i finished 65 games in 2018 and here’s what i thought about all of them
well, 2018 happened.
It was, in many ways, the worst year of my life. I thought 2017 was the worst one. I lost my home. I lost teeth. My health was poor. It could not — absolutely could not — get any worse. And then it did. I went to the ER, got diagnosed with diabetes and a congenital heart defect that required surgery to fix. Without the kindness of strangers online, I don’t know what I would have done. I think I would have died, on account of not being able to afford surgery. But, hey, thankfully, I am alive.
I did get a lot of time to play games, though. You get a lot of time when you have to force yourself to rest because your doctor says if you work too heart you’ll tear your heart in two, so yeah. I got quite a bit of rest in. Heck, I still need more rest, but I’ve been getting back to work ’cause I need to. The life of a freelancer isn’t great, the life of a disabled freelancer doubly so. It has not been a good year for me, but I played a lot of great games.
This is a list of all the games I completed in 2018. That means I played the games from beginning to end, or, in the case of Rust, I played enough of those games that it might as well have been considered a completion, because there is no actual campaign to complete. Games that I did not finish, like Battletech, a game I backed on Kickstarter years ago, will not be included. Games I removed from the backlog without finishing, and there are many, will not be included. Heck, I booted up Electronic Super Joy, realized it was a sidescrolling platformer, and uninstalled it right away. Not a lot of feedback I can give you on that one.
But I played a lot, so here you go:
The Final Station
I don’t know why The Final Station was the first game I finished in 2018. It just was. I booted it up on my Xbox One — it was either a Games With Gold title or a Game Pass title, I think — and I started playing. Why did I give it a shot? I don’t normally like platformers. Yet… here I was, walking through this world, waiting for it to end, engaging with the characters and doing my best to go on this journey.
To be honest, I think that’s it. The Final Station was a journey. The world changed as I moved through it. I watched society fall apart, and it was already on the breaking point. I think, had The Final Station been a first-person 3D game, it would have been one of my favorite video games of all time. As it stands, it’s a remarkable achievement, one I am grateful to have experienced.
Okay, okay, sure, I know. Destiny is an online game. You can’t really finish it — I would know, I have literally thousands of hours in the series — but there was a campaign, and I played it on Xbox with some of my friends. I loved it. The game is big, it’s dumb, it’s silly, it’s brilliant. Sure, lines like “I don’t have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain” are terrible, and the story is really just about getting to meet several different enemy factions so you can fight them in the post-game, but… nothing feels better. Even Destiny 2 couldn’t capture that sense of ruin that made Destiny work.
Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition
“Lara Croft is not worth your respect.”
That’s the core message of the Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider reboot. Over the course of three games, Crystal Dynamics tears Lara Croft down in the name of, uh, I don’t know, being gritty for the sake of it? We’re introduced to a woman who is obsessed with rehabilitating her dead father’s name, and over the next two games, we’ll watch as her inability to let go of her father destroys her life and the lives of those around her. It’s a far cry from the original Lara, someone whose parents were disappointed in her because surviving a plane crash had given her a thirst for adventure, someone who became a world-renowned archaeologist because of her adventures.
Lara doesn’t care about herself, but don’t think this means she possesses the virtue of selflessness. She doesn’t. She only cares about a dead man.
Despite this, the games are great fun. Checking items off lists is always satisfying when the core mechanics feel good, and Tomb Raider provides plenty of that. The story might suck, but man, this was a fun weekend.
Ensemble’s swan song tried its best to be a real-time strategy game on consoles, and it did alright, but its emphasis on tactics over economy limited its staying power. Halo Wars is great fun, but it never lasts. I don’t even know what to say about it here other than, well, I’m glad it finally got a PC port?
Assassin’s Creed Origins
When I sat down and worked my way through Assassin’s Creed Origins, I didn’t play anything else. It arrested my attention like very few other games have (amazing games like Resident Evil 2 and Dishonored 2), but… well, here’s the thing, I love Assassin’s Creed’s virtual tourism. I also love completing sidequests and watching bars tick up and completing progress. I love how Ubisoft’s technology gives us bigger, better, and more impressive games every year without resorting to awful, developer-destroying crunch. Every Assassin’s Creed game is a miracle. I even love Bayek. I love his relationships, the people he cares about. The man is a delight to play, and ancient Egypt is a wonderful place to spend time with him in. And yet…
I don’t know if I like the direction the series is taking.
I liked Assassin’s Creed as an open world stealth series. There’s nothing like lining up that perfect kill, dropping on a Templar from two stories up, and slinking away into the night. When it makes you feel like an assassin, it’s awesome. But Bayek isn’t an assassin, and his game isn’t about stealth or secret societies. He’s a medjay, which the game never really explains, because it starts with a cold open, but basically, it’s some sort of Egyptian cop, except that he doesn’t really have authority anywhere? I don’t really get it.
