It feels like each time I start writing one of these, the whole world is a little crazier. And frankly, it doesn’t appear to be about to get any better. 2018, however, was a stellar year for games — there wasn’t a single month where I wasn’t overwhelmed by choice. It’s been a great year for reviewing too. A lot of the standout games on this list I had the good fortune to visit for GameCritics. I can’t help being effusive about the year to come, even if I am less enthusiastic about who is going to die next, and what political drama is going to unfold.
Before I get to my top ten list, I want to mention a few games that stood out (for better or worse) to me this year:
Biggest disappointment: NieR: Automata™ BECOME AS GODS Edition PC, PS4, Xbox One
I respected Brad’s review of the PS4 version, but I figured that I was going to disagree with him, as we often do. I found myself as a surprise fan of the first NieR and wrote about it on a previous website – the storyline, the music and the mood of the game was unlike anything else. NieR: Automata came out on Xbox One this year and it stumbled to find anything unique to say. The main theme is ‘what does it mean to be human?’ and there’s nothing here that made me particularly interested in exploring that. The combat is repetitive and the hacking mini-game is awful. The story was plain and went on for too long, and by the end I just couldn’t have cared less. I ended up feeling like many were apologetic for letting the original pass by, so they were more willing to embrace this second time around. For me, it was a mere shadow of its predecessor.
Best game that isn’t out of preview yet: Descenders PC, Xbox One
I wrote a review about this game earlier this year on Xbox One, and my criticism still stands – why isn’t in this a full release? It’s a complete package that mixes Tony Hawk tricks with roguelike elements. Easy to pick up, really hard to master, the game continually delivers new and interesting challenges and has that ‘one more go’ appeal.
The other best game that isn’t out of preview yet: Deep Rock Galactic PC, Xbox One
This would be on my top ten list with Descenders, but it remains in the Game Preview section of the Xbox. A fusion of Minecraft and Left 4 Dead, the player assumes the role of one of four dwarves as they go on mining missions through procedurally generated levels that require carving one’s way through to get to the loot. Easily one of the best four-player games out there, with each of the classes providing synergy with their different skills. The developers just keep adding to it, and it keeps getting better as a result. This will be one of the best games of 2019 or 2020, whenever they decide to go version 1.0.
With that out of the way let’s get on with what were, for me, the top ten standout games of this year.
10> Gene Rain PC, PS4, Xbox One
Gene Rain is a masterpiece of bad videogames. From the plot to the voice acting, from the level design to the enemy encounters — there is absolutely nothing about it that isn’t a clumsy, stumbling disaster. None of it is particularly well-executed and there are only a handful of parts that are competently put together. It is in my top 10 for all those reasons. Savaged by critics, it is a shame that no one has any love for trash games. I do, and I can’t wait for the promised sequel. I am sure that GameCritics is happy that I agreed to not fight for the 9.5/10 score, but if anyone is curious, here is my non-review.
9> Flipping Death Switch, PC, PS4, Xbox One
I love Zoink!’s output and I think Flipping Death is their strongest entry so far. The humor, weirdness and warmth are balanced perfectly in this tale of death and after-death. The art style is unique and distinct. This is the best point-and-click game this year, and anyone who took a nap on it should remedy that now.
8> Yoku’s Island Express Switch, PC, PS4, Xbox One
I look back on my review of Yoku, and one of the things I failed to mention is that this game is a perfect embodiment of summer. Upbeat, cheery, a soundtrack filled with smiles, and the difficulty is pitch perfect – it makes sure to not punish too much outside of sidequests, and its heart is about the bug that could. I haven’t enjoyed a pinball game this much since Revenge of the ‘Gator on the Gameboy.
