As is IncGamers tradition, rather than sort out some sort of incredibly nebulous “best game ever” list, each of us just picks our own PC Games of 2014. These might be our favourites, or they might be games that we feel did something particularly deserving of note, or… well, they’re basically the games we particularly think deserve a bit of a look, from 2014. And these are mine.
I’m going to be honest: although I don’t think this was a year with a huge amount of truly outstanding games (Rocksmith 2014 and Dota 2 probably remain my most-played games of the year but neither are fit for inclusion), it was a year with a lot of games I really want to celebrate. There were lots of titles that were totally triumphant in their own way, and trying to pick just four has proven to be a bit of a nightmare. So I’ve tried to balance it out a little, picking a couple of games we’ve reviewed and a couple we haven’t. And then I’ve cheated slightly by chucking on some honourable mentions at the end.
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first, though:
If you’ve checked this site before, you probably knew this was coming. Peter and I are both utterly, utterly in love with this franchise, and for all the little flaws it has and the “well, this bit isn’t quite as good as the first game”, Dark Souls 2 is still an utterly stupendous piece of entertainment. I’m not going to go on about it too much because I’m certain Peter has or will, but…
It’s another dark, confusing, and brutally difficult descent into a hell of bosses, traps, and cunning enemy placement. Yes, you’ve got direct teleports at every bonfire. Yes, it feels a bit more linear as a result. No, the level design isn’t up to the ludicrously high bar set by the first game. And no, there’s nothing quite as utterly perfect as the Artorias fight from the first game’s DLC, which I think is a contender for Best Boss Battle In Anything Ever.
But “arguably not being quite as good as Dark Souls” isn’t much of a complaint. Dark Souls 2 is still an exercise in careful exploration of both the areas and the mechanics, slow mastery of the combat system, and being murdered over and over by some genuinely tricky bosses. Like that fucking Fume Knight, from three sets of DLC that are so good they’re basically an essential purchase if you enjoyed the base game.
Also, the massive section of the game involving spiders? It’s the only section of the game which involves spiders, and it’s completely skippable.
I feel like it would be remiss of me not to add Divinity: Original Sin to my list, because 50 of my favourite hours of 2014 were spent in its company. It’s the only game on this list I haven’t actually finished (primarily due to lots of other bits of work turning up when I was trying to play it) but when I’ve had so much fun with it… well, I can’t in all good conscience leave it out.
Divinity: Original Sin is a really weird hybrid of old and new. On the one hand it’s a classic top-down RPG with turn-based combat, gargantuan spell lists, more equipment than you can shake a Diablo at, and a lot of text. On the other hand, it’s got two protagonists with personalities shaped by your decisions, who will bitterly argue over what action to take.
It also focuses heavily on just letting you do what you want to do, however you want to do it. Yeah, okay, you’ll be bloodily reamed if you take the wrong exit from the game’s starting town, but that’s not what I mean. In the vein of all the best CRPGs of yore it offers all sorts of perks that aren’t combat related, like the ability to talk to animals. Which lets you unlock a quest from a lovesick cat, because Original Sin really isn’t a big fan of taking itself seriously.
And then you promptly become an art thief because liberating the townsfolk of their paintings is easily the best way of amassing any money in the early game. And then you get into combat and start manipulating the environment, creating torrential downpours and electrocuting them, or freezing patches of stagnant water so that enemies can’t approach without slipping and falling, or…
It’s a slice of an alternate dimension, in which CRPGs remained the most dominant genre on the PC and continued to evolve with new mechanics and smart little ideas, and Origin went “Wow, Ultima 8 was really bad – let’s just do a proper Ultima game again instead of faffing about with 3D and action.” It’s an old-school CRPG with modern graphics and UI design, sure, but that’s not all it is, and I’d really like some more games from that alternate dimension to leak through into ours.
