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2014 Game of the Year Awards

Welcome to the official 2014 Game of the Year ceremony of GND-Tech! 2014 was a refreshingly great year for gaming, definitely the best since 2010. There were a number of absolutely amazing games released this year!

The gaming industry seriously lacks good, critical reviewers with good judgement. Most other media outlets will give out awards to games based purely on popularity, but GND-Tech is one of few exceptions. This industry is backwards with many of the highest rated games being inferior, and often terrible games designed for people with no intellect and no attention span. But here at GND-Tech, we recognize and value effort, good ideas, thought-provoking and challenging games. We scold rehashed, generic, low quality games which dominate the industry. Only the very best games are winners here. See our article here to see how critical and true we are. Compare that to the reasoning that most sites gave for awarding Alien: Isolation game of the year: they talked almost exclusively about how it’s actually an authentic alien game and how it was made by strategy game developers, and called it game of the year based on those two things. How on earth this decides what is game of the year is beyond us, but you won’t see such nonsense here.

Scroll on to the next page to see the awards and the winners!

 

Mod of the Year – Overhaul

Before getting into the actual games, we’d like to start off this ceremony with our Mod of the Year choice. For this award, we’re looking specifically at normal, but large scale mods designed to drastically improve a game. FakeFactory Cinematic Mod wins this award, as we celebrate the final release of a mod that we’ve all loved for years. It is an overhaul mod for Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode One, and Half-Life 2: Episode Two.

Cinematic Mod may very well be the biggest mod of all time, in terms of file size. It’s about 50GB, because it includes most (if not all) of the same files that Half Life 2, HL2 Episode One, and HL2 Episode Two have, and much more. Cinematic Mod essentially takes HL2 and its expansions, ports them over to Source Engine 2009, fills the levels with so much extra detail so that they no longer look and feel like maps belonging to a 2004 FPS game (instead they’re much more lifelike and immersive), and it adds tons of OPTIONAL features like a new sound track, new weapon skins and functionality, new HD character models, and much more. Cinematic Mod is one of the very best technical showcases of Source engine, and it brings a much higher level of immersion to Half Life 2. A must have for sure. It’s one of the best overhaul mods of all time, and in its final release it is only right to give it our Mod of the Year award.

 

Mod of the Year – Total Conversion

Total conversion mods aren’t built for games, they’re essentially full standalone games. Some of them do require a game to be owned, but our winner does not. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Lost Alpha wins this award with ease. It is currently the largest scale mod ever made, being a massive sandbox survival shooter with RPG elements, that is much larger than every other S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game. Check out our review of it here.

Lost Alpha brings together an impeccably detailed world and an abundance of content. 2014 really was all about large scale games, but Lost Alpha did a better job than most.

 

Best Voice Acting

Dragon Age: Inquisition wins this award. It has a very diverse cast that act very well together to bring more life to this game. It is a heavily cinematic title as BioWare is accustomed to making, and the voice acting is up to par.

Other Nominees

  • The Wolf Among Us
  • The Walking Dead: Season Two
  • Game of Thrones

 

Best Soundtrack, Original Score

A game’s soundtrack really affects immersion. The Talos Principle is our winner this year, as its soundtrack is vast and each track is incredible. It is sold separately for only $5, and for this price you get several versions of the soundtrack in different formats including lossless FLAC!

Other Nominees

  • Dragon Age: Inquisition
  • The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
  • The Walking Dead: Season Two
  • The Wolf Among Us
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Lost Alpha

 

Best Soundtrack, Original Song

This award goes to an individual track or song from a game’s soundtrack. We could not decide between two songs, so both are our winners! The first is “Valley of the Blinding Mist” (credits vocal mix) from The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. It’s one of those rare, special songs, that adds a breath of life to the rest of the soundtrack and also the game itself. Very few games have such specially crafted, unique songs. Thankfully, this song and the rest are available in lossless FLAC format (48 KHz) if you order the Collector’s Edition. The Collector’s Edition can also be purchased as a DLC on both GOG and Steam, so it requires the base game.

Our other winner is “False God” from The Talos Principle, the perfect song to capture the unthinkable gravity and scope of that moment within the game. It makes that scene come alive and become one of the moving, most memorable moments in video game history. That’s how important music can be to a game, remember that!

