I don’t get anywhere near as much time with games as I’d like anymore, with uni interrupting the routine I had forged myself in my younger years, I’m still trying to catch up on everything I’ve missed over the past 3 years. Starting to write for n3rdabl3.com, and the time I’ve had searching for a job, has dragged me up to date recently, but I still haven’t picked up half the titles I’d have liked to this year. Nevertheless, here’s five games released in 2018 that majorly hooked me, with a gratuitous explanation of their many assets attached for your… pleasure? I’m gonna end each selection with a one-line ‘headline review’, since I need to lean into this whole newspaper rubbish I named my blog after at least once I guess.
Before we start, a couple of honourable mentions go out to God of War and Celeste, the two games released this year that have managed to blow me away despite the minimal time I’ve had with them. Their quality is apparent, I just haven’t been able to sink enough hours into them yet to form a proper opinion or ranking on this list. When I beat them though, they very well may bump a couple of the entries you’re about to read down a couple of pegs. In addition, the Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy gave me the hardest hit of nostalgia earlier in the year on Xbox, and completing it was an absolute joy, but since it was technically released first on PlayStation last year, it is also exempt.
5. A Way Out
I know, I know, I am ashamed this is on my list too. I’ll be the first to admit that objectively, there has been a huge selection of titles released this year that are better than this schlock-fest. To name a few, continuations in the Assassin’s Creed and FIFA series’ have been well regarded by critics, and more of the same ideas that have been tried and tested over the years isn’t inherently a bad thing. However, I can also put my hand on my heart and say that no game made me smile wider or laugh harder this year than A Way Out.
You play a shitty action B-Movie. That is the only way I can describe this game. The script is just as bad as you’d expect, with stereotypical caricatures woodenly spouting cheesy one liners throughout the methodical revenge plot. Technically, gameplay is minimal, clearly originating with the co-op gimmick and working backwards from there. You can spend hours in prison hammering nails if you want; I’d almost recommend it since the later gunplay is so unsatisfying.
But none of this matters. The game just oozes charm and reeks of a passion project. “You’re busting ma balls, man!” exclaims one of our main characters (clearly based off the way the games director perceives himself in his head, seriously google ‘Josef Fares interview’ and thank me later) in the games very first scene, instantly making both players fall in love with him. Each location you visit has hours worth of menial tasks to undertake that make no sense in the context of the story, but fully entice the achievement hunter and inquisitive spark found within all gamers. You can perfect a banjo/piano duet on four different difficulties in this game about a prison break. Genius.
Headline review: So bad its good doesn’t do this fascinating original title justice
4. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
So I hadn’t owned a CoD game in half a decade until I took the plunge and picked up the most recent instalment last month. After wrapping my head around the new mechanics, I dived straight back into the old faithful; Team Deathmatch. Suddenly, I was 13 again, hours of my life feeling like minutes as game after game passed by. CoD has got it’s hook back, is what I’m trying to say. Continuously rewarding you for playing, giving you a real sense of progression, and driving you forward to keep pulling the trigger.
The balance has been refined, since multiplayer matches primarily operate around individual skill with a rifle in your hands, with fun power-weapon mechanics (I bloody love a mesh mine kill) mixing up the warfare, instead of dominating the battlefield and making you ask “well what the fuck could I have done there?!” half the time. This creates a sense of fairness and stems any frustration the player may harbour towards the game itself. If you die, it is usually your fault, the solution being easily visible and tantalisingly easy to implement, as your next gunfight will only be seconds away.
Couple this with a refreshing new game mode in Blackout, which seems to fulfil the promise a conceptual battle royal mode originally held (I just hate the building in Fortnite, where is the fun in in turning a gunfight into a game of peekaboo?), plus the Zombies variation fully embracing its campier side, this shit is just fun. The only negative I have is the lack of single-player content, being a fan of the ridiculous CoD plots and the situations they place you in myself, it’s a real shame to have to say goodbye, but I suppose the substituted plethora of ever-changing modes found in its place will suffice.
Headline review: Fans rejoice as classic series rediscovers magical form
3. Marvel’s Spider-Man
I bought a PS4 for this game, that’s how excited for it I was. It did not disappoint. I absolutely adore the Arkham formula; I think it leads to an open world that is really fun to explore and an often-imitated combat system that speaks for itself. Apply this to bloody Spider-Man? Obviously you’re on to a winner.
