With 2014 in the bag, Shane the Gamer’s Australian editor, Darren Price, looks back at an exciting and sometimes controversial gaming year. 2014 was, without a doubt my busiest since I first started writing about video games. It’s been hard work, but totally awesome as well.
Early in the year, as the trickle of new-gen games turned into a torrent, my launch-day Xbox One was joined, as post-Christmas stock became available, by a PlayStation, completing my next-gen transition. It was great to finally try out Killzone: Shadow Fall, a visual feast and a worthy PS4 launch title.
2014 was also the year that I crossed something on my gaming bucket list. I finally got to go to E3 in Los Angeles.
I’d been promising myself that I’d one day get myself to E3, in fact ever since my first visit to the London Entertainment Computer Trade Show in the mid-nineties. It took me a couple of decades, but I got there in the end.
Whilst in LA for E3 I also attended the Xbox Media Briefing.
I remember my heart sinking, sitting on the bus as we approached The Galen Center and seeing the police dealing with huge traffic jam ahead. I thought that we’d never get to the show on time. It was only when the police directed the bus into one of the closed lanes that I realised that they had blocked the road to allow us access.
It was at that point that, seeing all that LA traffic waiting for us, that I realised just how important and mainstream video gaming is now.
The actual E3 show was pretty overwhelming and with my press status I managed to get some great opportunities. I chatted with developers and got some exclusive behind-closed-doors access to the likes of Forza Horizon 2, Sunset Overdrive and Halo: The Master Chief Collection.
Closer to home, and now a staple of my gaming year, was the EB Expo in Sydney, an event that does a very good job of bottling up the incredible E3 experience for Australian gamers. The show gave Aussies some great opportunities to check out and get some early hands-on with upcoming games like The Evil Within and Battlefield: Hardline.
The on-site EB Games store offered up some really cool bargains and rare swag.
With the EB Expo only just behind me, I was off to PAX Australia in the beautiful, albeit somewhat cooler city of Melbourne. Celebrating all things gaming, PAX was a bit of a contrast to E3’s willy-waving and even the glam of the EB show. This grass-roots gaming show had table-top wargamers rubbing shoulders with retro hipsters and indie game fans.
As great as it was to get some hands-on with Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Far Cry 4, it was nice to see some of the vast amount of indie games on show, like the third person combat/card game hybrid Hand of Fate.
With a whole pavilion of local and independent indie developers showing off their games, there was something for everyone.
With the new-gen firmly entrenched, 2014 spoilt us with games, especially with the run up to Christmas.
But it’s been a rocky ride for some developers as they get to grips with the new hardware. We’ve had more than our fair share of disappointments.
There were three games that I expected great things from, but for me personally just didn’t live up to the hype.
Respawn’s Titanfall was a hyped-up game that seemed to kind-of fall on its face. Initially offering some supreme multiplayer fun, the lack of a single-player campaign to give the game some narrative context, coupled with some very samey gameplay meant that the game tarnished pretty quickly.
Bungie’s Destiny was another disappointment. A first-class shooter that completely lacked the story that made the studio’s Halo games so great.
Despite having a desperately repetitive mission structure the game is still surprisingly fun to play, but could have been a lot better.
For me the most disappointing game of the year was Alien: Isolation, a game that ticked all the boxes that I wanted to see in an Alien video game but one that I could still not get on with. As fun as I find the movies, sneaking around whilst being hunted by a relentless alien killing machine was a bit too much for me.
Still on the subject of disappointment, a special mention goes to Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark.
This is a game that which managed to undo everything that the last two Transformers titles had done in legitimising video games based on a range of toy robots.
A pitiful piece of turd only trumped by Michael Bay’s increasingly incoherent movie series on which this effort was, unfortunately, based.
2014 was also the year that the both gamers and the industry decided to turn on one another.
Arsehole gamers, social justice warriors and an apathetic gaming press all climbed on their high-horses, flamed and self-flagellated themselves in a shit-storm of politically-correct wankery, abuse and death-threats that betrayed video gaming for the immature bollocks that it is.
The feminists and their supporters demanded an end to the misogyny in video games, whilst an element of the gaming community (predicably) told them all to f-off… and die.
The gaming press whipped it up to a frenzy and publishers apologised and promised to do better. It all ended in tears, fist-shaking and self-righteous hashtags. Rockstar responded by re-issuing GTAV on new-gen consoles, allowing me to shoot prostitutes in the face in 1080p, at 60fps and in first-person perspective.
Speaking of Grand Theft Auto, it’s interesting that some of the best new-gen games so far have been remastered version of last-gen games.
Both The Last of Us Remastered and the new-gen version of Grand Theft Auto V blew me away. Despite some appalling multiplayer issues, even Halo: The Master Chief Collection has managed to put a fair few original games to shame.
There were a few surprises.
Whilst The Amazing Spider-Man 2 game did little to push the envelope, it at least managed to be far superior to the movie of the same name. But it was Warner Bros. Entertainment’s The Lego Movie Game that managed to break the mold in 2014 when it comes to games based on movie franchises.
A delightful almost scene by scene adaptation of the hilarious film, The Lego Movie Game is the best Lego game that I’ve played.
Warner Bros. managed to pull off a movie tie-in miracle once again with Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor.
I wasn’t really expecting much from this game, based on previous titles based on Peter Jackson’s movies. Using very familiar gameplay, culled from the Batman: Arkham and Assassin’s Creed games, Warners finally gave us a Middle-Earth game that wasn’t… well… a bit shit.
