I opened myself up a lot this year, but it was unintentional. Maybe my expectations were just low. Maybe I was just hungover from the highs from the previous year. Regardless, games just got to me and I didn't mean to be so damn vulnerable. After gaming for this long, you would have thought I would be better prepared. I should have seen some of the coming, but how could you when so many games were full of so many wonderful surprises? So many exhilarating moments. I can't thank 2018 enough for waking me up. Now, it's time to try to make sense of it all.
JDevL’s Top 10 Games of the Year 2018
- God of War
- Into the Breach
- Monster Hunter: World
- Assassin's Creed Odyssey
- Dead Cells
- Return of the Obra Dinn
- Red Dead Redemption 2
When I first start playing a mobile game, I need a hook. I need something simple that is an amusing distraction. If I keep playing a mobile game it's because I found a second layer, something a bit more satisfying underneath the surface. Holedown goes even deeper.
I was perfectly content just releasing balls all over the place and accidently beating levels. I started leveling up a bit and got more balls at my disposal with levels that required a bit more precision and patience. It felt really good to level up so I kept going. I hit maximum balls and my progress stopped for a moment. I could not get past the last levels. Then, the moment I hadn't known that I had been waiting for happened. The final hopeless shot. The level was filled with untouched barriers with tiny gaps that seemed to be laughing at me. It looked like there was a way through, but there was no room for error. I pull back and launch, as expected, I missed and I'd have to start over. Wait a minute, that took a bounce I didn't expect. The ball made it into the far corner. All of the balls are in there. It's madness! Barriers start to fall. Maniacal laughter builds as I clear the entire board and I explode in celebration. Every turn after that moment has me chasing that feeling all over again.
Holedown, you are beautiful.
My Horse and Me
9. Red Dead Redemption 2
In some ways, I'm still out there fishing with my two dads. Red Dead Redemption 2 will never let me leave, yet I never spent the time with it that I expected. I want it to exist in a world where there are no other video games and no other distractions. It's the video game escape I dreamed about since I was a kid getting lost in my first RPGs. I love it for its confidence and how sure it is about itself. I can't pick it apart. I want to go there and stay there.
Once a console generation, I'm confronted by the evolution of my video game preferences. It's strange how much outside forces can impact your interest immersing yourself in an unrelated experience. Short sessions of Red Dead Redemption 2 and other large open world games are almost impossible for me to prioritize. I want everything to be setup perfectly so that hours, afternoons, and long nights can be lost to these worlds. I'm coming to grips with the fact that I don't take the time for as many of those extended play sessions as I used to. When I do though, I'm gonna get right back on that horse, I'm gonna take care of that horse better than most of my real life relationships, and we're just gonna ride off. I can't wait.
8. Return of the Obra Dinn
I love to hear about new games from developers. I admire when they get great reviews. You start to hear the buzz around it being a must play game and I can't help but smile. It feels like all is right in the video game industry when another unique experience gets people talking. Of course, I sit there and smile smugly because I already know everything I need to know about that experience. After all, it's from a developer I support so I know what it's going to feel like. There's no rush to play it. I already bought it and have done my part to support it. Once I get around to playing it, I can applaud and acknowledge that everyone was right and promote this good game to my peers. It'll be a nice day.
I love it when I'm completely wrong about a game that I really knew nothing about it. I love it even more when that game turns out to be awesome in completely different ways than I expected. Return of the Obra Dinn is barely in the same genre that I assumed it would be in. I don't even like explaining the game because each discovery is so fulfilling that I wouldn't want to take a piece of that away from anyone. With each new piece, the smiling exasperation on my face gave way to audible bewilderment at the game's ability to include so many satisfying revelations. I couldn't keep my expectations in check and eventually just gave in to enjoying the ride like it was my first video game experience where anything was possible.
Memorable Gaming Moments in 2018
- Pug casino.
- I got to the dolphin level.
- The vampire, is also a doctor.
- What do you mean there is deeper water?
- Start the Star Fox music!
- Casual decapitations vs panicked decapitations
- Fishing forever.
- Was that a tentacle?
- We'll take your wife from here, sir.
- That new one just picked up the one we were running from.
- Peter Parker can't cook.
- I don't know if we can do this, but we have to do this.