Origins is trying to be The Witcher 3, but CD Projekt Red tried its damndest to establish the fantasy of being a Witcher, a mutant freak who hunts monsters for cash, and Ubisoft only really pays lip service to the fantasy.
That cold open, by the way?
Yeah, uh… I wrote about that here. The storytelling could use some work. The pacing is super off. You end up with a game that’s fun, a world that’s awesome, an adventure that’s great, but… did it last? I enjoyed it a great deal in the moment, but I’m not sure I’d ever go back.
I played it for an IGN review. I gave it a 7/10. It’s alright but I was glad to uninstall it and never play it again.
Warhammer Fantasy is awesome. Vermintide 2 is… like, it’s fun, but it’s also not a game I’m constantly asking my friends to play. Truth be told, I should probably write a long essay on why, but let’s break it down a bit:
Most co-op games let you play whatever character you want based on how much it feels. Vermintide 2 makes me play characters I don’t have fun playing if one of my friends takes the character I do have fun playing instead. Games like Destiny, Warframe, or Payday 2 don’t care who you play as, but Vermintide 2 is like “sorry, we only have five characters and two players can’t play the same class.” That’s just straight up not fun, especially because leveling is super slow, and the game’s stingier with interesting loot than it should be, which means it takes forever for your play style to change.
It’s the most rigidly compartmentalized co-op game I have ever played, and I’m not a fan of that structure. I love how Payday 2 separates the player you play as from the skills you possess, meaning you can pick Hoxton or Wolf, whoever you prefer, but you don’t have to start leveling Wolf from level 0 of you main Hoxton. Progression and loot are tied to characters, which means that I had to play a level 0 character when my friends wanted to play higher difficulties because someone else with more hours in the game wanted to use my main.
Additionally, it’s tuned to be difficult and random, which means that a bad spawn can wipe the entire team, causing you to make essentially no progress.
Still, Warhammer Fantasy is fun, the melee is awesome, there are moments of pure joy that happen throughout. I like the game when it’s tough. I just wish there was a much, much stronger focus on player agency and customization. It’s wonderful to hear the characters banter, but I’d give that up in order to play as the class I have the most fun playing with all the time.
Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy+
Ace Combat Assault Horizon is a bad game that takes the mechanics of Ace Combat, puts it in the real world (which means no awesome super weapons, one of the series’ biggest draws!), and adds in a really annoying mechanic you have to spam in order to win. It’s a terrible video game.
Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy+ is a remake of Ace Combat 2 and is awesome, because it has kickass superweapons and the kind of convoluted plotting only an Ace Combat set in the Strangereal universe can provide, but it’s also made for the 3DS, so the maps are small and the combat feels slower than most. Still… if you want a portable Ace Combat that’s good, Legacy+ is the game for you. I’d argue it’s one of the best games on the 3DS.
Far Cry 5
I like Far Cry games from 3 onward, because they kind of figured out the games they wanted to make and just kept getting better at making those. Ubisoft should boast that they have one of the best cameras in first-person games, because they do. The guns feel awesome, the world is gorgeous, the game makes me laugh at times… honestly, I enjoyed Far Cry 5 a lot. My biggest complaint was that co-op isn’t as flexible as another Ubisoft game, Ghost Recon Wildlands, where I can hang out 20 kilometers away from you, completing the missions I need to complete, making my own progress, in the same session. I wish we could progress together in Far Cry 5, but we can’t. Maybe one day, Ubisoft will give us a co-op 4-player open world shooter. One day. Still, a fun game. If you liked 3 and 4, you’ll probably like 5 even more. If you didn’t, that probably won’t change.
Company of Heroes
So God of War came out, and I started playing it, but then I started feeling restless and decided that this game with the three-tier skill tree and the Sad Dad and the not-as-good-as-Crystal-Dynamics-checklisting and the solid 8/10 combat wasn’t what I wanted to play. I needed… well, I needed something else. That something ended up being Company of Heroes.
I liked it well enough. The story’s okay and the combat’s fun. The missions are different enough from each other that I don’t find myself resenting the experience… but man, I wasn’t in love, you know? I think the only RTS games I love are games that focus more on city building an economy than combat, and Company of Heroes strips out all the things I love to focus on the things I tend to just blob my way through. It was okay, but I’m also not super eager to try out the expansion campaigns.
Aww yeah, city building! Way more my style. I really enjoyed Frost Punk, other than every time I had to restart everything because I’d made some mistake a few hours previously that I had to recover from. The game’s hard, maybe even too hard, for me to really love it, but the interesting aesthetic and approach was super worth the time. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who has even a slight interest in city builders, even if it can often be frustrating.
