2018 has been a stellar year for gaming. From some high profile AAA games to some truly remarkable indie titles, putting together a list of only 10 has been a very difficult challenge. As I’ve gone through each of the titles I’ve played this year, including a few of that were in December alone, I’ve had to make some tough calls and exclude some rather impressive titles that will instead be featured in my Honorable Mentions of 2018 as I want to give some props to a few titles that just didn’t make the cut, or titles that I never fully completed and thus couldn’t have as part of an official list.
How I go about making my list is based on a few factors; How much of an impact did the game have on me? Is the game fun? Was it something that kept me hooked? Does it take the genre to the next level? and several other factors that kept the game on my mind throughout the remainder of 2018. When I go to make my list, I don’t place a lot of importance on the overall score, which is why you will see some games offset those that scored higher on my rating scale. This is because scores are based around the game they are attributed to and not for that of comparison, especially when they are of a completely different genre and playstyle.
Either way, let’s get on with Analog Stick Gaming’s Top 10 of 2018.
Heading into Monster Hunter World, I wasn’t that excited for it, to be honest. It was a franchise that I wasn’t really keen on and felt that this latest console version would simply fail to impress me and be yet another entry in a series that has failed to really dig its hooks into me. Boy was I wrong. Monster Hunter World ended up being incredibly addicting and fine tuned nearly every aspect of the series that I felt to be lacking. This was a title that I sunk hundreds of hours into, playing from the moment I got home from work till far late into the night, often reducing the amount I would sleep by several hours.
While my entire time with the game was spent using maybe all of three weapons, I clicked with the Switch Axe and never looked back. I hunted every single monster the game threw at me and kept coming back for more to ensure I had all the parts and pieces needed for each of the various armor sets for me and my Palico companion.
The matchmaking still leaves a lot to be desired, but it allowed me to jump in with friends and randoms to take down each of the gigantic beasts that stood in our way. The story itself was rather fun, but it was the moment to moment adventures with other players that really created its own narrative. While you can fully take advantage of what the game offers from a solo experience, Monster Hunter World is built around taking down these magnificent beasts as a team, each using their allotment of weapons and traps in unison to efficiently defeat your prey and claim your rewards.
With the sheer amount of content that has hit the game since launch, and the promise of Geralt of Rivia joining the Monster Hunter World ranks in the near future, this is a game that gives us numerous reasons to jump back in and fell one more beast with a full team of well stocked and capable monster hunters.
For the entire Monster Hunter World review, please check it out here!
Odyssey, for the most part, doesn’t feel much like an Assassin’s Creed game and that’s probably why I enjoyed it so much. I haven’t had much enjoyment from the overall series apart from Origins, which is another entry in the series that diverted greatly from the core formula. Odyssey felt more like a period piece than a sci-fi epic, a structure I wanted from the series from its very inception.
Odyssey did a lot of great things that kept my interest peaked for the 60+ hours that I put into the title. It had a very impressive open world filled with life and substance that reminded me a lot of why I enjoyed The Witcher 3 so much. The main story is impressive and the side quests themselves were a huge improvement from Origins, offering me better incentives to tackle the large open world and seek them all out. One of my favorite aspects to its this open world was in the Cult system, a selection of mysterious figures that you will need to discover and kill before you are confronted by the architect behind the plot to see your family murdered. Tracking down these characters and following the clues was integrated especially well and became an obsession after only a few members felt my blade. While they may need to change the context behind this type of group, this is a mechanic that I really hope makes a return in subsequent sequels.
Regardless if you spend your time as Kassandra or Alexios, you have various characters to romance, weapons and armor sets to complete, and numerous ship to ship battles as you navigate the waters of ancient Greece. I had a fantastic time with Odyssey and while I do still feel the climbing system can feel a little clunky, this title has made me a huge fan of the series and I really look forward to where the franchise takes us next.
For the entire Assassin’s Creed Odyssey review, please check it out here!
