Game of the Year 2018

Previous Lists (and ones): 2010 (Mass Effect 2), 2011 (Skyrim), 2012 (Zero Escape: Virtues Last Reward), 2013 (The Last of Us), 2014 (Dark Souls 2), 2015 (Bloodborne), 2016 (Inside), 2017 (NieR: Automata)

Around September, this list was looking grim, a lot of my enjoyment was coming from games that were released in previous years or remasters, thankfully, a strong group of games hit at the end of the year which really reinvigorated me. One funny thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of my picks are informed by these old games and remasters that I played through the year and I’ll list them where applicable.

Disappointments:

Monster Hunter: World – I don’t know what it was but I just reached a point in this game where I dropped it and had no interest in going back. I actually think that it might have something to do with this one not being handheld. Maybe I just like playing these games and having something going on in the background?

Yoku’s Island Express – Great first half that just dies in the second half as backtracking becomes a complete slog and you gain a power that is far too hard to master.

Mario Tennis Aces – I wanted to love it, it just came off a little dull in the end with its single player modes not delivering.

Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom – I’m still working my way through this one but something seems off when I compare it to the remake released last year. I’m not rushing to go back to it.

Honourable Mentions:

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon – I’m not a big fan of classic Castlevania but this hit a sweet spot at just the right time giving me something to play on a couple of long train journeys. So close to making my list.

Minit – Cute and clever game but I didn’t really get much more from it and found the ending abrupt.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider – It was flat, but I still really loved the exploration aspects that the previous games had and the tombs are again top notch.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate – This is the first Smash I’ve bought and it’s really hitting a sweet spot. Will be interesting to see how much of it I play from here, but for now this is great stuff.

Didn’t play (or play enough of) that I intend to:

Frostpunk – I gave this a bit of a shake but things go in the way and I was filled with anxiety at the idea of going back to it. I do want to give it another go though.

Unavowed – Played a couple of minutes and enjoyed what I played but never got to sit and put time in.

Return of the Obra Dinn – Picked this up based on the GOTY discussions around it, can’t wait to try it.

Dragon Quest XI: Echos of an Elusive Age – My January JRPG, 2017 I played Final Fantasy XV in January and this year I played Xenoblade Chronicles 2. I’ve been happy with this tradition so far.

Red Dead Redemption 2 – My need for tech got in the way, I got it but then made a decision to upgrade to an Xbox One X…then decided I needed a 4K TV which I just got. I’ll get there in the New Year.

Tetris Effect – This could have made it, unfortunately the two game stores I went to in the town I was visiting over Christmas didn’t have it. Pretty annoying really.

The List

10 – Forza Horizon 4

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I love driving games (it turns out) but I don’t buy them. There’s just something in my brain that tells me I won’t get enough out of it or, it’s just a driving game. So thanks Game Pass for delivering this one to me right when I needed something to chill out to. There is something smooth and satisfying about this entire experience that really hit me right and kept me playing for days on end. It also scratched the rally itch that I always knew was there but would (again) never drop the cash to get scratched. I haven’t played it much beyond the initial week or so, but it was enough for it to hit the top 10 for me. I also just upgraded to a One X and a 4K TV so this will be getting more play time.

9 – The Missing: JJ Macfield and the Island of Memories

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This one hit hard, to tell you why, I’ll have to go into spoilers. About 5 years ago, a friend came out as trans which wasn’t that big a deal to me, I’m a pretty accepting person. About a year or so later, she broke up with her girlfriend and was looking for a place to live, it just happened to coincide with a room opening up at my place and she moved in. It was a real eye opening experience living with her and understanding all of the problems she had to deal with seemingly on a daily basis. Playing this game and having a main character that reminded me (right down to look) of my friend became harder as I realised where it was going and what I was doing as the character. To say I was thankful for the hopeful ending would be an understatement, it was still hard hitting, but I don't know what I would have done had it gone differently. This game may not hit the same way for others, but I think it’s an important play and a really superb and mature work from Swery. Yeah, it doesn't play super smoothly, but the general weirdness and engaging story really pushed me through.

