Features & News

End of Year 2014: Surprise Hit of the Year

December 29, 2014, Author: The TIMJ Team

Welcome to the ninth of eleven daily ‘End of Year’ pieces from TIMJ, where in each, we discuss our favourite things of 2014 from carefully selected categories.

Next up is ‘Surprise Hit of the Year’. Which games were the best surprises for our troops?

Andy Buick (Features Editor) – Velocity 2X

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Velocity 2X was a follow-up to a PlayStation Mini that was good, but in no way prepared me for how brilliant and addictive the sequel would be.

Coming with a major graphical overhaul to PS4 and Vita, it looks sharp as a pin and plays even better, requiring serious reflexes but never being unfair. Completing it is tough, but going back through to collect all the badges available is a different level, yet it’s so well designed that the draw is always there to go back for more.

Runners Up: Luftrausers, Dust: An Elysian Tail

Josué Cardona (Staff Writer) – South Park: The Stick of Truth

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I love South Park and I love RPGs but after so many delays I had very low expectations… It met my very low expectations and was one of the most fun games I’ve ever played.

Seriously, the obscene amount of fan service had a lot to do with it, but I can’t believe how much I was smiling and laughing the entire time. I still can’t believe half of the things that happen and, if I told you about them, you wouldn’t believe me either.

Runners Up: Wolfenstein: The New Order, Child of Light

Andy Corrigan (Editor In Chief) – Wolfenstein: The New Order

I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much from Wolfenstein: The New Order, but surprisingly it’s ended up as one of my favourite shooters ever. Bizarrely, it straddles this line between the over-the-top, extravagant WW2 shooter that you’d expect, and the intelligent, heartfelt and well-directed alternative history war story you would not.

While some have deemed it tonally inconsistent because of that, I think it manages both tasks remarkably well, and there’s not one character amongst its key troupe that I didn’t love. From the interesting relationship between Klaus and Max, the strong will of Caroline, or even just the fact that protagonist BJ is in a relationship with Anya, a lady whose rescue or attainment isn’t the goal of the entire game; its plot hits all the right notes. Its villains too are fascinating, especially Frau Engel, who is exudes a particular type of menace. It’s all backed by bombastic shooting action that’s never short of fun. It’s easily the year’s best surprise.

Runners Up: Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, Hyrule Warriors

Jonn Blanchard (Staff Writer) – Wolfenstein: The New Order

Personally, I expected The New Order to be rubbish, every game since the iconic original has failed to really meet a decent standard, trading only on the name to produce endless mindless shooters. So when it was announced, I expected The New Order to be another gutless addition to the poorly abused franchise. Imagine my surprise when MachineGames turned out a smart, fun and almost epic game instead.

The story manages to avoid continuing any of the previous games by having the protagonist, Blazkowicz, knocked unconscious until he awakens fourteen years later after the Germans have managed to turn the tide of the war and take control of America.

Yes, the story won’t win any awards for originality but it provides a clean slate on which to build, and it still keeps the Wolfenstein mix of war, technology and mythology. This time around we find that the Nazis have been using reverse-engineered technology from an ancient race called the Da’at Yichud, and this allowed them to turn the tide of war.

At its heart, The New Order is an old-fashioned shooter, but it’s a shooter that’s matured well and has learned about stealth and clever tactics along the way and, whilst the story may be a bit corny, it is immersive and fun. If you can ignore the lack of multiplayer and enjoy a good shooter with some adventury elements, then pick it up.

Runners Up: Mario Kart 8, Sunset Overdrive

James Sheppard (Reviews Editor) – SMITE

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Until 2014, the MOBA genre had seemed like an impenetrable fortress to me. I tried League of Legends very briefly but could not fathom what I was doing enough to be even remotely competitive. I just struck it off my list as something that obviously ‘wasn’t for me’. That is until SMITE came out of beta this year and I hesitantly gave it a shot.

Here was a MOBA that was deep enough to appeal to the eSports crowd, yet accessible enough to accommodate my incompetence. Helpful tutorials guided me through the basics, and some good VS A.I. modes allowed me to practise without feeling too humiliated. More than anything, however, the mechanics, reminiscent of third-person action shooters, was something immediately recognisable that I could get to grips with.

With SMITE, not only was I getting the hang of MOBAs, but really enjoying them. As with LoL and its other contemporaries, it’s deceptively simple and content-thin on the surface, but in fact holds an endless chasm of experimentation with the ever-changing and growing character roster, items and metagame. SMITE has forever positively changed my opinion of MOBAs, and for that it is easily my surprise hit of the year.

Runners Up: Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Jasper Pickering (Staff Writer) – Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor

The biggest surprise for me this year was Shadow of Mordor. Having seen the initial gameplay trailer, I dismissed it as yet another cheap Assassin’s Creed clone. It wasn’t until I saw the flood of high acclaim that I reappraised my views and went out to buy it.

What I found was not yet another cheap Assassin’s Creed clone, but a rather good clone of many games (most notably, Assassin’s Creed and the Arkham series).

Like Frankenstein’s monster, the developers harvested the best components to make their own free-standing creature. I’m glad that I gave this a chance as it has easily become one of my top games this year, and the good folks at Ubisoft could actually learn a lot from Shadow of Mordor in terms of how to refine their stealth mechanics.

Is there a lesson here? Yes. Never judge a book by its cover or a game from its trailer.

Also, Caragors suck.

Runners Up: Alien: Isolation, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

Matt Best (Staff Writer) – Wolfenstein: The New Order

After the letdown that was Duke Nukem Forever, we’ve been a bit gun-shy when it comes to modern remakes of old franchises. So when Wolfenstein: The New Order was announced, I approached it with a cautious ‘wait and see’ mindset. As more details started to emerge though I began to see that this could potentially undo the damage done by Duke Nukem Forever, but still, discretion is the better part of valour, and I reserved my judgement.

I’ll admit that when I first loaded it up, I was expecting to be let down. Instead, what I found was a tight, old-school FPS with an engaging story. It was unforgiving and did not lead you by the hand like so many modern games do, and you were encouraged to explore and, when things got hot, you knew you had a battle on your hands with limited ammo and health.

Frustrating at times, but never tedious or not fun. I had a blast, despite my initial misgivings.

Runners Up: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Freedom Wars

Matt Parker (News Editor) – Plants vs. Zombies – Garden Warfare

Now, maybe this isn’t a hit from a commercial point of view (I can’t find the sales figures) but it’s a hit in the sense that it made me sit back and say, ‘Oh, this isn’t a lame cash-in. This is actually good!’

What’s more to say?

Making competitive online shooters full of different classes is a tough business. Balancing must be a nightmare and creating characters that are different enough and fun enough to get people interested has to be a job up there in difficulty alongside ‘Herding Cats’.

So, it’s a surprise to me that they did it. Well done guys and gals. Now go remove PvZ 2′s free-to-play garbage. Just make it a ‘proper’ game.

Runners Up: South Park: The Stick of Truth, Hitman GO

Jade Sayers (Staff Writer) – Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

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In a year where I’ve rediscovered the beauty of Japanese games, one has really stood out for me. Danganronpa was released in the UK in February and I didn’t expect to enjoy it half as much as I did. A visual novel set in an elite school, you play as Makoto, and must solve the ongoing murder a of your classmates. Everything works well together, from the art style to the detective elements, with puzzles that are challenging but never frustrating.

The characters aren’t exactly relatable or even likeable, but in the realms of the storyline they all make sense and are enjoyable. Danganronpa stands out as the one that I was surprised to enjoy as much as I did, and I hope to get the Platinum trophy soon!

Runners Up: Valiant Hearts: The Great War, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare