The time has come once again to look back at the year that was in gaming. This year I’ll be counting down my seven favorite games of 2018. Why seven? I know. It’s kind of random. Well, it started as a top five and then grew a couple spots as I debated between three games for that number five position and wanted to include them all. Well, without further ado, here are my top seven games of the year!
7. Overcooked! 2
Overcooked! 2 was an unexpected surprise for me in 2018. I had never played the series before, but a friend convinced me to give the title a shot and I found my favorite new multiplayer experience of the year as a result. The culinary creations made in Overcooked’s chaotic kitchens take some serious cooperation. Working well with your fellow chefs is key. One of my favorite gaming moments of 2018 came when I finished Overcooked! 2’s final stage. After multiple tries, we seemed to be on track to serve all the dishes in time when a cake went awry and I had to plop it in the garbage. My hopes for victory were low, but my partner kept me going and we managed to complete our orders with mere seconds to spare. It was a triumphant finish, both satisfying and exhilarating. That was a story of when things went right, but the game could be just as entertaining when things went wrong. Like when I accidentally dropped that burger a buddy made in the trash. Or when someone knocked my character off our floating kitchen. Inside jokes were created in the playing of this game that my friends and I still laugh about regularly. Overcooked! 2 is a brilliant multiplayer game in its own right, but also shows how a game as good as this can be further buoyed by the people you play with.
6. Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales
I’m usually pretty plugged in when it comes to gaming news and upcoming releases, but I somehow didn’t hear about Thronebreaker until a week before its PC release. Despite my love for The Witcher 3, this had somehow flown completely under my radar. The truth is I never played much Gwent in The Witcher 3. Finishing a game that long was going to be tough enough on its own, so I felt like getting hooked on the game within the game was a mistake. The multiplayer-focused Gwent game wasn’t really up my alley either. But Thronebreaker? This looked amazing. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. When I finally did with the PS4 release, it proved it was indeed quite amazing. It has many of the things that made me love The Witcher 3. The medieval fantasy setting. The excellent writing. The unforgettable characters. The morally grey world and accompanying, impossible-to-make decisions you will have to confront within it. This latest take on The Witcher trades in 3’s open-world, action role-playing for an isometric RPG where the battles play out via the now well-honed Gwent card game. I’m only part way through this Witcher tale of war, but it has had such an impact on me with everything from its clever puzzle battles to its eye-catching artstyle that it came close to cracking my top five for the year.
5. Tetris Effect
This basically feels like Tetris meets Lumines. The result is what is likely my favorite non-Lumines puzzle game ever. Tetris Effect infuses the classic block-dropper with mesmerizing visuals and the year’s best soundtrack to deliver a feast for the eyes and ears to augment the series’ tried-and-true gameplay. The main attraction is Journey mode and I implore all players to play it through in VR at least once if possible. Tetris doesn’t feel like a game tailor-made for virtual reality, but Effect’s visual flourishes and musical stylings lend itself to it quite well. Playing in VR will take players on a trippy, experiential voyage shielding you from outside stimuli and putting you “in the zone” like you never have been before. Of course, this is Tetris so it excels as a score challenge as well. Learning the rhythms of the game’s pace changes and mastering the new Zone mechanic will be key to besting your friends’ scores and climbing the leaderboards. A slew of other modes of varying lengths add extra play value to the year’s most addictive game.
4. Shadow of the Tomb Raider
More than the prior two entries in Lara’s most recent reboot, Shadow of the Tomb Raider feels more like what I’d like a TR game to feel like. It’s more adventure than action. Combat takes a back seat to puzzles and platforming. Tombs are not just optional challenges, but integrated into the main quest early and often. Underwater exploration returns in a big way. Repelling and wall-running add depth to traversal while new difficulty modes add challenge to finding the right path through the environments. And those environments feel more Tomb Raider-y here. Gone are the odd ramshackle buildings and shanty towns of the 2013 title or the more modern installations of Rise, in their place beautiful jungles and ancient temples. Even the combat, while less of a focus overall, adds some cool new stealth elements. Admittedly, there are some odd steps backwards here too – I didn’t like the NPC/town-like hubs as much as Rise’s exploratory/platforming zones for instance – and a lack of forward progress in other areas – the narrative still leaves a lot to be desired. These factors, along with the current DNA of the trilogy just not feeling as fresh as it once did, means Shadow feels more like a lateral step from Rise than it should for someone like me. So perhaps the series is once again in need of a shake-up next time out, but that didn’t prevent me from enjoying the hell out of Miss Croft’s latest expedition in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
3. Astro Bot: Rescue Mission
My first experience with any sort of modern virtual reality was playing this game on the PlayStation VR headset. It. Was. Mindblowing. I honestly had no idea if I would even like VR, but it wasn’t too long into this adventure with my adorable, little robot buddy that I knew just how cool VR could be and would be. We explored the very depths of the ocean all the way up into the clouds high in the sky. I guided him on a harrowing mine cart ride. We toppled towering bosses and vanquished spooky ghosts rescuing all his robot friends along the way. And I was right there in the world with him for every bit of it. Astro Bot is a fairly traditional 3D platformer. One that reminds me more of Nintendo’s takes on the genre than just about any I’ve played not made by the big N. It has charm and challenge and is just an all-around, well-made run-and-jump. But it harnesses the VR’s capabilities to take things to the next level by allowing you to hunt for secrets by physically peering around through the headset and by placing you in the world in a way I hadn’t experienced before — not to mention adding some cool gadgets to the mix. It’s hard to deny that being my first foray into VR made Astro Bot a more impactful experience. But even after playing numerous other offerings on the PSVR, Astro Bot remains my favorite game on the platform for its smart platforming design as well as the twist that its virtual reality viewpoint brought to my favorite genre.
2. God of War
After six fairly similar entries, the God of War series was in need of a fresh start. This latest title on the PS4 is just that. So much has changed here from the mythology – the Greek backdrop has been jettisoned in favor of a Norse setting – to the perspective – the cinematic tracking camera gone, in its place a more intimate over-the-shoulder viewpoint. And yet I still feel like it captures the essence of God of War through key aspects like the visceral combat and grand scale. While I did miss the older titles’ style of traversal and some of the larger-scale boss battles, this newest addition to the franchise made some notable improvements in other areas. This has by far the best story in the series, showing growth for Kratos – a character that I had never been a fan of before – through his interactions with his son Atreus. The game is also jam-packed with Norse lore as well as a nice dose of humor – primarily from disembodied companion Mimir. Another boon for the series is the new non-linear level structure. I was particularly impressed with the way God of War’s central hub, The Lake of the Nine, opened up new areas to the player throughout this adventure. It was an incredibly intelligent piece of design. This latest God of War represents a wonderful new direction for the series. I was hooked on its superlative new take on the franchise’s violent brand of combat as well as seeing where Kratos’ journey through the Nordic realms would take me next. I couldn’t stop until I experienced every last bit of content this sprawling epic had to offer. It ranks among my favorite games of not only 2018, but this generation of consoles as a whole.
From a gameplay perspective, Celeste delivers my favorite masocore-style 2D platforming experience – think Super Meat Boy – to date. The challenge represented by each hazardous, spike-filled screen is as high as the titular mountain itself. But so is the satisfaction derived from besting these perilous, pit-laden platforming playgrounds. In a rare feat within the genre, the narrative deserves equal praise. Celeste tells the story of young protagonist Madeline’s quest to reach the top of Celeste Mountain where she battles the treacherous terrain as well as her own personal demons. I’ve never related to a game protagonist as much as I have Madeline. Her issues with depression and anxiety hit extremely close to home for me. I’d even go as far to say that Celeste’s depiction of anxiety is probably my favorite in any piece of media. And these two aspects of Celeste — gameplay and narrative — work in perfect harmony with one another. You will fail many times on your way to the peak. It will take determination to persevere, just like it does for Madeline – or anyone – to deal with the mental issues the game portrays. And this is to say nothing of the beautiful soundtrack. And the wonderful supporting cast. And the lovely pixel-art graphics. And the expressive character portraits. And the charming sense of humor. This all combines to create one of the finest 2D platformers of all-time – no easy feat given the genre’s 30-plus year history – and my pick for 2018 Game of the Year.
A few more things worth noting:
- More 2018 releases that I really enjoyed: Hollow Knight, The Messenger, Guacamelee! 2, Spider-man, Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion, Detroit: Become Human, Moss, Pokemon: Let’s Go Eevee, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
- I could have expanded this to a top ten, but I was honestly having a tough time separating the above group of games, so I stopped at seven!
- My top two picks were very close for me. I think I liked them about the same. But I think Celeste was probably objectively a bit better. It has fewer flaws. It would rank higher within its genre. And I think on a more personal note it had a bigger impact on me due to the relatable nature of its narrative. So ultimately I gave it the nod. I would have been just as happy choosing God of War as my GotY. It was very worthy.
- There are plenty of games I did not get a chance to play this year, so couldn’t consider them for this list. Red Dead Redemption II, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and Darksiders 3 were all games I would have loved to play before making this post, but I just didn’t have the time.
- Game Giveaway: This giveaway has now concluded. Congrats to commenter Ajapam who won a digital copy of Celeste!
Well, that will do it for my look back at gaming in 2018. What were your favorite games from the past year? Let me know in the comments below. This post will be the jumping off point for bringing the blog back in a big way over the coming year, so please check back for more soon! As always, thank you so much for reading!