2014 has been a year of consolidation rather than reinvention for video games. The Playstation 4 and Xbox One consoles established themselves after launching towards the tail end of last year, while the Wii U, which had struggled to have much impact at all, finally got a decent stream of first-party titles.
Despite there being no major consoles launched this year, there's still been plenty of triple-A games released and we've compiled a list of the best that 2014 had to offer below.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor – PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC
With the third and final instalment of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy hitting cinemas this year, it would have been easy to rush out a movie tie-in guaranteed to sell plenty of copies, regardless of the quality.
It is to developer Monolith’s credit therefore, that they’ve decided to create an entirely original storyline for Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor set between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The role-playing game offers tight combat and the innovative Nemesis System, which remembers the player’s interactions so non-playable characters develop and change the way they behave.
Tolkien fans or anyone interested in open world video games should definitely check out Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor.
Super Smash Bros – Wii U, 3DS
It was a brave decision to let Namco handle development of one of Nintendo’s most popular franchises, but it looks to have paid off as the latest instalment of Super Smash Bros may just be the best yet.
With nearly 50 fighters to choose from, it’s the biggest game in the series by far, and players will get to experience more of these characters on screen at any one time with the introduction of 8-player battles. The action is as fast-paced and tense as ever, and Nintendo has provided plenty of controller options so everyone is catered for, even allowing players to use the classic Gamecube controller.
With 30-plus years of video game history packaged into one game, there’s something here for players of all generations.
Dark Souls II - PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
The series may be well-known for its steep learning curve and challenging gameplay, but Dark Souls II managed to take this to new heights, while still providing an engrossing experience.
The unrelenting pitfalls and epic boss battles that have become hallmarks of the series are still present, but developers From Software have at least made some concessions in terms of the game’s difficulty.
Players can now teleport between discovered areas, making the game less linear, and the number of enemies present will decrease in regions where you have repeatedly died. While this may cause some die-hard fans to argue that Dark Souls II has been dumbed-down, in reality the game still offers a demanding challenge.
You may need a glutton for punishment to truly enjoy Dark Souls II, but anyone willing to put the effort in will discover one of 2014’s most rewarding games.
Shovel Knight – PC, 3DS, Wii U
With Playstation Plus, Nintendo’s eShop and Xbox Live Arcade all providing plenty of retro gaming fare, video games are more than happy to embrace their past.
Shovel Knight embodies all the elements that made old-school gaming great without feeling like a rehash of old ideas. Those iconic 8-bit chiptunes are present, along with excellent stage design and fluid platforming dynamics.
While Shovel Knight may wear its influences proudly on its sleeve (Mega Man, Castlevania and Super Mario Bros. 3 are all clear inspirations), it’s not merely a trip down memory lane. The game boasts an identity of its own, which means even more experienced gamers won’t feel like their retreading old ground.
Wolfenstein: The New Order - PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Back in 1992, Wolfenstein 3D helped to popularise the first-person shooter, a genre that has now gone on to gain huge mainstream popularity. Wolfenstein: The New Order shows that despite being one of the early players in the FPS space, the series still has plenty to offer.
Set in an alternate version of 1960s Europe where Nazi Germany won the Second World War, the gameplay largely sticks to the tried and tested methods of other shooters, but the plot, characterisation and setting are what really makes the game stand out.
In particular, the developers at MachineGames have tried to ensure players are as emotionally invested as possible in protagonist William "B.J." Blazkowicz’s story, setting The New Order apart from its peers.
Bayonetta 2 – Wii U
When Nintendo announced that Bayonetta 2 was going to be a Wii U exclusive, many in the gaming world were surprised, to say the least. The first title in the series featured a highly sexualised female lead, brutal violence and plenty of swearing, all of which you wouldn't expect from a company that prides itself on family friendly entertainment.
However, developers Platinum Games has resisted the temptation to tone down the sequel, instead focusing on providing a stylish, frenetic, hack and slash title. The combat and graphics are crisper than ever, and Bayonetta’s razor sharp wit hasn't gone anywhere, ensuring she remains one of the most interesting female characters in any video game.
Child of Light – PC, Playstation Vita, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Child of Light may not be one of the most known releases of 2014, but its quirky charms make it one of best RPGs released in a long time.
The game’s beautiful, hand-crafted art style gives it a definite independent feel, despite being developed by Ubisoft, better known for multi-million dollar franchises like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed.
A turn-based RPG, Child of Light differentiates itself from similar titles through its intelligent but simple combat system. Attacks can be interrupted by your opponents and vice-versa, introducing some real-time tension into the mix.
The constant rhyming within the dialogue may get annoying for some, but on the whole adds to the game’s charm, making Child of Light a modern day fairytale perfect for kids and adults alike.
Mario Kart 8 – Wii U
You’d think that a series now 22 years old would start to show signs of getting stale, but Mario Kart 8 demonstrates that there’s plenty of life left in Nintendo’s iconic racing franchise.
All of the series’ much-loved hallmarks are present including a host of weapons, chaotic track designs and the classic multiplayer mode. However, Nintendo has included a few new additions, most notably anti-gravity transformations, allowing players to drive on walls or ceilings.
A new weapon, dubbed the super horn, is also something to look out for, as it has the ability to stop those dreaded blue shells, but with it being such a rare item you should still remain prepared for plenty of frustration.