*phew* We somehow made it. 2018 is behind us and from what I gathered from many an interaction, online and off, it was a trying year for a lot of folks and the world in general.
Can't take myself out of that as well. I switched jobs, but because I had to, not because I wanted to and while that turned out mostly positive, moving to one of the worst housing markets in the country (without having a backup really) and navigating that sharktank robbed me of a lot of sleep, pleasure and threw me into one of the worst states of depression I've experienced in years. I talked to a few Dtoiders (thanks to you out there. You know who you are) and always told myself that I would prevail. Which I have. Things are ever so slowly looking upwards for the first time in at least five years and yeah. Let's make 2019 a good one.
Because why the fuck not.
So without further ado, let's cut to what y'all are here for but not without mentioning a few games that would've been left by the wayside otherwise. If I learned one thing this year, it's prioritizing and sticking to your decisions, so ten games it shalt be...even if some of the cuts were deep.
Like Overcooked 2, which is something I'd easily recommend to anyone looking for a great cooperative experience. Easy to pick up, hard to master, always fun. Ni No Kuni 2, Dragon Quest 11 or Hitman 2, which I simply didn't have the time for this year, but will get to (like this year when I finally got around to Hellblade - Senua's Sacrifice.)- Dragon Ball FighterZ is a delight, because it's finally an amazing Dragon Ball game that gave us one of the best finals in EVO-history. Chuchel and Cultist Simulator, for being delightfully weird in completely opposite ways. The Final Fantasy 15 port looked and ran great plus: it's actually a good game....from 2016 though. The Messenger is the coolest callback to old-school Ninja Gaiden I've played that also feels a bit like Shinobi on the Genesis / MegaDrive at times with how fluent the action is. Also one of the best soundtracks of the year. Strange Brigade brought us the most quaint take on the Left 4 Dead formula, complete with light puzzle elements, while Warhammer 40k Inquisitor - Martyr proved that a Diablo-style game can work brilliantly in the grimdark future (if patched properly). Dead Cells finally released this year, though I played more of it during it's Early Access phase last year. What a joyful game that just feels so right in every way for this genre. And if you miss the likes of Outrun or "those old Amiga-style racers", Slipstream provided that in spades and then some.
However, Life is a series of greetings and partings and we had two of those that impacted me personally. On the one hand, there's Telltale games, closing amidst a slew of mismanagement. While, yes, their engine was crappy and didn't get better at all and the facade of what they wanted to do was all to obvious, I still enjoyed their games as games for times like these we just had. The time between Christmas and New Year's for example. When there's time to just lean back, enjoy a good cup of coffee or a hot chocolate and be content with being spun a yarn that you can influence to a degree.
The other parting was Totalbiscuit. It was the summer of 2012. My gf was at the supermarket, shopping groceries. I stayed on the outside, as it was chock full and I don't mix well with that. I was browsing YouTube and stumbled upon his "You gotta be the Guy Gaiden" video.
I've already followed him loosely over the years, mostly for his Starcraft related stuff, but that was the moment I knew I've found a YouTuber to frequent. His videos and podcasts aided me through some trying times and I could always rely on some British snark to pick me up. I didn't always agree with everything he said and sure, one or two of his tweets might have been.....ill-advised. Though here's what made him stand out: he always took responsibility and never took himself too seriously to begin with. Like...seriously: have you heard some of the Squarespace ads he wrote?
Anyway: Thanks John. Your opinions, even if not always shared, were valued and you were one of the few voices to inherit some principles of credibility.
....and dogs. A lot of dogs.
Well now, now that we're all sad, why not continue on to more games? Sounds good? Okay.
Not all games I play in a year are good. Shocking, I know, but I usually try to avoid obvious crapfests. I don't see the fun in buggy, hastily sewn together "experiences" (I mean hey....I don't like Bethesda-developed games BADUMTSS) and something like "House Party" or "Super Seducer" can keep it's poorly made sexist asses right where they are. I won't support them just "foar teh lulz #AMIRITE".
