2018 was an incredible year for single player gaming. In these last twelve months, I battled the Japanese mafia, chopped my way through Norse mythology, hunted ferocious and terrifying beasts, toppled a cult bent on world domination, battled cow rustlers with my shootin’ iron, and saved Manhattan from a villainous octopus. Many games this year focused on empowering the player through gripping stories and wondrous adventures. The video game industry is often sized up by declaring certain years that have since become “the best years in gaming.” I feel pretty confident that 2018 will join the ranks of other powerhouse years like 1996, 1997, and 2004, and 2011.
Favorite Game Released Before 2018, Played in 2018: Uncharted: Lost Legacy
I didn’t like Uncharted 4. I thought it to be unnecessary because Uncharted 3 wrapped up the franchise in a manner I was satisfied and happy with. Uncharted 4 was a fluff piece, an opportunity for Naughty Dog to show off their deserved prowess with creating amazing looking games punctuated by equally amazing set pieces. The game looked fantastic, without any shred of down and in that regard, the game is a success. However, I wasn’t thrilled by the retconned appearance of Nate’s brother Sam who had the same dramatic effect of an afternoon soap opera. The characterization of Nate as an emotionally anxious early 40-something(?) forced to “grow up” and live a civilian’s life was a hard pill to swallow. The long, drawn-out exploration sequences and “eh, it’s OK” combat only added to my initial disappointment.
Thankfully, Lost Legacy was here to save the day! The team-up between beautiful rogue Chloe Frazer and gun for hire turned ally Nadine Ross is so great. These two strong women, well realized by Claudia Black and Laura Bailey, command a strong presence that carries throughout their quest to search India for the legendary tusk of Ganesh. Though shorter than previous Uncharted games, it nonetheless captures the spirit of adventure (and throws in some great character tension along the way) of two people exploring ancient mythical ruins for treasure. Lost Legacy brought the sense of adventure I found a little lacking in Uncharted 4 and featured characters who deserved their time in the spotlight. In my mind, Lost Legacy is what Uncharted 4: Among Thieves should have been all along.
2018 Honorable Mentions
God of War, Bow To Blood, Downward Spiral: Horus Station, Island Time, The Messenger
Top 5 Games of 2018
5. Beat Saber
I had long thought the rhythm genre was dead. Guitar Hero and Rock Band no longer held much appeal to me after they made their way to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One because I was done collecting plastic instruments. And then Beat Saber comes along and changes my mind, with its Star Wars inspired spin on music games. Slicing blocks that flying at you to the rhythm of electronic dance music succeeds at making you feel like the flyest Jedi on the Council.
Before Moss, many of the PlayStation VR games involved a lot of first-person camera work to immerse you in 3D digital spaces. When done right (Resident Evil VII and Megaton Rainfall come to mind), these games are awesome even if they induce a little motion sickness. What I liked about Moss was how it adapted a puzzle platformer into virtual reality. And the mechanics survive the transfer over pretty well! In it, you play as a Reader who finds a magical book that tells the story of Quill, a cute little anthropomorphic mouse that communicates with you through sign language. Her quest involves rescuing her uncle from a fire-breathing snake that has destroyed the kingdom she used to call home. You control Quill’s actions but as the Reader, you also can manipulate the environment to solve puzzles that block Quill from moving forward. Good controls, beautiful spaces, a charming lead character, and fun puzzles made this a delightful VR adventure game.
3. Astro Bot: Rescue Mission
Astro Bot: Rescue Mission was a game that took me by a level of surprise I’m unaccustomed to. If Moss championed platformers on the PlayStation VR, Astro Bot: Rescue Mission takes it to exciting new heights. Sony’s hardware has been in need of a “killer app” and while there have been some pretty cool experiences, they bow before the sheer brilliance of Astro Bot. It’s Super Mario Brothers remade for the PlayStation packaged with all the inherent charm Nintendo’s mascot games have to offer, from beautiful levels, wonderfully designed puzzles, and frantically fun boss fights. Astro Bot has me pushing the PlayStation VR harder than ever before, urging my friends with the console to take advantage of any price drops and sales and buy a headset just to play Astro Bot.
2. Red Dead Redemption 2
As I said in my review for Red Dead Redemption 2, it’s a shame no one makes cowboy video games anymore. Before the release of Red Dead Revolver on the PlayStation 2, I had never considered the Old West as a setting I’d want to explore in any great detail. This was another one of those situations of being made aware of a genre I never thought I wanted. Red Dead Redemption was a spectacular realization of the wild west on the cusp of being tamed and modernized and substantial as it was, I was hungry for more. The well dried up and we wouldn’t see anything like it for another eight years.
I concede that Red Dead Redemption 2 may not be for everyone, especially those accustomed to the fast and furious open world gameplay of Grand Theft Auto. It’s slow, it’s deliberate, it asks for patience, and it features a story that unfolds as methodically as any major Hollywood film epic. Were this any other game, I might have bounced off, but this was Red Dead Redemption cranked up to 11. Rockstar packed a massive amount of detail, both subtle and overt, to make New Hanover and the surrounding states teem with life--both human and mammal--making it feel so lived in and real. The main characters that make up the drama, from John Marston and Dutch van der Linde to Arthur Morgan and Sadie Adler, are stunningly realized, extraordinarily acted and experience developments that transform them over the course of the story.
There’s been some discussion whether Red Dead Redemption 2 is “fun” to play. For me, I enjoy riding into town to visit saloons, play cards, drink beer before visiting a general store to purchase a new set of clothes for myself and accessories for my horse, Horsey. I enjoy going after bounties that have unique and fun personalities, robbing rich people on trains, getting into gunfights with the O’Driscoll gang. I also enjoy exploring the wilderness, riding through forests to see what this amazing world has to offer. To me, that’s fun and ranks pretty high on my list of important and meaningful games this generation. It’s everything I wanted a sequel to Red Dead Redemption and a whole lot more.
1. Marvel’s Spider-Man
Before I begin, I’d like to make a short point. Despite their place on this list, it’s important for me to say that Red Dead Redemption 2 and Marvel’s Spider-Man practically occupy the same space on this list. I want to give both these games the Game of the Year award so badly because they pretty much defined 2018 for me. If this were a horse race, Spider-Man would have crossed the finish line 1/100th of an inch ahead Red Dead Redemption 2.
Spider-Man does everything so, so right. The combat mechanics are lifted from another successful superhero game that Insomniac left alone because they knew it didn’t need to be fixed. Web-slinging brought me joy all the way down to my core, filling me with all the happy memories of Spider-Man 2. The story is cinematic and in an alternate universe, it would be part of the MCU. As it’s not based on a preexisting store, it’s given all the time it needs to breathe and develop its characters, especially Peter Parker. I love how it paints him as a new adult struggling to balance his civilian life with that of a superhero. It also doesn’t sacrifice the inherent goofiness of Marvel’s dorkiest character. The quips, his “Spider-Cop” narrations, and his ability to crack wise while cracking faces really captures the essence of the character so well. And it’s even capable of more dramatic moments, such as the popular cutscene where Peter and Mary Jane text each other Sherlock style or the transformation of Otto Octavius from genius scientist to misguided villain.
Everything about Marvel’s Spider-Man feels absolutely right and pitch perfect. It belongs in every PlayStation owner’s library. In the years to come, my generation will hold Marvel’s Spider-Man to the same reverence as the old PlayStation 2 game--if not outright replace it.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.