I mean, I’m obviously preaching to the choir if you’re reading this list of TOP TEN VIDEO GAMES OF 2018 but honestly, when I look back at some of the titles in the last twelve months, there has been such an amazing variety of entertainment on offer – whether you want to play as a cowboy, a super hero, a Norse God or even if you just want to play some good old Tetris. There really are some incredibly talented people in this industry and I feel like the current market offers something for everybody.
This moment – when we’re four or five years into the lifespan of a game console – is also a fantastic time to be a gamer. All three major game platforms on the market have dozens of great games in their library and a lot of them are now super cheap. You shouldn’t need to pay any more than $30 bucks to play modern classics like Horizon: Zero Dawn or Bloodborne. Even new games coming out in 2018 seem to drop to half their launch price after 3 months or so.
My favourite gaming experiences in 2018 mostly came from the big budget releases on the Playstation 4 (Spider-man 4, God of War), some surprise hits on the Playstation VR (Astro Bot Rescue Mission, Tetris Effect) and a number of fantastic independent games which you can play on any platform (Celeste, Dead Cells, Hollow Knight).
Although Microsoft had very little to get people excited about on the Xbox One, I think they’re doing some interesting things with their Game Pass service, which is basically Netflix For Video Games. I gave it a trial (for a monthly fee of $10.95 you get access to roughly 170 games) and was impressed with the concept, even if the selection of games isn’t quite where I’d like it to be just yet. Looking at the direction that the music and film & television industries have gone with subscription services, I wouldn’t be surprised if Game Pass is a sign of the direction that the whole industry will be headed in a few years time.
With that said, here are my ten favourite games of 2018.
Astro Bot: Rescue Mission
GAME OF THE YEAR
SIE Japan Studio, Playstation VR
Astro Bot Rescue Mission is a killer app for virtual reality gaming. It is, by some ridiculously large margin, the best game on the Playstation VR platform.
Venture Beat games journalist Jeremy Horowitz turned heads back in September when he announced a teaser that the Playstation VR was going to have its ‘Super Mario 64’ moment.
It seems like an absurd statement to make and an unfair burden to shoulder on a game. Super Mario 64 is one of the most critically acclaimed and influential games of all time. It established and popularized analogue stick controls and 3D movement as we know it today. It sold millions of copies. What hope did Astro Bot Rescue Mission have to compare?
Having played the game since it launched, I think I understand Horowitz more clearly now. I think he was being much more literal about what Astro Bot Rescue Mission accomplishes and how it compares to Super Mario 64. It is a 3D platforming game that has incredible level design and ridiculously charming character animation. It gets right so many of the little things. The way the Astro Bots interact with the player. The pixel perfect controls. The jaunty music. The visually arresting worlds that you explore.
All of it comes together beautifully and feels like a game that has that Miyamoto touch. The Nintendo magic. After a session with Astro Bot Rescue Mission (particularly stages like 2-2), it’ll feel like you’ve played a Nintendo platformer in virtual reality.
It’s that good.
Let’s be real. Astro Bot will be lucky to sell a million units. It will only be played by a fraction of the audience that it deserves to reach. Its clear that at the current price point and with the current technology available (wired headsets, limited movement) that virtual reality gaming won’t become a mainstream form of entertainment. Yet.
But when that time comes, I hope SIE Japan and Astro Bot are re-released so it can reach that wider audience. It really deserves it. It’s maybe the best designed game I’ve played in 2018.
Matt Makes Games, Nintendo Switch
Celeste is a platformer with rudimentary graphics and gameplay mechanics that could technically have been made twenty, even thirty years ago.
But beneath the surface is a deep platforming game, which draws inspiration from the likes of Super Meat Boy and speed run videos on Youtube, and the narrative package surrounding the game is a surprisingly thoughtful story about a young woman named Madeline who wants to reach the summit of Celeste Mountain, but struggles to overcome her anxiety.
Video games can be many things. They can be toys and they can aspire to be art. To take a retro-styled platformer and wrap it around a storyline involving mental illness could have gone very poorly if executed clumsily. But I think Celeste’s careful handling of its subject matter earns the game the right to go down the paths that it does. In fact, the way the game ties some of its narrative themes to its game design is particularly commendable, taking full advantage of the interactive nature of the medium.
Celeste may look slight at first glance but it quickly reveals itself to be a cleverly designed platform game with plenty of warmth and wit in its storytelling beats. Don’t pass up the chance to give it a go.
God of War
SIE Santa Monica Studio, Playstation 4 Pro
I always thought of God of War as the quintessential Playstation 2 game. I know the series has popped up on several other platforms since (PSP, PS3, HD remakes on PS4…) but really, he seemed right at home on the Playstation 2.
At the time, the game was a graphical showcase for the system and the character of Kratos – a raging demigod who angrily and shoutily murdered his way through Olympus three times over – was the perfect embodiment of what made a cool video game character in the early 2000s. He was an iconic character for teenage boys.
Santa Monica Studio has achieved the improbable and re-invented Kratos for a modern audience. They’ve dialled back his anger about one hundred notches and rebuilt the game from the ground up with a satisfying new combat system and a more thoughtful story centered around his relationship with his son as they travel to the top of the highest peak in the Nine Realms to scatter his wife Freya’s ashes.
God of War looks absolutely incredible (play it on a PS4 Pro if you can), offers much more depth to its gameplay when compared to its predecessors and has a refreshing coat of paint as it trades in the classical Greek trappings for Norse mythology.
Motion Twin, Playstation 4 Pro
I was this close to giving up on Dead Cells when it got its hooks into me.
Developer and publisher Motion Twin refers to Dead Cells as a a “roguevania”, which is a pretty fair summation of what you get with the game. It’s rogue-like in that every time the player dies, the environment is randomly regenerated. And it’s a Metroidvania style game where you aquire new abilities which gradually expands your moveset and subsequently how much of the island you can explore.
Not unlike Hollow Knight, which I played earlier this year, Dead Cells takes part of its inspiration from Dark Souls and prides itself on its difficulty. There’s a pretty steep learning curve you have to get to grips with and I can see how some players will bounce right off it. I was pretty close. Then on one particular run the combat mechanics began to click with me and I went on a decent run, making my way through the Promenade of the Condemned, the Ramparts and ultimately the Black Bridge where I was easily defeated by the first boss. By that point I was hooked.
Over time I came to appreciate everything from the tight controls, the charming pixel art style, right down to the soundtrack which is well suited to a game that demands constant repetition. It’s hard as nails, I don’t know if I will ever finish it, but I respect the hell out of what Motion Twin have created.
Monstars Inc. Resonair, Playstation VR
Tetsuya Mizuguchi is a genuine video game auteur with an impressive resume starting from his early days at SEGA producing Sega Rally titles to his recent work producing interactive music titles Rez and Lumines.
With Tetris Effect, Mizuguchi has brought the Lumines formula to Tetris. In Journey mode, players run through a ‘playlist’ of stages, each bursting with colour and sound. Dropping tetriminos produce a musical note so its possible for the player to provide a beat to the soundtrack as they play. This interplay of music and gameplay will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played Rez or Lumines. Each time the player clears thirty lines, the playlist moves onto a new stage. The soundtrack changes, the visuals shift and the journey continues.
Conceptually, it sounds pretty simple. What makes Tetris Effect such a sensational experience is the ability to play the game in virtual reality and immerse yourself in Mizuguchi’s light and colour show. The man has an incredible talent for composing music tracks that are emotionally engaging and meld with the visuals in a way that is genuinely affecting. Reading player feedback on social media, its not uncommon to find people who have been moved to tears by the Tetris Effect experience. It is perhaps one of the few examples I can think of of video game induced synesthesia.
Insomniac Games, Playstation 4 Pro
At long last we have it. Another great Spider-man game. A spiritual successor to Treyarch’s Spider-man 2 on the Playstation 2.
