Now that the new year has started, it's time to look back at 2014 and decide which games we loved the most. Fellow Windows Central staffers Richard Devine and Jonathan Dollison have already shared their single favorite games of the year. But you know me. I play a lot of different games and I couldn't choose just one.
Instead, I've named my eight favorite Xbox One games of 2014. My list is made up of completely different games that critics and players might have overlooked, plus one big exclusive that won my heart. Production values and console exclusivity weren't a consideration; it was all about the gameplay for me. Get ready for a lengthy look at eight of the best games for Xbox One, complete with an all-new showcase video!
Xbox One has no shortage of truly special puzzle platformers, starting with Max: The Curse of Brotherhood and culminating in the late 2014 releases of Thomas Was Alone and Kalimba. But if you want a traditional platformer, the easy choice is Ubisoft's retail release Rayman Legends.
Originally released on previous-gen consoles in 2013 before debuting on Xbox One and Playstation 4 in February 2014, Rayman Legends is the sequel to Rayman Origins. It also happens to be an absolutely massive game, filled to the brim with challenging platforming stages, characters, and secrets to discover.
Legends' simple story is not exactly compelling, and yet the game gets by just fine thanks to finely honed controls, unparalleled 2D artwork, and ample humor and creativity. The local 4-player co-op also provided an early incentive for owning multiple Xbox One controllers. Rayman Legends' colorful world is utterly joyful, and it belongs in any platforming fans collection.
Released alongside Rayman Legends in February, Strider is a remake/reimagining of the classic action platformer from Capcom. The new Strider combines elements from the arcade and NES games (plus Strider 2) into a single action-packed Metroidvania-style platformer.
Players take on the role of Strider Hiryu, a heroic ninja tasked with infiltrating a futuristic fictional version of Russia and bringing an end to the Grandmaster's evil scheme. Strider will run, jump, slide, climb walls, and cling to ceilings as he explores the vast game world, defeats challenging bosses, and hunts for secrets.
With super-fast gameplay, wonderful music, and tons of futuristic areas to explore, Strider is both a fantastic revival of a classic series and one of my favorite games of the year.
- Strider – Xbox One – 3 GB – $14.99 – Xbox.com Link
- Strider – Xbox 360 – 1.5 GB – $14.99 – Xbox.com Link
- Strider – Steam – 3.7 GB – $14.99 – Steam Link
Although Strider was the first exploration-based platformer on the Xbox One, the second one – Guacamelee – is just as excellent a game. Both titles involve running, jumping, and climbing through nonlinear areas and returning to previous areas once new powers have been unlocked.
Whereas Strider takes a fast-paced, streamlined approach to combat, Guacamelee boasts a deep, robust combat system with tons of wrestling moves to learn. Players can mix these into combos and even use them to solve puzzles and reach new areas. That depth and versatility makes Guacamelee's combat system the best ever found in the genre – no hyperbole.
Guacamelee also has a totally unique setting and story, as the game takes place in a fantasy world of luchadors and spirits inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead. Protagonist Juan Aguacate starts the game as a humble farmer, but when an evil skeleton kills him and kidnaps his girlfriend, Juan returns to life as a powerful wrestler.
One last feather in the game's cap: 2-player local co-op! You'll wonder why so few Metroidvania games offer multiplayer after playing through this one with a friend. The tag-team partner makes daunting boss battles easier, and a more skillful player can help a weaker one get through even the toughest areas.
Anyone who enjoys games like Super Metroid, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and Dust: an Elysian Tale absolutely must play Guacamelee and help keep the borders between the lands of the living and dead firmly in place. Read our full review if you need more convincing, muchacho.
- Guacamelee! – Xbox One – 812 MB – $14.99 – Xbox.com Link
- Guacamelee! – Xbox 360 – 690 MB – $14.99 – Xbox.com Link
Sniper Elite III
Halo: the Master Chief Collection was poised to be my shooter of the year, but its continuing online multiplayer woes prevent me from including it on this list. Instead, I fall back Rebellion's Sniper Elite III –a slower-paced third-person shooter with excellent (and gory) first-person sniping.
