Critical Intel's mission is to explore the overlapping space between video games and real life in order to enrich the reader's appreciation for both. In doing so, I may stumble across a game that has one spectacular element that deserves mention - even if the rest of the game isn't spectacular.
This Critical Games of 2014 doesn't compile the best games of the year. Inclusion doesn't constitute an award, or even suggest that the entry is a good game. Instead, it serves to highlight one extraordinary aspect of a game that merits attention. This could be a brave mechanic, a well-executed story or a great character.
For a game to appear on the list, it must have released in 2014 and I must have played it. This unfortunately meant many excellent games were left out, and if you think a particular game's missing it's likely because I haven't gotten around to it.
Critical Game of the Year: To Be Determined
Critical Intel's "Critical Game of the Year" isn't supposed to pick the best game of the year, but to highlight the most vital, transformative game published that year. In 2012 it was Spec Ops: The Line because it changed our conception of the entire genre. After playing Spec Ops, it's impossible to look at shooters the same way again. A Critical GOTY should transform both the industry and its players.
I didn't play anything in 2014 that accomplished this level of change, and that's okay. Not every year will give us a game that transforms us, and I'd rather have the slot sit empty than give it to a game that merely got close. This isn't a dig at any of the games on this list - they all show wonderful craftsmanship - but an acknowledgement that this was a rebuilding and consolidation year. Studios and publishers took many technical risks, but few artistic or gameplay ones. Sequels and re-releases dominated the industry as companies placed sure bets. It was a respectable business decision, even if it led to safer entries. For the record, Shadow of Mordor was probably the tightest and most mechanically innovative game I played this year, while Alien: Isolation and Wolfenstein stood as my overall favorites. A frustrating issue with my Steam account has kept me from playing This War of Mine, which might have appeared here if only for its revolutionary perspective shift.
Yet since I wasn't able to play everything, and I'm an optimist, I'll leave this slot open. Perhaps I'll play something that changes my mind - and if that happens I'll update this entry.
Outstanding Adaptation: Alien: Isolation
Games see many rocky adaptations from films and novels, but Alien: Isolation hits the sweet spot in delivering what made the original Ridley Scott film a success. The tone and gameplay evoke the film's dread and claustrophobia, and while the Xenomorph AI can be tricky and frustrating, random attacks enhance the horror. Environmental design plays the greatest role, at times copying the film's look with startling accuracy. Puffy walls make the player unconsciously think of an insane asylum, and characters look sweaty as if the ventilation system's on the fritz.
As difficult as it must've been to reconstruct Alien's unique look, it's truly impressive how well the new material fits into the established universe. Cut-rate Weyland-Yutani competitor Seegson feels right for the setting while lending some dark comedy. Working Joes work as uncanny valley monstrosities. Pervasive advertising captures that late-'70s to early-'80s skepticism of consumer culture. These elements must've taken a great deal of planning to get right, and made Alien: Isolation not only the best sci-fi game I played this year, but one of the best game adaptations ever.