This year ended up being a banner year for games and consoles, according to LJ gaming columnist M. Brandon Robbins. Here’s a quick rundown of the titles that deserve shelf space in every library with a gaming collection. The honorable mentions are incredible in their own right, offering quality game play experiences, but only appeal to a specific type of gamer or fan of their native genre.
Game of the Year
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. Warner Bros. PC/XB1/PS4. Dark brutal and endlessly immersive, this is not the Tolkien by way of Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings universe to which many people have become accustomed. Casting the player as Talion, a Ranger stationed at the gates of Mordor, the narrative quickly spirals into darkness: Talion and his family are murdered by the Black Hand of Sauron, then Talion is brought back to life by the wraith of an elf and begins a trek across the scarred lands of Mordor, forging a path to the Black Hand himself. Powered by a new mechanic called the Nemesis system, Shadow of Mordor creates a social and political system all its own. The controls are solid, the action is addictive, and there’s a lot to do, but Nemesis is really what makes this game sing, and it’s so good at bringing so many new game play elements to the table that it deserves to be Game of the Year. (PS3/360 versions are poorly reviewed and not recommended.)
Depression Quest. The Quinnspiracy. PC.
Here the player is a regular person struggling to cope with depression. Gamers can guide the character through denial to seek therapy and medication or continue to try to deal with their issues on their own, to let friends and families closer or push them away, and to seek out escapes from their daily doldrums or sink into despair. Depression Quest dares to tell a story that’s uncomfortable and unhappy but ultimately eye-opening. (LJ 10/15/14)
Super Smash Bros. Nintendo. Wii U.
While a fun diversionary button-masher on the surface, there’s a deep and complex fighting game to be found with just a little digging. The same controls trigger different moves in different characters, making each persona unique and each match a true event. Super Smash Bros. is easy to learn, difficult to master, and a truly enjoyable gaming experience all around. Get multiple Wii U consoles, multiple copies of this game, and as many controllers as you can afford. You’re going to need them.
This War of Mine. 11 Bit Studios. PC.
There is no glory or honor to be had in this war; you are an untrained civilian, struggling to survive along with other refugees in a makeshift shelter. Food, medicine, and weapons are scarce, and the player has to manage every resource. The game asks tough questions, gives tough answers, and reveals things about ourselves to which we don’t want to admit. It shows that war is not all heroic deeds—there are real victims and real consequences.
Titanfall. Electronic Arts. PC/XB1/360.
You can parkour across the battlefield with the aid of a jetpack or pilot a Titan, a mech-style battle tank exoskeleton. Other Titans are piloted by enemies, and they all have nuclear cores that could blow at any time. Made by the developers of the “Call of Duty” series, this multiplayer shooter is a blast to play, has balance unheard of in a first-person shooter, and has well-designed maps that make each battle its own action-movie climax. The new first-person shooter in rotation for your gaming events.
Alien: Isolation. Sega. PS3/PS4/360/XB1/PC.
Set between the first two “Alien” movies, this game casts the player as Amanda Ripley, daughter of the films’ main character. Amanda is investigating her mother’s disappearance on a space station in which something has gone horribly wrong. Fans of the movies know what to expect, and the game delivers with a terrifying villain that hunts your character relentlessly: the Alien. With excellent AI and constant tension, this game will push gamers to their limits.
Dark Souls II. From Software. PS3/PS4/360/XB1/PC.
This brutally challenging and unapologetically dark game isn’t interested in feel-good experiences or broadening your worldview; rather, it wants to make you suffer and force you to doubt the value of your very existence. Players guide characters of their own creation through a dark fantasy world on a quest to reclaim their humanity. This game does not pretend to empower the gamer, but you’ll feel all the better for finishing it.
Dragon Age: Inquisition. Electronic Arts. PS4/XB1/360/PS3/PC.
The third “Dragon Age” game closely follows the earlier two—anyone using a machine with saves from the previous games on the hard drive will see events from them working their influence. The player must attempt to close the Rift, a massive portal in the sky through which demons are emerging, though this won’t stop the war between the Templars and the Mages. This game offers rich character development, including determining the character’s sexuality. A great RPG title with exciting combat, a satisfying story, and a fully realized setting.
Far Cry 4. Ubisoft. XB1/PS4/360/PS3/PC.
The player is a man who returns to a fictional country in the Himalayas to scatter his mother’s ashes and gets involved in a brutal civil war. While this is one of the most challenging “Far Cry” games yet, the player has nearly unlimited freedom in how to accomplish objectives: sneak into the camp and eliminate enemies one by one, or rush in, guns blazing—possibly on a personal helicopter. As fun as it is challenging; the hostile environment will keep gamers on their toes.
Five Nights at Freddy’s. Scott Cawthon. PC/iOS/Android.
Casting the player as the night watchman at a kids’ pizza parlor, this game quickly becomes an exercise in fear and paranoia. The player soon realizes that something is very wrong as the restaurant’s animatronic characters take on a life of their own. Alone in the dark with no means of self-defense except for two security doors and a dwindling power supply, the player finds that surviving the game’s five nights becomes increasingly difficult. One of the most effective horror games ever.
Never Alone. Upper One Games. PS4/XB1/PC.
Made in conjunction with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, this game is as much a tribute to the Iñupiaq tribespeople of northern Alaska as it is a puzzle. Players guide a young girl and her fox on a quest to discover the source of a never-ending blizzard, pursued by a fireball-throwing foe throughout each level. A statement about climate change and an act of preservation for a culture’s mythology and way of life, this is a digital-only title, but load it on your in-house systems to give gamers a deep and thoughtful experience.
Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth. 2K Games. PC.
Harking back to the classic Sid Meier game Alpha Centauri, players take on the role of the leader of an expedition that has struck out to settle a new planet for a post-Earth life. With sf elements and a dynamic environment—watch out for siege worms!—this game requires deep thought and careful planning, but it ignites the imagination like no other. It requires Steam, so it’s hard to circulate; keep it on your in-house machines.