Guest List: Chris Price's Top 10 Games of 2018
We invited some creative friends of ours to submit their own top 10 lists for our Game of the Year feature. Today, we're thrilled to welcome Chris Price back to share his favorite games of 2018.
Chris is an expatriated Florida Man who lives in New York and works at Instagram. When not playing games, he spends his time atoning for the sins of his native state. You can find him on Twitter at @chriswprice.
2018 was a year in which we as gamers were able to enjoy best-of-this-generation works from the biggest of AAA studios down to the smallest of dev teams. It also gave me the sense that we are closer than ever to the point where big budget, tentpole releases could be entirely replaced by the rising tide of independent and small studio projects on major publications’ GOTY lists. Over half of my favorite games this year came from small studios, and it could have been more had I more time to invest in discovering new releases. That feels incredible to be able to write.
It's too soon to say for certain that all of the wrongs still present in 2018, within both gamer culture (racism in eSports, sexism basically everywhere) and industry practices (crunch, studio closures and unpaid workers), will be righted, but with console sales booming and more people playing games than ever, I'm optimistic that we are taking the first, tentative steps in the right direction.
The Mea Culpas
There are way too many games to play and I have far too little time to play them. These are a handful of 2018 games that I will be seeking out next year:
From what I've read, Assassin's Creed Odyssey improves upon the foundation of Origins across the board and also delivers one of the series' best character arcs with Kassandra. As someone who fondly recalls the Ezio era, I'm intrigued to see what Ubisoft's accomplished this go-round.
Several people have told me that Ni no Kuni II is a true joy to experience, and I'll be looking to nab that once I finally finish out Persona 5. Conversely, I've never found Dragon Quest to be compelling, so it may be a while before I get around to Dragon Quest XI.
I bought Tetris Effect right before leaving town for the holidays, but didn't get a chance to boot it up. It's Mizuguchi and Tetris. Who says no?
Everything about Return of the Obra Dinn sounds incredible.
The only reason that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate isn't on my Top 10 (spoiler!) is because I've only played about 5 hours of it so far. It seems pretty incredible and my boy Fox is still a higher tier fighter, but it felt wrong to slot it over games I enjoyed and spent much more time with this year.
Shadow of the Colossus received a reboot in February from Bluepoint Games that easily stands as the definitive version of Fumito Ueda's PS2 classic. The grip and climbing mechanics have not aged well, but the core game design, art direction (both visuals and score), and narrative remain top of class. A must have on any game lover's shelf.
No Man's Sky is almost a completely different beast now compared to what shipped in 2016. I bounced hard off of the game back then, as my starting solar system was scarce on two of the main resources needed to get your ship working and get you off adventuring. I also kept getting killed by radioactive crabs. Now, with all the new modes and true multiplayer added in, I think I'm finally ready to go get lost in space again.
Donut County is a game about a raccoon that works at a donut shop who generates world-consuming holes via a smartphone app. If someone were selling me on this game, they probably could have just said "raccoon and donuts" and I would have been on-board. But for everyone else, this is a delightful, Katamari Damacy-style indie about the destruction of Donut County and a raccoon's chance at redemption, told via a quirky cast of lol-ing, emoji-dropping characters. A great mood-lifter for anytime you're having a garbage day.
I could drop a paragraph in here to explain why Red Dead Redemption 2 is nowhere near my Top 10, but someone else already did such a great job of lamenting how Rockstar's latest opus wastes its incredible open world on player-unfriendly design choices and arduous monologues that I'm going to just suggest you read that instead.
OK. Here are my 10 favorite games of 2018:
#10 | Destiny 2: Forsaken
Bungie | September 4, 2018 | Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Destiny 2 landed on on my honorable mentions last year because, despite having many improvements over the original Destiny, it still seemed like the game may simply not be for me. After playing Forsaken, it turns out I may like Destiny after all. Whereas the previous two expansions mostly just gave us more Destiny—cheeky, irreverent new quest giver; new world; a couple hours of story missions and heaps of mediocre loot to grind—Forsaken actually sees Bungie refining the gameplay loops into something that can sustain interest for those not obsessively compelled to keep shootin’ for shootin’s sake.
