2018 was a curious year for the video game world, full of anomalies, juxtapositions, and contradictions. Once-sacred cows have been toppled by their own greed. Some industry workers unionized to demand better labor conditions, while others bragged about their company’s 100-hour work weeks. And Fortnite, the buzziest game of the year, didn’t even come out in 2018, so don’t expect to find it on this list. (But, even if it had, I still wouldn’t have included it, because the gameplay is “good” at best, and I’m a misanthrope who derives no joy from having to compete with children who can easily trounce me.) But amidst all the chaos and growing pains, the increasingly hyper-lucrative industry managed to managed to pop out a few beauts. Check ‘em out if you have a sec.
10. Florence (Android, iOS)
Mobile games are rarely good and, more often than not, they’re cynical money-siphons that ration out just enough dopamine hits to keep the player hooked, and then cut off the supply of fun, forcing their freshly-groomed addict to fork over real-world dollars to stay in the game. Thankfully, rising above this sea of garbage are the mobile gaming efforts of Annapurna Interactive, who’ve spent the past few years spotting and nurturing talent in the indie gaming world just as they have been in the movie biz. Florence is more interactive novel about love filled with WarioWare-style minigames than a capital V Video Game. But it pushes the medium forward, especially in a market bereft of substance and, with a breezy 30-minute playtime, you really don’t have an excuse to not give it a whirl. Don’t make my mistake of playing it right after a breakup, though.
9. Hitman 2 (Xbox ONE, Playstation 4, PC)
There have been a few flat notes over the course of the Hitman series, now seven games deep and almost two decades old. But Agent 47 remains the most versatile murderous cipher in all of vidya, and Hitman 2 showcases some of his finest bloodwork to date. Expanding and improving upon everything that worked so well in the enjoyable 2016 reboot, Hitman 2 sends 47 around the globe, yet again, to dispatch targets peppered throughout beautiful, intricate sandboxes, each teeming with life and myriad ways to creatively extinguish it. Best of all, the series seems to finally be taking itself a bit less seriously! The storyline has always been a bit too Tom Clancy’s Days of Our Lives to warrant the prior installments’ humorlessness, so it’s nice that IO Interactive has finally just accepted they on some dumb shit.
8. Return of the Obra Dinn (PC)
Imagine, if you will, a game in which you play as an insurance adjuster and your only goal is figuring out the series of events that led to an 1807 shipwreck. This slowly unfolding mystery by the creator of Papers, Please will have you doing high-octane tasks like reading cargo manifests and studying maps as you trundle around the ship with your magic, time-bending pocket watch, piecing together clues in order to figure out how each of the titular Obra Dinn’s 60 crew members met their demise. Frankly, it’s the best detective game since LA Noire.
7. Spyro Reignited Trilogy (Playstation 4, Xbox ONE)
The original PS1 Spyros were likely the gateway drugs that molded me into the achievement-chasing, collectible-hunting, 100% completionist sort of gamer I am today, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forgive them for that. But if, like me, you’ve learned to accept your sickness, you’ll love this gorgeously remastered and infinitely less-buggy-than-the-originals trilogy. Whether it’s your first time taking flight with the purple dragon or a walk down nostalgia lane, the simple-yet-challenging platforming and quirky quests scattered around each level are a relaxing and wholesome way to kick back and game after a long day.
6. Dead Cells (Xbox ONE, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC)
Metroidvania-style games grow like weeds out of the indie scene, so it take something special for one to stick out from the crowd. Rather than reinventing the wheel outright, Dead Cells plucks all the best gameplay concepts from the past decade in adventure platforming and mashes them into one close-to-perfect experience. The combat is fluid and brutal, the maps are clever and rewarding, and the leveling system is so insidiously addictive that you might as well make your peace now with being underslept at work the day after you install this one.
5. Marvel’s Spider-Man (Playstation 4)
Sony was wise to secure the exclusive rights to this sumptuous console-seller. Let’s be clear, by no means is this Spider-Man a perfect game. It’s pretty short, includes some dumb stealth missions where you take control of normie, non-superpowered characters, and the combat feels tediously repetitive by the second hour. But all of that can be forgiven, because the entire experience hinges upon how well you can web-swing around NYC, and this is the best game to empower the player with Peter Parker’s acrobatic grace to date.
4. Celeste (Xbox ONE, Playstation 4, PC)
Whereas other hellishly difficult wall-slidey platformers like Super Meat Boy relished in torturing the player as they clawed their way through stages, Celeste take the opposite approach, and soothes the player away from rage-quit levels of frustration. Loading screens remind the player that the collectable strawberries scattered about offer no benefits so no need to go crazy trying to get them unless you feel like it. It also reassures the player that their hundreds of spikey wall deaths are actually a good thing as they’re indicative of trial and error learning and accomplishment. This overarching theme of anti-anxiety permeates the game’s narrative as well. We control mountain climber Madeline as she treks to the peak of Celeste Mountain battling her own self-doubts as often as she does precipitous cliffs.
3. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Nintendo Switch)
The godfather of all living room kickback brawlers is back and better than ever, with a staggering lineup of fighters from across space, time, and platforms that leaves the selection screen looking like the Sgt. Pepper’s cover. I don’t know if it is humanly possible to fully explore or unlock all of the modes, spirits, and secrets Nintendo has jam-packed into this omnibus of arcade brawling, but my friends and I will probably be spending years passively trying to as we merc each other with Wii Fit trainers.
2. God of War (Playstation 4)
Having already taken out everyone in the Roman Pantheon, Kratos has returned to knuck if you buck with the deities of Norse mythology. With his boi in tow, the Spartan warrior traverses across five sprawling and breathtaking mythical realms, decimating baddies with an exquisitely robust combat system. The top-notch writing and VO work deserve as much credit as anything here, and as the mature exploration of fatherhood unfolds alongside the narrative, you’ll find your heartstrings have been tugged almost as often as your bowstring.
1. Red Dead Redemption 2 (Xbox ONE, Playstation 4)
With RDR2, Rockstar has delivered a once in a generation—if not once in a lifetime—work of art to the world. Every detail of their 1899 Wild West continent has been obsessively labored over in an effort to bring the player into the most alive-feeling video game world yet. You play as Arthur Morgan, an outlaw perpetually on the run with his cohort of other bandits, con artists, and ne’er-do-wells, but RDR2 is so much more than Arthur’s captivating trials and tribulations.
You could easily spend over 100 hours mucking about the behemoth map meeting oddball NPC, robbing homesteads or trains, hunting and fishing hundreds of species, petting dogs, gambling away your money, reading eugenics pamphlets, or crafting yourself some cute fur hats. And that could all happen before you’ve even made it to chapter three in the story. But when you finally do return from your dalliances and settle in for the meat of the game, you’ll be treated to a touching narrative so dripping with pathos and... well, redemption, that you’ll wonder how the rest of the industry will ever be able to create anything that could escape the shadow of this monumental achievement.
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