As 2014 draws to a close, it's time for us to reflect upon this year's selection of games, and choose which ones we believe are the best in their respective genres. To that end, each member of Team USG has nominated the game they believe is the best in class, and made a case as to why they believe it should win. Those nominees are then voted on again, with each team member picking their top three, and the results tabulated to determine a winner.
One thing you might notice is that we haven't chosen an overall Game of the Year in this feature. That's because we want you to choose it for us. So please don't forget to cast your vote!
Best Shooting Game
Wolfenstein: The New Order
Jeremy: Remember when first-person shooters were more concerned about being high-energy tests of reflex without getting bogged down in the particulars of how realistic it is to carry more than two weapons at a time? Wolfenstein hearkens back to those days, allowing you to tote a veritable Noah's Ark of guns (two of each species!), eat dog food to regain health, and basically blow things up with impunity. It's dumb, and glorious... and actually secretly pretty smart beneath its affectations of dumbness.
Kat: Though its lack of a true single-player campaign hurt its mainstream appeal, Titanfall nevertheless stands out for its tremendously entertaining asymmetric action and fast-paced shooting. With the foundation now established, the inevitable sequel has a real chance of overtaking Call of Duty as the generation's best online shooter.
Super Time Force
Mike: No one said "first-person shooters," so I'm going to go with one of the side-scrolling shooters I played this year: Super Time Force. What once was Xbox exclusive is now available on Steam, with a PS4 and Vita version coming in 2015. Super Time Force takes the high-speed shooting action of Contra and adds a unique time-twisting aspect to it. When you die, it's time to rewind and save yourself. The time loops allow you to play the game with yourself - like single-player coop - something that's necessary to finish off certain foes. I had been waiting for Super Time Force for years and the final release didn't disappoint.
Far Cry 4
Bob: Color me irrelevant, because I played just two FPSes this year—and only one of them didn't leave me feeling cranky (thanks, Borderlands). That honor goes to Far Cry 4, which fell victim to the expected Ubisoft bloat, but nonetheless managed to provide a pretty good time from start to finish. Even though I still prefer the last game—outside of its awful Heart of Darkness-inspired story—4's open world still gave me lots to do, and many creative ways to do it.
Jaz: Rather than faff about with a single-player mode, Respawn doubled down on multiplayer, and I think it was a wise move. Sure, it alienated FPS fans who don't do multiplayer, but I think the full focus on that side of the game resulted in the finest PvP action of the year. Sure, some maps are a little unbalanced, but there's no denying the sheer excitement and brilliant combat that this game offers.
Winner: Best Shooting Game
Titanfall, Electronic Arts
It might be multiplayer only, but Respawn's Titanfall delivered the most exciting and interesting FPS action this year. The sheer bloody madness of Wolfenstein: A New Order came a close second.
Best Fighting Game
Super Smash Bros. Wii U
Kat: It's been an underrated year for fighters between Persona 4 Arena: Ultimax and Guilty Gear Xrd, making this a surprisingly hard choice. In the end though, my vote has to go to Super Smash Bros. Wii U. A tremendous tribute to Nintendo as always, Smash Bros. is a beautiful game with the best roster in the series to date. The Gamecube controller adapter cinches it.
Ultra Street Fighter IV
Mike: I'm the one that reviewed nearly every fighting game that came to USgamer this year. I played Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, BlazBlue Chrono Phantasma, Guilty Gear Xrd, and Legend of Raven (at E3, still not out yet). The only release I missed was Arcana Heart 3 and Super Smash Bros (the latter has never been my cup of tea). They're all pretty great games, but the one I kept coming back to was Ultra Street Fighter IV. Yes, it felt like this upgrade wasn't as major as Super Street Fighter, but it still rounds out an absolutely amazing fighting game. It also features one of the better matchmaking system, allowing me to drop in for a few matches here and there. Ultra is a great end for SF4 and I'm looking forward to what Street Fighter V brings.
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Bob: I don't know if this vote should count, seeing as Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is the only fighting game I played this year, but hey—maybe that distinction means something. After the slightly disappointing Brawl, I assumed my love for the series had ended, but the Wii U version brought me right back into the fold with its well-crafted design and bevy (yes, bevy) of extras. And only Nintendo would be crazy/devoted enough to find a way for fans to use their 13-year-old GameCube controllers for this latest installment.
