Welp, it finally happened. I've been half-joking for a few years at the end of these posts that next year's list might not be ten games, and here we are. I couldn't make a list of ten games simply because I have not played ten games that released in 2018 for long enough to feel comfortable placing them on an end-of-year best-of list.

As per usual, no hard requirements other than a 2018 release date is needed for a game to appear here, and this list is in no particular order.

Pokémon Let's Go Eevee

I caught a shiny Koffing. He's adorable.

(And Let's Go Pikachu as well, I guess, but that's not the one I played.)

I guess this is now the second full-on remake of the original first generation Game Boy games. Aside from a few key differences, it's those games again. You know the drill. The story isn't quite the same, and your player character isn't Red or Green this time around (and your rival isn't Buttface Blue), but if you're otherwise familiar with the gen 1 games, you know what to expect here. The big change is how the game handles its wild critters.

There are no more random encounters. Instead, you see 3D models of pokémon populating the area you are in, and you simply walk up to them (or they'll walk up to you) to initiate a "battle" with them. This actually goes a really long way to making the various locales of Kanto feel a lot more active and "alive", if you'll permit me the silly buzz word. At the same time however, I feel it removes a lot of the surprise from the game. One of my favourite things about playing the Pokémon games of yore was entering a new area, triggering a random encounter, and having no idea what weird inhumane abomination/cute cuddly animal was going to appear on my screen. Some of that is still there, especially when you see something like a massive Onyx spawn in front of you, but it's not quite the same. On the whole, it's probably a positive change though, almost solely for making the overworld feel much less static than it was in previous games.

There are no more wild pokémon battles. Instead, you get a catching mechanic taken straight out of Pokémon Go, that mobile game you might have heard of, including everything right down to throwing berries to make pokémon easier to catch. It certainly tends to streamline the whole catching of pokémon thing, but I'm glad it seems to have been confirmed that it won't be in the mainline, new generation game coming next year. It's well-suited to the more, side-game type affair that Let's Go is.

If you're a Pokémon fan, or have any sort of reverence for those original Game Boy games, you should probably give this game a bash. The updated visuals for the various sights of Kanto, and the revised versions of those classic tunes do a fantastic job of tugging on those nostalgia strings.

Return of the Obra Dinn

The game certainly has a look to it.

So, this is the obligatory "game I haven't spent as much time playing as the rest" entry. Partly because some stuff came up that took my attention away not long after buying it, and partly because this game makes me feel like a total dunce. A game almost always preempted by "the new game by that bloke what did Papers Please", Obra Dinn is a detective/puzzle game like nothing else out there.

The setup is thus: It's 1807. The Obra Dinn, a ship belonging to the Honourable East India Company has returned to port after having gone missing, and all of her sixty crew and passengers have expired. Your job, as an insurance adjuster, is to work out the fates of everyone aboard: you must place names to faces and what (and who, if applicable) killed them. To help you with this, you have a list of the crew's names, rank and nationalities, a couple of photographs, a map of the ship, and a magic pocket-watch that lets you see a frozen-in-time vignette of a person's last moments. 

It's a simple enough task: who are these people, and how did they die? The game gives you all the information you will need to deduce these facts, but the game won't hold your hand in any way: it's all on you, the player. You will have to rely on your own investigative skills and deductive reasoning to figure it all out. For example, the first body I was able to correctly identify quickly due to picking up on his Scottish accent (something that wouldn't have been as easy to say, an American player) and that his uniform suggested a high rank. But there are a handful of other ways to arrive at the same conclusion. You have to follow trails through multiple vignettes just to identify one person. You make to make use of clues such as what they're wearing, how they talk, how they refer to other people, and plenty of other subtle cues. It's one of those games that makes you feel incredibly smart when you have that eureka moment and figure out the identity of that one guy you couldn't place, and equally as fucking stupid when you struggle to do the same for plenty of the others.

Persona 3: Dancing Moon Night / Persona 5: Dancing Star Night

You came to the wrong neighbourhood.

