With each year I find myself increasingly less interested in the AAA game space, but man, I usually have SOMETHING in here as like a pity entry at least. This year, though, I just couldn’t have cared at all, with most of the games coming out holding no interest for me at all. I wound up picking a few of them up just to give them a try and bounced off quickly. Not that this wasn’t a year in which a lot of great games came out - choosing the things to put on this list was still EXTREMELY difficult because the growth and innovation in more indie spaces provided a lot of unique and enjoyable games. There’s more here than I can even name in my honorable mentions as well! This year I really pushed myself to try some new things, too, and there’s a lot of cool games out there if you just go looking for them.
Favorite Game Released Before 2018, Played in 2018: Sniper Elite IV
Aside from watching a couple of videos showing the x-rays on the kills, I didn’t pay much attention to Sniper Elite IV when it first came out. I wasn’t exactly raring for a WWII shooter, so I mostly just shrugged it off until earlier this year when it was on a hyper mega sale and a friend suggested we do co-op in it. MAN did I make a mistake sleeping on this game so long – sneaking around a Nazi outpost and popping them without them even knowing you’re there from afar is INCREDIBLY satisfying, and while I think the game probably wants you to play smart and count down like we were a movie sniper crew, it tends to becomes two drunk idiots popping out of a bush 5 feet away from an enemy and still using the sniper rifle on them like they were 400 feet away. Righteous rowdy boys smashing through war-torn Europe on a quest to turn Nazis insides into their outsides. Wasted weapons of justice rolling around with guns and explosives and feeling invincible as we knock enemy goons around. Two grown-ass adults in respected professions seeing who can be first to get that elusive slow-mo x-ray highlight of a bullet going through a Nazi's ballsack. We've been going through it very gradually, but it’s definitely become one of my favorite gaming experiences.
2018 Honorable Mentions
Minit, Monster Hunter World, Haunted Cities Volume 3, Pokemon Let’s Go!, Paratopic
Top 5 Games of 2018
5. A Way Out
To be fair, A Way Out itself is kinda ass. The controls are pretty slipshod, the storytelling leaves a lot to be desired, the script is mad obvious and just cribs from a bunch of other things, and the logic is kinda off at best. But the thing that really made it great was playing it with a friend (same one for Sniper Elite actually) and just dicking around with all the weird side-stuff that’s built in. Cops are after us and we need to escape? Got time to play some baseball, spending minutes perfecting hitting the ball at the other’s head! Heartfelt emotional moment with your son while playing basketball? Steal the ball from him and keep dunking in his face! And since the game’s not smart enough to figure out just how badly I’m disrespecting it, the scene keeps playing out straight-faced while I’m doing it, making it extra hilarious. The game sucks but the memories from it are SO DAMN GOOD that it easily wormed its way into this list.
4. 1870: Cyberpunk Forever
This year’s had a lot of discussion on the nature of cyberpunk, especially with regards to CD Projekt Red’s big, expensive Cyberpunk 2077 making splashes at E3. 1870 could hardly be more opposite: a single-person project about leaving the city to confront your augmentations, not just reveling in the tech and glamour of a cyber utopia. In fact, many aspects of the game seem to be suggesting that your AI chip is working against you, asking you to leave conversations and ticking up a “suspicion” meter as you ask questions of the people outside of The Hub, like it doesn’t want you to find answers to your questions and is actively attempting to dissuade you. The shift of the focus from the city to people who reject city life helps to add punk elements back into cyberpunk, with them refusing these traditions and lifestyles in place of their own. Cyberpunk tends to have such a narrow focus on being In The Big City, and refocusing it outside is a great way to show there’s still other stories and perspectives and ways to tackle this genre.
Gorogoa is this year’s proud winner of the “whoops it came out last year technically but it was after game of the year happened so it still counts!!!” in the slot that has previously been occupied by such successful games as SteamWorld Heist. And it deserves it – Gorogoa is an incredibly inventive and unique puzzle game, transcending time, space, worlds, and dimensions as you try to prevent the coming of a destructive event. Created in this beautiful painterly style, up until the very end of the game I was still surprised at how often I was going “Huh! Wow that’s a cool use of the mechanics!” It’s smart, gorgeous, and one of the coolest narrative puzzle experiences I’ve had in a good long time.
2. Into the Breach
This game is like a chess puzzle but where when you get it wrong, it’s a hilariously overblown series of explosions and deaths and watching everything spiral WILDLY out of control. Like imagine if you were playing a chess puzzle, and taking out a pawn made it fly back and explode – and you weren’t paying attention so the explosion winds up taking two of your pieces out, and on the enemy’s turn they just spawn more pieces and push one of yours off the board. I love it – tactics games are amazing, and some of my favorite things, but something about a lot of them always turns me off. A lot of times it has to do with the fact that there’s an extra layer on top that becomes too stressful, like Fire Emblem’s permadeath or XCOM’s world map that you have to take care of. By getting rid of a lot of that, and making it purposefully run-based, it gets rid of that stress that makes me quit those other games, and turns my losses into hilariously escalating spectacles of failure as a single mistake cascades into something greater. I’m generally over run-based games, but Into the Breach really did a lot to show me there’s still life in a well-implemented version of the idea.
1. Yoku’s Island Express
Kinda like Golf Story last year, this is one of those games that feels like someone just wormed their way into my brain and pulled something out of it to directly appeal to me, and thank god they got it right, because I was hooked from the first moment. Every part of it, from the pinball mechanics to the simple act of filling up the mailboxes as you roll past them, the character and charm of this game was just right there from the get-go and never let up. The digital pinball space these days, well, it kinda sucks hugely. Now that Pinball Arcade lost all of its good tables to the Zen Pinball series, which has just the worst emulation and physics and never does much with the idea of digital pinball that’s particularly new or interesting, Yoku’s Island Express shows the kinds of ideas that are possible when you divorce the genre from the traditional trappings of a single table. It came out as a surprise and I just devoured it. More like this! More games that combine one of my favorite genres with other genres! I love it! Let this whole industry exist SPECIFICALLY to make me happy!!!!