It’s almost the end of the year, which means it’s time to arbitrarily list things. Here are the 18 most important games of 2018.
We’d love to crack straight on with our list of the 18 most important video games of 2018, but because the internet is full of idiots and we can’t have nice things, we need to run through a few disclaimers and ground rules first.
- The games are in alphabetical order. No preference is indicated by the order in which they appear in this list.
- Yes, we have done 18 games because it’s 2018. Yes, we are aware that’s going to be really unwieldy in 2077, but we’ll likely be retired and/or dead by then.
- Yes, “most important” is very subjective. That’s kind of the point – it means we can put whatever we want on this list.
- Yes, you are allowed to disagree with us – or each other – in the comments but please, at least try and be civil about it.
Number four is especially important. We’re watching you.
Anyway, on with the list!
The 18 most important video games of 2018
A Way Out
There may be plenty of flaws in Josef Fares’ two-hander prison break drama, but the idea behind A Way Out – that it can only be played co-operatively, and in split-screen, even when playing online – makes it feel as much like a cinematographic event as it is a video game. It’s also great to see big publishers, like EA’s Originals label, getting behind weird, quirky, indie things.
Battlefield V might not be the best shooter released this year; it’s also probably not even the best game in the Battlefield series But it is the first game to commercially support Nvidia’s RTX real-time ray tracing technology and the results are astonishing. And astonishingly expensive to achieve, but then, all new technologies start out that way.
Yes, Celeste is a diamond-hard, skill-stretching platformer. It’s also one of the simplest of all video game objective conceits – climb to the top, collect the things – combined with stunning pixel art visuals and the tricky, tight, twisting gameplay of Super Meat Boy or N++.
But Celeste is far more than just a difficult platformer. It’s an emotional tale of introspection, determination, and personal growth, all set to a stunning original soundtrack.
Cultist Simulator is an odd beast. It’s a computer card game built around an actual, orthographic projection of cards laid out on a velvet-clothed table, like you’re in a fortune teller’s tent. It’s genuinely horrifying, in parts, but it’s not overtly scary. For all the games that claim to channel Lovecraft or Poe or some other paragon of dark literature, it’s Cultist Simulator that quietly goes about its dread, and properly, without so much as a namedrop.
Also, it’s a lesson in sustainable video game production, successful and honest crowdfunding, and a triumph of open, community-focused development.
Donut County is like the evil, parallel universe version of Katamari Damacy. In Katamari Damacy you play a noble prince, collecting a snowball of junk from an overpopulated planet to jettison into space and save the world. Meanwhile in Donut County, you’re a kleptomaniac trash panda, stealing everything in sight by making it fall into an ever-increasing hole in the ground. Not every game needs lofty ideals, guys.
But what’s really cool about Donut County – other than the fact it is huge amounts of fun – is twofold. First, it’s a game that was still a success, even though it was a victim of first-to-market, cynical app store cloning. And second, it’s a sign of the cheery future of video games to come, including Ooblets, Knights and Bikes, Wreckoons, and Untitled Goose Game.
Florence is minimalist, moving, and if you play it in public people are going to see you doing a big old ugly cry on the bus. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Forza Horizon 4
There are two games that did something a bit special with the weather in 2018: Forza Horizon 4 and Just Cause 4. Just Cause 4 has Rico surfing planes into tornados, which is admittedly very cool – if a bit one-note, in a Michael Bay sort of way – while Forza Horizon 4 has both dynamic weather and changing seasons in its mingleplayer road trip adventure around the United Kingdom.
But Forza Horizon 4 is also an incredibly beautiful and well-realised, condensed representation of its locale, as all the Forza Horizon games are. In a few years it will be nice to come back to the game and just drive around the way things used to be (after our country is ultimately destroyed by Brexit).
God of War
God of War is, in many respects, very derivative. It’s The Last of Us for story, combined with the climbing and puzzling from Uncharted, with the hub world for shopping, crafting and the like from the modern Tomb Raider games. It also leans heavily on Uncharted 4/The Lost Legacy’s brilliant free-roam conversation mechanic. Also, the skill trees are completely unnecessary and overthought. The whole game is like a pitch meeting that got out of hand, basically.
But it’s also flawlessly executed, with the highest production values, and once someone points out it’s one continuous, uncut camera shot from start to finish? That’s just magic.
Gris – Tom’s pick
Gris is really something special. Read our review to see why.
Into the Breach
Into the Breach is like a modern-day Advance Wars, from the team behind FTL: Faster Than Light. Enough said.
There’s something a little old-fashioned about Marvel’s Spider-Man. It’s got a touch of Ubisoft, circa 2007 about its open-world design. And while it feels great to swing around the city, you could be forgiven for finding it a bit repetitive (or cranking the difficulty down, to shorten the endless waves of enemies and make it less repetitive).
But there’s something very special about not just Insomniac’s Spider-Man game, but also the character himself: Spider-Man is a very, very good boy. It’s wholesome and wonderful, in a space filled with anti-heroes, being your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. It’s rare that AAA production values marry with universal, PG appeal so well.
We’re still waiting for that watershed moment, where VR really comes of age, but this year – between Moss, Tetris Effect, and Astro Bot Rescue Mission – it’s the first time it hasn’t felt like a gimmick. We’ve spent too long locked in the notion that VR must be first-person to be “immersive” which, in reality, mostly leads to jump scares and motion sickness.
