Landon Durnan’s Top 10 Games of 2014

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This was such an awesome year. I moved in with my girlfriend, I built things, hiked Half Dome, I was invited to share a panel with some amazing people at PAX, I adopted the most adorable puppy, I still watched a ton of movies, but I managed to also find time to play dozens of awesome games. Here’s what I consider to be the Top 10 Games from 2014.

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10. Secret Ponchos

From the moment I saw this game at PAX East a couple years ago I was in love. It delivers in spades: art direction, music, attention to detail and a competitive western third-person shooter with the trapping of a fighter is the total package. It’s a gorgeous and amazingly fun game. At every event I’d run over to chat with the Switchblade Monkeys and get my ass handed to me in-game. I’ve seen the game evolve. I’ve loved hearing the team discuss the smallest details wanting to make everything perfect. It’s easy to recommend a game that shines and Secret Ponchos is golden.

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9. Jazzpunk

Jazzpunk is loud, wild, eccentric and completely hilarious. It could largely have to do with so many hidden jokes playing right to the pop culture I was exposed to growing up. Inspired by early spoof comedy films there is so much absurdity throughout. Ridiculous creative interactive elements, bombastic amazing music, hidden mini-games, entire levels crafted for a joke all had me giggling with delight through the whole thing.

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8. Valiant Hearts: The Great War

There are few games that I would describe as important, but Valiant Hearts is definitely up there. There is this beautiful juxtaposition between the art design, mechanics, and the heavy subject matter. We live in a world saturated by hyper-realistic battle simulators that build to cinematic crescendos, but rarely have the depth of anything that actually feels real or human. Valiant Hearts masks an incredibly deep and enriching history lesson, actual accounts of terrible human tragedy, in what looks and feels like a game for kids. Games have the ability to do so much creatively and expose their players to things they may not be familiar with: history, culture, and real human-stories. Valiant Hearts does all of that.

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7. Threes

Threes is perfect. I think it may actually be the perfect mobile game. It’s a game that I’ve improved at over time, but one I will never beat. I can play game after game and still come back to no matter what because it feels so good. Threes has made me experience the Tetris effect. I’ve spent time watching a robot play it. I’ve even looked at the A.I. code written for said robot hoping to glean some hidden secret understanding to improve my score. I’ve come close to swatting every device I see with the mind-numbing idiotic rip-off 2048. Threes looks simple, but has an insane attention to detail. Threes is easy to play, but difficult to master. Threes is perfect.

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6. Kentucky Route Zero: Act III

Another ethereal act searching for Route Zero. We’re introduced to more characters, more background, and more mysteries. Each continuing act of KRZ manages to teleport me to what feels like another plane of existence. When the act is over I awake from a hypnotic stupor and start anxiously awaiting for more.

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5. The Wolf Among Us

Hearing that Telltale Game’s follow-up to The Walking Dead would be another comic-book adaptation and one I was familiar with had me intrigued. But how could it best TWD, my favorite game of 2012? Bill Cunningham’s Fables has a huge universe and complex characters with a lot of history. It would be no easy feat to tackle that world, but Telltale did an incredible job of not just making a faithful adaptation, but creating a game that had me excited for every episode.

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4. The Banner Saga

With inspirations like Lord of the Rings and Disney artist Eyvind Earl, The Banner Saga delivers a grand scale world, incredible score, with the prettiest visuals we’ve seen in a game all year. Your decisions make a big impact on your ability to survive, what characters join you on your way, and how the story unfolds. The turn-based tactics combat keeps you engaged and offers a fun challenge, that has no remorse. If you lose a battle or make a poor decision, it all comes together to reinforce this overwhelming sense of dread. It’s an element I believe all games strive for, but The Banner Saga achieves. Creating a game where the experiences in the game becomes your own.

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3. Super Time Force

The first time I saw Super Time Force I immediately understood the gravity of an action platformer with time-splitting mechanics allowing you to effectively create multiple versions of yourself to complete a level or beat a boss. But the first time I played it, I felt like I had never played an action platformer before, couldn’t beat a level, and was laughed at by everyone around me. Super Time Force takes the concepts we’re all familiar with, even the new ones like parallel timelines, and mashes them all together in an entirely new way. Yeah, it takes some time to wrap your head around it and stop running directly into bullets. But the time you figure that out is also when you realize that Capybara Games jammed a quick-thinking logic puzzler into a precision-based action game. And it’s glorious, hilarious, and a feast for all your senses.

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2. FRACT OSC

In the past I’ve used words like discovery, cathartic and revelatory when describing my experiences within the world of FRACT OSC. I can’t think of another game that has it’s entire world transform so much based on my interaction inside of it. Every time you solve a puzzle you slowly bring a dark dead world to pulsing enigmatic life with music and light. And every time it would give me goosebumps and flood me with elation.

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1. Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age grabbed me in a way I didn’t expect. I’m familiar with the Bioware-fare, KOTOR is a favorite, I was so into Mass Effect, but for whatever reason Inquisition was my first DA game. Several times I’ve lost entire days to this world and I’m not even totally sure why. As a role-playing game it has a ton of issues and hang-ups. But there is constantly a feeling of compulsion. Exploring always provides a reward. Everything you do has an impact on the world. Despite putting dozens of hours into this game, I haven’t beaten it. I almost never want to. But when that time comes I’ll probably be just as compelled to roll another character and see everything I missed the first time.