2018, the Best & the Backlogged

Will I finish enough of these to settle on a ranked order? Who knows!

List items

  • Like other folks posting lists including Return of the Obra Dinn, I feel ashamed to admit that I never played Papers, Please, despite it being exactly the right kind of unique experience to land somewhere in my wheelhouse, to say nothing of how it carries an undeniable importance to modern indie games.

    I loved Tacoma though, and Gone Home before it, both of which landed high on my GOTY lists for their release years. That may not seem immediately relevant - these are different games by different people trading in very different themes - if not for how much of Tacoma I started to see in Obra Dinn, perhaps in the same sense of how an iceberg's tip might remind a sailor of what's waiting just a little deeper under the water.

    Return of the Obra Dinn is a nigh-flawless detective mystery, a fascinating narrative puzzle, an unexpected spiritual expansion of what I loved about Tacoma's expressive framework, and a natural evolution from Papers, Please - or at least what I saw of it - all wrapped in a 1-bit monochrome veneer that perfectly reflects both its 19th century nautical trappings and the necessary minimalism of classic computer adventure games of the 1980s. We may never see its like again. That it exists at all is maybe 2018's first best surprise.

  • Life is Strange 2 is tough to fairly gauge with only one episode of five in the can, but boy did that first volley hit hard. Arguably, Episode 1 did a better job selling itself than Season 1 did with its first episode, and that's some damn high praise considering the original Life is Strange went on to be my GOTY for 2015 and possibly this whole damn decade. We'll see what Mass Effect 2 and Fallout New Vegas have to say about that.

    Naturally, in any episodic series, there's always a chance the whole thing could fall apart at any time without warning, sometimes through no real fault of the game itself, as 2018 taught us the hard way via Telltale and The Walking Dead.

    Thankfully, I'd say the sequel already feels worthy of the Life is Strange name, and like its prequel Before the Storm in 2017, it's hard to imagine at this stage how they could whiff the landing after such a strong launch. Having the excellent Captain Spirit as a lead-in only strengthens that feeling.

    ...but with only one episode out in 2018 and four slated for 2019... should this actually be on next year's list? Both lists? A Captain Spirit + Life is Strange 2 Episode 1 tag team sharing one slot? Tricky.

  • A remarkably hard-hitting freebie story which serves as both a stealthy introduction to Life is Strange 2 and also a bridge episode, depending on its exact timeline placement.

    Don't let the Life is Strange "expanded universe" status keep you from delving into Captain Spirit, though: it's easily good enough to work as a stand-alone story piece, especially if its narrative themes happen to be something you're looking for.

  • A 2017 Early Access release that hit 1.0 in 2018. I think? Anyway, it's really good, like a slower, more abstract, more complicated Escape Velocity. Almost. Sort of? Possibly. This would be an easier comparison to make had Ambrosia Software not suddenly died without telling anyone at some point in the last couple years, taking EV and the rest of their catalogue with them. Hmm.

    I can't let this blurb finish itself without pointing out the really amazing dev support. This team of like, two dudes, was somehow pumping out several updates a week straight through Early Access, a pace that has barely subsided post-launch. The result of all that hard work is a real gem with very few blemishes, some of which are entirely subjective, such as the character art.

    That said, I intentionally fell off Frontiers a little during that Early Access period in an attempt to avoid "the Starbound effect," so I probably need more time with 1.0+ to really hammer-out its true placement on this list. It'll be pretty high up here though.

  • Are we counting expansions? If they feel as significant as Rise & Fall, maybe we should. But then I might have to toss No Man's Sky: Next on here somewhere and then we're really in trouble.

    Civilization VI is still not quite 100% where I want it to be, but this first major update makes a lot of strong, smart, necessary moves, from bringing back golden ages better than they've ever been, to adding governors and a loyalty system, to the relatively simple-yet-elegant timeline, to introducing some new easy favourite players like the Cree.

    Gathering Storm in 2019 could finally be the sauce for the goose, but Rise & Fall is still a necessary step in the right direction.

  • It may not be the Game of the Year for 2018, but it might just take the 2018 award for Best Water In A Video Game Not Called "Sea of Thieves." It was a banner year for water, oceans, seas, ships, and the varying disasters therein. #YearOfTheSea

    Subnautica is a survival-ass survival game, but it's one I like, aka "A Very Good One Of Those." That big S-word "Survival" usually means it's not normally something I ever feel drawn towards, aside from perhaps No Man's Sky at its best and/or most functional - something else that happened in 2018, incidentally. So it's nice to have two (or maybe one and a half?) such things grab my attention in one year, if only just.

