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Staff Picks 2014: Vaughn Highfield

staff picks vaughn (1)

Our staff picks for 2014’s best and brightest continue. Today, Content Editor Vaughn Highfield details his favourite games of last year in a list equal parts big-budget and esoteric.

SPOILER WARNING: We’ll try not to give too much away but, when necessary, there may be spoilers for the games below.

Here’s Vaughn’s top ten:

10. Wolfenstein: The New Order

Wolf GOTY

Hands up if you expected Wolfenstein: The New Order to actually be good? Honestly, I didn’t. But MachineGames managed to blow me off my feet, in fact, it did such a good job with Wolfenstein I’ve decided to put it in my top ten games of the year. Weapons have heft, there’s gore aplenty, and – for what could have been little more than a rote corridoor shooter – there’s actually a damn good story underpinning it all. While the lack of Mecha Hitler definitely puts a strike against it, this is quite possibly the best entry into the series yet.

9. Velocity 2x

Velocity GOTY

While it might not be quite as fresh as Velocity, or Velocity Ultra for that matter, 2x is FuturLab’s foray into the world of speed-run platforming alongside its top-down puzzle shmup. The story may not be the best, and it feels like it drags on – until an absolutely excellent final few levels – but damn, FuturLab knows how to craft a well-designed level and some stonking gameplay sections. There are few games out there that drive you to want to achieve better, and make you think that you really can best it at every level. It’s almost unputdownable, and I’m fine with that, because it’s rare I’ll ever want to put it down again once I’ve picked it up.

8. Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris

Osiris GOTY

While Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition also launched in 2014, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris is really the tomb raiding hit that you want sent right into your veins. The addition of four-player co-op (both online and offline) is the perfect way to enjoy the head-scratching puzzles. The new overworld map keeps the pace flowing, and competition between comrades is rife. While Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light was an enjoyable romp through isometric tombs, Temple of Osiris outdoes it in every way, and provides the ideal couch co-op experience anyone could ask for in 2014.

7. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

LOTR GOTY

What happens if you cross Assassin’s Creed with Lord of the Rings? The answer: something beautiful. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor plays like the best Assassin’s Creed game you’ve played, makes the world your oyster, and then gives you an inordinate amount of things to do. Just as it starts to grow tired, Monolith throws down – quite possibly – the greatest innovation in games in a long time: the Nemesis System. It’s glorious, and all of you yet to experience it need to do so now.

6. Sportsfriends

SF GOTY

I’m sorry for anyone out there who has no friends, this game is not for you. For everyone else, however, this is the only game you ever need when you have friends over. It may only contain four games, but my oh my they are good. Hokra will have you scrambling around a screen trying to knock a puck into your goal, and it’s all the more fun for sharing a PlayStation pad with a friend; BaraBariBall turns goal scoring water polo into a beat-em-up, Super Pole Riders is just riotous fun, and without the many hours spent playing Johann Sebastian’s Joust I genuinely don’t think my life would be as joyous as it is.

5. Peggle 2

P2 GOTY

Perhaps this is a cop-out due to it being released in 2013 on the Xbox One, but it’s only just arrived on PlayStation 4 and, heck, I love Peggle so much that I might have wet myself a little bit when it was announced back at E3 in 2013. It may not be the most “hardcore” title in the list, but damn, Peggle is so addictive that I can’t not put it on my list. Nothing beats lining up a shot, firing off a ball and watching it bound from orange peg to orange peg, hopefully hitting a purple score boost and offering you a free ball at the end. There’s nothing finer I tell you, nothing finer.

4. Far Cry 4

FC4 GOTY

On the surface this seems like more of the same, a Far Cry 3.5 rather than a fully-fledged sequel. But, once you peel back the opening moments and begin to explore Kyrat this feels more like the game Far Cry 3 was always trying to be like. It’s vast, full of peril, and has some excellent character design to boot, but it didn’t land a higher place on this list because it isn’t wholly original as a concept or a game. Still, that just goes to show how immensely enjoyable Ubisoft’s open-world game really is.

3. Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions

gw3 goty

At university Bizarre Creation’s wireframe twin-stick shooter kept me up at night. The pulse-pounding music, vibrant colours and unrelenting learning curve, it all adds up to create something magical. So, with the folding of Bizarre a sequel seemed impossible. Thankfully Lucid Games and, the Activision-owned, Sierra Games resurrected the beast and upped the challenge in the process. It may not be to the tastes of all old-school Geometry Wars fans, but it’s most definitely the best twin-stick shooter around.

2. Mario Kart 8

mk8 goty

I have to be honest here, I’ve never been a big Mario Kart fan. I know, that’s tantamount to treason for any gamer who grew up in the 80s and 90s, but bar a multiplayer session here or there, Mario Kart’s just never had the staying power it’s needed to cement it in my heart. With Mario Kart 8 that’s all changed. Races feel alive, competitive, chaotic and just frankly fun. The new MKTV playbacks at the end of each race will leave you in stitches when playing with friends, and having online races is just absolutely fantastic. Mario Kart 8 showed the world that the Wii U has what it takes to generate a sure-fire hit for Nintendo; that and the fact that Nintendo clearly knows how to make one astoundingly beautiful game.

1. Bayonetta 2

bay2 goty

This surely comes as no surprise to those who follow my reviews, I loved Bayonetta 2 – so much so that I gave it a perfect 10. While its story may well be weak, and the over sexualised nature of Bayonetta herself can be a little too much, Platinum Games’ Nintendo exclusive sequel is the best game to come out of 2014. Combat is fast and pleasing, allowing for complex combos to be performed gracefully in the hands of an expert, while also providing moves that look suitably impressive in the hands of an amateur too. It’s just another reason that Nintendo isn’t out of the console business yet.

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