8 – Dead Cells

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This should be higher…why isn’t this higher? Oh right, I haven’t beaten the last boss. Funnily enough, I picked this up again to help get through the Giant Bomb game of the year Podcasts…not once did I get to the last boss though. I need time windows to play this game which was fine as I was traveling around Japan or used it to burn through some podcasts, but now the idea of investing more time into it fills me with anger because I know I won’t get that loadout I want.

Look, this game is great by the way, it’s smooth as hell, the combat is as close to perfect as you could ask, mistakes you make are largely your own. I've successfully gotten up to the final boss a couple of times but I mean seriously, fuck this game.

7 - Astro Bot Rescue Mission

Also: Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and Super Lucky’s Tale

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When you talk late additions, it doesn’t get much later than this. I stared playing this on the 28th of December but if you look at those "also" games I’ve added above, it helps explain why I have no issue putting it here.

Captain Toad is one of my all-time favourite games, I loved peeking through every corner of that game to find all its secrets, I'd already done everything in that game on the Wii U, but I still got it again and did everything again on the Switch. After I got a game pass subscription, I was looking for something to play and thought I’d give Super Lucky’s Tale a try and for that price, I really enjoyed myself to the point where I ended up buying the DLC just to play more of it.

So it makes sense that I love Astro Bot, I love 3D platform exploration games I guess. Add in that the VR really takes the secret hunting part of these games to a new level and you have a game that just keeps getting better. I'll stop and stare around every corner trying to find all the secrets, I do that in other 3D platformers sure, but this time I'm actually leaning forward to look, it's fucking magical. Honestly, when I look back in a few years, this might be a little too low, but I’ve only finished a world and a half of it. I should note that this is the first game I’ve played in VR so my rose coloured VR goggles could be in full effect here but I can't help it, I love this game and this world.

6 – Ashen

Also: Dark Souls Remastered

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Dark Souls is my favourite game of all time, playing through remastered this year only solidified that fact. When I cleared Lordran of everything I could possibly do with only the Kiln of the First Flame to go, I felt overwhelming sadness as I knew it had to end.

No game has been able to nail what I love about Dark Souls, but Ashen gives it a pretty good shake. It’s a bit of a different beast beyond similar gameplay mechanics but overall, I think it works. It’s a beautiful and haunting world and you give me that, you’re a lot of the way there. The larger dungeons are pretty edge of seat stuff as well but the bosses weren’t really that great and given there are so few of them, are a bit of a letdown. All that said though, this is the first non From game that has come closest to capturing what I love about that original Dark Souls and that's about as high a bit of praise that I can give a game. I just finished it today and felt a real sense of accomplishment at overcoming the thing.

I should note, I did encounter a pretty rough bug where my AI companion refused to follow me in the game’s first big dungeon, it sucked and almost had me stop the game dead. I pushed on though and eventually got him to follow me somehow and I got through to the checkpoint but man was I ready to drop this one.

5 – God of War

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I’m not the biggest fan of the "Sony House Style" that has seemed to dominate their first party releases these past couple of years. Seeing people go gaga for games like Uncharted 4 has just left me scratching my head and early into God of War, I was just shrugging and thinking, "yeah, it’s just another one of those all right." Then I got to the World Serpent and shit got real. While the story was okay it was how the game looked and played with a really cool open world gameplay loop that hooked me. I’m also thinking back to those tense Valkyrie fights as some of the best pure gaming challenges I've had this year.

A lot of people have said this, but this is the first God of War game I’ve played but still that moment where you go back to get your weapons from the original games, chefs kiss, absolutely spectacular work. I do wish I engaged with the story a little more, gaming is getting there, but for a game that goes for it in a lot of other areas, we’re still treated to a pretty basic parenting issues plot that was about as subtle as Kratos killing one of those giants with a large slab of stone. I’m a big literature guy (snob alert) and this all felt like pretty basic stuff but seeing how it is really touching others, particularly fathers, it seems to be hitting the mark for most.

4 – Octopath Traveler

Also: Final Fantasy V

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I didn’t play Final Fantasy V this year, but Octopath Traveler reminded me so much of the systems at place in that game and how much I loved engaging with them, I ended up buying a boxed cart and the soundtrack when I was in Japan. So yeah, I liked this one a lot.