The secret here, for me, was the introduction of a bounty system and completely changing the equipment upgrade process. Drawing from Final Fantasy XII and non-linear MMO narratives, Forsaken introduces a new quest giver and locks access to its half-dozen new villains behind set bounty requirements. To avenge Cayde-6—or, in my case, to just get his pistol and some swag duds—you need to first off some henchmen then kill the lieutenants and ultimately wipe out the big bads. The game refreshes these hunts each week on a 3-4 week rotation, dotting them randomly across the solar system, which forcefully slows the plot progression while keeping the grind relatively fresh. Compared to patrols and pubic events, these hunts feel more dynamic and far less rote. In general, there's just more to do in each map location now than ever before. And because bounties are scattered across all of Destiny's worlds, you are far less likely to spend your time grinding a single location over and over.
Additionally, you can’t just level up your armor or weapons by “feeding” them different, stronger guns. Instead, you need to also make sure you have enough scrap material on hand. This sounds tedious, but it means you’re constantly rotating your weapons and armor around as you level, giving you a sense for different weapon types and forcing you to change out of one outfit you really liked from 5 months ago into something different. Destiny is more Diablo than ever.
With the bounty and loot changes creating a newfound sense of progression in the endgame and a great new MOBA-like competitive mode, Destiny: Forsaken makes me want to keep shooting things in the face in the name of becoming the swankiest, snazziest, spiffiest warlock in the galaxy.
#9 | Monster Hunter: World
Capcom | January 26, 2018 | Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
I've never played a Monster Hunter before. Janky controls, tons of menus, and innumerable mechanics layered onto one another gave the game all the appeal of a nuclear physics textbook. There's definitely still a fair amount of the series’ cruft still present in Monster Hunter: World, but the game is surprisingly playable even if you don't have any previous context on how to proceed. Also, it's really just a game about cats.
A typical Monster Hunter session had me jumping into a zone with a few of the rotating, bounty-style challenges queued up from the hub world's quest givers and then just spending an hour or two going around scavenging off smaller monsters and hunting a couple of the larger beasts. Each area is large and full of branching paths and monsters aplenty, all beautifully rendered. You can play almost the entire game with friends (and I recommend that approach), but the online systems don't play nicely with the main campaign, so coordinate early or play solo first to learn the basics before attempting team-ups.
I never really bothered to understand what was happening in the campaign, though, because I was too busy focusing on what gear to get my Palico (read: cat) companion, Purrcy Jackson, next. Or I was thinking about what to have the Meowscular Chef whip me up to eat before my next hunt. Or maybe I was debating between switching from the Insect Glaives, which turn your character into some kind of flip wizard, to the Charge Blade, which you power up with light attacks before morphing into a massive axe that delivers the most satisfying, visceral hits in the game.
Monster Hunter: World is a game which gives you a lot to think about—if you want to think. Sure, you could meticulous track a monster and set traps in its path to speed up your kill... but is that really more interesting than watching your Palico use his shovel to paddle a small raft across a swamp? Exactly.
#8 | Florence
Mountains | February 14, 2018 | iOS, Android
Florence is one of the best ways you can spend an hour looking at your phone right now. It is a linear, narrative experience that centers around the titular Florence falling in and out of love. It is not out to disrupt the industry. Instead, it delights in taking the limited interactions of a mobile game, particularly on a device often held with just one hand, and turning the mundanity of phone gestures into core mechanics. Tap, scroll and swipe your way through screens. Choose whether to accept or decline a phone call. Send your emoji responses. And so on.
Florence also uses these simple mechanics to generate a visual, tactile understanding of the character's mental state. Falling in love sees the jigsaw pieces of your conversation slowly merge into a single block. Arguments see the pieces become more jagged, and the screen tilts in favor of whoever is launching their tirades faster, sending them looming over the other. At one crucial moment, the game allows you to construct a paper cutout design. This object becomes a core element of the games plot, and it surprised me how much more invested I felt seeing Florence react on screen to my simple contribution to her world. Carried along by its charming hand-drawn art and gorgeous cello and piano arrangements, Florence is an airy, endearing game that's stayed with me well past that first hour I spent with it.
#7 | Into the Breach
Subset Games | February 27, 2018 | Windows, Nintendo Switch
I have to give Nick credit for this one. Into the Breach wasn't really on my radar until late summer, even though I'm a total sucker for turn-based strategy games. When he told me that it was one of those games and it was from the guys behind FTL with Advance Wars vibes and that it was coming to Switch, well, I didn't need to know much else.
