Alissa McAloon (@Gliitchy) writes a bunch of news stories on Gamasutra.
Usually these top ten game lists end up being more like a complete list of the only games I got around to playing this year, but 2018 was a year of so many standout releases that I had a hard time narrowing it down to just ten. This is probably my third rewrite of this list because I keep running across more and more gems I played way early into this very long year, actually. There have just been so many wonderful games and decisions are hard.
But for every game I managed to spend some time with, at least two have been added to that “I should really play that” list I keep neglecting. Cultist Simulator, Vampyr, Frostpunk, The Missing, and Mario Tennis Aces, are leading that one right now, along with Celeste, God of War, Return of the Obra Dinn, Gris, Below, and a bunch more that I know I’m forgetting. And I still haven’t gotten around to finishing Persona 5 yet. Maybe next year.
All of that being said, here is the final roundup of my top 10 games for 2018, revised and finalized several times, legitimately right up until the absolute second before my deadline:
Dead Cells by Motion Twin
Dead Cells has become the number one game played on my Switch this year, usurping Stardew Valley as the game that was nearly always running in standby and ready for a run or two. Dead Cells lends itself well to the pick-up-and-play nature of the Switch, like many roguelikes no doubt do, but does so with a wonderful level of finesse. Each type of weapon has its own satisfying feel and rhythm, made all the better by the game's vibrantly dreary visuals.
Unlocks that further increase the effects and varieties of objects that'll randomly show up throughout levels encourage innovation on the fly, but allow you to become familiar enough with those different variables that it's always easy to pick up the gear you need to get that "good run" and fight onwards toward the next boss or area. It's a difficult game, and my first dozen runs had me getting my butt kicked time and time again, but the way Dead Cells handles unlocks and new gear helps feed into that lovely roguelike idea that you're always making progress and improving, no matter how many times you die to the exact same enemy over and over and over again.
Destiny 2: Forsaken by Bungie
Forsaken was the Destiny expansion that brought our clan back together for weekly reset day play sessions. At its core, it has the same activity-rich allure that Destiny 1’s The Taken King expansion used to bring dormant players back into the fold, but Forsaken layers that focus on new activities with a captivating Western-like revenge story, some really really neat worldbuilding, and all around quality-of-life changes to make Destiny 2 the most fun it’s ever been.
One of the best things about Forsaken is the Dreaming City. On the surface, it’s just another explorable planet to complete missions and strikes on, but the Dreaming City is unique in that it rotates through week-long ‘corruption’ cycles with every weekly reset. Those kind of gradual large-scale changes were a first for Destiny, and logging in each week to see the world had changed welcomed a new kind of play where our clan would explore the map to see how the world had shifted and rush to complete missions only available for that week. Drip-feeding activities is a good fit for Destiny and the groundwork laid by Forsaken bodes well for the rest of Destiny 2’s lifetime.
Florence by Mountains
Florence was one of the late additions to my top 10, so much so that I played it in one sitting yesterday morning and cried my eyes out while I was meant to be poking away at an earlier draft of this writeup. The game does a masterful job of introducing its small cast of characters along with their hopes, dreams, and flaws, all through small scenes, driven by simple puzzles and very little dialogue in under an hour. It's a wonderful, emotional game that is a perfect fit for mobile and is now on the very short list of games that have moved me to tears.
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.
Like the game before it, those base levels will also become home to challenge-like escalation missions, user-made contracts, and limited-time elusive targets throughout the lifetime of the game, setting the stage for hours upon hours of free content to keep Hitman completionists like myself busy until the paid expansion pass content shows up later on. And I haven't even mentioned the Hitman 2016 Legacy Levels remade for Hitman 2's new AI and mechanics or the strangely satisfying competitive multiplayer Ghost Mode introduced in this game. It's safe to say I'm still going to be obsessed with Hitman well into 2019.
Minit by JW, Kitty, Jukio, and Dom
Minit bundles an adorable aesthetic with an interesting core concept to deliver a short, sweet, and productively frustrating little game. Your character dies every 60 seconds and is reborn from whatever place they call home each and every time, transforming what could be a straightforward classic Zelda-like world into an assortment of intriguing little micro-puzzles. It's not a long game, nor is it complicated, but it's a charming little adventure that does exactly what it sets out to do and does so wonderfully.
Monster Prom by Beautiful Glitch
I've got a thing for strange visual novels, so if you slap a multiplayer element in there and some spooky, monster romance I'm like 100 percent in, no questions asked. Monster Prom is all of that, with some witty writing and cute datable monster friends thrown in for good measure.
Its competitive/collaborative play has it feeling more like a turn-based board game than a visual novel at times, tasking each player with visiting certain areas to raise specific stats, trigger encounters with their monster-of-choice, and track down items to give them an advantage or complete certain scenarios. It's incredibly difficult to actually get the date, but learning the ropes and getting rejected a couple dozen times is all part of the fun.
Moonlighter by Digital Sun
Moonlighter is one part rogue-lite and one part shop-management sim, making for a gorgeous game that seems to be tailor-made for my interests. During the night, you scour procedurally generated dungeons for loot which you then sell through a shop during the daylight hours. Supply and demand for certain items ebbs and flows depending on what you bring back and sell each day, meaning you've gotta pay close attention to what loot you resell. Both sides of the game are equally fun on their own, but intertwining elements between the two of them add another layer to an easily addicting game.
Red Dead Redemption 2 by Rockstar Games
Red Dead Redemption 2 has become the game I play to get completely lost in. So much of the game is spent just traveling from point A to point B across countrysides and through towns, and those are the bits of the game I find myself falling the most in love with. It's 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.
There are moments along the main story where the gang as a whole celebrates overcoming certain obstacles with a day-long party at the camp, something you can easily walk away from to go track down another mission or your next shootout. But just lingering among that cast of characters as they sing, drink, and celebrate is such an endearing and heartwarming moment 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, mainly in terms of excessive crunch, mandatory or otherwise, at Rockstar Games. Devs have spoken at length about their experiences while working on the game at length, and the stories on those perspectives should be mentioned with any discussion of the game itself.
Spyro: Reignited Trilogy by Toys for Bob
I almost passed on picking up Spyro: Reignited Trilogy until 2019 when I assumed I'd have free time to play new games again, but I'm glad I didn't put it off. I had expected Spyro to be just a PS4-friendly remake of the original first three games but to call it just that is selling the Reignited Trilogy short.
The remake brings all of the levels, mechanics, and characters you'd expect but somehow replicates the spirit of those original PlayStation games as well. Spyro: Reignited Trilogy feels and looks like I remember Spyro feeling and looking when I was 7 and playing the game on the PlayStation 1 for the very first time. There aren't many remakes or remasters that can replicate the feeling of the original, and that achievement alone is worth calling attention to.
Super Mario Party by Nintendo
Mario Party games always have a wonderful way of showcasing the weirdest quirks of Nintendo's consoles, and Super Mario Party is for sure no exception. I've played a decent number of games on my Switch at this point, but one of Super Mario Party's minigames was the first time I had that 'ah-ha' moment with the HD Rumble feature baked into the Switch's Joy-Con controllers. The weird, two-Switch game board minigame found in the Toad's Rec Room side area is another example of oft-used (or even known!) features worming their way into a neat Mario Party minigame.
That adage about Mario Party either making or breaking friendships is still true though; I haven't played Super Mario Party since an old friend I know from high school demolished me with a six star lead at 2 in the morning a few weeks ago.
Want to read more about the best of 2018? Don't miss our look at the 5 trends that defined the game industry this year, and keep your eyes peeled for more end-of-year reflections and lists from the Gamasutra team!