Let 2018 forever be remembered as the year in which I was bedridden for several months due to a back injury and still couldn’t work up the energy to finish Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. Indeed, 2018 was a year so full of misfires that I can’t even confidently state that Metal Gear Survive was one of the five worst games I played.
But enough about that. These are bad times, and it’s as vital as ever that we celebrate the escapism most successful in giving us much-needed respite from the horrors of the real world. I’ll get to my ten favorite games of the year in a moment, but first, a few honorable mentions:
– Beat Saber (Vive). Unquestionably one of the best things I played in 2018. Sadly, it’s still in Early Access, and thus ineligible. Maybe next year.
– Death’s Gambit (PC). I still say that this is the best Dark Souls clone out there. Surprised that more of the industry didn’t agree with me.
– Project Warlock (PC). Retro-style FPSs had a strong year, and this one gets to represent the pack for actually getting a full release. And yeah, Dusk is good, too.
– Return of the Obra Dinn (PC). A terrific game that I’m too stupid to appreciate. I had to look up about 75% of the answers.
– Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales (PC). The one game that I’m gutted to omit from my top ten. Witcher 3-quality writing and characterization, though you gotta like Gwent.
10. Tetris Effect (PS4) — Full Review by Darren Forman
Look, I don’t actually believe that Tetris Effect‘s much-hyped PSVR support makes or breaks the experience. Maybe it’s because I’d already begun replaying the campaign on Expert by the time I’d bought my headset, and was thus more focused on the falling blocks than on the audiovisual background splendor I’d already experienced. And yeah, at the end of the day, this is just a game we’ve all played a billion times before, gussied up with swirling colors and corny songs about how we’re all connected, man. But given that I’ve often claimed that Tetris is perhaps the only perfect video game, maybe this is genuinely the only way to improve upon it. Tetris is immortal, and if nothing else, I appreciate that Tetsuya Mizuguchi (combining the particle-heavy visuals of Rez Infinite‘s Area X with the dynamically synchronizing scoring of Lumines) has given us all an excuse to rediscover that.
9. Monster Hunter World (PS4) — Full Review
Despite being the entry that finally broke through in the West (and would go on to become Capcom’s best-selling game ever), Monster Hunter World wasn’t exactly the revolution some of us were expecting, and I know plenty of people who gave this title a shot and still find the series impenetrable. But even if it’s not the massive leap forward that I was anticipating, its many small (but crucial) quality-of-life enhancements make it that much easier to settle into a groove for dozens – possibly even hundreds – of hours. It’s by far the best-looking Monster Hunter to date and offers its most integrated multiplayer experience yet, even if the online functionality still needs some serious work. We’re at the point now where whenever a new Monster Hunter releases, we can just assume it’ll be my most-played game of that year.
8. Gris (Switch) — Full Review by Andrew Martinez
There’s no way to describe Gris without sounding pretentious. With no real story or central gameplay gimmick, the selling point of Gris is its beauty. And I’m not just talking about the visual style, which itself is a breathtaking blend of pencil and watercolor that’s somehow even more stunning in motion than in screenshots. I’m talking about how the game feels, how it plays as elegantly as it looks, how each color that this girl restores to her world seems to bring with it some physical property that slowly morphs Gris’s 2D landscape into a breathing world which its own abstract-yet-consistent purpose. I spent most of this game wondering where developer Nomada was going with this, then stood awestruck during the final 20 minutes, when the music, animation, movement and exploration come together to create a climax that’s moving and uplifting without shoving a statement in our faces. Sometimes art is just lovely to observe and take in.
7. Spider-Man (PS4) — Full Review
Insomniac demonstrated in their underrated Sunset Overdrive that they’re capable of developing fluid, rewarding open-world movement systems. So it’s no surprise Sony selected them to carry on the legacy of the franchise that more or less invented fluid, rewarding open-world movement systems. But while the webslinging in Spider-Man is absolutely ace – enough so that Insomniac could have forgotten to include a fast-travel system and I wouldn’t have cared – it’s everything else that makes this, retroactively, the only Spider-Man game worth caring about. The combat is full of dastardly toys that players find constant opportunities to use. The set pieces are wild and climactic. And against all odds, one of the most emotionally resonant stories to come out of the triple-A scene this year was in a Spider-Man (anchored by Yuri Lowenthal, doing a damn convincing job of playing a character half his age). It’s just the complete package that we’ve always wanted out of a Spider-Man game. It’s easy to see why so many people fell in love with it.
6. Firewall: Zero Hour (PSVR)
This was the year that I got into VR, and while I was frequently awestruck by mechanics that wouldn’t have been possible in another format, Firewall is proof that VR can also drastically improve some of what we already have. Really, this is just a low-budget version of Rainbow Six: Siege, yet ten times out of ten, this is the game I’d rather be playing, for the sheer thrill of physically peeking around corners, closing one eye and looking down my sights, and killing dudes not by tilting an analog stick, but by actually pointing a damn gun at them. Not everything translates fluidly to VR, but shooting absolutely does, and this tense squad-based experience (enhanced, as a cooperative experience, by the guarantee that everyone playing has a microphone) is one of the most revelatory examples of that to date. Just be sure to pick up an Aim Controller with it, because it’s kinda silly otherwise.
