by Matthew Thompson
With six months of 2018 in the bag already (plus a bit more now), I thought I’d take a look back at the high points of the year so far. Instead of doing one focused on just games or TV, I’ve decided to make this a catch-all post that will cover some of my other hobbies as well. Without further ado, here are my highlights from 2018’s first half.
Simply put, Celeste is one of the finest 2D platformers ever made. It features the kind of masochistic, single-screen, precision platforming seen in titles like Super Meat Boy and I’d argue this style has never been executed better. Every new screen offers a hazard-filled obstacle course that you will jump and climb and dash – and die – your way through. Yes, you will die often. But retries are instantaneous and besting these tricky traversal segments feels immensely rewarding. Based on this stellar gameplay alone, Celeste would have found a place in this post, but its touching narrative brings the whole affair to another level. I have never found a video game story as relatable as Celeste’s. Its portrayal of anxiety and depression – the former in particular – really touched my heart. Few games – especially in the 2D platforming genre – have ever delivered so well on both the gameplay and narrative fronts.
Chvrches – Love is Dead
Chvrches are my favorite band. I love their music. I love seeing them live. And getting to listen to a new album from them after a few years was just wonderful. While Love is Dead is my least favorite of their three albums, I still enjoy the hell out of it. Obviously, being my favorite band, my hype for this album was extremely high before I knew anything about it. But if I’m being honest that hype was diminished a bit based on the pre-release singles. I liked them all well enough, but there wasn’t anything on the level of “The Mother We Share” or “Clearest Blue” like the first two albums had before they came out. Having said that, I think the full album is better than I expected based on those singles. So it was an ever-so-slightly up-and-down journey for me as a fan going into the album, but I’m quite satisfied with the final product. “Wonderland” is my favorite song off Love is Dead with “Graffiti” and “Heaven/Hell” as runners-up. I got to see them play some of this new material in a festival-style set/show in June and can’t wait to see them on their own headlining tour this October.
God of War
This is a daring reinvention of a series which after six fairly similar outings felt like it needed one. It revamps much of what we knew about the series before. As is often the case when this happens, some things come out the other side worse for it – for God of War those things were the platforming and boss fights. But with so much else going right, I can forgive those shortcomings. The new combat system is brilliant, retaining the brutality and visual splendor of previous versions with more depth than ever before despite the focus on a new weapon and viewpoint. It has by far my favorite story in the God of War series as well. The amount of lore they have managed to cram into the game from the new Norse mythology setting is staggering. They have somehow made Kratos work as a character in a way that he never has before for me. And it has a shockingly good sense of humor to boot. I think my favorite changes to the series come in the game’s structure. My favorite type of level structure combines linear and open-world elements and God of War does this quite well. The way new areas open up through the ever-evolving central hub area, The Lake of the Nine, and the discovery of new realms continually impressed me. And I ate up all the optional content the game had to offer from rewarding side quests to the Souls-esque realm of Niflheim to the challenging Valkyrie boss fights. This new God of War was a winner for me and I can’t wait to see how they build on this new formula in future outings.
The Good Place
What other praise can I heave upon The Good Place that I haven’t already? I’ve praised the other-worldly setting and the breakneck pacing. I’ve applauded the talent on both sides of the camera. I’ve talked up the hilarity of endless food puns and Blake Bortles jokes. And I’ve mentioned how it contains one of TV’s all-time great twists. From its 2018 run, I suppose I could touch on the bold move to leave its familiar backdrop behind to explore hilarious new facets of its fantasy world and how it did so with aplomb. And I guess I could mention how hilarious Maya Rudolph was in her guest stint and how pitch-perfect the tests she administered were. But I feel like whatever I say, it boils down to this: the five episodes that aired in 2018 are just further proof that The Good Place is the best show on TV. Based on these first two seasons, this would probably be my favorite comedy series of all-time. Season 3 can’t come soon enough.
With one of TV’s most talented writers at the helm in Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag, Crashing), I had lofty expectations for Killing Eve, but this slick new thriller met those with ease. Based on a set of novellas by Luke Jennings, Killing Eve centers on a deadly game of cat-and-mouse between MI5 agent Eve (Sandra Oh) and flashy assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer). Despite being a much different format than her previous series, Waller-Bridge’s knack for smart, biting humor is on full display here. The dialogue sizzles – especially between the pairings of Eve and Bill, Villanelle and her handler, and the two stars themselves – and Villanelle is just mean in the most hysterical way. Watching the leads’ relationship and obsession with each other evolve over the season is pure TV magic. Killing Eve doles out wicked kills and spy thrills alongside a sense of humor all its own. It’s the best new show of 2018 so far and a must-watch.
The Last of Us Part II E3 Demo
The first major showing for my most anticipated game on the horizon did not disappoint. The church scenes that bookended The Last of Us Part II’s E3 demo giving us a brief glimpse into Ellie living a more normal life in Jackson a few years down the road from the end of the original game contained much of what gamers have come to expect from a Naughty Dog title: top-tier performances, presentation and visuals (the animation was particularly impressive). But it was the gameplay section sandwiched in between these quieter moments that really blew me away. The combat has evolved in a way that one would expect in a first sequel as well as a way that makes sense for the new main playable protagonist. The gameplay reflects an Ellie that is more experienced than she was in the first game, but also one that fights in a much different way than Joel did. Where he used his bulk and strength to rush and overpower his opposition, Ellie uses her slighter build and agility to her advantage. She can now slip through small crevices, hide under trucks and use the new dedicated jump button to elude her adversaries. But the real game-changer is the new dodge mechanic featured throughout the intense demo which Ellie utilized to evade arrows and in harrowing multi-foe melee battles. It – along with new ammo types, the ability to go prone, new kinds of infected and other clever twists on what came before – looks to add new layers of depth to The Last of Us’ always engaging enemy encounters. The Last of Us Part II was the clear highlight of E3 and this demo was just another reminder why it is my most wanted game.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl Championship
Even though I prefer to write about games and television, football is my favorite hobby. Despite dreams of more, my playing career only lasted through high school, but I still love watching it every Fall. I’ve been a Philadelphia Eagles fan as far back as my memory goes. I still remember going out with my dad and buying my first Eagles hat. Needless to say, I’ve been waiting practically my whole life to witness the Eagles hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and seeing that happen this past February was incredible. For weeks after, I still woke up in disbelief that it had actually occurred. And I certainly didn’t expect it coming into the season. Sure, I thought their roster was improved, but at the same time the schedule looked tougher. It was hard to predict the leaps both Wentz and Pederson would make in their sophomore efforts. And then when Wentz went down and Foles struggled filling in during the regular season, I wondered how good their chances were against tough competition in the playoffs. But this team really continued to beat the odds. I think I was most impressed with how Pederson adjusted the offense in a way to allow Foles to shine during the postseason. The Eagles winning the Super Bowl is my new favorite sports moment, topping the Eagles last Super Bowl appearance, the FSU CFB Championship in 2013 and that brutal hit I laid on the Salem quarterback my senior year. It is something I will remember for the rest of my life.
That will do it for this post. There was plenty of other cool stuff I didn’t include that I will likely talk about in my more comprehensive end of year lists. I’d love to hear your favorite games, shows, movies, albums or whatever else from 2018 so far, so let me know what they are in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading!