Winning isn't everything
It's always tough trying to whittle down year's worth of great games down to a reasonably sized list, and our recent meetings to determine Game of the Year 2014 were no different. Hopes were dashed, personal darlings were ridiculed, and one or two tables might've been flipped in the debates for which 25 games should make the final cut. But just because you don't see a particular game on the list, doesn't mean we didn't love it. It's just that, like an intriguing subplot when your quest log is full of them, there simply wasn't enough room.
Consider this collection of titles to be the contenders for #26 and below on this year's GOTY awards. It may not be the best consolation prize, but we assure you that and each and every one of these games is worth playing - and depending on your tastes, they might even find a place among your 2014 favorites. Now we present to you, in no particular order, the great games that came just short of our 'must play' list.
The Walking Dead: Season 2
The continuation of Clem's survival story through the zombie apocalypse might not have tugged at our heartstrings quite like the first season, but that doesn't mean it's any less intense. As always, Telltale has a knack for perfectly pacing each episode, luring you into brief senses of security before bowling you over with another character's death. We much prefer this tenacious, self-sufficient Clem to her more timid, younger self, especially when she seems more level-headed than the emotionally damaged adults surrounding her. That choice we were forced to make the end of The Walking Dead: Season 2 will stay with us for a long, long time.
Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth
Atlus heard you like crossover games, so it put a crossover within a crossover to satisfy fans of its most popular niche genres. Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth brings together the casts of Persona 3 and 4, thanks to time-travel strangeness that unites the two teams of demon-hunting high schoolers. There's tons of fan service here, mostly from the very defined personalities bouncing off one another. But the actually gameplay deepens as the teens explore dungeons made in the style of hardcore RPG Etrian Odyssey. It's an intense and lengthy celebration of both series, and a real treat for any fan with 100 hours to kill.
It's not easy trying to reinvent the open-world wheel, but antihero Aiden Pierce and his uncanny ability to hack any electronic device in sight does a pretty fine job of mixing things up. Exploring Watch Dogs' virtual Chicago with Aiden's super-smartphone at the ready is empowering in a way few games are, tapping into voyeuristic tendencies and the greedy delight of siphoning money from honest folk at will. With the randomly generated backstories behind each and every NPC citizen, you naturally start to create moral dilemmas for yourself - because what kind of sicko steals the cash for a new coat from a depressed social worker?
If you haven't played a Trials game yet, then you might not know that sanity-cracking frustration and hilarious fun can be experienced at the same time. Think of Trials Fusion as a motocross platformer set in a utopian future, where even the slightest imbalance in your physics-centric driving means face-planting in humiliating ragdoll fashion. Your frailty makes it all the more rewarding when you actually do reach the finish line in record time, and jockeying for leaderboard positions against your buddies is always addictively competitive. The trick system might've caused more spills than thrills, but Trials Fusion is one of the most addictive, oddball downloadables your money should buy.
The team at Supergiant Games knows how to hybridize genres with the best of them. You probably know them for the isometric action RPG Bastion - and though it takes a decidedly different tone, Transistor combines methodical tactics and flashy brawling with the same kind of satisfying ease. The futuristic world it paints is beautiful in both concept and aesthetic, and the premise of pairing a now-mute singer with a talking sword is ingenious. Oh, and the gorgeous soundtrack must be heard to be believed.
The Metroidvania's blend of platforming and exploration is an easy enough concept to grasp - but getting the execution just right is another matter entirely. Strider Hiryu's triumphant return in, well, Strider is a shining example of what makes the genre so much fun. Loads of secrets, snappy movement, a constant string of new abilities and upgrades, and invigorating combat - it's all part of your perfectly paced one-man war against the henchmen of Grandmaster Meio. Hearing the oh-so satisfying SHING! of Strider's blade as it slices through goons never gets old, and the host of unlockable costumes let you switch up your fighting style for a metric butt-ton of added replay value.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
Enjoy the Ace Attorney games, but wish they were more intense, drenched in conspiracies, and stuffed with angsty teens trapped in a life-or-death struggle? That's Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, the visual novel that sees 16 Japanese teens imprisoned in a deadly high school by an evil-yet-cuddly headmaster named Monokuma (yes, he's a stuffed bear). The only way to "graduate" is to kill another student and get away with it, which leads to some very intense, dramatic mock trials between the pupils. The writing here is stupendous, with clearly defined characters and surprising twists that make for a lengthy, fulfilling adventure.
The Banner Saga
Life is hard. Few games so beautifully - and painfully - illustrate this most salient fact as The Banner Saga, a painterly old-school tactics game of vikings, giants, and heartless sentient statues. Between each turn-based battle, you've got to make some seriously devastating choices of how to best sustain your caravan, almost like a Norse-themed Oregon Trail. When your beloved heroes die, they often die for good, and the skirmishes are so unrelentingly tough that casualties are pretty much inevitable. If you've got the emotional fortitude to make the tough calls and carry on after your favorite fighters are slain in battle, The Banner Saga is for you.
Logic: who needs it? Sunset Overdrive just wants you to have a good time, so it flips the double birds to typical open-world structures and just focuses on making things fun. It succeeds, thanks to the kinetic, exhilarating movement abilities - like grinding on rails, running around walls, and dashing on water - that make getting from point A to point B an absolute blast. Your selection of weaponry is inventively off-the-wall, unsurprising given that this is an Insomniac game. Where many open-world games feel like a series of boring drives sandwiched between exciting missions, hauling ass through Sunset City makes the journey just as exciting as the destination.
Broken Age: Part 1
The concept of parallelism isn't explored in games too often - and it's even rarer to find it used as the basis for a delightfully drawn point-and-click adventure. Broken Age's stories of protagonists Shay and Vella initially seem nothing alike; he floating through space with an overprotective computer for a mother, she asked to literally sacrifice herself for a glorified beauty pageant. But as you play, both of their adventures start to open up, keeping you so engrossed that you won't even notice how smartly paced all the puzzles are. The first half ends on quite the cliffhanger, and you can bet that when Part 2 rolls around to close up the story, it'll solidify a place for itself in 2015's Game of the Year list.
Well worth playing
So, have we broken your heart a second time by failing to recognize your favorite 2014 game again?! Use your words to give us 40 verbal lashes in the comments section below. And just because you don't see something on this list, doesn't mean you shouldn't play it at your earliest convenience (like OlliOlli, pictured above).
And if you want to see what DID make our annual GOTY list, check out the Best games of 2014, then read about How Alien: Isolation can change the way you play games.