- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 27, 2014

The year saw many reasons for gamers to celebrate as they saw some stellar, interactive action through high-powered vessels such as the PlayStation 4, Wii U, Xbox One, Wii U and iPad. With that in mind, here are my top 10 favorite video games for 2014:

10. Sniper Elite III (505 Games, rated Mature, reviewed with PlayStation 4, $49.99) — A player becomes American OSS Officer Karl Fairburne as he single-handedly takes on German Gen. Erwin Rommel’s minions and his mechanized Afrika Korps in what is a rousing adventure for this World War II fan. Mixing the stealth of a sniper with the mechanics and execution of his craft, the first- and third-person action kept one’s heart pounding while getting ready to pull the trigger and take down some Nazi rats. Of course, once the bullet was fired, I was privy to the internal damage done to the soon-to-be deceased via the gloriously gruesome X-Ray Kill-Cam.

9. Star Wars Pinball: Heroes Within (Zen Studios, Rated E10+, reviewed with PlayStation 4, $9.99) — Don’t thumb your nose at this seemingly innocuous, silver-orb-manipulating simulation that offers a nostalgic jaunt through a galaxy far, far, away. Yeah, it’s traditional pinball on physics-accurate tables named “Han Solo,” “Master of the Force,” “Star Wars: Episode IV, A New Hope” and “Droids.” Yet, it consumed and vexed me for hours at a sitting.

Each table comes with loads of cool surprises for the determined player (reference a lightsaber battle between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader that plays out mid-table) as he hits the right combination of ramps, rails, kickout holes and bumpers.

Zen Studio’s obvious passion for the subject matter plays out though detailed sound effects, wonderful visual effects, three-dimensional character appearances (from a Tusken Raider to Qui-Gon Jinn) and that booming John William’s score.

8. Valiant Hearts: The Great War (Ubisoft, Rated Teen, reviewed with PlayStation 4, $14.99) — An educational video game can be a rare event these days, However, Ubisoft handsomely succeeded walking the player through key events in World War I through this visually stunning as well as emotionally impactful adventure. Puzzles and exploration deliver the action and history here as the lives of four characters and a friendly Doberman intertwine to reveal some of the horrors of a global conflict. The animation brings the best of a motion comics experience while a classical musical score tugs at the heartstrings throughout.

SEE ALSO: Zadzooks: Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham review

7. Super Smash Bros. (Nintendo, Rated E10+, $59.99) — Sliding and punching in at the last second is clearly one of the best chaotic fighting games ever built and exclusive to Nintendo’s latest console system. With 50 avatars available, I could wield the might of a Donkey Kong, use the speed of Sonic the Hedgehog or unleash a damaging thundercloud with famed Pokemon Pikachu while battling off and online opponents in a variety of matches. The eight-fighter smackdowns were especially dazzling, presenting a visual smorgasbord of color, special effects and even nostalgia for this old-time Nintendo fan.

6. Sunset Overdrive (Microsoft Studios and Insomniac Games, Rated Mature, $59.99) — After a toxic energy triggers an apocalypse that turns humans into mutants, a wise-cracking janitor finds himself on a massive cleanup mission to save Sunset City. Insomniac’s design choices made me fondly think of “Infamous,” “Saints Row IV” and “Crazy Taxi” while diving into the hilariously over-the-top, third-person shooter. The Xbox One exclusive dazzled through eye-popping colors, frenetic combat and high-speed travels of the very customizable hero. Additionally, ridiculous weapons and traps (flame geyser and exploding teddy bears to name a few) as well as an eight-player, co-operative mode all combined to make Sunset one of my favorites for 2014.

5. Dark Souls II (Namco Bandai Games, reviewed for Xbox 360, Rated Teen, $59.99) — In my review, I called this third-person death trap “a game that rips to shreds mankind’s incessant necessity to conquer.” Of course, I meant that in a loving way as, through might and magic, I attempted to survive a cursed fantasy universe filled with vile creatures whose only goal is to swiftly kill my often-vulnerable warrior. I’ll never forget, or forgive, the dozens of hours I spent dying, but this fantastic open world, role-playing epic was always worth it. The heavy-handed, visually oppressive action fed the masochistic gamer in me. Dark Souls II is an interactive Dungeons and Dragons world, if H.P Lovecraft built it.

