Well, 2018 sure has been a year, huh?
I think to say that this year has been rough for a lot of people is maybe an understatement. Unquestionably, it’s been more challenging than many would have hoped for last January. Yet games still rolled forth and provided a solace, a place to find a tiny shard of comfort and warmth amidst the bitter shoals of the year.
Except this has been a weird year for me. My love for video games has been battered and strained in ways I never would have guessed back when I was boldly proclaiming that this would be an even better year for games then 2017 was last GOTY.
In short, I was wrong.
I wasn’t sure of my love of video games at moments this year. Nothing truly seemed to click at times. There was no killer app that just got me. No Uncharted or Hellblade moment like the past two years. No Last of Us, Bioshock, or Spec Ops that helped to redefine the art form and radically push me forward in my life and growth.
Instead, there were a series of games, large and small, that in a quieter and more understated way, served to remind me of my love of games throughout the year. After all, as I look out my window sitting here on Christmas dreaming ahead to the big titles due soon and to the bright lights of the industry that have blazed a path the past few years, I can’t help but be left with a smile on my face and a burning desire to see what games have got up their sleeves.
So, these are my top ten games of 2018. I dunno how many would make the list any other year. Probably only a couple, but they define my year long odyssey with games for 2018.
The games I played that I couldn’t put on my list for one reason or another.
Celeste: It’s fine, I guess I just don’t get it anywhere close to like I wanted.
Spider Man: I simply didn’t put in nearly enough time into this game to put it onto my top 10 list. What I did play I enjoyed quite a bit. That web slinging is damn near perfect.
Rayman Legends: This would be a contender for GOTY if it had actually come out this year. Credit to my fellow IP Senior Editor and dear friend, Jurge Cruz, for pushing me to really dive into this title when it was free on PS Plus during the summer.
I fell head over heels in love with Rayman Legends and the masterpiece of a platformer it is. Without question one of the single greatest platformers ever crafted, Rayman Legends is a joyous title that refuses to leave without plastering the biggest possible smile across your face. I love this game, and poured more of myself and my time into it then virtually any other title this entire year.
Please play Rayman Legends if you haven’t.
So like spoilers, Earthfall is fine. It is a Left 4 Dead knockoff, and I love Left 4 Dead. So I’m ultimately happy with it.
The real reason Earthfall is on this list is because of the days and nights lost playing it with fellow IP editors during its release. Laughing, screaming, joking, and just generally bullshiting around as aliens, monsters, and ALL of the lore popped off in the background was a highlight of the summer months.
Getting to know Mike and Scott better and just generally getting to do anything with Jarrett was a blast and a joy, and the seeds of the eventual IP Let’s Play series were laid here in the goofy, nonsensical world of Earthfall, blasting away the afternoon with friends.
9. A Way Out
Oh man, A Way Out. What a dumb ride this was. Very much like Earthfall below it, A Way Out is on this list largely because of playing it with someone else, in this case Mike. Our Lets Play series of that game is something each of us is proud of, and something that we learned and grew with as we journeyed through the title.
I love Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. In fact, it’s one of my single favorite video games of all-time, and a beautiful gem of a game that is criminally underplayed(please play Brothers). So to see the mind of that game come out with something new after all these years, and doing something altogether different in the co-op space had me hooked.
A Way Out is not Brothers. It’s not even particularly close.
What it is is dumb and fun. Usually. It leans into its cheesy 70’s, B-movie inspirations and produces a thoroughly fine title. The joy comes from that other person with you on the ride, and I could scarcely have asked for a better co-pilot on that journey then Mike. We spent a lot of time laughing at A Way Out at both its jokes and humor, and also at its ambitions so spectacularly missed.
The game nails certain segments, and one level at a hospital is an actual contender for best designed level I played the entire year. But it is me and Mike playing this title together, and just riffing on everything that has it on this list.
Fuck that ending though. Seriously the worst.
8. Far Cry 5
I am gonna be honest, I forgot this video game came out this year.
Far Cry 4 might very well have been my favorite game of 2014. FC5 has these moments where it reaches, and then passes the heights of FC3 and 4. Then just as quickly, it loses them in its grand ambitions and yet also utter refusal to really shake things up and challenge the series pillars.
It’s villains are the weakest in any Far Cry game in recent memory. Only Faith is even somewhat memorable. If FC5 had been a truly brave and confident game, it would have made her the big baddie.
The locales are good and beautifully crafted, but lack the magic touch and otherworldliness of Far Cry 3 and 4. Its story chugs along delivering a solid enough narrative that keeps things moving, and at times truly captures the attention. It quickly lets it slip away though.
Disjointed, uneven, and finally laying to bare the series desperate need for renewal and a new direction, Far Cry 5 is still at the end of the day a fun game with some of my favorite outpost areas of any open world game. It just could have been truly great. Hell, it should have been.
7. Old Man’s Journey
Among the most vibrantly, boutanly picturesque games released the entire year, Old Man’s Journey is a bold-colored painting sprung to life.
Old Man’s Journey is more a touching and heartfelt love letter to the natural world and its wonder and soaring beauty than it is a wandering tale of regret, love, and loss. At its best it is as sublime and twinkling as the works of any great painter. Yet this stunning backdrop is so often wasted on its story and the titular old man at the heart of it.
His story told largely through a series of flashbacks captured in misty vignettes is compelling, if not exactly groundbreaking. The puzzles and mechanics of the game itself lead much to be desired, and ultimately serve as a weight holding the game from reaching the same heights as its visuals.
It’s quiet final act is a triumph of all of its various pieces coming together in harmony and a picture of what the game could have been all the way through. Yet rest assured, the visuals and sweeping tapestry of Old Man’s Journey’s world will stand as a gorgeous testament to the mastercraft of its art design and its achievement in crafting one of gaming’s loveliest worlds.
6. Rage in Peace
What a bloody video game. No single game this entire year had me screaming, equal parts furious, surprised, and out of nowhere moved then Rage in Peace. We do Game of the Year lists for games like Rage in Peace. It is not the best game of the year. It is not even a big game that would get talked about regardless. It is a very small, indie title that is unmistakably and unabashedly inspired by Super Meat Boy and other brutally hard, die constantly platformers.
Yet, where Rage sets itself apart is in marrying the tongue-in-cheek humor, and dark winking nod of Meat Boy with a story that while serious and maybe a little too heady for its own good, also movingly captures the pathos of Timmy Malenau. The 27 year old at the heart of its story on the day that he dies.
Timmy’s emotional arc as he finds himself challenged, harassed, and questioned by the Grim Reaper tasked with collecting him, but also with its own goal of snapping Timmy out of the emotional black hole he has become, is a moving, hilarious, dark, and oftentimes messy picture of someone processing their final day on Earth. Timmy’s story and the loving message at its core manages to always find a way to pick you up and dust you off with a reassuring smile whenever the game and its unyielding brutality threaten to break your back with its difficulty.
There were numerous times where I almost lost it, where I almost just quit the game. It is not for the faint of heart, either as a platformer or as a story you are getting told. The game goes to dark places and ultimately is unblinking and direct with its stated point: Timmy is going to die today, nothing will change that. Yet, the journey you as the player and Timmy the character go on to reach that final unavoidable fate is breathtaking in how it slowly, subtly, and quietly prepares you and produces a change in both of you. The final chapter as you accept your fate and journey home set to a stunning musical score is among the highs of the year for me.
Please play Rage in Peace.
Chapter 4 is still bullshit hard though. Screw that chapter.
5. Red Dead Redemption 2
There is almost certainly no game on this list that has whipsawed my thoughts, emotions, and feelings more then Red Dead Redemption 2. It is at once a quiet meditation on a life lived and lost, a stirring and wandering familia drama, and an emotional look at the close of a mythologized and well-told epoch of America’s history and the tragedy of the western hero so wed to it. Red Dead Redemption 2 is an epic in nearly every sense of the word.
Yet, in so many ways Red Dead 2 is held back by many of those very same ambitions. Rockstar’s well-documented attention to detail and intense focus on hyper-realism comes home in full force here, and in many ways it haunts the game.
