Ben Pack is an associate editor for the website you're on.
Boy, what a shitty year. But there were good games! Fuck 2018!! Except the video games!!!
I spent a good portion of the year playing Vermintide 2. Murdering rats by the hundreds really filled the Left 4 Dead-shaped hole that’s been in my heart, but hearing about how poorly the game was supported post-launch made me not really that keen on returning to it post launch window.
It was actually getting spoiled on “the twist” of The Messenger that compelled me to want to finish what I originally thought was “a totally cool version of a game I didn’t love.” The writing, especially the scenes with The Shopkeeper, was among the best of the year (which I think is saying something in this particular year.) Unfortunately the game started to drag towards the end, and really falls apart especially in the last hour or so.
Deltarune was one of my biggest surprises of the year. Not only was the game itself a complete shock to Undertale fans everywhere, but what's also surprising is that Toby Fox managed to add another layer to the systems introduced in the game's predecessor. It's also low-key the best soundtrack of the year.
They made me like a Call of Duty game for the first time since Modern Warfare. Blackout mode is exceptionally fun, and to me felt like a good middleground between the sim style of battle royale we get from PUBG, and the arcadey style of Fortnite.
I might have enjoyed Ni No Kuni 2 more had I played it after difficulty options were patched in, but even though I died a total of six times in my 50 hours with the game I was still completely charmed by it. I really just wish the writing was better.
CrossCode very well might have made my top 10 if I had put more time into it. I currently am about ⅓ of the way through the game, but so far I have nothing but positive things to say about it. This game feels like something special, and I urge any and all fans of 16-bit RPGs to give it a shot.
They finally made a great Dragon Ball game. And not only that, it led to one of my favorite grand finals of any EVO ever. I wish the single player offerings were a little stronger, but it is a fighting game after all.
BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle is my favorite fighting game of the year, and what a year it has been. DBFZ and Soul Calibur VI both delivered, and there were amazing updates to games like Tekken 7, UNIEL, and even Street Fighter V. But the one fighter I kept coming back to was a crossover game, of all things.
The thing about this crossover, though, is that it didn’t feel like a cash grab. Since all games involved were developed by ArcSys, it could have been really easy to half-ass this game. But each of those characters retains the systems from their games in ways that still seem to fit together. I think this is one of the better pick-up-and-play fighting games around, and while its aesthetic might overwhelm curious players, I'd recommend this game to anyone even a little bit interested in fighting games.
What a good year for Spider-Man. The recent films, and this game, truly had no right being as good as they were. Marvel's Spider-Man has that "good but not great" sheen over the entire game, but there was just so much good that I was compelled all the way through.
Maybe the most surprising thing about Marvel's Spider-Man was how attached I was to the story. Every character, from Peter to Doc Ock to Mary Jane, all felt real and honest.
Red Dead Redemption 2 did a lot of things. What it did well, it did extremely well. I was so invested in Arthur Morgan, a character that seemed like the blanked slate that's ever rustled some cattle. I was captivated by Dutch, a man who the only thing I remember about from the original Red Dead was that you fight him while he has a minigun. There were moments in this game, such as the ride on the Braithwaite Manor, that were so memorable I literally had to stop playing after them to just absorb what happened.
Then there were the times where I literally had to stop playing because my horse bumped into another guy's horse and they sent the entire union army after me. Or when I would stray slightly from the main path on missions and get a game over screen. Or after every other mission in chapter five. I really wanted to love this game, and it gave me plenty of incredible moments, but I was struggling to beat the game towards the end for how often I was being ripped from my immersion.
7. Donut County
I've told the story before, but there's something magical about Donut County. I was playing it at home with my partner while waiting for some friends to show up. As they started arriving, we had them try the game, until eventually we were just passing the controller around playing it.
By all means it's a game that you could pick up, beat in a couple hours, and put down to never think about again. However I squeezed every drop of juice out of this game. I read every line if dialogue, I bought it on iOS just so I could have the sticker pack, I made sure to "get the bad ending." I love Donut County for its brevity. Short games can be good, and this year had more than enough examples to prove that.