I don’t know how long the development team put into making the swinging in Spider-manfeel right. Was it a hundred hours? Was it a thousand? Whatever it was, the investment has paid off handsomely. Insomniac have brought to life a brightly lit and faithfully reconstructed digital version of Manhattan which the player can explore at their leisure by swinging around from high rise to high rise. You want to swing over to the Empire State Building? No problem. Did you want to wall-crawl up the side of the World Trade Center building or see the view from the top of the Avengers headquarters? You absolutely can.
The graphics on the Playstation Pro look absolutely stunning and the orchestral score is exhilarating. The story told in Spider-man absolutely nails the essence of Stan Lee’s original series, as Peter Parker struggles to balance his time and attention between fighting crime, his relationship with Mary Jane and being a good nephew to Aunt May. Not only that, the game also includes a decent subplot involving Miles Morales, the heir apparent to the Spidey mantle. I really appreciated that the game avoided retelling his origin story and actually explored some new villains. Having said that, with the monumental success of this game, I do look forward to future iterations that could potentially feature the likes of the Green Goblin and Venom.
Marvel’s Spider-man is a sensational game. It is Insomniac Studio’s finest game to date and is just reward for a studio that has produced some decent games in recent years that haven’t received the recognition they deserve.
Red Dead Redemption 2
Rockstar Studios, Playstation 4 Pro
Rockstar Games’ long anticipated sequel to Red Dead Redemption is an epic in the truest sense of the word. It has been eight years in the making. It is rumoured to have cost over a quarter of a billion dollars to make and has over three thousand names in the credits. The fruits of this labour is an enormously detailed open world environment the likes of which has never been seen before. Even ignoring the hundreds of activities, side quests and hours of exploration you could do in Red Dead, the main story will take most players somewhere north of fifty hours to complete. This thing is absolutely gargantuan.
I was very much in awe of Red Dead Redemption 2 right from the opening chapter. The production values are absolutely astounding. The wide variety of different environments – the snowy mountain peaks, the arid desert, the dense forests, the foggy bayou – all look extremely impressive running on the Playstation 4 Pro. Rockstar Studios are now well versed in creating convincing, cohesive open world environments and Red Dead is no exception.
Once the game loosens the reigns on the player and lets you begin exploring in Chapter 2, it really is a joy to just get out and immerse yourself in the world. I quickly realized that a lot of the game’s systems – your hygiene, camp morale, bonding with your horse – are generally window dressing features that encourage role-playing life in the Wild West. Nothing in the game will actually break if you decide to completely ignore these trimmings. Its all there to provide the player with a sense of place. When I made that discovery, I found even though they weren’t a necessity, I still enjoyed making time for Arthur to do these optional activities – fishing, gambling, singing around the camp fire – because I so enjoyed that feeling of immersion.
One of the high points of Red Dead Redemption 2 is that not only does Rockstar have the ambition to tell a meaningful tale with genuine emotional weight and grativas about it, we have arrived at a point with technology that these characters are able to communicate subtle, nuanced expressions to the player. Just look at Arthur’s eyes as it begins to dawn on him the type of man that Dutch Van Der Linde is. Or revisit a scene when John and Abigail Marsden exchange verbal spars about his choice to remain an outlaw. We can see they have a heated but loving relationship not because they say so, but in their body language.
When this game hits its highs, it is unmatched amongst its contemporaries. Arthur Morgan is one of video gaming’s most brilliantly conceived protagonists and the grand adventure that he goes on – which explores themes of greed, corruption, family and of course redemption – is told to the player with a level of cinematic flair and sophistication that is finally beginning to rival its contemporaries in film and television. Maybe this isn’t the video games industry’s Gone With The Wind but its not far off it.
Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
Level-5, Playstation 4 Pro
Level-5’s Ni No Kuni II is a colourful, vibrant role playing game with Studio Ghibli inspired visuals in which players travel to the kingdom of Ding Dong Dell and experience the tale of Evan Tildrum, a boy-king who is thrust into power when his father, the former king, is murdered. Evan must quickly bring himself up to speed with how to deal with a divided landscape which has a race of cat folk and mice folk who have a long history of hostility towards one another.
