This is it. End of the road for 2018. Which games did you play to escape the neverending dumpster fire of our daily IRL circus? Which were your favorites?
So many to choose from this time around. Blockbuster games are becoming more conscious of the space they occupy in pop culture, delivering an emotionally wider range of stories and experiences. This year, we’ve seen that even the biggest games can bring out tears as effectively as they elicit joy.
That’s in addition to gaming’s ever-thriving indie landscape, which has delivered a treasure trove of new and unexpected ideas shaped by small teams into epic timesinks and thought-provoking oddities. In fact, one of those titles claimed our coveted #1 pick for Game of the Year in 2018.
We’ll get to that. Let’s do this with a proper tension-building countdown.
10. Shadow of the Tomb Raider
The final chapter in this rebooted origin story arc for Lara Croft is like an idea perfected. The action is tighter, the tomb-set puzzles are more front-and-center, and the vast, beautiful open world is brimming with things to discover. No one summed it up better than Mashable’s own Tomb Raider expert, Ali Foreman.
“Capitalizing on the franchise’s best assets and tiptoeing around its flaws, Shadow of the Tomb Raider takes the latest imagining of our girl Lara out in style. From incredible graphics to artfully designed gameplay, Shadow of the Tomb Raider does not disappoint.”
9. Red Dead Redemption 2
Love it or hate it, Red Dead Redemption 2 nonetheless stands as a stunning technical achievement, the impressive product of eight years of work (and overwork). Rockstar Games’ sprawling Western epic is a 100-hour-minimum jaunt through a stylized and satirized take on a young United States.
It’s been a divisive game, with some praising Rockstar’s dizzying attention to detail and others claiming exasperation over the game’s snail pace and overly self-indulgent plot. For fans, it’s more than just a tremendous standalone experience; it also elevates the series as a whole. It’s definitely not a game for everyone, but Red Dead Redemption 2 delivers a gorgeous bounty of uniquely memorable experiences for those who take the time to see it through.
Celeste was the finest platformer to come out in 2018, not only because of its rich, inventive level design that is a perfect blend of precision and puzzling, but also because of its unrelenting wholesomeness. You’re not just climbing a mountain and collecting strawberries because there’s some treasure at the top or you’re saving someone in distress, you’re climbing because you need to prove to yourself that you can do it.
Despite the depression, anxiety, and self-doubt that is holding you back, you can do this one thing. The challenges get harder and harder, but making it through difficult, seemingly impossible levels is so satisfying that it’s hard to stop pushing forward. Celeste is about climbing real mountains and mental mountains, and it’s an important, delightfully fun reminder that neither one is more challenging or more valid than the other. –Kellen Beck, Entertainment Reporter
7. Destiny 2: Forsaken
Not many games could bounce back from the disastrous first year of Destiny 2‘s life. It’s easy to forget how tremendous the sequel’s improvements felt when it launched in 2017. Destiny 2, the vanilla experience, streamlined so many frustrating pieces of the overall Destiny experience. But it also left the serious fans behind, with a notable absence of compelling “endgame” hooks that keep that 1,000-hours-plus players invested.
Destiny 2: Forsaken is a course correction. It directly addressed some of the biggest complaints fans had voiced over the preceding year, and it laid out a promising roadmap for the coming year’s expansions (which started on Dec. 4 with Black Armory), which focus more on what players want and less on what’s “expected” from an expansion pack. Forsaken made the Destiny experience something a longtime fan could get excited about investing in once again.
6. Donut County
Donut County is the hole game. That’s its tagline. That’s its single mechanic. That’s its genre. And that’s its deceptive simplicity. In an industry where an ever-increasing demand for “more” characterizes mainstream design philosophy, creator Ben Esposito created the Millennial equivalent of a Buddhist game — teaching us to let all things disappear into an ever-expanding hole of emptiness. Whether a blade of grass or house, it’s all just garbage in the end.
But layered into Donut County’s fuck-it-all bizarre premise and Weird Twitter humor is an examination of the vacuous hole that defines human existence today. The hole represents everything about the nothingness that defines modern life: capitalist greed and waste, gentrification, the social disease of nihilistic irony, the seeming erasure of responsibility to one another as people. Donut County is at face value a satisfying, blissfully uncomplicated puzzle game. But several thousands of feet under the surface, there’s a whole world of meaning to be uncovered. -Jess Joho, Entertainment Reporter
5. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
No one summed up Assassin’s Creed Odyssey better than Mashable’s Alexis Nedd. From her thoroughly entertaining and informative review:
“I laughed my ass off playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. I gasped. I yelled at the screen. I marked specific NPCs as my personal nemeses and made it my business to make sure they paid in blood for what they’ve done. I fucked around. I fell in love. I sailed the Aegean Sea and got emotional about dolphins.
