2014's best of the best

2014 started with the then-new Xbox One and PlayStation 4 primed and ready to take over the market -- but many of their highly anticipated titles slipped to 2015, leaving us with a curious amount of disappointing games. It wasn't all bad, though; there were plenty of pleasant surprises, impressive indie efforts and enough blockbusters to keep players busy. Here are the absolute best titles of the year (in no particular order).

Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is the total package. Its ultra-satisfying and precise fighting gameplay and dizzying amount of playable and unlockable characters make it the best Smash game yet and one the Wii U's best games of the year.

Photo by: Bandai Namco Games

The Banner Saga

The Banner Saga is a beautifully illustrated turn-based role-playing game oozing with style. Its epic score perfectly highlights the game's sense of scale and drama.

Photo by: Stoic

Bayonetta 2

Easily 2014's best action game, Bayonetta 2 is an over-the-top adrenaline-packed slash-em-up that never seems to slow down. If you can catch your breath, you can take a second to also enjoy the game's gorgeous visuals and larger-than-life presentation.

Photo by: Platinum Games

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

The best Call of Duty game in some time delivered one of the most exciting campaign experiences in recent memory. Packed to the brim with flashy weaponry and a chilling take on combat in the near future, Advanced Warfare injected new life into a series that seriously needed it.

Photo by: Sledgehammer Games

Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age: Inquisition perfectly combined everything that was great about the entire series and packaged it into one epic fantasy adventure. Infinitely explorable and endlessly entertaining, many hours have been lost to Inquisition -- and we're still not done playing.

Photo by: BioWare

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

Superbly dark and breathtaking in its presentation, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter gave us a unique gameplay experience without the ubiquitous handholding that so many games bake in. Players discover the game's story organically and unravel a compelling tale amid an absolutely stunning visual backdrop.

Photo by: The Astronauts

Far Cry 4

In Far Cry 4, players find themselves in Kyrat, a mountainous snow-peaked village that's in the middle of a civil war. In the process of overthrowing a power-crazed maniac, your character will discover secrets of his parents' legacy all while creating chaos in a vast open world to explore.

Photo by: Ubisoft Montreal

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

Incredibly accessible yet infinitely complex in strategy, the free-to-play Hearthstone card game took mobile platforms by storm.

Photo by: Blizzard Entertainment

Mario Kart 8

Somehow Nintendo continues to find ways of keeping Mario Kart relevant. While the Wii U didn't pick up steam until much later in the year, Mario Kart 8 kept it afloat with addictive kart racing fun that still resonates with gamers of all ages.

Photo by: Nintendo

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

One of the year's biggest surprises came to us in Shadow of Mordor. Brilliant enemy design, gorgeous visuals and a unique "nemesis system" all meshed together to form not only the best "Lord of the Rings" game we've ever played, but easily one of 2014's absolute best.

Photo by: Monolith Productions

P.T.

Disguised as an "interactive trailer" to promote an unknown upcoming horror game, P.T. quickly sent shockwaves through the gaming community as it was soon revealed the free-to-play demo was actually a promotional tool for the next game in the Silent Hill series called Silent Hills. In addition to its brilliant arrival, P.T. was an absolutely terrifying gaming experience that forced players to work together online and in forums to eventually discover its true meaning and how to solve its final chapter.

Photo by: Kojima Productions

Shovel Knight

Shovel Knight perfectly harnessed everything we love about the 8-bit days of Mega Man and other NES platforming games to give us a truly unique take on the retro aesthetic. It's the perfect combination of new and old, complete with superb enemy and level design.

Photo by: Yacht Club Games

South Park: The Stick of Truth

The Stick of Truth absolutely nailed it on every level. Combining nearly all of the South Park lore with a great story and hilarious writing, the game felt just like the passion project its creators promised it would be. Trey Parker and Matt Stone went above and beyond anything we could have imagined, easily slotting The Stick of Truth as one of 2014's best.

Photo by: Obsidian Entertainment

Sunset Overdrive

It took a while for us to wrap our heads around just what exactly Sunset Overdrive was, but thankfully the final product was a wildly fun and irreverent open-world action game with an unapologetic style and sense of humor all its own.

Photo by: Insomniac Games

The Talos Principle

In addition to its mind-bending puzzles, The Talos Principle is packed with philosophical questions that force the player to confront existence and what it means to be alive. You can play through without diving deep into the fictional lore it creates, but where's the fun in that?

Photo by: Croteam

Transistor

Beautifully bizarre and realized, Transistor felt like a "Blade Runner" cartoon that made for a truly memorable experience. It also featured a unique combat system that allowed the player to plan a series of attacks ahead of time, further distancing it from the rest of the pack.

Photo by: Supergiant Games

Wolfenstein: The New Order

We weren't expecting much from Wolfenstein: The New Order -- it's a series that's been in rehash mode for a while now. So while defeating Nazis isn't anything new, the team at MachineGames somehow weaved in an ultra-compelling storyline into The New Order, filled with memorable characters, gruesome villains and precise and satisfying gameplay.

Photo by: MachineGames

The Wolf Among Us

Based on the Fables comic book, The Wolf Among Us was another success from the story-focused development team at Telltale Games. The Wolf Among Us showcased a dark and grimy depiction of New York City where the Big Bad Wolf is tasked with solving a series of murders involving fairy-tale creatures.

Photo by: Telltale Games

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