In a year as full of bad news as 2014, it was a relief to have so many great new games to allow us to escape from reality for a while. For fans of games of all kinds, this was an exceptional year. For console gamers, the new offerings by Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony have begun to hit their stride, offering up impressive graphics and gameplay that just weren’t possible on older systems. For PCs it’s a “business as usual” situation, but that’s a fine business to be in, truth be told.
And all of that isn’t to say that those who only own older consoles are being left in the dust. There have been plenty of new games released for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, though, admittedly, they’re mostly second-rate in comparison to the new generation of gaming consoles.
The follow are the best of the best games of the year, as determined by Metacritic rankings. Most are AAA titles from big studios, though an indie game or two may have slipped in as well.
19. Ultra Street Fighter IV (360, PS3, PC)
Channeling an old school feel with its intentionally choppy graphics and reliance on complex combination moves, Ultra Street Fighter IV is a game that’s easy to mess around with, but difficult to master. Serious newcomers will want to invest in a proper joystick for optimal deadliness, and be prepared for a long, hard introduction to the series. Prepare to get the stuffing knocked out of you.
This product is both a full game and an update to a previous installment, meaning owners of Super Street Fighter IV can download Ultra to update the gameplay, roster, and stages available.
18. Valkyria Chronicles (PC, PS3)
A port of the original PS3 game, 2014’s release of Valkyria Chronicles got a warm reception when it released in November. It offers up the complete experience of the original and all the downloadable content that had since been released.
The game takes place in a fictional 1930s Europe, telling the tale of an arms race between two factions – the Federation and the Empire – and how one of the sides has discovered the Valkyria, a mythical race with phenomenal magic powers.
The game’s combat is a unique tactical experience that throws players into skirmishes all over a battlefield – a situation for which the PC will be an ideal system.
17. World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor
WoW is immortal, a game that is now 10 years old and can consistently draw in even lapsed players with the promise of a new expansion. Warlords of Draenor is the latest in a long line of those updates. It’s one that improves character models to better reflect the current year, boosts the level cap to 100, and throws out a whole host of new content for new and returning players alike to enjoy.
This expansion throws out most of Warcraft’s established lore, bringing an army of Orcs from the past to wage war with the world of the present.
16. Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition (XB1, PS4)
Tomb Raider was released in 2013 for the 360 and PS3, and to great acclaim. Now it’s back for the new consoles, and while re-releases (and especially releases that come so soon on the heels of the original outings) are often regarded with suspicion, there’s enough good here that critics recommended paying full price for the new experience, rather than a discounted price for the old.
Tomb Raider reboots the franchise, which stars archaeologist Lara Croft and follows her on her adventures to tombs and ancient ruins around the world, with plenty of sci-fi and fantasy weirdness to keep players on their toes.
15. Titanfall (PC, XB1, X360)
Long before this game was released it was the subject of much talk, and more than a little adoration. The love has cooled in the months following its release, but that doesn’t mean Titanfall isn’t still a fantastic game.
Players can run up walls, hover with jetpacks, and pilot giant robots called Titans in a massive, carnage-filled battle full of all kinds of other sci-fi weirdness.
Another great thing about this game is that, while it was developed for the Xbox One, the 360 version is surprisingly great. It feels just like the original – a feat that many thought would be impossible to pull off.
14. Halo: Master Chief Collection (XB1)
It had its share of trouble after its launch, with server issues keeping many of those who had purchased the game from getting their multiplayer gaming on. However, the sheer volume of content and the level of quality of the material that does work make the MCC a stellar offer by Microsoft.
Halo 1-4, with the original multiplayer games and maps of each, all in 1080p, 60fps glory. It’s a huge difference, and makes returning to the games of your youth a joy. It’s all on a single disc, meaning there are no obstacles to having a sprawling night of Halo that takes you through more than a decade of your faves.
13. NBA 2K15
Most sports game franchises are quite good these days, but the NBA 2K games consistently set themselves apart as being a notch above the rest.
Some of the 2014 additions to this game are a bit gimmicky. The face scan capability, for example, allows players to enter a 3d model of their face for use with a custom player. But there’s plenty more that actually affect gameplay, including a ton of new animations, AI revamps, and new, all-important broadcast announcer clips.
There were concerns about the game when it was first released, but the fundamental gameplay is said to be an improvement on the already fabulous 2K14.
12. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (PC, PS4, XB1, PS3, X360)
Nobody was really expecting a new game inspired by Middle Earth to be as good as Shadow of Mordor, but for weeks after its launch, players were buzzing about the fun they were having taking down orc captains, using spirit powers to dominate enemies, and pretty much waltzing through Mordor with a sword in hand.
It’s the Nemesis system that really shone, though. That system creates the enemies which are unique to each playthrough, rewarding players for pulling the strings of the orcish hierarchy and punishing them for their failures by making their enemies more powerful. Critics have warned, though, that the 360 and PS3 versions aren’t quite to the same level as the other platforms.
11. Shovel Knight (Wii U, PC)
It’s an indie game, so a little out of place here, but the fan love has been so overwhelming that it would be difficult not to give this one a home on this list.
Shovel Knight is a 2D platformer that places players in the role of a shovel-wielding knight. The game is very much in the style of a game from the NES era, but throws in enough modern touches to give it that little something to differentiate it from what came before.
It’s not a game for everybody, and won’t be blowing anyone away with its graphics, but by all accounts it’s a fabulous time to play.
10. Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
If you’re looking for a party game that anyone can pick up, play, and have a fabulous time with, it’s tough to beat Mario Kart 8. It’s the series refined to perfection, a well-balanced, beautiful kart racer with an enormous selection of beloved characters and courses to choose from.
This installment also represents a new direction for the series. The first downloadable content pack for the game adds The Legend of Zelda’s Link to the game, the first time a character unrelated to the Mario franchise has been available to play. It’s a nice change of pace, welcomed by those worried the franchise was getting stale, and proof that there’s still plenty of life in the series.
9. Dragon Age Inquisition (PS4, XB1, PC)
The first Dragon Age was beloved for its story and RPG elements. The second, though not as warmly received, was still shown some love for its more intuitive combat system. Now, the third in the series, Inquisition, has been released, and by all accounts it is a fantastic addition.
Players are thrust into a world in which they serve as Inquisitor for a new religious movement, with plenty of options available through which to create a unique character, both in looks and in capability.
As with prior Dragon Age games, there are many choices players will be forced to make, some with immediate consequences. There are also several callbacks to the other entries, with repercussions of prior actions dictating the flow of this game’s story.
8. Metro 2033 Redux (PC)
Survival horror games are all the rage these days, and Metro 2033 is one of the year’s finest. Set in Moscow, 2033, the game thrusts players into the subterranean world of the subway systems, now the only safe haven in a world that was destroyed in the apocalypse of 2013. A chance encounter brings you out of the darkness and into the harsh light of the world above, where a battle for all of humankind is to be pitched.
With resources scarce and the world unforgiving, newcomers might find the learning curve steep. Sticking with it will reveal the game for the immersive and rewarding experience that it is.
7. Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition (XB1, PS4, X360, PS3)
A re-release of 2012’s Diablo III, the Ultimate Evil Edition packs in the downloadable expansion “Reaper of Souls” for console owners, allowing them the full Diablo III experience right out of the gate.
The game, an action RPG, sets players the task of defeating Diablo, a powerful demon, and allows all sorts of different approaches. There are many character classes available to choose from, and a huge number of items that will allow players to customize their personal experience.
The game also offers the challenge of “Hardcore” mode, in which death is permanent. It’s a fun addition to a RPG, and encourages attachment to created characters, while also offering up an enormous challenge.
6. Bayonetta 2 (Wii U)
One of the strangest games around, Bayonetta 2 is nonetheless hugely entertaining. In the game, you play as Bayonetta; a gun-toting witch who fights the intimidating angelic and demonic hosts through intense, fluid combat.
It’s a game all about timing, rewarding intelligent combo moves and good sense of movement. A sequel to the 2009 Xbox 360 and PS3 game Bayonetta, it’s available only for the Wii U, but comes packaged with the original so that fans can play the whole story through.
The game has been criticized for its sexualized heroine, with some arguing that the approach to the character is immature, although others claim her sexuality is empowering.
5. Rayman Legends (XB1, PS4)
Another platformer, Rayman Legends for Xbox One and PS4 is a re-release of 2013’s title, which saw players take on a variety of puzzle-filled levels en route to defeating the growing nightmare forces.
The game has been widely praised for its gorgeous visuals and compelling level design. The version for newer consoles improves on the experience by offering better textures and lower loading times. It’s likely not a title to go out and purchase if you already own the versions for a different console, but for those looking to make a first time buy, the version for the Xbox One or PS4 might prove to best for the money.
4. Dark Souls II (X360, PS3, PC)
Dark Souls is notorious for its difficulty, a tradition carried on with bloodthirsty glee by Dark Souls II. An unforgiving RPG that delights in frustrating players with its harsh combat and frightening aesthetics, Dark Souls II is nonetheless an immersive and rewarding experience for those with the guts and determination to stick it out and devote the time necessary to improve.
Console gamers might be pleased to hear that an updated version of the game is set to be released for Xbox One and PS4. The game will offer higher quality graphics and a variety of gameplay improvements, along with some additional content. The new console version should be out in 2015.
3. Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut (PC)
Melding science fiction and fantasy, Shadowrun: Dragonfall was considered a success when it was released earlier this year. The addition of the Director’s cut just sweetened the deal, throwing in a new combat system, better interface, and new missions. Best of all, where Dragonfall was initially an expansion for the original Shadowrun, the Director’s Cut of Dragonfall made the game a standalone title. At $15, that makes Dragonfall a perfect introduction to the new world order of 2050s Germany, one where the looming threat of a dragon once thought dead threatens to throw the world into chaos.
2. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Whether you’re a Melee fanatic or someone who hasn’t played since the N64 original, Smash for Wii U promises hours of over the top cartoon violence guaranteed to have you laughing with your friends.
Positioned as one of the flagship party games for the Wii U, the game offers a huge number of characters to choose from, a wide selection of stages on which to battle, and more controller options than necessary, truth be told.
A welcome return, just for this game, is the Gamecube controller. Nintendo released an adapter so longtime Smashers could use their controller of choice – a nice touch, and proof that the company is looking to encourage the competitive Smash scene.
1. The Last of Us Remastered (PS4)
Another year-later released, the remastered version of The Last of Us lives up to expectations by offering the same stellar gaming experience that the original did, just with better graphics and more content.
The award-winning game follows the story of two survivors in a post-apocalyptic world filled with what are essentially zombies. Added to the remastered version is the campaign expansion “Left Behind,” which explores a portion of the character Ellie’s backstory. It also comes with both multiplayer map packs, ensuring plenty of value both for newcomers and returning players alike.
The remastered version presents the game in 1080p, 60fps quality – leaps and bounds beyond what the original game offered up.