. The intro video for the game shows scenes harkening back to legendary driver Ayrton Senna (including of his eponymous Ayrton Senna Institute), and additions to GT6 in May 2014 bring in a series of challenges that focus on the driver’s storied career.
For all the wrongs of GT4 and GT5, and all the lessons not learned, Polyphony Digital has finally implemented changes in the grand tradition of kaizen. Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning “continuous betterment” that has come to represent Japanese manufacturing philosophy. A million small, incremental changes add up to major improvements in the product, and in the case of GT6, that is definitely evident.