If there’s one St. Patrick’s weekend tradition that I truly love and respect; it’s finally bothering to sit down and make a list of my favourite games from the previous year. That’s right, it’s March 2019, so here’s my favourite games of 2018.
Usually it takes me four months to write a list like this because I’ve committed to finishing everything in the running. This year I’ve been so scatter-brained that I didn’t even do that. Instead I’ve compiled a list of games that I’ve enjoyed, some of which I finished, some of which I’ll take at face value and assume they don’t ruin themselves at the final hurdle.
Failing to make the cut is Red Dead Redemption 2, a game that’s ambition and technical achievements are to be respected, but is desperately betrayed by, well, the part where you actually play it. I don’t want to make a ‘most disappointing game’ post, nor do I want to dump on this game too heavily given all it does right; but it would feel wrong to not at all acknowledge why it isn’t listed here.
10. Donut County
Video games really encapsulate how hard it is to write jokes. They encapsulate it so well because of how many of them try and fail to be funny. And when a game does it right, it’s SO surprising. Donut County is a wonderfully charming indie adventure game, where you play as a mischievous racoon, pilfering items from around the county using an app that opens up holes in the earth. Playing like something of a reverse-Katamari game, you make the hole bigger by putting more trash in it, and in turn can then capture bigger pieces of trash. It’s not a taxing puzzle game by any stretch, but it’s satisfying nonetheless, and punctuated with cut scenes that always raise a smile.
9. Hitman 2
Hey, they made another Hitman game in the vain of the 2016 game-of-the-generation contender. It’s once again a sharply-written, intricately designed, endlessly satisfying stealth masterclass. With all that said; it’s ostensibly more of what we had a few years ago. And that’s awesome! And deserving of a mention on this list! But I can’t put it higher than ninth on this list given it’s basically a map-pack and a UI clean-up. Seriously though; PLAY THESE GAMES. Both entries in the new Hitman series have been brutally overlooked – and now there’s a huge bounty of maps to jump into, across two games. Hardcore stealth fans and philistines alike; this is a series everyone can enjoy.
8. Tetris Effect
Tetris rules. It will always rule. I wasn’t sure a dressed-up Tetris game would necessarily be a must-play in 2018, but that’s what the word-of-mouth was, so I gave it a spin. The marriage of sparkly, abstract visuals, beautiful rhythmic music and the timeless satisfaction of clearing lines in Tetris is one of the best pieces of feedback I’ve ever had in games. The individual pieces are wonderful, with the soundtrack in particular being unforgettable, but the way the come together to form an even greater whole is truly special.
OnRush is a bittersweet return for the arcade racing genre. It’s bittersweet because the game is excellent but it flopped so hard that I can’t conceive of a sequel, let alone a fully fledged return for the genre. Ditching the traditional concept of checkpoint races in favour of ‘hero shooter’ inspired objective modes and character classes, OnRush is more than just nostalgia. Sure, it feels like an EA Sports BIG game out of its time, but there are ideas here that are genuinely refreshing and well executed. While it’s legacy may be that of a forgotten gem, I’m glad OnRush came along and to remind me I can enjoy racing games to this degree.
6. Dead Cells
When a rogue-like gets under your skin, it really gets under your skin. Dead Cells has that satisfying feel that lets you know death is your own fault, and is to be learned from, and you should immediately dust yourself off and try again. Progress through the dungeons and sewers and shanty towns was slow for me, and I’ve yet to actually get to the end of Dead Cells, but the experimentation along the way was its own reward. For a game with a fairly straight-forward design and control scheme, the many variations of character build and tactics you can employ are staggering.
5. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
I was a late-comer to the battle royale genre, so you can probably fill in the rest of this section for yourself. The ‘Blackout’ mode in the latest Call of Duty is a perfect example of what makes the BR genre special; with the typically-PC game style wonderfully refined for console players, and more importantly, controllers. The four-player mode is one of the most satisfying multiplayer experiences I’ve ever had. You know those lame E3 presentations, where developers act out fake multiplayer dialogue between you and your friends that never actually happens in real life? Blackout kind of makes that a reality! You can’t just mindlessly run around the map, squawking at your pals for your own amusement. I instinctively found myself thinking tactically; covering friends entering new buildings, dividing up supplies and weapons based on our skill sets, and splitting off in new directions in attempts to surround what we think is an occupied space. It’s thrilling, even in defeat. The no-respawns model is brutal, but keeps the stakes high and is crucial for the aforementioned tactical play. While Call of Duty might not have been first across the finish line in this genre, they created the version of it that truly made me understand it. And hey, as a bonus, the part of this game that’s a traditional Call of Duty is actually pretty fun too!
4. Astrobot: Rescue Mission
While the headset has returned to gathering dust since I first played it, there was a brief moment where Astrobot made me believe in virtual reality. It’s a game so chocked full of charm and whimsy, you want to show it to all your naysaying friends – those who don’t just doubt VR, but video games themselves. A sickeningly sweet mascot platformer with genuine laughs, a bouncy soundtrack, and fabulous VR integration – Astrobot had me grinning ear-to-ear for most of its playtime. Simple, smartly designed levels with just the right amount of challenge and VR flourishes that are both aesthetically pleasing but also integral to the gameplay; Astrobot is PSVR’s killer app. I can’t say without reservation its worth buying the system for at full price, but it’s worth considering if the right deal comes your way.
3. God of War
When I was 14, God of War (2005) was my favourite game of all time. Sure, it was a marvellously designed action adventure game, with cutting edge graphics for its time, and a overly-epic story. But what I liked most was that it was EDGY, MAN. I got to RIP MY ENEMIES TO PIECES, then LOOK AT MY HANDS SOLEMNLY and ponder WHY I WAS SO VIOLENT! THEN I GOT TO HAVE SEX WITH SOME NICE LADIES! AND I GOT ACTUAL EXPERIENCE POINTS FOR THAT!
It was dumb, I was dumb.
It’s very cool when a franchise actually grows up with you though; returning from the dead after an extended absence, to better reflect on both the new era its releasing in, and the player base who originally loved it, and are now returning to it. I wont act like God of War (2018) matured in every way possible (I’m looking at you, Representation of Women) but they took the slick action and cutting-edge technology that were franchise hallmarks, and tied it all together with a story that had more soul. It still had all of the grandeur, and scale, and betrayal, and blood and guts; all the things that make it God of War. But to have a central character you actually cared about? The SAME central character who was an edgelord-y punchline a few years ago? That’s impressive. God of War perfectly marries old and new, with homages to what the series once was, and a fresh take on the character-action genre of games for 2018 and beyond.
A hard-as-nails platformer usually justifies its own existence by being just that. If you’ve got tight controls and a sub-two second respawn time, I’ll probably binge your game for hours and hours at a time. Celeste has that. Celeste also has an absolutely banging soundtrack that I never got bored of, no matter how many times it looped while I failed, and failed, and failed, and failed to advance. But the pleasant surprise of Celeste, the thing that spurred me to power through the toughest levels, was the story. I can’t remember the last platformer that had a story I cared about this much. Maybe I’m forgetting an obvious example, but I can’t think of another one that even had a good story at all. Better yet, while the characters have depth and foibles, the core premise of the story is so simple, and so perfect for a game in this genre; Madeline has to just keep going up. That’s it! Her sole purpose is to climb this mountain, but there’s so much more going on than the pursuit of a high score or an trophy unlock. With it’s hyper-responsive, extremely satisfying controls, the comparisons for Celeste are obvious. It’s easy, and fair, to call it a new generation’s Super Meat Boy. But for the level of heart present in this game, it’s fairer to celebrate it as the first Celeste.
What do comic books and video games have in common other than being enjoyed by losers? Escapism! Actually those two answers might be intertwined, but that’s besides the point.
Moreso than just being fun to play, the fluidity and responsiveness of movement in Spider-Man for PS4 made for an experience I’ve wanted since I was a kid. There have been good Spider-Man games before, sure, but this was on another level. And when that childhood fantasy is realized, it makes you feel like a kid again, and that’s something so many games wish they could do. Swinging around a gorgeously-realized New York, with the swelling original score in your ears, only for a police chase to catch your eye in the distance, beckoning you to your next instance of actual superhero-ing – it’s the type of thing you dream about.
Sure, it wasn’t perfect. The repetitiveness of the open world soon took a toll, and some of the main story missions, namely the forced stealth segments, felt years out of date – but this is still a game I squeezed as many hours out of as possible. It’s handful of blemishes really weren’t enough to deter its well-written story, it’s slick presentation or that endlessly satisfying swinging and fighting.
I played Spider-Man until the credits rolled. Then I kept going, and going, and going. Even as the game’s many tricks began to repeat themselves, I just couldn’t get enough. And when the sequel eventually rolls out, I’ll sink countless more hours into that too. But that’s a story for another year-end blog posted in March of whatever the following year is.