In thinking of possible choices for my stand-out game of the year, it struck me that what excites me most in a game is when it tells a story in the way only a game can. To that end, even though my actual official Game of the Year is Super Smash Bros., the game I feel is most worthy of a personal recommendation is Virtue’s Last Reward. It’s a late 2012, underappreciated 3DS/VITA release that I got around to this year after experiencing the brilliant 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors.
These two games form two volumes of the Zero Escape series of Visual Novels. Think Ace Attorney, but instead of lawyers, it’s nine people trapped in a building, forced to participate in a game of life and death. There are puzzles throughout, interspersed with a LOT of text (they’re novels for a reason), and both games masterfully exploit the medium to deliver mind-bending twists. Virtue’s Last Reward, for example, explores thought experiments such as Schrödinger’s Cat, the Prisoner’s Dilemma and the Butterfly Effect. To say any more would be going into heavy spoilers, but if that at all sounds like your cup of tea, seek out 999 and VLR. They’re worth your time.
Virtue’s Last Reward, which I played at the very beginning of the year, renewed my excitement for computer games as a storytelling device. It’s notable that throughout the rest of 2014, no other game even came close. Shadow of Mordor, even with the potentially revolutionary Nemesis system, is purely a step forward in terms of gameplay. Other AAA titles had stories ranging from passable (Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare), to barely existent (Destiny), to just plain awful (Watch Dogs). That’s not to say every single AAA story was bad – it’s just to say that I didn’t get anything out of those I came into contact with.
The smaller games fared better, overall, but not by a huge margin. Transistor was cleverly told and gorgeously presented, but lacked much-needed payoff. D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die provided delightful absurdity in a way only the mind behind Deadly Premonition could, but as an episodic game has not yet quite had the chance to spread its wings. I grow steadily more disappointed in Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead: Season Two each time I think about it. 2014 was a letdown for a computer game story enthusiast such as myself, but I’m holding out for an announcement of Zero Escape Volume 3 in 2015! I’m seriously surprised that’s the thing I anticipate the most in gaming right now, but that’s what I’ve come to.