Gaming in 2018

A running tally of every game I've played for the first time in The Year of Our Lord, 2018:

List items

  • Bought this during a PSN flash sale. I'm all for games getting more opaque and weird with their storytelling, but this game didn't quite come together for me. Certainly had its moments, but the story was missing some emotional hook to get me invested in what was happening. The process you have to go through to get the "true ending" is insane and hostile in a way that I can't help but respect. Worth playing if you haven't.

  • This game makes my head hurt, my eyes strain, and my nerves twist into several, increasingly ornate knots. I love it.

  • Another one from a PSN sale. You remember that time you went to set off fireworks on Fourth of July and the pack didn't go off for some reason and you got really bummed out that your excitement and expectations went unsatisfied? That sucked, right? The beginning of this game is like that, but worse. Birthday balloons popped prematurely. The wettest of wet blankets. A porn video buffering for eternity. The first hour of this game is all slow talking and a tutorial that holds your hand for far too long, far too tightly. My already middling interest in playing this game was sapped in record time. I know the game is very short, but it’s unlikely that I'll see the rest of it.

  • I still feel like Horizon got slept on at the end of last year because it came out so early in the year. The Frozen Wilds DLC was more of the same from Horizon, but that's perfectly fine by me. The new winter environment is gorgeous; The animation of Aloy trudging through the snow is spot-on. Same goes for her constantly shivering in the cold whenever leave her idle for a couple seconds.

    But it's the writing and world-building that made Horizon so surprising. The characters you encounter in this DLC aren't quite as self-serious as the people in the base game. Shout out to the amateur archaeologist Enjak. The moments of levity also make the more somber moments hit stronger. I wouldn't want to spoil it for those who haven't played it yet (as if anyone else will read this lol) so i'll leave it at this: Long Live Concrete Beach Party.

  • I wish I liked the movement more so I could see how abstract and weird the art style gets. Every step feels over-extravagant and sluggish, which I guess makes sense given that the game is about a traumatic childhood of a ballet dancer.

  • How wild is it that the people who made the Serious Sam games also made this creepy Tetris variant? The gameplay is pretty standard puzzle game far, but the atmosphere and philosophical bent to the story are what make it stand out. The world is so austere and quiet that I couldn't play much of the game in one sitting before I started getting anxious. The one jump scare in the game actually made me repel back into the couch like I was launched out of a cannon. Overstays its welcome by a couple hours, but still worth the time.

  • Holy shit I love this game. The bar for narratives in games is low, but I couldn't get enough of Possum Springs or its people. The writing reminded me of Lady Bird in the way that support characters got way more empathy and focus on their stories than were really necessary. Every encounter left me wishing I had more time with Mae's crew. Pretty sure I'm gonna end up with an Angus tattoo one of these days. I love him.

    I didn't love the supernatural elements - the plot would've worked without them - but they fit in with the game's overall theme. Night in the Woods did a better job at exploring the economic anxiety of a small American town than any of those New York Times pieces about people who voted for a certain fascist Cheeto. And they did in a game where you, a teenage cat, get into an emotionally complex knife fight with your friend, a manic depressive fox. What a gem.

  • I was content to never see Kratos again after God of War 3, but respect to Cory Barlog for finding a way to make this eternally angry man interesting again. I thought the story was overrated in terms of its novelty - a gruff, heavily bearded man learning to be a parent is pretty cliche - but the performances from Kratos and the kid elevated the material into something meaningful. The Freya turn to villainy at the end of the game was awful though. That shit was trash.

    The rest of the game is pretty unimpeachable. It's probably the best-looking game I've ever played. It was easy to see why my launch PS4 sounded like a miniature wind tunnel for the duration of the game. Great photo mode too!

    I was shocked at how much I enjoyed exploring in God of War considering that's never been part of this franchise before. Finding new loot was fun, the side missions were varied and interesting, and the combat had enough depth that boredom was never an issue. Reinventions this drastic usually don't take this well.

  • The trajectory of Fortnite has been incredible on both a micro and macro level. It’s fitting that the biggest game of 2018 was borne from brazen capitalism; Epic’s lane switch after PUBG blew up was so sudden that PlayerUnknown actually tried to take them to court over it. That was more a hissy fit than a lawsuit, but you can understand why they were pissed. It’s got to be annoying when a publisher who provided the engine for your game turn their niche building game into a worldwide phenomenon that brings Drake into its orbit, earns a tribute from 03 Greedo, and makes an increasingly absurd amount of money.

