The norm for these types of lists is a Top 10, but with the length of some of the games this year, it was hard to play 10 games to completion (or mostly completion), and have all of those games be lucky enough to be good.
So that is why we begin our list with a new category, and one that makes me very sad to type:
Most Disappointing Game — Octopath Traveller
Over the years, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with JRPGS. There are times when the genre produces some of the best games I’ve ever played, and then, like with Octopath Traveller, it produces the most frustrating playthrough imaginable.
One of the hooks of Octopath was that it contained eight different storylines that you get to go through, which on paper sounds great (Yay! More game!) but in execution, falls flat and becomes boring very quickly. This game’s saving grace is its combat system, but when the story is lacking, you are ultimately disappointed despite how fun the battles are. I hope that Square moves forward with this art style and combat system, but finds a much better narrative to surround it.
Most Surprising Game — Mutant Year Zero
God bless Microsoft Game Pass! Without this service, I would have never been exposed to this tremendous under the radar game. For those of you that don’t know, Mutant Year Zero is a turn-based strategy game in the vein of XCOM. I will get more into the game later, but the advent of Game Pass is one of the things I am excited about in the future of gaming.
Best Moment of the Year — My Niece finishing Mario Odyssey
Normally, a moment of the year consist of something that sticks with you emotionally or a set piece that was remarkable, but this year for me, it was something that didn’t happen to me.
In my family, I am a first generation “gamer” so I’ve lived with the frustration of enjoying something, but not really able to share it fully with a sibling or parent. So when my sister had my nieces, I hoped that one of them would become attached to video games the way that I do.
It didn’t look good at first as my oldest niece became obsessed with Minecraft, then The Sims, and now Fortnite. There is nothing inherently wrong with these games, but they were not something I had a lot of interest in. Fortunately, that all changed last year when my sister purchased a Nintendo Switch for the family, and I watched my 6-year-old niece pick up Mario Odyssey, and over the next few months, she completed 80% of it by herself, including the final Bowser fight. It was at this moment I knew she was hooked, and I have been sharing games with her ever since.
Now, it is time to move on to my Top Five Favorite Games of 2018. As is tradition, the games listed below are ones that I have either completed in full or have played a significant chunk of (20 hours-plus). There are many more that I wish I had the chance to play this year, especially Into the Breach and Tetris Effect, but money isn’t infinite. So as usual, take this list with a grain of salt, and I hope you share some of your favorite games of 2018 in the comments.
No. 5. Mutant Year Zero
Everything about this game was meant for me. From the strange, wacky characters to the oddly deep story, Mutant Year Zero was the game this year that I didn’t play until December but instantly fell in love with in the first cutscene.
You start off playing as a mutated duck and boar, who have been sent out on a mission by the elder in one of the last remaining safe havens on Earth, The Ark. Along the way, you gather scrap, relics of the old world, and pieces of broken weapons. These items are used to upgrade to weapons and characters in some way. And boy, do you need to remember to do these upgrades because the battle system is unforgiving and I love it.
My favorite part of the way combat works is that it weighs heavily on you planning out an ambush and knowing who the biggest threats are in the battle. You learn early that, if possible, to take the Medi-bots out ASAP because they revive characters that you have killed. Early on, each situation teaches you a new aspect of the combat that you need to know in order to proceed. These lessons are essential because you cannot brute force your way through combat, especially early on.
With its great mix of combat and story, Mutant Year Zero is a game that would have been a strong contender for No. 1 during any other year, but 2018 was a really good year for games. If you have Game Pass, I highly recommend giving it a shot.
No. 4. Red Dead Redemption 2
After playing through a large chunk of Red Redemption 2, I still can’t decide if it was because I played the first one that I didn’t really engross myself in this one, or if it was because there were other games that captured my attention this year. Either way, RDR2 is a great game and there are probably plenty of people out there that would put this at No. 1.
One thing that didn’t disappoint was the beautiful world that Rockstar built. Red Dead does this amazing thing that few games — especially open world games — have done, it makes the world feel like it is lived in. I felt that if I spent a few days hunting in the mountains, the camp I returned to had also lived those same few days and were not in suspended animation waiting for me to return. Rockstar has this unique ability to make the mundane aspects of life feel engrossing. There’s no real narrative reason to do it, but I would find myself grabbing a bowl of stew and walking around to chat with my friends because I felt I needed to “catch up” with them.