Other Nominees

  • The Talos Principle – “The End of the Process (Finale)
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition – “Main Theme
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition – “Return to Skyhold

 

Best Sound Effects

Sound effects are a very important factor when immersing yourself in a game. We have another win for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Lost Alpha, which has some of the most immersive sound in video game history thanks to how effective its use of 3D HRTF (via OpenAL) and bass are. Every sound has its own coordinates in 3D space, even sounds that normally don’t like thunder. Nothing can match the immersive sound of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’s thunderstorms and gravitational anomaly fields when playing on a hardware accelerated 5 or 7 channel surround setup.

Other Nominees

  • Insurgency
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition

 

Best Graphics, Visual Quality

Graphics are a bit over-hyped in today’s industry, but nonetheless an award for this section is needed. We focus a bit more strongly on the technical aspects of a game’s graphics for the objectivity, but art style goes into consideration as well. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter wins a close decision. This game succeeds in every visual aspect other than character models. This game even managed to make it into our list of best looking games.

Everything is rendered with spectacular detail. Object detail far surpasses what small budget indie games are thought to be capable of, thanks to the wonderful use of photogrammetry. Post-processing, view distance, texture quality, ambient occlusion are all some of the best there is right now. Lighting isn’t the best, but very good nonetheless.

Other Nominees

  • Alien: Isolation
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition
  • The Talos Principle
  • Thief
  • Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

 

Best Level Design, Set Detail

This award goes to games with remarkable level design and attention to detail: games that provide a world that really feels alive, locations that look and feel like people have actually been there. It was a close call, but S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Lost Alpha had to win this award. The attention to detail combined with the authenticity, how they managed to transform a real (generally speaking) location into The Zone, an infamous and one of a kind location, is truly remarkable, totally outdoing the actual official S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games in level design.

The other strong contender for this award was Dragon Age: Inquisition and its massive scale, artistically wonderful rendering of the continent of Thedas and the various regions within it.

Other Nominees

  • Dragon Age: Inquisition
  • The Talos Principle
  • The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

 

Best Multiplayer – Versus

Insurgency is a refreshing take on CQB military FPS. A nice departure from the likes of console focused Call of Duty games, which Insurgency beats in every single aspect. It is actually based on a Half-Life 2 mod of the same name, now greatly improved as a full game.

A good, quick, relational way to describe Insurgency is like a CQB, infantry-only modern warfare version of Red Orchestra but a bit less hardcore. Or a far more hardcore, CQB and infantry-only version of Battlefield, and an excellent moddable PC game unlike the recent Battlefields.

It has many co-op and PvP modes. The PvP modes cover the same ones you see in Battlefield and Call of Duty in essence, objective based capture modes. Nothing special on its own but the mechanics make it special, bridging the gap between the hardcore mechanics of the Red Orchestra series and the likes of Battlefield.

I do want to point out that it is a shame that PvP shooters with truly unique and heavily coordinated game modes (e.g. Natural Selection, Crysis, Unreal Tournament 2004) are nearly extinct nowadays. The only modern exception is Natural Selection 2, 2012’s winner. So despite the more hardcore mechanics, Insurgency and even the Red Orchestra series are casual compared to games like Natural Selection 2, Crysis Wars, and Unreal Tournament 2004.

Also note that Insurgency’s PvP is no more fleshed out than its co-op or vice versa. It is a competent game in both categories.

 

Best Multiplayer – Cooperative

Although multiplayer tends to be the lowest form of gaming, aimed at the least common denominator and providing nothing more than a mindless repetitive experience, there are other games that seek to provide more. No spectacular multiplayer games (as in, multiplayer exclusive or multiplayer focused) released in 2014, so our winner is Divinity: Original Sin. It is primarily a single player game, but it’s multiplayer takes a lot of the greatness shown in the single player.

The multiplayer game mode in Divinity: Original Sin is cooperative role-playing, allowing players to play the lengthy campaign or custom user-made campaigns in two-player co-op. Each player can make their own character, and both are in control of dialogue options. Combined with the excellent turn-based gameplay the game provides, Divinity: Original Sin has the best formula for RPG multiplayer, being one of the only modern RPGs to actually incorporate role-playing into its multiplayer experience.

Other Nominees

  • Insurgency
  • Total War: Rome II – Emperor Edition

 

Best Story, Writing

Writing is one of the most crucial elements of a game. GND-Tech’s gaming staff values writing much more than most other gamers, since it’s an area where gaming hasn’t developed as much as it should have. The Talos Principle easily wins this award this year, as it delivers one of the most clever and complex stories in video game history. Croteam has a shocking amount of talent at philosophical writing, quite unexpected for a game studio known only for the Serious Sam games.