Not only is Marvel’s Spider-Man one of the best Spider-Man games ever made, it is one of the best Super Hero games as well. Insomniac had the chance to dive into the Marvel Universe and create something special and they succeeded on a level that many probably didn’t see coming. While I still feel that the title pulls a bit too much out of the aspects that have made Ubisoft games a bit too repetitive in their open world busy work, I thoroughly enjoyed my time here as the Spectacular Spider-Man.
Instead of adapting from the most recent movie or comic versions of the character, Insomniac set forth to craft their own version of the webslinger. What is even more impressive now is that this version of Spider-Man is currently fighting alongside a group of other Spider-Man in the current Spider-Verse comic storyline, not to be confused with the film currently in theaters.
A solid Spider-Man game needs three things; a good story, fun combat, and thrilling web swinging. Thankfully, Insomniac delivers on all three here with a personal and very emotional story, as well as a progression system that unlocks new combat and web swinging abilities the further you dive into it. To further make the progression system even more enjoyable, every single activity or event you partake in unlocks items that are required to create new gadgets or unlock one of the few dozen outfits that you can equip to the wallcrawler.
You can easily tell within a few short hours just how passionate the team at Insomniac was in making this game the best it could be. They understand what makes Spidey work and built the game around every fun aspect of the character. The New York City they have built here feels very much alive and can make for a very different experience should you swing just a little bit lower than usual, taking in the voice samples of its civilians as they get to see Spider-Man swing close by.
Insomniac set forth to make a fun and engaging Spider-Man title and they succeeded in not only that, but creating a whole new version of the character that is now officially canon in the Marvel Comics Universe. Its use of its supporting cast is great, the way they worked in certain villains was genius and the stinger after the credits sets up a very interesting premise for its sequel. I’ve yet to dive into the DLC chapters that have since been released, but it’s only a matter of time before I jump back into this fantastic iteration of the Amazing Spider-Man.
For the entire Marvel’s Spider-Man review, please check it out here!
While I am sure that many of you expected this juggernaut of a game to score much higher on this list, Red Dead Redemption 2 is still a truly remarkable experience that only fails because of its imperfect controls and obsession with realism, often at the expense of its gameplay. It exceeds as a narrative driven game with a fantastic story filled with engaging characters and well constructed drama, I just wish its controls were a bit better.
Each and every quest you take Arthur Morgan on is well written, well acted, and always enjoyable, when you are not having people accidentally walk into the path of your horse or some other event that triggers an unwanted bounty. Despite those moments where you’ll want to throw your controller, I always enjoyed getting lost in the wilderness and the open world offered here as I never knew what I would encounter. Even after completing the main campaign and its epilogues, even though you knew exactly what was to happen, I was still discovering new secrets, new quests, and wrapping up existing adventures.
Why Red Dead Redemption 2 scores so low on this list is that despite how great the story and characters are, and the world they inhabit, it is in the clunky nature of its controls and its tight leash to its sense of realism that hurts the experience overall. Some aspects to its realism are warranted and often welcomed, but when you realize that your entire weapon stash can fit in a small saddlebag on your horse, then you wonder why other aspects of the game are not centered around making the overall experience a bit more fun and less focused on how real it could truly be.
Despite all the issues I have with the title, it’s still a truly remarkable game due to what Rockstar absolutely nails. The combat is enjoyable, the encounters are well executed, and the world they have crafted is stunning. Red Dead Redemption 2 is about moments, whether they are high action bank robberies or outlandish shootouts alongside Sadie Adler, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this western prequel to the original Red Dead Redemption.
For the entire Red Dead Redemption 2 review, please check it out here!
While my review for Divinity: Original Sin II is still on its way, soon, I promise, I still wanted to include it in my list. With a busy holiday season and a ton of games to work through, I took my time with this 100+ hour epic, ensuring that I got the most out of my playthrough and explored every single area offered in the game and completed as many quests as I could get my hands on.
