Rob's even less on time than ever before Game of the Year 2018

2018 was a hell of a year. It was the year where I've felt the most like an adult than ever before for better and for worse. I would have loved to be able to play God of War or Red Dead Redemption 2 but between life happening and my decision to get into The Witcher series...it just wasn't in the cards. I probably spend more time between Witcher 1 and 2 than playing the games below on the list of which there are 5 this year. Yes, I played more than 5 new releases in 2018 (just barely) but these are the ones that stuck with me the most.

List items

  • 5) Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

    I feel like it's easy to argue this is the best Smash Bros, after all EVERYONE IS HERE. It feels like the last Smash Bros game...at least for a long while. It's hard for me to buy fighting games anymore as it's hard for me to find the time to play with friends so I often end up relying on the single player offerings which most fighting games sorely lack. Smash Bros Ultimate is the antidote to that drought with an abundance of single player offerings though World of Light isn't exactly what I had in mind. From the opening cutscene as well as what was shown of the mode, it looks like another Subspace Emissary, something I really loved about Brawl. But it's not, it's basically an event mode with the menu screen replace by an overworld map. It's good, it's just kind of disappointing. There is a lot to World of Light and it gets a lot more interesting in the second half, use of spirits is really clever but after hours and hours...it starts to wear thin. If the first part of the mode was more like the second half, I think I'd be much more positive on it than I am right. With all that said, the game is still fun as hell to play and obviously the cast is huge, each character feels properly represented. I never bought the DLC for Smash 4 so playing as Bayonetta, Ryu and Cloud in Smash was brand new to me. I continued to be impressed by the Sora/Bandai Namco's ability to make those characters feel like they're from their own game while also fitting into Smash Bros. It's very smart work of design and care for the characters.

  • 4) Shadow of the Colossus

    A great remake of one of my all time favorite games. It is very much that original game in every which way which is honestly for the better. Shadow of the Colossus over a decade later still has no comparison in the video game space. Plenty of indie games have tried to channel its tone and atmosphere but it's hard to get that right along with the jaw dropping impressive spectacle of the Colossi fights. I'm a little torn as to whether the visuals are where they should, on a technical level it's obviously much better than the original and a lot of the color palette and bloom lighting is kept. However, there was something to be said for how the PS2 was able (or not in some cases with that framerate) the world of this game. There was a ruddiness to the textures and the bloom lighting was so much more prevalent. I think the best showcase for the old art style versus the new one is Wanderer. In the original, he has a cel-shaded quality to him and simplified textures of his face made him feel like a character from an abstract painting. In the remake, he has same design but he looks more real, less like a foreigner in this land. I've seen this echoed by others so I know this is an issue that can bother those who loved the original. It didn't keep me from loving this game, it's still fantastic and probably still the best “new” release I've played this year. It's not higher on my list because it is just that original game with an updated look and I have some conflicted thoughts on the update. If you've never played Shadow of the Colossus before...I'd say this might be the way to it outside of grabbing the PS2 original. The HD collection released for PS3 has its own issues that make it less definitive than I'd like.

  • 3) Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

    I love Yakuza. I think Kazuma Kiryu is one of the best game characters there and the send off he gets in Yakuza 6 is mostly satisfying. I say “mostly” because without going into spoilers, it's an ending that feels a little afraid of committing to its own narrative and the 14 year long story that it's trying to wrap up. Familiar faces show up, not quite to the Metal Gear Solid 4 level of EVERYONE IS HERE, and it makes sense given where things were left off in Yakuza 5 but it does mean you miss out some characters that have become integral to the world of Yakuza. That being said Yakuza still does the small scale personal melodrama and large scale bombastic anime plot lines incredibly well and the balance of the two makes the game as a whole come off as genuine and earnest. As well as the tonal whiplash being the incredibly goofy side quests that involve a top down strategy game against NJPW wrestlers and dead serious main narrative with decades old conspiracies.

    It's pretty easy to see I come to Yakuza for the story but the gameplay very strong in this entry, I hesitate to say whether its outright better than Yakuza 0's, it's a different take on the formula and one that fits an older Kiryu. I do feel the mechanics take a while before the fighting starts to feel really good. If the game started off with more of its features unlocked from the get-go, it would have made a better first impression.

    I'd be lying if I said I didn't get all sentimental and emotional during the final moments of this game. I only started with Yakuza 4 but I know and have lived with a lot of Kiryu's life. No matter the method, having to say goodbye to a character like Kiryu was always going to hit hard and it's an unfair advantage Yakuza 6 has over other games but it's one that made it one of my favorite games of the year.

  • 2) Into the Breach

    Into the Breach is a super engaging puzzle/strategy game. I think one takeaway from 2018 is this is the year I went “Yeah, okay, I like isometric tactical RPGs” and while Into the Breach isn't quite that, it scratches a similar itch. Positioning and awareness of your surroundings are key in this game. You have to be thinking 2 to 3 moves ahead while not knowing what enemy types the game will throw at you. When it clicks with you early on that you need to prioritize the buildings over your own mechs, it becomes a game about sacrifice. And due due to the time travel nature of the story, everything you do is canon, every dumb mistake is canon. I finished the game with the same mech pilot I started with and he had been through 4 or 5 timelines, and while the game doesn't have much in the line of a plot, the story I had crafted in my head of this guy desperately trying to see one timeline that successfully fends off the alien invasion and being beaten down by each failure was pretty good motivation to press on. Into the Breach is really addicting, fun and sometimes soul crushing game.

  • 1) The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories

    I've never really had a full appreciation for Swery 65's work. Deadly Premonition was a blatant Twin Peaks rip-off with bad Resident Evil 4 gameplay and D4 just didn't really do much to draw me in. 2018 was a weird year, there wasn't a lot of games coming out that were drawing me in for the story. I am the kind of person who doesn't necessarily place story above all else in video games but an incredible story will make lasting impression with me more so than solid gameplay mechanics.

    I came into The Missing not knowing a damn thing about it which I feel was a great way to experience it. I don't really wanna spoil it for anyone who doesn't know much about this game but when I first figured out the main premise of the gameplay, it was one of the truest “Oh fuck” moments in a video game. The way the exploration of the world teaches you mechanics and reveals the story of J.J. Macfield was quite honestly one of the most memorable integration of gameplay telling a story. Swery's obvious love for Twin Peaks shines through here but it feels a lot more like a loving homage than borderline copyright infringement. It wholly creates an identity of its own. This is clearly a game on a budget but I was consistently impressed by how the game just didn't care, it had a story and experience to convey and I can't really imagine it any other way. It's a game I'd want to play through again, despite being incredibly nightmarish and brutal, just to experience the gameplay and story beats that lead into its wonderful sendoff. The layered narrative works really well at keeping you just enough in the dark. It's something that makes a repeat playthrough give way for a better appreciation for the writing. It reminds me of Silent Hill's golden years, telling a psychological messy story with horrific manifestations of the psyche.

    I also feel I'd be remiss to not touch upon the sound design and music. The sound design is incredibly sparse, it creates a really unsettling mood and then you'll have this fantastic fully vocal music tracks play and then back to sparse atmospheric sounds followed by you'll have the jingle of Sleepy Donuts. It's a bizarre mood.

    If you can handle the brutal nature of the gameplay, I think The Missing is a hell of an experience and something very much worth what little time it asks of you. It feels like a creator truly coming into their own and it's a game I'll continue to think about.