Remember a couple of years back, they did a rhythm game spin-off/sequel to Persona 4? Well, they're at it again, only this time with the characters and tunes from Persona 3 and last year's 5. I'm putting these games as a single entity on this list because honestly, that's how they should be consumed, IMO. Each game, individually, just isn't quite worth the full £40 asking price, in my opinion. These games got an English release late this year, but I played them in Japanese, because Amazon Japan was at one point selling the limited edition that came with both games and the soundtrack for, after shipping and import costs... about £40. Which is the right price, I feel. I feel a little guilty placing a game(s) on this list that I'm now going to be fairly critical about, but I did get enough time and enjoyment out of them to warrant their inclusion here, I think. I just have some misgivings about the Persona rhythm games on a more mechanical level.

Remember how, in Persona 4: Dancing All Night, there was an entire story mode, with unique characters, plot and a decent length? Remember how, in Persona 4: Dancing All Night, despite it being an obvious cash-in, there's was a lot of obvious love put into it, lots of neat references and stuff around the periphery of the rhythm gaming? Yeah, there's not a lot of that in 3 and 5. There are no story modes. There are cutscenes: there is a premise, some sort of justification as to why SEES and whatever-you-named-your-squad-in-Persona-5 are dancing, but, based on my very limited grasp of the Japanese language, it's pretty flimsy. The Persona 3 gang are dancing because... they were all summoned by Elizabeth into the Velvet Room in a dream, so they can just let loose and dance? I think? I know enough Japanese to say confidently that the word "dream" definitely appeared numerous times during that opening cutscene, but not much else. There are also a bunch of Social Link/Confidant scenes you unlock after hitting certain requirements where you just hang out with the various characters for a bit (and eventually, can enter and look around their bedrooms). It seems like some nice, fanservicey stuff, but nothing that offers anything of real substance. 

The games just feel a bit soulless compared to 4's dancing counterpart. A lot of the nice charm and fanservice around the edges of that game are missing from these two. The song offerings are fine. 3's is clearly the stronger lineup here. The best songs in 5, in my opinion (both to listen to and to play) are the ones that are just lifted wholesale from the original RPG. The fancy Japanese LE I bought also came with a download code to play a HD PS4 version of Persona 4: Dancing All Night, and the differences are clear. Aside from a few graphics looking a little pixely (it was originally a Vita game, after all), it's obvious how much more care went into that game. There's a sense of style and cohesion to every aspect of Dancing All Night, right down to the menus, that's just missing from these new offerings. 

I've also some issues with the rhythm gameplay that pertains to all three games, but I've already harped too much on a game(s) that's supposedly one of my best of this year. I will say this however: it is possible to clear (as in, make it all the way to the end of) a song, only for the game to give you a failing grade. That is, and will always be, fucking stupid. This is in addition to the game having a (barely relevant if you're halfway competent) mechanic that fails you if you miss too many notes. There are fundamental issues with the game design that I feel that the games are only held up by their connection to Persona, and the charm that that imbues. If you're a big Persona fan (as I am) and a casual rhythm game fan, you can do a lot worse than these games. But otherwise, maybe wait for a (hefty) price drop.

Red Dead Redemption II

My Arthur is a very dapper man.

It seems that Rockstar's latest offering is this year's example of a game that was released to almost overwhelming universal acclaim, only for a few weeks to pass and for people to double-back and go "Wait a minute! This game isn't any good at all!". Well, lemme tell you what, feller. This game is good. It's very good. The part where you, well, play it though, is perhaps the least good part of it.

Though I never finished it, I was a fan of Red Dead Redemption The First. Free from the shackles of Grand Theft Auto's exhaustive satire, attempts at social commentary and just overall silliness, Red Dead was free to tell a much more serious and mature story, and that aspect is something that Rockstar have absolutely doubled down on for this new one. It does that thing that prequels like to do where, by nature of it being a prequel and the story being mostly a foregone conclusion, puts most of its focus onto its characters, and RDR2 does this so spectacularly well. We know, by virtue of RDR1 existing, that Dutch's gang doesn't make into the second decade of the 1900s. But we don't know the details of why that is, who the major members of that gang were (besides those will a role in the first game) or what happened to them. 