- Just touch his shoulder.
7. Dead Cells
Feel cannot be communicated by screenshots, video, or the most clever gifs. I have to get my hands on it to know for sure. Most games don't have it. Most games require me to find something else to pull me in after I have the controller in my hands. I would play Dead Cells if it looked like my personal handcrafted nightmare.
I was never far from Dead Cells after its early access release. It had so much promise and somehow managed to raise the bar when it hit 1.0. The roguelike design decisions are smart. The weapons diversify the action on each run and the daily challenges force you to play differently. Every hit and minion death builds momentum to carry you further, faster. Even the draw to continue felt a bit different. It's not the familiar "one more run" urge to top yourself or to get better. It's more simple and pure urge to just want to "play more" Dead Cells.
6. Assassin's Creed Odyssey
I never doubted Kassandra’s abilities as an assassin. I knew we would have a grand ol’ stabby time trekking through the Greek Isles. I wasn’t sure we’d have a moment though. I’ve been beside a lot of video game assassins over the past decade, but I’ve only bonded with a couple of them. It turns out that Kassandra is a big lovable goof who won me over almost immediately. It became obvious that the only real goal for us, beyond murder contracts and moving along familial storylines, was to get her laid as much as possible.
The battle tested AC formula took a backseat to our Greek vacation. AC plays so easily in 2019, and it so customizable that you really get out of it what you put into it. Add in some old fashioned Greek mythology and mystery, and I always had something to push me forward. It quickly became an adventure game where I didn’t care about the destination. All that matters is Kassandra and I’s next shenanigan.
We did it
5. Monster Hunter: World
Really this was a dream come true. I’ve felt like an outsider in the Monster Hunter games prior to World’s arrival. Mainly because I have never played multiplayer. Convincing friends to try out this deliberate action game was just too hard on mobile or Nintendo platforms. MonHun on PS4 sounded perfect, and it also had the perfect release date. We were hungry for Winter co-op hunts and we got more than we could handle. After the initial release, all of a sudden I noticed that our crew had a daily/weekly MonHun schedule. No one planned it, but for a glorious 6 weeks, you could log in and know that someone would already be playing or getting ready to jump on.
This co-op sessions were due to a lot of the gameplay updates for MH World. I still wouldn’t call the game, accessible, but it is accessible enough. Each session is hefty and deliberate, but the payoff always feels good. Each MonHun run rewards you with tangible results that turn impossible hunts into loot fests where you don’t even break a sweat. The progression makes you feel powerful, and the teamwork makes everyone feel essential.
Most Honorable of Mentions (in no particular order)
- Vermintide 2
- Book of Demons
- Super Smash Bros Ultimate
- Starlink: Battle for Atlas
- Football Tactics and Glory
- Tetris Effect
4. Into the Breach
Simplicity is deceptive. It is also so easy to write off. I don’t know if I would have given Into the Breach a chance based on screenshots/video alone. A strategy game with a relatively small grid and a cute but functional pixel art style didn’t exactly scream “must-play” in 2018. However, when I saw that Subset Games (FTL) was making a mech game, and then I saw how it looked I knew there had to be a lot going on underneath the hood. Into the Breach is not simple, but it’s welcoming aesthetics and setup ease everyone into one of the most perfect strategy games ever designed.
Everything fits. Everything has purpose and balance. Into the Breach’s options and complexity are revealed layer by layer. There’s plenty of victory to be had at the base game where you can look up to see the real challenge ahead. Too many strategy games either bore experienced players or destroy new players from the outset, but Into the Breach knows how to satisfy both groups. Into the Breach works for short sessions, but also provides expanded depth and options for players that want to play for hours on end.
The most beautiful feature of Into the Breach, though, is that it is crushingly fair. When you lose, you know why you lost. You know what mistake you made, and you know what you can do next time to improve. Into the Breach never crushes you into dust. Victory is always within reach, and Into the Breach wants you to earn your triumph.
Swing on by
I really thought that making a great Spider-Man was pretty straightforward. All you have to do is nail the swing. Make it fun to get around NYC and the rest of the game will fall into place. Admittedly that is a huge ask. Insomniac Games did the impossible, and made swinging through NYC look as easy as Spider-Man makes it look. They did it so flawlessly and injected so much joy into getting around NYC that you have to wonder if they even broke a sweat making it happen. Once Insomniac’s Spider-Man returns to earth, he smirks and shows you everything else that makes a great Spider-Man game.
I grew up in an era where superhero games were mostly terrible. You just expected the failure. This new generation of players doesn’t have that issue. In the right hands, superhero games can be everything you imagined as a fan. We’re living in an era where we legitimately have at least three great active Spider-Man storylines outside of the pages of the comic books.
Insomniac and Marvel crafted a Spider-Man world that pulled me in every direction. I was excited to experience its versions of my favorite Spider-Man characters alongside a few new ones and quite possibly my favorite version of Mary Jane. The world is rewarding to fans and newcomers because the great ride of the storyline is enhanced by memorable gadgets and gameplay. Spider-Man just never stops being fun to experience, no matter what critical, emotional, or supportive moment you are choosing to play at the time. It’s one of those games that you never want to end, and when it does you know it’s only going to get better each time you go back to it while fantasizing about the possibilities of the next adventure with Spider-Man.
I Wish We Could Have Spent (More) Time Together
- Pillars of Eternity 2
- Astro Bot Rescue Mission
- Overcooked 2
- Mutant Year Zero
- Two Point Hospital
- Ni No Kuni 2
- Hitman 2
Dust Yourself Off
Everything was going great. Celeste was as advertised and I was enjoying the platforming challenges. No strawberry was escaping my grasp, no matter how many times I needed to restart a level. “Well done, Matt Makes Games, you fulfilled my single player desires that were teased by Towerfall. This hotel seems like a good place to take a break. I’m sure I’ll come back to Celeste here and there as I need a jumping challenge or two. Boy, this Mr Oshiro has a lot to say, and he seems a bit weird. Maybe I should see this out.” That was the best video game decision I made in 2018.
Playing Celeste is an impeccable experience. There is something about the familiar and challenging gameplay that made me put my guard down. There was no reason to have any sort of emotional screen put up to defend against this game. It appeared to be a purely mechanical experience. Before I knew it, the mountain trapped me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had to get to the top. I had to see everything through.
Every increase in difficulty was matched with an emotional leap forward. They worked in tandem. When I hit a literal wall, I’d be pulled through by my emotions and vice versa. It’s easy to brush aside dictated metaphors, but experiencing one alongside some new in-game friends feels like nothing any other medium could pull off. You are changed at the top of that mountain. It will never leave you.
Dad Out of Nowhere
1. God of War
God of War 2 was one of my favorite games of that generation, and I was shocked with how bored I was by God of War 3. GoW3 was one of the first and hardest reviews I ever wrote for Horrible Night. At the end of it, I knew I was done with Kratos and Sony should have been, too. When the new God of War was announced, the whole thing just seemed unnecessary. I was more disappointed to discover that Kratos was the titular “hero” again, but I kept my eye on it because stranger things had happened with reboots. Not only did God of War connect with me on every level, but it challenged me to never write off a game before I get my hands on it no matter how familiar I think I may be with it.
Everything about God of War is personal. That brilliant camera angle choice from Santa Monica Studios forced me to get comfortable with a character I thought I hated. Begrudgingly, Kratos and I were going to do this together. We weren’t going to do it with grace and style, we were going to make a work of art out of our brutality. We were going to see the humanity in that brutality, up close, personal, and under the watchful eye of our son. Having Atreus with us, gave our weighty actions/choices even more gravity. I was always mindful of what he saw and what he interpreted from his father’s bloody deeds.
The unexpected strength of God of War is that you get to find out how Atreus is interpreting his father’s actions. The story and dialog were a welcome addition of depth to God of War, but the performances took everything to a whole other level. There's a moment in the middle of the game where Kratos and Atreus have a disagreement, and Atreus wears his emotions in such a way that I personally got angry at him. Atreus made me connect with one of the most emotionless characters in the history of video games. Kratos and I were forced to grow for the sake of this “BOY.” I was invested, and it was far from the last time I cared about characters in the God of War universe.
I knew the action and spectacle would make God of War a must play game. In some years it would be the best game of the year on the execution of those tremendous features on their own, but its characters and unforgettable world make it untouchable in 2018.