5. Far: Lone Sails (PC) — Full Review
There was a moment in Far when I’d just survived a violent hailstorm and my ship was barely still in one piece. My sail was broken, my tank was empty, and I’d run out of items that I was willing to burn for fuel. (I couldn’t sacrifice my beloved radio, just in case I’d happen upon another mysterious broadcast.) The engine wouldn’t budge, and I couldn’t even power my repair module without more juice. So I got out, unspooled the winch rope, and just pulled the ship, slowly, up hills and across barren landscapes. I think it was even raining. Few developers could bring their game to a halt like that and call it a win, yet that’s exactly how strong my connection was with this magnificent piece of machinery. Fittingly for a game about a two-way relationship, give Far your time and it’ll give back.
4. Yoku’s Island Express (Switch) — Full Review by AJ Small
I’ve never been a pinball fan. I find it incredibly stressful. Things unfold at too fast a pace with too little of my own input to feel as though my failings are my own fault. Maybe I’m just awful at it, but that doesn’t make Yoku’s Island Express any less brilliant for finding a way to make pinball suit my playstyle. Although players are still expected to pull some crazy stunts with the flippers, the near-nonexistent penalties for failure and almost total lack of combat meant that I could finally enjoy these mechanics at a relaxed pace. The gorgeous titular island would be a joy to explore even with more conventional methods of getting around, but combining pinball with a Metroidvania is one of those ideas that sounds crazy until you’ve tried it, at which point you wonder why no one attempted it before.
3. Red Dead Redemption 2 (PS4) — Full Review
While I can totally understand why not everyone gelled with RDR2’s, um, unhurried pace, I’m a little surprised that this is the Rockstar game that so many people turned on. This company has been itching to tell serious, long-form stories for a while now, but the satirical caricatures that fill the Grand Theft Auto universe demonstrably aren’t capable of exhibiting meaningful growth. RDR2, meanwhile, is populated with what may be the strongest cast of characters in any video game I’ve ever played. And since Rockstar recognizes that the conclusion is largely forgone – it’s a prequel, after all – they slow the tempo considerably, running the plot not on the suspense over its destination but on the strength of the relationships at its core. I maintain that RDR2’s monster-sized epiloque didn’t need to be there, but this is nevertheless one of the richest open worlds ever created, and I loved sharing it with these fascinating people.
2. Into the Breach (PC/Switch) — Full Review
You may note a conspicuous lack of Dead Cells on this list. That, to me, demonstrates just how played-out the side-scrolling roguelike action-platformer is, that we can get one as beautiful and polished as Dead Cells and it still barely makes an impression on me. Into the Breach, on the other hand, is precisely how to breathe new life into the oversaturated roguelike scene. The premise itself – a tactical game in which players see enemy moves one turn in advance – is wholly original, but the way it perfectly maps to procedural generation and permadeath takes Into the Breach to a whole new level. Every battle feels unique, every loss is fair, and every victory makes you feel like a tactical mastermind. I only stopped playing this game when I’d literally done everything there was to do, which should tell you how endlessly replayable it is. I nominate this for best roguelike of all time.
1. Astro Bot: Rescue Mission (PSVR) — Full Review by Darren Forman
This game delivers the joy, purity and innovation of Nintendo’s best games with the one thing Nintendo refuses to almost ever give us: the excitement of an actual new franchise. While VR is still very much a niche scene on PC, Sony is doing its best to market PSVR as an affordable, accessible gateway into the technology for mainstream audiences, and the warm embrace of Astro Bot should be at the center of the charge. Every stage of this wonderful platformer is its own sales pitch on how the format can be innovative, absorbing, amusing, or (most often) some combination of the three. To spoil any of its many surprises would be criminal, so I will simply say that I came out of Astro Bot convinced that VR is the biggest leap forward in gaming since the transition to three dimensions.
Most overrated: God of War
Most underrated: Death’s Gambit
Most overlooked: Youropa
Most visually striking: Gris
All-out best-looking game: God of War
Best story: Return of the Obra Dinn
Best writing: Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales
Best character: Arthur Morgan (Red Dead Redemption 2)
Best performance: Yuri Lowenthal (Spider-Man)
Best moment: Entering Saint Denis for the first time (Red Dead Redemption 2)
Best original soundtrack: Gris
Best licensed soundtrack: Rifter
Biggest surprise: Attack on Titan 2
Biggest disappointment: Guacamelee! 2
Comeback of the year: Spider-Man
Best multiplayer game: Firewall: Zero Hour
Most enjoyable bad game: Just Cause 4
Least enjoyable good game: Paratopic
Best free game: Gwent: The Witcher Card Game
Game that I spent the most time with: Monster Hunter World
Game that I spent the least time with before dismissing: Outbreak: The Nightmare Chronicles
Game that I most wanted to play, but didn’t: Frostpunk
Game I literally own that I most wanted to play, but still haven’t: Usurper
Best game that I still haven’t finished: Octopath Traveler
All-out worst game that I played: Immortal: Unchained
Best non-2018 game that I first played in 2018: Superhot VR
Best remake/re-release: Lumines Remastered
Most anticipated game this coming year: Doom Eternal / Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (tie)
2018 releases that I played: 100
2018 releases that I completed: 63
2018 releases that I’m still working on: 11
2018 releases that I’ve shelved indefinitely: 8
2018 releases that I flat-out gave up on: 18
2018 releases for which I’ve won every trophy/achievement: 4
2018 releases I’ve reviewed: 26