Into the Breach is a breath of fresh air in the tactics genre. It may be the most transparent strategy game in recent history. Each turn begins with you knowing the current and future enemy positions, attack orders, and attack targets. You are also able to learn enemy health, how enemies will attack (area of effect, projectile, physical, etc.), and how that attack might affect your unit positions (push you, root you, etc.). And then the actual turn begins, and you quickly realize this isn't a game about winning, it's a game about making sure that the people you're defending, and if possible your squad, survive until the end of the round. Killing enemies is possible, but it's tertiary to those other two objectives. Altogether, the strategy of Into the Breach is a mix of positioning, buying time, and making sacrifices. And if you really duff it on a mission, fear not—your character will time travel back to the start, and a new set of challenges will await. Who knew a Forever War could be so addictive?
#6 | Moss
Polyarc | February 27, 2018 | Windows, PlayStation 4
Moss is one of my favorite VR experiences to date, easily. Whereas some past VR highlights such as Superhot VR or Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality benefitted from established IPs and lots of style, Moss embraces the seated VR experience and uses it to craft a storybook-style platformer in a really memorable way. As you guide Quill through her journey, you also manipulate the world around her, moving objects up, down and around in order to allow Quill passage through the diorama-like environments. Combat exists, but rarely at the cost of enjoying the game’s environmental puzzles and narrative. Conversely, you can also pet and high five Quill, which I strongly suggest you do.
This is a game that encourages the player to lean in (literally) and admire the detail of the world that Polyarc has built. Beat Saber may’ve been the most fun you could have in VR in 2018, but Moss felt the most rewarding.
#5 | Dead Cells
Motion Twin | August 7, 2018 | Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
I hope that we are at peak roguelite, partly because I am getting a little tired of the genre, but mostly because I don't know how many more concepts will be able to top what Spelunky, FTL, The Binding of Isaac, and now Dead Cells have been able to do within the genre. Dead Cells is an incredible feat of genre blending, taking bits of Metroidvania with a dash of Dark Souls and a taste of Rogue Legacy and a sprinkling of about 3 or 4 other games to create something that feels familiar but is utterly its own. As you take the Prisoner through the Live, Die, Repeat progression of its constantly-changing world, you slowly acquire new abilities and buffs to your character that will help you to keep pushing further and further toward the final boss and, possibly, freedom.
There are few gaming moments this year as zen-like as getting all of your preferred weapons and items, maxing out your cool down bonuses and being 30+ minutes deep into what could be The Run where you finally beat that last boss. Everyone I know that’s beaten the game gets wide-eyed recounting that first time. And because runs are not punishingly long, the urge for “one more try” after a botched attempt remains ever-present.
#4 | Celeste
Matt Makes Games | January 25, 2018 | Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Celeste doesn’t dangle carrots, it dangles strawberries. It presents you with one puzzle room after another and gives you all the tools to identify and successfully maneuver the adventuring Madeline from start to finish. But then I see those optional strawberries, or an alternate route toward one of the game’s B-side or C-side collectibles, and I become laser focused on Getting. That. Effing. Berry. No number of failures will dissuade me; every death in Celeste is a lesson and refinement of your skill, after all. And then, finally, I land that perfect run, the dopamine rush hits, and I calmly send Madeline dashing on to the next screen and further along her journey.
There’s a lot in Madeline’s story about mental illness and coming to terms with who you are, even if there are parts of you that you really dislike. It’s endearingly told across breaks in the game and serves as an important balance to the intense, “splatformer” mechanics of the core game, rooting the game in purpose and adding a sense of permanent frailty to a character who can respawn as many times as you need. That story, along with the incredible soundtrack by Lena Raine, propelled me to the top of Celeste Mountain and will undoubtedly have me returning to the game next year in order to try and collect the last of Those. Effing. Berries.
#3 | Marvel’s Spider-Man
Insomniac Games | September 7, 2018 | PlayStation 4
I believe Marvel’s Spider-Man gives us the best web-slinging in a game to date. The mechanic is also, perhaps unsurprisingly, the absolute best part of Spider-Man. The game slowly increases your sling speed as you level up and progress through the main story. By the end of game, you're flying down Park Ave like a bat out of hell, pivoting around street corners like a red-and-blue yo-yo. There are many safeguards in place to avoid punishing small misses in timing, such as Spidey doing a little vault over the edge of a roof you may have otherwise smashed into or a quick wall-run when your 90-degree turn goes awry. The animation detail is stunning to behold, and these bumpers help to ensure that the player spends as much time having fun as possible. It's truly impressive craftsmanship.