One complaint: the game’s morality tends to be very much “we didn’t want Hitler vs Jesus, so everyone is kind of garbage, actually.” It’s weird to me when game devs are like “there are shades of grey, and by this, we mean precisely one shade, and that shade is a very, very dark grey.” It happens a lot. I wish it didn’t.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire
I gave it a 4.5 out of 5. Probably would have given it a 5 if the combat had been as clear as something like Dragon Age: Origins. Game still suffers from having Obsidian-tier writing, which means occasionally good, almost entirely too flowery, way too focused on lore. Still, a dramatic step up from the previous game. One of the best RPGs to hit in the past few years, thankfully.
Ace Combat X
Basically the exact same thing as Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy+, believe it or not, except it’s on the PSP. These games don’t really change mechanics all that much, except for the disastrous Assault Horizon. Ace Combat X is great.
I gave it an F, which is the lowest rating I can give a game. Basically, it’s a game where you’re on a ship heading to Mars when disaster strikes. Every turn, you move astronauts through the ship to try to make fixes. Tharsis is designed to make you die a lot, very fast. I did not enjoy it.
People told me Virginia was like Paratopic, and I guess it is. I don’t remember a lot, but I do remember thinking it was gorgeous, being glad it wasn’t very long, and wishing there was a lot more I could actually do in it.
State of Decay 2
I want a zombie game where you set up a home base, rescue survivors, scavenge for supplies, and maybe even cooperate with your friends. Somehow, State of Decay 2… isn’t that game? The description is spot on, but the experience just… it’s what I want, but not how I want it. I wish base-building was more intimate and interesting, I wish there were lots of authored quests, I wish there were more simulation mechanics in the ways you could interact with the enemy AI. I had fun with the game, completed one map, and… I don’t really know if I’ll ever go back. Getting the achievements might encourage me to return, but the flimsy networking and the game’s apparent desire to make me find my own fun rather than offer any kind of structure prevent me from falling in love with it.
Metal Gear Survive
Some YouTubers hopped on the “we hate Konami because they did Kojima dirty” bandwagon, and it’s true, though Kojima tried to force Konami to spend millions of dollars more than they agreed to and got pissy when they wouldn’t let him, which most gamers conveniently forget. When they got Metal Gear Survive, an attempt to repurpose Metal Gear Solid V’s assets into something that could recoup Konami’s not-insignificant investment, they rioted, which is too bad, because Survive is… actually kind of great?
If you go watch YouTube videos about it, people will tell you a surprising amount of things that simply are not true. Take Dunkey. I love that guy’s videos, but… man, I’m not super happy with his video that suggested you could do things in MGSV that you couldn’t do in MGSurvive, because you absolutely could do those things, if you bothered to unlock them, which required playing more than a few hours. I think it’s telling that Dunkey, Sterling, and the whole lot of them only had footage from the first few hours and mischaracterized the game as one where you simply poked enemies through a fence with a stick. If you played the game for more than a few hours, you’d know that just isn’t true.
It’s a troubled game, but a fascinating one. It handles survival mechanics better than just about every survival game out there. The wave-based co-op defense mode is really fun, especially because Metal Gear Solid V’s controls and weapons are a big part of how it plays. The monster designs by a former Silent Hill monster designer are awesome, the narrative isn’t great but it’s also not something I could find any real fault with.
Exploring this foggy world, sneaking through to avoid monster detection, gathering resources, farming, managing the people I’d rescued… there’s so much to love about Metal Gear Survive, and it really upsets me that the narrative around it was “Konami screwed Kojima so the game is bad.” It isn’t bad. It’s not the best game I played in 2018, but it is the best survival game I’ve played this side of STALKER.
Despite the title, Surviving Mars is actually a city builder by the guys who made Tropico 3, 4, and 5, which are some of my favorite games, despite 5’s major shortcomings. These guys know city builders. So… I was kind of bummed when I didn’t really love Surviving Mars. It’s the same issue I had with State of Decay 2, oddly enough: the game tries to get you to find your own fun in its systems, where Tropico had all sorts of cool characters and interesting maps and scenarios that stretched your ability to think about the rules. It lets you find an optimum route and stay that way. Once you figure out how to build the ideal city… that’s it. That’s all there is. Plus, since Mars only had one ecosystem, there’s not really a lot going on. Finish a map once and it feels like you’ve seen all there is to see, and I finished a few.
Resident Evil 4
I think that this game could have been a masterpiece if it did two things:
- Let me strafe when not aiming — I don’t think there’s an issue with moving and shooting, and Resident Evil 5 and 2 Remake both prove that, but for players who insist it’s so crucial to the game’s design that you be paralyzed when aiming, here’s my compromise: in real life, a human being walk sideways. When Leon is not aiming his gun, instead of only being able to walk forward, he should be able to step sideways.
- I should be able to press a single button to knife swing. Holding a button to hold the knife and pressing another button to swing is dumb. Let me just swing at wherever I’m aiming when I press the button.
I wrote about Resident Evil 4 here. It’s pretty good. It’s not a masterpiece.