I knew I'd enjoy Celeste right away. The style, colors, music, and movement all felt spot-on, What I didn't expect was a game that would also have a surprisingly heartfelt story about mental illness, and the struggle against the parts of us that we hate the most.
Celeste also had some of the best accessibility options I've seen, an aspect of games that has become more important to me in recent years. Now I just have to get back to it and finish those C-sides.
I have a confession to make and I guess here’s the place to make it: I never finished Papers, Please. Maybe I wasn’t mature enough for it at the time, or maybe it was overhyped to me by the time I finally got to it, but for whatever reason I never appreciated it. So imagine my skepticism when I heard that the next game from Lucas Pope was a game where you played an insurance adjuster trying to solve a mystery of what happened on an old timey boat. But the buzz was strong enough that I decided to play the game anyway, and I’m sure as hell glad I did.
Return of the Obra Dinn, as Rami Ismail put it, is murder sudoku. When I fired it up and started figuring out the fates of this poor vessel I felt a part of my brain being stimulated that has been dormant since I marathoned five Phoenix Wright games a few years ago. This game also has some of the best percussion I’ve ever heard in a game. I was both compelled to finish the game as fast as I could, but didn’t want it to end. It’s one of those games that immediately upon finishing I wish I could wipe from my memory and experience for the first time again.
4. God of War
Hands down my favorite “AAA” game this year, God of War has become one of my favorite action games ever. I came in with pretty lukewarm expectations on the game, as I had only previously played a total of 20 minutes of a God of War game at my friend Brent’s house one time (before his mom made us stop and play something less violent).
God of War is such an incredible, cohesive experience. The combat, the story, the humor, and even the way the physical world itself changes are all interconnected and have a flow about them that so many video games these days tend to ignore.
3. Dead Cells
What a fuckin' Video Game-ass video game. My top three games of the year all share one thing in common, and that was their ability to put me into something I could only describe as a “gamer trance.” I bounce off every Souls game I play (except Demon's for whatever reason) for many reasons, but most of it has to do with the fact that I always want to feel "in control" of my actions.
It's hard to describe exactly, but there's something about Dead Cells that always feels "fair." Even when I build an all fire damage build and get sucked into fighting a golem standing in a shallow pool of water where I literally cannot damage him, I blame myself for my build before I blame this game.
Tetris Effect is the the best version of the greatest game of all time. My thoughts on the game are well-documented, and I feel as passionately about this game now as I did when it came out.
Maybe even more so, since I have had more time to share it with the people around me. This game, especially in VR, lets people see video games in a way that they never have before.
The longest time I recorded myself thinking about a turn was 22 minutes. I took screenshots of my board and sent it to two friends for opinions on my next move. I went and made coffee, drank it, and came back still thinking about whether or not I wanted to lose my last human pilot or go into the boss stage with one grid power. And you know what? I loved every minute of it, even when I chose wrong and totally died right away on that boss stage!
Taking a long time on the perfect move in Into the Breach is not an uncommon experience, but it exceptionally rare for me to enjoy a video game that I am not constantly "playing." I have a very bad attention span, so I typically enjoy very frenetic games where I have as much control of things as possible. This stops me from enjoying a lot of games where you have to be patient. But there is something about Into the Breach that's different.
I remember the first time I missed a shot that was 95% or so to hit in X-Com. I remember it specifically because it was the moment I turned off the game and never went back. Elements of randomness in games is not inherently a bad thing, but if I'm going to spend 22 minutes of my life planning a move, I want to leave as little up to chance as possible. And yes, while this game can have issues like unlucky spawns or enemy paths, Into the Breach really works for me because they put your fate directly into your hands by showing you every move the enemy is going to make.
I want more of this game! Give me daily puzzles, give me another island, give me sick new mechs with crazy new powers, give me a two player mode where I can control the bugs! I want to live in a world where Into the Breach continues to grow forever until I'm playing a life-sized version while piloting my own mech.