Legend of Grimrock 2 (Almost Human)
If you ask me what my favourite game of all time is, I will slap you with the back of my hand because that is a terrible question and I hate you for asking it. If you then – while holding your throbbing cheek – rephrase it and just ask me to pick some perennial favourites, I will grudgingly give you a list that will almost certainly include Dungeon Master.
Legend of Grimrock was Dungeon Master, if it was released in 2012. Legend of Grimrock 2 is Dungeon Master 2, if it was released in 2014 and wasn’t a bit rubbish.
Rather than sending you into an entirely linear dungeon, Grimrock 2 shuttles you onto a fairly open island full of dungeons. Some are plot-essential and some are optional, but all of them are accessed via a sprawling first-person overworld full of monsters, puzzles, secrets, and traps of its own. Plenty of annoyances from the first game (like the uselessness of melee-focused rogues) have been fixed, and the island’s mostly-open nature means that if you’re stumped on one puzzle, there’s always somewhere else you can go and something else you can do.
There was actually one puzzle fairly near the start of the game which stumped me because I couldn’t find the secret button necessary to complete it. 30 hours later, right on the cusp of completion, I went back to it and found that button. How did I proceed without doing it? Because there was another way around. Not all of the puzzles are optional or offer multiple solutions (and some of the absolute trickiest don’t), but what could’ve been a frustrating early-game stumper was mitigated because I could simply take another – more dangerous, and unmarked – path around it.
It’s got a very different atmosphere to the claustrophobic and brooding Legend of Grimrock and I’m sure there are plenty who prefer the original game, but Grimrock 2 is nonetheless a must for anyone who fondly remembers first-person dungeon crawling. As with Original Sin, this is almost a game from an alternate world where CRPGs are the norm, and I’m very happy that it exists – both to show us what might’ve been, and what our future might still hold if studios like Larian and Almost Human keep the quality of their releases this high.
And rounding off what has inadvertently become a list showcasing all the different types of RPGs that hit the PC this year is South Park: The Stick of Truth, a game that can certainly be described as a Mario-inspired JRPG, but is really just an excuse to have something very, very funny as a videogame.
It takes RPG conventions to their ridiculous limits with utterly absurd equipment, enemies culled from the far reaches of both South Park and videogaming culture, and at least one boss battle that involves avoiding swinging testicles. You’ll take on gingers, yes, but you should probably also expect Nazi zombies – because what else do we fight in games?
More to the point, though, you can actually explore South Park itself. You can wander the houses and the streets, and visit the shops, and lose your money at the bank. You can see Randy reclining on his couch in his underwear, or play hide-and-seek with Jesus. You can even visit Canada, which winds up being one of the funnier visual jokes in the game.
If you don’t like South Park‘s humour you’ll utterly loathe The Stick of Truth, and you’re probably not going to enjoy it much if you want a really focused, in-depth RPG. But if you just want a parcel of laughs tied up in an RPG-shaped bow? Well, then this is for you.
And now for four games that aren’t RPGs.
This is only kind of a 2014 game, insofar as the first episode actually came out last year, but… well, four episodes. I think it deserves a mention, particularly because it’s Telltale beautifully succeeding at turning Fables, one of my favourite comic series, into a narrative-led game.
I can’t exactly say I had a good time playing Alien: Isolation because it’s really not that sort of game, but it succeeded incredibly well at recreating the muted terror from the end of the first film, and I’d highly recommend it to both fans of the film and fans of the run-and-hide genre of horror games.
Yeah, SMITE is another MOBA, but it’s a MOBA which actually feels quite different to the rest. Combine that with a free-to-play model that’s actually really, really good, and you’ve got a game that’s worth a shot if you’re a little fatigued with most MOBAs out there.
And to finish off the list of runners-up, a point-and-click adventure. Pinkerton Road’s remake of the first Gabriel Knight misses a couple of opportunities to provide the “definitive” version of the classic adventure, but it’s still one of the best adventures of all time, updated for modern computers.