Resident Evil 5
The encounter design is less careful than Resident Evil 4, and sometimes, the co-op doesn’t work as well as it should… but I had more fun. The mechanics are just a touch more enjoyable, the bosses are way better, and Wesker, man. Wesker is Resident Evil. Other than the awful quick-time events in the final level, Resident Evil 5 is a wonderful co-op game. It might actually be one of the best co-op experiences ever, up there with Halo 3 and Reach or a Destiny raid. I love it.
Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth: Hacker’s Memory
Sometimes, one single game justifies a console purchase. In the case of Hacker’s Memory, two games, since it’s the sequel to my favorite JRPG/monster raising game of all time, Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth.
Look, I’m gonna be real with you: I don’t really like turn-based combat all that much, which is why the auto-battling in Cyber Sleuth is fun. I focus on evolutions, the skills I want, and the team battling, but most of the time, I’m content to hit autobattle and watch the fights play out, with my team victorious, thanks to the skills I built my team for. Digivolving and de-digivolving my monsters to equip them is a thrill.
The games are surprisingly well-written, even though they’re anime as heck. I love the vibes, man. I love the jokes, the dumb characters, the fact that one person keeps insisting I drink coffee with all sorts of terrible ingredients in it. Honestly, if you asked me if there was anything I didn’t like, I’d tell you, uh… I’d tell you… hmm. I don’t like some of the human character designs that much. I prefer Katsuyoshi Nakatsuru’s character designs to Suzuhito Yasuda’s.
There are no other games like the Cyber Sleuth games, even other Digimon games. They’re charming, they’re hilarious, they occasionally have really tough fights that demand all my attention, and when I want to grind, I can just auto battle. I love them so much, and I wish they were available on PC, Xbox, or Switch.
It’s not as good as the first one because it has a lot of enemies who feel like bullshit. Instead of making me go “hmm, how do I address this combat encounter,” I’m like you mother fucker, I can’t believe you disabled my weapons, set a bomb on my location so I have to move my squad, split into a second version of yourself who can do the same attack, and teleported across the map!
XCOM 2 just is not as fun as Enemy Within was, but the expansion was pretty cool, adding some new factions, new mechanics, and new enemies to fight. The bosses who infiltrated the missions felt like real nemeses, but the lack of randomization means they don’t feel as personal as they could.
I had fun, because the XCOM games are good, but it was a bummer coming to this after Enemy Within. It simply added too much that was frustrating and not enough that was fun.
Hitman: Sniper Assassin
I love Hitman Sniper Challenge so much. Sniper Assassin was the same thing.
You can read about Challenge and understand Assassin here.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Sometimes, I need a big open world game where I check items off lists and call it a day. Shadow of Mordor is pretty good at this, but the open world is super ugly because, well, it’s Mordor. The enemies are ghoulish, the combat is sufficiently Arkhamy… honestly, I’m amazed that Mordor won an award for “best narrative” at some game awards show once, but I had fun in the 20-some hours I spent playing it. It was all I touched for, like, a single weekend, and when I was done, I was glad that I’d played it, but I probably wouldn’t play it again except if I feel like unlocking some achievements one weekend. I almost 100%ed the entire game except for this mission type where there are like… 24 different locations to rescue 3 different humans from while fighting orcs. That’s all you do: rescue 3 humans, kill orcs. 24 times. The end. Not fun because the locations aren’t bespoke enough to push the mechanics in interesting ways. It feels repetitive, like busywork.
The Nemesis System, which is the series’ Great Big Gimmick, isn’t… that entertaining to me? It randomly generates enemy captains and sometimes they show up and fight. It’s neat but it’s not a big game changer. I think I’d like to see the system show up in more games, but I don’t really think they built an impressive game around it either.
If you’ve got it, play it some time.
Jurassic World Evolution
Ever played a game that had the exact same problem as another game in the genre, which left you scratching your head as to how that problem could keep popping up?
Well, Evolution is like that. It has X number of islands, and all islands are interconnected, and those islands all have roughly the same missions on them, the same factional squabbles, the same, I dunno, vibes of Anno 2205. I like both games, I played them all to completion, and I had a blast (especially when dinosaurs would break out and I’d have to save people from them), but I couldn’t help but feel like they had rough edges that made them less interesting games than they could have been. Nothing took me by surprise, and the dinosaurs broke out too often to keep my interest. I had fun, but I felt like it could have been so much more.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
It’s charming, it’s pretty, it’s got some really cool systemic things going on, but it’s also not really that great. So I wrote about it.
I think it was an hour long and it was super pretty but I’m tired of playing games that try to make me things entirely through a mix of images and music. They’re not bad, they just don’t have much power to move me. I would recommend everyone play Abzu, because it is a beautiful game, and it’s better than Journey.
This is the first time I beat the entire game. Oh, sure, I’ve probably played every single level over the years, but never in order or context. Halo 2 feels rushed, it’s not tuned well, the encounters aren’t as smart or interesting as Halo 1’s. The health system isn’t as good. It’s a bad Bungie game, which makes it a not great video games. Would I play it again? Maybe in co-op, but I don’t think I’d solo it willingly.
