Game of the Year 2018
Happy New Year! Now 2018 has drawn to a close, we have voted on our favourite games of the year. Let us count you down through the gems that made it into the top 20.
20 Yoku’s Island Express Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC
Ben: Yoku’s Island Express is a pinball-Metroidvania puzzle platformer with stunningly painted 2D visuals depicting the pretty island environment of Mokumana. You play as Yoku, a beetle who washed up on this island that needs saving, where you are also required to fill the vacant postmaster role! This is a refreshing title to play with great sound design combines both pinball and Metroidvania elements in an inspired way that feels very natural.
19 CrossCode PC, Mac
Dominic: It’s easy to look at CrossCode and see it as another RPG going for the nostalgic Super Nintendo RPG visuals, but this game is so much more than that. CrossCode does superbly capture the early 1990s games, but modernises it through design and mechanics. It’s a fantastic package that sits as one of 2018’s best indie games. This is achieved thanks to its great action RPG gameplay set in a believable MMORPG world, beautiful visuals, addictive, responsive and challenging combat, smart dungeon design and some wonderful music. It’s a complete package that is bold enough to take the clichés of the genre and run with its own spin on them. For me, this was the indie surprise/masterpiece of the year.
18 Dragon Quest XI PS4, PC
Jorge: After many years staying exclusive to handhelds, Dragon Quest finally returns to the big screen (depending how big your TV/monitor is), creating one of the most visually impressive games of the year. Thanks to a smart use of lighting and animation, every single character – be they party member or NPC or monster – comes alive and dazzles with charm.
Unlike Monster Hunter World, the gameplay remains virtually untouched since its original debut, though there are a few quality of life features to help things feel less grindy. Anyone with a decent PC owes it to themselves to play it over the console version, as mods allow them to experience the full orchestral score over the terribly dated MIDI tunes (the game’s one single shortcoming).
17 Dragon Ball FighterZ Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC
Jorge: Anime games are a dime a dozen, but the number of titles that are actually good are much rarer. Dragon Ball FighterZ is a combination of successes: it showcases one of the most visually impressive titles this entire console generation, features a chaotic fighting game mechanic that is still easy to learn thanks to simplified controls, and it also happens to feature the most iconic Anime characters of all time.
The visuals deserve praising, as Arc System Works has managed to take years of source material and apply them to every single character’s moves. Every punch, ki blast and dramatic yelling is perfectly reproduced. All other fighting games must now be benched, because the new King of Fighters has arrived.
16 Detective Pikachu 3DS
Ben: Detective Pikachu is a spin-off that seems so implausible on paper – it’s a different Pikachu to the one we know, with a very different voice – but somehow it works and demonstrates the continuing appeal and versatility of the Pokémon brand. Aimed at a younger audience, it weaves humour and charm with teaching principles such as investigation, testimony and evidence without being overly challenging. Now we have the film to look forward to!
15 Yakuza Kiwami 2 PS4
Dominic: I have a soft spot for Yakuza 2, as it still remains my favourite entry in the series, so hearing that a full remake instead of a remaster was coming to update the game for 2018 was always going to put it on my radar.
I was happy to find out that Yakuza Kiwami 2 does a fabulously job recreating the original sequel, making it one of the best remakes available. The visual update alone that comes with the Dragon Engine is worth experiencing the title again. It brings beautiful cinematic cutscenes, a highly detailed recreation of the city, Kamurocho, detailed character models and brilliant performances from the voice actors, which enables the fantastic story and emotions to shine on screen. Not only that, the new engine spices up the combat to make it more exciting, taking bits from Yakuza 6 and adapting it into this remake. While Yakuza 0 arrived on PC and Kazuma Kiryu had his last focus in Yakuza 6, it was this remake that shined in 2018 as the best example of the series to date.
14 Into the Breach Switch, PC
Jorge: Into the Breach takes the concept of turn-based strategy games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Front Mission and strips them down to an easy-to-understand goal: don’t get hit. It is a game so tense, where a single enemy attack can lead to an instant failure, which is why many players will anxiously stare at their screen for minutes as they try to pinpoint the perfect counter strategy.
But there is no perfect strategy, and sometimes a sacrifice must be made: do you protect the bonus goal and let one of the civilian buildings fall? Do you sacrifice your mech to take the hit meant for the building? Even with a do-over button every match, all too often failure will come, and often by your own miscalculations. But the game can also be incredibly unfair (but still highly entertaining).
13 Evergarden iOS, PC, Mac
Ben: Evergarden is a beautifully presented zen puzzler. Set in a mysterious world and played across a hexagonal grid, the core mechanic involves growing plants and combing adjacent pairs to create more evolved versions of the plants. It has a compelling tactile quality, and strategic side on how best to approach the challenges you’re set doesn’t grow old. There are also songs you can learn to give you special abilities, for example using rain to evolve a group of plants on an area of the board, or calling in a bird to whisk away any pests that appear. By combining two fully evolved plants you can create a stone pillar that opens up to reveal a special stone at the end of the round, which you can use to solve puzzles in other parts of the world. Followed by your watchful feline-with-antlers companion, Evergarden is a polished and relaxing game you can enjoy at your own pace.
12 Aragami: Shadow Edition Switch
Ian: I got this game to review and really didn’t know what to expect, especially with it basically being the follow up for a university project, but I was instantly sucked in. In fact, with the exception of finding all those god-damned hidden scrolls, I just inhaled everything Aragami has to offer – playing through on both Normal and Hard, completing every optional objective, and playing it multiplayer. I was completely taken in by the Metal Gear Solid-style enemy FOWs and often tricky AI mixed with the mystical, shadows abilities of a ninja.
It wouldn’t be uncommon to think that allowing the player to teleport around would make the stealthing too easy but it couldn’t be further from the truth and I just love how much you can make the gameplay your own, with it being entirely possible to just tear through areas with brute force as fast as possible – no witnesses, no problem. Then, there are parts that just ooze that methodical, stealth action goodness; challenging the player to watch and learn, to take that perfect moment to strike.
11 Warhammer: Vermintide 2 PS4, Xbox One, PC
Ian: There aren’t enough missions. There’s not enough variety. Playing online on hard mode or above is basically suicide. Still, none of this stopped me from trying again and again and again. Levelling up every hero, going through on every difficulty, and just beating the ever loving hell out of thousands of Northlanders and Ratmen. I loved every second. Even the frustrating deaths, the stupid and costly mistakes, and the absolute nonsense that will knock you for six.
I played this game with four friends, in every combination possible, and just had an absolute blast. I even tried it a bit solo, playing online, but I just can’t recommend it that way. It’s terribly frustrating to not have that communication when it’s so obviously needed, but in a group of friends there’s nothing else like it – the team work, the screamed warnings, the cries for help, and that group sigh at the sweet taste of a longing victory.
10 Command & Conquer: Rivals iOS, Android
Ben: As a big fan of the original Command & Conquer games I was keenly awaiting how Rivals would fare, given the decline of the series from its past highs. It has been completely rethought and adapted to mobile, the most striking difference being the entire map fits on-screen, and you battle over zones in the middle of the map to control the nuke, go straight for the enemy harvesters or attack their base. Games are tense, speedy affairs against real opponents and everyone’s match replays can be viewed on the built-in Command & Conquer TV replay viewer, making it a great way to learn from defeats and pick up new strategies from other players.
The downside is a reliance on loot boxes and levelling up units. It is free-to-play with the option to pay to gain an advantage and level-up faster. But you are well rewarded for just playing the game regularly so it doesn’t feel essential to invest money, but as you invest time you will likely feel compelled to spend at least something. I would prefer a fixed upfront price though, it would help avoid people who invest more money to gain an advantage and mean you can relax without opening crates between sessions; this is really my only real criticism other than a lack of an offline mode, and that unlocking all the units will take even a dedicated player many months. The core mechanics are so very well implemented and it has revived some of that classic 90s GDI vs NOD vibe. Rivals succeeds in making real-time strategy fun, accessible and playable in short bursts – so much so that I’ve played it daily since release. Fingers crossed we’ll see a fully fledged console version of Command & Conquer in future that builds on Rivals ‘foundations.
