Game of the Year lists make me feel guilty. I try my best to play the games I think I’d enjoy, but new games always surprise me. These surprise games steal time from the games closest to my tastes. It’s a tough balance, and I sometimes regret missing the more unique games throughout the year.
My list lacks a few notable titles. I can’t find time to play Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. Too many huge games already occupy my play sessions. Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age, another game I couldn’t wait to play, feels daunting to even start. I also hate myself for missing CrossCode. I followed it for years as it progressed through early access, only to pass on it for a later date. How do you fit an extra 200 hours of games without sacrificing something else? You just can’t.
Even with all these games, a few felt worthy of spotlight praise. With the unforgettable games also came a few disappointments. I hate to discuss disappointing games, but I need to. The poor experiences grow from excitement, so it’s important to discuss how a game failed to become something memorable.
Most Disappointing Game of 2018: Battlefield V
Battlefield 1 blew away all my expectations. The Operations mode offered an experience not found in any other game. As matches progressed, an urgency pushed players while powerful Behemoth units remained alive. The dynamics changed with each new sector, so squads needed to remain calm through gunfire. Poor defences sometimes pushed my team back to the final sector, yet somehow, my team dug in and won.
For Grand Operations, Battlefield V’s new take on Operations, it became a playlist of random game modes. Instead of attacking and defending teams fighting over sectors, DICE added Conquest and other new modes into a rotation. Matches no longer feel like a continuous string of events or progress to the second leg of a map. Grand Operations instead feels like random modes slapped together. I played Operations to avoid aimless modes like Conquest, yet now I can’t escape it.
Battlefield V added a new mode called Airborne – a mode where squads parachute into the match like the Airborne Infantry to destroy multiple objectives. If the entire squad wipes on the ground, the squad must again re-enter the battlefield via planes. The lengthy parachute process means players must play safe and wait for their squad to respawn. Airborne represents the best new addition to Battlefield, even if I can’t play the mode on its own.
I already wrote about Battlefield V and its unnecessary, inexplicable class changes. Weeks after writing the article and playing DICE’s new patches, I still don’t understand DICE’s thinking. DICE swapped the Medic and Assault weapons, removed extra loadout slots, and ruined the Operations structure established in Battlefield 1.
Not considering poor networking, map bugs and overall blandness, I don’t see how DICE turns Battlefield V into something enjoyable. I hurts to abandon a franchise I love, but how can I play Battlefield V when the game I want to play released years prior. Battlefield 1 feels like a project of love. Battlefield V feels like the next game in a stale franchise.
Most Polarizing Game: Spider-Man
Peter Parker’s puns and jokes bothered me, but I learned to appreciate his cheese. He jokes to lighten the mood, even if the mood spells doom for New York. Beyond his bad jokes, Peter deals with a lot. He worries for his aunt, regrets his split with M.J, and struggles with his finances. Spider-Man’s leap past Peter’s origin story into an experienced superhero helped me enjoy living as Spider-Man, even if he lives on the next available couch.
The story and the characters sucked me into a conflict I never thought I’d care about. Then when you play Spider-Man, the missions start to blend. Infinite waves of enemies deal absurd damage per hit. It feels cheap, not difficult. My move-set grew, but my desire to use them did not. Gadget selection ruined the flow and pace, so I ignored them. Clumsy radial menus don’t work while trying to dodge an RPG.
Spider-Man also leaves little to discovery. Each new enemy introduces new mechanics, but Insomniac offered the best strategy right away. Because of an on-screen tip, I knew how to defeat new enemies the moment I saw them. You never experiment.
Gameplay surprise doesn’t exist in Spider-Man. Every quest marks your next step, every enemy explains their weakness and every collectible gets plotted. Web swinging through New York exhilarates each time, though do not expect to stumble upon secrets. You don’t explore New York, you just travel through it.
My conflicting experience with gameplay and story makes it a game I regret ever starting. Multiple sessions ended on a whim as I believed I’d never return. Days later, I booted up once more, hoping my enjoyment of the story aligned with the gameplay. The alignment never came, and the experience concluded over a bedridden, sickness filled weekend. “There’s nothing else to do,” I told myself.
