The best PC games of 2014

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EXPLORATION AND SURVIVAL

This is a new category for 2014. Many upcoming games don't comfortably fit into old action stereotypes. These games are about exploration and discovery. You wander, learn, craft and gradually master the world. Some, like Starbound, are easygoing and pleasant, others, like DayZ, are absolutely not. The exploration and survival section is home to many great hopes of 2014, like Sir, You Are Being Hunted, Sunless Sea and The Forest, and fresh contenders like Alien Isolation show that studios are willing to put big budgets behind these clever survival horror concepts.

Alien: Isolation


Developer: Creative Assembly
Publisher: SEGA
Release Date: TBA 2014
Link:Alien: Isolation site
Put the Alien games of old out of your mind, Isolation promises something that series fans have been missing for years - a game based on the original film. A single, intelligent alien stalks you through the corridors of a failing facility. There are no flamethrowers, grenades, smart guns or useful rolls of gun-binding gaffer tape lying around. It's just you, a motion tracker, a ship full of dark nooks and crannies to hide in and the greatest movie monster ever devised. The environments and technology are based on the paraphernalia found on the '70s film set, and the low-fi sci-fi aesthetic is carried by an impressive engine, which does a great job of capturing the complex hard and soft lighting of the Alien films' futuristic dungeons.

Chris first braved Isolation's corridors for us, and wrote his thoughts on the harrowing experience down here.

DayZ


Developer: Bohemia Interactive
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBA 2014
Link:DayZ site

The mod shifted thousands of copies of ARMA 2, and hundred of thousands have already been sold on Steam Early Access. DayZ is a phenomenon that’s only going to grow as the small team working on it at Bohemia fix the bugs and bring it up to completion. Each server supports a version of DayZ’s huge, zombie-infested and completely explorable island. 40 players at a time can fight for survival, scavenging clothes, medicine and weaponry from abandoned towns, gas stations, airports and military outposts. New players will quickly learn that humans are far more deadly than zombies. Well armed bandits will often hunt newbs on sight. Even in its early, clunky state, DayZ is extraordinarily tense, and keeps on turning out great stories.

Starbound


Developer: Chucklefish
Publisher In-house
Release date TBA
Link:Starbound site

As a homeless space traveller you must explore procedurally generated planets populated by procedurally generated creatures in procedurally generated cities, caves and ancient temples. As you wander, you’ll gain materials to craft better equipment, liase with NPCs, and discover new life and new civilizations. The Early Access version of Starbound is already fantastic and full of weird cosmic secrets. The planned features posts on the Starbound site offer a glimpse of what the game will grow to be in 2014. Chucklefish plan to add space combat, and “Spaceship Dungeons”, huge floating wrecks that are “the size of a planet”. Along with The Kerbal Space Program, Starbound could become one of the defining games of 2014.

Project Zomboid


Developer: The Indie Stone
Publisher: In-house
Release date: TBA
Link:Project Zomboid site

After years of development, this zombie apocalypse sim landed on Steam Early Access in 2013, introducing new players to a grim survivalist existence. Root through abandoned houses for food, forge basic weapons out of household tat, board up the windows and try and survive for as long as possible in a world overrun by the undead. Your character’s mental state is as important as your physical wellbeing. You’ll have to fend off depression, loneliness and terror before you can competently face the hordes. There’s still plenty of development to go, but Project Zomboid could be a tremendous story generator when it’s complete.

Learn about the dramatic and arduous development cycle behind Project Zomboid in our Special Report.

White Heaven


Developer: Dreampainters Software
Publisher: In-house
Release date: TBA
Link:White Heaven site

Amnesia: The Dark Descent has spawned a mini-genre of first person horror games, which is set to grow with the arrival of White Heaven. This one’s set in an abandoned, isolated hotel near a creepy forest - people who build scary hotels near creepy forests should really know better by now. It’s notable for being built in Unreal Engine 4, which ought to make it a very pretty creepy hotel at least. It’ll also have Oculus Rift support, which will surely become mandatory for this sort of horror game in the coming years.

Stranded Deep


Developer: Beam Team Games
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBA 2014
Link:Stranded Deep site

Good news! You’ve survived an aeroplane crash. Bad news. You’re stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Stranded Deep is a survival game set in a procedurally generated patch of sea. You may find yourself stranded in shark infested waters, you may be able to dive and scavenge leftover luggage trapped in randomised reefs. Oculus Rift support should make Stranded Deep’s impressive wave tech look even more tangible, and a crafting system should add a bit of structure and progression to all that scavenging.

The Long Dark


Developer: Hinterland Games
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: October
Link:Official website

Set in a snowy wilderness, The Long Dark sees pilot Will Mackenzie (voiced by Mark ‘Commander Shepard’ Meer) struggling to survive in a world where an atmospheric phenomenon has rendered all technology useless. The focus is on exploration and survival rather than action. You’ll have to keep warm, fed, sheltered, and safe from predatory wildlife as the freezing nights close in. There are other survivors too, some of whom will be aggressive, so the game isn’t completely free of conflict – but it’s always a last resort. Interestingly, there’s no HUD or Minecraft-style meters: Mackenzie will simply say what he needs, whether it’s food or a fire. The stylised, minimalist visuals are particularly striking.

Read our interview with Hinterland’s Raphael van Lierop

No Man’s Sky


Developer: Hello Games
Publisher: In-house
Release date: TBA
Link:No Man's Sky

No Man’s Sky is a procedurally generated sci-fi FPS. But wait, it gets better. You’ll be able to chart the universe in your spaceship, hopping from planet to planet, all without a single load screen. But wait, it gets better still. Each planet, promise the developers, will be unique to the player. Supposedly, every atom in the game is procedurally generated. On a desert planet you might sprint from a giant land snake; on a water planet you’ll swim with luminous green sharks. Is it too ambitious a project from the team behind Joe Danger? Find out for yourself next year.

Read our first news story on No Man’s Sky

Limit Theory


Developer: Procedural Reality
Publisher: In-house
Release: 2014
Link:Limit Theory site

There are a lot of space simulation/adventure games popping up on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, but you can never have enough. Limit Theory skips any semblance of scripting or plot in favour of a sandbox universe of procedurally-generated everything, in which you can explore, shoot things, coo at the pretty stars, or die a horrible, horrible death. Sounds great.

Sir, You Are Being Hunted


Developer: Big Robot
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBC
Link:Big Robot’s website

Blending the dynamic, reactive stealth of Deus Ex with a Monty Python sketch, Sir sees you surviving in a grim British rural wilderness with packs of tweed-wearing robots on your tail. Despite their jaunty walk and dapper top hats, they’re actually incredibly menacing. Their red eyes glow in the gloom, and if they spot you, your ears echo with the sounds of gunfire and eerie robotic voices. Your task is to collect a series of objects strewn around a procedurally generated archipelago, avoiding the remorseless gaze of the ‘bots, and keeping yourself alive by scavenging food and weapons.

Read about the latest alpha update

Starpoint Gemini 2


Developer: Little Green Man Games
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
Release: TBA 2014
Link:Starpoint Gemini 2

Take charge of a spacecraft and explore a single continuous universe, battling spacefaring denizens and customising your ship as you go. Scraps unfold in real-time, but you’ll have to adroitly shuffle power around yours ship to keep subsystems active while bringing your weapons to bear. Little Green Man Games promise plenty of RPG depth and progression to your exploration and tactical intrigue to the combat. If you get lonely out there in the big black, you can hire mercenaries to fly with you and employ officers to man positions on your ship. A promising and deep space exploration game, Starpoint Gemini 2 already has some dedicated players on Steam Early Access.

The Evil Within


Developer: Tango Gameworks
Publisher: Bethesda
Release: 2014
Link:The Evil Within site

The Evil Within is without a firm release date right now, but one thing we do know is that Shinji 'Resident Evil' Mikami is involved. Survival horror in the Resi/Silent Hill mold hasn't been particularly well represented of late, and Within seems like an attempt to get the genre back on track. From what's been revealed it involves a cop, monsters and a guy with a chainsaw – so far, so good.

Raindrop


Developer: Raindrop Studios
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBA
Link:Kickstarter

This extremely pretty, Unity-built survival horror game failed to reach its Kickstarter funding target this year, but development continues. That’s fortunate, because Raindrop’s golden forests and bleak, deserted concrete wastelands look like a fun place to get lost. You’ll spend a lot of time scavenging to craft weapons (though the developers stress that you don’t have to kill people if you don’t want to), armour and vehicle upgrades as you explore environments that have been in production since 2007, when the two-man team started building Raindrop as a Half-Life 2 total conversion.

Frontiers


Developer: AAD Productions
Publisher: In-house
Release date: Summer, 2014
Link:Frontiers site

As vast and mysterious as games like Skyrim or Fallout 3 have been, they're as much about the mechanics of character progression and loot upgrades as they are about the exploration of their worlds. Frontiers was inspired by Bethesda's earlier game, Daggerfall, and hopes to recapture the joy of uncharting the unknown. The story incorporates the increased tensions between the game's regions, mysterious and deadly orbs, and your character's quest to find their uncle - who disappeared in uncharted lands. Along the way, you'll need to live off the land, craft new tools, and uncover the game's continent-wide mystery.

For more on Frontiers, check out Phil's interview with its creator, Lars Simkins.

Sunless Sea


Developer: Failbetter Games
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBA
Link:Sunless Sea site

Sunless Sea is set in a dark, procedurally generated underground ocean. You must pilot your customisable ship around its waters, discovering islands, hiring crew and battling sea monsters. There’s plenty of menace in Sunless Sea’s murky, mysterious visuals and the strange creatures that populate the world, and the video for the team’s successful Kickstarter campaign drops a few hints of the horrors to come when it suggests that you’ll “lose your mind, eat your crew” and “quell a mutiny.” It’s being built by Failbetter Games, creators of Fallen London, who list FTL, Don’t Starve and Sid Meier’s Pirates as influences, which means Sunless Sea will hopefully give us a chance to craft some good horror tales of our own.

Darkwood


Developer: Acid Wizard Studio
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBA
Link:Darkwood site

Darkwood is a top-down survival horror set in, er, a dark wood. After a successful IndieGoGo campaign the three-person team have charged ahead with development of their open world generation technology. You’ll have to craft items from found objects in the various abandoned houses that populate the wood, which is set in the deepest, darkest depths of Europe in the twilight of the 20th Century. Early videos of Darkwood show a rich, sinister atmosphere that’s already laden with menace. Death is permanent, too, to add even more tension.

Eidolon


Developer: Ice Water Games
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBA
Link:Eidolon site

You’re stuck in the wilderness of West Washington and all the humans are gone. Fish, hunt and hike to extent your existence and uncover the stories of the people this land has lost in this serene exploration game from Ice Water Games. The pale, impressionistic art style is reminiscent of Proteus, but don’t be fooled by that - you’ll have to fend off starvation and build campfires to keep death away.

Interstellaria


Developer: Coldrice Games
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBA
Link:Interstellaria site

Gather a crew and explore the galaxy in your ship in search of new life and new civilisations. When you discover a new planet, you beam down and explore it as a 2D platformer level. Some will have you blasting alien nasties in Mega Man-esque run ‘n gun battles, others will encourage Metroidvania style exploration. Any goods you find can be used to upgrade your character and your ship. There will be space combat as well, inspired by FTL, and the creator hopes to eventually let players spend their entire game in space, or on a planet’s surface, when the game is complete.

The Forest


Developer: Ben Falcone
Publisher: Self-published
Release Date: TBA 2014
Link:The Forest site

The Forest is at once a staggeringly gorgeous survival sim and a staggeringly creepy horror game, featuring crafting, exploration, a day/night cycle, and of course moments where you batter violent semi-naked mutants to death in a wooded area. You're a plane crash survivor Losting it up on a mysterious island; during the day you'll gather and scavenge resources, build yourself a home, attempt to grow food, and very probably try to work out what's going on (if there's time). Night, however, brings the aforementioned mutants, humanoid creatures who lurk in the shadows of the game's beautifully rendered forest, and who don't appear to be too fond of its new guest.

Vox


Developer: Always Geeky
Publisher: Self-published
Release Date: TBA 2014
Link:Vox site

Minecraft casts a long shadow over new indie games offering malleable block-based adventuring. What can the newcomers do that the original can’t? Vox’s voxel engine ought to be easier to manipulate than Minecraft’s block-by-block building approach, and there are quest-givers lingering about to give a bit of structure to your spelunking.

Naissancee


Developer: Limasse Five
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: Early 2014
Link:Naissancee

Architecture and light play together wonderfully in this exploratory puzzle game, set in a colossal abstract machine. It’s an artistic endeavour inspired by Anouk De Clerq’s video, Building. As you move light around the rigid structures, pools of shadow reveal hidden pathways. The use of sharp shadow and gravity-bending puzzles create an occasionally disorientating but novel sense of traversal through an alien space.

Coin Crypt


Developer: Greg Lobanov
Publisher: Self published
Release Date: TBA 2014
Link:Coin Crypt

You play a ‘Lootmancer’ in this procedurally generated roguelike. That means the coins you steal from the crypt’s chests can be used to deal damage in combat. There’s permadeath, of course, but you can unlock different playable characters as you scramble further through each level. According to the developer, Coin Crypt is inspired by “the Nexus City prototype by Terry Cavanagh, Spelunky by Derek Yu and the card game Dominion”. Early access is available through the website linked above, or through Steam Early Access.

Betrayer


Developer: Blackpowder Games
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: 2014
Link:Betrayer's site

Set in the New World in the 17th century, the boldly monochrome Betrayer (well, boldly monochrome until they added the option to view the world in full colour) puts players in the role of a potential settler, who arrives to find the place inhabited by ghosts, skeletons, and other things you should probably kill with your bow. It's an indie, open world first-person horror from ex-Monolith developers, and that's reason enough why you should be excited.

What's black and white and red all over? Betrayer, as it turns out.

The Dead Linger


Developer: Sandswept Studios
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBA
Link:The Dead Linger on this site

Wait, which DayZ-a-like is this? It's the one set on a huge procedurally generated planet – a bit like ours, which was procedurally generated sometime after the Big Bang. The Dead Linger promises that you'll be able to “interact and explore every item, weapon, object, and building that you can see. No fake doors, no fake windows, no invisible walls”. So you can hardly accuse Sandswept of lacking ambition. What else can we expect? Zombies, barricading, and multiplayer featuring “as many survivors as your server can handle”. The Dead Linger has been in development for around four years now and is still in alpha, so a 2014 release is a bit of a push.

Nether


Developer: Phosphor Games
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: 2014
Link:Nether's site

Oh look, it's a first-person, open world, multiplayer survival game that follows in the wake of DayZ. For once, though, it doesn't feature a single reanimated human. It does – cough – feature superpowered mutant thingies known hilariously as Nethers, but they're honestly not that similar to DayZ's zig-zagging zombie hordes. Nether's regions are far more urban in nature too, with a huge city environment that resembles the rusty, ruined locales of a Stalker game.

Phosphor Games revealed Netherto PC Gamer back in August, before taking the game to Steam Early Access a couple of months later.

Delver


Developer: Chad Alan Cuddigan
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: 2014
Link:Delver's site

Chad Alan Cuddigan's first-person roguelike has gone through a number of changes over the last few months, the most notable being the recent adoption of considerably more detailed sprites and backgrounds. Thankfully the new look retains the deliciously chunky pixels of previous builds, not to mention the fantastically catchy soundtrack. Compared to many roguelikes, roguelites or roguelite-likes you may have played lately, Delver is a relatively simple dungeon crawler, comparable to the game that kicked this entire, messy genre off – Rogue. You'll defeat enemies, find weapons and armour, enchanted wands and piles of yummy grub, as you make your way through a procedurally generated dungeon. It's the game's wit, warmth and general slickness that will keep you coming back.

Neo Scavenger


Developer: Blue Bottle Games
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: 2014
Link:Neo Scavenger site

Neo Scavenger is a hexy, sci-fi, single-player strategy game. Waking up in a cryo lab with little more than a hospital gown to your name, your secondary task is to uncover the mystery of why you were there in the first place. Your primary task, of course, is to not die for as long as possible, something that's considerably harder than in many games of this ilk, what with bandits, mutants, disease, exposure, malnutrition and even dysentery awaiting the unprepared explorer. Luckily there's a crap-ton of useful stuff lying about the place. Carrier bags, tin cans, clothes, old gadgets and the like: the remnants of our materialist society. You're welcome, grim-faced apocalypse survivors. Neo Scavenger is currently available as a paid beta, but from what we've played it feels almost finished – the slightly unwieldy UI could probably do with another pass though.

Edge of Space


Developer: HandyMan Studios
Publisher: Reverb Publishing
Release: TBA 2014
Link:Edge of Space site

Explore alien planet full of flying sharks with jetpacks, dig, mine, explore and terraform it to make it suitable for habitation. There are a few survival crafting games about, but few are as bright and bizarre as Edge of Space. Watch out for flying space squid as you’re constructing your next outpost or power station. Early access is available through Desura now.

7 Days To Die


Developer: The Fun Pimps
Publisher: In-house
Release: May 2014
Link:7 Days to Die site

7 Days to Die is a “survival horde crafting game”, words which here mean “DayZ meets Minecraft”. That's hardly a bad mish-mash of elements, however, and the alpha version already shows a ton of promise. Survive, craft, build, dig and lay traps on a post-apocalyptic Earth, trying not to get yourself bitten while you do so.

Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime


Developer: Asteroid Base
Publisher: In-house
Release date: TBA
Link:LiaDS site

The developers describe this as a “frantic local co-op platformer-inside-a-shooter”. You and a friend (or AI partner) must rush around the innards of a bright pink spaceship to man turrets and fend off asteroids and attacking aliens. As you roam the galaxy you’ll have the opportunity to explore new regions of space, liberate planets and then shout at each other when things inevitably go wrong and you blow up and die because someone couldn’t climb a ladder fast enough.

Lost Spirits of Kael


Developer: Rablo Games
Publisher: In-house
Release date: TBA 2014
Link:Lost Spirits of Kael site

A magical harpist has put a spell on the forest of Kael, covering it in a mysterious mist that hides wandering demons. In this strange action RPG, you play a young artist who’s entered the forest to recapture his muse, but finds himself lost in the mist, fending off said demons with punching. Lost Spirits of Kael’s deliberately childish visuals take on a delicious creepiness when paired with the soundtrack. An odd but atmospheric project.

Blood Alloy


Developer: Suppressive Fire Games
Publisher: In-house
Release date: TBA
Link:Blood Alloy site

Blood Alloy describes itself as a “2D, sci-fi urban Metroidvania” set in a ruined cyberpunk world. You play as a young amnesiac who awakes to find she’s been forcibly converted into a cyborg. It seems that those who converted her have only given her some impressive tools with which to exact painful revenge, but first she must hunt her persecutors through a non-linear environment full of robot bosses, secret areas and powerful upgrades.

Before


Developer: Bill Lowe
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBA 2014
Link:Before site

Due to Bill Lowe’s rather idiosyncratic blogging style, we actually know little about Before. What we do know is that 1) It’s about cavemen, 2) it looks bloody beautiful, 3) no seriously like at that picture it’s gorgeous. Here’s hoping we learn a little more in 2014.

Proven Lands


Developer: TheseTales
Publisher: In-house
Release Date: TBA
Link:Proven Lands site

You're stranded on an uncharted planet, facing hunger, thirst and loneliness in a harsh and hostile desert. You'll need to build, scavenge and learn to survive on the procedurally generated landscape. So far, so in keeping with the growing survival genre. Proven Lands' trick is a trait and ambition system, that aims to add the unpredictability and character drama of Crusader Kings 2 to the top-down roguelike setting.

Shelter 2


Developer: Might and Delight
Publisher: Might and Delight
Release Date: August
Link:Might and Delight site

We don't have much to go on yet with this sequel, but we can expect another harsh battle of survival against nature, the various predators lurking in nature, and very probably more trial-and-error stealthing as you try your best not to get you adorable cubs eaten. Shelter 2 will feature a bigger world, and a new family of animals to protect: a mother Lynx and her litter of cutesy cubs. New “maternal features” will let you call your offspring, carry them around, and tell them to drink at water sources.