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The main complaint I hear about Octopath is the lack of a larger story, this was never an issue for me. Yeah, some of the questlines were a bit of a drag but the good ones more than made up for it and the combat systems were so damn good. I sat there for nearly 20 minutes in some cases working out and taking down some of the tougher bosses in the game and the sense of accomplishment beating them was great. Most importantly though, I just loved playing this game be it for 20 minutes or over an hour and the Switch is the perfect platform for this game.

I didn't think I wanted a throwback JRPG given I love the general melodrama that often gets presented in voice acting and overblown cut scenes, but here we are. Given the game’s success, it’s going to be cool to see if they continue with the series, if they do, there are a lot of options.

3 – Celeste

Also: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

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I love 2D platformers, Super Meat Boy and the modern Rayman games are among my favourites. Celeste and DKTF are damn good ones in the genre and having never played DKTF before, going through it was a treat. But man did I sharpen my platform skills on Celeste before moving to Donkey Kong.

What a treat Celeste is, precise and tight platforming that also plays like a puzzle game. It gives you great variation too with different “powers” for every level feeling similar to Braid in a way. Importantly though, the story is really touching and I was so drawn to the characters to the point that when you see that photo at the end, it’s really a nice way of saying goodbye. I should also mention that the soundtrack is one of the best game soundtracks I can recall from the last couple of years, whenever I hear a track, I'm immediately take back to the various worlds.

I was going to place this a lot higher on the list but as I started to think back on it, it just kept moving up because my memories of it are so damn strong, it’s earned its spot.

2 – Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country

Also: Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles 2

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Now look, this is basically a vote for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 which I played in January this year and absolutely absorbed. So much so that I immediately went out and got a 3DS copy of Xenoblade Chronicles and that was my February. I love these games, I love their worlds and engage with the underlying messages at play, even with all the anime bullshit awkwardness that made playing in front of my girlfriend awkward at times.

On its own, does Torna deserve to be Number 2 on my list? Probably not, but that’s not how I’m working this list, this for me is an all-encompassing thing so this is where Torna falls. That said, it’s still a really good advancement of the formula that was set in the second game, the combat is has been refined and there is a real great reason to do the side quests in the community system. It's funny, towards the end I was wondering if they were going to go all the way with this and give us the ending I knew was coming, they went all the way though. If you’re a fan of the second game, you sort of know where this goes, but getting to that point and seeing it play out really hit me. Monolith Soft now have a fan in me and I can't wait to see what they do next.

1 – Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

Also: Yakuza 4 and Yakuza 5

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In 2015 I went to Japan for the first time and decided I wanted to play through Yakuza 4 finally (I’d finished all games in the series to that point) but I never got past the first chapter. This year, before again going to Japan, I set myself a goal of playing through 4 and 5, got through 4 and the first three and a half chapters of 5 before going. While I was struggling with 5, it started to really engage me as I got to the fourth part, there was just something about Shinada that hit me. Cut to being in Japan and feeling some genuine anxiety at not having finished the game before I left. I finished it the day I got back, the next day I was at PAX AUS and they had the After Hours Edition of 6 on special.

Playing through 6 was a pretty emotional experience, not just because I had become so attached to the world and the characters in it but also because it was a fresh reminder of this amazing country I’d visited less than a month earlier. Going into a convenience store in the game was enough to make me wish I was back on holiday.

As a game, it delivers what it needs to, the combat is solid, the side missions can drag but are fun and some of the side activities are damn cool. But it’s the story that I was here for, Yakuza stories have a tendency to get a little ridiculous and while this one was no exception, I was pretty surprised at how convoluted it didn’t get. At their heart, they're just ridiculous soap opera and while i was initially taken aback by them pushing some characters I'd grown to love in the background, the new characters all delivered. As the credits rolled and I got through the various endings, unlike some others, I was content with where it ended.

It’s not the best game of the year, but it sure as hell is my favourite, I loved every second I spent with it and hell, it's the main reason I knew my way around a large part of Shinjuku and also the main reason I had my girlfriend take the below photo. Looking forward to next year.

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