Even this “Talos principle” is a concept invented by the game itself, one that examines the material necessities of humans and uses this to highlight the inability to escape from reality, and to suggest that the line between humans and machines is at best blurred. Not an original concept in its own right, but delivered in a powerful way that only a video game can do, and strongly supported by various other themes such as consciousness, artificial intelligence, free will, mortality and immortality of man, speciesism, various existential and even some nihilistic themes, and far more, all written and explored in a skillful, clever, and often distinct manner.

This game ranks number four on our list of Best Stories in Video Game History and this will not change for the foreseeable future. No game showcases gaming as an art form better than The Talos Principle, and the story and narrative design are some of the main reasons for this.

 

Best Shooter of the Year

Insurgency is a multiplayer shooter set in a modern warfare theme with focus on CQB and class based gameplay. While this sounds famililar (Call of Duty, Counter-Strike), Insurgency is distinct for its many game modes, some being PvP and others co-op. It is also distinct for its much more realistic gameplay mechanics, such as aim sway, not perfectly symmetrical recoil, bi-pod deployment, and weapon customization.

Gun nuts will favor this game over many others. The shooting mechanics, sounds, combined with the excellent particle effects makes for some of the best shootouts in video game history, much like the recent Rising Storm/Red Orchestra 2. Combined with the many different game modes, free customizable dedicated servers (a given for PC gaming and a crime when it isn’t present), and near endless moddability (Source engine), Insurgency is a multifaceted shooter. Oh, and it was originally a mod for Half-Life 2!

Other Nominees

  • Dead Rising 3

 

Best Strategy Game of the Year

Total War: Rome II – Emperor Edition is this year’s winner for best strategy game. It is a grand strategy game of epic scale set during ~280 BC, as the Roman Empire was coming into power. With the ability to play as over 25 unique factions and expand in any way you see fit, Rome II has among the most replayability of any game in existence. Rome II also offers a compelling mix of Turn Based Campaign gameplay and intense Real Time combat on the ground.

Other Nominees

  • Banished

 

Best Adventure Game of the Year

Everyone loves to be taken on a vast, memorable adventure. This is one of the most popular video game genres, despite how vague it is. This year’s winner is The Wolf Among Us. Like Telltale’s The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us is the true evolution of point-and-click adventure, utilizing player interaction better than any other and providing some of the best character development in gaming. The Wolf Among Us benefits from having a bit more depth to its story than The Walking Dead, which is really just about the characters. See our full review of The Wolf Among Us: Season One here.

Other Nominees

  • The Walking Dead: Season Two
  • The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
  • Game of Thrones
  • Tales from the Borderlands

 

Best RPG of the Year

Dragon Age: Inquisition manages to win this award, but it is not an excellent RPG nor does it rank highly on our RPG tier list which is an objective list sorted by role-playing capability.

Inquisition has a more dumbed down rule system than the other nominees, but it wins for having a more branching plot which is actually impressive. The game lets you choose between four races when making a character, and you can choose male or female for each. Each one has a unique background, and each one leads to different dialogue although not nearly to the same extent as RPGs like Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines or Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. It is the branching plot based on your actions not only in Inquisition, but the previous games as well via Dragon Age: Keep, that Inquisition succeeds at.

An award for Best RPG is needed, but like the last three years the winners and nominees have all been seriously lacking in role-playing compared to the years prior.

Other Nominees

  • Wasteland 2
  • Divinity: Original Sin

 

Best Studio of the Year

It was a close call but Telltale Games wins this award. They just had an unbelievable year, with the release and conclusion of The Wolf Among Us (season one), The Walking Dead: Season Two, as well as the beginning of Game of Thrones and Tales from the Borderlands. The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead: Season Two were both amazing all-around, being the two highest candidates for our “Best Adventure Game” award which ended up going to the former. The first episode of Game of Thrones is arguably the best episode they ever made and Tales from the Borderlands is very innovative. So they had a very busy year, but it did not impact the quality of any of their games, which is hard to believe and it’s why they win this award.

Other Nominees

  • Croteam
  • BioWare
  • InXile Entertainment
  • Overkill Software

 

Biggest Letdown of the Year

This award goes to games that could have and should have been more, but ultimately failed to deliver. Thief is our very obvious winner this year. To this day, the first two Thief games are some of the very best stealth games ever made. 2014’s Thief game was made by Eidos Montreal, who also made Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which is an outstanding game all-around and also a good stealth game. So how did they go wrong this time around? Only Eidos Montreal knows.