9 State of Decay 2 Xbox One, PC
Simon: Zombies are boring! So very boring. I see a zombie and I go “aah!”, but it’s not from fear or excitement, it’s just an explosive yawn. Come/shamble at me zombie lovers/apologists!
Regardless, all video games play dress-up, and quite often choose a guise I’m not terribly excited by. More importantly, zombies notwithstanding, State of Decay was a game that solved open world games for a hot second and nobody noticed. Not a single tired Ubisoft trope in sight, and systems and currency in place to motivate everything you did and didn’t do. An almost entirely organic narrative springing from context and your own unique experience. It had incentives to make death defying choices, and sported an inherent, real sense of investment and loss when one of your characters died. State of Decay 2 isn’t as successful in all of the areas the first game excels, but it introduces new interesting elements and fixes enough of the predecessor’s problems to ultimately end up just as good-but-flawed.
It is definitely not for everyone, and sometimes it feels like systems only barely held together by string and duct tape with objectively unfair things randomly happening to you quite frequently. But when the credits finally rolled I’ll be lying if I said I didn’t have a truly exciting, genuinely rewarding and memorable experience behind me.
Now that Undead Labs is a first party studio I’m simultaneously excited for and dreading the polish that a third game will provide. Seems oddly appropriate.
8 Red Dead Redemption 2 PS4, Xbox One
Dominic: There are so many games with open-worlds nowadays that it has become a trademark for this generation of consoles, but bringing such vast open lands hasn’t always been done successfully. Some games manage to do it well, some end up boring, but some manage to take creation to the next level. Last year’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild showed what could be done with interaction within the world.
This year’s open-world achievement comes with Red Dead Redemption 2 and its step forward in interaction with an open-world’s inhabitants. It’s the living, breathing people that add dynamics to the day-to-day traversal in this cowboy sequel that gave me such an amazing time – so many random things happened through my 60 hours plus with the game that it felt I was been given a unique experience.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is an accumulation of Rockstar Games’ expertise in building open world games, but has seen them push the genre in a way that might not have been expected from them. All these variables and mechanics included in the game’s world could easily have gone wrong, but they somehow work exceptionally well that it enables Red Dead Redemption 2 to live on past its well written story to be remembered for the little things that happen in the game, the personal stories that players will get to experience will be the things that stick with them for years to come, yet on the surface of the game is still all the classic Rockstar Games madness that one usually expects from the company.
7 God of War PS4
Jorge: The 2018 soft reboot of God of War achieved something that I never would have dreamed possible: make Kratos into a likeable character without retconning his actions from the previous games. The opening line by Kratos to his son (“Do not be sorry. Be better.”) sets the narrative tone of the entire journey.
Kratos does not regret his past actions, but he is ashamed of them, and he tries (often awkwardly) to raise his son to be a better man, or at least not a monster. It’s a game that completely tears down its predecessors while somehow still respecting them, turning one of gaming’s most psychotic dudebros into one of the most narratively complex characters ever.
6 Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee Switch
Ben: Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee is a long awaited home console version of Pokémon, the first since the somewhat different PokéPark Wii: Pikachu’s Adventure. It is essentially a remake of the original Gameboy classic using modern techniques and re-introduces us a wonderfully colourful world full of Pokémon. Those of us who have been playing Pokémon Go or Sun/Moon the last few years will probably enjoy this more from a nostalgic perspective than anything truly new. However this is a great decision by The Pokémon Company – it will allow today’s younger generation to feel like how we felt when first playing through Pokémon Red/Blue, encountering Team Rocket and collecting the original 151 Kanto Pokémon. The simple link with Pokémon Go helps tie the experience together for fans, while the Pokéball Plus accessory is compact and works surprisingly well – both as a novelty controller and making the game very intuitive for younger players.
Ian: Like many people, I didn’t really know where this title would land. Whilst I’m still an active Pokemon Go player (hey, it’s something to do on the way to the office!), I expected the capture system to be too empty and repetitive for a real game. However, I instead actually found it to be refreshing. It feels like a nice way to replace the tedious battles, that are a big part of regular Pokemon games, with a quick dexterity test. Plus, the ability to see wild Pokemon in order to be able to actively avoid them was also incredibly engaging; it gifts the player a true sense of freedom and exploration, without the fear of being sucked into time-consuming downtime. I drank this one in relatively fast but I’m afraid grinding for shinies just isn’t for me, so I’ll just have to wait and hope to see a few more generations released in this format in the coming years.
5 Celeste Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux
Ian: I mean, it’s perfect. I said it in my impromptu review. The mechanics are just absolutely perfect and the art design, characters, story, and especially sound design are just phenomenal. I’ve already been back and played it through all again to completion (NOT an easy task!) and I can see myself going back for round three soon. To say there’s nothing else like it gameplay-wise wouldn’t be true but it’s just so refined, with abilities that might initially even seem like mistakes (such as wall jumping without losing stamina) but that were actually specifically crafted to allow the player complete control, if they are willing to work for it, to practice, to fail, to overcome. It’s like a metaphor for the journey the protagonist takes, fighting her inner demons and learning to live with herself. Accepting her problems and not trying to ‘beat’ them as if it’s a battle that can be won. It’s. Perfect.
Jorge: Indie games that adopt a retro aesthetic and instant-kill platforms are as common as Indie games with Lovecraftian narratives, but Celeste manages to climb above most copycats with a charming style and fantastic soundtrack. But it isn’t just the tightly-controlled and delightfully frustrating gameplay; the story also features a personal tale about overcoming anxiety and depression, offering some surprisingly inspirational advice to help deal with such issues without feeling heavy-handed or poorly researched.
4 Monster Hunter: World PS4, Xbox One, PC
Dominic: The initial reveal for Monster Hunter: World showcased an amazing upgrade over the last game, the handheld focused Monster Hunter: Generations. This was Monster Hunter returning to consoles, and with that we saw breathtaking visuals, beautiful environments with an improved monster ecosystem, and fantastic quality of life changes that make it accessible for newcomers.
I was worried that trying to make itself more inviting would mean stripping away some of the things that make a Monster Hunter game so unique, but Capcom managed to build a game that kept the essence of the series intact while bringing with it the best playing entry yet. It might be a tad easier than before, mainly due to how effortlessly it is to replenish or find healing items in the environment, but this doesn’t spoil the overall experience, the thrill of the hunt one feels when fight these deadly beasts is unlike any other video game. It lacks content that makes the end game feel too repetitive with the smaller monster count, but this due to the game being a complete rebuild. With the expansion coming this year and the release of monster updates, it looks like this will become a non-issue as the game will eventually grow into a mammoth that the series has become known for.
It also make me happy as a fan, because while Monster Hunter has never had any worries about building an audience in its home country of Japan, it never quite got the same amount of love when it appeared on PSP, Wii, DS and Switch in America or Europe. Monster Hunter: World has not only changed the perception of the series across the world, it has also skyrocketed to become Capcom’s most sold title of all time, and deservedly so, because it’s an amazing game to play on your own or with others. Now people can understand why existing fans are so engrossed in the series.
Jorge: Monster Hunter: World is almost the ultimate dream game for fans of niche, predominantly Japanese franchises: what if this quirky series that isn’t well known in the West received a bigger budget and more streamlined trappings?
The result is one of the biggest successes of the current generation, as Capcom has finally turned Monster Hunter into a named series overseas. Yet despite its smart streamlining of the more obtuse features of the franchise, it still carries an incredible amount of depth and a steep (but still manageable) learning curve, not to mention that addicting loot-driven feeling of “just one more hunt”.
3 Forza Horizon 4 Xbox One, PC
Dominic: At this point it’s easy to say that when you see Playground Games and Forza Horizon together, you are in for a rather brilliant racing game that handles fantastic, looks gorgeous and has superb track designs. Forza Horizon 4 brings the arcade, open world racing series to the shores of Great Britain, an inspired location that I will fully endorse its brilliance, and that isn’t from bias just because I live there! While the map might be smaller than Forza Horizon 3’s Australia, what this sequel brings is the concept of seasons, offering Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter and their different weather patterns to change up the environment and how one should be driving in wet, ice, snow or dry conditions.
This racer also has so much variety across its single player element with race types, challenges, story events and nods to other games, but taking it online adds even more things to do with the Forzathon and multiplayer features across versus and cooperative challenges, to the point that after finishing everything the single player has to offer, there is plenty to do with other players around the world. I used to think the Project Gotham Racing games were the best arcade racers around – that is no longer the case after another quality entry for Forza Horizon, which always remains such a joy to play after many, many hours clocked in on a game that I regard as one of the best arcade racers ever.
2 Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Switch
Ben: Smash Bros. Ultimate is my personal game of the year and I do wonder if I will ever tire of playing it. It has take a tried and tested formula and refined it to close to perfection. The rota is extensive, varied, with some subtle but appropriate tweaks to improve balance. I have been enjoying playing as a wide range of characters, even some I was less keen on using in the previous iterations. The new Spirits feature has the collectability of the old trophy but in a more engaging and impactful way that adds depths and longevity. 3v3 and 5v5 strike force modes bring that great team-building fun, there are so many levels to play, all with battlefield and omega variants. This really is the ultimate version of Smash and I have already pre-ordered the upcoming DLC. A truly fun competing game that the whole family can enjoy, while also offering immense challenge for the experienced player.
Ian: I played a round of Smash Ultimate recently with two friends – we had max CPU players, all highest level, and everyone as Ice Climbers. It was completely absurd but seriously hilarious and that pretty much describes Smash perfectly for me. Whilst, competitively, I’m definitely into more standard fighting games, Smash always has been and always will be a great party game and now, with all the characters and stages available, it really is the ultimate version.
Jorge: At this point, Super Smash Bros isn’t just a crossover series featuring Nintendo characters and the occasionally third-party guest: it’s a celebration of videogames as a whole, from its unique settings and characters to its various gameplay styles and soundtracks. The game also employs Gacha mechanics as typically seen in mobile games, but without loot boxes or microtransactions to bog you down. You can take on as many Spirits as you want, creating a whole new meta game in addition to the more traditional (and more jam packed than it’s ever been) Smash bouts.
1 Marvel’s Spider-Man PS4
Jorge: Insomniac Games’ take on the world famous web-slinger goes beyond creating a fun big budget game: they also created a game that is pure joy on both a gameplay and sentimental standpoint. Considering the tough times many have faced in the last couple of years, the latter is especially resonant and important.
With so many grim and gory Triple-A games released nowadays, I can’t even remember the last game where I’m saving people from a collapsed building or having the public praise my efforts as I stroll down the street. Spider-Man embraces the life of the superhero, both its ups and downs, and the spectacular powers included (use them responsibly).
Simon: Insomniac have secretly made some of the best video gamey games for absolute ages. Ratchet & Clank quickly got over exposed and people began to take them for granted, but they always played exceptionally well. Even venturing out of their comfort zone with games like Resistance, there was a fundamental understanding of what makes a video game feel good that put Insomniac far ahead of other companies and their decidedly less confident genre jumps. So, if you want, say, a Spider-Man game that provides the associated power fantasy – by a developer that knows how to give it enough friction to become a satifying video game for people to play, not just act out – Insomniac is a prime example of a no-brainer choice.
If you want absolute first rate production values, performance capture and a steady-handed, blockbustery framing narrative that makes you invested, Sony’s first party endeavours are second to none. On every level, Marvel’s Spider-Man was given to the right people, and the result is absolutely predictably great.
Congratulations to Spider-Man for taking the top-spot, to our runner-up Smash Bros. Ultimate and the other entries too. Some truly memorable games were released in 2018 that will be played for years to come.
Happy New Year and best wishes from everyone at DarkZero for 2019!