Odyssey is a masterwork of storytelling and emotion where nothing is true and everything is permitted. I can’t wait to see where Assassin’s Creed goes next, but until then…I’ve got some ships to sink, people to seduce, and marks to murder. Chiare.”
4. Tetris Effect
Who would’ve thought a freshened up remake would nab a Top 5 position on any Game of the Year list? Sure, it’s Tetris, the most legendary of legendary video games. But also… it’s still just Tetris.
Or is it? Tetris Effect is really more of a sequel than a remake. It takes the falling blocks puzzle foundation built by Russian computer engineer Alexey Pajitnov decades ago and reworks it into a framework that implicitly encourages meditation and self-care. It doesn’t just re-write the script on what this classic game can be; it perfects that idea. In the realm of Tetris game, Tetris Effect is easily the best. And in the 2018 landscape, it’s far and away one of the finest gaming experiences of the year.
3. God of War
In ye olde PlayStation 3 days, Kratos of Sparta was just a big, angry dude who killed Greek gods for fun (and bloody revenge). He slept with groups of topless women for healing and he stomped around doing his Angry Dude thing with all the depth of a slip of paper.
What the hell, 2018’s God of War?! Equal parts a confident step forward for a series and a meditation on an evolving industry (and the aging creative giants that have helped shape it), Sony’s latest Kratos adventure is a gut punch in terms of both the action-packed RPG-lite combat and the shockingly affecting father/son story.
More games (and game stories) like this, please.
2. Marvel’s Spider-Man
Hyperbole be damned, I’m just gonna go ahead and say it: Marvel’s Spider-Man is very easily one of the best Spider-Man stories ever told. Insomniac Games wisely set up a whole new fictional timeline (presumably with Marvel’s endorsement, if not insistence).
That singular creative decision laid a foundation for Insomniac to tell a truly surprising story that torpedoes any expectations you might have for these oh-so-familiar characters. On top of that, there’s also the raw mechanical thrill of swinging through Manhattan’s concrete jungle as a spider-powered superhero, plus an abundance of hidden secrets and easter eggs that makes exploring it all worthwhile.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is an absolutely perfect video game take on the street-level Marvel hero’s life, and it’s packing a story that will make you laugh, scream, and even cry. (No, seriously. There are some real gut punches here.)
1. Return of the Obra Dinn
So often, Game of the Year picks are sprawling, epic affairs crafted over a period of years by teams numbering in the hundreds. If there’s an “opposite” to that kind of video game, Return of the Obra Dinn is it. It’s the creative vision of one man — Papers, Please developer Lucas Pope — and the product of a small team’s efforts.
Its smaller scope is a gift. Return of the Obra Dinn is a game that can be enjoyed at all levels of gaming experience. It’s proof that games don’t have to be epic to be excellent and memorable. Pope’s story of an insurance adjuster piecing together a 60-part murder mystery aboard a ghost ship is hard to look away from.
Fundamentally, Return of the Obra Dinn is a vast logic puzzle. But the delight is in the details. Spend a few hours soaking in the stylish monochrome graphics and undeniably catchy musical riffs and you’ll be hooked, unable to shake the unfolding mystery of this odd and beautifully constructed head-scratcher of a video game.
HONORABLE MENTION: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
What can really be said about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the latest entry in Nintendo’s long-running series of 2D-style fighting games? Not much! The game isn’t even out until Dec. 7. But early reports have been very positive, and no one’s ever hated a Smash Bros. game.
HONORABLE MENTION: Hitman 2
It’s something of a miracle that Hitman 2 exists, given that the original publisher had once moved to shut down developer IO Interactive. That never happened: IO claimed its independence (and the Hitman rights) and partnered with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for this sequel.
Hitman 2 isn’t a massive leap forward; really, it’s more of the same. But when “the same” is a near-perfect stealth-focused sandbox game built around creatively murdering bad people, it’s hard to complain.