Welcome back to the "best in gaming" for 2014! If you missed out on part one, feel free to check that out now and then rush back here to read the rest!

Indie Games
The rise of Indie games continued in 2014. Throughout the year, we saw some very impressive releases across almost every platform known to man, namely on the PC through Steam and on the PlayStation 4. While some may whine that Indie games are somehow "lesser games," that really isn't the case in the slightest.

Indie developers and thus Indie games continue to push boundaries. Indie developers are the reason why the gaming industry moved beyond the stalemate of creativity it sat at for the longest time. As I mentioned prior, these are the developers that will deliver the most innovative and genre defining experiences for the foreseeable future. These people aren't afraid to take risks because more often than not, they really don't have as much to lose as large, AAA studios do. As a result, consumers win from the wealth of creative, new experiences these developers deliver on a near weekly basis. And thanks to platforms like Steam, the PlayStation Network, and even the Xbox Live Arcade to an extent, more people than ever before have access to some spectacular games.

In 2014 more great Indie titles than ever before were released. We saw games that ranged from the zany, such as Goat Simulator, Hohokum, and Octodad: Dadliest Catch to those with a more mature narrative such as Never Alone, Transistor, Elegy for a Dead World, and Kentucky Route Zero: Act III. 2014 saw the release of the fantastic platformer Shovel Knight. Couch co-op fans should have rejoiced when Sportsfriends came out. Nidhogg offered up fast-paced competitive gameplay that probably ruined a friendship or two. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter showed the world that some of the best visuals ever seen before in a game can come from an Indie studio. That's not to mention that Ethan Carter included very enjoyable and some rather fresh gameplay. Much like many other games released this year, it proved that your game doesn't need to include guns to be considered one of the best games of 2014.

The PlayStation Plus offerings almost always included a new Indie title or two each month on the PS4. A new generation brought back Indie favorites such as Fez, Thomas Was Alone, and Spelunky. The Binding of Isaac returned with a not-a-sequel sequel in The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. The puzzler, shoot 'em up hybrid known as Velocity 2X made its debut on the PlayStation 4 and PS Vita late in 2014. Croteam proved to the world that they are capable of creating an immersive first-person puzzler, The Talos Principle, despite being best known for making the over the top Serious Sam franchise. SteamWorld Dig made a big return in 2014 thanks to releases on the Wii U and PlayStation platforms. Crypt of the NecroDancer exercised both your minds and your fingers as you danced your way through this roguelike rhythm title.

Horror fans continued to benefit from the Indie scene. Sure, you have high profile horror releases like Daylight and Outlast, but you also have regular releases of games made by one person or small teams of up to just a handful of people. These are the horror games that you typically don't see promoted on gaming sites because more often than not we have no idea they even exist. Then you see your favorite YouTube personality playing some random game they found and bam, it takes off in huge ways. 2014 saw the release of not one, but two entries for Five Nights at Freddy's for this very reason. That game was largely made by just one person, Scott Cawthon. On a slightly larger scale we also saw Krillbite Studios and their release of Among the Sleep in 2014. Then you have people that make some incredible horror mods and total conversions for games like Amnesia.

2015 already shows some incredible promise for the Indie game scene. Xbox One and PC owners will get to experience Cuphead. Cuphead, developed by two brothers, mixes 1930s cartoon visuals with run and gun style gameplay. We should also hopefully see the releases of Inside from Playdead (Limbo developer), Superhot, Life is Strange from Dontnod (Remember Me), and Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number from Dennaton Games. A small team at Facepunch Studios is working on Before, an upcoming survival game. The creator of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Josef Fares, has formed a new studio, Hazelight, and there is already a bit of buzz concerning his next project though very little is actually known.

We will hopefully see The Chinese Room's return to form when they release Everybody's Gone to the Rapture on the PlayStation 4. Also exclusive to the PlayStation 4 (and PC) is No Man's Sky from Hello Games. Need something a bit more conventional? Slightly Mad Studios will have you covered with the release if Project Cars in 2015. Survival horror fans won't go without some goodies either when Frictional Games' Soma sends you deep underwater.

In my opinion, the fact that there have been more Indie titles than I can possibly mention, let alone remember, is a wonderful problem to have. I'm really looking forward the new experiences that upcoming Indie titles will offer fans in 2015.

While I don't personally own either a Wii U or 3DS, I will still make a note here and say that Nintendo should certainly be under the "best in gaming" banner for 2014. Sure, sales of the Wii U might pale in comparison to the competition, but sometimes it's not always a number's game. Sometimes it's simply about the quality of the product you produce.

Nintendo seems to have largely avoided having broken releases hit their systems in 2014. All of their first-party offerings have been absolutely stellar. This includes Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and Mario Kart 8 to name a few. These games may not be everyone's idea of fun, but you would be hard pressed to find anybody claiming that they don't have that high level of Nintendo polish we've come to expect from them.

Let's not forget that without Nintendo stepping in, Bayonetta 2 still wouldn't exist. Seriously, no other parties were interested in funding the development of the game except for Nintendo. As a result, Platinum Games and Nintendo formed an unlikely but beautiful partnership to create Bayonetta 2 for the Wii U. It ended up being one of the best reviewed games of 2014 and probably left Sony and Microsoft kicking themselves.

One last thing I like about Nintendo is their trade show presentations, or rather I like their lack of traditional presentations. I'm not really sure why, but I really enjoy the pre-recorded live stream events they have done for the past couple of years now. It feels like a more laid back, more friendly approach to the entire thing. There's very little fluff, there's very little downtime, and there is just a lot of news and announcements. I'm sure we'll see many more of these fun and informative online presentations in 2015, just as we'll see some more great games released from Nintendo in the months to come.

