Instead of falling into writing yet another typical comparison to the previous gaming year, I’m going to say I’m satisfied with what the year 2018 brought along: some great games, some bad games, few deep disappointments, those typical overhyped titles that nevertheless will sweep table at the game awards anyway, and everything between. So, something we see every year, then! Trends come and go but great games will always stand out, even though the gaming climate today is too obsessed with technology to make anything a timeless classic anymore. Nonetheless, I’m happy to present five extraordinary games for everyone to test out. I’d be only happier if this format allowed me to go deeper about my honorable mentions too, as there are some games that need to be discussed. At least, put those titles in mind too when browsing through physical or digital game shops.
Favorite Game Released Before 2018, Played in 2018: Tenchu: Fatal Shadows
Why no one makes ninja games anymore? The act of stealth assassinations and covert actions in a feudal Japan has been turned into some great games in the past, most notably in the Tenchu series. In the absence of a modern ninja game, I have fired up my old PlayStation and PlayStation 2 to take trips to ancient Japan to practice my ninja skills. With its dual female protagonists of the righteous and fiery tomboy Rin and the nimble and sexy angel of death Ayame, I took Tenchu: Fatal Shadows as an apology for Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven that fell for a questionable gender disparity (you got a bad ending for Ayame if you took up the boss fight with her instead of letting Rikimaru handle it). The Fatal Shadows’ ambience met perfectly its take on stealthy, open-ended ninjutsu gameplay. Even on PlayStation 2 – and by today’s standards, too - the attention to detail was in its own class. The rain pours down as Rin shimmies her way forward, her slender fingers clinging onto a ledge of a roof, then climbing over it and dropping down to surprise a guardsman behind the shack, silently taking him down with a bare-handed move. She savored her katana, neatly hanging behind her lower back, only for the more exquisite kills. Soundtrack, too, is exceptional, enriching the uncanny feel of the feudal Japan. Heavy on percussions, traditional Asian music is mixed with a throbbing beat of a semi-acoustic electric bass. Tenchu is the series I’d like to see to return but at the same time, I’m afraid it could lose its unique charm if it was fashioned after patterns of modern gaming.
2018 Honorable Mentions
Hitman 2, State of Mind, The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Isle of Memories, Battle Chef Brigade Deluxe, SoulCalibur VI
Top 5 Games of 2018
5. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Kassandra, oh, Kassandra. She’s lively, witty, sarcastic, charming, and compassionate, and when the evening sun sets on her features, she looks so beautiful. Not real, not a video game character either, and certainly not from an uncanny valley but something of her own kind. Compared to her, Alexios comes off as a macho dumb who sounds like a person with a hazelnut-sized brain. So, to me, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is all about Kassandra. The narrative is clearly designed around her, with Alexios being there just as an option for men children who can’t tolerate an idea of a strong female protagonist and mask it behind the blames of a woman Spartan warrior being historically inaccurate (newsflash: they were very real). Oh, what about the game? A beautiful world with so much to do – perhaps too much, as quests within quests within quests can be a real chore to untangle. Whenever it feels like you’re buried under tasks you’re doing for all those hapless people who look upon Kassandra, take a ride to a mountain top, wait for the sunset and admire the view – oh, and the landscape, too!
4. The Red Strings Club
I tweeted back in 2nd February that The Red Strings Club will end up in my top five games of 2018. And here we are, at the end of the year. The Red Strings Club may look like yet another pixel art graphic adventure but instead, we have an emotional and clever cyberpunk thriller told in three acts, pondering transhumanism. Sometimes, the game borders on narrative experience but it always manages to test your own responses to matters concerning weaknesses or strengths of humanity. Would you change some parts of us if you had a chance to? Moreover, would it actually make a difference? Be prepared for the outcome, as the answers will bounce back to you. Still, despite these universal themes, The Red Strings Club doesn’t lose its human heart and remains an intensive eternal triangle between its outcast protagonists. I quote my review because I can’t rephrase it better: “The Red Strings Club is provocative but not preachy, smart but not smug, and poignant but not pretentious. And it’s just that extra bit self-assertive like all the great stories need to be”.
Apart from the player character, the cast of Omensight may be anthropomorphic animals but soon it becomes a side issue. These rats, cats, bears and birds, all with their weaknesses, fears and prejudices but also with their ability to feel remorse and forgiveness, are more human than any actual human characters in games this year. Omensight tells a time-warping murder mystery in a fantasy world, and while the power and responsibility are familiar themes, the game doesn’t fall for an unnecessary political commentary. We all know who the bad guys in the real world are but for once, a fairy tale is allowed to be just a fairy tale, making the game a perfect escape of today’s gloom. Even though Omensight weaves an intricate tangle, not only thematically but also gameplaywise, fitting elements of action, adventure and light-RPG together, it remains an exciting, solid and whole whodunnit. Some of the most artistically striking visuals of the year and a vivid voice acting elevate the game high above usual indie tropes.
2. NieR: Automata - Become As Gods Edition
Yoko Taro’s masterpiece NieR: Automata made its memorable debut on PS4 last year, but it’s on the Xbox where the game has marinated further with a smoother frame rate and the quirky DLC included from the get-go. An instantly recognizable outlook and a perfect gameplay, something only PlatinumGames could do, boost the game far beyond Yoko’s track record. Unlike his previous, well-intentioned, flawed but still loved creations, NieR: Automata isn’t just a weird cult game but a bona fide classic. In a world obsessed with Souls-likes, the ultra-fast and smooth combat is a rare treat and something you will embrace through the game’s three-part campaign. It’s always hard to return to more mundane and clumsier games after getting used to the blitzkrieg combat embodied by the lithe android cast. The thing is, to appreciate the gameplay, you also have to appreciate the framework. Here, the combat isn’t just a part of some ordinary game world but rather, a unique, whimsical and sometimes cheeky take on JRPG tropes. All things considered, NieR: Automata is a valuable piece of art. Beautiful visual design and exquisite music that always finds the right mood give the game epic depth and monumental theatricality, making it feel like a dream-like stage play. NieR: Automata is one of the most essential video games of the past 15 years and should be studied in schools for its perfect use of media. The game finds large margins for its playful genre shake-up and layers upon layers of hidden meanings.
1. Shadow of the Tomb Raider
In a recluse of Mission of Saint Juan in Peru, a blind elderly man tells Lara how he misses the thrill of discovery of his younger days and insists that she never loses it. It’s ironic that it was just the thing that was missing from the rebooted Tomb Raider and its sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider. I hadn’t even noticed it while tackling through their exciting action set pieces. Even though Lara is now more confident at taking down her enemies (especially with her new and lethal stealth moves), there’s considerably less combat this time around (only a dozen shoot-outs throughout the story – or stealth-outs, if you prefer). The focus is on exploring all those mysterious ruins in Peruvian jungles and solving their numerous puzzles.
I’m more than happy that the thrill of discovery was brought back to Tomb Raider but to be honest, I didn’t expect it. If there’s a choice between “explore miles of uncharted jungle and solve ancient mysteries” or “become predator and stalk your prey” for a tagline, it’s obvious what the marketing guys will pick up. Amazing visuals, especially on PC, carry the adventure forward, with a beautiful volumetric lightning enveloping characters and breathtaking scenery into its smooth and loving embrace (sadly, the console versions lack this finesse, making everything look a bit flat in comparison). Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the most substantial entry in the series since the very first game 22 years ago. Immediately after a review playthrough, I started a New Game+ which allowed me to explore the world more freely and hunt down all those collectibles and do side activities I initially had to pass. It only cemented the fact that I would have given the game six stars if that was possible.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.