The Most Exciting Games of Fall 2014
Normally I like to do lists like this at the very beginning of a year, such as when I cataloged what I was looking forward to most in 2013 here. However back in December of last year, I prepared to do a similar list for 2014 and I honestly had a hard time putting it together. I just wasn’t seeing much that got me excited enough to write ten-plus entries. In the nine months since, 2014 hasn’t really outperformed my low expectations, but it’s not over yet. That’s where this list comes in. I decided to hold off and make one now, covering my most anticipated games of the Fall/Holiday season. Though this isn’t the most drool-inducing list I’ve ever compiled – just wait for the 2015 version in a few months – it’s a solid set of games, and I’m feeling much more enthusiastic now that I’m only targeting this typically fertile part of the gaming calendar.
Ranking them was a bit tricky, but I’m fairly happy with the results. I’ve found myself leaning towards new IPs lately, and that’s reflected in how high I have some of them, but there are still five sequels here. I’ve really valued fresh experiences more and more in recent years, which is why you’ll see more independent titles gathered near the top. Let’s get things started with a few games that just missed the cut. One final note: I only included games that seem like they’re actually coming out before the end of the year, but of course any one of these could be delayed at any time.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (September 30th; PS4, Xbox One, PC) (November 18th; Xbox 360, PS3) Developer: Monolith Productions
Ok so this game looks pretty cool. It’s set in Middle-Earth, so that’s a great start, and the gameplay appears strong. The combat has drawn comparisons to the Arkham series, which is another plus, and I’m digging the sound of the Nemesis System. The game keeps track of the player’s encounters with specific enemies, so certain foes will remember you in future skirmishes. Enemies also have a persistent hierarchy, and they’ll get promoted for defeating you. This means not only will they remember your last encounter, but they will be stronger and have a higher rank the next time you meet. The different powers – mind control, slowing down time, etc. – all look really cool and fun to use. This came really close to making the list, but I’m a bit concerned about the developer, Monolith Productions. Their oeuvre is solid, but it didn’t exactly blow me away. I think they’re perfectly capable of making Shadow Of Mordor something awesome, and I hope they do, but their mildly uninspiring catalog has me concerned enough to leave this just off the list.
The Evil Within (October 14th; PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One) Developer: Tango Gameworks
Shinji Mikami’s new game had me more excited when it was first announced then it does now. As a survival horror fan, I was delighted at the idea of the genre’s creator returning to his roots to make something truly scary. As more and more games – looking at you Resident Evil – have shied away from real horror and headed into action territory, games like this have become all the more precious. Naturally one made by the master himself absolutely had my attention. Since the initial unveiling, the game has suffered a delay, and even more troubling, it’s been subject to some less than glowing previews.There seems to be something of a consensus among those who’ve played the game that there are some real issues here. Some have mentioned a lack of polish, while others have claimed that the horror doesn’t totally work. Also, this is the very first game for developer Tango Gameworks, which always makes me nervous. I’m still cautiously optimistic, but color me very concerned.
Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris (December 9th; PC, PS4, Xbox One) Developer: Crystal Dynamics
I was a fan of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. I thought it was a simple and fun downloadable title that knew exactly what it wanted to be. I like the look of this follow up. It appears to be a fun take on the formula and it introduces cooperative play, which could work really well. It’s not a huge or complex title, but it’s one I have my eye on nonetheless. I’m especially encouraged because of Crystal Dynamics’ recent work with the franchise.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (December 5th; Wii U) Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo
This game benefits from the fact that I’ve sort of played it already. As you may know, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a full title based on various levels sprinkled throughout last year’s fantastic Super Mario 3D World. In these segments, the player guides Toad around small levels, solving puzzles and avoiding enemies in order to collect stars. They were fun and novel in small doses, and provided a nice change of pace from classic Mario levels. These levels are slower paced, and Toad cannot jump, making for a more deliberate and thoughtful experience. I’m not 100% convinced the formula will work over the course of an entire game, but my doubts are calmed by the fact that Nintendo EAD Tokyo is handling development. Obviously this full game will have more depth: it seems that Toad will now be able to pull up vegetables Super Mario Bros. 2-style, in order to attack enemies in a limited fashion. He has a dash now, and I expect EAD to include other new wrinkles to make this work as a retail title. The game looks predictably gorgeous and the levels displayed so far look fun and already more robust than those in SM3DW. There are extra diamonds to find in each level this time too, which should help with replayability. It might not end up being the best game of the year, but I have the utmost faith in Nintendo, and as such Treasure Tracker finds itself at number ten.
