Hello hello all my wonderful human beings! 2018’s been an insane year for me in terms of work and life responsibilities (kids!) that I’ve neglected you for far too long! And for that, I apologize. Newman is BACK.
2018’s also been such an amazing year in the realm of video games. We say that almost every year, but this year stood out with its high number of games both critically acclaimed and universally loved by fans. With the year coming to a close, it’s time for me to once again reflect on the incredible experiences I had. Some blew me away by the sheer overwhelming caliber of their production values while others touched my heart in ways I didn’t anticipate.
And the unfortunate side effect of living and working and surviving is not having the time to play everything I wanted (ehem Yakuza Kiwami 2, Smash Bros, and more)! Alas, let’s get down to it. Here are the 10 games that resonated strongly with me this year.
Blink and you’d be forgiven to have missed this little gem. Sure, it only takes a good 45 minutes to play through, but it left such a resoundingly emotional impact on me that I sat there with my mouth open for several minutes after completion. Led by Ken Wong, a creative genius by games like Monument Valley, Florence tells the story of a 25 year old woman who goes through monotonous daily routines with aspirations to be a painter. She meets a cellist in the street and a relationship forms from there. The gameplay really just consists of fairly straightforward puzzles and swiping and dragging things across your mobile screen. What hit me the hardest is the simple and impactful ways these forms of interaction tell an emotional story of a couple who go through every day hardships and eventually break apart to pursue their dreams. As a family man, I almost teared up. It’s so real and honest and guns straight to the heart. A hardy recommendation from me.
9. Far Cry 5
I’ve been a Far Cry fan since the original in 2004, and that continues to this day with the latest rendition. I applaud the teams at Ubisoft Montreal and Toronto to be able to continually breathe life into a franchise that’s now 14 years old. It’s almost become an annual tradition to find out where the next Far Cry takes place. The choice to go with the state of Montana left me scratching my head at first but hot damn did it end up being a great one. The fictional province of Hope County was gorgeous and a blast of a playground to explore and outright wreck stuff in. Gunplay felt great, missions were decently varied and fun, and I grew to really hate the Seed family antagonists (so great job there). Missions wove a bit more organically than previous games in the series and gone were the formulaic towers of old. And lastly…the ending was a doozy I did not expect. Ballsy move there team!
8. Yakuza Kiwami
Coming off of my first foray into the Yakuza series with Zero last year, I was incredibly psyched to continue further into this dastardly, conspiratorial plot thread of mafia-esque crime drama. I can’t say it lived up to Zero (it didn’t), but I can forgive it for that. After all, Zero implemented improvements seen in the series over time and was a fresh prequel entry, while Kiwami was a glorified remaster for all intents and purposes. I wasn’t a fan of such a dramatic shift in character in Goro Majima from Zero (he did go through a lot of hardships in Zero, but it still felt too far for me), nor did I like the direction they took Nishikiyama, but the story proved entertaining enough for me that I had to include it here. You can be sure I’ll continue my Yakuza adventures with Kiwami 2 soon.
7. Battlefield V
It’s probably a cold day in hell when I count a multiplayer focused game among my favorites in any year. Not because there’s anything wrong with multiplayer, but only that it’s not usually in my tastes (I always prefer story focused experiences). Battlefield as a series is the only one that typically breaks that rule and boy did DICE do just that with Battlefield V. With various improvements from changes to squads, weapon recoil, bullet drop, fortification building and more, I’m just hooked on this multiplayer. I’ve always been a big fan of the huge 64 player conquest battles of the series versus smaller team deathmatch modes in other shooters. I love the destruction. I love the chaos. I love the vehicles. I love the frenetic nature of combat.
And honestly? The story chapters are a bit of a cherry on top. They’re not woven into each other. Rather, each tells its own mini-story following a character or group of characters that I found myself actually interested in. From stealthily sneaking into a Nazi outpost in the dead of Norwegian winter to proving your worth as an African soldier in the French army, I actually had some semblance of caring for these little stories. The most surprising inclusion was the “The Last Tiger”, a short tale of a German Tiger tank crew. Telling the enemy’s side of World War II is no easy feat and an understandably touchy subject. However, I felt DICE did a good job of being real and nuanced in its execution. Not bad DICE. Not bad at all.
6. Shadow of the Colossus
Yup, this was my first time with the game. I never got around to playing the original PS2 classic, nor did I bother with the PS3 version. With the announcement and reveal of a full, head-to-toe PS4 remaster, I knew it was time. I didn’t know what to expect. Hearing so much admiration and praise over the years had my expectations high, and while I can’t say Shadow of the Colossus hit them all, it left an impact on me as a player. The story is delicately told in a simple format, with little given in the form of exposition or narration. This works to the game’s benefit in building mystery and a sense of curiosity as I journeyed through a beautiful, solemn and dreary remade world. Each colossus felt unique in their design, environment and battle tactics. I wanted to see where this story and world would take me and the end left me feeling a bit empty. I wasn’t very fond of the controls, but I fully understood the reputation the game had built among PlayStation fans.
5. Detroit: Become Human
Like Beyond: Two Souls and Heavy Rain before it, Detroit: Become Human marks another game in Quantic Dream’s interactive adventure game portfolio, and one that I absolutely loved. I can’t deny it: I was hooked from start to finish. Whether it was the buddy detective relationship of Hank and Connor, the tale of Kara’s character growth as a guardian or the journey of Markus in attaining equality and freedom for androids, I couldn’t put the controller down. Quantic Dream continues to push the envelope in terms of the visuals achievable in a video game.
