Grab your gaming mice
It's hard to believe that we're halfway through 2014 already. Just six months ago we didn't know what the year would hold. People were still looking forward to Titanfall and Watch Dogs. Games like Wolfenstein: The New Order were barely a blip on most people's radars. People frothed at the mouth for any mention of Fallout 4.
Now look at us. We've all started calling the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 "current gen" instead of "next gen," the PC port of Dark Souls II was surprisingly solid, and...well, we're still waiting on Fallout 4.
It's summer, and that means it's time to crank that air conditioning, ignore the sun outside, and play some games. Looking for suggestions? These are the best PC games released so far this year.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
Well this came out of nowhere. When I saw Wolfenstein back at PAX in 2013, I thought it looked mediocre... at best.
Little did I know it would serve up one of the best schlock stories I've played in a shooter in years, mixed with a surprisingly deep emotional core. It plays nothing like old Wolfenstein, but maybe that's a good thing—this is the best Wolfenstein game in years. Chalk it up to the developers at MachineGames, which was founded by ex-Starbreeze (Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay) employees.
Transistor, the sophomore effort from Supergiant Games, doesn't have the same firm identity as its predecessor Bastion, but I still adored this small-and-subtle indie title. Darren Korb's soundtrack skills are in full force here, and the art style is phenomenal. I think I took more screenshots playing Transistor than in any other game this year.
You play as Red, a singer whose voice has been stolen from her, as she battles the corrupted influence of The Process—a virus, or maybe just an unthinking computer program that threatens to wipe out her entire world. It's a gorgeous, albeit understated, story tied to incredible art and music. Transistor is truly a complete package—one you experience just as much as you play.
Dark Souls II
It's fiendishly difficult and downright punishing. In other words, it's more Dark Souls, and that's exactly what the fans of the hellaciously tough action RPG wanted.
From Software also deserves kudos for putting out a proper PC port this time around. Where the PC port of the original Dark Souls had a number of issues, Dark Souls II is so smooth I'd believe it was made by a boutique PC developer. The difficulty will make you chuck your controller in rage, but you'll love every minute of Dark Souls II nonetheless.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War
World War I is relatively unexplored in popular culture, and for good reason: The conflict is a rash of moral ambiguity, and trench warfare was less a chance for heroics than a meat grinder full of poisonous gas. WWI was bleakness incarnate.
Valiant Hearts captures these feelings in a two-dimensional puzzler, beautifully animated (thanks to Ubisoft's UbiArt Framework) and depressingly grim. While cartoonish at times, the game doesn't shy away from tough topics, like widespread use of chemical warfare and indiscriminate artillery shelling. It's all tied together by a sensational story that'll tug at your heartstrings. And there's a dog.
Okay, so this first-person shooter didn't quite live up to the hype, and it didn't kill of Call of Duty, and the "campaign" was basically a mangled radio play.
Regardless, I had quite a bit of fun with Titanfall. While first-person platforming is normally a chore, Titanfall's movement system was so smooth and polished it made expert-level maneuvering easy for all. The general gunplay and use of mechs is just as deserving of praise.
Yes, Titanfall's a damn fun game, and if I have any complaints it's that there's not quite enough of it—you'll rank through the unlocks quickly, effectively "finishing" the game. Here's to hoping Titanfall 2 adds a bit more meat.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance took about a year to make its way from consoles to PC, but the wait was well worth it. In this Japanese-style action game, you're a ninja cyborg that dresses up in a mariachi costume and chops apart a 200-foot-tall robot with a sword. And then backflips off of it.
It's absolutely dumb, at once both a legitimate entry in the Metal Gear franchise and a tongue-in-cheek send-up of everything the series represents. Combine that craziness with a demanding action game, requiring expert reflexes on even lower difficulties and, well, Revengeance never tasted so sweet.
Did you play Shadowrun Returns, the Kickstarted cyberpunk CRPG from industry legend Jordan Weissman, last summer and think "This is almost exactly what I want, but it feels a bit thin and underdeveloped in certain areas?" Come back and play Dragonfall.
Dragonfall still isn't perfect, but this ten-to-fifteen hour expansion is a bit less linear, a bit better written, and a bit more balanced than the original campaign. Your companions are all given distinct personalities, and the quests are morally ambiguous at best. It's almost a shame this wasn't the original campaign Shadowrun Returns shipped with.
Branded by its own developers as "a small, broken, and stupid game," Goat Simulator is great for an afternoon of laughs. Originally a small demo built for a game developer jam session, the Internet at large clamored for more until Goat Simulator was released as an actual game.
Inhabit the true life of a regular, everyday goat as you break windows, get hit by cars, jump on trampolines, beat up protestors, get abducted by aliens, and more—so, so much more. Plus, the developers added multiplayer to the game post-release. Imagine how much ridiculous havoc you can wreak with two goats.
Warlock 2 and Age of Wonders III
We've already seen two fantasy-themed 4X strategy games released in the first half of 2014—Age of Wonders III and Warlock II. Age of Wonders III tells a self-serious tale of betrayal and destiny, while Warlock II is a bit more humorous. Age of Wonders III has a steep learning curve but is overall a deeper experience, while Warlock II is a bit more user friendly.
It's up to you which one you choose. Or, if you're huge on 4X games, get both. They're both quality strategy games—just different in their approach.
Rule your Caribbean island as an iron-fisted dictator or a bleeding heart progressive—it doesn't matter, as long as you maintain control.
Tropico 5 doesn't do much to evolve the franchise's Caribbean-Island-Dictator-Simulator niche, but the progression of cities from Colonial-era village to Modern-era tourist traps is well-realized and adds a new layer of complexity to this city builder. I hope Tropico 6 makes more extensive changes, but Tropico 5 is a fun time-killer—particularly if you've never played the series before.
South Park: The Stick of Truth
It's smaller and slighter than what people typically expect from an Obsidian RPG, but South Park: The Stick of Truth is a treat for fans of the television show—the game nails the South Park show's look and feel. Sure, the jokes are hit-and-miss, and the game carries on a few hours longer than is probably necessary, but Stick of Truth is still a light-hearted romp through Nazis and fetuses and Canadians. It's perfect to kill a few summer days with, in other words.
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls
It's an expansion, not a full game, but Diablo III: Reaper of Souls deserves special mention for salvaging something from the burning wreckage of Diablo III and replacing it with a fun, addictive loot-hunting game. It's still never going to assuage the pain of Diablo II fans, but for everyone else, Reaper of Souls atones for the sins of Diablo III proper.