Kahlief Adams is one of the co-hosts of the Spawn on Me podcast. You may have also seen him on Giant Bomb's 2018 E3 couch, or flapping his wings in League of Heels as Kahkah Beware. You can find him on Twitter.
Red Dead Redemption II makes the list for a couple of reasons. It is one of best looking games of this generation and its potential to allow me to create my own Black version of Young Guns 2. After many a slow traipse across the desolate western front I have to say that I came away pretty disappointed in the main story. The tale of bad folks looking to escape the life of crime they continue to engage in felt wrote. The heel turn of some of the main characters was easy to spot. Arthur Morgan came across as a crotchety, not so happy-go-lucky cowpoke who was too busy being loyal instead of being aware, which was frustrating.
As widely reported the game starts off REAL slow. So slow that by the time the story starts to pick up you’ve lost all patience with the people, systems and shooting mechanics and you just want it to end. The beauty of Rockstar games, especially ones in the Red Dead universe is that all the goodies live in the side quests strewn around the world. The agonizingly tedious start makes you never want to engage with that content. It’s a shame because I hear lots of fun things are there, but if you don’t appreciate the players time you risk them never seeing half of the cool stuff you’ve put in your game.
Red Dead is stunning, there are poignant bits of dialogue, vistas to gawk at, fistfights to have and horses to reign but it all gets mired in bad pacing, transparent plot devices and tired mechanics.
Talking cubes shooting lasers on an isometric plane? If the game was just this, I would have already been down. Add in a punchy story about friends going to a party while having hijinks ensue and I’m hooked.
Traversing the stages, learning the nuances of your attacks and absorbing the story has been wonderful. Everything feels cared for and garnished impeccably. Zarvot has at least the second-best modeled New York City subway seats on the planet and that is worth a top ten nod alone.
I’ve seen Zarvot in various stages over the years. I remember when it was almost an arena battle game that was all about exploding voxels. I would have totally bought that game too, but I love how far Zarvot has come, and love that such a quirky fun game has such various ways to destroy.
I LOVE music and bullet hell games. Just Shapes and Beats is the perfect mashup of these genres. The premise is simple--anything colored pink can kill you. Everything else is safe for you to shoot. Frenetic music that pulls you along while you slip and dodge every form of murderous geometry shape is amazingly fun. What keeps me coming back to JS&B is the feeling of accomplishment you get when you’ve reached a checkpoint or beaten a level right when you thought your eye/hand coordination has betrayed you. Getting to the next evolution of the music is like getting a present that you can't wait to open and play with. I want more games like this in the space and I hope Just Shapes and Beats gets a sequel.
7. Donut County
I love me some whimsy, and Donut County is chock full of whimsy. A cute minimalistic pastel art style combined with sassy and quick-witted characters really pull everything together. You would think that a game that is a bizarro version of Katamari Damacy wouldn’t work, but each puzzle feels well done and has just enough variety to keep players interested in moving the story forward. Intermissions that are filled with dope music tracks and their now famous line of “Have A Garbage Day” makes you feel like the whole game is willing to be just as snarky as most of us on our best day.
Bungie has a rough time with Destiny 2. An uneven base game that didn’t afford much for returning players layered with underwhelming DLC releases didn’t help when Forsaken was announced. A collective groan from the community set it up for failure, but I have to say that Forsaken is by far the best offering Bungie has put forth so far. New stealthy enemy types, interesting new takes on their vast loot system and additions like the multiplayer mode Gambit have brought lots of folks including myself back into the grind fest.
With every new iteration it feels like Bungie has taken the community’s feedback and made impactful changes while keeping true to their narrative and gameplay roadmap. They’ve also taken chances this time around killing off major lore characters, adding new areas and expanding on the best part of Destiny, their raids. If there was ever a time to jump in to the world that Bungie has created, now is that time.
Initially when I heard that Assassins Creed Odyssey was being made, I scoffed because it just seemed WAY too soon for a new game in the franchise to be out in the world. The story of Bayek was still fresh in my head and throwing another tale into the mix with similar settings to previous games just seemed greedy. To my surprise ACO added new mechanics, features and most importantly a woman protagonist. ACO is the Xena game I always wanted. Kassandra is amazingly fun to play as. Stomping mud holes in Greeks and Romans just feels so much better as her. Role playing as a badass warrior woman who is taking down mercenaries and inflicting pain on the patriarchy should be basically all games going forward.