Thief destroys everything the franchise ever stood for, which includes ideas like highly interactive level design (absent from Thief since almost everything is static), distinctive creepy steampunk atmosphere (replaced by generic steampunk that feels as if no care or artistic vision was used), and extremely creative gameplay that offers plenty of freedom (gone entirely). For some reason, Thief also has more story focus, which in itself isn’t a bad thing (even if it makes it less of a Thief game), but the story it tries to tell is 100% completely and utterly forgettable and full of cringe-worthy meaningless dialogue and the most shallow characters. The game would be much better with the loose story focus of the classics.

Thief takes away everything great that the franchise was once known for, and is instead filled with dumbed down, consolized contextual mechanics, excessive hand-holding, more linearity, and it totally fails to capture the style and finesse of the classics. It pales in comparison to the original Thief games, and also Dishonored which is one of the best stealth games the world has seen in a very long time. Thief doesn’t really do anything right.

Although 2014 was filled with other awful video games, we expected most of them to be terrible, so calling them a letdown isn’t very accurate. We expected Ubisoft game’s to be bad ports, although not quite as buggy as they ended up being. Watch Dogs was another letdown though, since it could have been a truly spectacular game but ended up being overly repetitive and mediocre all around.

Other Nominees

  • Watch Dogs

 

Game of the Year

It was easy to miss since it came out so late, but The Talos Principle claims game of the year. It is one of the finest demonstrations of video games being a powerful art form and storytelling medium. It brings innovating in gameplay, storytelling, and writing itself. One of the most complex, well-written stories in video game history as well as gameplay that is actually productive due to how logically complex some of the puzzles are. The gameplay and storytelling are tied together, each one aiding the other, a design principle often overlooked. You’d have to be some sort of heartless monster to give this award to anything else! Jokes aside, everything about this game exudes excellence on a level above everything else this year.

 

Most Anticipated Game of Next Year

Everyone should keep their eye on Torment: Tides of Numenera, a PC exclusive RPG scheduled for a 2015 release. It’s made by InXile Entertainment, one of few RPG developers left. InXile developed Wasteland 2, which was the runner up for Game of the Year 2014. It is the spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment, one of the best RPGs ever made, and undoubtedly the most well-written game of all time. Torment wants to do what Planescape did: tell the most mesmerizing story in spectacular fashion, and offer deep role-playing in the process. It will be a hardcore RPG, and the art style is beautiful despite being 2.5D (though 3D would have been infinitely better).

Torment: Tides of Numenera has a strong writing team, which includes people who wrote both Planescape: Torment and Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, two of the best written games of all time. Combined with its unique world design, using the Numenera setting by Monte Cook, and the strong resume of InXile which includes not only Wasteland 2 but also the classic Fallout games and Planescape: Torment to some degree, Torment: Tides of Numenera looks like a very likely winner for 2015’s Game of the Year award, but only time will tell.

On a related note, Pillars of Eternity will be releasing in 2015 as well. It is developed by Obsidian, which is one of the best game studios of all time, having made many innovative, world-class RPGs such as Neverwinter Nights 2, Fallout: New Vegas, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords. Although Pillars of Eternity doesn’t have the ambition that one would expect, it still looks to be a hardcore RPG, and best of all its writing staff includes some of the people who wrote Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, so expect amazing writing.

It’s a shame that Pillars of Eternity looks almost exactly like a 15 year old RPG, using the same 2.5D style that games like Baldur’s Gate use, and Pillars of Eternity even appears to have very dated animations too. Obsidian is using nostalgia as a smoke screen to cut corners, since people forget that the only reason 2.5D was used in RPGs 15 years ago was to emulate 3D since actual 3D graphics back then would have been very resource intensive and lacking in detail. In 2015 every game should be 3D, like Wasteland 2, but either way Pillars of Eternity is expected to bring a deep role-playing experience.

Don’t forget about SOMA either. It is a first person horror game scheduled for 2015 and developed by Frictional Games, which is also one of the best studios around. Frictional Games revived the horror genre with Penumbra and Amnesia: The Dark Descent, really showing the world that horror games can be truly frightening and not rely on B-movie horror elements. SOMA will continue in the footsteps of its predecessors, and it should be an amazing experience. We’re aware of the negativity around Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, but keep in mind that it was made by a different studio so that’s not relevant. SOMA should be on everyone’s radar.

Other Nominees

  • SOMA
  • Pillars of Eternity

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