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This weekend I talked about some of the big disappointments from the first half of 2014. It's easy to get cynical after seeing that many highly anticipated games fail to live up to expectations. So much potential was wasted with those titles.

There were a several big games that did deliver on their promises, though. As usual, there were a few surprises too. Here's a list of some of the best games that 2014 has brought us so far.

South Pack: Stick of Truth
South Park: Stick of Truth
A good role-playing game doesn't need to be 40 hours long. South Park: The Stick of Truth is Exhibit A.

I had mixed feelings on the game when I first played it. The combat felt a little too basic at times. The analog stick controls for farts were aggravating. The side quests were the standard assortment of fetch and kill tasks.

Still, those shortcomings don't erase the fact that Stick of Truth is one of the funniest games ever made. Playing Stick is like watching a 10-hour episode of the TV show. It's crammed with old and new references to the show but still manages to be funny even if you don't catch them all. I wish all licensed games were this successful.
Hearthstone
Hearthstone
I'm not really sure why I tried Hearthstone in the first place. Collectible card games, much less ones with microtransactions, never appealed to me. I'm glad I gave it a whirl, though.

Hearthstone is a complicated game that fools you into thinking it isn't. It seems like a kid's game at first, even. You're greeted by a dwarven innkeeper, given a pile of colorful cards emblazoned with gnomes and knights, and then pitted against dimwitted bots. If the game had a hand, it would be patting your head the whole time.

Within an afternoon, though, you're constructing your own decks. Do I need more minions? Does it have a good mana curve? You're cursing the existence of Zoolocks, Miracle Rogues and other things you once never knew existed.

Hearthstone managed to pull me into a genre that I never considered playing before. As long as Blizzard keeps updating and refining the game, I'll be staying there.
Towerfall: Ascension
Towerfall: Ascension
Towerfall was widely considered one of the best exclusives on the Ouya microconsole. Fortunately for the droves of gamers with zero interest in buying a Ouya, the game made its way to PS4 and PC this March as Towerfall: Ascension

Towerfall: Ascension is the brain of a deathmatch in the body of a 2D shoot 'em up. Four archers leap around a small arena and try to snipe each other with a finite supply of arrows. At the end of each (brief) match, an instant replay lets you relive your fatal mistake or lucky shot.

The art style isn't the only retro aspect of the game. Unlike many modern releases, Towerfall isn't intended for online matches against strangers. Instead, this is a game designed for four players sitting around a living room together. In an age where developers can't find the time to squeeze in local multiplayer, Towerfall shows just how much value it has.

A straight port of the Ouya version would have been more than enough to make Ascension one of the best games of 2014 so far. However, the dozens of new Arenas, along with new co-op mode, make this a must-play title.
Dark Souls 2
Dark Souls 2
Gamers have had some bad lucky with late-generation sequels on the PS3 and Xbox 360. God of War: Ascension, Batman: Arkham Origins and Gears of War: Judgment felt like unnecessary additions to otherwise great series. Dark Souls 2, thankfully, doesn't fit that description.

For starters, the combat has received some great improvements. Sorcery is no longer the end-all, be-all. The A.I. enemies are harder to bait and better at pursuing you, so you can't just autopilot through these fights.

From Software worried series fans by saying DS2 would be "more straightforward". Some thought this meant the game would be dumbed down to accommodate more casual gamers. Or maybe the developers would be introducing a separate easy mode.

However, the changes in Dark Souls 2 merely made the game less annoying rather than less difficult. Enemies in an area now stop respawning after you've died a certain amount of times. Bonfires can be used for fast travel right from the outset of the game. The result is that players have more time to focus on learning (i.e. dying) to new challenges.

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Mario Kart 8
Mario Kart 8
Mario Kart has always been an important franchise to Nintendo. Mario Kart 8 might be the most important entry yet because it's on the Wii U, a console shrouded in doubt.

MK8 manages to prove a point solely through its visuals. The new courses are gorgeous and inventive, making old locations new again. The new Bowser's Castle, for example, features an enormous lava statue of Bowser in the middle. In some cases, you're driving up walls or gliding through the air. Somehow, Nintendo managed to keep all this action running at a silky 60 frames per second.

Beneath the glossy graphics are the features refined over two decades. The best parts of Mario Kart 7 and Mario Kart Wii like vehicle customization and 12-player races make their return. They're accompanied by smart additions like Miiverse ghost data and the Super Horn, the latter of which can stop the dreaded blue shell.

MK8 may not be the best game in the series but it certainly maintains the series' tradition of excellence. It also reminds skeptics that the Wii U's best days aren't behind it.

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