That being said, there are sometimes games that look right up my alley or come with a lot of praise that just don't do it for me. This year, those were three games:
Started out very promising. Just never clicked with me on a gameplay-level (and I don't think it controls terribly well) and once the story started to dissolve into oh-so-precious preachy territory, I checked out. Spoke to some other Dtoider and was about halfway through.
Where the Water tastes lke Wine
This looked right up my alley and I REALLY don't want to claim it's a bad game. It's actually pretty well made. The art-style is super-cool and I bought the soundtrack on Bandcamp pretty much immediately after hearing the first handful of jaunty tunes. The voice-work is great and the setup of you having to discover stories and sharing them, seeing them change and changing yourself in the process promised so much.
So why is it here? Maybe it's me, but this game was far too long and not well paced at all. You spend a lot of time just meandering over the map. The music is cool, yeah, but even with the whistling option, your pace is slooooooooooow and while other narratively focussed games don't overstay their welcome (like last year's excellent anthology-piece What Remains of Edith Finch), this game clocks in at 15 - 20 (!!!) hours (!!!!!). Maybe I'll have the leisure to sit down one day and finish this game. I really wish to, but until then, this is where this goes, sadly.
The Red Strings Club
The developers of the excellent "Gods will be Watching" make a Cyberpunk-Noir adventure with bartending and pottery!!!
What can go wrong?
Well, apparently a whole lot. While I will give the game credit for a good portrayal of a gay couple, the rest completely falls apart: The gameplay is dull, the intereactions with persons are more guesswork than anything and worst of all: the story is so cookie-cutter "Cyberpunk 101", it's almost comical.
If the whole thing wasn't so ineffectual. This one stung. And stunk. It's desperately trying to be a more mature version of VA11-Hall A (which is excellent btw) but fails at every conceivable angle.
But now back to some good stuff methinks. Narrowing the list down to just ten is always a difficult process and even sometimes surprising to me.
I usually start with a game from the year and then pick a second one, asking myself: would you rather play this or the other one and well...go from there. This year, however, as I said, I'd try to make it a more curated list. Still didn't get any easier, so here are the ones that just sooooooooooooooooooooooo barely missed the list:
Mutant Year Zero was (like Phantom Doctrine, only better) a really cool take in fusing X-Com with Stealth and narrative design. Haven't played enough of the story yet to make up my mind fully, but man, this is good.
Warhammer Vermintide 2 was rat-bashing, chaos-grinding goodness that was just a bit too much like the first one. Still fun to unlock stuff and it looks absolutely gorgeous.
Frostpunk is here and not on the "best"-list because I could only bear to play it in small doses. Like the previous game from the studio, This War of Mine, this is not a happy or hopeful affair. It's a bleak showcase into what we as humanity might very well be facing sooner than later, should we continue our ways. Hell, it might already be too late to reverse course. It's an excellent game, but like "The Road", it is mostly a tale of misery and while I'm usually drawn to stuff like that, I didn't manage to play enough.
Slay the Spire is an excellent game and a mix of stuff that you wouldn't suppose to go together well (roguelike, dungeon-crawling and deck-building) but does so with bravour. Also, like Nuclear Throne a few years back, this one is a poster-child for how Early Access can be done right with weekly patches and regular huge updates.
Donut County is funny. It's well-written (TRASHOPEDIA!!!!), has a fitting soundtrack and a nice, relaxing gameplay-loop. It's just at times a bit too millenial for me, so it didn't fully grab me emotionally like, say, a Night in the Woods did.
Yakuza 0 I sunk 90 hours into of which I loved most. It's just that it is a port of a four year-old PS3 title that keeps it of this list.
Far Cry 5 is the biggest surprise actually for me to keep off. I adored this game when I played it in May. I did literally everything in that game. Collected every doodad, solved every challenge, caught every fish...you name it, I did it. I can't stress enough how rare that is nowadays. The gunplay felt great, Cheeseburger is a great name for a bear and I had good laughs and intense camp-takeovers. It's definitely the best FC since 3 and from a gameplay standpoint even better. Arcade is what DOOM's SnapMap should have been all along and kept me coming back for weeks.
Yet why is it that, a few bigger story-beats aside, I can't remember shit about this game? Really. I'm actively struggling to even remember the protagonist's name.