I finished Spider-Man late one evening, head still spinning, but not spinning over my thrill of the game. The awful stealth missions as M.J and Miles ended, and I no longer needed to fight waves of hard-hitting enemies. In the same feeling of relief, I wondered what Insomniac Games planned for the sequel.
Right after finishing, I played decided to play Batman: Arkham Knight.
Game of the Year Not From 2018 – Batman: Arkham Knight
Although I still do not want to watch superhero movies, the games and comics interest me more each day. My uneven experience with Spider-Man convinced me to play through Batman: Arkham Knight, which I avoided for some reason.
I played through the PC version with the expansion pass DLC. The port itself worked, but crashes and framerate drops in the Batmobile remained consistent issues. When it worked, Batman flowed. In combat, punches hit like trucks and limbs snapped like branches. It never grew old to counter three incoming hits, Baterang a gunner, and then catch a thrown fire extinguisher.
I loved gliding through Gotham and fighting on foot, but Rocksteady pushed me away from it. The Batmobile, during missions and exploration, dominates travel through Gotham. After the 10th or so encounter with a dozen tank drones, destroying them became a chore. The Batmobile adds variety and grows monotonous at the same time. I don’t think removing it altogether improves the game, but it did overstay its welcome.
The gadgets, although also mapped to a radial menu like Spider-Man, allowed for quick usage with button shortcuts like RT + A. After 40 hours of beating up goons and gliding through the night sky, I kept adding to my combo knowledge. Rocksteady built a deep combat system rewarding at each skill level. Fights felt fair and punished when I didn’t pay attention. When you learn to incorporate dodges, grapples, counters and specials, the combat is unmatched.
Batmobile balance aside, Batman: Arkham Knight fulfilled what I sought from Spider-Man. The mysteries and hidden quests in Gotham encouraged me to explore and learn on my own. New quest-lines appeared during exploration. It felt organic to discover something new, rather than approaching a waypoint plotted on the map.
The Five Best Games from 2018
Game of the Year: Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
Christmas 2007 started my endless projects to write about and for games. Months before, I played Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare on a friend’s PlayStation 3. It blew me away. I couldn’t believe a game like it existed. I needed it.
That same Christmas, the Xbox 360 gave me my first ever online console experience at home. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare changed my whole perception of games. It pushed me try games outside of Nintendo IPs. It gave me my first real taste of competitive play with friends.
A decade later, I now play Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, again, with those same friends from 2007. While we don’t play on Xbox or sign up for tournaments on GameBattles.com, it still feels as competitive as ever. Blackout, Call of Duty’s battle royale mode, puts players in the most intense situations with one life at stake against 99 other players.
Across Blackout’s Solo, Duos and Quads modes, I somehow managed to tally 31 total wins. My win total puts me in the top 1.3% of players on PC. Despite being part of a small, elite group, I still feel I can improve. The probability of winning a match leans on so many factors, that even the best players fail in the final moments of a match.
Blackout presents the best experience by learning from mistakes found in other battle royales. PUBG struggled to space out its action. Frontloaded and backloaded firefights stalled action in the middle portion of matches. Once you survived the initial drop-in firefights, you ran for extended periods, waiting to spot anything besides a bush. Treyarch avoids the slow portions of matches through smart loot placement and fast movement speed. You learn to always expect players in the next cluster of buildings. Firefights never stop, they only slow down.
PUBG punished strafing and rewarded camping. The slow movement speed and realistic weapon ballistics encouraged slower play. In one PUBG firefight my bullets all found my opponent’s head. The next fight, with crosshair on my opponents back, my shots didn’t land. I never understood how gunplay worked, even through dozens of victories.
When I play Blackout bullets land where I aim. The ballistics don’t strive for realism, but it simplifies a mechanic I don’t want to question. My effort goes towards learning the map, communicating with teammates and scanning for enemies. When I play Blackout, I don’t fight the game’s bugs or issues, I fight other players.
The competitive multiplayer churns out a familiar structure, despite its attempts to modernize. The Zombies survival mode builds on a story, unique maps and weird mechanics, yet it doesn’t pull me out of Blackout. The gradual Blackout updates address community concerns while continuing to add to the mode I already can’t stop playing.
With the Blackout mode alone, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is easily my 2018 Game of the Year.
