Favorite Games – 2014

Memorable Videogame Experiences in 2014

Hitman Go – Such a pleasant surprise. Elegant, tight and cohesive. Sometimes a game’s presentation is part of the pleasure, which is certainly true here.

Sir, You Are Being Hunted – Humor, atmosphere, and taut moments of evasion. As a player, you might secure a moment’s rest, but then you’re imperiled again (by aristocratic British robots, no less). Just hearing the music gives me chills.

Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls – What a recovery from the game’s initial launch. Revised tuning, new modes, and everything I love about the pace and tactical twists of that game, racing along together in co-op.

Queers in Love at the End of the World – Powerful in concept and execution, everyone should play this ultra-short, but tender and apocalyptic text adventure game. It still haunts me after playing through it off and on since release.

Monument Valley – I’m not the biggest nostalgia retro videogame person to be honest; my formative games were not the classic Nintendo titles that seem to drive so much indie game art and mechanics. So while I look cautiously toward games like this, Monument Valley pivoted my expectations and won me over with charm. The art style and the fixed camera, composition-driven perspective instantly re-frame my mind, taking me to a dreamy place beyond reality, a place with class, for lack of a better way to put it. The M. C. Eschereque puzzles are interesting and well paced, ramping up from an almost nurturing starting difficulty. Bravo all around.

Desert Golfing – Not normally my type of experience, but the minimal aesthetic and physics-driven gameplay are truly standout. I still don’t know if the levels/holes are fully procedural, but I have played nearly 1000 holes (with a 2.8 par, I think), and I admire the game so much for what it does.

The Talos Principle – As others have said, the game elevates itself through the great integration of themed narrative. The philosophical ground is mostly familiar, but solidly built and relevant. The way it’s interwoven with the navigation of the game is a lesson for all of us making games with story and characters. That doesn’t even touch on the brilliant puzzle design, which is supported by a set of interesting, consistent game mechanics that often feel like they enable improvisation. Puzzle games normally frustrate me, and the Talos Principle instead – even at its hardest – feels like it’s expanding my mind through epiphany. It’s emotionally moving with well-engineered interactivity.

Honorable Mention

State of Decay – Technically released in 2013, but I played it late in the year and into 2014. (Plus, the DLC kept me going through parts of last year.) Noteworthy on a personal level, despite “zombies, apocalypse,” because of the desperate improv moments it gave me, combining tools and tactics to pull something off. Also, I just want more games that mix home-building and home management with action.

Mountain – When you’re in the right state of mind, this can be really reflective. It’s a boundary-pushing take on what interactive media can deliver.

Luxuria Superbia – This is another late 2013 entry, but I played it during 2014. I’d always kind of laughed off the idea of a videogame that could evenly partially capture sex, which I perceive as more full-bodied, multi-sensory, and deeply related to all the personal psychology firing off during the act. But Cara Ellison‘s critical writing on the subject sent me looking for this game. Playing it with (or for) someone else is a breakthrough experience in terms of what games can evoke, parallel to flirting and touching.


It was another interesting year for game criticism too. As usual, Critical Distance is a treasure trove of thought, summing up the year better than I ever could.


6 thoughts on “Favorite Games – 2014

  1. Hi Harvey, just seen this, long time no update.

    A bit surprised that there wasn’t a mention of Alien:Isolation, in parts as that games owes a lot to Looking Glass/Origin/Irrational/Ion Storm alumni. Maybe it was a bit too close to what you’re doing, though. 🙂

    Finally gave in and bought the Dishonored DLC, probably the most LG-playalike in years, I much prefer it to Bioshock. Great decision to make all the markers fully optional, rather than design the game around them and then add the option to turn them off last-minute, as they could destroy any sense of discovery and achievement — and in my opinion, contradict everything that you guys where fighting against in gaming seasons past. Still the DLC too got me thinking: It’s very much understandable that Dishonored from the outset was set up as a power fantasy of sorts: Corvo may start out on more modest levels, but as soon as he’s touched by the Outsider he becomes one of The Chosen Few™, the same as Daud already is in the DLC — unless you artificially restrict yourself. You’ve probably seen the article too, but there’s one fairly amusing one arguing over reasons why Dishonored would be the “best Batman game ever made”. So Dishonored is a heir to the throne. But it’s also different.

    Parts of what made Thief, Shock et all stand out, in particular back in the day, wasn’t that they were power fantasies as such. As VR is such a hot topic these days again via Oculus Rift etc: What made them feel that bit more real rather than being “just a game” wasn’t merely the systems interacting, the physics, the AI eco systems, the lack of scripted stuff taking you out of the game or the unprecedented control you had over your avatars — but that they cast you as blokes. Your characters may have special abilities and get hold of upgrades. But take Garrett, for all his master class in thievery, he is equally burdened with one very apparent weakness. Namely that once you’re spotted and fail to get the hell away, you’re screwed. Out of this still emerge some of the most tense moments in the game actually (some of the stuff you have in between the androids in Alien actually reminded me of this, which is made more creepy by the fact that they programmed them to actually encircle you and block off escape paths rather than all rushing headfirst in your direction).

    Thing is: Back in the day where like every game cast you as Rambo or Conan incarnate from the off, the guys stood out by casting you in the role of actually, well, humans. This isn’t going to be one for Dishonored 2, obviously, which hopefully will do well and influence for years to come. Still do you think that is something worth or even viable exploring further?

  2. Yeah, non-power-fantasy games are a great avenue to explore – games that explore relationships, meditative games, whatever you want to make.

    And there’s a lot of low hanging fruit in terms of potential protagonists, and how they contextualize the narrative.

    To be clear, Dishonored 1 was also intended to be playable without markers. In one spot we made a mistake, for an optional sidequest, I believe.

  3. That’s what I liked about it, markers were optional. The only thing that was a bit spoon-feedish in the main campaign when I last completed it: how the Lady Boyle target puzzle solved itself. I can relate to why it was included, but if you’re an old oddball like me and take your time to take it all in, you’d trigger that “party pooper” revealing all even if you didn’t want him to. Otherwise still fantastic game. The open approach has me wonderfully conflicted sometimes. I started the DLC with the intention to reload as little as possible. With the opportunity to improvise, dealing with things as they develop seemed like a fantastic idea. However just having finished infiltrating the Timsh estate: no dice! Whenever I got caught and say bent time to lay out arc mines for the guards that would gather and hid under a staircase to watch the fireworks, which *was* fun — I still couldn’t help hitting F9 thereafter as that’s not how I wanted things to play out. It also seemed a bit easy to basically complete the main objective in like a minute. 🙂 So eventually I sent arc mines via the service elevator which vapourized personnel upstairs without me getting spotted, and dealt with the rest in sneaky fashion. Much closer to how I wanted Daud to be played out.

    Artistically, a lot is viable. Is it commercially too though? This is a great quote which dates back a quarter of a century: “When the 3-d world gets sufficiently complex, a player’s choice of actions grows exponentially.” (Source: Designers’ Notes, Underworld II’s Player’s Guide) It wasn’t stated in there and in 1992 probably wasn’t as much of an issue, but video games seem to have this tragic paradoxon that the more complex the 3d-world, the bigger teams you need to build it. So it seems fewer and fewer studios can aim that high. Even two decades ago, a lot of those games were critically acclaimed and held in high regards, but still neither Doom nor Quake nor Half Life, whichever contemporary blockbuster was on the market at that time.

    For a pretty big release, Isolation was very unforgiving, even by the standards of the 1990s. The game didn’t exactly bomb, but it seems Creative Assembly are back to their Total Wars, whilst Sega casts doubt over funding of a sequel. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but Ken Levine attempts to cut back on it a bit, whilst Bioshock arguably was the first game of the LGS mould to reach a big audience and Dishonored didn’t do bad either. So it seems to be branching out, even top class teams doing smaller scaled projects. It’s become most apparent for RPGs with Obsidian and their last couple of titles, but Stellmach, Spector, Neurath and the gang have met too again after so many years. No doubts funding of the Shock1 remake was also made more likely due to the success of Bioshock.

    Dishonored 2 probably also won’t be Call Of Duty (nor Doom, nor Quake, nor Half Life 2), but as with the first Dishonored it may hopefully help to show players that there’s more to 3d games than that, sort of bridging gaps and expectations. Still far too few games like that out there. P.S.: Any chance the PC version could at least start on the AMD’s 68xxxs series of cards? 🙂

  4. Hi Harvey— I knew you back when you and Rebecca were stationed at Ramstein AFB. (Rebecca and I worked for the same company at the BX.) I’m so glad to see that you are a published author—I remember you talking about how it was a big goal for you. However, since I’m a gamer, I’m even more impressed with what you’ve done in the gaming arena. So impressive!
    I know you and Rebecca are not together anymore, but if you still keep in touch with her, please let her know I would really like to reconnect. And if you are ever going to be at Dragon Con, (or any other Con) please let me know, as I make it to a few every year.
    (My previous last name when we knew each other was Bohnart, and my husband was Barry. I’m remarried now.)

  5. Finished the DLCs a couple days ago. Dishonored does unsettling/disturbing pretty well, which Daud’s adventures go a bit more into at the end. Some of this stuff coupled with the audio cues had me freezing on the spot. Hope D2 will feature some of the more darker arts as well. 🙂

    Speaking about Germany, I bought the boxed copy of Dishonored back then at my local German retailer — fun fact here: The voice actress who did the Empress/The Heart also voiced German Shodan in Shock 2 all the way back in all of her creepily distorted glory… not a bad pick!

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