Sniper Elite III takes place in North Africa – a fresh setting for World War II-era games. Players will take on the role of series hero Karl Fairburne as he battles Germany's infamous Afrika Corps. Allied intelligence indicates that the Nazis are developing a super weapon that could turn the tide of the war, making it imperative for Karl and his allies to stop them.
The main game consists of eight massive missions that can be completed in multiple ways. They really are quite long – I spent more than two hours on a single mission and had a blast the entire time. But leaving and coming back won't be a problem since the game allows players to save anywhere.
With full online campaign co-op for two players, several single-player Challenge modes, and both cooperative and competitive online modes for up to 16 players, players won't run out of things to do in Sniper Elite III. Just be warned there is a lot of screen tearing.
If you enjoy sneaking around and taking out enemies methodically, you can't do any better on the Xbox One. In case you don't have Sniper Elite III yet, an Ultimate Edition is due out early this year.
- Sniper Elite III – Xbox One – $49.99 – Amazon Link – Xbox.com Link
- Sniper Elite III – Xbox 360 – $39.99 – Amazon Link – Xbox.com Link
Warriors Orochi 3: Ultimate
Koei Tecmo's Warriors Orochi series is a crossover between the ancient Chinese setting of Dynasty Warriors and the feudal Japanese setting of Samurai Warriors. That series made its debut on Xbox One with Warriors Orochi 3: Ultimate.
Admittedly, Warriors Orochi 3 is not much to look at; its 3D visuals resemble those of an Xbox 360 game. It does push hundreds of characters around on screen at once, though. Look past the graphics and you'll find a game whose scope and content is almost unrivaled on Xbox One. The scope starts with the characters.
See, Warriors Orochi 3 has literally hundreds of characters to unlock and fight with. These include Dynasty and Samurai Warriors mainstays, plus guest characters from Ninja Gaiden, Dead or Alive, Soul Calibur, and Blade Storm. Surprisingly, most of these get woven into the game's expansive story (however briefly).
The premise of the game involves a mysterious multi-headed dragon called the Orochi attacking and destroying nearly all of the world's heroes and warriors. With the help of a friendly goddess, the few remaining warriors must travel back into their own pasts to save their fallen comrades and build an army strong enough to take on the Orochi and its demonic leader. The time-traveling aspects make for a unique and compelling story.
Warriors Orochi 3's actual fighting is quite simple, but the game's ample RPG elements and addictive character collection will provide beat 'em-up and role-playing fans with hundreds of hours of gameplay. Give this niche game a try and it might make a fan of you. See our full review for more details.
Jackbox Party Pack/Fibbage
Back in August, Jackbox Games made a splash with its downloadable party game Fibbage. As the game slings difficult trivia questions at players, the goal is to either answer correctly or come up with a "lie" that other players will think is correct. Up to eight players can participate at once, all playing through their smartphones or tablets. See our full review to learn just how that works.
The developer soon followed up with an even more ambitious offering: a collection of five games called the Jackbox Party Pack. Included are Fibbage XL (the original Fibbage with extra questions), You Don't Know Jack 2015, Lie Swatter, Word Spud, and Drawful. These games vary in quality (Word Spud and Lie Swatter are too simple and lack the other games' sense of humor), but the stronger games make up for the duds.
Drawful is my favorite, as it plays a lot like Pictionary. Each player has to draw a difficult or impossible set of words, and then everyone tries to guess what the others drew. The drawing interface is great, although a bit too low resolution and lacking an eraser function. Play with friends or family and you'll have an amazingly silly time drawing and guessing together.
Oddly, neither Fibbage nor Jackbox Party Pack support traditional online play. But you can still play with friends via Twitch – just stream the main game and everyone else can join in on their phones while they watch the stream. Get Fibbage or the more robust Party Pack and you'll be the star of the party when you have get-togethers.
- Jackbox Party Pack – Xbox One (US and specific regions only) – 1.5 GB – $24.99 – Store Link
- Fibbage – Xbox One (US and specific regions only) – 320 MB – $6.99 – Store Link
Retail game of the year: Forza Horizon 2
As 2014 retail games go, the one that I've written the most about and continue returning to is Microsoft's Forza Horizon 2. No, it doesn't have much of a story, but the racing genre really doesn't need a complex narrative to succeed. A racing game just needs to look and sound great, be fun to play, and provide a strong sense of progression; Forza Horizon 2 succeeds on all three fronts.
