God of War, by Santa Monica Studio
This probably won’t be a surprise to anyone who’s read any Best-Of-2018 list, but damn did God of War blow me away. Despite a few small missteps, this was an excellently paced and so god damn satisfying game, one of the funnest experiences I’ve had with a controller in ages. Truthfully, I’ve never been a fan of the franchise; I missed the PlayStation 2 generation and when I tried to play the HD remasters of the first two games they felt horribly clunky and dated. I would’ve been pretty happy to skip this God of War too were it not for a certain TAY commenter’s insistence (thanks Z). This was a real slam dunk; great storytelling, great combat, great Boy [Kratos voice]. Great game.
Into the Breach, by Subset Games
Some day academics will study Subset Games’ Into the Breach as a master class in game mechanics. Maybe they already do, I dunno. I had preordered this on the strength of Subset’s previous game, FTL: Faster Than Light, and from my first moments with it I knew I was in for something special. Into the Breach is nothing if not focused. There is no down-time, you spend every minute of the game poring over its deceptively-simple turn-based mechanics. These mechanics are constantly pushing you to make difficult choices. The simple “hook” is that your enemy’s next moves are always known to you, and this allows your scrappy band of mechs and pilots to overcome incredible odds. It also makes for quite a few head-slapping moments when you curse your own stupidity. Or was that just me? Anyways, this game is on the Nintendo Switch now and everyone should play it.
Return of the Obra Dinn, by Lucas Pope
Another fantastic follow-up from a fantastic indie dev, this time it’s Lucas Pope, creator of Papers, Please the best (only?) border-checkpoint-simulator slash idealism-crusher. Pope’s follow up is a stunning take on the adventure game genre, visually styled like the greatest game to ever grace the Apple II series. The game, set in 1807, follows the return of a ghost ship from the East India Trading Company, the titular Obra Dinn. The player is tasked with finding out the fates of the poor souls aboard. This was a great companion piece to The Terror, and really just a wonderfully executed story that keeps surprising you all the way through. Whatever Lucas Pope is up to next, count me in.
Red Dead Redemption 2, by Rockstar Games
I went back and forth about whether or not Red Dead Redemption 2 deserved a spot on here. It’s a nobly flawed experiment in so many ways, and a grotesque example of excessive modern game design in others. It’s both a stunning natural world full of interlocking gameplay systems, and a flimsy diorama full of malfunctioning puppets. Games journalists have spilled a lot of proverbial ink trying to parse this giant, weird game. Personally I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the dissonance I’ve felt playing this game, where one moment I’m swept up in a gorgeous, brilliant epic, and the next am cursing it for any number of reasons. Sometimes it’s too open. Sometimes it’s too restrictive. It’s always stingy with meaningful rewards, like the god-damned satchel it took real-life weeks of in-game hunting to finally craft. But regardless of its many, many, many flaws, I’ve been enchanted by this game since it came out, and I don’t regret my time spent with it one bit. For my money, with Red Dead Redemption 2 Rockstar has crafted their best narrative experience yet, alongside their most interesting open-world. It really is a shame the two don’t talk to each other more. Instead they feel like parallel games existing on the same map. But holy cow, whatta map...