2015 is finally upon us and there are plenty of exciting new games to look forward to in the year ahead. But before we get to those we’d like to take a moment to look back at our favorite games of 2014. Although there were a number of disappointments and the inevitable dry spell that comes with the transition to a new console generation, there were still many excellent gaming experiences to be found throughout the year—so many in fact, that we’ve had a tough time limiting our list to just 10 games. To make things a little easier on ourselves, we’ve decided not to include next-gen remakes of games from previous years, so The Last of Us Remastered, Grand Theft Auto V, Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition and Halo: The Master Chief Collection are all absent—though no less worthy of your time and gaming dollars. But we didn’t come here to talk about the games that didn’t make the list. Sit back and reminisce over the year that was with our Top 10 Best Games of 2014!

10. Forza Horizon 2

Top 10 Best Games of 2014 - Forza Horizon 2

It has to be said that 2014 was a rather underwhelming year for gamers of the petrol head variety, at least for those who prefer realism over the arcade thrills of something like Mario Kart 8. Highly anticipated racers Driveclub and The Crew both failed to live up to expectations on release and were plagued with various technical issues, while Grid Autosport was decent enough but was limited to previous generation consoles. It was starting to look like we wouldn’t get a single great racing game in 2014, that is until Forza Horizon 2 came along and broke the drought with its tight handling, solid car list, gorgeous Southern European setting, and large world to explore. There may not have been much competition this year, but Forza Horizon 2 is by far the best ‘serious’ racer of 2014 and one of the best games of the year in its own right. This game belongs in every Xbox One owners collection—in fact it might even be good enough to convert some racing fans to Microsoft’s latest console.

9. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

Top 10 Best Games of 2014 - Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

Coming in at number nine on our list is Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. The latest installment of the popular brawler is a HD love letter to all things Nintendo. It’s also a bastion of hope for fans of couch multiplayer everywhere. Like all good games, the gameplay is simple to pick up but hard to master with a huge range of fighters and strategies to learn. Super Smash Bros. looks and sounds stunning too with countless nostalgic nods to various titles in Nintendo’s long history. Perhaps at an earlier stage in life I would have ranked this game even higher, but as a married man it’s much harder than it used to be to get a few buddies around for a spontaneous gaming session. But despite the harsh realities of adulthood I can see that this game would be an absolute blast when played regularly with a like-minded group of friends. Fortunately it’s still great fun on your own thanks to a plethora of fun solo modes and lots of collectibles to unlock. To top it off there’s also a solid online mode, which is great news if—like me—your ‘couch multiplayer’ session consists of yourself and a couple of Amiibos.

8. Destiny

Top 10 Best Games of 2014 - Destiny

Did Destiny live up to its impossibly high expectations? Of course not. Is it still a great shooter that deserves a spot in our Top 10 Best Games of 2014 list? You bet! Sure, the story—along with Peter Dinklage’s voice acting—was a bit of a let down. And yes, gameplay largely consists of grinding through the same handful of missions in the same old areas. But when a game looks and feels as good as Destiny does, it’s easy to forgive these shortcomings. No other game in history can claim to match Destiny’s insane level of polish and incredible attention to detail. I defy anyone to play through Destiny without stopping for the occasional slow-pan at the sight of one of the game’s many jaw-dropping vistas. Then there is the way your character moves and shoots. It’s hard to put into words, but everything just feels so right. Whether it’s the carefully considered physics, the satisfying sound design, or just plain sorcery on Bungie’s behalf, Destiny feels weighty and real in a way that few other shooters can manage. With a solid campaign, addictive online multiplayer and even more content planned for the future, it’s clear why Destiny deserves a spot as one of our top games of 2014.

