Video games are great. They can range from a variety of different styles and deliver stories and experiences which can only be told through their medium. 2017 was a fantastic year for video games with titles like “Breath of The Wild,” “Horizon: Zero Dawn” and “Super Mario Odyssey,” and 2018 was no different. Part of the following games were some that I had been anticipating for years and the others came completely out of nowhere yet still grabbed my full attention.
Before I get on with the list, I did want to acknowledge Microsoft, who may not have delivered killer exclusives, but certainly made strides in appealing to the consumer. The Xbox Games Pass is an excellent value for those whose main hobby is gaming, and they also continue to push the standard of cross-play across all platforms. More importantly, they released the Xbox Adaptive Controller, a controller that makes gaming much accessible for those with certain disabilities. This is an area that both Sony and Nintendo have failed to improve upon, so I hope this offering from Microsoft is the spark to set things in gear for the other two companies.
A majority of mobile games — at least the ones I have come across — often hook you in with some neat mechanics, but quickly show a lack of substantial or memorable content to keep you coming back. “Florence” is a rare exception to this that delivers a thoughtful, near-hour-long narrative in the form of an animated graphic novel. The story focuses on a young woman named Florence and goes through the cycles of her new romantic relationship. The illustrations are beautiful, as is the game’s soundtrack. I would much rather pay something up front for a complete product that feels as though it had actual love and care poured into it, as opposed to some free-to-start game that plagues most of the Apple and Google app stores. Just about everyone has at least a smartphone these days, and I think “Florence” is well worth the price of admission for a thoughtful and gorgeous game like this one.
- “Astro Bot Rescue Mission”
PlayStation VR is an intriguing piece of hardware and has a number of experiences that truly sell the effect that VR can have on immersion in games. “Astro Bot Rescue Mission” is one of these games, taking the 3-D platforming of something like “Mario Odyssey,” and using the entire world around you in-game as the camera view. The game makes some clever use of the environment through this, and has some spectacles inside that simply will amaze you. The gameplay itself is a blast, and Astro Bot is a charming companion to go on the journey with. If you own a PSVR headset, this game is a must buy.
“Celeste” first came out at the beginning of 2018 and was a game that I kept my eye on after seeing the near-unanimous critical acclaim for the little indie. I finally gave it a shot at the start of my winter break and was sucked in as soon as I booted up the game. The soundtrack is superb and it hits you right at the main menu. The game follows Madeline, a young woman dealing with anxiety who seeks to climb the mystical mountain, Celeste, in hopes of overcoming her mental illness. The gameplay is an analog to this, standing as a difficult 2-D platformer. Dying will occur often, but it never feels like a serious setback as the game quickly puts you right back at the prior checkpoint. The multiple chapters deal with different mechanics to keep you on your toes, and overall provide a rewarding experience by the end of the game and Madeline’s story. There is a load of content to dive into for alternate, more difficult takes on each of the game’s chapters, so completionists have their work cut out for them here. While I have finished the main story, I am excited to dive back into “Celeste” in 2019.
- “Tetris Effect”
Based on a real theory that individuals will begin to see shapes snapping into place in everyday life after playing “Tetris” for a long amount of time, “Tetris Effect” brings this to light in a very cool way. Developer Tetsuya Mizuguchi is a bit of pro when it comes to puzzle games, so bringing his own ideas to the biggest puzzle video game of all-time seems like a match made in heaven. The PS4 exclusive can be played with or without PSVR, and I opted for the former. The experience is like none other and I was quickly reminded as to why “Tetris” is the best selling game of all time. The visuals along with the music are incredible, and the zone feature adds an interesting mechanic without messing up the core of what makes “Tetris” so fun. I am sure it sounds out there, but this is a game that has to be experienced to fully understand what it accomplishes.
- “Detroit: Become Human”
One pillar of the trio of excellent titles released by Sony this year, “Detroit: Become Human” delivers a story-telling experience that can only be done in video games. Set in the not-so-far future of 2038, the adventure game revolves around three androids’ storylines in the city of Detroit, the epicenter for android production. The game feels inspired by films like “Blade Runner” and “Terminator,” more specifically the former as it deals with the question of android rights. “Detroit” also touches upon topics like climate change, growing world powers, and humanity’s increasing reliance on technology. The game takes a dystopian approach. What struck me most about my time with the game was how scarily realistic some of these ideas could become. The core cast of Kara, Markus and Connor are all well-written and performed, and each felt like narratives I was equally invested in and dying to see what would happen after each chapter. The game forces difficult decisions on you, much like how Telltale used to do, but the effects of these decisions feel much more impactful here. The flowchart that is shown at the end of each chapter details the path you took and could have taken, and looking online at everyone else’s completely different endings to mine makes me even more excited for another playthrough.