Red Dead 2 is a strange game in so many ways, it feels far more like an art house “auteur” video game then it does the triple-A, big-budget experience it is. Like the Houser brothers and Rockstar came together and decided to swing every idea and theme they had in their mind in their quest to craft the great American western, and then boil that down to its essentials. To something simple, quieter, and more slow roiling then virtually every triple-A game or big budget movie out today. In many ways, it subverts a lot of the expectations and ideas of the western itself.
Yet, it never succeeds in the way the first Red Dead did, or like such brilliant and masterful films as Unforgiven and High Noon. Its sprawling epic nature comes back to haunt it as the game spins away past 20, 30, 40, and then 50 hours long. The game flies in fits and bursts constantly, very rarely being able to provide any real continuous momentum. Even as RDR2 hurtles into the final act it still is plagued by issues of pacing, and feeling like we have actually built to this point in a satisfactory manner. Red Dead 2’s greatest flaw is hubris in so many ways. Rockstar thought they had a sixty hour story to tell. And they do, it just could have been told better in 30.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a video game that almost broke me. I found myself frustrated, annoyed, angry, and under siege by the games refusal to end. By its determined effort to just wander and aimlessly mosey about for so many lost and countless hours. Yet, every now and then it would tie it together to bring a plot point from 30 hours earlier to a close and sit down and examine Arthur Morgan – the man, the myth, the flawed and frayed human being inside. It wasn’t how I would have told the story. It wasn’t how I would have crafted its lonely and sparse world (maybe too much of both). But at the end, it delivers moments that steal your breath, deliver a fable as wise as Aesop’s, and tell us about who we are and what we should aim to believe in.
It couldn’t just be all bad could it?
4. The Messenger
The Messenger is the greatest platformer that came out this year, and from the moment of its release instantly became one of the defining stars of its genre.
A brilliant, quirky, constantly tongue-in-cheek, and wildly subversive game there is quite simply nothing else like The Messenger. Few things are as brave and as adventurous with its given genre. Few things that cross genre boundary lines as nonchalantly.
The Messenger is ingenious, hard, wickedly funny, and gorgeous, and a masterclass of two separate but equally beloved and absurdly difficult to master genres.
It also low key has one of the best soundtracks and one of the single best surprises of any video game I’ve played.
But what do I know? A certain Alex O’Neill cried playing it and is far more eloquent in his praise, so you should read his thoughts instead.
3. Detroit: Become Human
I have played few video games in my entire life with as complicated and messy backstory as Detroit. There have been few games with as much baggage, and with lines already drawn and people’s opinions already begun to be formed before anyone had even played a second.
The thing about Detroit is that it both warrants a lot of the negative perception of it, and also is capable of creating a story and characters that raises far far above it.
Marcus’ story largely never gets off the ground. It feels, no pun intended, the most robotic and stiff all the way through. It’s the plotline that clearly had a message to convey. It feels the least intimate and like your own. This is going where it’s going, and that train ain’t stopping for nothing.
Kara and Connor’s stories, at least for me, were some of the very best stories of the entire year in games. Emotional, thrilling, brilliant, and with enough twists and wonderful moments between the two that they helped to elevate all else in Detroit.
Detroit: Become Human is hardly a perfect game. It is hardly just a flawed game. The story of how it was made is awful and full of horrific tales. I’m not entirely sure how to reconcile all of that. What I do know though is that the final, flawed product is a great, complicated story of choice. Of choosing one’s own path in life, and coming to terms with yourself. And I’m just as shocked as you I loved it as much as I do.
But I do.
I really like Florence.
Whenever you listen to the multi-part IP Editorial GOTY discussion that is coming out next week you will see me, along with Jurge, repeatedly banging the drum on Florence. That’s because the game is really good.
But it’s more then that simple statement. It’s more clever than that. It’s as incisive and smart a tale of modern twenty-something love as any I’ve seen across both games and films. It is a beautiful peek into the magical realness of Florence Yeoh and Krish’s relationship.
Florence stealthily and with shocking quickness embeds you into Florence’s daily routine, her struggles, frustrations, and then the flying feeling of falling in love. It hop, skips, and jumps across the arc of their relationship, and then gently but bruisingly hits you with the collapse and ending of that same relationship.