7. Shovel Knight

Top 10 Best Games of 2014 - Shovel Knight

If you haven’t actually played Shovel Knight, you might be wondering how a retro-inspired indie platformer could possibly beat out the likes of AAA big-hitters like Far Cry 4 and Titanfall for a spot in our Top 10. Anyone who has played it however should perfectly understand its inclusion. The first reason is the game’s beautiful 8-bit graphics which give manage to feel authentic in a way that many ‘retro’ style games can’t hope to replicate. One way developers Yacht Club Games achieved this was by limiting the game’s colour palette to closely resemble what was available on the Nintendo Entertainment System. But the visuals aren’t the only part of the game to get plenty of retro inspiration. Gameplay-wise, Shovel Knight borrows ideas from countless classic titles from Castlevania to Mega Man, Super Mario Bros 3 and even Duck Tales. Fortunately though, it never feels like a rip-off of those games, and the different concepts come together to form a unique experience. Shovel Knight is made even better by the benefit of decades of hindsight, and the developers have worked hard to improve some of the more archaic design features of the era. Add in an amazing chiptune soundtrack and you have what feels like the best NES game you never played.

6. Bayonetta 2

Top 10 Best Games of 2014 - Bayonetta 2

2014 was a great year to be a Wii U owner with a bunch of great new games like Super Smash Bros. and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze joining an already healthy lineup of console exclusives which includes Pikmin 3 and Super Mario 3D World to name a few. But one of the biggest console exclusives on the Wii U in 2014 was not a Nintendo franchise at all, but Platinum Games’ amazing Bayonetta 2. This is the kind of game that you’ll either ‘get’ or hate. It has plenty of elements that make it quite divisive, including an overtly sexualized protagonist, a ridiculously over-the-top story, and overwhelming action sequences that can be hard to follow at times. But that’s the whole point of this series. Bayonetta 2 is an adrenaline-fuelled spectacle that doesn’t take itself seriously and it never lets up. You’ll fight hordes of angels on top of an out-of-control fighter jet hurtling through a city and that’s just the first stage! What really earns Bayonetta 2 a spot on this list however is its glorious combo-based combat that manages to be challenging while always making you feel powerful. If you’ve got a Wii U then you need this game… and if you don’t then you need a Wii U!

5. Dragon Age: Inquisition

Top 10 Best Games of 2014 - Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age: Inquisition took a little while to grow on us. Perhaps it was the slightly clunky user interface, the seemingly vague plot, or the occasional technical hiccups that put us off at first, but it didn’t take long for us to forget these issues and get lost in this beautiful, epic adventure RPG. The world that Bioware have created here is truly immense. In fact you could probably spend 100 hours in Dragon Age: Inquisition without finishing the main campaign, simply because there are so many side missions, distractions and new locations to lure adventurers away from the main quest. To say it’s easy on the eyes would be an understatement too. It’s mind boggling that such a huge world could also be so detailed and beautiful at every turn. But perhaps the biggest highlight of this game is the combat. At first you can get away with spamming the same attacks with your main character, but soon you’ll discover a wealth of strategic options for controlling your entire team. If you were stuck on a desert island with only one game from 2014 (and a console, TV and power supply, of course) Dragon Age: Inquisition would have to be a strong contender.

4. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

Top 10 Best Games of 2014 - Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

I never thought I’d be particularly interested in card-based strategy games in the vein of Magic: The Gathering—but Blizzard changed my mind in 2014 with the introduction of their hugely popular digital card game Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. Perhaps the reason for the game’s overwhelming success is how it allows newcomers to the genre to jump straight into an online match, where a physical card game might prove more intimidating or difficult to set up. Hearthstone isn’t just convenient however, it’s also a fantastic game with tonnes of depth and wonderful presentation. It’s a simple touch, but the addition of sounds and visual effects to a card game is extremely satisfying. Did we mention that it’s utterly addictive too? Blizzard know how to make a compelling experience and Hearthstone is no exception. If this list was simply ranking the games that we sunk the most hours into in 2014, then Hearthstone would sit in the top spot. For a few months my life was utterly consumed by this game. I’d play late into the wee hours of the night, only to wake up and reach straight for the iPad the first thing in the morning. Every opportunity for a quick match throughout the day was seized—waiting for a kettle to boil, bathroom breaks at work, sitting at a traffic light while cars piled up behind me. As far as I’m concerned there is only one way to play Hearthstone… obsessively. That’s why I can’t go back to it in 2015. Like a recovering alcoholic, I know that one drop of the stuff could send me spiraling back into a dark place.