Ubisoft continues to put out fantastic titles that command your attention and let you step outside yourself just long enough to miss their games when you aren’t playing them. That is a good thing.
The Insomniac crew really just hit this game outta the park. I can’t imagine the pressure of being able to work with one of the biggest licenses on the planet. Combined with the hype from fans who have been yearning for a new Spider-Man game there was very little room for error. Spider-Man is the best game to feature our friendly neighborhood web-swinger to date. A fun campaign that pulls in a bunch of characters from the Spidey-verse keeps the player's motivation and momentum moving. Collectible fiends are definitely satiated with all the trinkets scattered around the truncated version of Manhattan but what makes Spider-Man so special is the combination of stellar graphics and combat. Catapulting yourself off an insanely tall building, going into a head first dive then deploying a web so that you can crowd surf over New York’s numerous cars and pedestrians never gets old.
Ping-ponging between enemies in style while building combo meters feels perfect once you figure out the cadence. You feel powerful, nimble and can instantly adapt to any situation you find yourself in. I had such a blast learning new gadgets, taking pictures in photo mode and showing off immaculate detailed cutscenes. Spider-Man immediately left me wanting a sequel to see just how far Insomniac can take this new franchise.
3. God of War
I remember seeing the first teaser for God of War and knowing that I would someday get to play what I saw kept me excited for the year after the initial trailer. After finishing GOW, I can say that it is the best game in the series. Everything has weight, Kratos, Atreus, his new Ax, their conversations...everything has weight.
Cory Barlog and the team at Sony Santa Monica jump head first into a glorious tale of gods, men and the sacrifices therein. Between the blurts of “Boy” and salty fathering there is a story that I feel most parents can relate to. One in which a parent is trying to literally undo the sins they’ve committed while steering their offspring in a more noble direction. They both stumble but find a middle ground at the end of the tale that closes one circle and opens another.
Combat is razor sharp, and keeps the player on their toes and radiates off the screen. Flashes of bright colors pop in every stage and new characters bring interesting twists to the lore. I left GOW liking all the new gods and demigods for their place in the mythology, but even more so for the emotional places they take Kratos. It was refreshing to see the human bag of mad have moments of pause and introspection.
I really hope Mr. Barlog makes another take in this universe, I want to see where all those dead ends and unexplored realms go. I’m excited to see if the son becomes the father or if we see a new path forged for the new God of War.
2. Dead Cells
I love Metroidvania style roguelikes. I became obsessed with Spelunky when it dropped and never really found something that gripped me like it did. Motion Twin busts through the wall Kool-Aid Man style and says “Kah I got something fo dat ass!” Dead Cells is brilliant in every way. Interesting art style? Check. Smart audio design that compliments the gameplay? Check. Dope weapons that tap all your min/max impulses? Yup.
There are very few games of this ilk that serve the player all of its delights so completely. Every randomly generated run feels fair. Deaths come quickly but never feel cheap, in fact they satisfy the need to be self-reflective and strategic. Dead Cells wants you to play to your strengths while always being aware that you are one mistake from botching a fantastic run. Unlocking weapons, mutations and skills lessens some of the sting of impermanence that this genre offers and makes you want to get better. Dead Cells has weirdly become my before bed game because with every run you always feel like you’ve come away with progress of some sort. One last suggestion before moving on, this is an amazing game to stream because of the streamer mode that lets folks watching you help or hinder you in real time. Pretty cool stuff for sure.
GRIS is a game that I saw in passing on a small TV screen while bullying my way through people at a gaming conference. As soon I saw it, I ran over to the screen to take a picture because everything about it screamed “This game will be a very special experience”. After playing GRIS, I can say that without a shadow of a doubt it fulfilled all my expectations and then some. GRIS took me through this stunningly beautiful story of loss, hope and overcoming adversity. The art and music are crafted in this perfect way that tonally sets the stage for the game to enrapture you. Watercolor landscapes surround you while you traverse pretty but simple puzzle rooms. Each new room affords the chance to employ new mechanics that you’ll use to overcome upcoming roadblocks and “bosses."
There isn’t really combat in GRIS which combined with its two to three hours of initial gametime (more if you are a completionist) just rounded out what was a poignant and emotionally fulfilling experience. After every level I wanted more, I craved seeing what new tricks Nomada Studio had in store for me and I never came away disappointed. I put down my controller after my initial completion and instantly had the internal discussion on where this game fell on my all-time favorite list. It is that good, a must play and my game of 2018.