    I would probably take a sea of stars that, perhaps, belongs to no man in particular, over the wonders and terrors that await me under the sea (under the sea.) But unlike your Rusts or your DayZs or (most unfortunately) your Fallout 76s, there's at least a chance I'll return down from the skies to revisit Subnautica once again.

  • I've served my nickel w/r/t MMOs, as the hour counter on a certain game I've hopefully managed to successfully hide from my Steam profile would attest to, if only you could see it. Oh man. SO MANY hours. Of THAT.

    But MapleStory 2's cute shit quotient (the CSQ, a most powerful index of the utmost mathematical purity) could blindside my very-weak-to-cute-shit self, therefore moving this one a tad deeper into the final list than expected.

    Or, at the very least, MapleStory 2 could push faff like Sega Heroes out of the top ten, as it easily appears to be cuter than Sega Heroes is competent. Ouch.

  • A quick and thoughtful cultural education tucked inside an unexpectedly abstract visualization, or even a visualization of a visualization, though this can't be easily explained without spoilers. Or without, maybe.

    There's really not much else out there like this, so relying on comparisons isn't easy either. All Our Asias looks and sounds almost like an unreleased Atlus side project from someone on the SMT team running on early Sega Saturn hardware circa-1994, but the soul inside is something entirely different, very much a product of the current indie climate, at least from 2014 onwards. That's not a marriage I've seen before and who knows when it'll happen again.

  • At its heart, Marie's Room is a microcosm of storytelling and aesthetic elements we've seen before in Gone Home, Life is Strange, et. al, so it's understandable if the individual pieces may feel immediately and perhaps just a little too familiar.

    But that's fine, right? Those games were good, are still good, and show few signs of ceasing to be good in the future. At least from where I'm sitting, more little echoes popping up occasionally in the wake of those larger bangers will probably also be good, at least in moderation.

    And there's the key: at a little less than one-hour's runtime, Marie's Room may as well be the new best example of brevity in this genre. That's not a slight against it, either. Marie's Room knows the story it's telling, gets in, gets out, with nary a hitch along the way. How many of the bigger marathons this year can say the same?

  • A solid-enough mobile interpretation of Shin Megami Tensei's bread 'n' butter gameplay and aesthetics with few-to-zero compromises. The usual gacha disclaimer applies, however. You know what you're getting into. Know your limit, play within it.

    Dx2 is also unfortunately far, far too much game for my old-ass phone to handle, especially compared to the lighter-but-still-crashy Fire Emblem Heroes or the downright rudimentary Sega Heroes, but I still enjoyed what little I was able to play of it.

  • I already tire somewhat of this big (yet waning?) battle royale wave we've found ourselves living in these last two years. Part of that is age, as I feel much too old 'n' busted to grasp whatever Fortnite demands of me, but some of that is also straight-up impatience, as PUBG continues to slog forward a half-broken, barely intuitive mess, all the while slapping more stuff onto the mess, as if the mess weren't still there.

    Totally Accurate Battlegrounds is neither, but not really anything more. It just is. A weird, nearly forgotten sidebar, and something I should really take a closer look at.

  • A perfectly cromulent Star Trek card game, just mainly ship-focused and not as much interested in plumbing the depths of Star Trek's ridiculously deep character pool (see: Star Trek Timelines and most physical CCGs.)

    If for no other reason, Adversaries is notable for featuring some truly excellent starship renders, if Star Trek-specific starship porn is your thing. Somehow, they're far ahead of most, if not all, of the other ongoing Star Trek games. Not bad for a F2P card battler.

  • RIP. There was potential here, I'll give it that. I think with a slightly less overboard 80s tone and better timing - or *literally any other timing at all* - this thing could've been fairly successful. Truth is, with Boss Key in the situation it was at the time, Radical Heights was doomed from the start.

    Happy trails. I'll always remember that one stream I did where I tried to hide beneath the geometry and got one-shot sniped the second I let everyone know how safe I thought I was. Good times.

  • Another match-3 gacha, if for some reason you need another one of those. On the outset it felt like it had severe balance issues, but chances are the difficulty curve is simply a tad slow to climb out of from the start. An early adopter problem or a continuing issue, who knows.

    It's mostly fine once your roster is vaguely settled, but at the end of the day, well... it's a match-3 gacha. I don't feel like there's much left to say about any new game in this genre. It needs more characters? The art is pretty bad? Question marks?

  • TBD. Historically, multiplayer-first games rarely finish high in my Top 10, with the sole exception of Overwatch in 2016. I don't see Laser League catching that same lightning, unfortunately, even if it looks pretty rad.