Far Cry 4 (November 18th; PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One) Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Far Cry 3 was one of my favorite games of 2012. This is extra remarkable considering that in the last few years, my enthusiasm for first person shooters has dwindled considerably. I think it’s safe to say that FC3 was one of the last shooters that I really loved. Despite my appreciation for the series, this new installment finds itself towards the tail end of my list. This is due partially to my aforementioned apathy towards the FPS genre, but mostly to the shorter development time Far Cry 4 has received vs. that of its predecessor. Over four years passed between the release of Far Cry 2 and the third game. This fourth title will arrive a couple weeks shy of two years after FC3. That is not a lot of time to deliver a great game, no matter how huge your dev team is. I’m really concerned about this. It seems that after the huge success of the third game, Ubisoft is seeing dollar signs and wanted to usher this fourth title onto the market as quickly as possible. Placing this on my list was kind of a battle between my heart and my brain. My brain knows this might be a rushed title while my heart sees gameplay footage of gorgeous snow covered mountains and fortress attacks carried out on the backs on elephants. Put it this way: if everything goes right and the short dev time ends up not being an issue, we’re looking at a game of the year favorite. If the worst comes to pass, this will be one of the most disappointing games in recent memory for me. The ceiling and floor for this one are very far apart.
The gameplay footage does look awesome, and the same great elements of the third game seem to be present. The new Himalayan setting looks both beautiful and distinct from the tropical locales of the earlier games, which is encouraging. Footage has been playing up all the different ways that situations can play out, particularly the fortress segments, which are beefed up versions of the outposts from FC3. The addition of co-op should be awesome too. Despite my concerns, I have pretty high hopes for Far Cry 4. Let’s hope my fears are unfounded and Ubisoft delivers another incredible shooter.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (Holiday 2014; Linux, OS X, PC, PS3, PS4, PSV) Developer: Dennaton Games
This game is here for the most basic reason: I really liked Hotline Miami. It was a fun game, and I loved its surreal, neon tinted, Lynchian style. Even though it was a fairly simple top down shooter, it provided a very unique experience, and I appreciated that. It was a game that definitely left me wanting more, and that appears to be what we’re getting here. It’s from the exact same team that developed the first game, and there’s nothing to suggest that this won’t be another awesome, insane, and blood-soaked trip.
Bayonetta 2 (October 24th; Wii U) Developer: Platinum Games
This is another entry based on the purest of grounds. Translation: I want more Bayonetta. The original was lots of fun and it’s coming up on five years since it arrived. Basically it’s high time for more hair-based fighting and over the top mayhem. This sequel looks like it’s keeping things pretty close to the first game, which is fine with me given the long wait and the fact that this is just the second entry in the series. The gameplay looks just as slick and crazy as expected, and I can’t wait to jump back in and go nuts on some demons. I’m also extra happy to hear the quick time events from the first game have been removed. The game is already out in Japan and has received some rave reviews, so it looks like my enthusiasm might be well placed.
The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter (September 26th; PC) (TBA 2015; PS4) Developer: The Astronauts
So now we’re getting into the more interesting part of the list. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is the first effort from The Astronauts, an independent Polish developer. It’s an open world, first person adventure game that puts the player in the shoes of a detective with supernatural powers and a predilection for cases involving the occult. The detective receives a troubling letter from a boy named Ethan and sets off in search of him. The game world looks really pretty and eerie, and I like that you can explore the entire thing at once, as you see fit. As you happen upon clues in the environment, the detective’s powers kick in, and visions of important missing items will appear, aiding in their acquisition. It looks like a cool mechanic, and the gameplay footage I’ve watched is really intriguing. This looks like a game with a lot of upside, even if I’m a little worried that it’s the debut title from its studio. I do enjoy a good mystery, and Ethan Carter looks poised to deliver an unsettling tale set in a gorgeously foreboding world.
Ori and the Blind Forest (Q4 2014; PC, Xbox One (TBA 2015; Xbox 360) Developer: Moon Studios
Ori and the Blind Forest is a gorgeous looking Metroidvania–style platformer coming out courtesy of first time developer Moon Studios. Reportedly developed in secret for four years – I always love to hear that a game has been worked on for a good while – the game stars Ori, a forest spirit who must save his home from an evil entity. Ori himself cannot attack enemies, but instead he is accompanied by a sidekick named Sein, who will perform attacks for him. Both characters can be upgraded, which will of course open up more of the world. The gameplay looks cool, and the art style is super pretty. The hand-drawn backgrounds remind me of games like Badland and the two recent Rayman titles, and that’s a very good thing. The graphic style overall is quite pleasing and I very much want to explore the ins and outs of this beautiful world. Some cool technical bullet points: 1) the game will be all one map, so there will be no loading, 2) it will be 1080p and run at 60 FPS, and 3) coolest of all, the backgrounds are made entirely of individual assets, meaning that nothing in them will ever repeat. That sounds crazy to me and it might just end up being a developer talking point that doesn’t actually make much difference, but it’s certainly a nice touch. All in all, I can’t get enough of Metroidvania games, and Ori and the Blind Forest looks to be a great new game in that tradition.
