2018 has been a year, alright. And as far as my video game habits go, it’s been a pretty strange one: GTA V, Warframe, Rock Band and PUBG cumulatively occupied my time far more than new games did. I haven’t really considered myself particularly invested in “live games” up to this point, but boy did 2018’s release schedule ever leave me with some time to kill. Not only did I play all those games extensively, I was also able to put some hours into XCOM 2’s surprisingly excellent War of the Chosen expansion, start and finish last year’s Hollow Knight, and spend a couple months learning to speedrun Dishonored thanks to all the gaps between releases that catered to my particular tastes. But rest assured, there were still plenty of 2018 releases that grabbed me as well. There were lots of cars to drive, webs to spin, and murders to solve, and a few unexpected turns for franchises I’d written off along the way. So without further ado, here are my ten favorite games of 2018:
No. 10: Forza Horizon 4
Forza Horizon 4 doesn’t do much you haven’t seen before, but in a game with such a solid foundation already established, that isn’t such a bad thing. Cruising around the Horizon Festival listening to tunes on Horizon Pulse and Block Party is just a good, positive time, and the variety of locales on the new U.K. map blows the previous game’s Australian setting out of the water. The game’s biggest new feature, a weekly “season” system that cycles between Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring doesn’t necessarily make huge changes to the gameplay, but does keep the world feeling fresh, and an increased focus on multiplayer and limited-time events kept me around far longer than any previous Horizon game did.
Horizon 4 also makes this list in part because of something that won’t matter to anybody but me: it features much more robust support for racing wheels than its predecessor. I was finally able to tear up the road in a Skyline GT-R with functional force-feedback, and it was lovely. Though the limitations of Horizon’s arcadey controls admittedly still don’t quite result in a perfect racing wheel experience, it worked well enough to be functional, and that was enough for me. Turns out, racing with a wheel is still fun. Who knew?
No. 9: Far Cry 5
I have a lot of reservations about including this game on my top ten list at all, but here’s the case I can make for it: despite an absolutely abysmal narrative that concludes with a punch in the face to players who still had any investment left in the plot by killing off literally every character and telling you that nothing you did mattered, pretty standard Far Cry gunplay, and above-average levels of jank, there’s something likable buried in Far Cry 5. You definitely shouldn’t pay full price for it, and if at all possible you should buy it with a friend, but it’s the most fun I’ve had actually playing Far Cry since 3, the title that established the series’ now-longstanding formula.
A new focus on co-op has a lot to do with this, as the open-world activities and generic mission structures you’ve come to expect from the series take on a whole new life with a buddy, and the usual glitches go from frustrating to funny when you’ve got someone to experience them with. The fictional setting of Hope County, Montana is also a big part of my tentative recommendation of Far Cry 5, as it’s the most beautiful and varied space Ubisoft have ever put together for a Far Cry game. I was surprised to find that I genuinely enjoyed exploring the map and taking in the scenery between bouts of chaotic, explosive firefights, and with the addition of planes and much earlier access to mobility-focused items like the wingsuit and grappling hook, there are more ways to get around and see the world than ever before. Far Cry 5 is almost certainly not a good game, but most of the time it can get by being a fun game, and sometimes that’s all you need.
No. 8: Tetris Effect
People got excited about a new Tetris game this year. Think about that for a second. And it’s not like it’s some crazy new revision to the Tetris formula that resembles the original in name only. It’s not even a slight change. It’s just regular, old Tetris.
So why do people care? Well, as it turns out, all you need to improve on the best puzzle game of all time is some great visual flair and some even better music. And if there’s one thing Tetsuya Mizuguchi and his team have proven they understand, it’s how to blend music and visuals with puzzles in a compelling way. Playing through Tetris Effect’s Journey Mode, which takes you through each of the game’s levels in sequence, is a magical experience the first time through. When the game works as intended, which it often does, you’re put into a trance. A bevy of additional modes adds to the game’s staying power, and I can safely say that my Tetris abilities have significantly improved since picking the game up thanks to the various skills those modes drill into you if you keep at them. I’m a sucker for a score-chaser, and Tetris filled that niche quite nicely this year.
Throw PSVR support into the mix, and you’ve got an approachable and addictive game that’s downright hypnotic after a few minutes of play.
No. 7: Marvel's Spider-Man
While this game didn’t hit me quite as hard as some of the proper Spidey-fans on staff, it’s still quite enjoyable for what it is: a standard open world game with a single, fantastic mechanic that elevates it to another level. Good movement and momentum in games is something that I have a lot of love for (see number three on this list), and Spider-Man’s swinging steals the show.
