Shacknews - Steve Watts

What a year for games. While we'll be counting down our collective staff top ten starting on Monday--with your Chatty votes included--we wanted to take some time first to talk about our own personal favorites. These games were among the most special to me, for a variety of reasons, and I highly recommend each of them.

Bravely Default: Flying Fairy

Bravely Default was almost everything I've wanted out of an RPG. As a long-time fan of the Final Fantasy series, I've wanted a game that could recapture the magic of those glory days. I'm not sure why Square abandoned the name for a game that's so clearly a twist on the series, but this is the update I've been looking for. 

It brought back elements I loved, like a rich and robust class system, and wry writing with a small cast of lovable characters. Better yet, it modernized key aspects of the classic J-RPG experience with smart tools, letting you tune the frequency of battles, or even fast-forward with an auto-battle mechanic. Grinding is a part of the charm, but Bravely Default found a clever way to cut out the fat. I do wish it had gone easy on the repetition, but that mark against it wasn't nearly severe enough to keep me from loving it and looking back at it fondly.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

What an adorable little gem of a game. Captain Toad came too late in the year to catch much attention from the public for Game of the Year, but it was absolutely a contender for me. Nintendo regularly shows a purity of design that you simply don't see from other studios, and Captain Toad is no exception. It took the nicely polished puzzles from Super Mario 3D World and blew them out with new concepts, making for more than a few brain-teasers. 

All of this is wrapped in a syrupy sweet presentation that lets gamers play without worrying about their kids or younger siblings seeing. The story is simple but frequently funny, and Toad finally gets to shine in his own unique game type. I hope this is just a taste of more Captain Toad games to come.

Transistor

I loved Bastion to pieces, and so Transistor was among my most anticipated for this year. The studio didn't disappoint, but it succeeded without lazily recreating its smash success. Despite its isometric view, Transistor is a very different game. While Bastion was fast and frenetic, Transistor is slow and thoughtful. Supergiant Games made a strategy RPG with a feel all its own, blending action and pause-and-play mechanics beautifully. The strategy is accented by the Function system, which lets you create an absolutely staggering number of combination effects. 

The story is sometimes hazy and dreamlike, and doesn't always explain its world very well. The relationship between the two lead characters is at the heart, though, and it's delivered with subtle poignancy that still hits me when I think about it.

The Walking Dead: Season Two

To address the elephant in the room, the second season of Telltale's The Walking Dead isn't as good as the first. The debut, starring Lee as a surrogate father to the orphaned Clementine, has a special place in my heart. It wasn't just my favorite game of the year, it's one of my favorite games of all time. Holding those expectations against Season Two is an easy trap to fall into, but I don't think it would be particularly fair.

All that said, the second season was one of my favorite experiences this year. From the bold choice of allowing you to play as Clementine herself, to moral choices that tested even the boundaries set by the first, this was a dark and cold story about growing up. The player is allowed to guide Clementine as she enters adolescence, at a crucial time when people decide the kind of person they want to be. Set against this extreme backdrop, the decisions carry even more weight than usual.

She's forced to face a dark reflection of her own budding leadership skills, and to realize that even her most trusted friends can turn into the kind of dishonest, desperate survivors she's trying not to become. More than once she explained the lessons taught by Lee, and I got chills. Most games never achieve that level of emotion even once, much less constantly, and it made me strive to make Lee--my version of Lee--proud of my Clementine.

Shacknews - Daniel Perez

Apple buys Beats; Announces iPhone 6, iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 3, and Apple Watch

Apple had quite the year in 2014 as they announced and released a number of new mobile products, which, of course, includes new iPhones and iPads.

After several years of its fans clamoring for a larger iPhone, Apple finally revealed both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus to feature larger screens than previous iterations of the smartphone. The iPhone 6 features a 4.7-inch display, while the iPhone 6 Plus is Apple’s first foray into the phablet market as its screen measures in at 5.5 inches. Both phones include a number of improvements, such as new processors. an improved camera, and improved displays, making these possibly the latest and greatest iPhones Apple has ever created.

Apple also announced new iPads: the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 3. The iPad Air 2 is even thinner than the previous iteration as it measures at 6.1mm thick, which is thinner than the width of a standard pencil. The tablet features a new A8X processor, new 8MP iSight camera, and Touch ID. The iPad Mini 3 improves on Apple’s popular smaller tablet line by including a 7.9-inch Retina display, a new 5MP iSight camera, and Touch ID.

After years of rumors, Apple finally announced its Apple Watch this year. Similar to Google’s Android Wear, the Apple Watch is able to send a number of notifications to your wrist. This includes messages, Facebook updates, and even some simplified versions of your apps. The watch also allows its wearer to call upon Siri when necessary, start conversations with friends with a simple push of a button, and its digital crown allows you to perform pinch-and-zoom touchscreen mechanics without touching the screen itself.

Apple just didn’t announce and release new products this year as the company also acquired Beats for $3.2B in both cash and stock. The deal was made final back in August and added co-founders Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre as Apple employees, which the company believes both will help build up its links within the music industry. Since its acquisition, Beats hasn’t made any notable moves outside of offering some new headphones, although all eyes will be on both Apple and Beats in the coming year to see what comes out of this deal.

Oculus VR acquired by Facebook

Facebook is known to make some big acquisitions, but none was more interesting for us this year than their acquisition of Oculus VR for $2 billion earlier this year. The sale includes $400M in cash, $1.6 billion in Facebook stock, and an additional $300M for incentives.

Facebook acquired Oculus as the company seeks to use their technology into new realms of communications, media, entertainment, education, and, of course, gaming. "After games, we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences," Zuckerberg added. "Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face--just by putting on goggles in your home."

Oculus has been receiving some serious attention among the gaming community for several years, but now that Facebook has acquired Oculus VR, we're hoping that could be the catalyst that brings not only the Oculus Rift to the mainstream, but to also encourage other companies to offer their own VR headsets.

The Rise of the Smartwatch

Prior to this year, smartwatch manufacturers had to create their own OS that would communicate with a user’s smartphone. Samsung took a notable step forward with its Gear devices, but with Google’s announcement of Android Wear earlier this year, Android users have now been given a taste of the future on their wrists.

Android Wear allows users with a compatible Android device to be able to view a number of notifications on their wrist at any time, allowing the user to decide whether or not a notification is important enough to actually pick up their phone for. Android Wear goes beyond just pushing notifications to your watch as you’re able to access a number of Google Now commands that can set a reminder, call a contact, and even know what the temperature is outside.

Currently, there are only a handful of Android Wear compatible watches currently available, which includes the LG G Watch, Samsung Gear Live, and, my personal favorite, the Moto 360, which is the slickest looking watch out of what’s currently available. Android Wear has certainly impressed us this year and we're looking forward to what new devices and additional support the platform will receive in the coming year.

Shacknews - Steven Wong

With the flood of big games releasing in the fall, it's easy for some to be overlooked. In case you wanted a few more games to add to your pile, here are some games that you might have missed out on, but are definitely worth checking out. 

The Wolf Among Us

As a big fan of the Fables comic book series, I jumped at the chance to play a Telltale adventure based on it. Although I was a little disappointed with some of the decision outcomes, I thought the overall experience was satisfying and worthy of recognition. The voice acting was very good, the plot kept players guessing until the end, and you got to watch Bigby transform into giant wolf form. I also love seeing Fabletown before the comic book timeline begins with Snow White already in charge, and it's nice to see it was a mess then too. Stepping between the worlds of Fabletown's main office and its seedy underbelly, comprised of forgotten outcasts, is a worthwhile experience for any fan of the series. It's a game that's worth a couple of playthroughs, just to see what would happen if you chose to go in one direction instead of another.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

Wolfenstein: The New Order was just the kick in the pants gaming needed, although you probably wouldn't think it would be. Although the game features great story and setting, complete with giant robots and cybernetic attack dogs, it is still a linear single player experience featuring a one-man army. I guess sometimes all you need is B.J. Blazkowicz against an unstoppable super Nazi occupation.

Gauntlet

Although it's generally short and sweet, Gauntlet remains the ultimate go-to party game, especially if you have a portable gaming PC like a notebook or an Alienware Alpha. It still surprises me how easily jumping into one dungeon turns into an afternoon-long marathon. The game strikes a fantastic balance between cooperation and competitiveness. All players are generally working together to defeat the dangers of a dungeon, but each person wants to get out with the most loot. I think the Elf might be a bit overpowered, but that's ok with me, because it's my favorite character.

