Huzzah, 2018 also sucked, huzzah! Here’s hoping 2019 is better, huzzah! Let’s talk about videogames.
First, some housekeeping:
Old Game Of The Year:
Best Opening Act:
Best Prequel to the Prequel:
Life Is Strange: Before the Storm, "Farewell"
Best "Oh Right, This Early Access Game" Game:
Best Game That Needs More Songs (On PS4):
Best Game That Was On My GOTY List Until I Got Stumped And Looked Up The Answers:
Best Hot Garbage:
Best Game Derailed By A Clusterfuck:
Best Game I Have A Hunch Will Actually Be My Game Of The Year Once I Finish It:
2018's Unofficial Eleventh Best Game of the Year:
Best Games I Didn't / Barely Played(*):
- 428: Shibuya Scramble (*)
- Astro Bot Rescue Mission
- Dead Cells (*)
- Dragon Ball FighterZ
- Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age
- Monster Hunter: World (*)
- Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
- Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
- Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
Runners Up (Unranked):
- Beat Saber
- Detroit: Become Human
- Donut County
- Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight / Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight
- Red Dead Redemption II
- Return of the Obra Dinn
- The Walking Dead - The Final Season
- A Way Out
Oh By The Way: Overwatch...
...is still better than most / all of the games on this list.
A Special Note: Red Dead Redemption II
Red Dead Redemption II will probably be in my Top Ten list in some retrospective list. However, at the moment, I just don’t like this game. In many ways, Red Dead Redemption II still feels very much like a Rockstar styled game, which I started to feel tired of back with the first Red Dead Redemption and more so with Grand Theft Auto V. What’s worse is the things I do like about RDR2 are living the life as a cowboy man in 1899, taking care of myself, and helping out strangers and my makeshift family. Not the part where you play as an outlaw; which is the vast majority of this game.
It is a game where you play as a criminal, but I don’t want to commit any crimes. It is a game where you primarily shoot things, but I don’t like how the shooting feels. When you’re not shooting, you are riding along on your horse, which is less dynamic and fun than driving a car through a city. I am both fascinated by Red Dead Redemption II and wish this was a different type of game, both in design and genre. If Arthur Morgan was a bounty hunter or the sheriff of Valentine, and the third person shooting / open world elements were all replaced with adventure game style dialogue prompts and QTEs I would actually like this game a lot more. But that’s not the game they made.
Early on, Red Dead Redemption II was originally around #4 on my tentative GOTY list. However, the more I saw of what that game is, how it played, and how it’s the same ole Rockstar game they’ve been making for forever, the less I liked it. I’ll probably finish the remaining chapters here and there throughout 2019, but as it stands right now this game is a bummer. (Some might even call it disappointing)
And now on with the Top Ten. One last thing of note is my #9 and #10 games I haven't finished. However, since I liked the opening to these games more than some of the other games I finished in 2018, I'm just going to include them anyways.
Game Of The Year:
#10) Valkyria Chronicles 4:
When I first started playing Valkyria Chronicles 4, I had a few reservations. Namely, how for this new PS4 game it felt like Sega unearthed the original Valkyria Chronicles engine and just made a new PS3 game, and a couple of questionable character moments that appeared very early in the game. Currently I’m about 15 hours in and both of those complaints became less significant as I started to see more of this game. Yes, it is more Valkyria Chronicles. However, the strategy elements and how your squad’s story is told are both fantastic. This game could easily be higher, if I spent more time with it.
Speaking of games I need to spend more time with, I just reached the end of Act One in Marvel’s Spider-Man. I know I have a lot more to see and do. However, even in these early hours of the game, Spider-Man is the best realized superhero game I have ever played, including the Arkham series. It has a bit of everything from living as Peter Parker, to random crime bustin’ here and there, and some truly jaw dropping setpieces. Also, while something like Red Dead Redemption II favors presentation and realism over fun--leading to janky situations, fumbling ragdolls, and general awkwardness--Spider-Man goes in the opposite direction. Falling head first into pavement? Eh, just to a flip. Swinging directly into a skyscraper at 60 miles per hour? Hey, now you’re just running up that skyscraper. Sure some of that might not “look great”, but I’ve never been taken out of a moment due to some finickiness, overly complicated controls, or jankiness. I’ve already listened to the GOTY Deliberations and know a lot of stuff that happens later in the game. If those sections are executed just as well as the opening of this game, then Spider-Man probably deserves to be higher on this list; again, once I actually finish it.
I generally play a couple of iPhone / iPad games a year. The past few years, that means mainly playing Egg Inc. and Love Nikki Dress UP Queen, which are technically games, but they don’t really feel like it when you’re playing them. At the very least Holedown deserves to be on this list for breaking me of my curse to play those two games until the end times. Beyond that, Holedown is just a pleasure to play. Seeing 90 odd balls bounce around in all of the directions is oddly satisfying. At first I wish there were more upgrades to make the numbers go higher. Now, I’m just happy to have the game as it is. It doesn’t need to be like a clicker with endless upgrades. Holedown is simple enough to be played just about anywhere, yet it’s still an engaging, never ending arcade puzzle. The core of shooting balls at blocks is just fun, whether you have like 2 minutes to kill or if you want to lay in bed and play this for a half hour.
#7) Tetris Effect:
So is this the part where I talk about how a Tetris game made me cry? I know that sounds strange and ridiculous, but it's the truth. Tetris Effect in PlayStation VR is my first for reals experience in virtual reality aside from the R&D, pre-Vive and PSVR launches. It is also the first Tetsuya Mizuguchi game I have ever played. So between those two things, standing in my living room, seeing that space whale emerge from the cosmos and listening to that incredible soundtrack, I was overwhelmed. Tetris Effect is an awe-inspiring and tranquil experience. I’ve cleared the final stage, Metamorphosis, about a half dozen times and I still get goosebumps when the credits roll. I generally don’t talk about or try to explain the videogames I play to people, unless there’s something really noteworthy or interesting. Tetris Effect is one of those games where I want to strap people into a PSVR and let them see this game for themselves.
As for the Tetris, I never understood the appeal of it until recently. I played a couple different versions growing up, but it never really stood out that much. While people were saying Tetris is one of the greatest games ever made, I just thought it was fine. Then, I started to follow Giant Bomb, and Tetris would rear its head over the years between Tetris Battle Gaiden and Puyo Puyo Tetris. Between that and hearing the crew also talk about Lumines and Rez, I really wanted to try playing my first Mizuguchi game and to take another crack at playing Tetris. Turns out, Tetris is a really good puzzle game after all. I’m never going to be a Grandmaster and half of the time I still fail Metamorphosis on beginner. But I’ve accepted that. Even if I’m not doing great, it’s still fun and relaxing to come home from work and play some Tetris for a good 30 minutes to unwind.
#6) Destiny 2: Forsaken:
Right before Forsaken came out, I said “Screw it, I’m going to play Destiny”. Over the course of a month, I played through most of the Destiny 2 content, excluding the raids.
Base Destiny 2 is alright. It has a story, some guns, places, enemies, stuff. It’s a fine shooter, but I didn’t see the appeal to going back to it every single week to get more loot or going through the game all over again with a different class.
Curse of Osiris I actively dislike. You can see what they were going for and it was certainly different than the core of Destiny 2. However, the repetitive environments and missions made the game feel smaller, which is an issue for a game I think needed more content.
Warmind is where things started to click. I still don’t really understand what a Warmind is, but that didn’t really matter too much. Mars became my favorite location with its dense areas, escalation protocols, and small tweaks here and there that changed things up for the better.
With Forsaken, it felt like this was what Destiny 2 should have always been. The revamped loot system and new abilities made Destiny feel closer to an RPG. The new environments are arguably the best locales in all of Destiny 2 and the new faction finally gives you something else to shoot at. Beyond that, the campaign, bounties, quests, and strikes all flow together in a way they didn’t when the game launched. Finally, the addition of Gambit added a multiplayer mode I actually liked playing. That in combination with all of the other environments, quests, strikes, etc. from the previous updates, Destiny 2 finally feels truly fleshed out.
The only real downside of Forsaken is the story, which is carried on the assumption you actually care about Cayde-6 (which I don’t) and a leftfield reflection on a murder. Not killing in general, just killing that one guy. This is a world where Guardians kill thousands of foes whenever a rock rolls down a hill the wrong way, and yet we are supposed to contemplate the murder of one bad guy? And now the Tower has to play sad music all the time because my Guardian killed her 8,645th fool? It’s a very minor point, but it is something that stuck out in an otherwise fantastic campaign.
It was a commitment, but in the end I finally “get” Destiny. In fact, writing this just makes me want to go and catch up on Forsaken right now.
#5) Slay the Spire:
Slay the Spire is still in Early Access, but it feels like a finished game, with the exception of a handful of things. The rogue-like style loop of this game is very much present, warts and all. About 20% of the time I manage to make it to the end of Act III, while the rest of the time my character dies a slow, gradual death, enters a grueling battle they were not prepared for, or just gets boned. Because of that, Slay the Spire is perhaps the most frustrating game I have on my Top 10 list.
At the same time, I’ve lost evenings to this game. There were times when I looked at my watch and was flabbergasted it was already 3:00 AM. Even when an hour long run ends after dying spectacularly to a boss, the card battling, deck building core of Slay the Spire is so good it makes me want to try again and keep going. By the time I have a successful run, I have 50 cards in my deck and 20 relics all designed to do something different. Your power keeps increasing ever so slightly until you have single turns that deal 80+ damage or leave you with somehow getting 102 armor that manages to keep you alive from an attack that should have most definitely killed you. It’s kinda silly, but a fun silly.
From 2014 to 2015, I played a lot of Hearthstone. While I had to stop playing that game for my own sanity, I’m still fascinated by card games. Slay the Spire is a well crafted single player deck building game without all the baggage around the more traditional collectible card games.
#4) Hitman 2:
Hitman 2 is very much a better Hitman. The things that stand out are the maps which mix things up with unique settings and characteristics. A lot of the maps in the first Hitman had their action focused around a big, tall building in the center of the map. In Hitman 2, everything feels more organic, with events flowing together which allowed you to accomplish your task in even more ways than before.
Also, I actually care about the story now? The first Hitman was essentially setup, execution, and a random cutscene that talks about a puppetmaster’s master plan. In Hitman 2, the story actually works itself into its maps and their targets. At the same time, Hitman 2 is still a gloriously dumb game that references “super-cocaine” and allows you to dress up as a flamingo mascot and kick people into a pit, not because that was your plan all along, but because it is too funny not to dress up as a flamingo and kick people into a pit. Or knock them into a wet cement slab. Or blow them up in a laser safe. Or poison every drink in a house and accidentally kill somebody randomly 10 minutes later.
Lastly, having a way to import all of the maps from the first Hitman and have those great quality of life improvements and new features built across everything elevates Hitman 2 from a great game to the best Hitman game I could ask for.
#3) Into the Breach:
What I have to say about Into the Breach isn’t so radically different than what plenty of others have said. I too have spent 10 minutes on a single turn. I have both failed magnificently and overcame obstacles I thought were impossible to surpass. It’s like mech chess, etc. etc. etc.
Truth be told, this game should probably be even higher on my list, if I did a couple more runs. Into the Breach feels like it can become my new Binding of Isaac: a game I liked at first, but didn’t really appreciate until I started to put in a couple dozen more hours into it, until it retroactively became one of games of the year. What I’m trying to say is here’s to Into the Breach, [maybe] my 2018 Game of the Year [in around 2020].
Celeste is probably my favorite platformer of all-time. It is easily one of my favorite playing platformers that has the intricate design, levels, and puzzles to back it up. It is one of the rare games that makes me think how my hands are inputting controls into the game. When I think about the playing experiences with some platformers, I can only think about...running around and jumping. When I played Celeste, I often fell into a trance. I would think through the motions--“Jump-Left-Dash-Right-Dash-Hold-Release-Jump”--as they were happening. Even with levels heavily designed around one mechanic--like platforms that move whenever you touch them or red goo blobs that kill you--every chapter and challenge felt unique. In some ways it felt like Celeste’s levels were designed by crafting inputs that felt good press and then the obstacles and art was constructed around the edges.
On top of that, Celeste is a sweet game with great characters and a peaceful feel and style. It also manages to be a difficult game with a purpose and message that never falls into a “YO BRO THIS GAME IS SO HARD UR GONNA DIE” hole. Celeste respected my time in ways some platformers like Super Mario Odyssey did not, provides the right challenges if you really want them, and adds amazing accessibility options for those who need them. By the time I finally reached the summit and set the game down, I simply felt happy and fulfilled. As for the the heart of the mountain and those B / C Sides...I couldn’t even get pass the first B-Side. Besides, Madeline deserves some rest.
Also, the music. Goddamn this game has great music! The soundtrack by Lena Raine is not only perfect for Celeste, it’s also the best original score for a game this year and one it's one of my favorite albums of 2018.
#1) God of War:
Out of all of the games on my list, this is the one that surprised me the most. I was looking forward to playing God of War and this was the game that forced my hand to upgrade to a PS4 Pro. Even with all things considered, I was still caught off guard by how well this game executed on its vision. It’s particularly worth mentioning how this game is different than the previous God of War games, all for the better.
Every chop, stab, block, kick, slam, and tear packs a punch most games often lacked. The thought put into how Kratos moves, how you give Atreus orders, perform runic abilities, and use your weapons sparked a new life in third person character action games for me. Even though it is slower than other character action games like Ninja Gaiden, Bayonetta, and the previous God of Wars, this is arguably my favorite playing game like this. The combat all coalesces in the fight with the final valkyrie, Sigrun, which is one of my favorite boss fights in a long, long time.
The puzzles evolved beyond pushing a box around to clever environmental puzzles that play with perspective and using your abilities in interesting ways. They reinvent the type of character Kratos is, and layer his and Atreus’s journey with a surprising amount of depth and character development. God of War is also funny and lifted up by great characters like Mimir, Brock, and Sindri. All of the God of War games looked gorgeous in their own right, but this game took it to the next level with impressive designs, lighting, and color that liven up each of God of War’s realms.
I can go on and on and on about this game. For the sake of time, I’ll just summarize my thoughts this way. Every aspect of God of War I adore. Thinking back on the experience, I can’t think of anything I would change. It is a marvelously crafted game with a vision off the beaten path that is executed shockingly well.
When I played through God of War: Ascension however many years ago, I thought I was done. Or rather, I thought Sony Santa Monica was done with God of War. There were too many games to keep track of, most of which were all kinda the same and felt done before, and yet they were still coming out on different platforms and seemed to exist to help pad out the PS3 lifecycle in the case with Ascension. Not only have we been there before, but the execution in Ascension felt sloppier than before. Surely this was the game they had to make and they would move onto something else with the PS4. It turns out while Santa Monica went back the God of War name, they still ended up doing something else, and managed to craft their finest work along the way.