Still one of the best video games ever made, especially in co-op. Wow. It upsets me that we’re 12 years on and we still haven’t received another co-op shooter as good and bombastic as Halo 3. Perfection.
It was a fun budget game until it started forcing me to do a bunch of stupid platforming puzzles through boss fight rooms until a final boss who wasn’t that fun. Also, the achievement for “collecting every single thing you can pick up on the map” is absolutely stupid as there’s no way to track it and figure out what you’re missing. It could have been surprisingly good, but instead it was pretty interesting right up until it wasn’t.
It’s not quite as good as Dead Space 2, which people misremember as being more action heavy (they’re honestly both about the same!), because Dead Space 2 is more polished, but both games are games I’d give A ratings to, which means they’re great and deserve a play through. Few faults that I can think of. Always a fun time. Both excellent.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon
A lot of developers make the mistake of thinking that if they make their like another game, their game will somehow retain their current customer base and appeal to the fans of the new game.
A lot of gamers make the mistake of thinking that a game in a series they like that copies elements of another game in a series they don’t like has brought over the worst elements.
Both are wrong.
For the developers, the problem is that people like their game for a specific reason, and often, bringing in elements from something else, something more popular, have a negative impact on that. Take Ace Combat Assault Horizon, a game that, I’ve read, was meant to appeal to westerners by emulating elements of Call of Duty 4 (it even has a Death From Above style mission!).
The end result is a game that loses the excellent melodrama that makes Ace Combat exciting, pushing original fans away, without having the creative first person shooting elements that make Call of Duty exciting. It tries to be more cinematic by forcing you to engage with a mechanic that isn’t fun, but no one likes Call of Duty because it’s cinematic, they like it because it makes you feel like you’re in the midst of something spectacular. The distance airplanes bring makes that hard to accomplish.
Assault Horizon didn’t fail because it was “like Call of Duty,” because it’s not like Call of Duty. It doesn’t understand the lessons Call of Duty had to teach. It’s a game that didn’t learn the lessons any better than Battlefield 3 did.
Doki Doki Literature Club
Well, it’s clever, I’ll give it that. Play it, make up your own mind. It’s free and it’s short.
Transmissions: Element 120
Half-Life C.A.G.E.D. was awesome because it was this pitch-perfect throwback to Half-Life, condensing a lot of the lessons learned down into something new and beautifully paced. Transmissions: Element 120 is someone taking the lessons from Half-Life 2 and improving on them. You end up with something that’s creative and interesting, but still using Half-Life 2 as a base, so it never really hits the highs of Half-Life.
Final Fantasy XV
I wrote about it here. You know, I’d probably like it a lot more if it wasn’t about a prince, who, by virtue of blood and blood alone, is supposed to be important. Noctis commands respect for literally no other reason than he was born this way. The game just kinda decides everyone likes him, but I never really did. The game’s best when it’s open, the pacing is all over the place, the art design looks nice… I dunno. I’m glad I played it, but if this is Final Fantasy, I don’t think Final Fantasy is all that. I love the game’s focus on the mundane, on food, on companionship. I just wish it was more about that and less about some dumb bullshit with crystals.
XV is best when it isn’t a Final Fantasy game.
Age of Empires: Definitive Edition
In Age of Empires: The Rise of Rome’s demo, which came on a blue CD-rom for the MSN Gaming Zone, there is a campaign you can’t find in the original Age of Empires. This campaign features three missions, and they are my favorite RTS missions of all time. I love Age of Empires because it’s a game that relies heavily on both economy and research to function; you’re not just commanding units, you’re building a city and protecting it.
Battle of Tunes sees you facing off against two Roman armies, one in yellow simply called Rome, one in red called Regulus. Rome is more aggressive at first, but as the game progresses, you eventually start dealing with Regulus. At the start of the mission, your ships are out at sea; you can call them back immediately in order to save them, which is great, because you’ll need them to stop the Romans from harrying you.
Should you explore the map with your navy, you’ll find a path that leads to a small army of powerful soldiers who will join you. It’s a small army, but if you find them, you can bring them home and use them to cover your flank, giving you a bit of breathing room. Battle of Tunes rewards you for exploring and paying attention to your units, allowing you to spend the bulk of your time building up a capable army that lets you push back the two Roman armies.
Age of Empires: Definitive Edition reworks the mission so that you can’t find that army until after you’ve defeated all of Rome, putting it on a winding path through a ton of enemy towers you have to destroy to get there. By the time you find those troops, you’ve already defeated Rome, you’re already powerful enough to buy those units yourself, and it’s a different set of units that you already have, so it’s basically just a couple free guys you can pick up.
It’s not thoughtful.