Not all love need be everlasting. That was possibly my favorite sentence from my review of Florence from earlier in the year. Whenever I talk about the game I eventually turn to that line and the truism it represents. To the fact that there are some loves that open you up, that alter your course and DNA, and transform you and the life you live from then on. They are like a comet blazing a path through the starry skies. Lighting a way forward, blasting through the cobwebs of your life, and smashing the complacency and malaise that can set in and then just as quickly they fade away, leaving something unalterably changed in its wake without the need to stay forever.
Florence is beautiful. It is sad. It is wondrously joyful. Above all else it is a breathtaking, intoxicating, and well done example of a tiny little mobile game stepping up to bat against the big boys of the industry, and bettering nearly all of them and delivering a tale so unlike all others.
2018 Game of the Year: God of War
God of War is a masterpiece.
That is a line plastered all across the internet at large. The game had a deep and profound effect on people all over the world and industry. It quickly found itself seeping into their hearts, drip by drip, becoming a part of them and their love of games.
For two dear friends of mine it has arguably become their new favorite game of all-time. A title that neither particularly thought would ever change until this new modern take on Kratos’ saga stepped into their lives.
I don’t like God of War as much as any of these people. It didn’t break my mind. It didn’t wedge itself into my very being. It came nowhere near my favorite game of all-time list. I really really liked God of War, loved it even, but not like this, not like them.
Thus, from the drop my bond and feelings on God of War have been complicated. Trevor Starkey finished the game and immediately jumped back into another playthrough, in absolute love with the experience, world, and characters of the game. He needed to spend more time there.
I finished God of War and struggled to find my words and thoughts on the game. It is no accident I have said almost nothing about the game this year. I wasn’t really sure my own feelings.
Among the larger Irrational Passions team I am almost certainly the biggest God of War fan, further complicating the picture for me. Within the larger scheme of things I am the outlier. Someone not calling the game a masterpiece, yet within my own editorial team I am forced into the role of defender for a game I wish to not stand on the hill defending.
Unquestionably God of War is a staggering achievement. A breathtaking, thoughtful, and brilliantly inspired Norse recrafting of Kratos and his story. The person and weight behind each of his steps. The myth that he truly is. What Cory Barlog and Sony Santa Monica achieved is simply astounding in reinventing a character so firmly established in the minds of so, so many people the world over.
The Levithan Axe is simply one of the single greatest, most effortlessly clever, and feel good weapons ever put into a video game. It is flawless and never for a second doesn’t feel just right.
The puzzles have been updated in a manner and way which is leagues superior to the original GoW trilogy. The world feels alive and teeming with wonders, mystery, and life in a way very few video games have ever achieved. This is a place and a character with a history, and both are treated with a respect and a desire to be told that sparkles throughout the entirety of the runtime.
Kratos is breathtaking, heartbreaking, and soulfully earnest as a character come to life and provides the game with a pathos and tragic heroism that sent chills down my spine at moments. Atreus is a spark and a joy that can transform the whole world in God of War, and slowly and subtly has already transformed his father. Freya is a messy and complicated character who’s been much written about, as is the deliciously maniacal and scene-stealing Baldur.
Despite all of that, my thoughts and feelings for God of War are complicated. It could very well be the most extraordinary game I have ever played that left me with no intensely passionate feelings.
A year ago I wrote of how Hellblade left an imprint on my soul, of how it changed me and blew away all notions of what games could be. The prior year Uncharted 4 brought to a close my favorite series and bid adieu to beloved characters after a decade. They brought about change, rang the bell for an evolved and new Logan.
God of War has come and gone. It’s legacy will most likely be immense and long lasting. For me, it’s legacy is no more clever or simple then this. Our destiny is not set. We can change. We don’t have to be who we were or even are. And that violence against one another is a sin as grievous to the human soul as all others. It starts a cycle near impossible to stop. It spins away and destroys the noble quest of the vengeance seeker and demands more loss and more pain. God of War says quite simply, that we have to be better. To one another, to those around us, to ourselves. We have to let go of the pain, anger, sorrow, and grief and be better to one another. To use it for something.
With all of my messy, complicated, and tiring thoughts on God of War, that is at least one clear thing I can hold onto as 2018 fades out and 2019 beckons forth, to be better, to replace rage and fear with empathy and a love for others. That is what I chose to take away from God of War.