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Best Action/Adventure Game of 2014 Nominees
Developed by Creative Assembly
Published by Sega
Released October 7, 2014
Available on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One.
Alien: Isolation - PlayStation 4
A truly frightening survival horror game told in first person, Alien: Isolation lives up to Ridley Scott's vision of the Xenomorph like no other game has before. The Alien is a deadly implacable force and it is looking for you.
The mark of a truly effective piece of horror lies not in what it does, but in what it doesn't do. A piece of art that can terrify you without even having to show anything, that can make you afraid without a monster, without something leaping out of the shadows, has accomplished something rare and powerful. Alien, the movie that spawned one of the most inspirational science fiction franchises in history, knew this well. For all the moments that we actually see the titular Alien, its those moments where we don't know where it is, where there's no trace of the extraterrestrial killer, that are the most fear-inducing... Alien: Isolation is at its scariest when it's not doing anything, and I don't mean that as an insult. This is a game that not only understands its source material, it lives up to it.
The audiovisual presentation matches the quality of the scares, and are crucial parts of building an oppressive atmosphere. What I love most is just how authentic everything feels. From the beige padded walls to the steam-spewing pipes and tubing that always looks like a Xeno in the corner of one's eye, everything in Isolation looks like it belongs right in the original movie's universe. Never has an Alien game tried so hard to look, sound, and feel like a real part of franchise, and never has one been so successful.
Middle-Earth Shadow of Mordor
Developed by Monolith Productions
Published by Warner Bros. Interactive
Released September 30, 2014
Available on PC, PS4, Xbox One
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor - Xbox One
The works of J.R.R. Tolkien mean a lot to us, and Shadow of Mordor throws it all out the window. It's a story the grand fantasist would never tell, but Shadow of Mordor is the first game that let you feel like you were mucking around in Middle-earth. The combat was counter-based and addictive, the open nature of the nemesis was excellently implemented, and the plans you enacted were awesome, or not.
It is difficult to sum up in words just exactly how this system is so fun to play around with. Once you learn the rules, it's a really a strategy game you play out in third person action. In order to take out the war chiefs, you have to target the bodyguards first. To discover the weaknesses of the bodyguards, you have to get intel on them. You get intel by interrogating specially marked orcs called "worms" which means keeping them alive while you murder the group they are with. Once you finally get the intel, you use it to find the captain's location and exploit his weaknesses. You lure him near a caragor cage and release the beast just at the right moment for it to throttle the poor bastard. You put together plans and see them through. Or, you improvise when things go wrong. You create diversions. You maximize advantages and try to minimize disadvantages. All this is done to avenge your family. It's remarkable.
So many games set in Middle-earth fall into the same tired tropes of heroic fantasy. The theme of revenge is one Tolkien rejected in his writing, yet it is refreshing to see it explored in Shadow of Mordor. Boromir wanted to use the One Ring to attack Mordor but his views were ignored by the Council of Elrond - Tolkien did not support using the tools of the enemy and favored forgiveness over revenge. Shadow of Mordor posits what would have happened if the power of the Rings had been used against the orcs. Does committing evil act as recompense for the evil you have suffered? Is it more important to see justice served than to live your life? Talion and the wraith possessing him do not ask these questions explicitly, but the theme is clear from the dialogue and the mechanics of the game itself. At points, I was not playing the game in the most effective way because I was blinded by revenge against the orc who killed me. I can't say Shadow of Mordor was the deepest narrative I ever experienced in a video game, but it was more successful than most at conveying a human truth.
Developed by Ubisoft Montreal
Published by Ubisoft
Released May 27, 2014. Available on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One.
Watch Dogs - PlayStation 4
The first game in a new open-world franchise from Ubisoft, Watch Dogs borrows a lot form games like Far Cry 3 and Assassin's Creed but does so by focusing those mechanics like a laser beam. The fantasy hacking in modern Chicago made for some unique gameplay like using security cameras to engage with enemies and blackouts to escape from the cops.
Watch Dogs' ultimate triumph is in just how alive it makes Chicago feel. More than Saints Row, more than even Grand Theft Auto V, Ubisoft's Chicago feels populated, thriving, buzzing with life. There's an ambiance to it, a sense of belonging to the world that no other city-based game has managed to capture as well. From the amount of civilians on display, to the random snippets of conversation and the bundles of optional content and dialogue, Watch Dogs' world is satisfying to simply be a part of.
Watch Dogs is seen by some as the true herald of a new generation of videogames, a view that Ubisoft itself has done little to discourage. An open world game sold on impressive visual quality and the unique promise of "hacking the world," this story of cyber crime and info brokering is not quite the revolution it may first appear to be. It is, however, a slickly produced, highly polished example of sandbox gaming with an embarrassment of riches in the content department.
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