by Adi Stein
Normally I preface this list with a few rambling paragraphs about the state of the world and how video games have helped me get through the year, but let’s cut the bullshit, shall we? The world is tough but this year’s video games were pretty freakin’ awesome so let’s just dig in. Here are my top ten favorite games that I played in 2018. Enjoy!
10. Dead Cells
Dead Cells is one of the best feeling games I’ve played in a long time. The moment-to-moment combat is exciting and satisfying and the mere act of exploring every nook and cranny of these randomly generated levels had me coming back time and time again. Ultimately, the game’s punishing difficulty and gross art style plopped it a lot lower on my list than it started, but this is still an easy recommendation from me. If you’re looking for some best-in-class tight, fun combat, look no further than Dead Cells.
9. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
With Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, Naughty Dog continues to build on its impressive set pieces and even more impressive feminist undertones. Nadine and Chloe continue to be two of my favorite characters in this universe and I was more than happy to play a game about the two of them traveling the world, collecting treasure, and kicking ass. It doesn’t hurt that this game is short and to the point. Without dragging things out, Naughty Dog still gave me the awesome characters, jaw-dropping set pieces, and genuine relationships that I’ve grown to love from this series. If Nadine and Chloe took the lead for the rest of the Uncharted games, I’d be happy as a clam.
8. Burnout Paradise Remastered
Full disclosure: I hated Burnout Paradise when it first came out. I was a huge fan of Burnouts Takedown and Revenge, which were tight, focused, and (most importantly) linear racing games. So when Paradise came out with its open world madness, I felt left behind and confused. Cut to many years later and Paradise is re-released on modern consoles and I finally feel like I’m in on the action. This is the perfect summer game. I could hop in a play for five minutes or sink in and play for five hours. Much like Dead Cells, this game is a masterclass in tight and satisfying moment-to-moment gameplay. This a road trip well worth taking.
7. Night in the Woods
Night in the Woods made me nostalgiac for life experiences and memories that I’ve never even had. I went to Jewish private day school which is to say that my friends weren’t exactly punk-rocking rabble-rousers. But playing as Mae and catching up with her old high school friends made me yearn for a time in my life that never existed. This is all thanks to the game’s honest and genuine writing, which vibrantly brings these anthropomorphized animals to life. I want to actually hang out with Mae, Gregg, Bea, and Angus. I want to catch up with them, even if we have nothing to actually catch up about.
6. Marvel’s Spider-Man
Every list that has this game on it is going to say the same thing: They got the swinging right! It’s true. They did. But it’s so much more than that. Insomniac made a Spider-Man game that made me want to explore its version of New York. It brought back the feelings I had while playing Spider-Man 2 on PS2 while giving me so much more to do and a much deeper story to enjoy. But more importantly, Marvel’s Spider-Man is an awesome example of why video games are such a powerful story-telling medium. By playing as Peter Parker, I was able to feel all the pushes and pulls that his world, family, and friends put on him. There were more than a few times in which I found myself genuinely wondering how Peter was going to get out of this one. By putting me directly in the web-slinger’s shoes, Insomniac made me care for Peter’s life in a way that no Spider-Man movie ever has.
Earlier in the year I wrote a thinkpiece about Pyre’s voice in the Anti-Trump Resistance, so if you want a deep dive into my more complex thoughts on Pyre look there. What I didn’t talk was the game’s gorgeous visuals, relaxing yet heart-pumping soundtrack, and inventive “cosmic basketball” gameplay. This game is the complete package, but still very much exclusively for the adventurous. With impressive world building and engaging characters, Pyre fills out its wholly unique universe in meaningful and stunningly creative ways. Pyre might be my favorite sports video game of all time, which says just as much about how great this game is as it does about my relationship with sports-focused video games.
4. Hitman 2
I started writing this paragraph about a botched assassination I had in Hitman 2 the other day. After no time at all, what was supposed to be a few sentences had turned into a mini spy-thriller, and that was just describing one mission. Hitman 2 is a game that can’t help but leave you walking away with amazing stories to tell. Whether you get your target or not, shit is going to go down. Sometimes it’ll go down the way you want, but most of the time it will go comically south. This is one of those games where if you think you can do something, you almost definitely can. Player creativity is the law of the land in Hitman 2, and the game is all the better for it. This is one of the funniest, darkest, and most player-creativity focused games I played this year and I can’t wait to come back time and time again for more violence and mayhem at the hands of Agent 47.
3. Fortnite: Battle Royale
Fortnite: Battle Royale is this year’s Destiny for me in that I have a strong love-hate relationship with it. I don’t think the shooting feels good, deaths often time feel cheep, and the I fundamentally feel that the loot-coloring system made popular by Diablo makes battle royale games feel unfair. That being said, I have played more Fortnite this year than any other game on this list. I regularly wake up in the morning and play a few rounds with my best friend. Sometimes we (and by “we” I mean “me”) are horrible and can’t survive more than thirty seconds. But sometimes we can’t be stopped and are running through Tilted Towers popping off sniper-driven headshots and launching rockets from skyscraper-level balloons that are strapped to our backs. No matter the case, I have had more fun and laughed harder with this game than any other game on this list. It’s frustrating yet addictive and winning a game of Fortnite feels like a true triumph. I’m terrible at almost every aspect of Fortnite: Battle Royale. I’m a piss-poor shot, I can’t build a ramp to save my life, and I am still constantly mocked by my friend for my inability to land where we say we’re going to land (“Adi, a lot has changed about this game over the past year. One thing that has not changed is the landing.” – Samuel P. Edgerly, 2018). But despite those facts, all I wanna do right now is jump in for a few rounds. After all, I must. Take. Tilted.
This game falls in the dead center of my strike zone. Platformers have always been my favorite genre of video games. There is just something so satisfying and attainable about them. I know that all I have to do is get from Point A to Point B and the only thing stopping me is myself. But Celeste is so much more than just a satisfying platformer. I mean, it is very much that with some of the best and tightest platforming I’ve experienced in a good long while. But it’s more. It’s also a powerful and touching story about a girl struggling with anxiety and depression. It’s immensely relatable. As someone who suffers from a somewhat severe anxiety disorder, I find myself engaging with a lot of art about mental health and wellbeing. But Celeste’s story is unique and its ending is inspirational in a way that most of the art I’ve engaged with on this subject has not been. At the end of the day Celeste says that we don’t need to vanquish our demons. We don’t need to exorcise our mental illness. Instead we should embrace every part of who we are and use those perceived weaknesses as strengths. Only by accepting every part of ourselves, says Celeste, can we truly reach the top of our mountain.
Oh, and it has a kickass soundtrack to boot.
1. God of War
God of War may very well be my favorite video game franchise of all time. So when Sony announced this reboot of the dormant series, I was giddy as a schoolboy. I couldn’t wait for my favorite ass-kicking murder-machine, Kratos, to venture into Norse mythology and rip those Valhalla-dwelling gods a new one. What I wasn’t expecting was a genuinely poignant tale of a challenged and challenging father/son relationship. Kratos is not a good dad. He wasn’t before and he hasn’t become one in the intervening years. But he wants to be. He wants to break the cycle of horrible father/son relationships that has plagued him his whole life. In this reboot, we see Kratos not as anger incarnate but as a complex man who is haunted by his past and, as a result, wants to better his and his son’s futures. Over the course of this journey we still see him lose his temper, but we also see him fight back against it. When I was studying acting in college, I remember being told by a professor that letting your emotions just go is not interesting. No one wants to watch someone lose it uncontrollably. What’s interesting is the fight against the tears. What’s compelling is the struggle. God of War is 100% about that struggle. It is a powerful story packed in an immaculately executed package. Pulse-pounding action, eye-popping visuals, awe-inspiring sound design, and a soundtrack that will tug at your heartstrings all work together to deliver the greatest entry in an already great franchise. God of War is one of those games that is so good that I don’t want to play it again because I don’t want to tarnish the nearly flawless experience I’ve already had with it. It’s almost a shame I have no self-control. Almost.
Well, there you have it! My Top 10. Agree? Disagree? Love it? Hate it?? Sound off in the comments below. Let’s talk shop.