3. Dark Souls II

Top 10 Best Games of 2014 - Dark Souls 2

2014 was our first full year with the ‘new generation’ PS4 and Xbox One machines, so it might be somewhat surprising to hear that one of our favorite games for the year was running exclusively on aging last generation consoles. While this means that Dark Souls II was nowhere near as pretty as say Dragon Age: Inquisition or Destiny, it couldn’t be matched in terms of rewarding gameplay and deeply satisfying combat. The latest entry in the infamously difficult Souls series made a number of changes to the formula, and as such it was always going to ruffle a few feathers amongst fans. More frequent save points and fast travel between ‘bonfires’ (checkpoints) mean that the world of Drangleic feels less connected and coherent than Lordran did in Dark Souls. Even years later, I can vividly remember the layout of that world because I had to trudge back and forth across it’s unwelcoming landscape. In contrast, the areas in Dark Souls II feel like stages in a videogame rather than one living, breathing world. Nevertheless there were plenty of positive changes too which managed to make Dark Souls II more accessible without being any less challenging. No doubt this is a tough game that doesn’t hold your hand, but persist with it and you’ll a find a deep, rewarding experience that will keep you occupied for a very long time. We can’t wait to play it all over again when it’s out for PS4 and Xbox One in April!

2. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Top 10 Best Games of 2014 - Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

While not quite making the number one spot on our list, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor would certainly have to be our biggest surprise hit of 2014. We’d seen some promising previews before its release, but maybe deep down we just never expected a game based on a movie franchise to be quite so exceptional. The last time we were this impressed with a movie tie-in was back in 1997 when GoldenEye 007 was released for the N64. High praise indeed! Shadow of Mordor blends Assassin’s Creed style parkour mechanics with combat that is reminiscent of the Batman: Arkham series for a satisfying overall experience, but it’s the game’s revolutionary ‘Nemesis’ system that really sets it apart. While most action games task you with defeating bosses in a more or less linear fashion, Shadow of Mordor gives you a small army of Orcs to contend with, each with unique designs, strengths and weaknesses. The best part of the system however is how dynamic it is. Kill a captain and you’ll weaken the army, but if one of them defeats you, they’ll become stronger, get promoted to higher ranks, and remember you the next time you face them. Even a lowly foot soldier can get promoted to captain if they manage to take you out on the battlefield. The result is an army of foes that is constantly changing and this can make for some truly bitter virtual rivalries. If you overlooked Shadow of Mordor thinking it was just another mediocre licensed title, you owe it to yourself to pick up what is no doubt one of the top games of 2014.

1. Mario Kart 8

Top 10 Best Games of 2014 - Mario Kart 8

There were many excellent contenders vying for our title of Best Game of 2014, but in the end there can only be one winner, and that game is none other than Mario Kart 8. We’re sure there will be some people out there who’ll disagree with this decision, but we suspect many of them won’t have spent much time—if any—with Nintendo’s stellar kart racer. On the surface it might seem like the same old Mario Kart we’ve been playing for decades with a shiny new coat of HD paint. While this isn’t entirely untrue, Mario Kart 8 brings the very best ideas from the past and adds some fresh new innovations, the best tracks the series has ever seen (Mount Wario anyone?), and rock-solid online racing to culminate in a game that can only be described as pure, unadulterated fun. Quite simply, nothing else released in 2014 will put a bigger smile on your face. The presentation is top-notch too with adorable characters, highly detailed tracks and kart designs, and a fantastic jazz-inspired soundtrack that will have you humming and bopping along as you race. It was an important game for Nintendo too, as it helped to boost sales for the struggling Wii U system. We also have to commend Mario Kart 8 for having what is probably the best downloadable content released for any game in 2014, with eight excellent new tracks available at a very reasonable price point. Aside from Hearthstone, no other game in 2014 kept calling us back for ‘just one more session’ as much as Mario Kart 8. But unlike the unhealthy addiction we developed towards Blizzard’s ‘crack masquerading as a video game’, we kept returning to Mario Kart 8 because we wanted to, not because we couldn’t shake the habit. If you have been sitting on the fence in regards to getting a Wii U, surely this is the game to change your mind. If our favorite game of 2014 can’t convince you then nothing will.

Honorable Mentions:

Valiant Hearts: The Great War, Wolfenstein: The New Order, Far Cry 4, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Titanfall, Sunset Overdrive, Threes, Alien: Isolation, Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls, Monument Valley.

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