LittleBigPlanet 3 (November 18th; PS3, PS4) Developer: Sumo Digital
The two LittleBigPlanet games for PS3 were among my absolute favorites of last generation, so naturally I’m excited to see Sackboy make his way to the Playstation 4. It’s been nearly four years since his last outing on a console so I’m really jonesing for some more lighthearted platforming fun. Sackboy isn’t alone this time, he’s joined by three other characters. They each have their own attributes and abilities, such as extra strength, flight, extra speed, wall jumping, and shape shifting. These new characters should really freshen up the gameplay and allow the designers – and remember, that includes literally everyone who owns the game – to do all sorts of interesting things with the levels. I’m expecting way more variety than even the first two games, which is saying quite a lot. I love the new depth that the levels have, as it looks like you’ll be jumping in and out of the background and foreground seamlessly. Sackboy himself has some really cool new power-ups and abilities, and I expect there are plenty more than what’s been shown. These should allow for even more twists on the classic LBP gameplay. Throw in some great looking co-op, and creation tools that are even more user-friendly and robust, and you’ve got a game that I’m dying to play.
The Sailor’s Dream (iOS; Holiday 2014) Developer: Simogo
Well there’s not a lot to say here because there isn’t much known about this game. However I know enough to be sure that it absolutely belongs on this list. The game is summed up by its developers as “a challenge-free experience in which you explore a non-linear story through words, music, sounds and illustrations.” Sounds cool enough, but the reason I’m so hyped is because the game is being made by Simogo, the developer responsible for the outstanding Beat Sneak Bandit, Year Walk, and Device 6. All three are among my favorite mobile titles, and the latter two were among my favorites games of 2013. I’m super intrigued by the brief teaser above and basically every other small crumb of information on this site. Check that out, and then go download their other games. You won’t be disappointed, and more than anything, it will help you understand why I’m dying to play The Sailor’s Dream.
The Witness (Q4; iOS, PC, PS4) Developer: Thekla, Inc.
Braid, man. What else can be said at this point? Six years on it remains a landmark piece of art, not to mention one of the most written about games in recent memory. It’s such a dense, beautiful, and brilliant game that nothing has quite provided the same joys since. This is why The Witness is so high on this list. I loved Braid so much and I want to see what will spring from the mind of Johnathan Blow next. That game was so clearly the singular vision of one person, and the opportunity to experience more work from one of gaming’s most exciting auteurs is thrilling. It helps that what we’ve seen of the game is both mysterious and totally beautiful. The game is set on a gorgeous island, and the player needs to solve a variety of puzzles there. The graphic style is simple and colorful, and the lush island looks like an awesome place to explore. A lot of the game is still shrouded in mystery, but it looks like the core revolves around solving maze puzzles. That seems simple, but there’s apparently more going on here than what we’ve been shown, and supposedly a deeper meaning as well. I can’t wait to delve into this one to see what it’s all about.
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS/Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (October 3rd/November 21st; 3DS/Wii U) Developer: Sora Ltd.
Ok so I cheated a bit here. If it makes you feel better, I’ll just say that the number one spot belongs to the “collective Super Smash Bros. experience” that’s taking place over the next couple months. In my defense, Nintendo seems to be positioning these titles as two sides of the same coin – they even share a wikipedia page – so I rest my case. I so dearly love the other games in the series, as they’ve essentially provided endless fun over the years. Naturally I’m over the moon about these two new titles, especially since it’s been six and a half years since Brawl was released. The myriad new characters and modes, as well as the chance to take the series on the go and play it in HD are reason enough to have these games at number one. I fully expect some of the best Smash gameplay we’ve yet seen. I loved Brawl, but the online play was very poor. Based on Mario Kart 8 and various 3DS titles, I think Nintendo has come a long way in the online department since then. With that in mind, these should be multiplayer experiences that are second to none. Just think of how long the first three games have endured while operating with essentially just local multiplayer. Purely from a value standpoint I expect these to be the best games of the year.