    It was a craze that seemed set to pass me by. Or so I thought. See, I played the PS4 version of Fortnite just as the hype started getting crazy and had a horrible time with it. The building controls seemed clunky and it took me dozens of games before I got my first kill. It felt safe to assume this game just wasn’t for me in the same way Minecraft wasn’t for me.

    Then I gave the Switch version of the game a try after E3 ended and now I love it? Everything about the movement and the shooting immediately made more sense. I won a solo game in the first week, and after that I was hooked. Has replaced Splatoon 2 as my go to Switch game and I’m still surprised by that.

  • Remember the World Cup? That was so much fun. All the excitement and drama and escapism from our crumbling society. EA's virtual counterpart has very little of the emotion that makes the World Cup such an incredible event. Playing so much of this DLC made me realize that the uniqueness of the World Cup comes from everything outside of the actual games, and that that experience is almost impossible to replicate in games. I had fun with it, but I could always tell what was missing.

  • Still the best driving game out a decade after its initial release. That's both an indictment of what has happened to the arcade racing game genre and a testament to the second of Criterion's masterpieces. Nothing will ever replace Burnout 3 in my heart, but this gets pretty close. Jumping off a big ass jump while listening to Avril Lavigne is an eternal mood.

  • Hi [FRIEND_NAME_HERE], you have to check out this game. It's the most innovative shooter I've played in years.

  • Directly comparing two pieces of art is rarely if ever a good idea. It just makes the lesser work look even worse for reasons that have nothing to do with the thing being critiqued. In some cases though, It’s impossible not to. Abzu is clearly going for the same thing as Journey. The developer staff is full of people who came from thatgamecompany. Austin Wintory did the score for both games. Narratively, it follows many of the same beats as Journey. But those similarities just remind me of how much more effective and moving Journey was as an experience. The graphics aren’t as crisp, the ocean isn’t as seductive as an environment, the player character doesn’t move as fluidly as scarf boy from Journey, which is unfortunate since you’re in the water the entire time. But I can’t swim so maybe that’s what real swimming is like?

    But hey I got to ride a giant blue whale as it breached the sea and flew into the sky, so it’s got something going for it. Not a bad game by any means but following in the footsteps of something far better has its consequences.

  • Remember Portal? That game sure was great. The makers of Qube think so too. Qube’s problems lie in its aesthetic. It’s a pretty good block-based puzzle game, where you move color-coded boxes to complete puzzles in increasingly inventive ways. But it’s environment is clearly cribbed from something else. Anyone with the vaguest knowledge of Portal will get some deja vu from this game’s environment. It’s an Aperture Science facility on a lower budget. Cavernous, off-white walls made up of hundreds of square tiles with no window out to the outside world. The only hint of personality comes from messages sent to your character, a nameless, faceless woman only represented by her hands, that dump exposition and poorly attempt to generate some mysterious tension. Apparently, this building is attached to a spaceship or something that is hurtling towards Earth, and you have to stop it in order to save the world. Or is it? Because you eventually get another message from somebody claiming that the original posters are lying and that this is all a conspiracy and that you’re actually running around an earthbound laboratory and blah blah blah. These narrative beats feel so awkwardly forced that you could be forgiven for thinking that these uninspired voiceovers were added in post-production to add someone realized a plotless puzzle game might feel a little sterile.

  • When did I buy this? Why did I buy this? I have no idea how this under the radar game from a developer I’ve never heard of ended up on my hard drive, but it’s here. It was neat playing a game with so little information. That basically never happens anymore. Klaus feels like a game that would’ve made more sense during the heyday of XBLA, when indie devs could put out straightforward puzzle-platformers like it’s nothing. There are a lot of interesting level ideas in Klaus - each set of levels has its own thought out gimmick - but you can only go so far in a platformer with questionable controls. The jump feels straight out of LittleBigPlanet, the touchpad is an overly significant piece of your arsenal, and the other features you get as you progress through the game forced my hand to make a bunch of uncomfortable claw motions. There’s a really good version of this game somewhere, but this ain’t it, chief. I got stuck on a time-intensive platforming puzzle (one of many) and stopped playing, probably forever.