7> Forza Horizon 4 PC, Xbox One
Forza Horizon has been one of the few racing series to really get me interested in throwing supercars around corners at perilously high speeds. Starting around Horizon 2, I finally understood why people fell in love with the idea of driving — and to be specific, I mean driving. Not racing. The idea of taking a long canyon run in a Huracan while the sun blazes overhead made me see what drivers find liberating about being behind the wheel. Forza Horizon 4 goes deeper in — the seasons give each race a different feel, and replaying old tracks requires relearning tactics, as snow and rain get in the way. The love of cars and the love of arcade racing makes this the best instalment, and the sheer attention to detail and love throughout means that this series has my heart.
6> No Man’s Sky: Next PC, PS4, Xbox One
This game has taken some knocks, but I think the version that I played was great. What needs to be understood is that NMS is not the “forever” game that people hoped it would be. Instead, it’s a delightful 30-40 hour adventure that’s fascinating for the entirety of its stay. The multiplayer, goofy and dumb, is as broken as many of the other elements of NMS — that didn’t stop me from coming back to explore more planets with company, though.
5> Dead Cells Switch, PC, PS4, Xbox One
Motion Twin’s roguelike metroidvania is a game that I loved for my first 10 hours. As the number of abilities I accrued and my knowledge of the levels grew, it was an addictive experience. The better I got, the further I delved. I was getting up every day to do the daily challenges, and I was compelled to keep playing. Then the endgame happened, one obstacle remained, and I smashed into it and eventually gave up. The spell it had over me broke, but while I was in its thrall, it was all I could think of. Dead Cells is brilliant, with a fluidity and confidence rarely seen among other games, much less a developer’s first attempt.
4> Overcooked! 2 Switch, PC, PS4, Xbox One
My review for Overcooked! 2 isn’t up yet, but the game happily sits in my top 5 this year. The first installment was a great way to lose friends with simple inputs that required heavily-coordinated play. The result was either triumphant 3-star ratings or restarts amidst shouting from all participants. Speaking as a vet, this sequel is an improvement in every way over the first and also serves as a great entry point for new players thanks to a gentler difficulty curve. The online co-op is a great — it allowed for me to enjoy couch-like dissolution of friendships, with the added benefit of not being able to physically punch my friends when they screw up. It is a testament to the quality of games this year that this is not number 1 on my list.
3> Onrush PC, PS4, Xbox One
It hurts my heart how neglected Onrush has been. It’s not a racing game, and not even entirely a car game. It plays like a mixture of Burnout and Overwatch — each level is a course to race around, but being first isn’t important, smashing opponents and getting boost is. I think people didn’t quite know what to make of it, and the audience needed to support a big, mainstream, arcadey and explosive racer never materialized. It’s now on PlayStation Plus, so hopefully more people can catch on to this brilliant title.
2> Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds Mobile, PC, Xbox One, PS4
Now overshadowed by Fortnite, PUBG is still my favourite in the battle royale genre, and I’d been waiting for something like this to be created ever since I walked out of the cinema after watching the film, Battle Royale. The tension of the ever-degrading circle married to the twitchy shooting was utterly irresistible to me. Thousands upon thousands of words have been written about this game, so I’ll just slot this in here at number 2 and say that it remains one of the best multiplayer experiences I’ve had in years.
1> Death Road to Canada Switch, PC, PS4 iOS, Xbox One
I reviewed this and loved it a whole hell of a lot, and it’s the game that I’ve probably put the most time into this year. It’s a simple title about taking a group of people through a zombie-infested US and trying and get to Canada, but the joy comes in the characterization and the writing, as well as the authentic feel of trying to manage a team that is constantly running low on food, fuel and morale. Its ability to make the player think that the next run will be perfect makes it all the more heart-wrenching when a plan goes sideways, and your group of haphazard survivors get chomped on by the undead. Endlessly replayable, constantly entertaining and easily the biggest standout of this year.
Honorable mentions — it was a good year! State of Decay 2, Rival Megagun, Sea of Thieves, and Bomber Crew
He can be found on twitter, where he welcomes screenshots of Dreamcast games and talk about Mindjack, just don’t mention that one time he was in Canada.