1. Alien: Isolation
After the abysmal effort that was Aliens: Colonial Marines, complete with its gussied up “vertical slice” trailer, you couldn’t have sold me on a game set in Ridley Scott’s infamous universe for anything less than pure excellence. Thankfully, developer Creative Assembly (known for the Total War franchise, oddly enough) managed to create a nearly perfect organism in Alien: Isolation. From the haunting thump-thump-thump of its massive, clawed feet to the unpredictable methodology the creature uses to hunt you down, Isolation creates one of the year’s most tense thrillers. I can’t wait for a sequel.
How do you make a gamer love multiplayer again? Well, giant robots certainly help, and Respawn Entertainment perfected a blend of frantic, aerodynamic gunplay between pilots and Titans. The inclusion of AI opponents is key in keeping less skilled players a chance to feel like they’re contributing, a big selling point for players who wouldn’t otherwise even glance at a traditional Call of Duty-esque multiplayer. The seamless transition between pilot and mech makes for numerous “This one time in…” moments, as you’ll never quite know what you’re up against.
3. Mario Kart 8
It’s a tough call between Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart, but the racing game will always hold a dear place in my heart for facilitating countless friendly gatherings--and some not-so-friendly ones, too! With the transition to HD graphics, Mario Kart’s tracks look greater than ever, and a healthy dose of innovative gameplay, including zero gravity hover mechanics, add enough to the package to justify falling in love all over again.
4. Infamous: Second Son
As a huge fan of the first two Infamous games, Second Son managed to capture a similar sense of otherworldly powers unlike any other game. Now, with the processing power of the Playstation 4, Second Son managed to reign as one of the prettiest looking games to this date, especially when the rubble started flying. A brilliant traversal system allowed for quick and easy transport across the city and above its towering buildings. That a battle could quickly transition from a bombed out street to the 30 story building next to it is incredibly impressive. Troy Baker, Travis Willingham, and other actors managed to convincingly inhabit their world through stunning motion capture and voice performances. Second Son remains a game that I revisit even months after release.
How incredible is it that a card game based on an MMORPG I don’t even play has hooked me as much as it has? Taking the already whimsical and entertaining art style and molding it into a competitive 1v1 formula takes a lot of guts, and keeping players after the initial novelty is a sign of true passion for Blizzard’s product. Expansions like Goblins vs. Gnomes serve to keep the fire going in entertaining ways, and I can’t wait to see what lies in store now that the game is available on Android tablets.
Honorable Mention: PT-----------
"Forgive me, Lisa. There's a monster inside of me."
True horror lies in the unknown, the sense that something just isn't quite right. After descending the steps to the door at the end of the hall, after listening to the chilling tale of a family's murder, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were about to walk into Hell. Surprise, you'd been there all along. The shifting doors, the droning cries of a mysterious one-eyed woman and her baby, that...damn...fridge. That one can only discover the true ending by following a convoluted series of instructions adds to the uncertainty. You're never safe, and people are still discovering ways to evoke Lisa's terrifying form. Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro have reinvigorated interest in a suffering franchise with 20 minutes of pure, unknowable horror.
Joseph Knoop is the Editor in Chief of BYTE