2K took Sid Meir’s Civilization series to the stars with Civilization: Beyond Earth, putting players in the hot seat, managing a colony on an alien planet. It was great to be able to give a Civilization game a good go again and I really enjoyed reviewing it.
Another game that really hooked me in was Forza Horizon 2 on Xbox One.
For me, FH2 was Forza 4’s missing campaign. The game took the amazing physics and beautiful cars from Forza and put them in a game that was actually fun to play, something I found missing from the technically perfect but ultimately dull Forza 4.
With destructible scenery and an open world to explore, it was great to just hoon around the Mediterranean-inspired landscape.
Unfortunately PS4 racing fans were not so well served.
The long awaited DriveClub launched to a whole heap of problems as the game’s multiplayer servers were just not up to the job. The result was a social racing game without the necessary online capabilities.
It was a shame as the game does look amazing and the actual physics are really good. The races are actually good fun. Alas, the press concentrated on the games negatives, possibly with good reason. Even now, months after release, the much-heralded PlayStation Plus free-to-play version is yet to materialise.
The undisputed kings of racing games, Codemasters, pulled out all the stops in delivering GRID Autosport, their hardcore racing game released as an apology to fans that thought GRID 2 was a bit of a disappointment.
Autosport is an absolutely gorgeous-looking racing game and an apt swan-song for the last-gen consoles.
Bethesda’s fantasy MMO, Elder Scrolls Online, managed to suck me into the amazing land of Tamriel for an extended period on PC. A beautiful game packed with atmosphere and lore, I only wish that I’d had more time to play it.
Bethesda left console fans high and dry as their versions of Elder Scrolls Online slipped to 2015.
Ubisoft offered players a barrage of new releases in 2014. Ranging from mediocre to good, the French publisher seems to be favouring quantity over quality at the moment, a strategy that I hope the events of the previous year causes them to reconsider.
Watchdogs was a fairly well received, but never really delivered on its promise. A rather flat protagonist and functional but ultimately soulless gameplay delivered an enjoyable distraction marred by all the usual Ubisoft gaming tropes (namely those bloody towers that are in every Ubi game).
Far Cry 4 launched to critical acclaim with gameplay so close to that of its predecessor that it could be an expansion pack. Don’t fix what’s not broken, maybe, but I found the Rambo-style insta-skills of the lead questionable and the setting just not as fun as the Pacific Island in the last game.
Ambitious open-world racer, The Crew, whilst technically a work of genius, made little sense as an online-only game. Even with an impressive road network covering the entirety of the United States, the gameplay just doesn’t cut it up against the likes of Forza Horizons 2.
Assassin’s Creed: Rogue, a last-gen-only Ubisoft title that slipped under the radar for most, offered me a great gaming experience out-of-the-box. Rogue gives players a taste of life as a Templar, a reversal from the usual Assassin protagonist. Despite some great gameplay didn’t really exploit the change in allegiance as well as it could have. Still, it’s a great game and one of the year’s highlights for me.
Ubisoft’s tentpole new-gen game, Assassin’s Creed: Unity launched to a host of problems with players reporting issue after issue prompting the publisher to formally apologise for releasing a game that seemed to be unfinished. I was busy reviewing Assassin’s Creed: Rogue whilst this drama unfolded.
By the time I got to play Unity it was pretty much fixed, and I’ve got to say playing it alongside the mobile app, I’m still having a lot of (bug-free) fun with it.
Still, it’s a shame that Ubisoft chose to release what is actually a very good game before it was ready. It’s disrespectful to both the fans and to all the talented people that worked on the game.
EA Sports, on the other hand seemed to embrace the new-gen, producing some of the most realistic sports sims ever. They did have a couple of misfires, being NBA Live 15 and the initial pre-patched release of NFL 15.
The likes of EA Sports UFC, FIFA 15 and especially Madden 15 all use the extra processing power to create action that, whilst not quite there yet, looks almost photo-real.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, a game that I was looking forward to taking a dump on, was a bit of a surprise.
Instead of the crazy jumbled up Sci-Fi mess that I was expecting, I actually found the campaign game absolutely riveting. The addition of vertical gameplay to the multiplayer mode gave the game the shot in the arm that it needed.
Brit outfit Frontier Developments managed to squeeze my nostalgia muscle with their release of Elite: Dangerous, the first of a number of upcoming space simulators that includes No Man’s Sky and Star Citizen. Elite: Dangerous is update of the 1980s game that allows players to make their fortune across the entire galaxy.
As traders, pirates, mercenaries or smugglers players work their way to becoming one of the elite. Not a game for everyone, it’s been rather unfairly (but understandably) described as Euro Truck Simulator in space.
All in all 2014 was a pretty monumental year considering that we are only at the start of the current generation. Amongst FIFA 15, GTAV, The Last of Us Remastered and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare there is one game that stands out for me.
My game of the year goes to Dragon Age: Inquisition, for planting me in a beautiful and believable fantasy world with gameplay so good I never wanted it to end.
Not since Skyrim have I felt so lucky to be a gamer. I wasn’t a fan of the previous Dragon Age games, but I found Inquisition both accessible and deep. It’s a credit to the game that even though it is of an epic length, I just never wanted it to end.
It’s fair to say that whilst there’s been some ups and downs, we had a good gaming year in 2014. Watching the new-gen console offerings mature, even if there were some huge misfires, has been exciting and bodes well for the future.
Roll on 2015!