And it is through this storytelling that Rockstar have created in Arthur Morgan, not only their greatest protagonist, but perhaps one of the best protagonists in gaming as a whole. Arthur's characterisation, his entire arc, beginning from little more than an unquestioningly loyal thug/Dutch's hand, to, well, certainly not that, is perhaps one of the most compelling performances I've witnessed in a game. Rarely have I cared so much about a character, been so utterly enthralled by them, and been left thinking about them so long after their story had concluded than I did Mr. Morgan. His journey, his Redemption, if you will, is something to be experienced.

Almost every other aspect of RDR2's presentation is top-notch. The other characters aren't quite as compelling as our leading man, but a few certainly come close. The performance of Dutch in particular is a highlight, oozing a charisma and a caring, father-like demeanour that from the very outset has you understand why so many people follow him without question. The acting all round is top tier. The soundtrack is also sublime, with some incredibly affecting vocal performances playing at key moments in the story. And of course, special mention going to the open-world itself, quite possibly one of the most realistically gorgeous worlds ever made for a video game.

It's a shame then, that all of these outstanding aspects of RDR2's presentation are marred somewhat by the part where it's a video game that you play. If you're familiar with Rockstar's previous open-world games, you'll have come to expect their brand of sluggish movement controls and dodgy shooting, and they certainly seem to have focused on that aspect, but not with the aim of making it snappier. Controlling Arthur feels like you're controlling an actual person, for better or worse. He has weight, he can't turn on a dime. Which is fine, for a nice atmospheric stroll down the street to the saloon, but considerably less fine if you're wanting to do anything with any sense of speed or accuracy. The amount of realistic, but lengthy animations from doing almost literally anything from crafting a meal at camp to picking up your hat all adds up quickly. The controls in general are also far from great, and while I've not had as much of an issue with this as others have, I absolutely have accidentally shot somebody that I didn't mean to because I hit a button expecting it to do something else.

Red Dead Redemption II is absolutely something to be experienced. But your tolerance for muddy controls will definitely affect said experience. If you couldn't jive with Geralt's movement in The Witcher 3 before they patched in better movement controls, well, you might not be in for a fun time. Fantastic, exciting, emotional and moving, but perhaps not fun.

Tetris Effect

This is some very pretty Tetris.

Y'all like that Tetris? Of course you do. Tetris is damn near close to as perfect a video game as there will ever be.

A Tetris game being one of the best games of the year is a shock though because, as good as Tetris is, it's very much a known quantity. A Tetris game being good isn't particularly surprising or even particularly noteworthy because, well, it's Tetris. Of course it's good.

So I think that speaks volumes about just how fucking good Tetris Effect is.

Tetris Effect is brought to us primarily by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, that guy what's known for making real trippy games with an emphasis on interactive music. You know, stuff like Lumines and Rez. And that style works so well when it's built around the core that is Tetris that it's a wonder that we've never really seen any attempt at it before. Something about the eclectic soundtrack reacting to you rotating and placing tetrominoes, coupled with the visuals is just... cool.

I'm not going to harp on too much about it. I didn't have some profound emotional reaction to Tetris Effect. I didn't ascend to a higher plane of existence. It's just a really, really good Tetris game, and sometimes, that's all you really need.

God of War

Menus for days.

I have never been a God of War fan. I didn't dislike the series, I just felt little towards it other than apathy. "Kratos is an angry Greek man who kills everyone and everything because he is angry" was about the summation of the games' story in my head. So that this latest entry not only offers a pretty great story experience, but also turns Kratos into something resembling a character with depth and nuance is astounding. 

The shift in gameplay design is interesting as well, from the zoomed-out, button mashy combat of the previous games, to the more close-up, grounded combat of this game. It fits well with the very grounded (in comparison) story that they're telling. Kratos's wife has passed, so him and his son, Atreus, must journey to the top of a mountain to spread her ashes. It's a very simple and intimate story that would seem completely out of place in the earlier games.

The setting is also different. Kratos has seemingly travelled north, away from Greece, to a realm inhabited by the pantheon of Norse deities. This idea is perhaps my favourite part of this game: the idea that different religious pantheons and their gods all exist in the same world, and can be travelled to from one another. In this game, Kratos interacts with the likes of Jörmungandr and Baldr, but the idea that, some future God of War game could be set elsewhere is cool as hell. Kratos in Egypt, with Amun and Osiris making appearances, or in Japan with Amaterasu and Izanagi showing up? That would be incredible.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Best screen in the game.