Also: the DLC was sub-par from start to finish.
What irked me the most though was just how much they seemed to pull their punches throughout the game in terms of story. I just wished they went in harder and bleaker and didn't just goof off for TEH BRAND.
All the more for the ending, which now feels unearned, though I was genuinely surprised that they had the balls.....also that they had the balls to basically spoil it half a year after release with the announcement of the de-facto sequel.
I guess I can't put it off any longer. Here are my ten games of the year.
10. - Tesla vs Lovecraft
"...what?" I hear you say, but I'm deadly serious. As far as twin-stick shooters go, this is the best in....scratch that, it might be my favorite (not counting Hotline Miami). Ever.
What does it do so revolutionary? Well, nothing really, but what it does, it does superior to anything you will find out there. The developers have pretty much taken their experience from their previous games (Crimsonland, Neon Chrome) and thrown out what didn't work, while adding a progression that stays rewarding throughout the endgame and layering on top a weird story that in its cheesiness is better than it has any right to be and THANKFULLY does not just feed into the #n3rd-humor that has accompanied those two folks over the past years.
There even was a DLC lately that added new perks, new weapons and a whole new world and made acquiring crystals in the late game more easy while still feeling like an achievement.
And you know what I did when the DLC launched? I played through the whole main campaign again and it's got its hooks in me again.
If you like twin-stick shooters, even if only tangentially, get this game!
09. - Into the Breach
Leave it to the minds behind legal drug FTL to make something equally hard to put down and nerve-wracking, that, when looked at, is almost the polar opposite of its predecessor.
Whereas FTL was about live-managing an ever-escalating panic level, Into the Breach makes you take pauses and look at the situation from every angle. You can do that because the game does such a good job of conveying all the information to you, that even in case of a bad spawn, you can usually make something of the situation.
Or just abandon those fuckers. There's always another timeline to save.
The gameplay loop, the progression, the look, the music, the balance. Everything seems designed to be as accessible as possible while still offering a challenge and at times makes you question your intelligence harder than that fifth-grade math test. You know the one....yes...THAT one.
08. - Florence
Well screw me sideways, a mobile game. And not a F2P one, but a "premium" (yes, I die a little inside everytime I have to use that phrase for something that should be the norm) game.
Florence, however, easily manages to show, what mobile games can be when done right and with care. It is a narrative experience, a short one at that, clocking in at 40 minutes, that uses it's light gameplay elements to full effect.
Ironically, I think this is what David Cage thinks his games do, by trying to simulate movements exactly, which all it does is make it more abstract. Florence uses abstractions to make things hit even better.
Example: on a first date it uses puzzling together a speech bubble to simulate a conversation. In the beginning, this bubble is shattered into seven pieces, but as the conversation goes on, they become fewer pieces, and easier to solve, making clear how it's becoming easier to talk.
Especially that puzzle motif is used to great effect throughout the game.
I'm willfully being coy here, as I suggest you should just play it. It's neat and shows how well mobile games can work, even if narratively it doesn't fully stick the landing.
07. - BATTLETECH
Fuck. Yeah. The team behind the excellent Shadowrun SRPGs brings us their take on Battletech, which turns out not only to be a deep strategy game (all the loadouts alone, plus pilot-levelling...) but also a story-driven Mercenary-company-management sim......and if you know me, you know I've already splooged like twice typing these words in sequence. It is everything I hoped it would be and then some.
But beware: unlike Into the Breach, this game can be obtuse and has several difficulty spikes that will fuck you over, so save often and to multiple slots so you can revert back.
I learned the hard way. But it will be worth it.
06. - Destiny 2 Forsaken
Again I hear a "....wat?" going around, but again, I'm serious. Forsaken placed Destiny in the best state it's been in ever. Not just Destiny 2 itself, but the whole franchise.
The added campaign with its "Mega Man"-vibes was great and meaty. Two huge areas added a ton of content and the late game became more manageable.
I also am of the faction that likes the new infusion system for this simple fact: grinding materials or flat out buying them is simply quicker and easier than farming for hours in the faintest of hopes that a similar weapon drops. Even if you shouldn't find anything, the raised light-levels actually *gasp* might make you use the new stuff you find. IMAGINE THAT!!!! IN A LOOT GAME!!!
Also I didn't find the Yellow droprate egregious. Armor dropped for me in a regularity I found satisfactory (about two a week....hey, they're supposed to be more legendary than legendary) and the weapons are still tied to their own little questlines, which is one of my favorite features.
And I haven't even started with Gambit. In short: Gambit is Multiplayer crack for me. Someone who repeatedly went on record saying he doesn'T terribly enjoy most MP modes. A mode that is so well designed, I logged in weeks after I had done most other stuff for matches.
It kept me coming back and always seemed to have something new for me to do and explore and I feel like that is a very good reason to reward it as such.
05. - The Banner Saga 3
Our favorite melancholic, apocalyptic Viking SRPG series returns one final time with maybe its strongest chapter yet.
I don't even know what to say about it that I haven't said in years past. If the above sentence sounds even remotely like your jam: get it!
In addition to an interesting combat system you get an intriguing storyline with a slew of well-written characters, adding choices with actual impact. Maybe not immediately, maybe not even in the same game, but maybe letting character X go might be a bad idea two games down the line.
Also have you looked at it? Just....LOOK AT IT. The production value went up again for this one, as it features way more animated cutscenes than before and they easily meet the quality standards that this series has set so far.
One of my favorite video game series of the past few years and a fitting and respectful conclusion.
....and yes, if you haven't played them yet, you should. And no, you shouldn't just start with this one. Yes, you can import your savegames from before.
04. - Football Manager 2019
Iterative sports games are always a tricky proposition.
How much can you really change in a year?
How much should you?
Football Manager has been in that position plus the added "bonus" of being virtually the only one of those games (and pretty muhc literally the only worthwhile one) out there. Ever since EA killed their FIFA Manager series in 2013 (and even that version just being the previous year's one with updated rosters....yeah, remember when EA tried to pull that "Legacy Edition" shit?) being the ONLY one.
It didn't help in recent years. I still adored the games and played them a ton. Not only because there was no alternative (though that IS a good motivator) but because the core of it, the simulation of the games themselves, was still top-notch and unmatched.
In comes FM 2019, however, and yeah.
This is a good one. They completey overhauled a few systems that you got used to but in virtually every sense, they took a great game and made it better.
Like with Into the Breach, the main thing they did is optimizing how and how much information is conveyed to you. The new tutorials for certain things make it finally possible for newcomers to crack the intricacies of the tactics-system and the new build-your-tactics mode is so good, I wonder why it took them so long.
I'm not finished with this game, yet, but it was more than I could have hoped for.
I will now stop talking about a game that pretty much only I am interested in.
03. - Monster Hunter World
Talking about surprises: how about the love for Monster Hunter World? Finally arrived in the glowing pantheon of the gaming mainstream, many detractors (myself included) were quick in pointing out pre-release that casualizing might be bad for a franchise, that always prided itself on being more like a simulation.
Observe the monsters and your surroundings, be aware and most of all: be prepared for the fight.
Luckily for everyone involved they did a kickass-job of providing for newcomers as well as catering to all but the most puritan MonHun players.
But most important: this game is fun. It plays well, it runs well, it looks great and we get a get-together with many a Monster from the series' past, as well as cool new ones. Also: there is so much to do.....if you excuse me: I'm back hunting Monsters. If I shan't return, avenge my death. (most likely just malnutrition tho)
Also holy shit: have you seen some of the costumes for your Palico? Those are some of the most adorable designs you'll see.
02. - Return of the Obra Dinn
You know what? Screw this game. This game ruined detective games for me. "How" you ask?
The setup sounds boring as fuck: You're an insurance inspector and basically have to solve the mystery of why the Obra Dinn, a proud vessel of Her Majesty left port with 60 persons aboard, then vanished, only to show up near the coast again....with exactly zero of those sixty people aboard.
What spins on from there is a cleverly written, excellently designed murder mystery that forces you to think, to listen and to puzzle together what happened.