Winner: Best Fighting Game
Super Smash Bros. Wii U, Nintendo
An easy win for Nintendo's superb brawler.
Best Action Game
Jeremy: While it's only, like, 30% an action game — most of the time you're trying desperately to avoid action — Isolation's pitch-perfect take on the Alien universe and unnerving stealth design is everything I never knew I wanted from a licensed game.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Kat: Hard choice between Shadow of Mordor and Bayonetta 2, but I'm giving Middle-earth the nod for its outstanding Nemesis System—a feature that screams "next-gen" to me. It's also extremely polished, which has been a rarity this year. Like the Arkham series before it, I expect Shadow of Mordor to establish itself as one of the generation's premier series going forward.
Mike: Pitch-perfect Platinum. Hideki Kamiya may not have directed Bayonetta 2, but it's probably the best Platinum game I've played. The game is tuned well, the controls are responsive, the action never lets up, and the sense of scale is amazing. There are other action games I liked this year, but no one reached the top of their particular class like Bayonetta 2 did.
Bob: I've probably sunk more than 30 hours into Bayonetta 2 at this point; that's a significant amount of time for a 10-hour game. So why do I keep going back? Platinum's superb fighting mechanics provide so much feedback and feel so damn great that I've devoted myself to the nearly-impossible task of meeting the game's standard of excellence. Outside of that, Bayonetta 2 provides a sense of scale and spectacle unseen in anything else this generation, even on the PS4 and Xbox One, which have significantly more horsepower than Nintendo's console. Simply put, if you have a Wii U in your home, you owe it to yourself to pick up Platinum's best game to date—though be sure you have a good explanation planned when someone asks why you're playing something starring a dominatrix dressed up like Star Fox.
Jaz: I didn't have to think about this one too hard. Bayonetta 2 is pure, distilled, high octane Action with a capital A. Featuring brilliant pacing, breathless moments and absolutely insane set pieces, Bayonetta 2 serves up absolutely top-notch action that's brasher and more bonkers than anything else out there. It also has top-tier replay value thanks to the way it evaluates your performance.
Winner: Best Action Game
Bayonetta 2, Nintendo
A resounding victory for Platinum's slice of Wii U craziness. Few other games in recent memory have packed the kind of insane moments and set pieces that this does.
Best Platform Game
Yumi's Odd Odyssey
Jeremy: I gotta give some love to the game I figured I'd never play in English: The 3DS sequel to 16-bit grappling classic Umihara Kawase. It actually made its way to America! Now I will have to settle for knowing that I'll never master it… it's kind of super tough.
Kat: Written off by some as yet another retro ripoff, Shovel Knight came out of nowhere to establish itself as one of the year's very best games. Credit its art, its forward-thinking design, and its surprisingly emotional storytelling. In terms of pure fun, Shovel Knight is the best game of the year.
Mike: Shovel Knight was another game I had been waiting for as a frequent attendee of PAX. I knew it was going to be magic from the first KickStarter announcement and Yacht Club Games did not let me down. Shovel Knight is everything a retro-style platformer should be. It use the past to inform its look and design, but then it blazes its own trail.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Bob: I love me some Shovel Knight, but Tropical Freeze did the impossible by actually getting me on board with a Donkey Kong Country game. Sure, the characters remain hideous, mid-'90s relics, but the level design reigns supreme, offering new and surprising challenges around every corner in a manner I haven't seen since 1995's Yoshi's Island. And Tropical Freeze's tough-but-fair difficulty pushed it just above the too-easy Super Mario 3D World in my book. If you've never held Donkey Kong Country in high esteem, this latest sequel will definitely come as a surprise.
Jaz: I initially didn't play this because it just looked like another retro wannabe, aping the greats of yore. But I'm glad I did, because Shovel Knight is a beautifully designed, supremely fun game that's more than capable of standing on its own merits.
Winner: Best Platform Game
Shovel Knight, Yacht Club Games
It might look like just another retro clone, but Shovel Knight really is something special. As is evidenced by its clear win in this category.
Best Puzzle Game
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Jeremy: What a perfect little nugget of a game. I've already gushed about this one more than enough, but anyone who owns a Wii U definitely needs to take it for a spin. And anyone who doesn't own a Wii U… definitely should.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Kat: Nintendo's incredible hot streak continues with Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, which takes Super Mario 3D World's enjoyable minigame and blows it up into an excellent 3D puzzle game. What really stands out about Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, aside from its superb design, is how gorgeous it is. Who says the Wii U is underpowered?
Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright
Mike: I'd probably have put Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker if I had played the game. I probably would've offered up Framed, but it hasn't come out on Android yet. I also played Metrico, which was solid. In the end though, the puzzle game I enjoyed the most this year was Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright, which served as my first entry into the Professor Layton franchise. This meeting of the two worlds had great presentation, some interesting puzzles, and even better court cases.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Bob: While playing 2012's Super Mario 3D World, the Captain Toad levels felt like the dessert to the surrounding game's 7-course banquet: short, sweet, and delicious. Thankfully, the experience manages to work as a stand-alone product, mostly because Nintendo knows when to call it a day. (More developers would benefit from borrowing this tactic.)
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Jaz: I finally got around to playing this at a friend's house, and after spending an entire evening with it, I started thinking that perhaps it's time for me to buy a Wii U. Especially since I played Bayonetta 2 during that same session. Bright, colorful, and typically Nintendo, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a showcase of simple, brilliant and beautiful gaming.
Winner: Best Puzzle Game
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Nintendo
There was no question about this category. Captain Toad wins Best Puzzle Game with a near-unanimous decision.
Best Open World Game
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
Jeremy: Lightning Returns doesn't have the greatest open world I've ever experienced, nor the largest by any means, but I really appreciate the fact that Square Enix and tri-Ace tried to do something different with the idea. Putting a time limit on the game didn't create an artificial sense of urgency so much as keep the quest on track — there was time enough to goof off, but not so much that you'd completely lose track of the main plot thread (such as it was). Plus, I appreciate the fact that this is where we ended up with a sequel to the most linear RPG ever.
Kat: Lots of strong choices here, but I'm giving the nod to the recently-released Elite: Dangerous—a space combat sim set in a vast online universe. Mundane and even tedious on its face, Elite: Dangerous' quest for money proves shockingly addictive. It's one of the few games to truly make me feel like a speck of dust in a greater world. Though not for everyone, its scope alone deserves recognition.
Mike: You'd think this would be Shadow of Mordor or Unity, but Sunset Overdrive was my favorite open-world game this year. It was just fun. The story doesn't take itself seriously, you can dress your character however you want, the characters are rather endearing, and the weapons are unique. Sunset Overdrive probably wasn't a sales juggernaut, but overall it was the best open-world title I tackled this year.
The Long Dark
Bob: The Long Dark's simplistic-yet-evocative art style paired with its thoughtful (and oppressive) sound design makes for a world you'll want to explore to its furthest limits—until, of course, it kills you. This open-world survival game injects even the simplest goal with the chance for failure, making the act of boiling water or opening a can of beans feel like a bomb-defusing scene from an action movie. And since its environments are hand-tailored instead of procedurally generated, each session brings you closer to mapping out its abominable wilderness in your head.
Jaz: It might have the most incomprehensibly complex controls of any game ever, but assuming you can get past that, Elite: Dangerous isn't just an open world game, it's an open universe game. Nothing has ever come close to being this huge and expansive - and intimidating. Like Kat said, it most certainly isn't for everyone, but if you like the idea of going where no-one has gone before, there is no better game than this.
Winner: Best Open World Game
Elite: Dangerous, Frontier
Perhaps the biggest ever "open world" game, Elite: Dangerous is just mind-boggling in scope. If you're prepared to put in the hours - and yes, that's hours - to learn the controls, this game offers exploration like no other.
Jeremy: This simple, silly, low-key little game initially struck me as just another Nintendo life sim, a chunk of gaming I could use a break from after Animal Crossing and Tomodachi Life. But no, it's actually a free-form RPG that de-emphasizes the usual killy-murdery elements of the genre in favor of Ultima Online-esque day-to-day existence. Fun, but also a game that demands to be taken at a different pace than usual.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
Kat: BioWare makes a tremendous comeback with what is for my money is the best RPG and the best game of 2014. Ambitious in both its scope and its storytelling, Dragon Age: Inquisition is littered with a huge number of memorable moments—the Orlesian masque, the judgment from the throne, riding through the rain on a battle moose, and more. Just don't spend too much time in the Hinterlands, okay? Go unlock Skyhold and get adventuring. It's a big world out there.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
Mike: Woo. After playing the uneven Dragon Age II, I spent the next three years with my fingers crossed, hoping Bioware could bring it all together for the next entry. Dragon Age Inquisition is a masterpiece, with a big beautiful world to explore. The Frostbite engine powers some great landscapes and the cast is one of Bioware's best. If you love Bioware, you should be playing this game.
