As an indie game developer, and also a game afficinado, I thought I’d share my list of the top games of the year. The key for me this year was emotional reactions, as three of my top five games took me down paths of genuine fear, sadness, or anger, more so than any game I’ve played before.
1) Alien: Isolation
SEGA took a big risk creating a game that was part stealth, part AI experiement, and part retro-homage to a classic 1970’s horror sci-fi film. The meticulous recreation of the environments and technology, the pacing, and yes, the terrifying unstoppable alien itself, made for a genuinely scary game where I spent more time looking at the inside of a locker than exploring a space station. Yes, it was too long, and yes, the final levels with the facehuggers and multiple aliens devolved into Dragons Lair style gameplay, but at it’s best, when avoiding the lurking killer that was the solitary Alien itself, this was terrifying genius style gameplay.
2) Watch Dogs
Perhaps my most anticipated game of the year, an excellent single player adventure, great DLC, fun hacking mini-games, and a surprisingly addictive asymmetric multiplayer experience made for a well rounded fun twist on the open-world city-style of games. Ubisoft has a great new IP on their hands, and I’m looking forward to what’s next from the Watch Dogs universe.
3) This War of Mine
Crushingly depressing, this indie game came from out of nowhere to display the terrible cost of war on the civilians caught in the crossfire. With refugee after refugee in my stead, every passing day was a challenge to keep them fed, warm, healthy, and rested. It was a challenge at which I often failed. The glory of this game is not just the setting and interaction, but the despairingly beautiful art direction and the moral choices that the player is forced to make to keep their house of people alive. Every politician should be forced to play this game before taking office.
4) Desert Golfing
The only mobile game (iOS) on my list, Desert Golfing (or “Space Golf” as my wife likes to call it) is freakishly addictive in it’s simplistic simulation. It doesn’t matter that there’s no reset of the score, nor leaderboards, options, or any control other than the swing of the ball. Some of the holes are ridiculously difficult. The game is the mobile equivalent of a long mountain hike: we keep marching on because it’s there.
5) The Walking Dead: Season Two
Although the season officially kicked off in 2013, Episode 3 “In Harms Way” produced perhaps the most fierce emotions I have ever felt for a fictional video game villain. Never before in my life have I so savagely desired to beat someone to death as I did the character of Carver. Overall, the storytelling was decent, and the gameplay not much of a change over Season One, but from a characterization and emotional journey standpoint, The Walking Dead surprised me with how it made me feel, and forced me to reexamine my moral compass.
Kerbal Space Program
Although released well before 2014, the 0.9 Beta released at the end of this year, bringing together many parts that make Kerbal feel really complete. I must have wasted endless days getting my little green men into orbit, on other stellar bodies, and just playing around with orbital dynamics and building stations. Kerbal really feels like a solid game at this point, with a well balanced progression system that’s more than just Science points.
An indie discovery on Steam, this game is just a relaxing meditation on multitasking. Great stylized graphics that match countless transit maps from around the world, a super simple user interface, and just the right level of challenge, I’m looking forward to the final release of this game in the upcoming year.