Sunday, 6 January 2019

TOP 10 GAMES OF 2018


Compared to last year, 2018 was one hell of a year for games. Sony hit it out of the park while Nintendo continued their Switch streak with a number of steady releases. Microsoft did some good too, though I only experienced them on the PC. All and all, it's been a good one so let's take a look at what new games I actually got around to play and which one holds my highest esteem...

There were a few games I've yet to play, most notably Monster Hunter World, but if there's one name that dominates the gaming awards so far, it's Sony. They released many big-name exclusives that are sure to be remembered for years to come. In fact, very few of the AAA releases disappointed this year with a large number of them dominating my Top 10.

There's been a downturn in the number remakes and re-releases compared to last year, but that doesn't mean we got none. Shadow of the Colossus made an already good looking game more beautiful. The Secret of Mana may have been disappointing on a technical level at launch but with the patches in place, it's a decent enough upgrade. Of course, Nintendo continues to bring us the Wii-U's hand-me-downs with Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze but they're still among the best games on the system.

MicroSoft announced a slew of acquisitions to their developer line up and many of them bring the company what they're sorely needing; decent story-based experiences. Obsidian will bring their excellent RPG expertise to the system as well as the action-adventures that will come along with Undead Labs. Ninja Theory, the developer of Hellbound - one of my favourites of last year - are also under their banner. My only hope is that they continue to release their games on PC 'cos I don't think I can be bothered buying an XBox One. Either way, it's nice to have healthy competition. My only hope is that they don't do to these companies what they did to Rare.

Anyway, let's get to why you're here: my personal Top 10 games of 2018. If you fancy giving any of them a go, click on the posters to head on over and buy them.

https://www.gog.com/game/the_red_strings_club
10

Devolver Digital's retro-styled adventure defies expectations from the very first screen. It begins as one of our central protagonists is falling to his supposed death from a skyscraper. Monkey Island 2 did something similar with Guybrush dangling from a rope clutching a treasure chest. He did he get there? How will he survive? Play the game to find out.

That's not the only Monkey Island 2 reference. The first location - a bar - looks just like The Bloody Lip from that game too, piano and all. But this is not a game about pirates, but another nefarious occupation - hackers. It's a cyber-punk tale of oppressive governments, the nature of free will and our emotional state. A far cry from that classic.

Most of the puzzles are physics based and are re-used quite often to the game's detriment. While pouring and mixing drinks to satisfy a drunkard's emotional state all in the name of squeezing out information is a good time, shaping bio-implants like forming a clay bowl on a pottery wheel is simply not fun. The story, however still shines through and is one of the best reasons to play this modern retro-classic.

https://amzn.to/2C2E9B8
9

Level-5's first Ni No Kuni stood tall back in 2013, not just in its gorgeous visual design created in collaboration with Studio Ghibli, but by being an incredibly well executed and traditional JRPG - a once prolific genre that remains in something of a slump. Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom might not change the genre's tides, but it's still a welcome light in the darkness. The sequel has changed quite a bit too. The battle system morphs from a Pokemon-style command-based fight to a fully real-time action RPG mechanic.

While lacking the depth of the first, this gives you the player more agency in the lead character of Eben, a car-eared humanoid prince whose kingdom you must gradually expand. The kingdom building mechanic plays out in much the same way as Dark Cloud, the developer's early PS2 dungeon crawler, but while that relied on randomly generated elements, Ni No Kuni II is more focused and keenly designed. Not to mention those gorgeous Ghibli graphics.

https://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/p/forza-horizon-4/9pnqkhfld2wq?activetab=pivot:overviewtab
8

I don't have an XBox One, but if the Forza Horizon series remained exclusive to it, it would be a strong incentive to pick one up. At the moment at least, it is fully playable on my Windows PC. The previous entry took us through the bush of the Australian landscape but here we've come much closer to home - Great Britain. Or more accurately, the picturesque area known as the Lake District.