Getting from place to place without a vehicle has never been this fun in any other game. A great balance of manual control and smart automation lets you fly between buildings at high speed, but also land on a dime at will, with minimal practice required. It’s entertaining to watch, entertaining to play, and shockingly easy to pick up.
The rest of the game is fine, I guess; there’s a gorgeous and unexpectedly large recreation of Manhattan to explore, and the solid (if predictable) plot kept me engaged from start to finish, even as my insistence on completing every single piece of side content killed the momentum slightly towards the end, but without that swinging, I probably wouldn’t care about any of it. The combat is a bit too Arkham-inspired for its own good, and most of the side content is menial fetch-quests, but if you reframe it as an excuse to swing more, it’s all okay.
No. 6: Hitman 2
Hitman 2 isn’t going to blow your mind, but you can’t go wrong with more of a good thing. Honestly, it’s more of a map pack for 2016’s Hitman than a proper sequel; all the same mechanics are there, and you get about the same amount of content, just set in a bunch of novel new locations with a new set of ways to dispatch your targets. If you’re like me, and you thought the previous Hitman game was the ultimate realization of the game IO Interactive have been trying to make since the year 2000, this will probably make you happy. I’m a little disappointed that there isn’t more in the game— the original included seven missions, including the robust tutorial mission, while Hitman 2 only contains five full-sized environments, but it’s still enough to keep you busy for a long while. Playing dress-up and sneaking around upscale parties and fancy mansions will never not be fun, so I’ll always be back for more whenever IO cooks up fresh content
No. 5: Return of the Obra Dinn
Arguably the best murder mystery game ever made, Return of the Obra Dinn is the latest from Papers Please creator Lucas Pope, and it’s a doozy. Borrowing some of the same mechanical fundamentals of Papers Please (there’s still a fair amount of sorting through documents and checking information via the process of elimination), Obra Dinn is a game about examining complex murder scenes and piecing together exactly what happened, and to whom. The titular Obra Dinn is the ill-fated ship you explore, whose approximately 60 passengers have all mysteriously disappeared or died, leaving you to determine their exact fate with a magical stopwatch that allows you to view the moment of someone’s death if you can find their remains. While a few introductory deaths are fairly easy to solve, the game quickly unravels into a sprawling, complex Sudoku puzzle, requiring good deductive reasoning and observation. It’s challenging but very satisfying; properly making you feel like a detective when you finally start piecing things together.
A distinctive, monochromatic art style meant to invoke early computer games gives it a unique, interesting visual identity, and a number of twists and turns take the story in a horrifying direction you almost certainly won’t expect from the outset. It’s easily one of the best games of this year, and definitely the most unique.
No. 4: God of War
Well, they finally did it. They finally made a God of War game that wasn’t awful. I guess this day had to come sooner or later.
Even more unbelievable than that, though, is that it’s good because of the story. God of War hasn’t exactly been known for its nuance or maturity up to this point, what with the QTE sex scenes, infinitely angry screaming bald guy, and focus on gratuitous violence for violence’s sake, but this year’s soft-reboot is a huge step up for the series in nearly every way. It’s a string of memorable, unexpected story beats and gameplay sequences from beginning to end, tapping into the new Norse setting’s pantheon of Gods to great effect, spinning an unexpectedly touching story about fatherhood, and setting future games up to go off in all kinds of interesting directions.
It still isn’t the kind of combat I prefer in my character action games, but as someone who hasn’t been able to enjoy playing previous games at all, I have absolutely no qualms with saying Santa Monica Studio has crafted one of the finest games on the PS4 to date, and that you definitely don’t want to miss out.
No. 3: Burnout Paradise Remastered
“How could you, Sam!?” I hear you scream, the soundwaves glancing off the glowing, saliva-speckled screen in front of you and flying off into the endless, uncaring void. “Putting a remaster in front of God of War, Spider Man, and all those other great new games!?”
God damn right I am.
The best game of the previous console generation, bundled up with all its DLC, sold at a budget price, and gussied up for modern hardware— what’s not to love? Burnout Paradise is as fun to play as the day it came out, and hasn’t aged a bit. I can count the number of games that feel this good to control on one hand, and with so much content to play, an innovative multiplayer mode that hasn’t been replicated to this day, and a soundtrack that still kicks ass, I still recommend Burnout Paradise to all but the most stubborn driving game haters without reservation.
No. 2: Monster Hunter World
Much like God of War, I had a lot of doubts going into Monster Hunter: World. Monster Hunter is a franchise I’ve wanted to get into forever, but the infamously obscure and complex series has often felt like it was actively trying to repel new players. World represents a paradigm shift for the franchise, welcoming newcomers with open arms and a clear set of instructions instead of thrusting a cartoonishly oversized sword into their hands, dropping them in the wilderness, and leaving them to figure it out or give up. It’s still a difficult game to master, but it’s much easier to pick up now at least, and Capcom have harnessed the power of modern consoles to make the gameplay much better than its 3DS counterparts, finally abandoning the endless loading screens and giving the visuals a much-needed upgrade.
In solo and in co-op, World is just a solid, enjoyable game from start to finish, with plenty of monsters to kill, loot to earn, and live events and updates to keep things fresh. This one’s all about the gameplay— you won’t be blown away by top-tier visuals or rich storytelling, but it’s almost always fun to play, offers a ton of replayability, and represents the pinnacle of a franchise that’s been going strong for over a decade now, and looks sure to continue for a long time to come. If you’ve been waiting to get into Monster Hunter but got scared off, or even if you’ve just enjoyed other loot games, there’s never been a better time to jump in than now.
No. 1: Red Dead Redemption 2
Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t just my favorite game of the year, it’s easily among the best games I’ve ever played. Without reiterating too much of what I said in my review, Rockstar has made a game that not only defies all reasonable expectations, it often feels like it shouldn’t even be possible yet. On a technical level alone, it’s a ridiculously impressive product, and that’s without factoring in the best-in-class narrative, an insane amount of content, and immersive, detailed world. It’s certainly proven divisive, and I get why— it’s far from perfect, and definitely requires that you be willing to suffer through some quirks and irritating design choices, but I fall into the camp who believe it’s absolutely worth it to do so. There’s nothing else quite like Rockstar’s games, and if you can bring yourself to go with Red Dead’s flow instead of resisting it, you’ll be rewarded handsomely for your troubles.
Honourable Mention: Jazztronauts
Jazztronauts did come out this year, but not only is it a mod, it’s a mod of another mod, so giving it a place on my proper GOTY list proper is a bit awkward. That preamble aside, Jazztronauts is one of the coolest things I’ve played all year, and easily the funniest. Described by its creators as a “co-operative theft-em-up for Garry’s Mod”, Jazztronauts brilliantly repurposes the unfathomably huge collection of maps created by the Steam Community over the better part of the last decade, and tasks you with stealing every prop, asset, and texture that isn’t nailed down. It’s a ludicrous premise, and difficult to really comprehend before you’ve seen it in action, but it’s hilarious in co-op, and surprisingly relaxing to play solo, perfect for listening to podcasts or watching a show on another screen. More than once, I stuck around on maps way longer than I had to just to make sure I nabbed every last texture before calling in my trans-dimensional escape trolley.
The whole mod is ridiculously polished, too, from the full-fledged story mode (featuring— no joke— some of the best writing of anything I played this year), to a solid character upgrade system and a few hidden surprises. Best of all, it’s totally free so long as you own Garry’s Mod– though if you don’t, I’d make a case that the $5 it costs to pick up a copy is well worth it for Jazztronauts alone. It’s something really special.
Alright, I think that’s it from me. Celeste and Yoku’s Island Express remain in my backlog of shame for now, but aside from them, I think I’ve gotten my mitts on just about every major release of this year one way or another, so you’re looking at Sam Young’s cream of the crop. Honestly though, I feel kind of strange about 2018. When this year was good, it was very good, but when it was bad, it was bad. There were periods, sometimes multiple months long, where the small handful of big releases all missed the mark, and we just didn’t see quite as many high-profile indie releases this year as I’ve gotten used to seeing. When I look back at this list and at all the other games that didn’t make the cut, I have to admit it’s been a great year for games on paper, it just hasn’t always felt like it. Here’s to 2019’s best releases being a bit more spread-out.
Still, don’t let that my musing diminish anything here. All the games on this list seriously deserve their props, and there are still more fantastic games that just didn’t quite make the cut. Prey: Mooncrash damn near made it on as a second honourable mention, but I think I’ve made you read my ramblings about enough games, so hopefully name-dropping it here will suffice.
Anyway, thank you as always for reading this list, and really all of the writing myself and my fellow writers do here at Ground Punch. I hear enough from people to know that I’m not completely talking to myself when I write this stuff, and that means a lot. So cheers, and here’s to a solid 2019.
See you here next year!