Whilst the story didn’t live up to the hype for me personally, falling in to the trap that most comic book adaptations face of being too predictable, it absolutely did enough to establish a world I am keen to return to. Hopefully, the next world will be ten times bigger than this original title. Not because this iteration was too small or anything, just so we can spend even longer swinging through the city, stopping crimes, and peeking on New York residents whilst crawling on their windows. I cannot remember the last time I had this much fun just existing within a hub, more excited to complete optional missions than the actual story.
Whilst the fighting mechanics are just as exceptional as the traversal, its the little touches that really make this game. Unlocking endlessly cool costumes, seeing definitive versions of characters brought to life by exuberant performances, sound design that make you feel every *thwip* of web, and a truly poignant Stan Lee cameo all help sell the experience. It’s the game a lot of fans have been waiting for since the PS2 era, a true celebration of its source material that feels like a love letter over every inch of the map.
Headline review: Any other year, this probably would be my game of the year. Unfortunately for Insomniac though, it had two behemoths to contend with… (what a terrible headline)
2. Red Dead Redemption 2
Come on, it’s Rockstar, of course this was going to be brilliant. Nevertheless, even with this expectation, this game continued to surprise me with its sheer quality. RDR2 is by far Rockstar’s best written release to date, with Arthur Morgan’s story filled with beautiful poetic irony and interesting characters. This canvas premieres a core cast of over 20 gang members, each with their own unique personality traits and motivations, most of which you care about and could even refer to by name come the end of the 60 odd hours you spend with them. Before, most would struggle naming anyone aside from the main characters in the GTA series, that’s how far the studio have progressed.
Another surprise came in the pace of the game, with extra steps being implemented in familiar techniques such as healing or resting, slowing the player right down in their Wild West antics. Instead of being as frustrating as it sounds, this just serves to immerse the player more into the generated world. Arthur feels as if he actually inhibits the world he lives in, as opposed to being the omnipotent centre of the universe past controllable characters have reeked of (I’m looking at you, Red Dead 1 John Marston).
The second positive to this slow pace is found in the moments where the action ramps up, which become all the more memorable since they are broken up by these slices of ‘real life’. Even with the slightly outdated shooting mechanics, which have most certainly been surpassed by other titles in this age and serve as RDR2’s only downside, these set pieces hold emotional weight and are intensely fun to dictate. It’s simply one of those titles you feel honoured to play, the kind of experience only video games can give you since it feels truly crafted, not merely made.
Headline review: Action game about cowboys nearly makes Dan cry over the death of a virtual horse
1. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
They’ve done it again. With each iteration in this series, I think “they’ve got nowhere else to go, this is the pinnacle, surely”. How naive I was, the answer was so obvious; just chuck fucking everything at the audience in one package. Smash Bros. is the pinnacle of party games, being able to walk the line between intense, rewarding fighter and goofy scrapper expertly. How could you possibly see Isabelle the dog twatting Solid Snake and not break out in a childlike grin?
Smash achieves this one-of-a-kind status since it can be your traditional brawler, operating on chipping away at your opponents health through skill or cowardice, but no other fighting game can be Smash. The high risk/reward, cat and mouse, chess matches the series creates are unlike anything else in gaming, and if you haven’t experienced one it should be at the top of your list for the new year. Any fears I had about the game being overwhelming due to the sheer quantity of content it has packed in to its tiny cartridge, have long since been squashed by the excitement I’ve felt unlocking character after character, exploring the single-player campaign, and testing my might against other players online.
I don’t even care that I have only had five days with this game. It has hit me hard and taken over my life since I first booted it up. Its lifespan is frightening. Each one of the 70 characters multiplies the amount of time I know I am going to sink into this game, yet another thing to try and perfect. Yet, as with most Smash players, I’ll be lucky if I even get close to excelling with one. There is no way I am ever going to see everything this game has to offer, but that absolutely won’t stop me from trying.
Headline review: Nintendo smash (lol) expectations to release the perfect fighting game
There we have it then, a probably too comprehensive list of my thoughts about the state of the gaming field this year. Games are by far the medium I put the most time into, with entire days spent on single titles often with an accompaniment of YouTube videos on the same topic playing in the background. Whilst I am somewhat disappointed at just how much of a spectacular nerd I am, especially with how much it damages my bank account, it is literally a part of who I am now, and I certainly wouldn’t have it any other way.
‘Til the next time