For some reason, the team that built Age of Empires: Definitive Edition thought it would be a great job to rework several of the game’s missions to be way less interesting and really fucking stupid. When Age of Empires isn’t tampered with, it’s great. Whenever the Definitive Edition tries to improve things, you end up with levels that amount to shitty, thoughtless fanfiction. A few improvements, like the ability to queue up different units and set rally points, are welcome quality of life changes, but altering the missions for the worse sucks.
The new visuals, like Halo Anniversary, add detail but without artistic consideration. The readability is lost. You can’t replay the campaign with the old visuals, even though you can play skirmish maps with them. There are weird bugs, like the inability to use text chat because the entire game freezes if you press the enter key. Microsoft stopped supporting the game instead of fixing this very problematic bug.
I could have loved Age of Empires Definitive Edition if it hadn’t changed a bunch of missions and straight up broke things. As it stands, it’s fun, I love it most of the time, and then it makes infuriating changes that just leave me sad.
Fugue in Void
Moshe Linke made a beautiful, haunting thing.
Buy it here.
Pillars of Eternity
Not wild about the characters, not wild about the story, the systems are okay but sometimes annoying. The sequel is a much better game. Most of the CRPG revival games aren’t that great. Pillars of Eternity is one of those “not that great” games. I did not rate it highly.
Monster Hunter World
I once read an article by a man who claimed that “we know boss fights are bad design.” He proceeded to marvel at how Shadow of the Colossus could be a good video game despite bad design. He believed that we’d need to develop a new terminology that would allow us to say that Shadow of the Colossus was a good game instead of simply acknowledging that he did not know as much about good design as he thought.
Here’s the thing: design is the art of creating something for human use. Good design is whatever is pleasing to experience while also remaining functional. Anything else is bad design. If you make a series of intricate rules no one is able to parse, you’ve made bad design. If you’ve made a game that anyone can pick up and understand, you’ve designed a masterpiece.
Monster Hunter World is almost a masterpiece.
Take this weapon, hunter. Go out into the forest, find the monster, and do battle. Carve it up and bring its parts back. Take those parts and make something new, something to let you hunt even bigger monsters. Repeat until you’ve played as much as you’d like to play.
This is a game that strips out all the bad stuff — mining for whetstones to sharpen your knives, being forced to remember to bring along fishing poles if you want to catch fish — and focuses on the good. See that monster? Watch him. What can you learn? He’s got wings, so he can fly. He gets angry whenever he sees another monster. The scales on his back start glowing when he’s enraged. He limps when he’s hurt, he drools when he’s tired.
This is a game about fighting bosses and nothing but. It’s immensely deep. The more you play, the more you discover. At first, I just slashed with my blade. Then I discovered that I was filling up a bar on the upper left side of my screen, and when I maximized it, doing a different attack used it up and let me power up my sword even more. Do enough and I could unleash a devastating attack that did a ton of hits to the enemy.
Monster Hunter could be better at explaining some of its mechanics — there is so much to keep track of — but it’s a masterclass in readability, it’s a joy to play, the monsters are all fun (except Kushala Daora because of his area denial skills that limit movement in an uninteresting way). This is one of the best-designed video games out there, the best game in its series, and, I hope, the future of Capcom’s output.
It’s like Wolfenstein 3D but it doesn’t support cloud saving so I had to start all the way over. It’s a fun little experiment. I liked it well enough, but I wouldn’t play it again.
Frostbite: Deadly Climate
I hate the [name]: [subtitle] nomenclature, but I appreciated how Frostbite: Deadly Climate was this really tiny, winter-bound Resident Evil-like. I’ve been wanting to make a game like this for some time, so it was nice to see someone had tried. It borrows a lot from Resident Evil, from zombies to slowly expanding the game over time as you find various keys to having a slot-based inventory to needing cassettes to unlock the level. I liked it a great deal, though it was super short.
Hell yeah, let’s go smash stuff. Godzilla is a game where you have to destroy cities and fight monsters from the other Godzilla games. It’s fun, but not varied enough to be super interesting, because ultimately, Godzilla is just one guy and his abilities are well established. I had fun but I wouldn’t play it again.
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City
So after playing 4 and 5, I started playing 6 with my friend Cameron, but for some reason, I also decided to boot up Operation Raccoon City, which is like a weird fan fiction approach to 2 and 3, as I understand it, in which you play mercenaries (but not HUNK, sadly) and run around fighting zombies and people. Seriously, fan fiction is the best way I can describe it. It’s not a particularly bad third person shooter, but it’s not a good one either. I met a guy in co-op who was like… level 100+, so some people apparently like it. I tried to play the DLC recently… I dunno. Sometimes you play bad games and you know they’re bad but they scratch an itch?
Halo: Combat Evolved
It’s still perfect. It’s so perfect I decided to invent a new category, S, for it.
I love Housemarque’s twin-stick shooters, and Dead Nation is one of the best. Too bad it’s only on Sony consoles.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Every problem I mentioned in Tomb Raider is here, but even more “my father…” and with worse level design. The story seems to also want to make us hate Lara for causing an apocalypse, but the bad guys were gonna cause it, but she caused it by making sure they didn’t? I dunno. The worst of the three, by far, mostly because of the level design.
