There are a lot of games released into the market every year.
And we cover this trend; this inundation of games filling the marketplace. It's a trend that complicates the chance for success and recognition, from developer to developer, from game to game.
That was true as ever in 2018. But among our staff, there hasn't been a real complaint about there being "too many games." We get it -- there are a lot of games, but no one would say "there are too many games" if there weren't so many games that were great.
There were so many games that were great in 2018. Here are the 10 games that stood out in the minds of Gamasutra's writers this year. (Selections in alphabetical order.)
Celeste by Matt Makes Games
When Celeste first came out this year, I played it for maybe a half hour, and then stopped. I just wasn't in the mood for yet another hard-as-hell platformer.
It wasn't until I picked it back up at the end of the year when I completely fell in love with it, and appreciated what it was doing. Yes, the game is difficult. But the way the story addresses that difficulty, and emboldens the player to keep climbing, is absolutely brilliant. Celeste shows us that we can be our own worst enemy, but that "enemy" is still an innate part of who we are. And having a friend or two help you realize that along the way never hurts.
Mechanically, it's a simple concept for a player to understand. Jump, dash, and grab. The game masterfully introduces players to the traversal mechanics, then sprinkles in new level design elements where players have to use those basic skills in new ways. It all just feels perfect. - Kris Graft
Donut County by Ben Esposito
Ben Esposito’s Donut County is the perfect amount of video game. It’s a funny, surreal story about remote control holes that’s a joy to play, one that doesn’t overstay its welcome. - Alex Wawro
Florence by Mountains
Before diving into why Florence is a unique experience, the developers deserve credit for making a game that’s the perfect length of time. Clocking in at around two hours, Florence tells a story about love at a great pace.
The game takes the generic formula of a traditional relationship (meeting, falling in love, falling out of love) but tells it in such a different way through effective use of simple mechanics, powerful score, and unique art style.
Games without a lot of dialogue or text need to go the extra mile to convey an engaging and emotional story effectively, and Florence absolutely nails it.
No story spoilers will be given away, because it's a game that needs to be played in order to fully grasp the impact it has. Florence is made for mobile and other short, narrative games would find themselves a great home on the platform. Mobile is confined to a very small subset of mechanics: Tapping, swiping, or holding an icon on your screen. Those constraints serve as powerful storytelling tools ripe for innovation.
The game in its entirety is made up of small, digestible vignettes of very personal and intimate moments in adult relationships where both the good and the bad are shared in a special way. - Emma Kidwell
Frostpunk by 11 bit Studios
11 bit Studios' Frostpunk was the 2018 game I could never stop thinking about. From the moment my poor survivors reached the totemic Generator sitting in the frozen Arctic north, every decision I spent with this society simulator helped me reckon with the demons of authoritarianism and how much control and the lies you can tell yourself in the name of the greater good.
Frostpunk's thoughtful design means that it's not just an arbitrary moral messenger here to warn you of the woes of a police state or theocratic regime. It's crafted to guide you on a path of different path of pain points to remind you that just because you didn't commit higher crimes against freedom, your lesser decisions still infringed on the rights of your people. And as the pressure drops, and your city is freed from the frozen snow in a great sigh of relief, you'll look at it's become and see how even its physical shape was impacted by how much you'd give up in the name of survival. - Bryant Francis
Hitman 2 by IO Interactive
The Hitman sequel drops the episodic format of that last rendition but keeps a firm grasp on Hitman 2016’s charm and quirks as it introduces just the right dose of new mechanics, new levels, and new content to the last game’s already tried and true formula. Hitman 2's magic is in each of the massive sandboxes that each main story mission of the game is set in and how it gives players the freedom to take complete ownership of their plans and assassinations, whether the steps they took to complete those objectives were laid out by the game's suggested or plotted out completely from scratch.
