Daniel’s Top Games of 2018
Every year when I make a list of my favourite games, I take a look back at the year’s releases to make sure I’m not missing anything. And each year, I am blown away by the variety of high quality games that were developed. From 2D platformers to 3D open world games, and from 4-hour single player experiences to seemingly never-ending online multiplayer games, the industry continues to create impressive, clever, fun, and unique experiences.
In 2018, triple-A titles did little to keep me interested. Despite the objective high quality of their visuals, presentation, and art direction, games such as God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2 had gameplay that was derivative and uninteresting. In comparison, many lower-budget titles delivered more concentrated and interesting experiences for me.
And so, below is a list of four games that I enjoyed more than any others in 2018.
Subnautica was officially released for PC in the winter months of 2018 and it’s a perfect game to hide yourself from the bitter cold. In the game, your character survives the crash landing of a massive transport spaceship via an escape pod. The setting is a large planet with nothing but water on its surface and the gameplay has you collecting resources, crafting items and consumables, and exploring the world. The end goal is to build a rocket to get off the planet, but exploration is the highlight here. There are plenty of cool gadgets and transport options to make discovering the secrets of the island a bit easier, and as you find more and more blueprints, you really feel like you’re becoming more powerful while also discovering the mysteries of the planet.
I enjoyed the balance between relaxation and stress in this game. It’s peaceful to swim through amber coral, collecting minerals and plants, as pink and yellow fish dip and dive around you. But if you really want to find the good stuff, you’ll need to set up a pipe system to bring air down to the depths and to make sure you keep an eye on your oxygen levels as well as the more aggressive types of flora and fauna. The game sets up scenario after scenario where you have to decide if the risk of death is worth exploring just that little bit more. Or, if you want, you can spend all your time building a lovely underwater home with a neat garden out in front.
Celeste is a wonderful example of giving the player a set of rules and a set of abilities, and then allowing the player to experiment to find exactly how those sets interact. Each world adds in a new way for the player to interact with the environment and the developer squeezes every drop of utility from each of these new elements, ultimately affecting the gameplay substantially with the introduction of each world. What begins as a straightforward 2D platformer where you jump from platform to platform ends up being a challenging test of reflexes, where climbing, grabbing, falling, and timing all become just as important as jumping. Celeste challenges you to figure out how you are going to get across the screen before asking you then to actually execute that plan, and it’s this integration of puzzle mechanics into the platforming that really kept me hooked.
Into the Breach
Turn-based strategy games have slowly been climbing up my list of favourite game genres and Into the Breach is a great example of how much the age-old genre has to offer. The game is simple in concept: you have a grid and you have three or four soldier units, there are aliens who are attacking your city’s buildings, and if those buildings get hit enough times, you lose. But because the game tells you what each alien will attack before they do, Into the Breach becomes a puzzle game. You know what the problem is and you have to find a way to solve it by killing aliens or moving them out of the way (along with a number of other tactics at your disposal). The list of strategies to employ and consider is deep and reveals itself slowly over time as you unlock soldier units, each with unique skills that affect in a big way how you approach battles. Into the Breach is built so that dying is more of a lesson than strictly a punishment, and its strategic depth, customization options, and unlockables make it extremely replayable.
Return of the Obra Dinn
It’s the year 1807 and an empty East India Company ship has just washed up on shore. You are a detective who is tasked with finding out what happened to the 60 or so souls who disappeared from the boat. A magical stopwatch allows you to hear the last few seconds before the victim died as well as walk around and investigate the frozen-framed environment at the moment of their death. You are handed a passenger manifest and two drawings containing sketches of the passenger’s faces. As you see each death occur, clues are given about the relationship between passengers, their location, and their actions. The goal here is to correctly identify how each passenger died and the game does a superb job of oscillating between revealing truths and creating new mysteries. It’s not a new idea to start a story from the end and slowly reveal how it all began, but Return of the Obra Dinn has a number of additional surprises and tricks that show up throughout the story. The game is essentially a collection of detailed logic puzzles that slowly reveal their ties to one another as you witness the death of each passenger, and the complexity of the interwoven mysteries is impressive both in scope and execution. You’ll often feel overwhelmed with the information given to you, but the game always gives you the tools needed to solve mysteries while being relatively forgiving in regards to incorrect guesses.
In short, Return of the Obra Dinn is the best representation of a singular artistic vision that I’ve ever seen in a game. Not only does the story connect its dozens of characters into one narrative, the game’s presentation is a work of art on its own. The one-bit monochromatic art style is unusual, beautiful and simple only in terminology – artistic details are aplenty and character designs are really cool. The looping, bombastic orchestral music fits perfectly alongside the visuals and period in which the game is set, and the smaller audio details are extremely satisfying, like how plucked strings sound out when you move through written tutorials. On top of all the artistry, the game’s numerous menus and recording tools are extremely well presented and don’t get in the way of solving the mysteries. Every element of Return of the Obra Dinn feels like it has a purpose and every character feels like they have their own story worthy of being told. The game is a great example of how complex an artistic work can be despite the relatively small number of parts that it is made out of.