While I am not usually a fan of turn-based combat, Divinity: Original Sin II places a large emphasis on environmental and elemental based attacks, making each strike and ability insanely fun to use and strategize with. With a very fluid class system that allows you to mold your team into exactly what you want, the sheer variety offered here is staggering. This is a game that will make you think on what you want from your party just as much as trying to piece together the various clues given to you to complete your quests.
Where Original Sin II excels, is in its story and its characters. You’ll create your own adventurer or utilize one of the pre-made ones and then choose from a small group of companions to bring along with you on your journey. What is so well executed is how several of the companions narratives end up conflicting with one another in interesting ways and make you really think about how to put your party together and how to overcome those conflicts.
Due to how well written this game and its dialogue is, this is one of the few lengthy games surrounded by lore that I looked to read everything I could come across and take in every conversation choice offered to me. I would save and reload to attempt certain situations another way, just to see the variety in where the quest would end up.
Divinity: Original Sin II’s combat system has so much variety due to the massive library of skills, weapons, and stats that you can equip to each character, making every single playthrough among each player entirely different. The amount of content that can go unnoticed by players is almost as much as the length of half the games on this list.
For Larian Studios being such a small team, they have set the benchmark on the RPG genre, at least in my opinion. This is not just a wonderful role playing experience, but one of the most detailed and feature rich games ever released. The combat can be as challenging as you want with the choices between several difficulty options, and with the complete freedom you have to build not just your own character, but that of your entire team, the possibilities are almost limitless in what Original Sin II can offer you.
Stay tuned for my review of Divinity: Original Sin II coming sometime in January.
With its incredible soundtrack and touching narrative, Celeste was truly a wonderful surprise to start off 2018. This was a game that was racking up numerous 10/10 scores and was the topic of conversation everywhere. Celeste is similar to that of Super Meat Boy; a game where you will die over and over again in an effort to complete complex puzzles, Celeste comes loaded with an assist mode, allowing you to customize certain aspects of its challenge. Celeste is a game that wants to be played, regardless of your skill level.
You play as Madeline, a young girl who is intent on climbing Mount Celeste. While there is certainly more to what this mountain and its challenge represent, it is in the smart writing and identification of what Madeline is going through that truly sets this narrative apart from pretty much anything else out there. Games about mental health issues and self reflection are rarely handled this well and Celeste is simply one that is.
Equipped with a jump, dash, and a grab, Madeline will need to use those moves in various ways to solve complex screen-wide puzzles. This may have you falling to dash at just the right moment, to holding onto the side of a moving block only to jump over a patch of spikes in order to bounce jump above you. Some of these puzzles are designed in such a way where you’ll often run the gauntlet of back to back jumps and dashes between thin gaps of spikes as you hold your breath, hoping you timed every last movement to the exact pixel width afforded to you. Celeste was often the most intense and yet calming game I’ve played all year.
Much like the next game on this list, Celeste is a game that just feels incredibly fun to play. This is further enhanced by a truly wonderful soundtrack by Lena Raine, one I listen to quite often to this very day. One of the main themes, Reach for the Summit, is one of the most impressive video game songs this year and one that energizes you to do your best in the game.
Celeste is also a remarkably gorgeous game for as old school as it looks. The background and foreground assets never confuse you and you always can tell where you are, something that is definitely required in a game based around split-second timing. There are nice visual standouts like Madeline's hair changing color depending on how many dashes you have left remaining, to the hand-drawn works of art during and after each chapter. Despite the simplicity in the Madeline character model, when she's tired and out of breath, or even suffering a panic attack, there is enough there to know exactly the state of emotion she is in.
Celeste is one of the best platformers I’ve ever played and features a wonderfully written story about mental health that needs to be experienced on any platform you can find it on.
For the entire Celeste review, please check it out here!
Dead Cells is a game that wants you to succeed, even when it brutally murders you, it rewards you with progress. While it has the appearance of a rogue-like, stripping you of your items upon death, you earn currency that allows you to unlock weapons for use on your next turn. “Just one run” was something that I would say to myself in the late hours, needing to get some sleep for the next day, only for that “one more run” to turn into another three or four, regardless of whatever sleep I would eventually get. Dead Cells was a game that captivated me far after I lucked my way past the final encounter and is something I still jump into to this very day.
