Vincent “Vinny” Caravella has been the Executive Producer for Giant Bomb for the last 10 years. He’s not exactly sure what that means but he is very proud of the work his coworkers produce daily and considers himself pretty lucky to be consistently locked in a room for hours at a time talking about nonsense with them. He occasionally plays video games.
We’re at the end of 2018 and while it is arguably a slower release year than 2016, there was still plenty of exceptional video game content. I got a platinum in to two games this year, God of War and Spidey. Now, whether that means fewer games came out to pull me off OR I just couldn’t tear myself away is debatable. Looking back, this year continues to affirm that classifying games or trying to predict what kind of game I will like is futile. Big and small, action or strategy, I just like games that are well-done. Eh, maybe there is one thing I can say I will favor over anything else and that’s a narrative. Some kind story, and the better told the more enjoyment I’ll probably have overall.
This year I’ve also found my way into the modern board game scene. I’ve got a lot of hobbies already, and certainly don’t need a new one but there is so much fantastic stuff out there. My son is now old enough to read pretty well and that has opened up an entire world of games. Coming from a lifetime of video games I’m constantly amazed at the themes, mechanics, and sheer AMOUNT of board games out there. A lot of them don’t even involve murdering things, though a lot of really fun ones also involve involve murdering things. As an added bonus, a lot of them are cooperative so I can help out with rules and gameplay without diminishing any of the actual fun of playing. I’ll add some of the ones I’ve played a bunch this year after all the video games.
10. Hitman 2
I still really like the new Hitman formula and I love the new maps. The only reason this isn’t higher up on the list is that I spent so much time getting my mastery levels up in the previous Hitman and this doesn’t add much that is new. What it is, though, is a fantastic continuation of the series with some fresh new challenges and maps.
The tone and self-awareness are as sharp as ever, continuing that tone of sincere naiveté that seems to permeate the world. Agent 47 continues to hunt down and assassinate the worst of humanity, but he has one incredible secret weapon: he is the only being that has discovered lying. No matter how paltry or ridiculous your attempt at deception may seem, most everyone will take you at your word until their demise. Even then, the last thoughts fleeting through their innocent little heads seem to be of disbelief as to why, say, a beloved movie idol would murder them… with a viking axe. Usually, that’s encapsulated in a quick “Hey…now…” as you make eye contact, but it works every time. In short, it’s still great and it still works and I still want more of it.
9. Donut County
Making a hole and dropping increasingly larger items into the hole is just fun. While things aren’t ever going to get very complicated in Donut County, there is a joy to the simple mechanic of making things go bye-bye down a hole. The quirky characters and narrative around the entire thing help keep things moving along, and while I thought I’d find the this-is-how-I-text-people tone of the characters grating as a cranky old man should, I was genuinely amused by it all. Also, it didn’t hurt that my kids also loved it.
I’ve probably talked more about Red Dead 2 than I’ve played it at this point. That’s not to say I haven’t played a bunch, it’s more that the conversations have been nonstop. I’m enjoying it just fine so far. I haven’t moved the needle forward that much on the main story, but that’s not exactly a knock against it considering there’s plenty to experience just interacting with the world and trying to be the best cowboy I can be. There are plenty of decisions and systems in the game that I find laborious, and whether those are by design or not I can’t say. It may not be always entertaining but I’ll be damned if it isn’t always impressing me with what it’s trying to do. I expect this one to continue to grow on me the longer I spend with it.
I love systems. It’s the reason I’m into the RTS games, and probably the reason I’m drawn to production. I really enjoy setting out to solve a task as efficiently as possible with minimal human interference. In the studio I feel like I have failed if someone has to unplug a video cable to plug something else in. EXAPUNKS allows me to be the programmer and systems designer I was clearly meant to be. Though I’m terrible at math, learn only through trial and error, and require basic concepts to be explained over and over again ad nauseum, according to EXAPUNKS, I’m ready to hack into any system, including my own body. I’ve written what is clearly the world’s most ingenious scripts for hacking ATMs, radio stations, and libraries. What I could never accomplish in Lingo, Action Script, or Perl I can do now with the false confidence I have gained from this clever little gem.
6. Mega Man 11
This is a great modern take on Mega Man. You’d think it wouldn’t be that hard, but I have a lot respect for the developers here for making something that feels both current and classic. The new Double Gear System works well, opening up new and interesting challenges that go beyond the traditional perfectly-timed jumps as you move from left to right. I’m not sure if this is its first appearance,, but the item shop within the game also adds some relief from the higher difficulties with meaningful upgrades and merciful extra lives. This is a great addition to Mega Man and I’m eager to see if Capcom can keep the fresh momentum going with the series.
Amanita Design has been making odd adventure games for years now. Chuchel takes their oddball visual and audio design sensibilities and gives the player one scene at a time to explore before moving onto the next. The game almost has a popup book quality, inviting you to poke at anything that looks suspect until finally you’ve either seen everything or solved whatever puzzle was before you. It’s not a complicated game, but my kids and I loved the silliness of the thing from start to finish.
I’ve heard some people say that this the first good Dragon Ball Z game. Those people are wrong, but this is an exceptional entry into a long, very tired, franchise. It’s arguably the best incarnation of DBZ in video game form, at least mechanically and aesthetically. It plays well, and captures how you want to remember the show more than maybe a direct translation of it into video game form. The story mode has a great setup, with a fun new character, but then turns into a grind-fest as you make your way through what feels like over nine thous… um… what feels like too many instances of the same battle. Yeah, I’m the one who still looks for a good story in a fighting game, but you’re the one looking at a generally well-received DBZ fighting game, so miracles do come true.
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: An insurance claims adjuster walks into ghost ship and jumps into the memories of the dead crew using their spectral pocket watch. No? Well, don’t feel too bad. Nobody has, and that’s what makes Obra Dinn so great. It’s a who-done-it for entire crew with the “it” being a variety of gunshots, beheadings, and general mutilations. Throughout the entire game, you’re thrust into horrific vignettes, punctuated by a fantastic score and the screams and accusations of the now-deceased. I was both detective and voyeur as I relived the events aboard the Obra Dinn and I loved every minute of it.
So, yeah, the swinging feels good. Sometimes I go to the movies just to eat the popcorn while the world nearly ends but is saved in the end by something exploding/not exploding. This was more than that, but it had similar vibes for me. It’s just a solid, tight, superhero romp that--surprisingly--had occasionally exceptional bits of character development.
I’m not even a huge Spidey fan, but there are enough details to make it feel like he lives in this city. You find backpacks filled with mementos, he has awkward relationships with people, and heck, he even has a fake Twitter feed. The small details, especially along the paths of the well-trod character arcs, really made the difference for me on this one. It’s not perfect, but dollar for dollar I’d put the entertainment factor up against most any superhero flick out there. At least this time as the world nearly ended I was at the controls saving it.
1. God of War
I’ve been a fan of the God of War series for a while now. I’ve definitely enjoyed the bombast, set pieces, and over-the-top retelling of ancient mythology. It’s a series not known for subtlety. It’s mostly known for tearing things apart and buttoning through a quick time event to eventually impale a 15-story-tall monstrosity on its own belt buckle.
In 2018’s God of War that was mostly all present, including death through ironic impalement, but it all took a back seat to a story of dealing with mourning and loss. Kratos is less focused on a journey of revenge than one of working through the loss of a beloved partner leaving him alone to raise their young son. While the he-was-an-absentee-dad-looking-to-connect-and-he-was-a-rebellious-kid-just-looking-for-approval logline might seem right out of the Hollywood cliche book, the execution worked for me. There are softer, slower moments in the game that really work to show how hard it is for Kratos to deal with problems he can’t rip in half. Thrown into the mix is a retelling of Norse mythology that really focuses on horrible parental relationships. You can’t throw an axe without hitting some tale of patricide, infanticide, or the occasional fight with your son because he won’t help you build a wall, lose track of him as he runs off, get into a fight with as you’re looking for him eventually getting killed by falling on your own chisel sending out a chilling blast that freezes all the nearby lands… etcetera etcetera.
Yeah, there’s the action, the set pieces, and the throwing and recalling of the axe feels great. All of that is there, and sure there are some story beats that feel unearned. A couple of times the characters felt more like an author had to fit them into a mythical tragedy rather than fleshed out beings coming by their motivations honestly, but I was generally ok with that, given the tale being told. It all propelled me forward, kept me mashing the buttons and interested in what came next. It even gave me some things to think about it and explore some feelings about loss and parenting. Good job video game.
Like I said, there were a bunch of great video games this year. I daresay even a few that will probably be in contention for some top XX games ever. And now, before we set sail for 2019, I'd love to share some of the fun I’ve been having with just five board games in a quick, unordered list. These didn’t come out this year, I just played them this year. There are also a bunch more like Cosmic Encounters, Scythe, Gloomhaven, Pandemic Legacy, and Sherlock Holmes that, for better or worse, take wrangling people outside of my home to play, but I look forward to getting more time with them during the holidays and in 2019.
This one is extremely popular, and for good reason. A cooperative game about eliminating diseases around the globe. I’ve been playing this with my son and we have a blast trying to find the right strategy. We haven’t won yet, even on the easiest difficulty, but that hasn’t stopped us from trying to solve the world from extinction.
Ghost Fightin' Treasure Hunters
Very much like Pandemic in terms of escalation and pending doom, but definitely geared more towards the younger set. It’s also a cooperative game, but this time instead of eliminating diseases you’re eliminating ghosts and stealing gems.
Forbidden Island / Forbidden Desert
Yet another cooperative set. These two games are close enough in structure that I just lumped them together. They also have have a ticking clock element as you race around trying to find treasure on an ever changing board. Very simple mechanics, short setup, and a lot of fun. We’ve really liked both but the newest entry, Forbidden Sky, didn’t seem that appealing sadly.
I was looking for something akin to Hero Quest to play with the kids and this fits the bill nicely. It’s a cooperative adventure game where you take your four characters through a storybook and battle the baddies. The ruleset can be a bit much for six-year-old, but since it’s cooperative you’re always there to add a suggestion or help along the way. This is another game where being able to read really opened things up because there are a lot of little cards with bonuses and whatnot. We also have Mice and Mystics but I refuse to play that one until I have finished painting all of the miniatures...
This is mostly a solo game, though I’ve played it cooperatively with my wife. It’s essentially solitaire-esque, where you’re trying to get certain cards from your hand played in certain sequences. I find it relaxing and the games are relatively short.
That's it folks. Don't forget to be safe, enjoy the things you like while letting others enjoy the stuff they like, and to Like and Subscribe. See you in 2019!