Dark Souls 2
Bob: Dark Souls 2 could have peed all of FromSoftware's goodwill right down its leg, but, despite director Hidetaka Miyazaki stepping away to take care of the upcoming Bloodborne, his successors managed to craft one of the greatest RPGs of all time—one that could be even better with whatever changes they have in mind for the upcoming special edition.
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls - Ultimate Evil Edition
Jaz: Diablo III: Reaper of Souls - Ultimate Evil Edition shuns the traditions and trappings of the slower, more considered classic RPGs, and instead replaces them with non-stop, fast-paced action. But it's still an RPG, and a brilliant one at that - assuming you like your RPGs to play like super-intense arcade games.
Winner: Best RPG
Dragon Age: Inquisition, Electronic Arts
In a hard-fought battle, Dragon Age Inquisition just about fends off a strong showing by Dark Souls 2 to take Best RPG.
Best Racing Game
Grand Theft Auto V Remastered
Jeremy: I know GTA V isn't really a racing title, but I had more fun driving in the new remastered version of the game than in any proper racing game I played all year. And the cars are sure as heck a lot more fun to handle than in Watch Dogs.
Mario Kart 8
Kat: Seemingly on the decline following middling showings on the Wii and Nintendo 3DS, Mario Kart 8 returns to form on the Wii U with some of the best tracks to date. More than any other game in the series, Mario Kart 8 is just pure fun to play, even when playing alone. And like Smash Bros. Wii U and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, it's gorgeous to boot.
Forza Horizon 2
Mike: This was a hard one for me. I have a long history with Mario Kart. I played the first game every day at Toys R Us and it's the reason I bought a Super Nintendo. Mario Kart 64 is one of my all-time favorites. Mario Kart 7 was magic. Mario Kart 8 was great, bringing the series into the HD era and its only misstep was Battle Mode. DLC Pack 1 even added the wider Nintendo world. In contrast, I had never played a Forza game until Forza Horizon 2 was assigned to me.
I almost went with Mario Kart 8, but looking back over the past few month, Forza Horizon 2 is the game I wanted to spend my spare moments with. Choosing a car, tuning it up, customizing its look, and then just cruising around the beautiful European coast. It's just fun and it may be one of the best driving games I've ever played. Mario Kart and I have history, but Forza Horizon 2 is the racing game that made me go "Wow" this year.
Mario Kart 8
Bob: After the dreadful Mario Kart Wii and the middling Mario Kart 7, I didn't know if Nintendo still knew how to put together a good kart racer. Mario Kart 8 stands as proof that they can, which could have very much to do with their backs being against the wall in this current console race. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding its development, Mario Kart 8 gets the racing oh-so right by making the controls more reliable and responsive than they've been since the GameCube's Double Dash. Still too many babies, though.
Forza Horizon 2
Jaz: When I reviewed it, I called Forza Horizon 2 one of the all-time racing greats. Having continued to play it for a couple of months since then, my enthusiasm hasn't been dampened - especially with the recent arrival of its first expansion, Storm Island. Graphically beautiful, packing a roster of interesting and varied cars, and featuring some of the finest racing yet seen, Forza Horizon 2 is simply terrific.
Winner: Best Racing Game
Forza Horizon 2, Microsoft
In another close-fought contest, Mario Kart 8 gets edged out by the slimmest of margins, leaving Playground Games' Forza Horizon 2 to take the podium.
Best Sports Game
Kat: In a weak year for sports games, FIFA 15 still stands head and shoulders above the competition with its in-depth career mode, excellent suite of online features, and superbly balanced on-the-field gameplay. Other games may do certain things better, but most of them have some grievous flaw that holds them back. None of them are the total package like FIFA 15. Hence, while some may feel it's becoming stale, it is still the best sports game until another game proves otherwise. It is a monument to the sustained excellence of EA's flagship sports series.
Jaz: Yeah, yeah. I'm English and I love soccer, so of course I'm going to choose a soccer game. That said, if you disagree with me, I'd be really interested to know which game you think does a better job of capturing its respective sport than this one does.
Winner: Best Sports Game
FIFA 15, Electronic Arts
With both USG's resident sports fans voting for FIFA 15, this was simply no contest for anything else.
Best Download Only Game
Guacamelee Super Turbo Champion Edition
Jeremy: It's a toss-up for me between Gucamelee and Shovel Knight, but I think I'm going to give Guacamelee's current-gen revamp the nod. Shovel Knight refines retro-style platformer action to an incredible degree, but Guacamelee's fascinating mix of platforming, exploration, and mildly technical brawling remains unique two years after the game's debut.
Kat What more needs to be said? Though Elite: Dangerous, Banner Saga, and Child of Light give it some serious competition, neither have the heart, soul, and creativity of Shovel Knight. It is not just one of the best downloadable games of the year; it is one of the best games of the year, period.
Divinity: Original Sin
Mike: This probably would've been my favorite RPG this year if Dragon Age Inquisition hadn't come out. Larian's KickStarted tale harkens back to old PC RPGs like Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale. While it lacks the graphical omph of Inquisition, Original Sin makes up for it with depth. The ways you can interact with the world are many and it's fun just poking at things to see what you can do. And since I haven't seen a retail release, I'm giving Divinity: Original Sin the nod here.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
Bob: I feel a little guilty giving this one to a collection of re-releases—Jazzpunk and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter are eyeing me from the corner—but the Ace Attorney Trilogy's quality (and value) can't be denied. For an insubstantial price of entry, you get the first three games in the series, which remain some of the best-written experiences in all of gaming, full of characters and stories that will stick with you for years. If you're looking to see what all the buzz is (or was) about, this Trilogy is the best place to start.
Jaz: It can be easily argued that there are better and more fun games out there, but I'm nominating this one simply because it left such an impression on me. Narrated in native Iñupiaq, and articulated through scrimshaw-like cut scenes, Never Alone delivers a compelling message that really makes you think. Not many games can claim that.
Winner: Best Download Only Game
There was no initial agreement here, but once we tallied the run-off votes, Shovel Knight took the crown.
Best Mobile Game
Jeremy: I have a lot of games I need to work on over the holidays, but now that Papers, Please is on iOS, I can't tear my eyes away from its crushing take on border security.
Kat:Despite not being mobile in the strictest sense—the general need for an online connection kind of precludes playing it on the plane—Hearthstone feels like it was made for mobile devices. The quick pacing and intuitive interface make it easy to haul out and play anywhere you have an internet connection, and its accessibility belies its deep strategy. It's been less than a year, but Hearthstone already feels like an institution, and iOS and Android is its spiritual home.
Mike: Hearthstone squeaks in on my list with its launch on Android last week. Being able to play a quick match - every match I play is quick because I suck - on my Nexus 7 is sublime. I liked it on PC, but I love it on tablets. And those of us on Android can even rock the Goblins vs. Gnomes expansion! Thank you for this Christmas miracle, Blizzard.
Banshee's Last Cry
Bob: Another sign of my increasing irrelevance: I only downloaded one mobile game this year! And while no candies were crushed or clans clashed, I still had plenty of fun with Banshee's Last Cry, a revamped port of the classic Super Famicom visual novel. It's a great little interactive horror story with plenty of endings, great sound design, and some legitimately creepy moments. If you're looking for a mobile game that doesn't offer your typical mobile game experience, consider throwing a few bucks in Aksys' direction.
Jaz: I think Threes ranks alongside Tetris and Drop7 as being one of the all-time great puzzle games. Like the other two, Threes shares the same traits: it's supremely simple, and fiendishly addictive. Perhaps slightly more mathematically biased than its peers, Threes takes a little longer to learn, but once you get it, just try to stop playing it.
Winner: Best Mobile Game
Hearthstone, Blizzard Entertainment
In a closer fight than it might look, Blizzard's Hearthstone is the game that the team eventually agreed deserves top honors.
This article may contain links to online retail stores. If you click on one and buy the product we may receive a small commission. For more information, go here.