Happy New Year and welcome to yet another year-end list of favorite games. 2018 had a ridiculous number of amazing titles, or just games that were worth checking out. However, while I did play a lot of them, a gigantic backlog and lack of free time kept me from playing as much form this year as I would like. Because of that, I’ll be sharing just my top five games of the year, but I also have another five games that I also loved, but were released before 2018. So, without any further delay, let’s get to it!
Faves from Yesteryear:
5) Bastion (2011)
I actually started this game soon after it came to PS4 and Vita a few years ago, but I only completed it this year. While I found the over-narration endearing and the art style gorgeous, what I really loved about the game was the combat. It’s fast pace and multiple options and upgrade paths kept me excited to play through it. With my playtime being so broken up, I sadly didn’t appreciate the cool turns at the end of the story as much as I’m sure others did. But, I still dug my time with it, and I see why it made Supergiant Games a household name.
4) Octodad: Dadliest Catch (2014)
I picked this one up a long time ago on sale in hopes that it would deliver a short, comedic experience and nothing more. And while it did deliver that exactly, I was surprised to find that this game had so much heart at it’s core. Sure, watching Octodad awkwardly waddle his way through everyday human life was what I came for. But the narrative, that initially starts off as a classic, though trite, cat and mouse story, ended up having a pretty sweet message of forgiveness and acceptance. So, good on Young Horses for nailing this one!
3) Red Faction Guerrilla (2009)
While I owned Red Faction: Guerrilla on PS3 and PC for years, I finally played through it completely this year in the form of the Re-Mars-Terd Edition. Since my PC is pretty low powered and my PS3 is, well, a PS3, this was the first time I got to play the game both in 1080p and at 60FPS. The result was the same destructive action I fell in love with last generation, but even more beautiful and fluid then before. The destruction system is still mind-blowing, even by modern standards, however it is that system that, when strained to heavily, caused the game to crash on rare occasion. That, and the disappointing lack of players in it’s multiplayer servers, are the only real issues I had with it, and it is yet another reason to love Volition, who also developed my favorite game of all time, Saints Row IV.
2) Assassin’s Creed: Origins (2017)
As a huge Assassin’s Creed fan, I didn’t find myself tired of it’s gameplay formula after completing Syndicate not too long ago. In fact, while I’ve played nearly every game in the main series, I still intend to play Unity, the remaster of III, and maybe even the current gen port of Revelations. But despite that, AC Origins managed to completely blow me away and give me so many things I didn’t even know I wanted. The combat required me to think more actively during encounters, the more open environment made stealth easier and more fun for me, and the proper skill tree made it my progression as a character feel more tangible. Add to that what is easily my favorite character of the entire series in Bayek, and you have a game that easily is now my favorite in the series, at least until I pop in Odyssey.
1) Resident Evil 4 (2005)
I have an unconventional history with the Resident Evil series. RE 5 was the first one I played, and despite me putting down RE 6 pretty early into the game, I got a lot of enjoyment from both Revelations 1 and 2. But despite that, it took me a long time to get into the most acclaimed entry in the franchise. I played it on PC, but a bug relating to frame rate made the game unplayable on my laptop. I bought it again on PS3, but the port felt slow, the resolution looked soft, and when another more exciting game came along, I left it after a few hours. So, when I picked it up on PS4, I decided to finally hunker-down and get through it all, and boy am I glad I did. The combat, while very different than what I’m used to in action games, felt satisfying throughout and the resource management forced me to think about combat scenarios as if they were puzzles. The story, while it didn’t blow my socks off, allowed for a regular string of unique set-pices that vastly improved the pacing of gameplay. And while I’m still not much of a horror fan in general, seeing just what kind of twisted creatures were waiting in each level got me as excited as it did terrified. I finally know why RE 4 is so many people’s favorite game of all time, I just wish it didn’t take me all these years to find out.
Grip: An incredibly solid racing game that’s an spiritual successor to Rollcage. But since I never played those games, it more reminded me of Wipeout’s insane speed and power ups mixed with the monster truck-esque vehicles and rugged terrain of Motorstorm. Very fun, though admittedly minimal polish. Hoping to play more in 2019.
Celeste: Hoping to play more in 2019, since everyone I know loves this game, but as I’ve barely played the first hour, it can only be an honorable mention. While I’m only seeing the hints of the gravity of it’s narrative, it’s gameplay is instantly satisfying. Much like one of my favorites of all time, Guacamelee, it’s platforming challenges are highly demanding and challenging, but failing a jump or grab only puts you back a few seconds, making it easy to keep trying at it. I’m sure it can only get better from here!
Onrush: An extremely refreshing take on racing games, as it doesn’t even have a finish line or even lap times. In a move that makes the Burnout fan in me smile, it’s all about the combat between the cars here. Onrush encourages taking down other cars, doing dangerous stunts, and boosting as fast as possible to win a variety of events, and I have yet to play a level/match of it that wasn’t an outright blast. As it receives more updates into the new year, I hope to jump back in and maybe play along side the millions who acquired it through PlayStation Plus last year as well.
The Jackbox Party Pack 5: This year’s collection of party games seem to be the best, most unique, batch yet. However, I can’t confidently declare that yet as I just need to bring it to more parties. Still, Mad Verse City successfully riffs off my love for diss tracks, and Patently Stupid makes the PowerPoint presentations of high school into a fun spectacle with friends. Can’t wait to play more of these games!
The Walking Dead: The Final Season: Sadly, this is an honorable mention due to the release date of it’s final episodes being pushed back to 2019. Since it’s due to the closure of Tellatale games at the hands of some irresponsible heads of the company, I totally understand why and have come to terms with the fact that I’ll have to wait to see Clementine’s fate. But even so, I really enjoy where the story is going so far. The first episode started off incredibly strong and the second, while it mostly served to set up the now delayed episodes, had some cool revelations as well. With the drama at Telltale far overshadowing the game itself for many, the ending of Clementine’s story will be bitter sweet no matter what, but I can’t wait to see how Skybound and the Still Not Bitten team take her across the finish line.
Florence: Did I tell you that I won an iPad this year thanks to a Twitter contest for that Elder Scrolls card game? Well, I did, and thanks to an iTunes gift card that my boss gifted to me without knowing I’m an Android user, I was able to instantly load it up with a few games. The first game I played on it was Florence, and man was it a great first game to try out. It’s story, though incredibly short, was powerfully told not through expansive dialogue, but through interactivity. Seeing the highs and lows of this love story progress was just as captivating on this smaller screen then it would have been on my PS4, and that is something I didn’t see myself saying as someone who typically avoids mobile games. Big props to Mountains for developing it, and I’m sure this only scratches the surface of their abilities.
Faves from 2018:
5) God of War:
Considering the overwhelming praise this game received throughout the year, it might be surprising to see it barely make my top five games of the year at number five. Well, there are many reasons for that. It’s incredibly satisfying combat isn’t one of those reasons. It’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous graphical fidelity and art design isn’t one of them. The addition of addictive RPG elements to an already satisfying progression system isn’t one of them either. No, I began to fall out of love with the game once I went for it’s platinum trophy.
I was told going for it would be a fun experience by many online, so since I had enough fun with the main game, I went for it. After many hours of frustratingly difficult boss battles, Niflheim grinding for important gear and resources, and unengaging backtracking to find collectables, the cracks in the game began to show. Traversal is mind-numbingly basic, and while that is never a problem in the main game, having trophies that force players to travers the massive (not) open world highlights that fact. And further more, while the combat is still very satisfying, I began to question if I enjoyed it more than the original games, which eventually lead to me questioning my opinion on this reboot when compared to the original games overall.
I played through every singe God of War game, except the mobile phone entry, and while I never considered them my favorites of all time, they always gave me a satisfying mix of varied and engaging combat with numerous mind bending set pieces throughout. While it engaged me on an emotional level more than the series ever has, God of War’s reboot left me wanting when it comes to massive set pieces. Even the poorly received and quickly forgotten God of War: Ascension’s first level blew most of the more impressive scenes in the new God of War out of the water. And speaking of the more emotional story, Kratos in the older games always had a softer side to him, it just never took center stage like it does here. Instead, his love for his family, remorse for his sins, and self loathing at his own rage would only arise at the end of most of the games, especially during the climax of GoW III. While the more intimate and emotional story was appreciated and better than most of the narratives in the older games, it didn’t leave me loving it as much as everyone else, especially after all of the hype around it and it’s twist ending.
So, ultimately, God of War was undeniably one of the best games I played this year, and I’m sure if I put it down after rolling the credits, I would have loved it a lot more. However, the more I thought back on it, and played other games throughout the year, the more I soured on it. For someone who was always a fan of the franchise, the game felt like more of a justification that it could still be good while adapting to modern game design rather than it finally being good after a series of bad games, as I’m sure many viewed it.
4) Spyro Reignited Trilogy
I can not fully describe the utter joy that filled my body when this game was announced earlier this year. Spyro the Dragon was the first game I ever played, and those few hours on my cousin’s PS1 would go on to change my life forever. But I was even more glad to see that the final product would be even more fun than I remember!
Toys for Bob did an excellent job bring the game over for this new generation. The bite sized doses of collect-a-thon crack was just what I was missing since playing the excellent Ratchet and Clank reboot in 2016. Controls were surprisingly fluid thanks to an updated, and beautiful, art style and a higher frame rate. And while I’ve yet to get any of them, the platinum trophies for each game seem very achievable.
The only real knock I have against the game is that the flight levels, at least in the first game, are locked to inverted flight controls. I know I’m not the only one who finds this to be an issue, and I’m fairly confident that normal flight controls will be patched in at some point soon. But despite this blemish, this game is nothing short of wonderful, and I can’t wait to finally see the first game I ever played to it’s conclusion finally in the new year!
3) Astro Bot: Rescue Mission
This one very quickly snuck into my game of the year list right at the very end, as I didn’t even own a PlayStation VR to play it until shortly after my birthday on December 11th. The aggressively adorable characters and animations and clean and slick art design make for a game that looks shockingly great for a PSVR title. But as soon as Astro Bot showed one of it’s many tricks it had up it’s sleeve, I was mesmerized by it instantly.
Sure, the base gameplay starts out deceptively simple, with the titular character only being able to walk, jump, punch, and do a spin move. But those few mechanics are built upon constantly throughout the campaign in increasingly creative ways. In some levels, your DualShock 4 controller is given special abilities that effect the word in which Astro Bot resides, such as the ability to throw ninja stars into walls that Astro can walk on.
This would easily be enough to make the game unique, but they constantly take advantage of the VR perspective as well, asking you to use your actual head to, for example, head butt a soccer ball back and forth with an enemy until he explodes. And finding the games many hidden locations requires you to check every corner of the game world, even behind, below, and above you, to get 100% completion.
This is truly a must play for any PlayStation VR owner, and honestly, it’s worth even picking up a headset for this game alone.
2) Red Dead Redemption 2
The original Red Dead Redemption was the first game that I followed the hype on, meaning instead of waiting a few years for a sale or price drop, I jumped on it almost exactly on release day. I never cared for westerns at the time, and I still haven’t seen many today, but I quickly fell in love with John Marston, Bonnie McFarline, Dutch Van Der Line, and the rest of the colorful cast, and it’s ending was one of the first game endings to hit me as hard as it did. So the fact that Red Dead Redemption 2, even as a prequel, manages to top it in nearly every way feels like an impossible thing to say. But, it’s true.
While for the most part, the highest heights of the original’s story seemed to come at the end, there were crazy twists and turns throughout the entire campaign of RDR 2. There was one change of location that came completely out of left field and it helped invigorate my play through immensely. The use of music here is more powerful, and frequent then the last game. There are even more great charters here, with way fewer of them being forgettable. The game manages to keep you engaged in the story, even when telegraphing many of the moments hours before they happen or by nature of it being a prequel. And the rate at which major events in the story happen, after the slower opening hours, made for an exhilarating race to the final mission. And not to mention the excellent side missions that ranged from quieter moments of great character development to over the top spectacles of surrealist fantasy.
Gameplay, while widely complained to be too slow, was a refreshing change of pace for me. Not since Fallout 3 have I explored and open world not just to get to the next mission or collectable, but to just observe its inhabitants and watch it’s systems interact. The slower pace of the game allowed me to appreciate its finer and more subtle details. And while I did sometimes miss the more arcadey gunplay of the original game, I never felt disappointed with the more methodical gameplay of the second. The more detailed gore system and cinematic camera made firefights even more fun than the original in many cases.
However, despite how much I loved the game up to the end of Chapter 6 of it’s campaign, it, much like the original, doesn’t end after the final story mission. But what was just an obscure side mission in the last game was an hours long epilogue in the sequel. While I did love every bit of fan service-y goodness that connected the plot between both games, it began to feel like a slog by the end of it. It’s less that the mission’s dip in quality at all, I’d even say some of the encounters and moments in the epilogue are some of the best in the whole game. It just that it’s kind of annoying to get an immensely satisfying, though bitter sweet, ending after over 40 hours of play only for that conclusion to be preceded by nearly 15 more hours of narrative immediately after. Even if that narrative is still great, it takes away from the original ending and I would have loved if that epilogue content was added in post release, as I wouldn’t have gotten as close to burning out on the game as I did.
But that complaint is honestly dwarfed in comparison to the profound effect Arthur Morgan’s journey had on me. He quickly became not just one of my favorite characters from any media, but this game has easily replaced Red Dead Redemption 1 in my top ten list, and that’s without even mentioning the great multiplayer offering in Red Dead Online. But even despite that, it still isn’t my favorite game of the year…
1) Marvel’s Spider-Man
I’ve been a fan of Insomniac Games ever since, after playing through Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters, I discovered that they are the original developers of the franchise. That series is still one of my favorites of all time, and I even loved Resistance 3 as well, but I’ve always felt that Insomniac hasn’t been seen as the top tier developer that they are. Despite the excellence of R&C: A Crack in Time, it was largely overlooked in favor of the Uncharted and inFAMOUS games that defined the PS3 generation. Despite the positive reception of Sunset Overdrive, it was mostly overshadowed by the new Gears of War and Halo games that later came to Xbox One. So, I was so happy to see that this was the year that they finally gained the prestige that they’ve long deserved for their work on Marvel’s Spider-Man.
I’ve always known the developer as experts of weapon and gameplay design, so when they announced they were working on this title, I knew it be excellent. Combat, while similar to the Arkham games, is much faster, but also much more forgiving, as it’s easier to use gadgets mid encounter and health can also be recovered mid combat. Stealth gameplay even manages to be engaging as well since it avoids the staleness of previous Spider-Man games by incorporating Peter’s many gadgets into the stealth gameplay.
And of course, the traversal and web swinging mechanics are excellent. It’s one of the only open world games that I played this year in which traversing its world was just as fun as the rest of the game. The perks and abilities you unlock make traversal even faster and more fluid, but it still remains playful and true to Peter’s character, as you can do different tricks and flips while falling through the air. This is probably my favorite aspect of the game, especially how it incorporates back into combat.
But what really caught me off guard was the narrative. As some long and overly emotional Tweets and posts from me have shown, I’m a big fan of the Spider-Man films, so I was already pretty familiar with the mythos of the universe. But this game managed to surprise me with the lengths is goes to turn that mythos on its head. Some characters don’t do what you’d expect, some don’t even appear at all, and some characters were new to me despite being a fan of the universe already. And even more compelling to me, the more personal moments were sometimes shockingly somber and other times endearingly uplifting.
Unlike the collectables of God of War, collecting everything here was just as fun as it was quick. Unlike the incredibly long tale of Red Dead Redemption 2, Spider-Man’s never overstayed its welcome, and actually left me wanting more. Admittedly, the game doesn’t do much new, but it is a near perfect execution of many previously seen ideas. There literally wasn’t a single moment of this game in which I wasn’t enjoying myself, and that’s a phrase I’ve only said about some of my favorite games of all time, like the previously mentioned Saints Row IV and Titanfall 2.
It’ll take awhile to consider if this game is my new favorite game of all time, but it easily takes the honor of my favorite game of the year, and it is a title that every PS4 player, or lover of fun, should try.
That’s all for my favorite games of 2018! I wanna thank every single developer that worked on any of these games, as I couldn’t write any 4,000 word pieces on them without their work and sacrifice. And if the Telltale drama, Spider-Man outrage, or Rockstar’s past labor practices are any indication, these devs need not only our support for their games, but also our support for the devs themselves, as they put up with a lot to create these games. So, once again, thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
With titles like Rage 2, Biomutant, and Dreams coming this year, and games like The Last of Us Part 2 and Watch Dogs 3 rumored to be coming as well, 2019 seems to be just as great of a year for the game industry. I can’t wait to see the outstanding pieces art that will be released this year, and the joy that will be generated from them.
And finally, thank you reader for supporting us at Los Harrow Games during our birth year. In just a few months, our writers have received dozens of views on their pieces and our podcast has gotten hundreds of listens as well. None of that could have happened without you all, and I thank you for caring about what we have to say about, what I believe is, the best entertainment medium.
Now enjoy this picture of a very content and happy Emmett on Christmas Day of 2018.