There’s no denying that 2018 will be remembered as one of the best years in gaming. Right up there with 2007 and 2013 – the latter of which brought us my favorite game of all time, Bioshock Infinite – 2018 saw the revitalization of many classic franchises, as well as the birth of new titles from esteemed game creators. It’s been one hell of a year, and while I personally missed some critically-acclaimed hits like God of War and Celeste, I still experienced a ton of what 2018 had to offer. So without further ado, here are my nominees for Game of the Year.
No. 5: South Park: The Fractured But Whole
Four years after its predecessor, The Stick of Truth, blew fans away with its crude hilarity and dedication to its source material, Trey Parker and Matt Stone once again dove into the world of video games – and superheroes – with The Fractured But Whole. Tying into a story arc from the television series, this genius installment saw the South Park gang donning their superhero costumes to save their town from…each other. Just like The Stick of Truth before it, the game played out like an entire season of South Park, complete with inside jokes and references for the most die-hard fans. The Fractured But Whole also revamped the series’ gameplay by adding a grid to the turn-based combat system. This allowed more characters to be on the playing field at once and brought a larger sense of depth to the action onscreen.
Furthermore, character abilities can be swapped out, allowing you to customize your “New Kid” to be the greatest superhero South Park has ever seen. Superpowers help shake up each battle, and the whole game successfully straddles the line between serious superhero thriller and goofy adult cartoon. South Park: The Fractured But Whole was as funny as it was fun to play, and it makes the possibility of a South Park cancellation a bit less depressing, knowing that the series can always survive in video game form. This latest trip to Colorado left a lasting impression on me, and it’s earned The Fracture But Whole a game of the year nomination and a spot on my list.
No. 4: Assassin's Creed: Odyssey
Kicking off the AAA-filled holiday season, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey delighted audiences by breathing new life into what was considered a fairly exhaustive franchise. After Syndicate made strides in the story department and Origins changed up the gameplay entirely, Odyssey swooped in to deliver a perfect blend of these previous installments. Right from the start, players were excited by the ability to choose the gender of your assassin, with both Alexios and Kassandra experiencing their own unique journeys across ancient Greece. Dialogue options made for a story that felt much more personal, giving players the choice to act honorably, or to be a total dick. Above all, Odyssey felt like the most fleshed-out RPG experience in an Assassin’s Creed to date. Weapon customization was turned into a necessity, with an extensive ranking system for every piece of gear.
Thanks to the aforementioned dialogue options, choices felt like they actually mattered, and the world adapted to your actions, whether you were working for the Spartans or the Athenians. Quite possibly the most important part was the experience system, allowing your assassin to level up and receive new attributes from a downright impressive new skill tree. These upgrades could change up the combat in ways the series has never seen before. Odyssey took the Assassin’s Creed franchise in a completely new direction, but it’s one that it desperately needed. While previous installments may have felt a bit bland and uneventful, Odyssey helps the series find a new niche in the best way possible, and a spot on my list.
No. 3: Detroit: Become Human
The latest title from director David Cage was my first foray into his brilliantly twisted mind. A story about futuristic androids vying for their independence, Detroit delivered an emotional gut punch that I truly wasn’t ready for. Detroit is a story told in three parts, allowing players to visualize an android uprising through the eyes of Connor, Kara, and Marcus. Each android has their own specific intentions in life, and while their stories eventually diverge into one, the majority of the game is spent apart with all of them living drastically varied lives. For example, Connor works for the government, Kara works for an alcoholic single father, and Marcus works for an ailing millionaire artist.
Detroit is visually stunning, and this helps keep its extensive story enticing throughout. There was never a dull moment, and I recall spending my days at work just watching the clock, yearning for the moment I can go home and pick up my controller again. I was glued to the screen, and Quantic Dream had me screaming, crying, and questioning my choices the entire time. Many found Detroit to be overrated, and some even called it unoriginal and uninspired. On the contrary, I found Detroit to be a gripping tale of hope and courage; the story of three peaceful machines longing to become human by any means necessary. Dialogue options and a branching narrative make Detroit an extremely replayable adventure, and I fully intend to return to it every few months to have another go and see where the story takes me. It certainly made an impact on me – one that will carry into 2019 and beyond (no pun intended, Mr. Cage) – and for that, it’s one of my favorite games of this year.
No. 2: Red Dead Redemption 2
Most likely a lot of my coworkers’ game of the year, Red Dead Redemption 2 is easily one of the greatest games of 2018, as well as one of the greatest games of all time. What this game has done for the games industry in two months alone is a feat in itself, and deserves to be commended. I have never seen another game like Red Dead 2, but I certainly hope to see more in the future. The way the narrative pulls you in through strategic pacing is brilliant to watch unfold, even though it can be extremely annoying at times. The opening sequence, for example, is memorable for being both incredibly painstaking, and incredibly deep. It’s pacing that not many other studios can pull off, but Rockstar has the magic touch when it comes to building an epic story over the course of 60+ hours.
Emphasis on the “+,” as Red Dead Redemption 2 is hands-down the most jam-packed video game I have ever played, with so many side quests and random encounters that I’ve barely hit 50% completion and I’ve been playing since nearly day one. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a journey, but it’s one of the most emotional and graphically impressive journeys I have ever had the pleasure of embarking on. With hours of content and the recent addition of Red Dead Online, I don’t see people growing tired of this game at all anytime soon. As I said, it’s most likely everyone’s game of the year, and I’m sure it will come out on top in sales this holiday season. But for me? There’s one more game that stole my heart this year and earned the top spot on my list.
No. 1: Marvel's Spider-Man
Having grown up with Spyro the Dragon and Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man movies, Insomniac’s Spider-Man is an absolute love letter to my childhood. Simply put, this game blew my ever-loving mind from start to finish. But what I find the most satisfying (and insane) about Spider-Man is its staying power. As I previously stated, I have played Red Dead Redemption 2 for countless hours since its release. But the reason I haven’t beaten it yet? I can’t stay away from Spider-Man! The DLC content over the past three months has kept me coming back to Manhattan time and again, tossing the biggest game of 2018 to the side for a couple hours just to swing through the city streets and punch some thugs. There is nothing more satisfying – in any game, ever – than the web-swinging mechanics of Insomniac’s Spider-Man. From the first moment the game let me sling a web, I was hooked.
Couple this with the Arkham-esque combat mechanics and the endless amount of collectibles, weapon upgrades, and costumes from all across Spider-Man lore, and you’ve got one of the most entertaining thrill rides I have ever played. One of my friends said it best, that Spider-Man doesn’t do anything new, it just does everything better than those before it. While this may be true, and Spider-Man doesn’t bring much originality to the table in terms of gameplay or even overall narrative – which is heavily derived from comics and other Spidey culture – there’s no denying that the game is stunning, entertaining, and fun as all hell. Personally, Spider-Man is my game of the year because it gets everything right, and it scratches that “superhero video game” itch perfectly. At least, until Ultimate Alliance 3 comes around!
2018 was a year of sheer brilliance in the field of video games. Series like Assassin’s Creed and Red Dead were put back on the map, where they are once again being recognized as action-adventure icons. Others, like Detroit and Spider-Man showed the world that new titles are still forces to be reckoned with, as they can become instant classics within a matter of months. Every game I played this year left an impact on me, even games from previous years that I hadn’t gotten to earlier. 2018 was a year for the history books, and it certainly made its mark on my heart for years to come.