Alien Isolation

Even though I still get an anxiety attack whenever I think about playing Alien Isolation, it's probably one of the best stress experiences around. The game does a fantastic job making the player feel helpless against impossible odds. Furthermore, its art style fully captures the look and feel of the original movie, from the monochrome CRT monitors to the big clunky motion tracker that's as harmful as it is useful. Alien Isolation brings a sense of fear back into the Alien franchise. Nothing matches the sense of dread and terror you feel when there's a vicious alien prowling the tight corridors, looking to tear your throat out.

Shacknews - Ozzie Mejia

Remember when Duck Hunt was officially unveiled as a Super Smash Bros. for Wii U combatant during November's Smash Bros.-centric Nintendo Direct? His reveal was followed up by a quick note that the original NES Zapper shooter that started it all would be hitting the Wii U Virtual Console soon. That day has arrived.

Nintendo released the original Duck Hunt on the Wii U Virtual Console, just in time for Christmas. While light guns are no longer all the rage, the game is still fully playable, thanks to the Wii Remote. For those that weren't around during this classic's heyday, the idea is to shoot at ducks that fly around on the screen, leaving them for the Duck Hunt dog to pick up. If you failed, he'd mock you mercilessly, like this!

Duck Hunt is available now on the Wii U eShop for $4.99.

Shacknews - Ozzie Mejia

Despite what some may say, I don't believe 2014 was a bad year for games at all. There were a lot of unappreciated gems out there, some worth grabbing on day one and others worth exploring during the many Steam sales throughout the year. If you haven't played any of these yet, maybe consider giving them a look.

The Wolf Among Us

Telltale has proven themselves to be master storytellers. While they've become largely known for The Walking Dead, their best work of 2014 is actually the Fables-based The Wolf Among Us.

This is everything a good detective story should be, right from the beginning. The neon lighting, the helpless dame, and the countless shady characters offer a window of what the story is. It's the tale of a hard-nosed private eye that just happens to be the fabled Big Bad Wolf. Whether you try and show Bigby as a man that has left his past behind him or fully embrace his ruthless heritage is up to you.

What really makes The Wolf Among Us memorable, however, is the way that the plot points fully converge at the end. It's not just to remind you of what's happened, but it's also a way to turn everything on its head and make you reconsider the choices you've made and remind you that sometimes, there are no takebacks.

Bayonetta 2

It was a long wait for Platinum's encore to the first Bayonetta. This proved to be well worth the wait.

Regardless of your opinion of Bayonetta the character, there's no denying that Bayonetta 2, the game itself, is some of the most fun you'll have this year. It's basically the Devil May Cry formula on steroids, with bombastic battles against larger-than-life celestial forces. The combo system is immensely satisfying and the fights feel epic in every way.

Bravely Default

Those aching for the old-school JRPG experience will feel right at home with Bravely Default. Not only does it fully embrace that classic aesthetic, but it all plays over an incredibly deep Job system.

Uncovering the game's Jobs is a satisfying endeavor in itself, but playing around with each of them and finding a combination that works is some of the most fun I've had in an RPG in a long time. It helps that it works incredibly well with the game's unique take on combat, implementing a 'Default' system that allows characters to hold off on turns for a full-on strike in a later turn.

Even though the wheels start to fall off near the end of the story, Bravely Default's narrative serves as a reminder of why this genre of games is so appealing. It's the kind of alluring pull that Final Fantasy hasn't had in years and one that shows that Square Enix is still the master of the JRPG.

Threes

It's been a strong year for mobile games, but none had the kind of appeal that Threes did. Built on the simplest of premises, Threes basically has players combining numbered cards to create multiples of threes until there are no more available moves.

Yes, it sounds absurdly simple. But the end result is the kind of addictive draw that only puzzle games like Tetris and Bejeweled are capable of. It perfectly captures the "one more time" feeling that separates these types of games from all others and kicked off an entire series of clones and wannabes. There's nothing like the original, though, and it's a game that belongs on every iOS device.

Shacknews - Ozzie Mejia

Ubisoft recently released a new patch for Far Cry 4 on PC. Unfortunately, PC patch 1.6.0 seems to have introduced some major bugs that are not allowing players to save their progress.

Users on both the Far Cry 4 forums and our own Chatty community have observed that the crash occurs when your character is at Karma level 8. Upon reaching this level, autosave will not function and attempting to save manually will lead to a freeze.

It's an unfortunate lump of coal for Far Cry 4 players right before Christmas, made slightly more confounding by the fact that Ubisoft curiously omitted any patch notes for 1.6.0. Shacknews will monitor this situation and update this post as soon as there are any updates.

The full patch notes from the game's Steam Announcements page are as follows:

  • Added hotkey for toggling the HUD on/off (F11)
  • Fixed an issue when the game loaded incorrect save from Uplay Cloud
  • Fixed an issue with performance drop for Crossfire Multi-GPU
  • Fixed an issue with broken shadows in the northern region
  • Fixed various Controls issues
  • Fixed various Graphic issues
  • Fixed various IGE issues
  • Fixed various UI issues
  • Fixed various Uplay/Steam issues
  • Memory usage reduced
Shacknews - Ozzie Mejia

Update: Ubisoft would rather not be known as the ones that ruined Christmas for PC users, so a post on the Far Cry 4 forums notes that a hotfix is incoming and should be deployed shorly. Thanks to FirstPersonCooter for the tip.

Original story: Ubisoft recently released a new patch for Far Cry 4 on PC. Unfortunately, PC patch 1.6.0 seems to have introduced some major bugs that are not allowing players to save their progress.

Users on both the Far Cry 4 forums and our own Chatty community have observed that the crash occurs when your character is at Karma level 8. Upon reaching this level, autosave will not function and attempting to save manually will lead to a freeze.

It's an unfortunate lump of coal for Far Cry 4 players right before Christmas. Shacknews will monitor this situation and update this post as soon as there are any updates.

The full patch notes from the game's Steam Announcements page are as follows:

  • Added hotkey for toggling the HUD on/off (F11)
  • Fixed an issue when the game loaded incorrect save from Uplay Cloud
  • Fixed an issue with performance drop for Crossfire Multi-GPU
  • Fixed an issue with broken shadows in the northern region
  • Fixed various Controls issues
  • Fixed various Graphic issues
  • Fixed various IGE issues
  • Fixed various UI issues
  • Fixed various Uplay/Steam issues
  • Memory usage reduced
Shacknews - Steve Watts

The year is winding down, and the Shack staff is preparing for a well-deserved break. You'll be seeing various year-end retrospectives going up over the next several days, including a look back at the PC market, the three big consoles, important developments in technology, and even a look back at what this year has meant for Shacknews itself. Starting next week, you'll also see us reveal our top 10 games of 2014. Two will be revealed every day throughout the week, and you'll be able to hear a special edition podcast in which we discuss our favorites and why they made the list. Throughout this time we'll be keeping an eye out for breaking news to share with our readers, but we expect the industry will be taking a long winter's nap.

Have a happy and safe holiday!

Shacknews - Shack Staff

Steve Watts

I usually go into long breaks with the best of intentions. Why, I'm going to conquer my backlog and start the new year fresh! But then there's family obligations and games turn out much longer than I realized and oh hey I should probably get all these collectibles in Far Cry! So I fully expect I'll make much less progress than I want to, but if I finish a single game, I'll be happy.

Far Cry 4 is definitely on the docket, and I'll keep plugging away at Dragon Age Inquisition. I'm also planning to catch up on some of the Halo 5 beta, while it lasts. Plus, since I'll be traveling to visit family, I have a full mobile queue that includes The Banner Saga and Monument Valley. That is, for the moments I pull myself away from Hearthstone. Put this apple on yer head!

Steven Wong

I never really left Kyrat, so I'll most likely be spending many more hours playing Far Cry 4. There's still a lot of endangered species to hunt, especially those stupid eagles. Once I get tired of that, I'm certain that I'll be playing more Dragon Age: Inquisition to hit those side missions I initially missed out on.

If I manage to pry myself from these epic mega-sized games, there are tons of games sitting in my library that I need to finish. I'm looking squarely at The Tesla Effect. I'll also be getting together with family, so I'll be getting some nice Gauntlet parties going.

