This year has been full of changes personally leading into some new horizons for 2019. Looking back, I played far fewer games than I thought, or maybe I just played fewer games that stuck with me. I’m not sure exactly why that is. Maybe my tastes are changing as get older, maybe I have less time to play, maybe I just want something different from games, and maybe I’m just becoming the ultimate ornery contrarian I was meant to be. That last one is the most likely, and I think it may only get worse in 2019.
This is a list of my top ten games for 2018. It contains games I played, even if I didn’t finish them. (I’ll let you know which ones.) They captured my time, money, and mind. Some of them occupied my mind when I wasn’t playing them, and those are the best types of games.
Make no mistake – this is not a list of the best games of 2018. It’s not exhaustive and inclusive of every game. This is a list of the best games I played and/or games that made an impression. If I were talking to you in person, I would have no problem recommending any of them (except one) to you for the reasons I am about to give. I would also welcome any suggestions you have based on the games I like.
Without any more rambling preamble, let’s jump into some quick, honorable mentions, before I hit the actual top ten list.
Attack on Titan 2 – Bandai Namco (PS4)
If any game captured the essence of an anime, this one was it. The feeling of taking down a titan is awesome, and living in the world and taking part in all the action was great.
Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn – Big Deez Productions (PS4)
Many people are going to hate this game. They are all wrong. Yes, the combat is very, very repetitive, and there are some terrible bugs. It also uses icy hot as a health item. The story is wonderfully goofy, and the writing made me laugh. It pokes fun at the culture, and Shaq is great for taking part in this. Please make a sequel.
PixelJunk Monsters 2 – Q Games (PS4)
Bright and colorful tower defense with deep strategy and cute characters. You cannot go wrong this one.
Subnautica – Unknown Worlds Entertainment (PS4)
The only reason this isn’t high in my top ten is because it plays like trash. The frame rate is bad. The game freezes a lot, and it crashes. The graphics pop in is the worst I have ever seen. The developers should be ashamed for putting a promo card in the game case for the next chapter of their game, instead of an apology note for the sorry state of the game I bought.
With that in mind, I still can’t wait to play more of it, and I find myself fighting through the problems. When it works, this underwater survival game is that good. I love exploring and finding something new. I love pushing my way to the surface for air right before I completely pass out and die. I love the tension of escaping a predator and the terror of being caught in its jaws.
It’s just a shame that it needs more patches than a boy scout troop, before I could recommend it to anyone.
And now for the top ten…
10. Vampyr – Dontnod Entertainment (PS4)
Instead of angsty teenagers, Vampyr took the genre back to hungry fiends in Victorian London. It has some problems, but the story and world were so well-realized it was easy to overlook. There is a genuine sense of history and culture here that many games don’t bother to write.
The real twist is that you must eat someone to gain experience and new skills. This was always a balancing act, because the mechanic also penalized you with different consequences based on who you chose for a snack.
If you are looking for something that will take you in a few different directions, offer you choices, and give you a decent narrative, Vampyr is not a bad option. I really hope we see a second one to dig further into the world.
9. Death Road to Canada – Rocketcat Games (PS4)
This may be the year that pushed me further into survival games, and Death Road to Canada made dying both frustrating and fun. The zombie apocalypse happened, surprising no one, and you decide to make a car trip to the safety of Canada. Those mounties don’t tolerate the undead.
Along the way, you decide to stop, where to stop, whether to let someone join or leave your group (always say yes to a dog), gather weapons and supplies amid the hordes, and fight for your life. You will need to manage your car, fuel, skills, and food to have a chance at a new life, but you will see clever writing and corny jokes. It’s a more lighthearted game about not being eaten to death, and it all just works so well.
It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it kept me addicted to living one more day. Whenever I did die, I couldn’t wait to jump back into another randomly-generated round.
8. 428: Shibuya Scramble – Spike Chunsoft (PS4)
This is a visual novel that took forever to be translated into non-Japanese languages, but it was worth the wait. The most notable departure from other visual novels is that it uses live action sequences and still frame pictures of Shibuya. It’s fairly unique in a genre dominated by anime looking characters (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
The story is pretty good too. The separate tales of multiple characters are all woven into the same story. Told over one day, it’s broken into hours with an easily navigated timeline. Each of their actions can influence another person’s story in a positive or negative way. It gave more weight to your choices, and I found a few surprises and reasons to smile as I played.
If you hate visual novels, it won’t change your mind, but it is one of the best I have played.
7. Red Dead Redemption 2 – Rockstar Games (PS4)
You may be surprised to see this so low on my list. I am too. RDR 2 is a good game with a huge open world playground, but I’m not sure it’s a truly great game. I liked exploring, I like shooting, and I liked being surprised by the little touches in the game.
Unfortunately, it just failed to hook me like I had hoped and managed to frustrate me in a few areas. Here are some of my problems. The controls and mechanics can be a little hit or miss for me. The story is OK. I got lost in chapter 3 and stopped playing. I was disappointed that it seemed like they were borrowing from what I perceived to be a well-trodden story, instead of writing something new. I hate that the game made me a wanted man in some areas even though finding cash to pay it off only keeps me grinding or from buying things I really want.
Even so, I will go back to it. When I play, I lose time just getting lost. The world is vast in both a good and bad way, and, if I am just goofing around, I always find something fun to do. I really expected to fall in love, but it was just a fling. No spoilers, but, if for nothing else, I plan to try to kill Micah at some point. I hate that guy.
