Boxing Day is Britain’s traditional day for taking everything that constituted yesterday’s Christmas dinner, and placing it cold between two slices of bread. Slap on some redcurrent jelly, and eat it no matter how full you are. It’s just the law. And so it is for gaming goodness over 2014. Despite gorging on 24 of the Best Bestest Games over the last month, we’ve so many other games we’re now putting in sandwiches. Below you’ll find the first half, in no particular order, of the Bestest of the Restest from this year. You can read the second half here.
The Talos Principle
Pip: I’m glad we picked this for GOTY. [Pip, we didn’t we went with Endless Le–] SHUT UP. I AM GLAD WE PICKED THIS AS OUR GOTY.
John: Released a month earlier, and I suspect this would have been played by enough of RPS to be a definite inclusion in the main awards. I further suspect it’s a game people will be talking about for a good long while, not thanks to its superb puzzles (and they really are superb), but thanks to the writing from Tom Jubert and Jonas Kyratzes. Its exploration of humanity, consciousness, and the soul, was a complete surprise for me as I wandered its Portal-sort-of puzzles and gorgeous Croteam world. But let’s not dismiss the skill behind the puzzles too – they constantly change their tools, preventing things from feeling repetitive, and require a really entertaining stretching of the brain. Lesson: never release your game in December.
Adam: I haven’t played a great deal of The Talos Principle yet, but I have played enough to know that I’m going to look back at our December Bestest Best games one night in early January and weep. It’s cleverly written, and the puzzles manage to grant me the Eureka moment (I play in a bath, of course) without the hours of frowning frustration that often precede it.
Graham: Nidhogg would have been my game of the year I first played it, which I think was 2010. I spent every lunch break for weeks sat in an office, drawing crowds of people to my monitor as me and my colleagues stabbed and slashed, made daring slides through each other’s legs, and fell repeatedly to our deaths for no good reason. It was a marvel; a small game with a simple moveset, but in competition we found nuance and creativity. We started naming the ‘moves’ we used, including one disturbing crawl called The Widlebeest.
I still played and loved it when it finally got a commercial release, but I no longer had friends in proximity to play with, the online play was too laggy to function correctly, and 2014 was overrun by great, newer local multiplayer games.
Adam: I didn’t play Nidhogg until whenever it was that I first played it this year. That is to say, I didn’t get invited to any of the cool clandestine parties or events where it had previously been seen, or if I did I was too busy drinking the bar dry to notice the stabby multiplayer game in the corner. It’s great though. Not as good as Gang Beasts, but great.
The best thing about Nidhogg is that I managed to beat Graham one time and felt like I’d won everything, even though it was around 10-1 in his favour by the end of our session. Damn, I am good.
Graham: It’s still in early access, but Gang Beasts is already a giddy delight. Its characters are wibbly, physics-animated jelly babies and its fights are similarly toddler-like melees that clumsily mix punches, kicks and grapples. This turns out to be the perfect thing for a group of friends to play while drunk, everyone screaming at their own demise as they’re fed into a woodchipper, or cheering on their friends as they cling for life on the side of a high-rise building the roof of a moving truck, or the carriages on a spinning ferris wheel.
Pip Graham, how do I stop getting thrown in the cruncher?
Adam: By throwing everyone else in the cruncher, Pip.
Gang Beasts is my favourite multiplayer game of the year and yet I didn’t even consider putting it forward as one of our Top Bestest Best Favourites. That’s because it isn’t finished and I want to see what happens next before putting on the cap of judgement.
Graham: If Nidhogg was the respected but aging elder statesmen, and Gang Beasts was the young newcomer full of boundless energy but still a little too rough for primetime, then TowerFall Ascension was the perfect middle in the revival of local multiplayer games. It’s a single-screen platformer in which your only weapon is a bow and you start with just three arrows. In competitive multiplayer, the result is a tight, tense and tactical game where you try to tease out your opponent, trick them with some deft use of screen wrap, and attempt to catch their arrows in mid-air in order to render them benign. In co-op – a new mode, along with the campaign, which were added for the PC release – that means carefully re-collecting your fired as you learn enemy patterns and trying desperately not to kill your friend by accident. Or for a joke. If I was to recommend you sit on a couch with a friend this year, this would be why.
Adam: Oh, bollocks. Maybe this was my favourite multiplayer game of the year rather than Gang Beasts? Yes, I rather think it was. And it has a half-decent single player mode to go with the GRRRRRR local multiplayer.
I love local multiplayer, even though I was growling just then. It’s just very hard for me to make people sit down and play games on my computer because as soon as I’m in a room with more than three people I start dancing with them. Or AT them.
Adam: Klei have become one of the most interesting developers in the whole wide world and Invisible Inc is a fine example of their craft. It fits in with many of the year’s trends and manages to feel head and shoulders above many similar games simply by virtue of its quality rather than any one feature. It has perma-death, randomised levels and isometric turn-based tactics. It even has a great big globe as a mission selection screen. But is it an infiltration and espionage take on X-COM? Not really. It’s a punishingly difficult and incredibly rewarding piece of tricksiness that feels like cutting the wires to disable a particularly complicated bomb.
I love it.
Alec: This is the one that I’m most :( didn’t make it into The List of Lists. Invisible Inc delighted me, and was very much a lifebuoy at a time when I felt adrift in a sea of too many games that I wasn’t quite clicking with. It was a dark moment, to realise that the great dream of loads of X-COM inspired games had come true, but most of them weren’t really hitting the spot. Invisible Inc did, and it did so because it very quickly runs off in its own, distinctive direction – the turn-based strategy element is just part of a tapestry rather than overwhelming everything.
Realistically it’s too early to lionise Klei’s game fully, but at the same time it’s one of the better approaches to Early Access that I’ve played. It absolutely nails its key concept – turn-based stealth – and has bags of character too. I can’t wait to revisit a more bounteous version of Invisible Inc a few more months of dev time down the line.
John: A big part of doing our job well is to start any game with expectations put aside, to let the game be the game. That was especially tough with Thief, a game trying to follow on from what I will boldly call the best trilogy of games ever made. It was especially especially tough since the marketing for the game was bloody terrible, and it all looked like it was going to be a massive disaster. It was rather good.
It was so good, in fact, that I’m pretty disappointed that isn’t being better recognised. It made some enormous mistakes, not least the monstrous decision to use a default “action” button for most movement, rather than letting you feel free to jump at will. The script was also a massive stinkpile of awful, replete with series-irrelevant swears. But once that was swallowed down, the result was a surprisingly satisfying jaunt. Despite its clear flaws, I had lots of fun playing it, and most of all, once more encountered that shadow-crawling stealth-doing fun that had me dodging street lights in real life. It’s hard to knock it too hard when it achieved that.
The Banner Saga
Adam: The Banner Saga didn’t quite hang together for me. There’s so much about this most beautiful of games that I love, but the disconnect between the management of my travelling band of refugees and the repetitive turn-based combat frustrated me just a little too much. I’m looking forward to the sequel, hoping for improvements but also accepting that I’ll play it for the story and another peek into the marvellous melancholy world, even if the combat and trekking are more of the same.
Alec: Prettiest of the pretty things, but it’s not prettiness for superficiality’s sake. The Banner Saga’s crisp, Rotoscope-like art and the titanic scale it’s depicted at absolutely created a world, replete with bone-chilling temperature drops and the infinite sense of weariness of a people trudging onwards without the certainty of reprieve. Like Adam, I felt something was lacking in the combat, but on the other hand I’m aware that The Banner Saga ended up being a game I crammed into gaps in my gaming life rather than something I made my focus for a week or two. In another, better world I’d like to go steady Stoic’s game at the exclusion of all else and see how a deadly Winter trudge feels then.
I must say though, The Banner Saga’s look/feel/tone is exceptionally memorable. I don’t think there’s much else on our bestest or leftover lists which I can be instantly transported to – and feel similarly affected by – if I close my eyes and conjure its name in my brain.
Graham: I hated the singleplayer something fierce, but Watch_Dogs multiplayer was the first time I got to experience the Dark Souls-style ‘invasion’ of other players. I went back to it again and again, particularly the mode that requires you to steal data from an opposing player by appearing in their singleplayer game, tailing them around, and selecting the correct moment to initiate a hack. Once started, as the hacker, you need to remain within the vicinity while the other player tries to find you. This is tense and exciting for both parties, but as the hacker, it also puts you in the unusual situation of trying to act like an NPC, since there’s almost never an opportunity to simply hide behind a low wall. Instead you’ll be running from gun fire, idling on street corners, and trying not to perform any animation that the computer can’t. Strong stuff, and I hope it returns in inevitable sequels.
Join us later today for the second part of this delicious feast.