I discovered that this year actually marks the 10th year I’ve written a year-end “Games of the Year” roundup. I first did it way back in 2008 on GameSpot.com, before moving over to Entertainium in 2014. It’s allowed me time to think about how much video games and the world in general has changed in that decade, and sadly that change has not always been for the better. 2018 was in many ways another tough year for a lot of people, and we probably have more tough years to follow. But while we navigate that minefield, we’ll hopefully have a load of great games to play along the way. Here then are my favourite games of 2018.
Gareth’s Game of the Year
Most Innovative Game
Return of the Obra Dinn
Return of the Obra Dinn is essentially a backwards detective game. The unique setting aboard an 18th Century merchant ship is already intriguing, but your role as a paranormal insurance investigator, deducing the cause of death of each member of the crew and who killed them, takes it to another level. Visually Obra Dinn is reminiscent of old monochromatic Mackintosh games like Enchanted Scepters, but there is a lot of detail if you look closer. With splendid voice acting and a fantastical but engaging story, Return of the Obra Dinn will quickly be regarded as a classic, just as has happened to Lucas Pope’s last game, Papers, Please. Read our Review.
Most Improved Game
No Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky is now over 2 years old and is an almost fundamentally different game to the one that it launched as. It has had huge expansions and revisions which have overhauled the game in a variety of ways, mostly for the better. The game has more to do, more varied environments, and a better sense of progression. They’ve even added multiplayer. However, issues still remain; the inventory management is still as clunky as ever, and once you’ve upgraded your character adequately you’ll mainly be playing for the joy of seeing pretty planets. All round though, credit is due to Hello Games for trying to continually improve the game after the very negative reception it originally endured.
CHUCHEL isn’t a complicated game. It’s fundamentally a stripped down adventure game from Amanita Design, without inventory or any dialogue. But removing these elements allows the game to focus on the remaining strengths of humour, visual inventiveness and music. CHUCHEL is an easy-going game about a small bundle of energy who loves cherries. But his companion/foe Kekel also loves cherries. Thus follows a titanic Tom and Jerry-esque fight throughout the course of the game with little to no plot, but plenty of slapstick comedy. Children will love CHUCHEL, but adults will also find it a great way to spend a couple of hours.
Best Spiritual Successor
Two Point Hospital
I’ve long been a fan of Theme Hospital, but the original game is now getting on in years and it’s been high time for a sequel. Unfortunately EA show absolutely no desire to make one, so Two Point Studios, including several Lionhead veterans, have created Two Point Hospital, which is near as damn it a sequel to Theme Hospital in almost every regard. Featuring a new variety of comedy ailments and a huge number of hospitals to manage, Two Point Hospital scratches the Theme Hospital inch incredibly well, with a more modernized graphical style and great new music. Read our Review.
Donut County is a classic example of a game that is more than the sum of its parts. The gameplay, which involves you navigating around a hole in the ground in order to drop items into it, is incredibly simple but deeply satisfying, and overlaid on top of this is a funny yet engaging story with memorable characters and excellent writing. Underneath the funny dialogue, the game actually explores quite interesting themes such as gentrification. Donut County isn’t a long game, but it’s got more heart and personality than a dozen other games combined.
Jalopy is an open-world/car maintenance/travel/driving game where you slowly drive, in a very unreliable Trabant-like car with a two-stroke engine, across the various nations of the Eastern Bloc. It is unlike anything else I’ve played. Your car is incredibly prone to failure and is always overheating or breaking down, meaning you’ll often be trying to manage what repair items you can fit into the car, vs valuable items that can be sold along the journey. But the game also has a lot of heart, with your virtual uncle recounting various stories of the countries you pass through. Jalopy is quite buggy and many journeys can end in unrecoverable failure, but it’s an excellent experience and an utterly unique experience.
2018’s Old Game I Couldn’t Stop Playing
Tom Clancy’s The Division
The Division came out in 2016, but I only played it this year after I snapped it up at a good price. It’s very clear that The Division is Ubisoft’s attempt to make a Destiny style of game which can be billed as a “live service”, but unlike Destiny, The Division can for the most part be played almost entirely single-player, and in many areas of the world you won’t encounter other humans unless you invite them to join your game. Set in a semi-post-apocalyptic Manhattan, your role as a special agent is to restore order to the city, ala Escape from New York. The politics of The Division are very, very bad if you think about them for any longer than a second, but if you’re willing to suspend disbelief entirely, The Division is a highly proficient shooter set in a gorgeously detailed collapsing world.