4. The Walking Dead: Season Two (Rated Mature, downloaded and reviewed for Xbox 360, $4.99 per episode) — Interactive storytelling and complex characters combine with the popular zombie apocalypse franchise to deliver an unforgettable, episodic experience, available for both entertainment consoles and mobile devices. With a design looking plucked from the comic book, the action requires decision-making and brutal encounters with a smattering of undead as the player follows the harrowing life of a young girl named Clementine.

The five-episode-long, second season beautifully captured writer Robert Kirkman’s vision of “The Walking Dead.” It’s an overwhelming feeling of despair throughout that relies more on the complexities of human-versus-human survival than gory zombie violence.

3. Destiny (Activision and Bungie, Rated Teen, $59.99) — I have had a love/hate relationship with this massive multiplayer online first-person shooter since I suited up my Guardian Titan and took him to hotspots across the solar system. The mission repetition often wore me down, the vague story never excited, but my addiction to explore the gorgeous planets as well as the adrenaline rush from constant firefights to toughen my avatar kept me coming back, over and over again. The beauty is Bungie’s science-fiction universe can and will continue to evolve with new content and challenges to eventually surpass the player’s expectations.

SEE ALSO: ZADZOOKS: Batman: The Complete Television Series – Limited Edition review (Blu-ray)

For example, those who fell in love with their “Destiny” will appreciate the recently released DLC pack “The Dark Below” ($19.99). Players dive into a mission to stop the resurrection of one of the Hive’s ancient gods, Crota. They also get a new six-player raid, three more multiplayer arenas and will appreciate the use of a back-flipping hover bike as well as other gear such as high-powered gauntlets.

2. Infamous: Second Son (Sony Computer Entertainment and Sucker Punch Productions, rated Teen, $59.99) — The Infamous franchise delivers another super-powered masterpiece exclusive to the PlayStation 4 as a player controls 24-year-old Native American Delsin Rowe in this free-roaming, third-person adventure. A player’s choices are paramount to turn Delsin into a superhero or super villain as the character delivers mass destruction on the Seattle area with powers absorbed from neon, smoke, concrete and the imaginative use of video technology (sort of like the Green Lantern constructs).

The additional DLC pack, “First Light,” starring his neon-manipulating gal pal Fetch, further highlighted the design beauty of this free-roaming universe. Infamous is the superhero-themed game of the year.

1. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Monolith Productions, reviewed with PlayStation 4, rated Mature, $59.99) — I fell in love with this third-person, hack-and-slash epic the moment I helped empower the Uruk-hai Tumhome the Meat Hoarder and then was tasked with killing him.

In control of the deceased ranger Talion, resurrected and bound to the Elven spirit Celebrimbor, I roamed through the dankest parts of the Sauron’s emerging kingdom to slaughter the minions that took his life.

Most brilliantly, through the open world game’s Nemesis system, a player influences and watches the Dark Lord’s actual Uruk-hai leadership change as he defeats or dies at the hands of some of the dumbest and most dangerous creatures in Middle-earth.

It was also brutally easy for players to unleash Talion’s fury in close quarters and long-range combat.

A recently released DLC pack (downloadable content) called “Lord of the Hunt” ($9.99), demands a player help Torvin, the Dwarven Hunter, take down five Uruk Beastmaster Warchiefs, scattered around Orc-infested lands.

It took little time for me to start giggling with joy while riding the ferocious Caragaths, calling forth Ghuls from the ground to cause mayhem and directing the toxic vomit of a troll-like entity called the Wretched Graug.

True to the films and J.R.R. Tolkien’s lore and surprisingly packed with epic moments at near every turn, “Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor” is Zadzooks’ game of the year.

• Joseph Szadkowski can be reached at jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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