The Game Awards
In general, I felt as though this year's traditional trade shows were a bit disappointing. They weren't terrible but they didn't do anything to particularly impress me or remind me of why I'm even in this industry. It was just a bunch of the usual new game announcements, a lot of "sizzle" trailers set to upbeat music, a lot of talking heads, and a lot of the same old fluff. It took until December before there was an event that actually reminded me that there was still good in this industry.

Yep, it was The Game Awards. I already talked about my overall likes and dislikes for The Game Awards in a previous blog entry, so I won't linger on this subject for too long. The short of it is that some of the segments contained in the show brought a smile to my face. The opening of the show provided a small glimpse back into the history of gaming. "Yeah, this is why I'm here!"

Later came the Industry Icon Award. Seeing the history of Sierra with Ken and Roberta Williams was one of those rare "feel good" moments that 2014 was severely lacking. It was one of the most adorable, heart warming things I've seen at any gaming awards show. I sincerely hope we see more like this in future iterations of the show.

Tangentially related is the PlayStation Experience. I enjoyed this simply because it again showed a fun look back at some of the great franchises that the PlayStation brand brought to the world. Sure, many of them have been long forgotten by Sony as far as sequels go, but it was still a fun trip down memory lane.

Gaming Bundles

Competition is always great. Throughout 2014 we saw the PlayStation 4 take a commanding lead in the overall sales of new consoles compared to the Xbox One. Call it an act of desperation, call it smart business, whatever you call it there's no denying that Microsoft pulled out all of the stops these past few months by introducing a number of Xbox One bundles for super cheap.

The steep discount on the Xbox One combined with these bundles coming with a number of free, bonus games meant that the Xbox One saw a huge surge in sales for November and December. While we haven't seen bundles that are quite as impressive from Sony, the company has started to offer up discounted PlayStation 4 offerings that also come with a game or more.

The big winners in all of this? Consumers. Not only are consumers already paying less for these consoles a mere year after release, but they're now also getting some of the latest games bundled in for free or at extreme discounts. Will these bundles continue into 2015? Maybe, but it's unlikely. If anything we might start to see more normalized bundles return after the holidays, which would mean a console and perhaps one extra game for the normal retail price of the console itself.

The bigger question here is if the discounted prices on the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 will stick around into 2015. There's no doubt that Microsoft is taking a big monetary hit on their bundles for the Xbox One. So, it really boils down to whether or not Microsoft would rather have a smaller hit to their financials or if they would rather have a larger number of units sold compared to the PlayStation 4. I'm sure we'll start to see permanent price reductions later in 2015 but these huge bundles and deep discounts probably won't stick around for the entirety of the year.

What if I'm wrong and we continue to see these great bundles offered up throughout 2015? Well, that just means that we all win in the end.

Remakes and Remasters
I'm going to round out my "best of" list with something that seems to be a bit of a polarizing topic for people: Remakes and remasters of older or classic titles. I'm of the camp that believes if the creation of these remakes or remasters aren't taking away resources from new projects, I'm all for them. Bonus points awarded if those remakes and remasters are done well and aren't an obvious attempt at a cash grab. Sure there is a concern that this generation of consoles will be defined as the generation of remasters but it's still far too early in this release cycle to start freaking out about that just yet.

I went from owning an Xbox 360 to owning a PlayStation 4 as many others did. As a result, I missed out on some great games on the PlayStation 3. I didn't get a chance to play through the Uncharted series, or the new God of War titles, nor did I get to experience The Last of Us, just to name a few games. Then Naughty Dog announced The Last of Us: Remastered for the PlayStation 4 and I was thrilled. Better still was that the remaster was quite well done. The visuals were improved, the framerate was given an unlocked 60fps option or a locked 30 option. Everything about it was great.

Fast-forward a few more months and suddenly we're looking at a remaster of Grand Theft Auto V on the newest generation of consoles. If you thought the remaster for The Last of Us was good, the one for Grand Theft Auto V probably blew you out of the water. We saw updated visuals, improved resolution, improved draw distances, more music, and even an entirely new way to play the game (first-person mode). Now that was one impressive remaster and possibly the bar for which other remasters will be compared to for some time to come.

Xbox One owners also received some remaster love this year by way of Halo: The Master Chief Collection. While it may have been one of the buggiest releases of the year, it still included a version of Halo 2 that was given a massive graphical overhaul.

There is already a hope that the Uncharted franchise will receive a similar treatment that The Last of Us did. While there has been nothing confirmed by either Sony or Naughty Dog, that hope will undoubtedly remain strong throughout 2015. So yeah, while there are some people that will just crap all over the idea of a remake or a remaster, there are plenty that welcome them with open arms. They either want to replay a game they love with better visuals and new content, or they want to play a game they never had a chance to before. Next year, fans already have Resident Evil HD Remaster to look forward to. Not only will that offer up a blast from the past for existing fans of the franchise, it could very well be the first taste of the origins of survival horror for an entirely new generation of game players.

And there you have it, my "best in gaming" for 2014. Undoubtedly, there are probably some good things I missed from 2014, just as there are some bad things I missed for the "biggest disappointment" list earlier this week. If there is something else that springs to mind, feel free to leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading and here's hoping 2015 is a great one for you, for the gaming industry, and for everyone!