  • I played the launch version of the first Destiny for 25-30 hours, non-stop for a few weeks until whatever iteration of FIFA came out that year, and I came away from that time mostly disgusted with myself (what else is knew?) for allowing myself to persist with an experience I found so lacking. The base game had great mechanics, cool art and nothing else, especially if you played it mostly as a single-player game as I did. I sold it as soon as I had something else to play and didn’t look back. I’ve read and heard plenty of negative stories about Destiny 2. Watching the Giant Bomb crew bash their heads against the raid for dozens of hours left me thinking the sequel was a no-go for me. And yet, when the game went up on PS Plus, I made room for it on my scrawny, 450-gig hard drive. There is something about the Destiny universe that still felt really alluring. Those shooting mechanics are really good. The sequel is a slight improvement. The story still seems like sci-fi madlibs, but I fixed that issue by catching up on podcasts or listening to music while I play. The gameplay loop is less of a loop, and more a straight line where you shoot a lot of aliens for the possibility of finding a scout rifle that’s slightly better than your current scout rifle. I did get this hand cannon that caused explosions with every couple of shots and I used that for the majority of the game and then I finished the base campaign and I finally got a speeder bike (why do they lock that away from you for so long?) and then I unlocked a bunch of engrams and played some the Halloween event stuff and oh god how did I let Destiny 2 suck me in like this?

    Luckily, it was a short, but passionate affair. I played through the Halloween event stuff for a few days, and when the game reverted to its normal, base self, I realized that the rest of this game would be spent completing the same numbing missions that turned me off from the first Destiny. I’ll miss that gold-plated hand cannon, but there are other games to play.

  • Man, this game could’ve been something really special. Depicts a specific vibe incredibly well. It puts you entirely in the point of view of this tormented woman so thoroughly. The performance is incredible. Crazy to think they found her so serendipitously. Some of the best sound design I’ve ever seen in a game as well. Whoever mixed the audio for this deserves some sort of award. I was uncomfortable the entire time. The nonstop chatter of the voices in Senua’s head were genuinely distressing. The Soundcloud rapper-style screaming during the Surt fire sequences pushed me back on my couch. The way the game mixes in Norse mythology is particularly interesting after playing God of War. So much more desolate and discomforting. Reminds me a bit of the movie Valhalla Rising. I hope there are more biggish budget games like this. Hopefully those games have better gameplay than this offers. The puzzles make thematic sense, but quickly get repetitive and the way you find them is mostly uninteresting. Then there’s the combat. I actually didn’t hate it for most of the game, until I went through the gauntlet in the sea of corpses (great band name) and had to do nothing but a bunch of fodder enemies who could turn into shadows that made them impossible to hit most of the time and I just lost all interest in playing on any more. I get that Ninja Theory likely has an action game ego, but they missed the mark with this one.

    The story lost a lot of momentum around the same time. Hellblade got a lot of praise for its examination of mental illness. It’s mostly merited, but the game loses its nerve the further it goes on. The fact that Senua’s “darkness” is connected to literal powers undermines some of the messaging for me. Connecting her anguish to something mystical cheapens really cheapens the metaphor. I watched the ending on Youtube.

  • The brutal release schedule for yearly sports games doesn’t allow much time for actual development, so fans have gotten used to feeding on scraps of new content. Actual progression is rare. There have been many years where FIFA hyped by some miniscule tweak that didn’t make. That’s not as true this year, where the new features *shock and awe* actually make a notable difference. The revamped tactics system actually makes the game more realistic. It’s not perfect but it’s better. Still have my frustrations with the game, but considering how many decisions EA has gotten wrong over the last couple years, they deserve credit for doing something right. Now they just need to remember that career mode exists and I’ll be happy.

  • The context surrounding the games we play is always important. Booted this up for the first time after watching a late night viewing of Hereditary. Can we talk about Hereditary for a second? That movie is so good. The last 30 minutes made me want to die. I expected to be scared, but the ways that movie creates this inescapable sense of dread were really surprising. That car scene was crazy. Toni Collette was doing the most and I was here for it, such a great performance. All I could do while the credits rolled was breath heavily and sink into the couch. Ari Aster bodied that shit. Anyway, Donut County is a neat, chillout game that gives me some of that Katamari Damacy feeling alongside a great soundtrack. You should play it.