While setting up a platform for another season’s worth of dev and user-made content is an impressive feat, the team at IO Interactive also remade every level, both DLC and base Season 1, from Hitman 2016 for Hitman 2. It’s an undertaking that no doubt took a considerable amount of work, especially since each Legacy level manages to embrace the new mechanics and AI of Hitman 2 without losing the feel of the original. Between the Legacy levels and the still-evolving agent-versus-agent multiplayer Ghost Mode, Hitman 2 has become a game that both builds on the successes of its predecessor without shying away from risk. - Alissa McAloon
Into the Breach by Subset Games
Nothing I’ve played conveys the sensation of snatching salvation from the jaws of failure quite like Into the Breach. There’s a lot to admire about Subset Games’ sophomore effort, but what’s most striking is how often it sets up tactical problems that seem first impossible, then survivable, then solvable. It’s my favorite strategy game since chess, and a remarkable follow-up to FTL. - Alex Wawro
Marvel's Spider-Man by Insomniac Games
Marvel's Spider-Man is just one emotional pit stop for the web-headed hero who's had a hell of a 2018. He gave his life in the film Infinity War, he's reframing his own heroic origins in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and when given a shot, Insomniac Games doesn't waste any time when granted use of one of the biggest icons in pop culture.
Not only does Marvel's Spider-Man give breath to a dizzying and dynamic traversal system that takes advantage of New York's iconic architecture, Insomniac also uses its mission design and gadget expertise to weave a narrative about the struggles of Peter Parker, and how his selfless nature and faith in other people can be used against him.
But it's still not a cynical game! It's quippy, it's cute and it gives Mary-Jane Watson something to do. If superheroes are becoming the modern-day mythological heroes, it's great that Insomniac Games injects a meaningful experience in the middle of its well-honed, well-polished technical achievement. - Bryant Francis
Red Dead Redemption 2 by Rockstar Games
Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 excels on the merits of its smallest moments. The massive open world is an ambitious undertaking, and a space you as a player spend a considerable amount of time traversing during and between missions. And that downtime is where Red Dead Redemption 2 shines. It's captivating, or even just relaxing to just toss headphones on and exist in that world for a while, fishing, or hunting, or tracking down small oddities hidden out in the wilderness.
The same is true for the moments spent catching up with the other members of the Van der Linde gang. Catching small conversation with a friend around camp or even just lingering among that cast of characters as they sing, drink, and celebrate after a heist well done makes such an endearing and heartwarming experience that I can't say I've found in other games before.
It's impossible to mention Red Dead Redemption 2 here however without calling out some of the controversy that's surrounded the game in the leadup to its release regarding excessive crunch, mandatory or otherwise, during the development of Red Dead Redemption 2. Current and former Rockstar developers have spoken at length about their experiences while working on the game, and the stories on those perspectives should be mentioned with any discussion or praise of the game itself. - Alissa McAloon
Return of the Obra Dinn by Lucas Pope
In an indie scene where retro has become a cliche, a few games continue to remind us of why gaming's past remains a valuable space to explore. Lucas Pope's latest, a brilliant supernatural mass murder mystery-cum-insurance investigator simulator, uses its 80s-inspired graphics to reinforce core mechanics. First, your character uses an enchanted watch to see a deceased person's moment of death in freeze-frame; no animation required, just an eye for detail. Second, that detail is brought into sharp relief by those same graphics. Where certain things might get lost in the haze of bloom and shaders, the unpretentiously-used bit graphics work in favor of clue-finding.
The story that evolves is an incredibly gripping spec-fic narrative in its own right. You only get snapshots of every life aboard the Obra Dinn, often at their lowest moments and their very ends, but you still come away knowing something all-too-human about them all as you piece together Pope's grand puzzle. The end result is one for the ages. - Katherine Cross
Tetris Effect by Monstars, Resonair
In the run-up and launch of Tetris Effect, I formed a new pet peeve: people saying things like 'it's just re-skinned Tetris' or 'do we really need another version of Tetris?'
For one, Tetris is a game that humankind will be playing in some shape or form for the next thousands of years, barring any near- to mid-term self-destruction of our species. To say something is "just Tetris" is like saying "just the Ancient Pyramids" or "just the moon landing" or "just penicillin." Tetris is a monumental human achievement.
Ahem ok where were we? Oh yes, Tetris Effect. Yes we do need another version of Tetris -- specifically this version. Tezuya Mizuguchi's take on the game (which was directed by Takashi Ishihara) is surprisingly emotional, bringing together visuals, sound and music, and interactivity together perfectly, with a soulful sincerity unique to Mizuguchi's work.
And don't pass up on this if you don't own PSVR -- while that's a great Tetris Effect experience, the game doesn't lose its beauty on a regular screen. Just turn the lights down, turn the sound up, and play yet another version of Tetris. - Kris Graft