Everything about this game is stunning, from the controls that can be as arcadey or realistic as you want, to the gorgeous graphics and sound. Whether you're a casual racer or a complete engine-head, Forza brings something for everyone.

https://amzn.to/2TCJMNJ
7

Despite sinking way too many hours into Red Dead Redemption II, I still feel I've barely scratched the surface of it. It's one of the most graphically impressive games I've ever witnessed and the open world is massive. I do have some major qualms with it that made me question where to place it. For starters, this game really wastes your time. Roughly half of my playthrough has been spent following NPCs or galloping from one place to another. Many similar games get around this problem by including fast-track points, but with a world as vast as this even travelling by train doesn't get you to your destination any quicker. It really begins to get dull and annoying and filled with tedious busy work. In fact, it became the number one reason why I stopped playing and I very much doubt I'll see it to the end. It's very disappointing as when you get to those locations it is technically and artistically a marvel. As it is, it's at number 7.

https://amzn.to/2RAWmzt
6

You should know what you'll be getting yourself into by now when you pick up a Quantic Dream game. Gameplay wise, there's not much to write home about. You've seen it before in titles like Beyond: Two Souls, Heavy Rain and Until Dawn. The graphics are always going to impress too, building upon their traditionally stunning tech demos to wow us at every turn.

But none of these should be the reason why you'd want to pick up Detroit: Become Human. The real reason is the deep and emotional story that can vary drastically depending on your choices. Depending on how you play the game, you could get a comedic buddy-cop tale or a something much, much darker. Well worth it if you value storytelling in games.

https://amzn.to/2VyzMH1
5

While most of the world played and enjoyed Hollow Knight last year, my first encounter with this Metroidvania gem came when it was released on the Switch in 2018. From the enigmatic story to the levelling up system to the spot-on platforming, there's nary a foot wrong here. It is something of a difficult game, with some of the platforming moves taking some practice to reliably pull off, but not once unfair. Well worth a play on one of the many systems its available on.

https://amzn.to/2C3nptn
4

The Switch was dominated with re-releases, follow-ups and sequels this past year and some of them remain absolute classics. None more so than Super Smash Bros Ultimate - the finest Smash since the GameCube. That's quite a statement to justify but it fixes all of the niggles every entry since has had. The Wii's Brawl brought on so many extras that it felt unbalanced while the masses even touch the Wii-U version (I did have its little brother on the 3DS, but I couldn't get to grips with in on a small screen).

In comes Ultimate, bringing every fighter, every stage and every power-up that has come before and more. It learned from the balancing issues that plagued Brawl. The new characters (including Splatoon's Inklings, King K. Rool and Simon Belmont) are well chosen and play like they were always meant to be there. The adventure mode is radically overhauled to include Spirits, equipable nostalgia tokens from a plethora of gaming franchises that give positive attributes to your fighter. This adds an RPG element to this mode as well as some tactical thinking. Can't beat that Bowser Jr because the level has majorly stong winds? Equip a spirit that reduces the effects of weather. My only problem is that these sprites are represented as little more than a static jpeg gleaned straight from the design archives (I understand this decision though,  'cos there's a hell of a lot of 'em). Beyond this (and a still confusing as hell menu), Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is perhaps perfect. Now to actually get good at it...

https://www.gog.com/game/unavowed
3

Wadjet Eye Games, perhaps my favourite Indie developer, released their latest adventure game this year. The highly detailed pixel art they are known for remains beautiful, but what truly stands out about their work is the incredible game design. The point-and-click adventure has been a niche genre since its decline in the late 90s, but every single one of their games, Unavowed included, remind you of why the genre was so big in the first place. Their storytelling ability is top notch, told with such character it's impossible not to get pulled in. Puzzles are often very well done and are in keeping with the plot and setting, though here the action around you often stops to let you know it's puzzling time.

After being possessed by a violent demon for the last year, two members of the Unavowed (an understaffed supernatural police force) free you from the evil and invite you to join their ranks. It's not like you can go back to your old life anyway. You'll join these two agents, named Eli and Mandana, on their investigations and both have their own special ability. Eli, a fire mage, can use pyrokinesis but is also useful around anything to do with temperature. Mandana, a half-djinn, is strong and bears a sword that has a myriad of uses. She can also tell a lie from a mile off. You'll later enlist others to help you along the way all of whom bring new and interesting powers to the table, some of which can change the course of the story.

It's set in Wadjet Eye's rich Blackwell universe (in which 5 games already exist, all of which I highly recommend) but the story here has more of a wide-reaching consquence. There are a number of missions and each threatens to affect the city as a whole in some way. Like most of their back catalogue, Unavowed is a must play for any adventure game fan.

https://amzn.to/2AHQb39
2

Although released in the Summer, I wouldn't play Marvel's Spider-Man until October and it quickly took over every moment of my free time. It uses the basic formula of Rocksteady's Arkham games but with a satisfying Marvel twist. Instead of gliding over the streets of Gotham, Spider-Man swings through a realistic approximation of New York. This mechanic is incredibly visceral, so much so that quick travelling through the subway never crosses your mind.

While I didn't perform all of the moves required for each fight in each section (the biggest of completionists would tire of that one), I did 100% everything else - something I very rarely do. Some of the side missions weren't as inventive as what is found in Arkham Knight, but Insomniac Games never lost sight on what makes the game fun, and this has a hell of a lot of it.

https://amzn.to/2H7MSaK
1

This has topped many best-of lists this year, and rightly so. The God of War franchise hasn't had many missteps but this ageing Kratos knocks his previous adventure out of the water. Earlier games focussed on his revenge over the death of his wife and family, but while familial bonds remain, the addition of a living a son is a game changer.

This small inclusion has a much greater impact than the shift from Greek gods to Norse mythology. Kratos is a softer, less angry protagonist whose primary goal is to protect his boy after his recent wife passes away. What follows is an epic journey filled with fantastic creatures and events, but remains entirely personal. The game mechanics have changed drastically too, with an over-the shoulder camera that doesn't cut throughout the entire game. It sways and swerves imperceptively to each angle, giving you the perfect viewing spot.

The action is less button-mashy too, with the attack input moving from the face buttons to the shoulder buttons. Your magical boomerang-like axe can be called to your hand at any time and will be your go-to weapon, but others you will find will be just as useful as enemies become more difficult to overcome. An awesome game that's perfectly formed in every way. There's a reason why it's winning so many awards.


HONOURABLE MENTIONS

A lot of my purchases on the Switch were re-issues or re-makes of Wii-U games. As that underperforming console passed me by, I'm quite happy with these. They're new to me and ooze that Nintendo seal of quality. The frenetic action of the first game (which came included for some lucky folks) returns with added humour added to the insane story.

The special levels of Super Mario 3D World gets a fully fleshed out release on the Wii-U - and now the Switch. It may seem like second-tier Nintendo but this quaint puzzler is as engrossingly addictive as anything they've put out.

More Switch re-releases, this time from one of my faveourite franchises. Tropical Freeze is as hard as nails as Retro Studios previous effort and contains as much charm as the Rare glory days. The addition of other playable characters add an incentive for double-dippers but for first-timers, it's a must play.

An experimental 3D platformer with a wonderful visual style. It's strangely calming too, with exploration and experimentation taking preference over tricky jumps and level progression. The undefined nature of the game didn't always click with me, but I'm not in the least bit disappointed I gave it a go.

What is it about rodents and high fantasy? I remember being fascinated with the likes of Nimh, The Deptford Mice and Redwall as a child. Ghost of a Tale exudes the same sense of adventure with me. Some of the mechanics feel a little underbaked, but that can be easily excused. It's a story-heavy RPG adventure with some great graphics for such a small developer.

A below average horror experience that I only got because it was on sale for cheap. Now I know the reason why.

Every time Switch owners get a Wii-U game ported over, it makes that previous system less and less desirable (though I'm not entirely sure the Switch gets more enticing at the same rate). Hyrule Warriors was one of those games that potentially tempted me to get a Wii-U, but I'm glad I waited until now. It uses the Dynasty Warriors framework to good effect, but I find the gameplay gets repetitive quite quickly.

Movie licensed games have all but disappeared. While not exactly tied directly to the film, Frontier's Jurassic World: Evolution still released around the same time as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. It is a theme park simulator - much like Frontier's own Planet Coaster - but with a heavy focus on dino rearing. It uses a mission-based progression system that gives those newer to the genre a bit of welcome direction, but it doesn't have the same kind of freedom as their excellent theme park builder. After playing Planet Coaster, it's a bit of a step back, but it remains a very decent game. Even tops Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis as the king of dinosaur-based management sims.

Kirby is always a fun experience, but also an incredibly easy one. There are some great mechanics here that don't overstay their welcome, but it doesn't come close to the playability of Return to Dreamland, the variety of Super Star or the originality of Epic Yarn. And if you want a lesson in frustration, play it multiplayer with a bunch of 5-year-olds. Man, that's stressful.

The obligatory Mario Tennis game for this generation sees a lot of fun additions, including inventive bosses and tennis themed mini-games. It doesn't garner the same multi-player attraction that is Mario Kart or Mario Party though (the latter of which I've yet to own), but it's a worthy Switch release.

I played this after most of the notorious bugs were patched out, but I still found this 3D remake of a class SNES game a little underwhelming. It may look appropriate in stills, but the cute art style removes the sense of wonder that the pixelated 16-bit game had.

One of the best remakes this year is also based on one of the best games ever made. I now own Shadow of the Colossus multiple times, but I think this will be my go-to version from now on. The graphics have been completely re-done in a beautiful way that keeps the same sense of awe that the original had. The inclusion of different control styles and additional colossi is also very much welcome.

I'm getting a little bit fatigued with the current spate of Tomb Raider titles. They're very well made, but there's something about them that feels a bit stale. The 2013 first game updated the character superbly with a tight story that was, unfortunately, light on actual tomb raiding. Rise added unnecessary survival mechanics - which I'm not particularly keen on - and open world areas. Shadow attempts to bring back the tombs but it ultimately feels like more of the same.

A tough as nails pixel platformer that wasn't all that I hoped it would be. It gets that original Castlevania style perfectly - in both looks and gameplay - but I think I'm over retro-inspired pixel art in indie platform games.

The first Toys to Life game I've ever purchased. And that's because of a certain bushy tailed anthropomorphic canine. Starlink is basically StarFox meets No Man's Sky, except a lot less procedurally generated. It plays very well too, even if the Switch exclusive Fox McCloud seems a little out of place.

I was kindly given a Steam key for this simplistic shoot-em-up earlier this year after the designer liked my article on ABA Games. It shares the same minimalist look as those freeware classics. It's deliberately done as the gameplay is stripped down to its essentials, with an eye for being accessible to newcomers to the genre. In fact, after some training with Solid Aether, I think I might have improved enough to finally see the end of Ikaruga by Treasure (update: I'm haven't).

Nintendo aren't the only one's re-releasing their older titles. MicroSoft Studios brought some of their older XBox One exlusives over to PC too. Developed by Insomniac who are often heavily tied with Sony (see Spider-Man, Spyro, Resistance and Ratchet & Clank), Sunset Overdrive was once a coup for their main competitor. It's an incredibly fun and fluid game that deserves more people to play it.

Yet another Switch re-release, except this time the game originated from the Nintendo DS. I played and loved that original version, which sees an ordinary(ish) boy get trapped in an alternate dimension that's threatening the real world. I was hoping the gameplay would be tweaked to remove any touch gimmicks or at least make them optional, but I'm sad to report it hasn't. The touching remains in handheld mode, while you have to wave the joycons around in TV mode. I wish a third option existed that simply used the classic controller without the flapping and flailing but alas. Still, if you can stomach these mechanics, it's a great Japanese RPG nevertheless.


So that was my year in gaming folks. For my year in movies see my Top 10 Movies of 2018.

No comments:

Post a Comment