  • Probably the most mobile non-mobile game I’ve ever played. You can basically play this entire game with one hand, if y’know, that’s a thing you want to do. It’s streamlined to the point of absurdity. At one level, it’s cool to see a game just do the thing it knows you’re gonna do when you get caught or sneak up on somebody. But it also makes the action feel completely unimpactful. None of the gameplay carries any weight whatsoever. The best thing about this game is the writing. It’s the rare game that attempts to be funny and is actually funny. It’s a metal gear parody mixed with the latter stages of a clicker.

  • Writing from the middle of Chapter 3. Everything about this game seemed destined to be divisive ever since it was announced a few years ago. The first Red Dead Redemption was revelatory at the time, with the best narrative and main character a Rockstar game has ever had. The ending and epilogue of the story is still etched in my mind, it was so good. The prospect of another game in that universe didn’t feel necessary. RDR 1 was already centered on the paranoia of the cowboy class realizing that their place in the world was disappearing as American society started to take shape. When Rockstar confirmed that RDR 2 was a prequel about the Van der Linde gang, I continued to feel pessimistic because my life as a Star Wars fan has taught me to never get excited about prequels ever again. Then there was the whole kerfuffle about the work conditions at Rockstar after that Vulture feature. There were some quotes afterward that made it seem like they were receptive to being less disrespectful of their employees’ time, but who knows how that’s playing out. These accusation aren’t new to Rockstar (or any other AAA developer, really) but there’s a reason they’ve gotten a pass for so long. Well, two. The first reason is that the efforts of grunt workers in the entertainment industry doesn’t really matter to most fans. Problematic but true. The second is that Rockstar makes games like no one else does. There’s a reason that so many big games got out of the way of Red Dead’s release date. It’s a competition they knew they’d lose.

    Rockstar open worlds are always astounding, but even by their standards this is bordering on unbelievable. I’m not super into survival games, but the demands are relaxed enough here that they don’t feel like an impediment. I’ve grown an attachment to my horse Jonjo. I really want to become a master hunter and fill out the compendium, but I’d probably go insane doing so considering how many animals inhabit this world. In a weird way, this is the game I wanted No Man’s Sky to be the whole time. There’s something really relaxing about hopping on my horse, going in one direction and just seeing what’s there. I rode all the way down to Saint Denis on a whim and was astounded by the density of the city. This game does density and emptiness really well. I found the first clue for a serial killer, I need to follow up on that. I hope I can find some of the weirder stuff organically. I went up into the mountains and found the skeleton of a Bigfoot or something similar. So many details and moving parts to consider and discover. Best lighting I’ve ever seen in a game. It’s the first game that has made me consider buying a PS Pro. Too broke to justify it though.

    I get why many people seem to be down on this game. It’s such a wild thing for a game this big to play at this pace. I appreciate Rockstar’s commitment to creating a simulacra of actual outlaw life as opposed to what movies purport them to be. Maybe I’ll feel it eventually but right now I love it. The game wants you to feel the magnitude of this land and appreciate what a gargantuan endeavor it was for people to bring industry to this place. I wish more games were willing to make room for space and not feel the need to fill it with quests and people and a constant barrage of activities you could be doing. Looking at you, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. The story is pretty cliche, though it is presented well and I like many of the characters in the camp. More diverse than I was expecting which was a pleasant surprise. I also found a gang of KKK members holding court in the middle of the woods one night and I blew them all up with a stick of dynamite. Any game that allows for that is unimpeachable in my personal record book.

    Still, I can tell the word of mouth on this game has already turned sour. I really need to finish this before the Game of the Year deliberations start up, because it’s going to get spicy.

  • I think I might be too old for this kart racing shit. Played a handful of races and felt pretty bored most of the time. Probably doesn't help that I'm playing entirely single-player since I don't want to pay for Nintendo's online service. That thing things seems like a bad deal. I do miss Splatoon 2 though. I’m not sure I’ve really loved a Mario Kart game since Double Dash. Not sure if that is childhood nostalgia or because that was the last time Nintendo stuck their neck out with these games.