2. Red Dead Redemption 2
All the things I hate about Rockstar Games products persist in Red Dead Redemption 2. The sluggish controls, enormous open-world and endless story appeals to a certain player – not me. While those aspects still annoy me while playing Red Dead Redemption 2, I continue for the unexpected moments.
A quiet horseback stroll down a dirt trail led me past a man searching for gold on the riverbank. I diverted from the path and rode towards him. The equipment for his gold panning setup spilled out onto the gravel. He stood over his station, swirling a pan full of dirt, muttering to himself. I greeted him. He was not happy.
He explained his misfortune, but also suggested I’d leave while he worked. As I stood watching, he grew agitated and demanded I leave. I turned back, not wanting to start a fight. A nearby bush looked like the perfect hiding spot, so I slipped inside.
I watched from a few meters back, crouched down in a bush. His muttering intensified. “A damn cigarette butt,” he growled as he swirled his pan. He kept swirling, so I kept watching. After finding a few more almost-gold pieces, he froze. He couldn’t believe it. He found a gold nugget. The man danced around, gold nugget in hand, singing about his new, wealthy future.
I emerged from the bush, gun pointed forward and demanded he hand over his gold nugget. “That’s my gold nugget now,” Arthur said. The man did not appreciate my intrusion. He pulled out his revolver and fired away. I shot back and killed him. As he lay still, right beside his gold panning station, I looted his body. The gold nugget now belonged to me. I sold it for $50.
This entire encounter happened all in real time. I did not accept any quests, trigger any events or follow any prompts. Through observation and curiosity, I turned a small encounter into a profitable venture.
Throughout Red Dead Redemption 2, these random scenarios appear. Some reward with insightful conversation, while other events threaten my safety. Regardless of the result, I only play Red Dead for these moments. I travel to side missions and progress the story, but I do those activities in anticipation for the next random event.
My many articles analyzing the purpose of the environment in open-world games never considered Rockstar’s approach. I said games need to incorporate the environment into their gameplay, much like Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, inFamous or Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Red Dead makes full use of its open-world. Animal hunting, herb gathering, and random events all justify the large environment.
Many lists this year will praise Red Dead Redemption 2 for its story and detailed world. While those things deserve praise, I will remember Red Dead for other aspects. I will remember the man who found me a gold nugget in the river, the woman I dropped home after her horse died, or the incestuous brother and sister who murdered their mother.
3. Monster Hunter World
For Monster Hunter Tri on the Wii, a friend and I jumped into an Xbox Live party chat and then changed TV inputs. Every so often we reminded each other to wiggle the Xbox 360 controller thumb stick to avoid the controller’s auto-shutdown. Without the thumb stick wiggle to keep the Xbox controller on, our communication cut off.
Almost a decade later, the same friend and I jumped into another Xbox Live party chat for Monster Hunter World. This time, we didn’t change TV inputs. Monster Hunter made its Xbox debut, bringing along the best game in the franchise.
Monster Hunter World shrinks its monster count in favour of providing multiple hunting grounds with dynamic events and seamless area transitions. You can destroy the boulders blocking the waterfall, then watch as it washes away the monster over the edge of the cliff. The map improvements alone change the entire feel of hunts. No longer do you find yourself stuck in loading screens for the next area as your teammates struggle to survive against a Rathian.
Capcom’s multiplatform release brought additions and changes the series always needed. Crafting simplification meant less fumbling in menus and more time preparing for the next hunt. Detailed in-game knowledge bases and tutorials required less out-of-game research. Larger game lobbies let players host a variety of hunts instead of defaulting to the lobby’s only option. Features like SOS signals, voice chat and quest preferences all established a baseline I now expect from all future Monster Hunter titles.
Despite the improvements, the infinite network issues at launch soured many of the early hunts. Game lobbies remained empty for weeks. Lobby disconnections and server instability tested each hunter’s patience. With some challenging fights early on, like the Anjanath hunt, disconnections made a tough fight seem impossible. Months later for the PC version, the same issues from the console launch reappeared for the PC launch. Although still an exhilarating game when Capcom addressed the issues, I can’t overlook the abysmal launch.
Monster Hunter World’s feature modernization and gameplay improvements make it the best entry in the series. Few games come close to matching the necessary sweat production needed to defeat the one monster who killed you over the past few days. The character customization and equipment crafting always gets people excited, but I stayed for the thrill.