In the case of Moss and Astro Bot Rescue Mission, however, the move from first-person to becoming a third-person perspective in the story has made all the difference in the world. Moss gets the very slight edge over Astro Bot here not only because it is a great game, but it also features an adorable sign-language mouse – a triumph for deaf gamers and accessibility, as well as for virtual reality.
Red Dead Redemption 2 – Dan’s pick
It’s really difficult to separate Red Dead Redemption 2 from the (allegedly) awful labour conditions that birthed it. From ceaseless crunch to 100-hour working weeks to names expunged from the credits, all in the face of a massive payday for senior management, Rockstar Games sounds like a nightmarish, modern-day Victorian workhouse.
The trouble, though, is that those hundreds of people have poured their blood, sweat and tears into the game, and to discount their achievements because of the conditions under which it was achieved? That’s also a difficult pill to swallow, and it’s impossible to deny what a remarkable world they have created in Red Dead Redemption 2.
Return of the Obra Dinn – Josh’s pick
Return of the Obra Dinn, from Papers, Please developer Lucas Pope is like Gris in many respects. It’s a remarkable and singular artistic vision – where Gris is a watercolour dreamscape, Obra Dinn is a dramatic, monochromatic, lo-fi, detective diorama – and also a pretty handy game to boot. If you’ve ever wanted to be a supernatural insurance claims investigator, you’re in for a treat.
Remember Josh? He doesn’t work here anymore, but we still let him choose his game of the year for this list, because he still feels like one of the family.
Sea of Thieves
Sea of Thieves might have been a little… content-light when it launched in March 2018. But Rare has been relentless in its support of the game and in making it an enjoyable experience, from all of the post-release updates to its community management and fabled “pirate code“. The net result is that Sea of Thieves is just a lovely place to hang out with friends.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
This is the very definition of low-hanging fruit. Where Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey were vibrant re-workings and re-imaginings of classic series, the order of the day here was “more of the same, but on the Switch”. And that’s not a criticism. With Smash Ultimate containing all of the fighters and stages from every other Smash game, plus a bunch of new stuff, Nintendo really delivered with this one.
It did make for a tedious E3 presentation and endless, overly-detailed Nintendo Direct videos, though. Also, no Waluigi. Why are we rating this game again?
Sorry to Bother You
Not every game on this list saw a commercial release, but free games are by no means less important. Sorry to Bother You is a short, free, browser-based game from Dan Hett, the third in a series of games in the aftermath of his brother’s death at the Manchester Arena bombing. Sorry to Bother You is named after a note he received from the Telegraph, and sees you sorting through his inbox to find the real messages of condolences in amongst the journo requests. The kicker? Every single one is real.
Sorry to Bother You is excruciating in many ways, and it’s supposed to be. This game speaks softly, but its impact is immeasurably loud.
Tetris Effect, so-named after the phenomenon where players see Tetrominoes in the real world after extended play sessions on the classic puzzle game, is just the perfect expansion on what was already the perfect video game.
- Fallout 76 is a memorable game, but for all the wrong reasons. Goes to prove you can’t just slap an MMO framework onto any beloved single-player franchise for guaranteed success.
- Conversely, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 also proved that removing single-player wasn’t a killer for that particular franchise (and Blackout is pretty fun).
- PUBG is getting a brilliant new map, just in time for Christmas.
- Fortnite meanwhile now has a Minecraft-alike creative mode, while items like planes and swords are kind of spoiling the actual battle part of battle royale.
- Agent 47 is back following Square Enix’s ditching of the Hitman franchise, and his briefcase is deadlier than ever.
- Monster Hunter World was a massive smash, and as much on PC as consoles.
- While Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom proved that a great game doesn’t need the official name.
- And speaking of familiar games with a new name, Two Point Hospital was a welcome return of classic Theme Hospital antics.
- Shadow of the Colossus isn’t technically a 2018 game, but the 2018 remaster is astonishing, so worth a mention.
- Ditto Katamari Damacy: Reroll.
- And Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.
- And Burnout: Paradise.
- Not you, Spyro. (One of the requirements of a remaster is that a game is brought up to modern standards, and not having subtitles is a crime against accessibility.)
- Speaking of things that aren’t technically 2018 games, Hollow Knight was released onto Nintendo Switch.
- As was Hyper Light Drifter.
- And the dreamy Abzû.
- And the superb Firewatch.
- And the brilliant Night in the Woods.
- And Pokémon Let’s Go Eevee & Pikachu, which is technically a 2018 game (but is actually a sort-of remake of Pokémon Yellow, which is itself a sort-of remake of Pokémon Red & Blue).
- Don’t forget No Man’s Sky. In 2018, after months of silence and behind-the-scenes work from Hello Games – in the face of a horrible backlash – No Man’s Sky blossomed from a unique piece of experimental design into the game many people hoped it would be.
- Let’s end the year on Radical Heights, Cliffy B’s ill-fated attempt to jump on the battle royale bandwagon after the failure of LawBreakers. Our mothers always taught me that if you’ve nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all, so… erm, yeah.
Happy 2018, everyone!
Header image: User DEL-chan on Steam