6. Transpose – Secret Location (PS4/PSVR)
Transpose is another game with an experience that shined despite some technical problems. It is a VR puzzle game in which you and past versions of yourself called echos work together to solve giant puzzles in three dimensions. The idea is that you can record yourself doing something in the game. Then you record other versions of you performing different actions. All of these echos work together to do certain things at certain times in specific ways and potentially different gravity to move little energy cubes to receptacles to solve the puzzle.
In practice, the game is far more brilliant than I am. I’m not the brightest bulb or the best spatial thinker, so I barely figured out some solutions. However, I loved being able to figure out a problem by watching six versions of myself move around until I figured out what was missing or fixed a prior mistake.
It’s really one of the best PSVR games I have played, not just this year, and Secret Location is a developer who seems interested in making unique games for the PSVR. This one was priced right at launch, but it’s probably even cheaper now. If you can ignore some technical issues, it will give you so much in return.
5. Firewall Zero Hour – First Contact Entertainment (PS4/PSVR)
I don’t usually play multiplayer games, especially multiplayer shooters, but Jeremy wouldn’t stop talking about this one. When the price dropped, I decided to pick it up, and I’m glad I did. He was right. This is an amazing realization of everything that the PSVR can do and be to really put you into the game. If I played it more, it might even be higher on the list.
When you play with friends, it becomes another level of awesome as you try to take on another four person team. Dying isn’t the end if you can help your teammates avoid being killed and win the match. Every action is critical, and death can be right around the corner. It’s tense, team action with great pacing. It is astoundingly good, and it should be something every PSVR owner tries.
4. Shadow of the Tomb Raider – Square Enix (PS4)
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a beautiful game that got the essentials right. The story wasn’t its strength, and I’m OK with that. Challenge tombs, navigating the varied environments, and finding every little treasure was so good that I didn’t care. The gameplay was solid, and I loved the action movie puzzles.
When I was playing the game, I was always looking forward to that next discovery, the next big sight, and I was rarely disappointed. This is a game with plenty of spectacle and an amazing sense of scale. The challenge tombs are really the highlight of the game and incorporate all the best ideas with excellent execution.
It does trip over some ideas and characters might have been a little deeper. If you are not looking for Tomb Raider by Naughty Dog, I think you will be thrilled with this release.
3. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life and Yakuza Kiwami 2 – Sega (PS4)
Ever since I started playing the remakes, I have been blown away by this series. The main character’s stoicism contrasts nicely with the bright neon lights, the over the top antics of his friend and rival, Majima, and the wacky side quests that give depth to the world. Even though I love the beat ’em nature of the game, I really play these for the story.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is the end of Kazuma Kiryu’s saga. Even though I have not played all of the entries, it did several things really well. The new graphics engine made everything prettier and more functional. The story, although it was still crazy, felt like they were dealing with a much more mature main character than the initial games. Kiryu is an elder statesman at this point, even if he retains his ability to plunge recklessly into danger and beat up half the city. The ideas presented were a reflection of that transition, and it only makes me want to play the other games more.
I bought Yakuza Kiwami 2 as well. I haven’t finished it, but it’s a nice view of the man in his younger years. It’s towards the top of my backlog, and it’s really good.
2. Spider-Man – Insomniac (PS4)
Here is another game I haven’t finished yet, so how can I make it my number 2? Max sung the praises of this game, so I finally bought it, before it went on sale, of course. It is a phenomenal open world game that keeps me glued to the screen whenever I play it. It’s a stunner as far as visuals go, but it really makes you feel like Spider-Man. That may seem obvious, but having a game that actually delivers what it promises shouldn’t be taken for granted.
They get the small and big things right. The locomotion around the city is amazing, and I can only wonder how long the team at Insomniac worked on that mechanic alone to get it right. Little activities dot the map and don’t feel like a chore. I don’t feel pressured to play a story mission to have fun, but the story missions are excellent.
It’s a great package that is a joy to play. Filled with banter from Peter Parker and radio broadcasts from J. Jonah Jameson, this has been a wonderful surprise and one that I cannot wait to savor as I complete it.
1. God of War – Sony Santa Monica (PS4)
As I sat down to play the new God of War, all I could hope was that they didn’t completely screw it up. The PS2 was huge for me, and those games were some of the best it had to offer. The old God of War had a bloody, visceral feeling to the combat. Kratos was full of rage and hate, so how do you tone that down and keep the feeling of the character? How could you take him out of Greece when I loved the architecture and visuals? Would it be a perpetual escort mission?
Somehow, they made it work beautifully. The combat with the ax feels better than I expected, even though I preferred later weapons. The man was still powerful and could be violent when he needed to be. They also managed to put a kid into a game without the string of overly cute moments and escort missions.
The story, characters, and writing were also good. As a father of younger children, the feel was right, and I could see and understand what they were doing. This can’t be faked. It came from someone who clearly understood Kratos and the impact of those changes in his life. There were moments when I thought the game was a little too in love with itself and the ideas, but it’s a solid foundation for a sequel we won’t see for a long time.
I am not sure this was the best game of the year, but it was one of the most impactful. It revived an old franchise, respected what made it great, valued a single player experience, and managed to do something new to keep it fresh. That’s a huge accomplishment, and it was some of the most fun I had all year.
After struggling with the list this year, I eventually decided to just go with my gut. Some of these could probably be moved around a bit, but these are the games that really struck me. None of them is perfect, some more than others, but each gave me something different throughout the year.
Thanks for reading my list. Please feel free to put your list of top 10 games in the comments. Feel free to let me know any games you think I might like, and I hope you found a new game to try as well.