Ozzie Mejia

'Tis the season to start a whole lot of new games. For me, Dragon Age: Inquisition and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor are sitting in my stocking, waiting to be played. But more than anything, I'd like to make room for the Halo 5 multiplayer beta that's running through the holiday. So I'll probably be playing no less than half a dozen games while we're out. We've worked really hard on the staff and it's time to finally catch up on what I've missed.

Daniel Perez

This holiday I'll be spending a lot of time catching up with games that I briefly got into over the past few weeks. Far Cry 4 has been eating up a lot of my time lately, so I'm hoping I can complete its main story line and from time to time, jump back in to handle some side missions and activities since those have always been fun to do as well.

I'll also be playing Dragon Age: Inquisition as its story and combat mechanics have really got me hooked. Even though my mage character feels kind of under powered compared to previous Dragon Age titles, but I'm still getting by with what BioWare has offered.

I need to also spend some time with my growing Steam library. I picked up all three recently released Batman games, Skyrim, Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, and a ton of other games that I want to replay on my Alienware Alpha.

Oh! And Hearthstone. Lots of lots of Hearthstone.

Joe Tirado

Over the break I will be most likely dealing out double kills in Halo 5: Guardians Multiplayer Beta. When I get tired of that, I will be continuing to avoid all of the creatures in Far Cry 4. Did I mention there are an absurd amount of creatures in Far Cry 4? And since I chose Wasteland 2 as my #1 in GOTY, I will most likely try to start a new game with a new party and character. I googled how to put in custom character portraits, so I think my starting party might consist of Sulik from Fallout 2, Duke Nukem, Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz , and Leon the Professional.

Andrew Zucosky

My Christmas break is going to look a lot like my Thanksgiving break, since I have yet to beat Dragon Age: Inquisition. That's kind of my fault, but I'm in no rush. Other than that, I'm probably going to be playing a lot of Super Smash Bros for the Wii U. I really want to work on my Ness game, and pick up some new characters like Sheik and Samus. Then it's on to League of Legends until 4 o'clock in the morning

Sam Leichtamer

For Christmas this year I’ll be building myself a PC, so I’ll be playing all the games I missed out on for the past couple years. The first game I’ll probably buy is Killing Floor. I’m also going to pick up a few of those strange simulator games like I am Bread and Eurotruck Simulator. I hear Chatty does a weekend convoy, maybe I can join!

Joe Stasio

This coming holiday break, I’ll be building my MyTeam in NBA2K15. After a small hiatus, I recently rediscovered how addicting it can be to collect your team as you grind through the terrible teams in the league (the East) and make your way through battling the best teams the league has to offer (the West). Here’s my current starting lineup: Marc Gasol (C) Andre Drummond (PF) Paul Millsap (SF) Monta Ellis (SG) Brandon Jennings (PG) - as you can see my starting line up is both gigantic and super tiny, simultaneously. If you’d like to play, find me @juicehawk on Xbox ONE. I’m looking to acquire a ruby ’04-’05 Pau Gasol (Grizzlies era) so most of my starting five is up for grabs in exchange. Offers welcome! Merry Christmas, happy holidays, happy new year, and go Knicks.

Josh Hawkins

My holiday season is going to be filled with digging deeper into Endless Legends and Elite Dangerous, as well as a little This War of Mine and NeoScavenger. I'm also moving along in both Dragon Age: Inquisition and Far Cry 4, but there are just so many games and so little time to play them all.

Shacknews - Ozzie Mejia

Double Fine has been busy with its collective slate of titles coming up in 2015, however, they wouldn't be who they are if they didn't pay respects to the previous generation of games. Today, the studio launched a special series of videos (in conjunction with 2 Player Productions) called "Devs Play" that not only examines a select game from the past, but also goes the extra mile by offering developer commentary from one of the creators of that game.

Today, Double Fine's Greg Rice looks at 1994's game adaptation of The Lion King. He's joined by co-founder of Westwood Studios, Louis Castle, for a unique perspective into the making of The Lion King, as well as an informed playthrough of the full game.

Double Fine has also laid out their full season schedule for Devs Play, including The Legend of Zelda on January 13 and a playthrough of the original Doom with John Romero on January 20.

Check out the first Devs Play featuring the 16-bit classic, The Lion King, below.

...

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