I’ve been putting together top ten lists for a while now, but this might just be the hardest to I’ve had to create. Some amazing games were cut, such as Grand Theft Auto V, Tearaway, Tomb Raider, Metal Gear Rising, Gunpoint, Year Walk and countless others. This process highlighted one of the best problems you could have: there were simply too many good games released this year. In the end, I’m pretty happy with the results, even if so many other games I love just missed the cut.
10. Rayman Legends
Like with Rayman Origins before it, Rayman Legends is an absolute joy to play from start to finish. The thing that strikes me the most about it is how well it handles and the excellent level design constructed around that handling. Every mistake I made was my own mistake, not the fault of the game or the controls, which is always a necessity when it comes to making a good platformer. The Murfy stages are surprisingly solid, even during solo play, and the music levels are the perfect blend of charm and challenge the series is now known for. In short, Legends is an expansion on an already amazing formula, and manages to surpass the original in some remarkable ways.
9. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
If you know me, you know how much I love sailing in games, especially those that involve pirates. Assassin’s Creed III introduced us to naval combat, but Black Flag manages to take that concept and turn it into the finest game in the series to date. Not only is the sailing relaxing, complete with your crew’s sea shanty singing, the actual combat is as satisfying as ever. I’m not one for collecting in open world games, yet once I gained access to my ship, I became obsessed with exploring every island and collecting as much as I could. I suppose it’s a pirate’s life for me!
8. Metro: Last Light
The original Metro took me completely by surprise with its thick atmosphere and brilliant storytelling. I finished it just before the announcement of its sequel, Last Light, which had me eager to dive back into the haunting world of this post-apocalyptic tale. With improved AI, better stealth mechanics and gunplay and a visual feast for the eyes (even on consoles), Metro: Last Light is one heck of an adventure. It’s sometimes meandering pace makes it a tough pill to swallow for some, but I consider this a game well worth playing if the story, atmosphere or basic premise intrigues you even a little.
7. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Excellent JRPGs seem to be few and far between these days, yet Ni no Kuni managed to exceed my expectations and became one of the better releases of the past few years. It felt like one of the many classic JRPGs I grew up playing in terms of tone and style, complete with likable characters and a relatable, surprisingly human story. The battle system takes some getting used to, sure, but there is a lot to love about its approach to traditional action-focused battle systems. It’s hard to say if we’ll ever see another JRPG as ambitious as this ever again, so I’ll forever treasure Ni no Kuni and its brave, unflinching desire to stick so closely to a genre that many others have long since abandoned.
6. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Nintendo has managed to surprise me yet again with the most recent Legend of Zelda title. A Link Between Worlds manages to appeal to fans of Link to the Past (a game I consider one of my favorites) while adding plenty of surprising new mechanics. Being able to acquire most of the tools and items early on made exploring Hyrule (as well as Lorule) as exciting as it was back in 1992. Every dungeon is excellent, the boss fights are both familiar and exciting and the game demonstrates a bright future for the Zelda series with its myriad of small improvements. There’s nothing better than revisiting the past while looking ahead to the future.
5. Gone Home
How many memories are locked away in your house? Gone Home means a lot of things to a lot of people, but for me it made me think about my childhood and the houses I grew up in. The story it tells is a deeply personal one, yet its beauty is in its simplicity. The house itself, populated only by the stories of past lives (as well as the game’s incredible score), is perhaps the game’s most detailed character. To go on would ruin the game’s many surprises, but I will say there are few titles that evoke the power of our medium and its future potential than Gone Home.
4. Shin Megami Tensei IV
I always expect great things from Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei franchise, but they still managed to exceed those expectations with IV. It represents a step in the right direction for the series by introducing elements that allows newer players to jump in without dialing back on the difficulty the series is known for. Most importantly of all, negotiating with demons, building up a team and inevitably fusing them to create stronger allies is what makes the series stand out to me and it remains as addictive as ever here. It’s easily the best (and most rewarding) RPG I’ve played all year.
3. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
If I had to give the “Game that Came Absolutely Out of Nowhere” award to one game, it would be Brothers. This has a deeply emotional story, yet it manages to encapsulate it so perfectly into an interactive experience that it’s hard not to love it. The base mechanic, which requires you to control two siblings at the same time, seems strange (and somewhat annoying) at first, but by the end you’ll be thinking back on those moments of annoyance with a fresh perspective. In a year full of games focused on relationships between two central characters, Brothers manages to make you connect to both of them equally simply because of its control scheme. If you haven’t played this one yet, trust me: it will all make sense once you do.
2. The Last of Us
While Naughty Dog found success on the PS3 with the critically acclaimed Uncharted series, The Last of Us is the game that best demonstrated its abilities as a developer to me. Creating a believable, haunting world full of terrors both alive and undead, and two of the best (and most relatable) central protagonists you’ll find in any game, The Last of Us does something that we rarely see in big-budget titles of its kind. It’s a stark reminder of how powerful games can be, while still providing a familiar gameplay experience that manages to support the weight of its themes.
1. BioShock Infinite
The original BioShock is considered by many, myself included, to be a classic. It’s a game that’s hard to surpass, yet Irrational managed to pull it off with Infinite. It’s a rare game that dares to challenge its audience with important (and controversial) themes that enhance the science fiction-fueled story in a genius, non-intrusive way. Above all else, it contains some of the most entertaining shooting mechanics I’ve seen in an FPS in quite some time, making it a game where the combat remained as intense and graceful as everything else happening around you. Columbia may not be the most pleasant place around, but it was undeniably memorable and provided me with one of the best experiences I’ve had with a game in many, many years.