I don’t like hard single player games. They make me sweat, require infinite patience and can feel pointless. You gain nothing from an hour of dying with no forward progress. Celeste feels no different. It mocks you, even. A death counter at the end of a stage reminds you how much you suck. Unless you find a way past the blockade of purple goo in the rundown hotel, prepare to keep dying.
Despite the challenge, Celeste feels different. A story of adventure and self-reflection unravels as Celeste challenges you to play better. As Madeline (or whatever you name her) challenges herself to climb Celeste Mountain, you feel inclined to follow. You meet people along the way who share their stories and wonder why you suffer through this adventure.
You then climb the mountain, tallying unavoidable deaths as the stages increase in difficulty. Unlike Mario 2D platformers, your abilities change. You gain a double jump, a dash, and a wall grab. These new abilities then change future levels. No longer does a jump into a dash help you reach the end of the stage. You later must link dozens of actions and stage items without ever touching the floor. It seems impossible, but you somehow progress.
The music, story and gameplay all come together in a way to stand out in a year full of blockbuster, multimillion-dollar earners. Huge games like Battlefield and Fallout struggle to capture attention while I always remember Celeste. It achieves what it aims to present – an exciting, challenging platformer with a story about self improvement.
5. Super Mega Baseball 2
The sequel to the best baseball game in the last decade arrived with everything I asked for. Super Mega Baseball 2’s addition of online multiplayer finally let me test my pitch selection on real players. Every at bat I threw fastball, then changeup. The dangerous combination fooled every opponent. Occasionally they launched my pitch out of the park, but I accepted the risk.
The best games start with the swing happy opponents. I test their patience, throwing a super high fastball not even close to the strike zone. They swing. “Show me what you’ve learned,” I think. Then the next pitch, another ball, my opponent swings at again. These at-bats are teaching moments. Right there, on that second wild swing, I decide to never throw a strike. It’s a mind game. Why throw strikes if my opponent shows he will swing above his head?
Baseball games struggle to make pitching fun. No one wants to play defence. Realistic baseball games also complicate the process by requiring stick flicks and perfect timing. Super Mega Baseball 2 keeps it simple. Pick a spot, time up the pitch power, then throw. Pitching simplicity encourages mind games. I see my opponent’s tendencies in one at-bat, but I wonder more about if he sees it. Does he see my tendencies, too? These questions matter.
Online play in Super Mega Baseball trumps anything the game offers. Why play the offline season mode against bots when you can play against real players competing to place first in the weekly standings. Where you place affects your skill ranking, so I always wanted to place higher. I grew bored of facing opponents who swung at everything.
After a few ridiculous 14-1 weekly records, my skill rating recalculated. Although I still faced the swing happy players, I started facing smarter players. Games went into extra innings and taxed both of our bullpens. With exhausted pitchers hurtling high risk, inaccurate pitches, double-digit inning games hinged on one mistake.
Super Mega Baseball 2 listened to player feedback for the original PlayStation 3 game. The team at Metalhead Software remodeled their ugly bobblehead players, added online multiplayer and released on all platforms. It lacks the MLB license, yet I wonder if a license removes its charm and unique team attributes. Regardless of the license, baseball fans shouldn’t pass up on Super Mega Baseball 2. You won’t find a better baseball game out there.
Things Worth Noting
- This is my first Game of the Year list without the newest Forza Horizon entry. Forza Horizon 4, although still a great game, did not excite me this year. A combination of franchise fatigue, familiar structure and a bland setting didn’t pull me away from other games.
- God of War almost made my top five. While I love the exploration, puzzles and world building, I couldn’t stand the combat. The close-up camera prevents you from seeing behind Kratos during fights, which becomes more annoying than anything.
- I barely played Nintendo games this year. I enjoyed Arms, but I couldn’t find a place to mention it. Aside from Arms, Nintendo’s output did not interest me. Where the hell is Bayonetta 3 and Metroid Prime 4?
- I obsessed about Destiny 2: Forsaken for a while. Then one day, my interest evaporated. My sudden disinterest stopped me from putting it in my top five list.
- Detroit: Become Human was the cheesiest story of the year. No matter what happened, I couldn’t empathize with AI robots. They’re not alive. Detroit made me realize that Quantic Dreams just can’t write good stories. I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy one of their games as much as Heavy Rain.