The 13 Best Video Games of 2018
Mario, Kratos, and the excellent newcomers that kept us playing all year long.
BY NATE ERICKSON | Dec 28, 2018 | Technology
There’s no sense denying it: Red Dead Redemption 2 was, by leaps and bounds, the best game of 2018. The open-world Wild West adventure arrived at the height of our renewed obsession with the American frontier—just look at the success of Westworld and Godless and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. But it’s not like it didn’t have formidable competition: God of War reshaped a tired and at times-problematic franchise into a Hollywood-worthy story of a demigod and his son, Marvel's Spider-Man delivered the best superhero gaming adaptation since Bruce Wayne went to Arkham, and Celeste proved that Triple-A studio budgets aren’t a prerequisite to creating a challenging, thought-provoking, and damn fun game. Here are the titles that set the bar in 2018.
Red Dead Redemption 2
Platform: Xbox One, PS4
Saddle up, cowboy. The year is 1899 and you're in the boots of Arthur Morgan, a rider in Dutch van der Linde’s gang of outlaws, in this prequel to the original Red Dead Redemption. From robbing trains to outrunning the Pinkertons, it’s quite possibly the most immersive in-game world you’ll ever experience. And the recently launched online mode takes cues from Rockstar’s other juggernaut GTA Online to give you a whole new way to play, long after you’ve finished the main campaign. The west has never been this wild.
God of War
It’s not a remake; the mighty Kratos is back, and learning firsthand how tough it can be to leave your past behind. He’s a dad now, adjusting to life in Scandinavia, a place swarming with Norse deities who aren't exactly thrilled to have a God-slayer in their land—a history he still has yet to tell his son. Hijinks and soul-searching ensue, all set across one of the most beautiful landscapes you’ll find on the PlayStation 4.
Platform: Switch, Xbox One, PS4, Windows, Mac OS, Linux
From indie studio Matt Makes Games, Celeste introduces Madeline, quite possibly the most interesting new character in a year full of layered, compelling protagonists. In her journey to climb the eponymous mountain, Celeste, Madeline’s biggest obstacle is her own anxiety—manifested in her literal reflection, which chases and races her to the summit. A mix of hand-drawn animation, retro graphics, and brilliant storytelling, the 2D platformer feels right at home on the Switch, but you can grab it for just about every platform. Not one to miss.
Monster Hunter: World
Platform: Xbox One, PS4, Windows
Sometimes, you just want to grab a crossbow and harpoon a giant dragon, spearing it from the sky as it rains fire down on you. And that's pretty much it. Monster Hunter: World is simple in premise—kill the beasts, get rewarded in weapons, kill bigger beasts—and remarkable in execution. You're a natural born slayer, at least in this land.
Many games and many platforms have tried and failed to do the superhero genre justice—Superman 64 being a notable bust—but Marvel’s Spider-Man may have finally stuck the landing. Exploring the photo-realistic open-world replica of New York City (with a few additions like the Avengers building), the web-slinging superhero feels right at home stopping bad guys, and also dealing with his day-to-day as a more grown up, experienced Peter Parker.
Far Cry 5
Platform: Xbox One, PS4, Windows
A lot of people expected Far Cry 5 to lean in to the politics of a game based on an extremist religious cult with weapons blazing in rural America. Instead, the eleventh installment and fifth main title in the series ended up far more Wild, Wild Country than Wolfenstein: The New Colossus. Set in the fictional Hope County, the player is tasked with taking down a charismatic doomsday cult leader named Joseph Seed and his “family” of believers—all of them willing to do whatever it takes to protect their preacher. If you’ve seen the trailers for Far Cry: New Dawn, you already know how that turns out. But it's the journey, not the destination, right?
Into the Breach
Platform: Switch, Windows, Mac OS, Linux
Easily one of the most fun games we’ve played in years, Into the Breach starts small and simple before immediately kicking your ass on repeat as you travel back through time to figure out where it all went wrong. A turn-based strategy game that feels like a combination of chess, MechWarrior, and Edge of Tomorrow, you’ve got three units, each with their own strengths, and a small handful of tiles to defend from the invading “Vek” threat. In an era of gaming that lets players skip scenes or even entire missions if they’re too hard, it’s refreshing to have a game that has no problem sending you back to square one.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Following Nintendo’s best year ever (Super Mario Odyssey! Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild! Mario Kart 8 Deluxe!) was no easy task. But the House of N always has another card to play. Mario Tennis Aces, Super Mario Party, and an enjoyable pair of Pokémon titles were both solid entries to the canon, but Ultimate is the kind of game that reminds you nobody knows how to make picking up a controller more fun than Nintendo. The crossover fighter brought everyone back (and then some), and whether you’re a Smash veteran or just a beginner, you’ll still be able to get your punches in.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
Platform: Xbox One, PS4, Windows
Don’t cry for Fortnite—it’s already conquered the world. But when it comes to “Battle Royale,” the crown goes to Blackout. The first Call of Duty title to completely abandon the single-player campaign (I miss it!), this new mode was designed to give the people exactly what they want: fast and furious multiplayer mayhem on a slowly shrinking game board. The premise is now a familiar one: you drop in empty-handed, scavenge for weapons and supplies, and fight to be the last man or woman (or team) standing when the smoke clears. But in Blackout, there’s no wall-building, the controls (and maps!) are familiar, and you might even get to take out a few zombies along the way. If you’re looking for Call of Duty’s regular multiplayer, it’s all there, too—but for the unconverted, it might just be the mode to make you a believer in Battle Royale.
The old-school JRPG genre is one that just doesn’t seem to go away, and we’re grateful for that—especially when they look (and play) as well as Octopath Traveler. Taking up the sword of one of the game’s eight characters, including a cleric, a dancer, and a thief, there’s a sprawling world to explore as you progress and discover how all of their stories intersect with Galdera, the God of Life and Death. Some shady folks are working to unleash Galdera on the world, with the kind of all-or-nothing stakes that developer Square Enix is just so adept at providing. Clever “break” and “boost” mechanics keep combat challenging, and the game’s “HD-2D” graphics make it beautiful visual experience for players both old and new.
Shadow of the Colossus
How many games hold up alongside a slate of brand new titles 13 years later? Sony's update of the 2005 classic looks and feels like the day it came out, with state of the art graphics and updated controls that improve on the original. Most people would agree that if any PlayStation original deserved a high-def remaster, it was this (and of course, the Final Fantasy VII remake coming... eventually), and Bluepoint Games did not disappoint. Exploring the vast open world to hunt down the 16 towering Colossi feels like a brand new adventure, even if some of their weak points are still lodged back there in your memory banks.
Platform: Switch, Xbox One, PS4, Windows, Mac OS, iOS
I wouldn’t be the first one to call indie darling Donut County a reverse Katamari Damacy, but if you have a better way to describe a game where a mobile, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?-style cartoon hole is devouring rocks, cacti, and entire businesses as it grows in size, I’m all ears. And instead of doing the bidding of a mad cosmic king, you’ve got BK, a mischievous raccoon who keeps sinking his fellow anthropomorphized animal neighbors into said hole, nine hundred and ninety-nine feet below the earth’s surface. If Into the Breach was the strategic brain-buster we didn’t know we needed, Donut County is the salve: An effortless romp through a charming, colorful world, packed with little “Eureka!” moments as you discover what needs to be done to progress to the next stage.
Forza Horizon 4
Platform: Xbox One, Windows
Even if racing games aren't your thing, Horizon 4 is too gorgeous and well-designed to be ignored. With dynamic weather and a vast game world to host nearly 1,000 unique rides, it’s a driver's dream. Even on a standard gaming controller, you can feel every bump and bit of resistance as you speed your way across the beautiful UK countryside, taking the occasional shortcut through a row of fences or colorful field of flowers along the way. If you’ve got the need for speed, it really is the best thing on four wheels.
Special Honors: Xbox Adaptive Controller
Platform: Xbox One, Windows
It’s not actually a game, but recognition goes to Microsoft for the Xbox Adaptive Controller, which came out in September and opened up the world of gaming for those who, for whatever reason, are unable to access it through with a traditional controller. It’s a really awesome step forward for the gaming industry to make what we all enjoy more inclusive and fun for everyone. Good on ya, Microsoft.
From: Esquire US