Asmo's Favorite Games of the Year 2018

I decided for 2018 to limit my GotY list to ten items and only ten items. In the past, I've played fast and loose with the number of items and release years, but I thought for 2018 I'd try to stick to ten game actually released in this year. It was hard! I liked a lot of games!

Some of these entries reference earlier writing because I've also published this list, along with my honorable mentions and games I cut earlier for various reasons on my personal website, which I'm NOT linking to in order to not run afoul of personal promotion rules!

List items

  • I think Marvel’s Spider-Man does one thing that ultimately elevates it to greatness, and that’s its traversal mechanics. Swinging through this digital New York (and wall running, and point launching, and air dashing) all felt incredible in a way that pulled me through okay combat encounters, side quests, and open world ambient events that bordered on “too much padding” but never quite crossed over the line to make it feel like it was all too much. This is an open world game, and for as much as I appreciated the superhero escapsim of playing Boy Scout-like Peter Parker, there was one misstep in having the traditional open world “tower” mechanic that exposes more of the map and activities to complete be tied, in fiction, to a surveillance, technology, and data sharing partnership between OsCorp and the New York City Police Department. There’s no company in Spider-Man lore that should be trusted with this power and responsibility less than OsCorp, and the same goes for the NYPD in-game or in real life. As 2018 continues as we see weekly stories about the abuse of personal data and technology, putting Spider-Man on the side of a city-wide surveillance network feels out of place with the character.

    It’s also worth noting that the story in Marvel’s Spider-Man is pretty standard video game, comic book, and comic book movie fare. Two hours in to what ended up as a roughly 18 hour adventure, I was pretty sure I knew where the story would go. Four to five hours in, I was even more sure of specific plot beats we’d be hitting. With all that said, it was still one of the more affecting and impactful stories from this year. This Peter Parker is older than the most recent movie incarnation, already out of grad school and working in a lab that can’t afford to pay him, dealing with relationship trouble with Mary Jane, and just struggling through life outside of the Spider-Man suit. There are some wonderful heartfelt moments, like Peter swinging through the city after a major fight with a bad guy and spending all of his mental energy worrying about how he’s coming across in text messages to MJ. The Aunt May/Miles Morales/Mary Jane trio is a strong set of supporting characters who you want to see succeed along with Peter. And even if the stroy wraps up a bit too tidily to transcend “standard fare” as mentioned above, I found that that perfect comic book/video game/MCU ending was exactly what I wanted to pay off the time spent with Peter and those characters. Superior traversal and amazingly well-received story are why I ultimately settled on Marvel’s Spider-Man as my Favorite Game of 2018.

    Now give us a sequel with Miles in the suit, you cowards.

  • This is the game I shamefully almost forgot to include on the list at all and is responsible for Octopath Traveler’s exclusion. I know it seems strange that I could almost forget to include my second favorite game of the year, but a lot of the brain power I was using to finish this list was also being used to think about the new Hitman levels. Where 2016’s Hitman seemed to improve on level design and take on new challenges with each successive episodic map, Hitman 2 launched with 7 maps (5 “real” maps, one tutorial area, and one “Sniper Challenge” area) that show a studio who knows what they’ve created and that enjoys the balancing act between sublime and slapstick. The Miami map throws a racetrack in your way, essentially bifurcating the map and challenging you to find ways to navigate this sprawling area while also encouraging you to do so in a giant foam flamingo outfit. Mumbai features densely packed areas that look similar enough to be disorienting but have markers that help ground the player. Whittleton Creek leans into some of the understated satire that’s part of the franchise’s legacy. And they’re all the clockwork murder simulators that allow for players to snipe, strangle, explode, or poison their targets in a million different satisfying ways. I hope this franchise continues for a long time; Hitman 2 is currently being supported like a “live game” with timed “Elusive Targets’ and other content drops from the team at IOI. I look forward to playing well into 2019.

  • Return of the Obra Dinn has the retro visual aesthetic of an Apple II and has you playing the role of a claims inspector for the East India Company in 1807 trying to figure out what happened on this ship that returned to port after being considered “lost at sea” four years earlier. It sounds a bit dry, but it’s a fantastic experience. As an investigator, you have an in-game notebook with a passenger and crew manifest and some drawings of the crew. You also have a mystical compass that, when presented with evidence of death, can transport you back in time to the moment of that death so you can see and move around a freeze frame of that moment and hear a few seconds of audio from before and after. Using these tools, you need to determine, for 60 or so people, their fate and cause of death, if applicable. When you’ve correctly identified the identity, fate, and cause of death (again, if applicable) for three people, those entries in your notebook lock in, so you can rest easy knowing you haven’t confused the second and third mate, or two topsmen, or two of the attendants to a Chinese VIP who had also booked passage on the ship. I specified you have “an in-game notebook” earlier because I quickly found myself reaching for a real notebook to augment what the game provides. I was tracking assumptions and noting scenes I wanted to revisit because they seemed like they’d tie to something else later. The game is also very smart and forgiving in assigning causes of death; it can be hard to tell from the audio and visual evidence presented at times if this poor lad was crushed by a canon or if he had dies in the explosion that knocked the canon loose to begin with. Anecdotal evidence from players indicates the designers and programmers have accounted for this, as long as you don’t make some wild assertion like the cook who has a knife sticking through his skull in this scene is alive and fine in Africa. This game is elegant, it is simple, it is confounding, it is maddening, and the more I think about it the more likely I am to include it among my favorites of all time.