The kicker here (and the thing about the ruination) is how everything is designed to one end, so simple in thought, that it makes you wonder why no one has done that before:
Everything in the game is designed to such an end, that deduction and critical thinking is actually the path of least resistance over any kind of brute-forcing.
I can't stress enough how much this is making the game as great and important as it is.
Remember all those Point 'n' Click adventures, where if you were stuck it was a legit tactic to just try every object on everything in the environment? And it usually worked? Not so here.
And it makes you feel smart. It makes you think and rewards you for it.
I wish I could erase it from my memory and experience for the first time again, because the fact that it ends is nigh on the only thing I can really hold against it. It's not even super-short, clocking in at just under eight hours for me.
This is one of the most original games made this decade and you owe it to yourself to play it.
Wait. Then how is it only number two? True that, I usually would have given this the number one any year for just how good it is and how I will not let you forget this exists.
The number one, however, goes to a different game for a reason that might not be entirely fair, but stick with me here.
My game of 2018 is:
Forza Horizon 4
Yes, I'm equally surprised. Now I'm by no means a car nut, but I'd consider myself an enthusiast and can repair most stuff on any given vehicle by myself. I'm also aware, that, like with firearms, we don't really need them and might ultimately be doing more harm by everyone having one (though cars DO have their uses).
That being said: man is this a good car game. Not only racing-game, but car game. The amount of vehicles is staggering, climbing by the week. It's also varied across pretty much every kind of motorized means of transportation you could ask for. Want to cruise along the beach in a Peel P50? You can do that. Want to crack the 400 km/h-barrier in some hypercar that you'll not even be in the same parking-lot with in your life? Feel free, mah dude.
Also: while you're at it: make the racing fit your style. Want to tune your car's drivetrain and wheel-width to give you that iota of additional grip during a drag-race against expert drivers? You can do that. Want to race easier drivers with the ideal line showing and break-assist? You can also do that.
No matter how deep you go, you will be showered with stuff to an almost comical degree. I bought like five cars in my 50+ hours so far and those were all for specific challenges.
Oh you can also customize your character.
There's also a brilliant photomode that made me launch the hashtag #Carporntoid.
Have I told you about the absolute ridiculousness that is simply "finishing a race"? With the giant ass billboards showing you how you did while a specifically cut loop of whatever song was on plays during that time? They did that for every song in the game.
You'll be hard-pressed to find a game that will give you more bang for your buck. Again: I'm over fifty hours in and have unlocked.....around 20% of the cars?
Now here's the question though: "That all sounds dandy, but with how you were gushing about Obra Dinn...why this one? A, by all means, corporate AAA product that, by all means, is just a few bad voicelines away from being despicable crap?
I've thought about that for some time, actually, but there was one singular point I kept coming back to:
This game is fun. Pure, unrestricted, honest fun.
And holy shit if that wasn't what I needed, when I bought this. I've had a history with racing games around christmas, basically always playing the current NfS entry when it released and was a holidays-release-thing since Underground. With the decline in quality for that series, I fell off of that "tradition" but by all accounts, this one was supposed to be good, so I used the Black Friday Sale as an excuse to treat myself that game.
I was mired in depression at the time and setting this one up was baaaad. From the wrong language being selected and having to change my system language to the sound crackling; I was ready to think "Well, that was a lot of money for a shitshow. Back to something else and never hope for that again".
But then the kinks were ironed out and I started the game.
And the weirdest thing happened. I smiled.
Like: not a smirk or something. I beamed.
From ear to ear.
The introduction to FH4 is a masterclass in pulling you into its world and I was in it from minute one. For those precious few hours during nighttime, when everything I could've done was done, I booted up this game and escaped to a reality free of existential dread (nearly ended up homeless at christmas).
There was nothing but me, a bunch of cars and a world to explore.
A world that, now that I think about it, must be full of folks petrified by what a bunch of yunguns are doing, plowing through hundreds-of-years-old walls, terrifying sheep, flossing on top of monuments and having a constant cacophony of racing engines throughout the year (remember: seasons...oh they're great as well. forgot to mention).
Well too bad for you, random English person.
This is my turf now.
My Pagani Huayra says so.
.....and sometimes, that is what video games are all about.
And I love them for it.