Red Redemption 2 is an engrossing game with lots to do, which can feel overwhelming at times, but if you enjoy old west stories or old westerns, you will easily find a way to lose 100+ hours in this game. Unfortunately, I was not one of those people. Each time I play it, I do lose hours to it, but it never really drew me in like the other game above it on this list.
No. 3. Hitman 2
The reboot of the Hitman series has been one of those pleasant surprises that we rarely see in the games industry. While the original Hitman games never appealed to me, the two recent releases — especially Hitman 2 — have me playing the same maps countless times, and I never seem to get bored of them. It is equal parts goofy and serious, which is a combo that is hard to pull off.
After creating interesting and diverse maps for the last release, Hitman 2 didn’t quite reach those heights, but even though Io didn’t surpass the uniqueness of the maps from Hitman, the sequel did the next best thing and improved upon the concepts laid out in the 2016 release. In Hitman 2, you find yourself at both a racetrack to a traditional American suburban town, and each presents its own special obstacles to overcome in order to complete your mission. It is difficult to see where they go from here, but for now, I am enjoying what they’ve created.
Hitman 2 straddles the line between accessible and complicated perfectly. They allow you to choose a story mission when you first enter a map, which is essentially a guided assassination and will help new players grasp the concepts without getting lost in the minutiae of the game’s systems. But if you want to ignore the hand holding, you are free to tackle the map any way you see fit, which is usually when the ridiculousness begins — as perfectly show by Giant Bomb.
Io Interactive’s latest release is one that I played way too much over the holidays, but I do not regret a single second of it. Hitman 2 is perfect for both playing alone or with a group of friends because the game is so malleable that fun can be had in either situation.
No. 2. God of War
The God of War series was one of the core franchises on the PlayStation 2 with its final chapter landing on the PS3, which saw the game reach its full potential and satisfying ending. It was the perfect end to a story that blended button-mashing action with a base level lesson in mythology. They wouldn’t be able to top Kratos’ romp through ancient Greece, right?
Well, they did that and more this in the soft reboot of the series. God of War is a departure from the original series in many ways as it drops the spam-the-attack-button feature in favor of a slower, more precise combat system. The game still has its big moments with quick time events, but overall, you actually feel the weight of each hit unlike the original. From the moment I was able to throw my weapon and have it return to me like Thor, I was hooked. This game grabbed me in a way that none of the previous games had.
What makes God of War different story-wise is the introduction of Kratos’s son, Atreus. His inclusion both grounds and humanizes — Kratos is basically a god at this point — the story arc for Kratos and allows him to have another personality trait than anger. Blending this type of storytelling with a more realistic battle system is what separates God of War from the previous games, and thus, makes it the best the series has ever been.
No. 1. Marvel’s Spider-Man
Every once and a while there is a game that I just can’t put down and have a genuine desire to 100%; This year it was Marvel’s Spider-Man. Originally, I had purchased it because of the reviews and the fact that I have very little willpower. But unlike other scenarios where I purchase something and instantly regret it, Spider-Man was probably the best thing I bought this year.
The amazing (no pun intended) part of this game is that it does just about everything I am looking for in a Spider-Man game. As a fan of both Peter Parker and Spider-Man as characters, this game may have the best portrayals of both that I’ve seen. It most likely is because we are dropped into the world after he had been Spider-Man for quite a while, and avoid all of the awkward moments when he’s learning his powers. He has already established and lost many relationships, which makes him feel more adult than most versions of the web-slinger.
The story is nothing new, but the voice acting brings an emotional gravitas to the game, and may even rival The Last of Us in terms of making the characters feel like real people. The best example of this is the interaction between Laura Bailey and Yuri Lowenthal as Peter and Mary Jane. They conveyed a lot about their past relationship, and why it didn’t work out, through their tone without going into long drawn out monologue about it; it felt like an adult relationship.
Between the voice acting, story and battle system, Spider-Man is closet I’ve felt to playing an actual Spider-Man comic book. The tone and escalation of events are perfect, and it had a great knack for introducing new characters, story arcs, and activities right when you were getting bored. Marvel’s Spider-Man is a tremendous game and the best AAA game I’ve played since The Last of Us.