I'll be honest: I've never been a huge Smash fan. As someone who's fairly heavily into competitive Street Fighter and other traditional fighting games, I've never really taken the competitive Smash scene seriously. I mean, it's hard to, where you have to turn off a bunch of shit like items and only use certain stages to make it "competitive". 

I do, however, think that Smash as it is originally envisioned by it's creators, as a fun party game to mess around with your mates with, is very good. It's a very good game that nobody should be taking seriously. Throw in a bunch of Nintendo characters and a bunch of weird items and just let loose, as God intended.

Smash Ultimate is kind of overwhelming. There's like, 70-something playable characters, ranging from Nintendo mainstays to weirder third-party folk like Solid Snake and Simon Belmont. There's a seemingly limitless supply of other characters in the form of "spirits", that you unlock and then equip to provide bonuses and effects when playing in different modes. The ways in which the game creates allusions to a bunch of characters that aren't in the game is great. For example, if you go through Ryu's classic mode (an arcade mode equivalent), one of the fights is against a green Diddy Kong, on a jungle stage, while Blanka's Theme plays in the background. The amount of cool little details in this game is amazing.

I will never (and don't care to) git gud at Smash Bros. I don't need to. I already have plenty of other fighters to scratch that itch, and Falcon Punching the shit out of Mario is fun enough as is.

Warframe

Mesa is my favourite warframe. Hit 4, everything dies.

So, Warframe isn't really a 2018 game. It's not really an any year game, since it's still technically in open beta. It was first playable in 2013, but I don't think anyone was putting that version of Warframe on their 2013 GOTY lists. So, the best time to put Warframe on one of those lists would be in the year where you were first truly sucked in by it, which for me, was this year.

I played Warframe back in 2013. I even have a nice little Closed Beta badge on my in-game profile. But I didn't play very much of it. I messed around with it here and there, spent maybe a week or so doing co-op missions with a friend, then fell off. There wasn't a whole lot there. "I'll check back sometime in the future and see what's up", I thought.

Fast-forward five years, and Noclip's two-part documentary covering the history of both Warframe and its developer, Digital Extremes, released earlier this year. That was the point where I went "huh, maybe I should see what's up with Warframe these days". And, almost 400 hours of playtime later, here we are. There's a whole lot there now.

Warframe is a weird game. It's one of the best free-to-play games I've seen, on account of the fact that: nothing gameplay relevant except inventory slots require real money to acquire, all of the best stuff worth acquiring with real money is just cosmetics, and the fact that the real-money currency is trade-able, creating a fairly large and robust player-run economy. It's weird: The game will prompt you spend the real world currency on many different screens: to buy weapons when viewing your collection of them in the arsenal, to pay to rush the construction of blueprints you've constructed, to buy almost anything in the in-game market, and it's almost never worth it. Acquiring new weapons, warframes, etc for free, with the exception of a handful of very grindy examples, isn't actually that difficult. Paying to skip in a game where grinding is the core doesn't make much sense.

And for a game about grinding, the stellar gameplay makes it so that grind almost never becomes boring. The incredibly fast and fluid movement makes it feel great to zip through entire levels, and feels like no other game out there. The very large variety of weapons and warframes with unique effects and abilities makes it very simple to switch it up if you feel things starting to get stale from using the same loadout for too long. There are a lot of things to do in Warframe. Some of it better and more fleshed out than others, but the sheer variety is staggering, and often overwhelming to new players. But if you get over the initial learning curve, Warframe will keep its hooks in you for a long time to come.

 

And so, that's it once again for another year. Will 2019 be the year where I do some writing that doesn't involve my favourite things of that year? Probably not. I didn't do a top anime of 2018 list this year because I literally only watched three episodes of a single 2018 show. I would however, maybe like to do a post in the new year talking about some of the non-2018 stuff I watched, but don't hold your breath for that. I am nothing if not incredibly lazy and unmotivated when it comes to this blog. 

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