Ni No Kuni II is very much a modern iteration of the classic JRPG formula. For fans of this genre, this is a fantastic game that delivers memorable characters, an entertaining story and gameplay that frequently throws new modes and challenges at the player over the course of its 40 hour story.
Ni No Kuni II isn’t a particularly innovative game but it takes a time honoured format, lavishes it with some charming visuals and provides a satisfying experience for anyone craving a modern iteration of those classic 16-bit fantasy titles on the Super Nintendo.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
Sega, Playstation 4 Pro
Kazuma Kiryu, the Dragon of Dojima, has been fighting yakuza, singing karaoke and playing arcade games in the streets of Kamurocho for seven titles over the last thirteen years. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is his final chapter.
I have absolutely adored Toshiro Nagoshi’s crime saga and nothing pleases me more than the recent success of Yakuza Zero which seems to have introduced a whole new generation of fans to this franchise. There really is nothing quite like Nagoshi’s incredible mix of crime melodrama, absurdist humour and appreciation for the little things in Tokyo – ramen joints, karaoke clubs and whisky bars.
Yakuza 6 offers more of the same. It’s not really a suitable game for newcomers to jump in on as the story assumes knowledge of the previous six chapters. But for longtime fans who have enjoyed Kiryu’s exploits for over a decade (i.e me), this is a brilliant final instalment that has all the ingredients that make a great Yakuza game – a compelling mystery, hundreds of goons to fight, quirky humour, entertaining side quests.
If this really is to be Kiryu’s last stand (I can’t quite believe it), I think Nagoshi has sent him off in style. What a series it has been.
The Banner Saga 3
Stoic Studio, Nintendo Switch
The Banner Saga trilogy is a criminally under-appreciated fantasy series. Stoic Studio’s tactical RPG franchise has some incredible looking Ralph Bakshi inspired artwork, fun and engaging gameplay and a wonderful Lord of the Rings style storyline about humans and giants working together in a desperate last stand against the world conquering Dredge.
The Banner Saga 3 is the final chapter of the series and instead of taking players on a long journey like the two previous instalments, Stoic has set most of this finale in a single besieged city as Alette/Rook (depending on who you chose) and their friends reach the end of the line. The story is intense and filled with a sense of dread. It’s obvious not everyone will survive this final battle. In fact, it’s not even clear if the heroes will survive at all.
There are only very minor changes to the gameplay in The Banner Saga 3. It more or less plays the same at the previous two chapters. This is fine by me. I think the real draw card for anyone playing this final instalment is seeing how the story plays out and to that end, Stoic haven’t disappointed.
Considering its modest origins as a Kickstarter project, what Stoic have achieved with this series is quite an accomplishment. I’m delighted they were able to secure the funds to see the series through to its conclusion and I can only hope it does well enough that they can start projects anew in the future. This is clearly a development studio of seriously talented people.
Donut County [Playstation 4 Pro] – a quirky little game about meddlesome raccoons that cause chaos in a city. The gameplay, which involves moving around a hole in ground to swallow up everything, is apparently inspired by Katamari Damacy. Its short, simple and has plenty of charm.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider [Playstation 4 Pro] – a fun, if by-the-books, closing chapter to the latest trilogy of Tomb Raider games which explores Lara’s origins. I still love using that bow and arrow and laying waste to hapless guards.
Shadow of the Colossus [Playstation 4 Pro] – One of the best games on the Playstation 2 got a surprise remake (it already had an HD re-release not long ago) in 2018. The gameplay sticks very closely to the original game but it had new life breathed into it thanks to the update visuals which make the towering colossi look better than ever.
Detroit: Become Human [Playstation 4 Pro] – David Cage’s games have been pretty hit or miss for my tastes (okay, mostly miss) but I really enjoyed his latest creation Detroit: Become Human. It has by far the most interesting characters created by Quantic Dreams and the story – although very indebted to the likes of Blade Runner – is a joy to play through.
Hollow Knight [Nintendo Switch] – This game would easily make my Top Ten but technically it came out on PC in 2017. Hollow Knight was developed by a small Aussie studio but it represents probably the greatest value proposition for any game I played this year. It was a measely $17 bucks when it launched on Nintendo Switch and for that you get an incredible Metroidvania style game with charming visuals and incredibly satisfying gameplay that lasted me around 40 hours.
Lack of Games on Xbox One
Last year I bought a single game for the Xbox One (Cuphead). This year I bought zero.
Microsoft have had a calamitous time in the last couple of years. Their first party exclusives have continuously been delayed, cancelled or released to commercial indifference. 2018 was pretty much as bad as 2017. Sea of Thieves didn’t really have enough content to keep people coming back. State of Decay 2 was released to critical and commercial indifference. Crackdown 3 got delayed again, this time into 2019. And at the end of the year, we got another Forza game.
Obviously in the background, Microsoft are buying a lot of studios and investing plenty of time and money to fix the situation with the successor to the Xbox One but man…what a train wreck this system has been.
The Nintendo Switch’s second year was always going to struggle to match up to its first. When you launch a system with an amazing new Mario and Zelda game, whats left in the pipeline for 2018? The answer, as it turns out, was not much.
To be honest, there was actually some interesting looking titles (mostly re-releases) that came to the Switch this year but a lot of them ultimately passed me by. It’s hard to get excited about spending $80-$90 for Octopath Traveller, Mario Tennis Aces or Super Mario Party when you can get titles like Spider-man on the PS4 for nearly half the price. I think what stung more about the Switch’s second year was the premium pricing of mid tier games. I want to play The World Ends With You but it seems insane to pay top dollar for a game thats nearly ten years old. Lower your damn prices Nintendo.
Best Platform of the Year
Hands down the best system to own in 2018 was the Playstation 4. It had the best library of exclusive new games – God of War, Spider-man, Yakuza 6, Astro Bot, Tetris Effect etc – and the experience was even better if you enjoyed these titles on the Playstation 4 Pro (which I finally bought) or owned a Playstation VR (which went for crazy cheap prices over the holiday season).
Sony has been the market leader for this console generation right out of the gate when Microsoft badly whiffed the launch of the Xbox One and never really recovered. There are some signs of the arrogant old Sony from ten years ago creeping back when you look at their attitudes towards backwards comparability (total indifference) and cross-platform online play (begrudging acceptance), but there’s no doubting that their studios have been absolutely killing it where it matters most – the games. I was especially pleased with how fantastic their support of the Playstation VR has been, which had a quiet 2017 and could easily have slipped into irrelevance.
There’s plenty of good stuff to look forward to in 2019 for Playstation owners too with The Last of Us 2, Ghosts of Tsushima and Death Stranding all on the horizon. Oh, and a highly anticipated but not officially confirmed announcement of the Playstation 5.
Top Ten Video Games of 2017
Game of the Year – Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo Switch)
Platform of the Year – Nintendo Switch
Top Ten Video Games of 2016
Game of the Year – Stardew Valley (Playstation 4)
Platform of the Year – Playstation 4
Top Ten Video Games of 2015
Game of the Year – The Witcher 3 (Playstation 4)
Platform of the Year – Playstation 4
Top Ten Video Games of 2014
Game of the Year – Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
Platform of the Year – Wii U
Top Ten Video Games of 2013
Game of the Year – The Last Of Us (Playstation 3)
Platform of the Year – Playstation 3
Top Ten Video Games of 2012
Game of the Year – The Walking Dead (Xbox 360)
Platform of the Year – Xbox 360
Top Ten Video Games of 2011
Game of the Year – Clash of Heroes: Might and Magic (Xbox 360)
Platform of the Year – Xbox 360
Top Ten Video Games of 2010
Game of the Year – Mass Effect 2 (Xbox 360)
Platform of the Year – Xbox 360
Top Ten Video Games of 2009
Game of the Year – Uncharted 2: Amongst Thieves (Playstation 3)
Platform of the Year – Playstation 3