It’s beginning to look a lot like non-denominational winter holiday. Arguably the biggest release of the year dropped this month in Destiny, while one of the best visual novels to date saw a lightning quick sequel. The indie world again had a strong month thanks in part to PlayStation while the racing season got off to a big lead. Some major releases fizzled and some surprised. Let’s see what made the list.
It’s only fitting that the sequel to one of the most bizarre games seen in a long time was, well, even more bizarre. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair takes all of the quirkiness of its predecessor and turns the dial to eleven. Its island setting allows its narrative to take on an “anything goes”motif that will undoubtedly leave players guessing until the very end. Oh, and let’s not forget that some of the most frustrating elements of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc’s gameplay were ironed out in this outstanding sequel. From training your miniature pet to the new side-scrolling traversal system, Danganronpa simply plays better than the original. Let’s be real though, the shining stars here are the narrative and the characters, as they’ll have you hooked from moment one.
It’s practically unheard of for a developer to flat out declare that their newest game should be a Game of the Year winner, but that’s exactly what Futurlab did with Velocity 2X. While it’s unclear whether or not their proclamation will come true, the UK-based indie studio certainly held up their end of the bargain, delivering some of the most addictive and action-packed gameplay of 2014. By adding platforming sections to the top-down shooting made famous by Velocity Ultra, Futurlab showed a willingness to innovate. What’s more, through the use of an identical control scheme, these platforming sections actually add to the frantic speed that players expect when they get a game with “Velocity” in the title. Add this to its gorgeous art-style and eclectic soundtrack, and you have the makings of one of the year’s best games, downloadable or otherwise.
While driving through the rocky roads of Colorado two years ago was a brilliant venture for the Forza franchise, it still contained somewhat restrictive roads. That’s fixed in its sequel as, somehow, Playground Games has one upped themselves by including a far more open world to explore and exciting new events to partake in. While the story is still stagnate, it’s all about racing across the beautiful vistas of Southern Europe and collecting the various cars at the Auto Show. Throw in a smartly integrated online component, and Forza Horizon 2 becomes the current racing game titleholder, and the closest thing we will get to another Burnout Paradise and Test Drive Unlimited.
Destiny wasn’t exactly the genre-bending masterpiece it was touted to be, but was a fine game all the same. A month after release and the hype may have died down, but its fanbase hasn’t. Many are still raiding and spending hours in the world on a daily basis. It may not be robust enough to keep attention over the next year as it stands, but what’s here is impressive for an MMO without a monthly fee. The production values are top notch, Bungie has shown it great support and it’s just a fun way to spend those precious few hours of gaming.
Who would have thought Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor would be such a fantastic experience? Sure, it has a strong developer behind it in Monolith, but a persistent open world action game wasn’t exactly in their wheelhouse. Instead of pandering to established Lord of the Rings lore and characters, Monolith has crafted their own spin on Tolkien’s world that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best interpretations. Well-crafted and well-managed, it’s a deep game that is easy to get ahold of and absurdly entertaining to master. If handled correctly, Warner Bros. has a new franchise on their hand that can measure up to Arkham and Assassin’s Creed.
As an added bonus, our editors named their personal favorites:
- Steve: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
- Jeremy: Forza Horizon 2
- Matt: Velocity 2X
- Jahanzeb: D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die
- Lee: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
- Beck: Forza Horizon 2
- Jake: Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution
- Alex: Murasaki Baby
- Mike: Persona 4 Arena Ultimax
- Geoff: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
- Bradly: Hyrule Warriors
- Dermot: Velocity 2X
- Marcus: Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
- Nikola: Velocity 2X
- Brandon: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor