Best Games of 2018
My favorite games from 2018.
My favorite games from 2018.
I enjoyed the last couple God of War games more than a lot of people, but I definitely agreed that the series could use a shakeup. We got that and more with this quasi-reboot, which keeps Kratos' history but changes the setting and style of the gameplay dramatically. He has left mythological Greece for mythological Norse lands, raising a son named Atreus on his own after the boy's mother dies, as they go on a journey to scatter her ashes from a mountaintop. What seems simple quickly becomes complicated as they are attacked by strange monsters and pursued by gods native to the area. The early God of War games used a dead wife and daughter as easy character development, but the new game does more to earn the connection, with the story being about Kratos' difficult relationship with Atreus as much as anything. Bad parents are definitely a big theme in the game. The visuals are stunning, the music sets the mood well, and the game itself is as rock solid as anything released in years. Kratos' axe is both a well developed combat tool and puzzle solver, and the way the world slowly expands as you progress through the story and and pursue optional objectives is brilliantly done. On a fundamental level, this is the ideal of what a game studio can do with a huge budget.
Almost any superhero who's known for patrolling a neighborhood would work as a video game that copies the Batman: Arkham series' general structure, but Spider-Man is a particularly good fit, and also my favorite superhero, so it's not a surprise that I really liked this. Like the Arkham games, it depicts a Spider-Man several years into his career, who has already established his place in the city's culture, and has several friends willing to help him as well as several adversaries locked up in prison. I really liked the story, which does a good job of developing familiar characters in new but believable ways and balances multiple subplots and villainous encounters in the way a good long term arc in a comic book would. Swinging around Manhattan never gets old, and the combat is mostly exciting though a bit cluttered at times. The DLC chapters weren't great, but I'm looking forward to a full sequel as much as any game that's likely to come out in the future.
Celeste is a very hard platformer about a young woman trying to climb a mountain that is both imposing in size and littered with interesting features, from an abandoned city to mysterious caves. Each level increases the challenge as it introduces its own unique features. You have to jump, dash, climb walls, avoid pits, spikes, and other hazards, and stretch your ability to juggle multiple concepts at once. The game is very fair with saving your progress, but demands high skill to finish. If you find it easy, there are unlockable levels that are even more challenging, and if you find it too hard, there are options to make it more manageable. It has slick pixel graphics, a great synth-heavy soundtrack, and a story that uses supernatural elements to explore depression, anxiety, and mental health in general. Opinions vary on how effective that part is, but I thought it mostly worked. Celeste can be tough, but getting to the end of a challenge is always satisfying.
Into the Breach is a unique strategy game, one where you can't save and reload to test ideas, one where you can't lean on building up your units so they can always survive a dangerous situation. You control three mechs which are trying to protect buildings from gigantic invading insects. If buildings are damaged, the power grid weakens, and if it goes down you fail. Your mechs can't take a lot of punishment either, and if all three are destroyed, you fail. Failure means sending a single pilot (if one is alive) back in time to start the fight again from the beginning (though the missions and maps change each time). Your one advantage is that you know each enemy's move before they make it, giving you a chance to figure out the best way to counter it. Sometimes that means pushing an enemy so its attack does nothing instead of trying to kill it, or intentionally taking a hit on a mech to protect a more sensitive target. The better you play, the more you are rewarded, but starting over all the time means your best tools are your own knowledge of how the game works and how to respond to a given situation. I've only played enough to see the ending once, but I hope to play more and see more of what it has to offer.
Hitman 2 keeps what worked about 2016's series refresh and expands on it. It wasn't episodic, but they kept the same structure, with each map being playable in any order and accessible for multiple different missions. You can even play the last game's levels if you have them as long as you are on the same platform. The main draws of course are the five new maps (really six, but the first is an underdeveloped tutorial), which are as huge, complex, and multi-faceted as anything they've ever done before. Each one is a small sandbox packed with entertaining, challenging, and occasionally surprising stealth gameplay. I hope the intended additional maps are just as good.
Ultimate is the most I've played a Smash Bros. game since the Gamecube iteration, due to both the smart decision to bring back every playable character the series has ever seen along with a fun collection of newcomers, and the entertaining (and quite long) story mode. It involves hundreds of little battles against characters from all across Nintendo's history, with each one having its rules tweaked to invoke what those characters are known for. Winning a battle unlocks a "spirit" of that character, which you can equip to boost your stats or give you an extra ability or item in the next battle. The multiplayer also has a lot of fun options to keep it fresh, and the core fighting gameplay is rock solid. This really is the ultimate Smash game, at least until the next one.
Rockstar started the trend of open world games many years ago, and it's interesting to see how they ignore the conventions that have grown into place since then as they continue to pursue their own vision of what games can be. Red Dead II is both incredibly vast in it scale and amazing impressive in its minute details. Its story rarely draws outside the lines of what you've seen in Westerns before, but it also is an effective tale about the decline of the natural world and the futility of vengeance. I just wish I had a bit more fun playing it. The gunplay in functional but rarely exciting, and there are tons of complex systems and minigames to engage in but little apparent reason to do so. If the game was shorter I would be more favorable toward it, but after dozens of missions entailing little more than riding a horse somewhere to shoot some guys, it was over long after I was ready for it to be. It's easier to admire Red Dead II than to enjoy it.
In Donut County, you control a hole in the ground that can move around and grows whenever an object falls into it. Your goal is to get every object, plant, animal, and even building in the level to fall into the hole. Then you go to the next location and do it again. Sometimes there are some simple puzzles involving using something that falls into the hole to cause something else to happen in the level. It's simple stuff, but it works because its story that moves from a raccoon dropping stuff down a hole because he feels like it to an anti-capitalist mission statement is a lot of fun, and there's a simple pleasure to be gained from watching a bunch of stuff fall down an ever expanding hole.
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