You start Dead Cells with nothing. You’re given a crude weapon and sent on your way. You will eventually unlock better and faster weaponry and a few traps as well all in an effort to kill what is ahead of you just a few seconds faster. The bosses will test you, often punishing you for missing that jump or taking that extra second before you unleashed your trap. You will die again and again in Dead Cells, yet you will always feel as if you are rewarded in some way.
Every round, despite whatever setup of weapons and traps I could find was thrilling and always intense. The various abilities you’ll learn will dictate your path, and while the levels themselves are mostly procedurally generated, I feel that I have explored every single area at least a dozen times.
Dead Cells has in many ways, the perfect speed of combat. The controls are insanely precise with a responsiveness that I’ve never seen handled so well. Despite the hundreds of deaths that came my way, I never once blamed the game or felt it was unfair. To say that Dead Cells has some of the most impressive combat in the history of videogames is not a far off assessment, it is just that damn good.
For the entire Dead Cells review, please check it out here!
To say that I thoroughly loved Starlink would be underselling it. This was a title that I did not see myself getting obsessed with on the level that I did. Once I booted up the game and picked my pilot, Star Fox, who is exclusive to the Nintendo Switch version of the game, I really couldn’t put it down. Starlink feels like a classic videogame experience that has all the look and charm as if it was based upon a DreamWorks produced animated series of No Man’s Sky.
While Starlink has the “Toys to Life” approach that was present with Skylanders and Disney Infinity, Ubisoft made the smart approach to have every ship, pilot, and gun also available as a digital add-on, allowing you to own everything the game offers regardless of not owning a single toy. This allows the game to live on even if the toys become unavailable. This also provides a far cheaper investment and allows Starlink to become a game on the go that is so perfect for the Switch Platform. If you have the choice between owning this physically with all the toys or via its digital version with all the trimmings, I recommend the latter, despite how cool the toys actually look. It will save you a ton of money.
Starlink sees you on a quest to stop evil from taking over the galaxy. It is a simple premise, but one that is further enhanced by a enjoyable cast of characters and engaging and addictive gameplay. I’ve mentioned it before, but the Nintendo Switch has Star Fox exclusive to their console and he is actually written into the main story and joins the team during several of the cutscenes available.
The gimmick around the toys is something that I never did experience with Starlink as I purchased the digital deluxe version, but physically, Starlink has you purchase toy ships, guns, and pilots to assemble a space-faring vessel capable of interstellar dog-fights and elemental-based combat on the planet’s surface, forcing you to swap weapons in order to maximize damage. The combat and controls are extremely well done and not once was I ever fighting against them or felt they lacked in any way.
While some of the action can translate into doing the same activity over and over again, the excellent combat and controls made every objective an absolute joy. I jumped into as many battles as I could, grinding away at earning the materials needed to upgrade every aspect of my ship, as well as the Equinox, the mothership hosting my allies in the deep reaches of space. With a progression system to make your weapons better and your pilot skills more effective, Starlink has a ton of content to push through over the 20+ hour campaign. Even after I have saved the galaxy and stopped Star Wolf from succeeding in his plan, I still find myself drawn to this gorgeous world and leveling up each gun and ship I have at the ready, all while the Star Fox theme blasts in the background during the vastly enjoyable combat.
Stay tuned for my review of StarLink: Battle for Atlas in the coming weeks.
When Game Director Cory Barlog was tasked with creating a follow-up to the God of War series, he easily could have made a game similar to that of God of War 3, a game that also followed in the footsteps of its predecessor. Thankfully, Cory and his team at Santa Monica Studio’s were focused on delivering much more than that. God of War is a sequel to what has come before, but a complete reboot in terms of its gameplay.
Gone is the Kratos of past and while there are several moments of once again witnessing his spartan rage and fury, the former God of War has calmed down considerably from the last time we saw him. This change is due in large part to his once again being a father. While the game starts out with him mourning his recently departed wife, he is now fully responsible for the well-being, and training, of his son, Atreus.
