When it comes to video games, it feels like everything but the good ones was headline news in 2014.
There was the console war, which continued raging when "Rise of the Tomb Raider" was revealed to be a t̶i̶m̶e̶d̶ console exclusive on Xbox One, and again when "Street Fighter V" was locked up for PlayStation 4.
There was consumer cynicism, which continued hardening when "Destiny" made players slog through the same missions several times to earn the smallest measure of progress, and again when "Assassin's Creed Unity" shipped with more bugs than hay in a bale.
There was women's depiction in games, which continued drawing much-needed attention when Paz played a disturbing role in "Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes," and again when Bayonetta returned on Wii U with her divisive ... everything.
Then, of course, many of these issues came to a head in #GamerGate, an online movement defined by players who've wrapped themselves in the flag of the consumer cause to push back against those concerned with social ones. Because harassing and threatening women on Twitter somehow moves the medium forward, I guess?
With all this going on in the world of video games, you'd think no one had any time to, you know, play them. But here they are: My 10 favorite games of 2014.
1. "Dragon Age: Inquisition" (PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox 360 and One, Windows) — I'm still trying to find the time just for November's "Inquisition." The third entry in Bioware's fantasy series has more than enough missions to complete, lore to thumb and companions to woo to overwhelm even the most ambitious marathon player. That largesse is one reason "Inquisition" was my favorite game to play this year, and yes, a weak field was another. But most of all, I was won over by the masterful way everything about Thedas coheres into one unified experience of unyielding, escapist fun.
2. "Dark Souls II" (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows) — The sequel to one of the greatest games of the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 generation is, well, less great. But it nonetheless retains much of what made "Dark Souls" so exhilarating: Boss fights with no room for errors, rushes of satisfaction when you succeed at them, and surrealist twists on fantasy environs (Dali & D?). Coupled with DLC that lifted the game closer to the level of its predecessor, "Dark Souls II" loses very little of the FromSoftware series' edge.
3. "P.T." (PlayStation 4) — Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro's playable teaser for "Silent Hills" is the ultimate counterpoint to a game like "Dragon Age." There's no HUD. Your only controls are walking and squinting. The level is one hallway in a hyper-realistic McMansion that you walk through multiple times. Yet it's the most haunting game of the year, a nightmarish cocktail of distant squeals and rotting decor. Refreshingly, its puzzles also require you to pay really close attention to what's happening — even if it scares the crap out of you.
4. "The Last of Us: Left Behind" (PlayStation 3 and 4) — I played this addition to my 2013 game of the year twice in 2014, first on PlayStation 3 and again on PlayStation 4 as part of "The Last of Us: Remastered." Both times I was blown away how absorbed I was by competitive brick-tossing, how invested I was in the outcome of a water gun fight. Ellie and Riley's mid-apocalypse day trip is every bit as superbly written and acted as the main game, and yet, without Joel's dad factor, somehow it's even more of a revelation.
5. "Valiant Hearts: The Great War" (PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox 360 and One, iOS, Android and Windows) — An orderly puzzle adventure game would not have struck me as the right language for a story about the messiest, most zero-sum war in human history. But Ubisoft Montpellier's World War I game turns the conflict into a compelling personal journey, one whose challenge is outdone only by an arresting, scraggly aesthetic. Don't be misled by the cartoonishness — this is some of the most mature storytelling in games this year.
6. "Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor" (PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox 360 and One, Windows) — Killing orcs in the "Lord of the Rings" films looked more like slaughter than sport. In "Shadow of Mordor," it's both. Monolith Productions' Nemesis System molds the game's "Arkham"-esque crowd combat into something more than meat on the story's feeble bones. Instead, it is the story: The orc who just wouldn't stay dead, the one who rode your defeated back to promotion after promotion. It's alive in a way few games are.
7. "OlliOlli" (PlayStation 3, 4 and Vita, Linux, Mac OS and Windows) — Roll7's side-scroller isn't the most complicated skateboarding game, but it's certainly one of the more addictive ones. Chill music and crude art are chained with rigorous challenge and instant restarts to create a proving ground where merely sick sequences of grabs and grinds won't suffice. When you're one with its few controls and its fast pace of obstacles, you'll never stop until you're perfect.
8. "Wolfenstein: The New Order" (PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox 360 and One, Windows) — Maybe the biggest surprise of 2014 saw the first first-person shooter return in a blaze of Nazi-cidal glory. But what made MachineGames' debut so good was the same thing that made Blazkowicz more than just another jarhead: It trades in moods as much as mayhem. After playing "The New Order," you'll remember your homey underground bunker and Max's affecting story arc as much as unloading dual shotguns in some S.S. guy's face.
9. "South Park: The Stick of Truth" (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows) — Who knew turn-based role-playing was just the right vehicle for "South Park"? Creators and obvious game fans Trey Parker and Matt Stone serve up more fan service than Cartman eats fried chicken in this surprisingly deep, if easy Obsidian RPG. It's also only 15 hours, and a little too eager to shock — even for "South Park" — but what other game can say its most difficult boss is Al "super serial" Gore?
10. "Alien: Isolation" (PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox 360 and One, Windows) — "Wolfenstein" was a hit because of how wildly it surpassed expectations. "Alien: Isolation" was less heralded because The Creative Assembly didn't turn its survival horror showdown with a single xenomorph into the perfect thrill ride we all hoped it'd be. It did, however, fuse the boxy, analog look of the late '70s and virtuoso sound design into a tour de force of frightful atmosphere and, from protagonist Amanda Ripley, female badassery.