GOTY 2018

My top 10 list for 2018 actually came together pretty last minute. I only finally got some money to spend on games in November, so I had to marathon my way through some of the year's best games. I didn't have the time, energy, or money to get through them all, but I still feel like I played enough great games to form a nice, solid top 10. On the whole, I'd call this year a fair bit weaker than 2017, but there were still some fantastic games released, including a few (on this list) that more people should play.

List items

  • The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories tops my list mostly because of the story it tells. I obviously can’t go into detail without giving it away, but I can say that it focuses on the theme of being yourself despite any challenges to your true nature--in fact, the game even opens with the message “This game was made with the belief that nobody is wrong for being what they are,” a message which sets the tone for the story to follow. This theme mixes with the traditional Swery weirdness to make something incredibly memorable from start to finish, resonating with me in a way that I don’t think a game from a more “traditional” director would.

    The gameplay is also worth praising, despite its simplicity. I really like the concept of forcefully mutilating your body to solve puzzles, and there are some truly creative situations that arise during the course of the game. One of my favorite, or least favorite, things about this system is J.J.’s reactions to her body being brutally destroyed over and over, making me guilty every time I had to break her bones or set her on fire again to progress. This self-destruction also reflects the main themes of the game so perfectly that I’m shocked I didn’t realize their true nature until the game was over.

    I could write for a long time about all the things that resonated with me about The Missing. The writing is fantastic and the voice acting, while amateurish at times, fits so perfectly with the story being told. There’s a lot of great music throughout the game, especially the one or two songs used for certain setpiece moments. I love everything about the look of the game, especially the character designs. Every aspect drips with charm and meaning, and it somehow manages to be incredibly uplifting despite its severe subject matter. The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memoires was an experience that made me rethink certain things about my own life and I know it will live with me for some time to come.

  • Return of the Obra Dinn is a singular game that only could have come from Papers Please creator Lucas Pope. No other game has strained my detective abilities like this, forcing me to analyze things from every angle and make educated guesses in order to lock in details about who people were or how they died. Every new hard-earned success was met with both proud satisfaction and ecstatic relief as I finally checked them off the lengthy list I needed to complete. I also enjoyed piecing together the actual narrative of what happened from the little vignettes, a clever form of storytelling that leaves the gaps in time up to the player to fill in. The presentation is top-notch, utilizing a striking visual style reminiscent of (various) old computer graphics styles and fantastic use of music and sound that are timed to events on the screen with expert precision. Return of the Obra Dinn is a struggle at times, but it’s worth every hard-earned discovery in the end.

  • Celeste is an incredibly tight, stupidly well-designed platformer that rivals Super Meat Boy as the best of its genre. The challenge is stiff but fair and nicely builds over the course of the base game and reaches pleasantly frustrating levels in the B and C side versions of levels. The game also looks gorgeous, both in its main 2D style and in the 3D visuals used around its edges. Aurally, the soundtrack is stellar and nicely fits the aesthetic, and the cutesy Animal Crossing-esque sound effects for speech are incredibly cute. There’s even a charming, touching story that explores topics like depression and accepting every part of yourself. The final level brings everything to a head in a breathtakingly intense climax that gave me a powerful sense of triumph. Celeste is an expertly crafted experience from top to bottom.

  • NOTE: This is actually my entry for the Prey DLC, Mooncrash. Since there is no wiki entry for DLC separate from the game, I had to use the base game in this spot.

    I absolutely loved last year’s Prey, placing it at my number two spot on my Top 10 list, so I was entirely onboard for its Mooncrash DLC when it released in June. The roguelike elements work surprisingly well with the base Prey gameplay, forcing you to scavenge resources as fast as possible to beat the clock and escape with all five of the playable characters in one run. The brand new environment is obviously smaller than Talos I but is packed with just as much detail; as someone who loved exploring every inch of the station, I was thrilled to do it again with these new areas. Mooncrash handily scratched my itch for more Prey, and I still find myself going back to it for another run every now and again.

