It’s December, and that means that people are going to start discussing the best games that came out this year. This is a fun battle to fight because you get to look back on the great experiences of 2014. But whittling it down to one, to that single game that you can point to as your favorite tends to be really, really hard.
It’s hard because you can make that decision for a variety of different reasons. That’s why games are so great, and also why Game of The Year awards are so divisive.
Here’s some ways to help narrow it down.
1. The best story
Does the game weave an exciting, dramatic tale that stuck with you? Maybe story is what you really care about. Maybe a game that substitutes complex mechanics for a complex story full of excellent characters and witty writing is representative of the best this year had to offer. Some game stories make you feel weird on purpose, some have a way of getting you to a specific emotional place, and some are just damn good stories, whether it’s a narrative you created yourself or not. The best game is really about the story.
2. The best mechanics
At the end of the day, games are a set of rules, right? The best game this year could have a series of interlocking systems and mechanics that produce a satisfying puzzle for your brain and motor skills. It could be a game you can still feel with your eyes closed, tapping the buttons without a controller in your hand. This game could offer depth in how you tackle it, how you solve the problems it gives you. Or maybe it’s so clean and simple that you can’t get enough of its core loop. The best game is really about the mechanics.
3. The best music
What if games are really about the sound for you? There’s a beat that’s locked into your brain and you can’t, you don’t want to get rid of it. Maybe the sound design and the soundtrack perfectly fit the game’s themes or add something specific to the rest of the work. Like good mechanics, music can be just as evocative outside actually playing the game. Maybe it’s songs that you’re still playing on repeat even though you finished the game months ago. The best game is really about the music.
4. The best graphics
Games are beautiful more often than not these days. The best game might be stunningly detailed where it doesn’t have to be. It could have an art style that fits neatly with other parts of the game. If you’re a PC gamer, the best game this year could just run the best at the highest settings. Graphics get argued about all the time, possibly because everyone is searching for the one game that makes little compromises for its visual fidelity. Surely, there’s one that gets the closest to that goal this year. The best game is really about the graphics.
5. The best game
You know what, forget all that. The best game is not about any one of those things. The best games are a mix of disparate parts working toward an ultimate point that should rise above everything else. Games aren’t checklists that you study and check off their pros and cons. Games are malleable works of art that will achieve or not achieve something specific for you. Of course you can like whatever you want about a game, but isn’t it unfair to pluck out one aspect of these intricate works and base its relevance on only that? The best game is about whatever you value. It’s likely a mix of all these things, slightly skewed toward your personality, your background, your life. It’s possible to love a game for all the reasons someone else hates them. So really, the best game is whatever you want it to be.