The 25 Best Videogames of 2014

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10. Actual Sunlight

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Distance and closeness. Living and wanting to die. Sociality without wanting to be social. These are the not-quite dyads that flow through Actual Sunlight’s backstory delivered in the present, full of fleshed-out characterization, told through transcribed documents scattered and associated with different locations; it is, in a strange way, closer to Bioshock than most other contemporary narrative games. However, it shows us a way out of that paradigm as well—these are not tacked-on or extra, but instead they deliver the whole world to us, showing that narrative interludes in games might work better when they are not interludes at all, but rather complete and total embraces of pure narrative in an interactive space.—CK

9. Fantasia: Music Evolved

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Fantasia: Music Evolved isn’t about turning music into a sequence of buttons to mash, or about the nostalgia of a classic movie. It’s about exploring music and the possibilities of sound, letting me literally reshape them with my hands. The end result is one of the most exhilarating games I’ve ever played. I’m bouncing around, working up my heart rate, hurling my arms in every direction, pulling in keyboards and clarinets, muting guitars and drum machines, sculpting solos with my hands, and feeling a connection to music and to a game that I’ve never felt before. It’s not like dancing, and it’s not like playing in a band or DJing at a bar. It’s something entirely different, something special and weird.—GM

8. Nidhogg

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Nidhogg has existed for years, but wasn’t commercially released until the second week of 2014. The one-on-one dueling match is like tug of war played with swords in a world that’s part Atari and part expressionist painting. It’s a game, and a fun one, and one of the best things you’ll play on a Vita or PC or anything else this year.—GM

7. Dark Souls II

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Why do I willingly play a game that doesn’t just make me want to break things, but that exists almost exclusively to make me want to break things? With Dark Souls II it’s simply the return of something that I liked in the past. It doesn’t have that groundbreaking edge of the first two, but it recaptures everything else that I love about Dark Souls—the tension, the need for patience, the dependence upon skill, and the sublime satisfaction of completing something that provides deep and sustained frustration.—GM

6. Valiant Hearts: The Great War

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Despite its beautiful cartoon aesthetic, Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a serious game that explores the horrors of war more directly than almost any first-person shooter. It focuses on World War I, the first truly modern war, and how it dehumanized both civilians and soldiers. And it does this within the context of a delightful puzzle game. It’s a great example of how to approach a grim subject in a way that’s respectful and illuminating but still entertaining.—GM

5. Mario Kart 8

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Mario Kart 8 brings back a type of game long absent from my living room. The core of Mario Kart 8 delivers exactly what I wanted—a return to the “friends screaming at each other, red-spark generating, mercilessly hitting-each-other-with-shells” action that made the series fun from the start.—Casey Malone

4. Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U

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The sense of hugeness, of discovery, of never fully understanding what’s going on but knowing that eventually you’ll figure it out if you just keep trying? That sentiment has been thoroughly packed into Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U, which feels more deliciously expansive than any iteration before it. It feels like a version of Smash that has achieved a higher plane of self-awareness. This game has leaned even further into its own wackiness, and it’s up to you whether you want to come along for the ride.—MM

3. Bayonetta 2

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Who is Bayonetta for? It’s never been entirely clear, and the question remained at the back of my mind throughout Bayonetta 2. Is she a raunchy male-gaze-panderer, or a woman reclaiming her own sexuality? Is her story an ill-thought mish-mash, or is it a hilarious, self-aware send-up of videogame clichés? I posit that Bayonetta 2 is intentionally leaning into the concept of “male gaze” for the sake of comedy and reclamation. I don’t particularly care whether that’s intentional or not, because either way, I’m entertained. It’s rare that a game actually offers me a compelling story, a nuanced heroine, jokes that are funny and never cringe-worthy, plus combat mechanics that I can sink hours into perfecting again and again.—MM

2. Transistor

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[This is] the essence of Transistor: In the face of power, unique human qualities become valuable, hand-picked functions that operate in the service of an agenda. To a degree, we all lose our voice. In the wreckage of a fallen world, the only choice left to make is whose side we’re on, and what we’re willing to give up for the sake of the cause.—Richard Clark

1. Kentucky Route Zero Act III

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Kentucky Route Zero has always seemed to be a game about rest. The experience of playing the game itself is noticeably muted, and while the pacing isn’t exactly slow, there’s a meandering quality to it. The game itself asks very little of the player, as if it was created with the weary and heavy-laden in mind.

By now I’m starting to view Kentucky Route Zero as a game about discovering how to rest. We all have a good idea of how to physically rest; just lay down, close your eyes, and fall asleep. The next day, we’re back to normal, given enough time in slumber. But how does a spiritually exhausted person rest? How do we recharge our tired souls?—RC

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