Also, Lara seems scaled down compared to everyone else for some reason. Original Lara: 5’11” or so. Reboot Lara: 5’9”. Current Lara: supposedly 5’6” but all NPCs are as big as this guy is to her. It’s weird.
Dead Space: Extraction
I needed a first-person Dead Space game, but the monkey’s paw gave me a rail shooter. It was fun, but man, it’s just another rail shooter. It’s not a genre I’m super familiar with, but it seemed to play it safe with the mechanics while also staying true to what Dead Space is. What I’d give for a real first-person Dead Space.
Two Point Hospital
It’s fun and charming. I love management sims, and I really loved this one, but sometimes you hit a stage where you’re losing money and you’re not really sure why or what to do to make more and you sort of crash and burn and start over. I 3-starred most of the missions, but eventually I realized my time was coming to an end. I finished the last few missions and called it a day. Fun game, charming game, worthwhile game. Will pick up the DLC at some point.
I just wish I didn’t feel like I had to build the same equipment in the same hospital every time. It was at its best in the early game, where every mission had interesting conditions and new diseases. It got less interesting after that.
It’s The City Builder Problem. These games are fun because you figure out how to build a system that makes more money than it costs. It’s an engine. A design challenge. Then you hit a point where you know how to optimize and that’s all there is to it. Most people go for challenges after that, but the challenges tend to feel like road bumps that break the machine, rather than new challenges about making the machine more interesting.
I could say the same things about Anno 2070 that I just said about Two Point Hospital, except also I hate the nuclear fallout stuff and it’s not really charming. Fun game, ultimately decided not to play the DLC because I just wanted to be done with it. Can’t wait for Anno 1800. 2205 was a huge step up and I’m sure 1800 will be the same. If you love city builders, you’ll probably love 2070, but it is another Anno game, so you know what you’re in for.
I loved Until Dawn, but the wonky pacing of The Inpatient held it back. I think if they just released it as a first person game, it would be a pretty interesting experience, but I dunno, it feels like a lot of VR games, where these people are trying to make interesting tech and not really spending time making an interesting game.
I think the developer, Supermassive, thought they found a hit with Until Dawn and are trying to copy that formula to death, but Until Dawn wasn’t a great game because of the butterfly effect or the setting, it was a great game because it was genuinely fun watching these people go through a unique experience that felt tense and awesome.
Until Dawn was a well-written game. Supermassive hasn’t had any of those since.
Wow. I don’t… I don’t know if I love it, but I loved walking around the city, figuring out the reality of the space (it’s all interconnected), and just sort of listening to it. Bernband is a trip, man. It’s free. Play it.
So Dungeons 3 once again runs into The Great Big City Builder Problem, but it also has some above ground sections where you turtle around the map with your army sometimes. I liked the idea of being a bad guy building a lair for heroes to come into, but I feel like there’s more interesting territory to go here. The writing is in love with itself but it’s… not super great.
An absolute dream. I wish there were more of it. It always makes me happy. I know the time travel sticks out, but I don’t think that’s my favorite level. They’re all so good, I’m not sure which one is.
It’s one of those games that released when people still hadn’t realized that the dual analog control scheme was really good, so it’s a bit rough, and the frame drops are atrocious, but Lost Planet’s focus on fighting giant monsters in a huge, snowy desert world is something else. It’s a thrilling universe, even if it isn’t perfect.
I loved this charming little adventure. It’s a bit simple for my tastes but it was fun, it was often challenging, it was pretty, and it made me happy to play. Same issue as any other city builder, but also had this weird thing about transporting goods that could be frustrating. I would recommend it to absolutely everyone because I really had fun playing it, but yeah, I hope they fix the issue with goods transport.
Lost Planet 3
The writers of Lost Planet 3 would go on to write God of War, which should tell you everything you need to know about why God of War would be so beloved. Too bad Lost Planet 3 wasn’t. As a third person shooter, it wasn’t the best game, but it worked. The story was great, the characters were interesting, and the game itself was absolutely stunning. I enjoyed playing it very much, even if it didn’t quite match something like Gears of War 3. It was a better story and third person shooter than Mass Effect 2, at least.
Lost Planet 3 will probably be known as the game that killed the series.
That’s too bad, because it’s the best one.
Dinner Date is a game about being inside the head of a guy who is being stood up for a date back at his place. I hated the guy. He’s super annoying and I’m glad she stood him up. But it was neat to see a game deal with a mundane space (if you’ve played Paratopic, you know I’m all about mundane spaces) and try interesting things with it.
I don’t normally like 2D games, so it came as a surprise to me that Detention was super fun, at least until I figured out what was going on. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll keep it short: Detention was incredible, especially thanks to its sound design, and you must play it. I mentally checked out a bit once I realized what was going on, because, like Prey or The Evil Within 2, it does a thing I don’t emotionally connect with, but I still relished the second-to-second vibes.