  • In Donut County, you control a hole. The hole is big enough that if you position it under something small, like a rock, it falls into the hole. As things fall into the hole, it gets bigger. You can then swallow up bigger things, and hole continues to grow. There are a few variations on this theme, but they’re best left to be discovered. It may not sound like much, but this is all held together by a legitimately charming story about the asshole raccoon causing all these problems, and game writing that is actually funny. In addition to the dialogue, which feels natural, there’s a “Trashopedia” that catalogues everything you’ve captured with the hole. These entries are things like “Megaphone: plastic bird that scares you” or “Camping tent: Fake house that’s easy to steal from.” Reading each and every entry was one of my moments of the year.

  • Florence is a short game, available on phones. You can play through it in 30-40 minutes, and you should. It’s the story of a relationship, from start to end, told with mechanics geared to touchscreens that are just really smart. I won’t give away one of my favorites, and the most heartbreaking in the game, but I will say that the way the developers represented conversational flow is brilliant. Your part of the conversation is represented by a speech bubble you must fill in with puzzle pieces. Initially, there are like 6 pieces per speech bubble, and filling each one in isn’t difficult, but it takes some time. As the game continues, the pieces get bigger and you’re able to “respond” quicker and easier…as if you’ve found a comfort level with the person your talking to. Buy it and play it, you won’t be disappointed.

  • What if you had an easy way to play some really great, smooth controlling Tetris like you remember from your original GameBoy? And what if instead of greyscale colors and chiptune-like audio, you had a full color experience with themed stages and audio specifically engineered to react to your play? If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, I don’t know what to tell you. In VR or just with my apartment lights turned off and the speakers cranked up, there was no more pure escapism for me this year than Tetris Effect.

  • Everything around Red Dead Redemption 2 is complicated except the presented story. In a prequel to 2010’s Red Dead Redemption, you play as Arthur Morgan, a member of the Van der Linde gang led by Dutch Van der Linde and accompanied by other names you may recognize from Red Dead Redemption like Bill Williamson, Javier Escuella, and RDR1 protagonist John Marston. I’ll confess, I’ve not finished the main story of this game yet, but i have a pretty damn good idea of who’s going to live, who’s going to die, and where the story is going to take these characters. The underlying theme of Red Dead 2 appears to be more of what was presented in Red Dead 1: the American West is being ripped away from rugged individualists who just want a place to rob and steal and murder for profit in peace, but the evil government is infringing on Our Liberty. There’s a story to be told about the expansionism of the American government and it’s mistreatment of indigenous peoples, the horrifying evil of the Pinkerton detective agency, and what “Liberty” means in a society, but this story isn’t it. It’s also not fun to play for much of the time, with obtuse and frequently unresponsive controls and systems that are poorly explained, difficult to manage, and only add friction to the experience by making the game take longer or seem more difficult, not by actually forcing the player to engage with these systems in a meaningful way to progress or play effectively. It’s a game with a design ethos from 2011, which is likely when this game was first concepted. It is beautiful, although praise of its beauty and the draft that went into making it should come with heavy caveats about Rockstar’s culture and the culture that sees this as normal. 2

  • Yes, this is the spot previously occupied by Octopath Traveler, but Dead Cells was not the forgotten game that bumped it off my list. I’ve barely been able to stop thinking about Dead Cells since I played it after its official launch from Early Access. This roguelite platformer bored its way into my head and had me considering “one more run,” or “maybe I can get this next rune” or “I know I can beat that boss if I just get one different item drop” far longer than was healthy. It’s just so satisfying to find a combination of weapons and skills provided via random drops that makes you feel capable in a way you didn’t expect. I still have runes to find and bosses to vanquish, but each new forray into the prison world of Dead Cells is a mysterious thrill until I die and start over.

  • The reductive way to describe this is “XCOM with bigass robots.” Just because it’s “reductive” doesn’t make it “wrong,” at least not completely. BattleTech has excellent tactical and strategy layers, with a bit more of a structured story that the recent XCOM entries. It’s also, to me, much harder since there’s a focus on war not as a puzzle to be solved, but as a tragedy to be endured. You are going to lose something in each engagement - pilot, equipment, whole mechs - and you have to find a way to be okay with that. I haven’t yet, but maybe on my third playthrough I will.

  • MLB The Show 18 coming in at number 10 is probably my personal biggest surprise, considering it is probably the game I’ve played the most of this year and still play regularly; its presence no higher than 10 is a testament to how I felt about every other game on my list. This is largely due to getting sucked into Diamond Dynasty mode, where players collect fake baseball cards to use to build out a squad to complete against other players or CPU-controlled teams in order to earn better cards to field a better team…and so on and so on into oblivion. It’s based on exploitative gambling mechanics and obsessive personality traits, but I still want to get the Breakout series Johnny Bench to catch my Live series Max Scherzer while Immortal series Chipper Jones slugs like .800 for me. As a bonus, Rob Zacny at Waypoint wrote the best game review of the year for this game.