2018 was a hell of a year for games.
As the PS4 and Xbox One further mature and the Switch hits its second year, 2018 had a lot of great games and experiences that were expected to be great along with a lot of surprises. The crazy thing is that with all of those great games, this seemed like the first year where my time to play everything I was interested in was far fewer than I’d like, so certain games I enjoyed a great deal failed to make the list because I couldn’t play them enough to feel confident about picking them for the list. That includes games like Into the Breach, Subnautica, Mutant Year Zero, Detroit: Become Human, Onrush, The Missing: J.J. MacField and the Island of Memories, Iconoclasts, Rogue Aces, Minit, Guacamelee! 2, and Timespinners that I would’ve probably loved most of those that would have made the list below tougher to choose if I even put more time into a handful of them. That said, I also spent a lot of “time” on bullshit clickers and idle games that I leave running in the background on my PC or on console with some on my Steam profile reaching over 1,000 hours of “play time” that says otherwise. It’s a big battle of time and how much some of these games need me to be in the right headspace before jumping back into them. I’m sure 2019 will be easier, right?
To go to the flipside, let’s talk about some of the disappointments of the year. Forza Horizon 4 is probably the big winner there as a game from a series I love where the latest sequel felt like the developers had no clue what to do to make it any better than Forza Horizon 3. From the weird focus on the human avatar and cosmetics to collectibles you can’t collect without doing other activities first, to the icon vomit that is the map screen, and how they constantly reset my filter to limit what shows up on it to the environment not being interesting to explore to the weekly Forzathon challenges typically relying on you to spend most of a week in some crappy car I’d never drive otherwise that limits what I want to do until I get whatever millions of skill points goal I need before I can think of completing it. It’s a game about doing lots of busy work outside of the actual racing which is the main fun part of the game and watching meters fill up over and over again with little hope of ever beating the game. I loved Forza Horizon 3, but this new game focuses on the worst aspects of that game and sometimes makes them even worse because they want me to play this game until I die. I’d like to see the Forza Horizon team get a break from this series and focus on reviving the Project Gotham Racing series to do something new and interesting with it after it died 11 years ago. Do something with the PGR name, Microsoft. Take some risks with your racing teams for once.
Before I lose track of the point of this article and write way too many words about my issues with Forza Horizon 4, let’s get back to my favorite games of 2018:
10. Donut County – PS4, Switch, XB1, PC
Donut County is one of those games that does some cool stuff mechanically, but doesn’t go far enough with it for that part of the game to really stand out. It’s actually the hilarious writing that really makes it a great experience and is one where I took a ton of screenshots of dialog and the Trashopedia so I can read them again later while cackling at how funny it is.
9. PixelJunk Monsters 2 – PS4, Switch, PC
The original is one of my favorites from last generation and one of my all-time favorite tower defense games, which made a sequel finally happening 11 years later a big deal for me and being very good was also a great relief. It’s not a perfect sequel to the classic, but the amazing art style, new 3D controls, and new selection of towers made for a tough, challenging experience that keeps me coming back often to try to figure out the perfect strategies for its tougher rainbows.
8. Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age – PS4, PC
It’s been 13 years since Dragon Quest was last on a console here in the West and that is why Dragon Quest XI‘s release this year was a breath of fresh air for a classic franchise that is rarely treated like a premier franchise by Square Enix over here. While other JPRGs “modernize” in weird ways that are alien to their roots, Dragon Quest XI is mostly faithful to what I loved most about the series without feeling stale like Tokyo RPG Factory’s JRPGs.
7. Celeste – PS4, XB1, Switch, PC
While the masocore platformers have been all the rage since Super Meat Boy was a big deal on XBLA, the biggest problem I’ve had with them is their hard-on for reveling in your deaths and failures to belittle your skills and make you feel like a worthless loser. Celeste does none of that while retaining the same challenge, also offering assists for those that need it, and wraps it all in a relatable story about a girl climbing a mountain in an attempt to escape her personal issues.
6. Tetris Effect – PSVR, PS4
Tetris has never been a flashy, stylish game despite the acclaim it has received for decades, so it was certainly surprising to find out before E3 that Tetsuya Mizuguchi, creator of Rez, Lumines, and Space Channel 5, was working on the newest game for PSVR and PS4 that added a heavy dose of style to the classic Tetris action that made for an outstanding puzzle experience that is like nothing else out there right now. Tetris Effect is one of a handful of games that helped make PSVR a standout platform this year that is also a thing I would not have expected to happen in 2018.
5. Return of the Obra Dinn – PC
Lucas Pope knows how to make games that appeal to my weird sensibilities with the bureaucratic simulation Papers, Please and now Return of the Obra Dinn, which is an insurance adjuster simulation where you’re exploring the Obra Dinn to find out how everybody on the passenger list died with the help of your handy magical pocket watch that shows you the moment of their death. It’s one of the best detective games around with an amazing art style that is easily the best of this year.
4. God of War – PS4
Chalk this up to another thing you’d never expect to happen in 2018, but the new God of War being a great reinvention of the series’ play style, presentation, and mechanics while featuring a genuinely great story about a father and his son going on a journey together to lay their wife and mother’s ashes to rest despite everybody in all of the realm’s insistence on stopping them. It’s a huge testament to Cory Barlog and his team at Santa Monica Studio on doing what seemed impossible a few years ago in modernizing the God of War franchise.
3. Astro Bot Rescue Mission – PSVR
I’ve been a VR advocate for two years now since PlayStation VR launched and this year has been joyous as Sony’s investment in this new way to play games has paid off with several excellent games like Moss, Tetris Effect, Beat Saber, Firewall: Zero Hour, Creed, and Astro Bot Rescue Mission, which is easily one of the best platformers I’ve ever played. Astro Bot is an incredibly well made platformer that uses the strengths of VR to perfection that would be a lesser experience without its great controls, amazing soundtrack, and excellent presentation that sets a good foundation for Team Asobi’s future VR work.
2. Marvel’s Spider-Man – PS4
Despite being my favorite superhero, Spider-Man’s games have never really been good enough to capture my interest with the way that Activision squandered its license over the last 20 years, so it’s no surprise that Sony and Insomniac Games getting a hold of the rights to make a new game resulted in an amazing game that does everything right. The writing is fantastic in all respects and the game plays really well as a spin on the classic Batman: Arkham combat system while they nailed the web-swinging to make it easy to never use the fast travel until I finished up the platinum trophy at the end of my time with the game.
1. Hitman 2 – PS4, XB1, PC
I knocked out an entire neighborhood’s worth of people with muffins, so if that doesn’t make Hitman 2 one of the greatest games ever made, I don’t know what will. Hitman 2 took everything that was great about the first season and layers on more great ideas to make for the best stealth game that is approachable, funny, and tense at the same time.
This year has been an amazing year for games and I cannot wait to fall behind on 2019’s games before January is over. Thanks for checking out my article and check out the other SmashPad staffer lists while you wait on the overall SmashPad Top 10 Games of 2018 article on New Year’s Day.