6. Titanfall 2
Titanfall 2 made me care about a twenty-foot tall killer robot.
In the first Titanfall – which would have made my top 5 of 2014 had I actually played it earlier – the Titans are basically just big lumbering shells controlled by their Pilots, raining down hell on all who pass their way. Titanfall 2‘s campaign (the series’ first single-player campaign) really delves deeper into the relationship between Pilot and Titan.
BT-7274’s loyalty to his pilot – me – never wavers throughout the course of the story, and you come to trust him and rely on him throughout the game’s campaign. The character interactions between you and your Titan are top-notch, as if he were a real person. You don’t realize how much you miss BT until the game pulls the rug out from under you during some levels and separates him from you, and it’s not just because you miss the extra firepower.
From his analyzing the probability of certain death at any given moment, to his obliviousness to sarcasm, his many fantastic and death-defying throws, and that heart-wrenching “Trust me,” BT is just about as sympathetic and fleshed-out as twenty-foot tall combat armor can possibly be.
And the campaign itself is one of the freshest and most spectacular single-player campaigns of any shooter in years. The first few levels are fairly by-the-numbers, but then the creativity kicks in and later chapters center around some really cool new elements (but only for long enough so that they don’t get old). The one level in particular about halfway through the game – the one that everyone refers to when talking about this game – sealed the deal for me and made me realize Titanfall 2 was truly something special. Not to mention that the acrobatic skill of Pilots makes everything really fast-paced and fluid and adds another element to navigation, exploration, and combat.
While the multiplayer may not have sucked me in like the first game’s (though I still do return to it from time to time) Titanfall 2 is one of the best shooters released in years, and it’s a criminal shame that EA sent it out to die this past fall.
5. The Last Guardian
Let’s be real. As a game, The Last Guardian isn’t great. It’s clunky, it’s dated, and it runs about as well as an asthmatic tortoise that’s missing a leg.
But yet The Last Guardian is one of the most breathtaking journeys I’ve ever taken. The relationship between boy and beast is developed more thoroughly and organically than any in-game partnership I think I’ve ever seen. At first, Trico is stubborn and a bit untrusting, but as the two go through trials and obstacles together, they both learn from each other and build an inseparable bond.
That bond is reflected in the game as well, as Trico becomes more responsive to you and you’re able to direct him more as time goes on. Not only that, but there are so many times where you have to trust Trico, whether it be taking a leap of faith only for him to catch you in midair or protecting you from the armors that come to life and try to kidnap you throughout the game’s world. For your part, you’ll open up pathways, clear obstacles, remove spears that enemies throw at him, feed him with food barrels, and pet him to calm him down when he gets angry or frightened. You truly couldn’t make it without each other.
And holy crap, Trico is the most impressive creature I’ve ever seen in a game. I actually had to stop on so many occasions and just stare at the screen because I thought I was looking at a real animal. His mannerisms, his facial expressions, and his animations are so lifelike that I wouldn’t be surprised if Ueda’s team spent a majority of the last ten years just creating him.
I was reminded of my own dog so many times – whether it be cocking his head to the side quizzically when he didn’t understand something, pawing curiously at a point of interest, playing catch with food barrels, shaking himself off whenever he got wet, pouting when I left him for a bit, or jumping up and down and doing a happy dance when I came back. Trico is a marvel – he’s truly the star of The Last Guardian, and I want him as a pet.
And yes, I cried like a baby when the journey was over.
4. Ratchet & Clank
On the total opposite end of the spectrum from The Last Guardian, we have a game that seeks to be nothing but all-out fun.
Ratchet & Clank is not only a reboot/semi-remake of the first game in the series, it’s a throwback to those PS2 days when character action games were all the rage. Not only that, I think it’s the closest we’ve ever come to a playable Pixar movie.
Our titular heroes’ fight against the smarmy Chairman Drek and the…nefarious Dr. Nefarious takes them to a variety of planets, each with their own atmosphere (no pun intended) and colorful cast of characters. The game is told from the point of view of our favorite interstellar superhero Captain Qwark, and his propensity for exaggeration and hyperbole is a source of constant amusement. The series is known for its laugh-out-loud sense of humor, and Ratchet & Clank is the funniest game I’ve played all year.
Like any good Insomniac game, the weapons are almost characters in themselves – what other game has disco balls that make all enemies dance (the Groovitron), beams that turn enemies into sheep (the Sheepinator), or portable killer robots with a sharp sense of wit (Mr. Zurkon)? There’s also plenty to do, whether it be leveling up weapons, hunting for trading cards, completing hoverboard races, or collecting Telepathopus brains.
In an age where games continue to push for more realism and a more serious tone, Ratchet & Clank is a breath of fresh air, and I’d love to see a renaissance of this type of game in the modern gaming landscape. Feel free to bring out the next game in the series anytime, Insomniac.