The phenomenon of “Fortnite” is one of the most intriguing stories of the year to me. Its growth from an early-access game with only a simple base building and defense mode last year to the most popular game of 2018 now is incredible. While I have fallen off the train now, the game consumed a majority of my spring semester this year, along with all of my other friends. We played so much that it’s probably why we got so burned out come summertime, but the game continues to bring weekly updates and seasons of content that sets a strong standard for the games-as-service online titles. The thrill of entering the top twenty, especially with friends, is a lot of fun, and often resulted in some memorable finishes, win or lose. The above games may stand as overall better games, but the memories and moments I shared with my friends in “Fortnite” will stand as ones I look back fondly on.
- “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate”
A culmination of over 30 years of video game history from across multiple franchises and developers, “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is a celebration of some of the best parts of gaming. I’ve already put in over forty hours since its Dec. 7 release and fully intend on spending even more time playing the game. The game is filled to the brim with content including characters, modes, stages and music, pulling from so many franchises you’d be hard-pressed to not find at least one you’re attached to. Whether you’re playing with friends at a party or competitively at a tournament, “Ultimate” is the most accessible of the fighting game genre. Including an entire roster of every character to ever appear in the series is crazy on its own, but all the newcomers are welcomed additions as well — my personal favorites being the squid-kid Inkling and mayoral assistant Isabelle from “Animal Crossing.” This is a game that will be a mainstay when getting together with friends and is easily the must-buy for the Switch this year.
- “Marvel’s Spider-Man”
With both “Into the Spider-Verse,” “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Marvel’s Spider-Man,” this is easily the best year for on-screen “Spider-Man” entertainment. The PS4 exclusive was my most anticipated game for the past year and still managed to exceed my expectations (which should be quite telling for the next titles considering this is only number three). It told one of the best Peter Parker/Spider-Man stories to date and accompanied that with fun gameplay that matched what playing as the vigilante would seem like. The character performances are great all-around, and the score itself is one of the best of the superhero genre from both film, games and television. Insomniac already created one of my favorites franchises in “Ratchet & Clank,” so doing it again in a much bigger way in terms of recognition is awesome to see.
- “Red Dead Redemption 2”
It’s hard not to look at any stretch of landscape and environment in “RDR 2” and not wonder about just how much work had to go into creating just that singular slice. Protagonist Arthur Morgan may very well be one of my favorites to play as in any game period, and the narrative on its own is one of the best the gaming medium has put out to date. The gameplay is solid, but overall didn’t stand as the major takeaway once I was done exploring all that “RDR 2” had to offer. The online portion of the game has been a lot of fun so far with friends and Rockstar has fixed many of the gripes I had with the mode since my initial review. It is definitely a beast of a game and one that moves rather slowly in order to further immerse you, so it may not be for everyone. It’s an excellent cast of characters, strong score and beautiful environments were enough to grab me in for my around 60-hour playthrough.
- “God of War”
I had little to no connection or experience to the “God of War” franchise going into this soft reboot of the series, but what Santa Monica Studios left me with by the end of my time with the game was the impression that this was easily the best of the year. Gone are the combo meters all across the screen, constant sprays of gore, quick time event love-making scenes and overall unrelenting violence. Instead, what you’re left with is a game that makes Kratos a relatable protagonist thanks in part to the relationship with his son, as they embark on a journey that is simply the pinnacle of what games are doing now. The title manages to keep the tricky balance of having great gameplay alongside an excellent narrative (which I think is where “RDR 2” and “Detroit” falter). Bear McCreary gives an epic score that matches the gravity of dealing with Norse mythology as the stage which the game is set on. This revitalization of Kratos and his story, while still paying respect to the titles to come before it, is near perfection. Throwing the Leviathon Axe and recalling it is incredibly satisfying and is one of the small details that make this game so great. I knew the game would be good with Sony’s recent caliber of exclusives, but I never thought it would end with me considering it as one of the best games that I have ever played.