  • I was incredibly skeptical of the new God of War when it was announced, believing the series was played out and not worth revisiting, but I was clearly proven wrong by this fantastic reboot. It manages to retain the intense tone and feel of the original games’ combat despite the perspective change. Most noteworthy is Kratos’ new magical boomerang-axe, which might be one of the best video game weapons of all time. The world is huge, filled with gorgeous locales to explore and tons of side quests and bonus content to see. Best of all is the story about Kratos and his son, following them as they both grow and learn how to have a relationship with one another while also touching on the idea of what godhood really means and how to come to terms with it. I had some issues with some of the more annoyingly designed enemies and a few odd tone shifts from certain characters during the story, but I can’t deny that God of War is one of the most impressive and memorable games I played this year.

  • Marvel’s Spider-Man is the best Spider-Man game to date, without question. Everything about it feels great. The combat focuses on the hero’s agility and acrobatics, making every encounter a flashy, fast-paced brawl. Swinging over the streets and bounding across rooftops is breathtaking and responsive, making you feel like you’re actually controlling the iconic webslinger. Virtual New York is remarkably expansive and detailed. The cast of villains all look unique to this game’s universe yet perfectly recognizable. Your array of various suits pay tribute to countless historical costumes from the hero’s history. It even tells a solid, if predictable, story with some fantastic VO work, especially from Peter and Mary Jane (Yuri Lowenthal and Laura Bailey, respectively, each putting in some of their best performances) as they dance around their feelings for one another. Marvel’s Spider-Man is a tad bit repetitive, but no game has better captured the tone and feel of one of my favorite heroes.

  • Forza Horizon 4 is my favorite open-world driving game yet. It features a fun environment to explore, tons of races and different events, and a constantly changing online ecosystem that rotates seasons every week. Those seasons don’t do much to change the actual gameplay, outside of winter’s slippery roads, but the visual changes to the environment actually keep the game feeling fresh from week to week. Horizon 4 feels fantastic to play and looks even better, especially when you start hitting 200+ mph and scream down country roads past copses of trees and small village houses. They even added character customization for your driver, which, while entirely dumb and pointless, still had me gleefully playing dress-up and even designing seasonal outfits to change into each week. There’s a lot of fun, silly choices for your outfits and stupid dances/emotes to perform when you win races. All in all, Forza Horizon 4 is just a comforting joy to sink back into again and again.

  • I’ve tried to get into a few Monster Hunter games in the past but never made it more than a dozen hours in any of them, always bouncing off instead of getting hooked. Monster Hunter: World is the first game in the series to keep me playing until “endgame,” mostly due to the simplification and modernization of many of the series’ roughest edges. It’s finally become a more approachable game, especially when you add in the redesigned controls that feel tuned for console controllers. Combat on the whole is much more fluid as well, retaining the animation locks on most attacks but making everything else with a bit more pep. I’m still not addicted by any means, but I intend to spend much more time with Monster Hunter: World, and the series as a whole, in the future.

  • The original Q.U.B.E. was a fine game but ultimately a bit plain and completely forgettable for me. Q.U.B.E. 2, however, is one of the better “Portal-likes” I’ve played to date, with smartly designed puzzles and unique mechanics that slowly build in complexity and challenge as the game progresses. The difficulty curve is expertly designed: I rarely got stuck on any puzzles as I played through the game but still felt challenged by nearly all of them. Q.U.B.E. 2’s only real shortcoming is the completely awful story that tries to go for something philosophical but doesn’t really say anything of meaning. That story is completely ignorable, however, and doesn’t ruin what is still a great puzzle game that I highly recommend.

  • I don’t have much reverence for Tetris, but even I got caught up in the hype around Tetris Effect when it released. Eventually, I had to see it for myself. Journey mode was even more impressive than I imagined, with fantastic presentation from top to bottom and an array of creative songs and sound effects that make each level an enthralling and often breathtaking experience. Even though it isn’t tied into the actual gameplay in any meaningful way, I found it made me enjoy playing Tetris so much more simply because it felt like a more visceral experience. The $40 price tag is hard to swallow, and I doubt I’ll spend much time in the modes outside of Journey, but I’m still glad I experienced Tetris Effect.