The story is centered around spreading the ashes of Atreus' mother at the highest peak in all the realms. It is a journey that is visually shown to you as the peak of said mountain is far away in the distance. God of War uses a single camera frame to tell its story, rather than cutting away to load a new area or anything that would resemble a typical loading screen. This single frame allows the story moments to appear far more immersive than they normally would be. The framing used in God of War is fantastic and this method of how the story is told in one shot shouldn't be understated. It is a very cool trick that Santa Monica Studios does extremely well.
The weapon variety given to Kratos is very satisfying and it makes a lot of sense that he wouldn’t be burdened with too much choice. The simplicity offered in his arsenal and the skills you can unlock, allow Kratos to master what he has at hand. I was a huge fan of the armor system and the various outfits that you discover and equip and change up the look of Kratos. Everything based around the customization of his gear and weapons is something I would love to see furthered in the following game.
God of War is quite possibly the best looking game currently on the PS4. While I still find that certain aspects of Horizon Zero Dawn or Hellblade can give it a run for its money, there is no mistaking that God of War is a visual masterpiece. The detail on Kratos' armor, or the subtle details in the environment offer some insanely gorgeous textures that look remarkably good no matter running in performance mode or resolution mode on the PS4 Pro.
The title had a lot of expectations going into it. Many people expressed their concerns that it was too different from what had come before that the very identity of the series was under attack. While yes, this newest version does stray the path in some vast ways, but the heart and soul of God of War is here in every frame of animation, every moment Kratos screams in rage, or every time his axe splits an enemy in two. Barlog and his team have crafted a wonderful journey that has just as much bloodshed and chaos as it does heart. The combat, the story, the sheer scope of what is offered here is stunning and everything this game offers is a true work of art.
For the entire God of War review, please check it out here!
GRIS is a title that came out of nowhere for me and it was such a wonderful experience to end the year on. While the game is rather short, coming in at just around 3 hours long, it is an experience I won’t forget. Nomada Studios, alongside artist Conrad Roset have created one of the most visually striking games I’ve ever seen. Combine that with the musical talents of The Berlinist, and you have my favorite game of 2018.
As the titular character, you play as a young woman who wakes up in the crumbling palm of a statue. As she starts to sing, she suddenly loses her voice and the statue’s hand starts to break apart, causing the young mute woman to fall. When the dust has settled, she finds herself in a world without color, and a voice that has yet to return. Her journey to reclaim her voice and bring color back to the world is an emotional one, featuring an ending so perfect, I tear up each time I revisit it. GRIS is a game about loss and dealing with grief, and it is felt not only in its environments, but in its tone and musical score.
GRIS is a puzzle platformer that has you use unique abilities to progress through complex environments as you attempt to track down glowing lights that are used to create pathways that allow Gris to move on to the next area or just to navigate a large gap. As you collect these points of light, they will eventually convert to stars in the sky above, forming a constellation of the final path you will walk before your journey is done. Gris will gain special abilities such as her cloak forming into a heavy block, a double jump, and the capability of swimming at great speeds.
From the very start of the game, right through to the end credits, GRIS commands attention from both its visuals and from its stunning musical score. Conrad Roset, the creative director for the game, has given us one of the most gorgeous interactive experiences ever created. As you can see from the various screenshots, GRIS has a watercolor effect combined with some truly remarkable animation given to not just the playable character model, but the opening and ending cutscenes that bookend the game so perfectly. Its environments are packed full of detail and use their basic color approach to create stunning works of art.
From the moment the game started, I was blown away by the sheer beauty of its art direction, its color, and undeniable passion that went into creating this stunning experience. While photo realism is certainly enjoyable and can often allow games to look incredibly real, there is something about games that look hand drawn and are filled with color and texture. As an artist myself, GRIS was something that really spoke to me and while this year has birthed some fantastic games, Nomada Studio’s has crafted a true work of art.
For the entire GRIS review, please check it out here!