While I had issues with the line delivery in some scenes and some conversations that felt a bit too on the nose, performances in general were incredibly well done. I was especially fond of Connor’s development as a character and the relationship building between himself and the seasoned detective Hank (played by the masterful Clancy Brown). I found myself caring for the androids’ freedom and ensuring their survival. I was thrown in to so many scenarios with hard decisions that I felt myself clam up, not sure of what to do next. I’m thankful a market for these games continues to exist and hope they flourish well into the future.
4. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
Assassin’s Creed Origins almost took my GOTY crown last year, so following up that tremendous experience is no easy feat. Boy, did Odyssey deliver and then some. Having been there since day with Assassin’s Creed in 2007, the journey to today has been long. Yet, the series continues to surprisingly captivate my interest with each entry and dare I say, reached its best quality with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. The map of Odyssey is absolutely immense, and while it’s not all filled with worthwhile things to do, it’s filled with enough to keep me entrenched in the stunning, insanely detailed world, its cities, towns, villages, islands and everything in between. From tanners to salt miners to fishermen, each area is drenched in detail rarely seen in games. Combat is fast paced and allows for multiple play styles (I’m a fan of the daggers personally). While I missed the shield play of Origins, I quickly got used to it.
Ship combat is back and as fun as ever. The cult system is addictive. The story surprisingly gripped me. Alexios and Kassandra my favorite protagonists in the series now and the inclusion of dialogue choices and further lean into full blown RPG status is something I never expected to see from Assassin’s Creed. Yet, here we are, where I find myself so excited to play more (DLC) and pumped to see where the series goes next (come on Japan!).
3. Marvel’s Spider-Man
Ahh, Spider-Man finally gets his due. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Spider-Man 2 as much as the next person, but I think we can agree the web slinger has gotten his true due in games until this year thanks to the brilliant minds at Insomniac Games. What can I really that hasn’t already been said? Insomniac did an absolutely stellar job bringing this icon to life here, with a spot on performance of Peter Parker & Spidey by Yuri Lowenthal. Cinematography and narrative direction was impeccably well done with the perfect amount of action and suspense. Swinging across the city is an utter addictive joy and combat is a perfect blend of chaos and rhythm that feels so great when pulled off successfully.
Insomniac’s rendition of Manhattan is absolutely gorgeous with hyper realistic lighting effects, a true sense of industrial scale and beautiful art direction. Villains and Spider-Man regulars are all given their own share of justice on-screen, with the story and its culmination a pleasant surprise. In any other year, this would easily be my Game of the Year. Alas, 2018 was one hell of a ride, and you know what towered above all else this year.
2. God of War
There’s enough I can say to truly describe Sony Santa Monica’s achievement with God of War. By 2013 and the release of God of War: Ascension, reception around the series was floundering, with Sony themselves unsure of whether to even continue the franchise. It wasn’t without merit. Ascension did well critically, though nowhere close to previous entries in the IP. Fast forward five years and the brand is stronger than ever thanks to a brilliant vision from God of War veteran Cory Barlog and the super talented folks at Sony Santa Monica to reinvent the series.
The risk absolutely paid off. Everything, and I mean absolutely everything from the extraordinary character designs to the richly detailed Norse world to the extremely satisfying combat and deep, emotional story line was pulled off with a finesse staggeringly rare in games today. The cohesiveness of the game’s design is evident in almost everything you do. Level design is wonderfully laid out, puzzles are sprinkled in at just the right moment, bosses are immense and awe-inspiring, and performances from the cast, especially Kratos and Atreus, are practically unmatched in the industry.
The one-shot camera brings a whole new level of immersion into the game experience that I didn’t even realize I loved so much. To take an anti-hero like Kratos and revitalize him the way Santa Monica did in this game takes a strong and confident directorial vision that is intensely difficult to execute, yet Cory and his team nailed it. What a feat.
1. Red Dead Redemption II
This is probably one of the most difficult choices of ‘Game of the Year’ I’ve made in quite a long time, with two contenders each having just as much quality, ambition and beautifully executed vision. There can, however, only be one. God of War would have taken the crown, and to be honest, I can absolutely understand anyone who feels it’s the best game this year, bar none. I expected Rockstar to deliver an epic in Red Dead Redemption II. What I didn’t expect was the maddening lengths to which the team went above and beyond in meticulously crafting a world unlike any I’ve ever seen in a game.
The details of this world astounded me at every turn. Seemingly random encounters with NPCs turned into full fledged ordeals and story lines. Worthwhile secrets were scattered across the land. Interactions, causes and effects you would expect in reality, yet rarely executed in 99% of games, are a regular occurrence in Red Dead II. Each interaction comes complete with its own animation rig. Each combat encounter feels different than the next. Horse controls are intuitive. Cities and towns, especially Saint Denis, are bustling with life and NPCs that truly feel real. Heading back to camp after a long day out and having some coffee, eating some stew and having chats with the gang is a simple yet genuine experience.
Rockstar even did the impossible for me: created a protagonist that I found myself caring more about than John Marston. While I loved Marston in the original (and here), Arthur Morgan’s journey of self-realization and redemption was so powerful that I still think about it today. Roger Clarke’s performance hit me hard in every single scene with such a realistic, down-to-earth portrayal of a man paying for sins.
Watching the inevitable, slow downfall and perpetual breakup of the Van Der Linde gang is something that needs to be experienced by any fan of the original game. The vain aspirations and greed of the human psyche are on full display like I’ve never seen before in a game. This is one game I won’t forget anytime soon.
This isn’t just one of the best games of this year, it’s by far one of the best games of all time.