Okay, main event time. There’s a reason these opening paragraphs suck. I have no plan. Let’s just jump into it.
Best Game: Spider-Man
Also, Best Hero because it’s Spider-Man
Look, I have an inherent Spider-Man bias. God of War was truly an achievement and amazed me. I was sure I would play nothing better in 2018. Then Spider-Man just sauntered in, casually giving us Batman Arkham-style combat with more gadgets, tons of verticality, fun traversal through an amazing New York, and best of all, a truly great Spider-Man story. Insomniac just made Arkham City for Spider-Man and absolutely killed it. I mean, I could talk about the mechanics forever, but the story is what really impresses me. They made a new, once-again rebooted Spider-Man that is not only the best adaptation yet, but also incorporates a little something from previous cinematic versions. It also has the best origin of Doctor Octopus I have ever seen in any form. He still becomes the same guy, but his journey to that madness and selfishness feels earned and tragic. And Yuri’s performance as Spider-Man is incredible. If you have a PS4, don’t sleep on this one. Oh, and once again, Miracle of Sound does a great job representing a great game:
Best Game Music: The Opening Theme for Octopath Traveler
I’m probably not the best judge of videogame soundtracks, but I do know this. If hearing just part of a track triggers your brain with dopamine and feels instantly iconic, you’ve got a hit on your hands. That’s why it’s got to be the Octopath theme. It sounds like winsome, epic adventure. Any game would be lucky to sound like this. Other musical highlights this year include Gris, Spider-Man, and God of War.
Best Visual Style: Gris
I just finished this game, but Gris is one hell of an aesthetic experience. It’s a short puzzle-platformer about grief, where your protagonist must restore colors to the world and regain her voice. It’s all visually beautiful and sounds great. Gris has a drawn-looking watercolor style, that gets prettier the further you get. Each level has a strong theme, and they each look great. Animations are smooth and silky, too, with the few boss characters standing out as especially cool and animating like flowing ink.
Best Combat: Dead Cells
There’s a reason I was pulling for this to win Best Action Game at The Game Awards (and it did). Dead Cells may be a tiny rogue-lite with minimal story, but it. has. the. best. action. Dead Cells is somewhere between Castlevania and something more aggressive, like Strider. It’s furious and fast, with tight controls, shield-parries, and a dedicated dodge. Now imagine you can equip any combo of 2 weapons and/or shields and/or spells, along with 2 gadget-items, letting you create a huge number of potential combos between them. And even better, as a rogue-lite, the items you get are random. You’ll be stacking those monsters up like cordwood! It’s a bit more like what my childhood imagination made Castlevania feel like. The imaginary heavy metal version that lived in my head.
As for the dungeon itself, it’s procedurally generated to fit the templates of each level and there are multiple branching paths through the game. Some of those paths you must unlock with items found later, which creates a fun incentive to explore. As far as these rogue-lites go, this is one of the best ones.