I couldn’t let 2018 slip away without informing you of what my favorite games of the year were, and although I’m sure everyone is tired of seeing this type of article by now, maybe I can tantalize you with a huge spoiler: Red Dead Redemption 2 and God of War didn’t make the cut! Shocking, right?
My Favorite Games of 2018
5 – Gris: Gris’ art style had immediately arrested me, but I was even more intrigued when I heard the game was about dealing with loss and the stages of grieving. Gris won’t take but three or four hours of your time, and while that play time may dissuade some, I found this to be a worthwhile ‘quality over quantity’ title. I’m a bit biased because, well, this came around at the right time in my life. I spent a fair chunk of 2018 grieving, and to see that process transformed into playable art was precisely what I needed, especially since it’s not just about the emotional descent, but the prospect of coming back from it.
Gris is a 2D platformer of sorts, but the gameplay is simple. There isn’t much challenge, just some light puzzles and a few interesting encounters. I’d say this is more akin to playing an experience like Journey, meaning you have to appreciate the ride for its art, music, and the way it makes you feel. If that’s not what you’re looking for, you can probably avoid Gris. but in my opinion, that’d be a mistake.
4 – Dead Cells: Games like Atlas lead people to believe that early access is about studios taking your money in exchange for a broken (or recycled) product. Dead Cells, on the other hand, is the rare example where early access was done right.
I actually played the early access version in the spring of 2017, and even then the game seemed polished enough receive an official release. Still, the developer used all the feedback from early adopters to continually improve their product. This included tweaking the balance of difficulty, ensuring that gameplay would suit multiple play styles, and that players could move through each level without confusion. With the final product now in our hands, I’m happy to say that all the love and attention that went into Dead Cells is apparent.
You’re a warrior with no head, and your goal is to continually collect cells so that you can restore your body. To that end, you’ll run off into the unknown, die, and then start from the beginning again… and again, and again, and again. Level generation is random each time, but as you grow accustomed to the characteristics of each stage and earn more abilities, things get easier with each successive run. Once you beat the final boss, the difficulty ramps up and you’re able to continue that climb to greatness.
I’m typically not a fan of the ‘start over every time you die’ sort of thing, but Dead Cells just makes it work. The pace is quick, the enemy encounters are interesting (even if certain foes tail you for far too long) and the controls feel great. Every step closer to that endgame is just as rewarding as the last, so all in all, I highly recommend this game to anyone who appreciates 2D hack-and-slash action.
3 – Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: I’m sort of a junkie when it comes to ancient Egypt, so when AC: Origins threw us in the most gorgeously rendered version of that place and era to date, I thought it, for sure, had to be the franchise’s peak.
But I was wrong.
I still prefer the sand, shrubs and palms of Egypt overall, but there’s no denying that Odyssey’s take on Greece is jaw-dropping. It’s a highly detailed world with things to do at every turn, and the fact that Black Flag’s naval combat system has returned in full is a solid win for everyone involved. You can spend dozens of hours just roaming around and causing trouble in this game, and when taking both main and side quests into consideration, there’s at least sixty hours’ worth of gameplay here (maybe even close to a hundred).
What I really appreciate about this game is that its main character, or at least the female lead (you’re able to choose between a man and woman), is the most interesting and likeable protagonist in the series to date. There’s also some great quality of life improvements in regards to hunting (you don’t have to go out of your way to hunt for hours at a time) and resource collection (it isn’t as vital to spend a great deal of time hunting these down). This is a much more polished version of the new Assassin’s Creed formula, and the ability to choose branching dialogue options is also a welcome inclusion.
All of this would be for nothing if the gameplay didn’t feel great, but this is probably the best controlling AC title I’ve played thus far. and I’ve played my fair share of them!
2 – Tetris Effect: Anyone who looks at this and says, “It’s just Tetris,” doesn’t get the point.
You may have the heard people call Tetris the perfect video game, and honestly, I find it hard to argue with that. I don’t know anyone who’s never enjoyed SOME iteration of the game, eventually getting glued to their screens for hours on end because clearing lines is addicting in the best way possible. Hell, even my wife loves Tetris, and she’s the furthest thing from a gamer there is.
There have been formula changes since the OG release (yes, I’m old enough to have played them on the PC and NES when those versions were still relevant), and some of them have made the game better while others. well, not so much. After decades of experimentation, one thing has been consistently true: The best Tetris games stay true to the core experience without much additional tweaking. To that end, I’d say Tetris DS is probably the best version of the game I’ve ever played (although I have a great deal of nostalgia for the original puke-green and black Game Boy version).
But I think Tetris Effect is the new champion.
Gameplay wise, it’s typical Tetris. But there is a new mechanic which allows you to, when in trouble (and after building up a meter, because you can’t just activate this any time you want), slow down time and clear lines at the top of your Tetris grid. All the lines cleared before time runs out will move to the bottom of your stack, so there’s potential to wipe away more lines at once than ever before. It’s an interesting mechanic to play around with, because there’s some major risk versus reward going on. You can try to stack your Tetris grid up high and then bang a bunch of them out in one fell swoop, but if you miscalculate, you could put yourself in a bad situation. This sort of thing actually feels like a natural extension of the game as opposed to something that’s been merely tacked on.
And of course, it’s visually the most stunning Tetris game of all time. There are numerous themes that promote every element of our world, instilling a sense of harmony and connectivity that you’ll feel throughout your tetrimino infused journey. The sound of your puzzle pieces turning and dropping become part of the beat thumping music that plays, further instilling that theme of connectivity. It’s worth noting that this game is even better in VR.
If you’re a Tetris fan and have a PS4, I know the $40 asking price may be steep, but it’s already been on sale for half that. Either way, the price is worth it.
1 – Sea of Thieves: It’s really interesting how this game has changed over the course of year. I had fun with it at launch, but felt the core gameplay loop wasn’t enough to keep players engaged for the long haul. It was a repetitive drive of, ‘go there, do this thing, bring me back the loot and I’ll give you gold’. I figured I’d give it another shot later down the line, but I wasn’t sure the developers would ever bring the game up to an appreciable state. I eventually learned Rare’s plan for future updates involved timed events, and that worried me a great deal. That tends to be a euphemism for ‘we’re going to randomly change the game, and if you like a particular game mode along the way, you’ll soon be disappointed once we pull it because it’ll be gone forever’. I wanted nothing to do with that.
So a couple of events came and went, but in keeping tabs with the what the community was saying about the content, I came to realize that Rare understood how timed events should actually work.
When a timed event was over, the newer stuff had either stayed in the game, or had been reincorporated later down the line. Nine months later, Sea of Thieves, while still sporting the same core it had at launch, has so much more to keep players engaged. and there’s much more to come.
Whenever leaving port, you never know how player ships on your server will react to your presence. The ability to form alliances with other crews adds a ‘will they, or won’t they’ ambiguity that wasn’t present at launch, and goes a long way in providing agency to each player. You no longer have to merely go to an island, grab the loot, and return to an outpost; you’ll pick up messages in bottles along the way, providing you more to do while you’re out and about. As a matter of fact, you don’t even have to pick up an official voyage to get started. most outposts at the start will have a message in a bottle somewhere, and you can just keep that running for the rest of your play session. Skeleton fortresses and skeleton ship raids are fun and rewarding challenges, and now that there are skeleton ships, megalodons, and even a kraken roaming the map on a regular basis, to say ‘anything could happen’ would be an understatement.
Sea of Thieves still isn’t for everyone because it’s only as fun as you are willing to make it. The real fun comes from playing with friends, or at least a competent crew you can game with regularly, and a certain willingness to roleplay.
Objectively speaking, this isn’t the best made game of 2018, but as far as entertainment value is concerned, nothing gave me more fun and joy throughout the year than Sea of Thieves. I play it almost every night with the same crew, and have stayed up way too late on far too many occasions. And when I say ‘crew’, I mean we have our ships named and special pirate names to boot. that’s how much fun we’ve been having with it.
Overall, I find myself foregoing watching films, shows, and playing other games in favor of sailing the seas. Is it any wonder I consider this my favorite game of the year?
The Best Games I Played In 2018 That Weren’t From 2018 (In No Particular Order)
Oxenfree: I always wanted to give Oxenfree a go, but when GOG gave it away during the 2017 holiday season, I no longer had an excuse to wait. It’s developed by some old Telltale employees, so the gameplay predictably consists of walking around and talking to people, with your dialogue choices affecting how things play out.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, so was pleasantly surprised to find some of the best dialogue and in-game voice acting I’ve heard in a while. It’s all wrapped around an experience that begins with an air of funny quirk, but slowly descends to a mix of sci-fi horror and Groundhog Day. I won’t say more than that because I don’t want to give much away, but this is easily one of the most memorable games I’ve played in recent memory, and I plan to replay this one again soon since it’s only three or four hours long. Night School Studios has another game coming out this year, and I’m excited to see what they’ve come up with!
Hollow Knight: I’m sorry I waited so long to climb aboard the Hollow Knight train. I’m a sucker for metroidvania games, but most of the clones that come along just can’t hold a candle to the games of yesteryear. Even Axiom Verge, which is excellent in its own right, felt like it was missing something. Hollow Knight is different though. For me, it’s the best title the genre has seen since Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The controls are incredibly responsive, combat is challenging but fair, the upgrade path is satisfying, and boss encounters are interesting. The art style is both simplistic and masterful at the same time, and makes this dark and dreary world an intriguing one to explore. I could have technically put this on my ‘best of 2018’ list since that’s when it released for the Nintendo Switch, but that would have felt like cheating!
Call of Duty: World War II: I’m just as surprised as you are to see this on my list, but I bought this game in 2018 at a deep discount and haven’t regretted it. Bringing back World War II complete with boots on the ground gameplay has been a welcome change of pace (or return to form, depending on how you want to look at it). I won’t go into too much detail since ‘Call of Duty’ is explanation in-and-of itself, but the core mechanics feel better than they have in years and the map designs kept me coming back for more. Even with Black Ops 4 out, this iteration of the franchise is still my go-to.
Sonic Mania Plus: This is technically a new release for 2018, adding a bit more to the base game and finally getting a physical release. To be perfectly blunt, old-school Sonic games are a bit of a chore. The stage-design and stiff controls coupled with the ability to move fast rarely worked in tandem. but Sonic Mania changes all that. Each level is extremely reminiscent of classic Sonic, but the layouts complemented the controls and rarely left me frustrated. This is probably the best Sonic game I’ve ever played and would recommend this title to anyone who’s a fan of platformers.
Blossom Tales: There have been many attempts by small studios to replicate old-school, top-down Zelda games, but almost all of the ones I’ve touched have been underwhelming. Blossom Tales, on the other hand, is great. It isn’t very difficult, but everything from its storytelling, characters, and gameplay have kept me engaged and thoroughly entertained. If you’ve been impatiently waiting for the next top-down Zelda since Link Between Worlds, give this a try and I guarantee you won’t walk away disappointed.
Biggest Disappointments (In No Particular Order):
Vampyr: This game hurts my heart. It’s story and characters are written well, and the artistic design delivers aesthetic and mood better than most games out there. Unfortunately, there’s a couple of things that kept me from really enjoying this one.
To begin, I don’t think it paces character introduction/interaction very well. Every time you enter a new area, you have to spend a considerable amount of time introducing yourself to everyone. That’s fine, but the dialogue options are always the same until you get to know a person better, and that makes for a bit of a slog. But the worst thing about this game, hands down, is the combat. It tries to play like Bloodborne but it’s clunky and extremely unbalanced. Enemy reach is always much greater than your own, evading attacks is iffy at best, and it’s easy to get cornered with no chance of bouncing back. Not exactly a winning combination.
The developers did eventually provide an update which allows frustrated players to focus more on story and less on combat, but I had already tapped out by then.
God of War: Oh, this game did make the list in a way, didn’t it?
To be clear, I don’t think God of War is a bad game, but I do think it’s a bit too long considering the lack of variety. It’s twenty-five to thirty hours of fighting the same enemies and smashing the same rune-etched vases over and over again. The combat system does improve throughout the game, but even that doesn’t do much to offset its weaker components. I guess the best word I’d use to describe this game is ‘chore’, and that’s really the last thing you want a game to feel like, isn’t it?
State of Decay 2: This is another title which had brimmed with potential, but ultimately collapsed under the weight of its own intentions.
I hate to make comparisons to The Walking Dead, but there are a lot of similarities (and not in a bad way). After a zombie apocalypse, it’s up to you to manage a base, meet new people, scavenge supplies and craft items. However, every choice you make is going to come with a consequence. When you help someone out it’s going to make another person upset. When you decide to craft supplies you’re likely making the choice to go without something else. I love this from a conceptual standpoint, but the game throws way too much into the mix for a single player to handle. The game is a bit easier when you’re playing with friends, but even then the micromanagement makes this almost infuriating to play.
Kirby Star Allies: Kirby is something of an acquired taste, but me, I love the little pink fluff ball. I think the Wii games were brilliant and that track record continued with the 3DS. Unfortunately, Rainbow Curse on the Wii-U was a disappointment, and I’m sorry to say that Star Allies also failed to leave a lasting impression. It’s back to classic Kirby gameplay, sure, but this time around there are four protagonists on the screen at once. It doesn’t work very well in single player or even for couch co-op, because things get too hectic on-screen to tell what’s going on. And yet, this is a core part of the game. As a result, this is the least impressive Kirby title I’ve played in some time.
Battlefield V: I love me some Battlefield, but the latest iteration isn’t doing it for me. The map designs seem too uneven, but more than that, there’s been a lot of drama over the game’s balance in general. A lot of players complained that they felt they were getting bumped off too fast, so the developers tried to fix the issue by making them bullet sponges (to a certain degree). This was met with even more backlash, so things were reverted back to the way they were at launch. There was an alpha and a beta for this game, and yet this is the state it released in.
It’s sad, but it looks like Dice are finally beginning to lose it. I know, I know: “But what about Star Wars Battlefront? Isn’t that when they began to forsake their audience?!” I actually like those games and think they play extremely well, but Battlefield V isn’t quite there. It’s a shame, because I got many, many hours of enjoyment out of Battlefield 1.