You wouldn't want to golf in a desert. It'd be like one long exercise in futility, like a sand trap you never get out of. Yet Justin Smith's Desert Golfing is one of my most important game experiences of 2014, a silent and endless slog, just me and my slingshot finger pitching a tiny ball from one awkward, lonesome hole to the next with a soft and distinctive tok.
It may sound florid to call Desert Golfing an exercise in accepting the past, or in surrendering to the things you can't change, but if you ever find yourself awake at 1 AM, wracked with anxious insomnia, your entire surreal world coming down to a tiny white pinpoint on an endless desert golf course, you'll start to understand.
If the reason you can't sleep is power fantasies and business models and death threats and Twitter, you might feel that Desert Golfing, an utterly pure, random-generated, consciously-unfettered and unmonetized golf march through a sand trap to infinity, is this year's most perfect video game. It really is about crossing the desert: Beginning with a hope against hope that you'll reach the other side. That there is another side. - Leigh Alexander
Destiny was not what I, or, it seems, anyone else really expected. Rather than being Halo-meets-Borderlands, it was more Halo-meets-Diablo-via-WoW, taking the compelling and constant progression of power that makes Diablo something people come back to time and again, and then throwing in the complex and deeply satisfying raid mechanics that were the aspiration, but perhaps not necessarily the experience, of MMO players.
There's something inherently fruitless about a loot grind, and it's what has kept me away from genuinely enjoying Diablo for quite a while. But in Destiny they've managed to dangle enough of a carrot at the end game that pushing your equipment further does have a reward. Instead of an achievement its an experience, and what Bungie have done with their raids, both Vault of Glass and Crota's End, is create one of the most complex and exciting experiences I've had in an FPS in forever.
None of this is to say that Destiny wasn't bungled in more ways than one. Partly, I believe that pressure of expectation on Bungie to pump out another Halo compromised Destiny, forcing it to shift back away from what they originally wanted to do to keep around a vestigial single player experience, and I wouldn't be surprised if that became more and more phased out over time. But what cannot be denied is that, as far as I'm concerned, Destiny is what any console MMO will look like for the next decade. And for that alone, that makes it more important than most of the games that came out this year. - Phill Cameron
This year Larian managed to release a sprawling, robust PC RPG the likes of which I haven't seen since BioWare's Dragon Age: Origins, and in my eyes that's a feat worth celebrating. Divinity: Original Sin hooked me the way Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale did back at the turn of the millennium: by building a vibrant world packed with interesting systems and places to explore, then opening it up for players to approach however they like.
But Larian didn't just pay homage to those classic titles; it improved upon them in terms of both form and function. Original Sin features some excellent bits of design work, including a narrative that can be seen and solved from countless angles of approach and a deceptively simple solution to the problem of implementing real-time cooperative play in an open-world game with turn-based combat.
The makers of Original Sin also deserve a nod for crowdfunding and releasing a commercially successful game that Larian founder Swen Vincke says they've been trying to make for over a decade. Sure, claiming you've succeeded in making a niche game that no publisher would buy thanks (in part) to the pocketbooks of the people is a good PR line, but it also echoes similar sentiments I've heard from developers at studios like inXile and Frontier.
Larian's success funding Original Sin suggests there's room for mid-size, niche-minded studios to survive and flourish using alpha funding tools like Kickstarter and Early Access. The game's triumphant (if slightly delayed) release reinforces popular trust in those funding tools, rendering them stronger for other developers who rely on them. Perhaps I'm being too optimistic, but I hope success stories like Original Sin can make it easier for other developers to crowdfund in the months ahead. - Alex Wawro (@awawro) Alex Wawro's Top 5 Games
Some games seem born in a flash of inspiration. Others are a product of exacting craft. Fantasy Life is definitely one of the latter. The game is a perfectly tuned pocket-sized world that offers tremendous opportunities for exploration and interaction.
Over the 15 years since EverQuest launched, I've considered playing this or that MMO, but never succumbed. Fantasy Life is the perfect game for someone who wants a taste of that, but without the intense commitment.
The game works as well in long stints as small doses, and is as enjoyable in single-player as it is in online or local co-op. It's a flexible game set in a vibrant, appealing little world that begs to be explored.
It also caters to players who don't have the time or the inclination to devote themselves to one optimal progression path. You can mix and match your tasks and find your own way -- one that's based not on min-maxing but instead on the natural progression you choose simply because it seems interesting.
Underneath an unassuming guise lies an ambitious heart -- a game developed with resolute attention to letting the player make their in-game life their own, and that's what won me over. It's the game I'd been hoping for the last decade that Level-5, whose RPGs so often suffer from a crippling lack of focus, would make -- it turns that scattershot approach into a strength. - Christian Nutt
It's pretty rare that a game can make losing fun. It's exceptionally rare that a game can make it so that I don't really care if I win or not. I mean, I play Dota 2. So, yeah.
But Gang Beasts does it. I'm usually too busy laughing to even care whether I'm the one punching or the one getting punched. It takes the janky physics of Sumotori Dreams (GoTY 2010) and throws it into a wrestling ring, then a fire pit, then two moving lorries, then some window-washer scaffolds. What makes it work is that it's enough of an approximation of a fight, and perhaps more importantly the messiness of a fight that it's simultaneously hilarious and a touch horrifying.
That you have to hurl the unconscious body of your friend/mortal enemy off the edge of the arena and to their death adds an element of showiness to the game that really elevates it. You heft that potato-sack that was so recently hurling jabs at your face, and the whole time in your head there's a chant of "FINISH HIM."
We recently had a bunch of friends around to play a bunch of different local multiplayer games, and while Starwhal, Samurai Gunn, Nidhogg and Tennes were all enjoyed, nothing managed to draw the same crowd as Gang Beasts. There's something inherently slapstick about it, and coupling the ridiculous nature of a bunch of jellybabies in kigus duking it out with the ferocity of their punches makes it almost as funny as Jazzpunk, without needing anything resembling a script. - Phill Cameron