This Forza centers around the Horizon Festival, a gathering of cars and racers from all over Europe. Players can enter over 150 different sets of races, with numerous objectives and locations keeping things interesting. Instead of racing on sterile tracks, you'll be cruising through European streets and countrysides. Races can even take you off-road, cranking up the adrenaline and challenge.
It certainly helps that those locations are utterly gorgeous in motion. That goes for the weather effects too. Forza Horizon 2 handles inclement weather really well, something we rarely see in racing games. Storms will break out organically as you play, changing the way everything looks and how your car interacts with the road.
Forza Horizon 2 also has two great online multiplayer modes, allowing participants to go on structured road trips together or simply free roam. But the asynchronous multiplayer features are my favorites. The world's AI racers are mostly made up of Drivatars based on the play styles of your friends and other players. Richard Devine found them a bit annoying in his Game of the Year writeup, but they really keep the game lively for me.
Car clubs, the game's version of clans, provide extra goals and competition even when you're not directly challenging other players. We even have a Windows Central club you can join – just search for it by name or club tag WPCe.
Even without add-ons, Forza Horizon 2 is a massive racing game. But Microsoft offers some compelling downloadable content for serious fans. We've reviewed the main game, its VIP membership, and the Car Pass already, and will soon be reviewing the massive ' Storm Island' add-on as well.
For more Warframe gameplay footage, check out our extended Twitch replay!
Downloadable game of the year: Warframe
The only Xbox One game I come back to as often as Forza Horizon 2 is a game you don't even have to pay for: Warframe from Digital Extremes.
Warframe takes place within the same universe as cult classic Xbox 360 actioner Dark Sector, only thousands of years in the future. The story begins with the player waking from cryosleep as a member of the Tenno, an ancient race of warriors (space ninjas).
As a Tenno, you'll select and customize a Warframe, your own distinctive armor with unique stats and abilities. Essentially, a Warframe is a unique playable character. The game offers more than 20 totally different Warframes to craft or buy. Each of these plays differently and levels up independently.
The same applies to the huge arsenal of weapons, which include a variety of guns, bows, and melee instruments like swords and staves. If you like collecting and leveling up characters and equipment, this will be your dream game.
Warframe is not an MMO, but it certainly recalls mission-based multiplayer RPGs of yore like Phantasy Star Online and Universe. You suit up, customize weapons and equipment, and craft items in your personal hub ship. When you're ready to play, select from over 10 planets or planetoids to visit. Each location offers numerous missions to complete. The actual maps are randomly generated, so you'll never see the same one twice.
You can go on missions alone or form a team of up to four players, which makes things much easier and more enjoyable. Warframe also boasts a robust clan system. Clans can unlock a variety of Warframes, weapons, and items for their members to craft, so you definitely want to join one. Our Windows Central clan happens to be seeking active players – see this forum thread for details.
It can be hard to get the free to play model right, but Warframe is one of the most fairly monetized F2P games I've ever played. You can play through every mission and experience the whole game without spending a thing. The in-game store sells premium characters, weapons, and items, but nearly all of those can be crafted instead of bought. And if you really get into the game, picking up a premium character is certainly a great way to extend your fun and support the developers.
With so many characters and so much to do, Warframe is one of the most expansive and enjoyable downloadable games on Xbox One. Try it and you might find yourself playing it more than your retail games! Learn more about the gameplay from our original review.
- Warframe – Xbox One – 7+ GB – Free – Xbox.com Link
I play a lot of games, but even I missed out on a few great games like Shadow of Mordor and Dragon Age: Inquisition that might have otherwise made their way onto my list. I haven't even booted up Titanfall or Sunset Overdrive either. I would likely have put Grand Theft Auto V on here too, but I've played it too little to tell. A game like that is a super obvious choice and doesn't need my help anyway.
What do you guys think of these picks? Did I leave out any of your favorite Xbox One games of 2014?