As for the rest of the game, the story does some really great stuff with Peter and Dr. Octavius's relationship, and mostly manages to let Mary Jane Watson exist as an independent young woman who doesn't constantly need Spider-Man to save her. It’s not without its flaws, but I’d argue it’s equivalent to a mid-tier Marvel movie. The voice acting acting is also worth highlighting, as Yuri Lowenthal absolutely nails the energy and earnestness of Peter Parker. (Also impressive: all Spidey-chat that can occur while in combat or swinging will switch to a more strained reading in those scenarios.) Visually, the recreation of Manhattan and the various day/night cycles you go through are absolutely stunning—especially on a PS4 Pro—and the orchestral swell of the main theme kicking in every time to you take a daring leap off a building never gets old. I'm currently playing through the DLC packs after hitting 100% on the main game, and everything still feels fresh.
Yes, the combat is largely lifted from Rocksteady's Arkham trilogy. Yes, the game has a lot of stealth missions. No, they still haven't found a way to make stealth missions fun. Yes, some of the open world objectives wear thin by the end of the game. None of that really matters, though, because Insomniac has succeeded where it mattered most: giving us a game in which you really feel like Spider-Man.
#2 | Hollow Knight
Team Cherry | 12 June 2018 | Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
I purchased Hollow Knight on PC last year but never got around to playing it. When it landed on Switch this summer, bundled with all its expansion packs, I decided it was time to double-dip and give it a shot. As it turns out, Hollow Knight is probably the most self-assured, gorgeous indie game I've played since Shovel Knight. (Maybe every indie studio needs to make a “Knight” game?) It is one of those games whose style, mechanics and lore are so cohesive and fully formed that it seems impossible this is only Team Cherry's first release. It is my favorite 2D Metroidvania since the delightfully charming Guacamelee, but for almost none of the same reasons.
Case in point: Whereas Guacamelee was full of color and zany characters and kinetic, luchador-inspired combat, Hollow Knight is dark and melancholic and methodically paced. The depths of Hollownest must be navigated via careful, deliberate actions. The combat is dodge-and-parry, with even the smallest enemies possessing the potential to send your Knight back to the bench where you last rested and forcing you to trudge back down into the depths to find and defeat your shade and reclaim your hard-earned Geo. In this aspect, the comparisons to Dark Souls are well-earned. But dismissing Hollow Knight as another Metroidvania or another Soulsborne clone is to ignore the impressive artistry and vision that went into creating its world. Let the game teach you its systems, respect its demand for patience, and be rewarded with the year’s most haunting, memorable journey.
#1 | God of War
SIE Santa Monica Studio | April 20, 2018 | PlayStation 4
My favorite moment of God of War happens early in the game. Kratos and his son, Atreus, are just returned to their log cabin when they receive a visit from a stranger. The ensuing fight, which builds and builds over the course of roughly 10 minutes, ends with a sickening snap—second perhaps only to Thanos's snap this year—and Kratos's realization that his mission to keep his son safe has only just begun.
I understand the complaints people have voiced about this game. The female characters are few and continue to suffer at the expense of men; the angst of Atreus in the second act feels forced; some areas on the main path aren't as compelling as the ones you encounter via your own serendipitous discovery. But, for me, I enjoyed so much of what it did right that I knew this would be my Game of the Year well before the credits rolled. The axe combat, especially the throw-and-retrieval mechanic, is so satisfyingly solid. I walked into Valkyrie fights with my armor and abilities dialed in and my first five moves planned out in advance. The hub world of the Lake of Nine and its slow expansion as the story progresses was a joy to traverse. I spent hours focusing on side quests even when the story beats were urging me back toward the main objective. The dwarves and their constant bickering always managed to amuse me, and Mimir's seemingly endless well of stories made boat trips fly by. And the easter eggs, like learning the mythical boar's name when Freya thinks you're out of earshot, showed just how much attention to detail was put into every nook and cranny of this game.
Throughout God of War, I saw Sony leveraging its network of internal studios to inform better game design: Uncharted 4's conversation resuming technique applied to Mimir's storytelling; Atreus as an evolution of Ellie in The Last of Us; the open world design and bold color palette of Horizon in the nine realms. This game is the culmination of many lessons of how to make a AAA title feel like something special, and it shows throw in the final product again and again.
God of War has always brought spectacle to the player, through its gratuitous ultraviolence and ever-increasing environmental and enemy scale. Yet what's so compelling to me about this latest entry is how much its success relies on nailing the smaller moments, and how consistently it is able to do so. To quote Kratos, "Well done, boy."