The Haunted Island: A Frog Detective Game
It’s cute. It’s simple. It’s charming. It’s $5. I liked it a great deal. It’s a little first person adventure game where you’re a frog, the second best detective, who solves crimes, like the crime of “there’s a ghost haunting my island,” which isn’t a crime at all, I guess, but whatever. The point is, buy it and play it, because I loved it and want more.
Tom Clancy’s HAWX 2
Take the mechanics of Ace Combat, but make the story way less melodramatic and add this really annoying “augmented reality” thing that Ubisoft tried to force into all of the Tom Clancy games for a while back in 2010 or so which leads to this thing where you have to fly a Very Specific Way (in a genre about how you can fly literally anywhere, this is dumb) and you get HAWX 2. Basically, it could have been absolutely incredible, but it places too many limits and stays too buttoned up.
Ace Combat 4
I actually found another game to give an S-rank award to this year! Ace Combat 4 is everything a dogfighter game should be. Not too easy, not too hard, not too complex, not too simple. It lets you play how you want, which means you can equip the absolute worst plane for the job, but if you’re amazing, you’ll be amazing. I’ll be writing a much longer take on the Ace Combat games later, but for now… yeah, wow. This. This game. Absolutely stunning. Mobius 1 is the best pilot, Stonehenge is a helluva location (going back to it in Ace Combat 7 was incredible)… this is everything a dogfighter should be.
I gave it an F. I couldn’t even remember it that well. It has vibes like Kentucky Route Zero, but it’s just the story of some guy who’s depressed and commits suicide. It never did a good job of getting me to feel for its character, because it kept him at such a distance. It’s just kinda trying to be arty, but it never has any real meaning, so yeah. I had to google it to even remember what game Emporium was. At least it was only like 23 minutes long.
Resident Evil 6
I gave it a D rating, which is too bad, because there were moments I wanted to give it an A. In co-op, it can be spectacular. There are wonderful details, like how several characters who see a slide can interact with it. There are encounters that seem really smartly designed, but then there are other times you do a fight, are like “wow, I’m glad I won’t have to do that again,” but then you have to do it again as another set of characters entirely.
It’s trying too hard to be a movie, and I think it’s trying too hard to, maybe, appeal to the Call of Duty crowd, but once again, it’s trying to do this through one-upsmanship rather than extremely fine hand-crafting. Like, one time, there’s a cutscene where you watch Ada arrive at a graveyard. Then you switch to gameplay, walk Ada forward along a path that is literally 3 inches wide (because it’s the ridge of a roof), stop after 2 feet, watch another cutscene, and begin the gameplay. This frustrating start-stop experience defines almost the entire game. Resident Evil 6 is at its best when it’s not using a cutscene for every single interaction.
The controls aren’t great, which the fans will yell at me for, but it’s true: there’s a lot you can do that is theoretically very powerful, but the bindings and inputs required to do them are convoluted and not that great. I do want to be able to do things like jump on my back and shoot at zombies, but the button presses required to do so aren’t really well designed. You end up with this game where you sometimes do awesome shit but often, due to level, encounter, and enemy design, there’s not enough ways to use those mechanics interestingly.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
Once again, another game with no need for a subtitle, but hey, this was really, really good. Take XCOM, but now make it a game where you travel between various maps at your leisure, exploring them in real time until you engage in combat. Stealth is a huge part of Mutant Year Zero; I was able to defeat some enemies at level 20 by sneaking through a level 45 map I’d found, picking up some equipment when enemies weren’t looking, and using that equipment to augment my not-that-great level 20 loadout.
The writing is amusing, the characters are likable, the mystery is interesting, and Mutant Year Zero is a pretty good tactics game. It can be tough as nails, but the ability to scout out engagements, pick off enemies before a fight, and turn the odds in your favor is amazing. One of the best games of 2018, absolutely.
Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days
I played this in co-op with my buddy Cameron on the highest difficulty. It was a challenge. At times, it was a slog. There were levels where it wasn’t always clear why I died (wasn’t I in cover? Why can he kill me with one shot to the head but I can’t?), and that was frustrating, but the insane vibes, the absolute tension of certain encounters, and an amazing visual gag where you see your plane through a door, walk through it, and realize the plane’s missing a wing, so you aren’t going to escape that way.
A bit better tuning and a bit more readability, and Kane & Lynch 2 would be a masterpiece. As it stands, wow. What a game. Probably not worth $60 on release because it’s so short, but I got it for a few bucks and the co-op experience is one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever played. I hope we get a third from IO Interactive one day.
That’s it. That’s 65 games that I completed in 2018, apparently. They weren’t all good, they weren’t all masterpieces, but I learned a lot from all of them, and I’m glad I played nearly all of them. Sometimes, even the bad games can be inspirations, you know?