The 2018 Game of the Year
Choosing a game of the year is one of life's most awesome responsibilities, ranking slightly above "raising a child." If games are art (and they are), then how can we possibly choose just one to be the very best single example of the art form? How can we compare games from different genres against one another, or put games made by massive teams up against works from tiny indie studios or single mad individuals?
Naming a game of the year is always going to involve some degree of personal preference. There is no objective way to measure "fun," but almost everyone would agree that fun factor is one of the main measures of success for a video game. So...that right there makes things a little tricky, right?
It's natural to want something as grandiose-sounding as "game of the year" to have some degree of objective truth to it, and we can try to approach that by bringing more factors into the evaluation that are less subject to personal preference. We can evaluate the quality of the visuals, and the elegance of the controls. We can admire the way mechanics work together intuitively, and praise a game for a well-designed learning curve. And we can take the opinions of others into account, to step outside our own preferences and biases as much as possible.
And because we are professionals, we did all of that and more. And that's how we came up with this collection of the very best games of the year.
Boy, Dead Cells is a very good game. It's one of the rare games that I've played for just as long after writing my review as I did before, and I'm still not close to getting sick of it. Diving into run after run provides one of 2018's most addictive gaming experiences, and just when you think you've found your favorite weapon and gear combo, something new comes along that shakes things up. The enemies can be brutally hard without feeling unfair, the world is full of secrets, lore, and humor, and the whole thing comes from an "anarcho-syndical workers cooperative" where everyone gets paid the same amount, which feels like an important thing to note in a year where game labor issues received more attention than ever before.
The PS4 had one of gaming's all-time great years in 2018, so much so that a fantastic Spider-Man game isn't even the best or most exciting title on the console this calendar year (we'll get to that one in a bit). Spider-Man didn't reinvent a genre, but it didn't need to: it recognized that a semi-open Arkham-like experience set in New York is the perfect foundation for a web-slinging game, and just ran with that. It nailed the superhero essentials and told a great story at the same time, and the genius move of including unlockable suits provided a strong incentive to complete all the challenges the game had to offer.
The Assassin's Creed franchise followed-up last year's stellar Origins with the equally successful Odyssey. The game offers a giant open-world Ancient Greek playground and comes as close as the series ever has to perfecting its formula. The open world of Odyssey feels like the pinnacle of Ubisoft's particular style, and Kassandra is the best Assassin's Creed protagonist the franchise has ever had. While it's clear at this point that the series is in need of some core overhauls, Odyssey polished the familiar elements to a bright shine.
Celeste has already won our award for this year's best indie game, and its tight controls and surprisingly emotional narrative have now earned it an official selection as one of our favorite games of the year, period. It's an indie platformer with pixel-heavy visuals and levels that can be so challenging they would be frustrating if they weren't so fun. Our review praised its intuitive mechanics, which take just a few basic movement techniques and encourage you to master them as you guide protagonist Madeline past spikes, up a mountain, and through the game's devious remixed levels.
Celeste tells a story about anxiety and depression that is more powerful than you might expect for a game that shares a genre with Super Meat Boy (and that might actually be too powerful for some people). It also features dazzling uses of color, a suitably soaring electronic score, and even an "Assist Mode" which helps make a challenging game more accessible to a wider audience. All of that adds up to make Celeste one of the very best games of 2018.
Runner-up: Into the Breach
Into the Breach is the game I've recommended more than any other title this year. Do you like X-COM? Final Fantasy Tactics? Shining Force? Or any number of other turn-based strategy games that take place on grids? Then you absolutely have to play Into the Breach, our 2018 strategy game of the year, since it's a game that concentrates and refines everything you've ever loved about the genre.
Battles in Into the Breach play out over just a handful of turns, on grids not much larger than a chessboard. Players guide teams of three mech-piloting heroes against giant invasive bugs in a desperate fight to minimize the damage to surrounding cities. You'll constantly find yourself choosing between bad and worse outcomes. You're always facing enemies that outnumber you, so causing enemies to disable and kill one another is key to success. It's also important to master the game's pilot and mech upgrade systems, which allow you to improve your units over the course of a run and even to carry over some of your favorite abilities from one run to the next.
The game's biggest innovation is the fact that you can always see what your insectoid foes plan to do before they take their actions, and it's that strategic wrinkle which makes Into the Breach fascinating and different from similar strategy titles. There's very little luck or surprise in the game, so when things go wrong you won't have anything to blame but yourself. Playing the game and unlocking new mech teams allows you to try out strange and fascinating units, including robots that spread obscuring smoke around the map or that heal themselves by damaging their opponents.
Don't let Into the Breach's simplistic visuals fool you into underestimating this title: it's a deep and demanding strategic title that will devour hours of your life if you let it get its hooks into you.
Runner-up: Red Dead Redemption 2
Red Dead Redemption 2 was one of 2018's biggest and best games, which didn't come as much of a surprise. Whenever another game of the year contender was released, Red Dead loomed like a titan in the future, casting a shadow far in advance of its October release date. It's a game that's absolutely packed with stuff, with one of the most realistic worlds we've ever seen in a game serving as a backdrop for a powerful story that touches on hundreds of Western genre tropes while still managing to feel fresh and original.
Red Dead Redemption 2 won our awards this year for the best looking game and best open world, and there wasn't another title that could rival it for the pure beauty of traveling from one destination to another. Setting a waypoint and then putting the game into cinematic mode really allows you to drink in the sights the game has to offer, with a living world full of people and animals to encounter, secrets to uncover, and systems to engage with. Want to get drunk, play poker, and fall down in the mud? You can do that. Want to rob trains, buy fancy clothes, and upgrade your weapons? You can do that too. You can also hunt bears, chase bounties, complete all 107 story missions, catch legendary fish, and dig up dinosaur bones.
But as big and overwhelming as Red Dead Redemption 2 is, it isn't without its flaws. The story surrounding the game's launch highlighted some of the troubling labor issues that plague the industry as a whole, and the gameplay itself can feel clunky and rough at times. The game does so much that it can be a struggle to remember how to do some of its more niche activities when they come up, and some design decisions (like the game's menus and running controls) feel both deliberate and odd.
And of course all of these criticisms feel a bit like nitpicking the pyramids. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a colossal achievement, overloaded with content and gameplay freedom, and if you could only play one single game for the next year it would probably be the best choice. It might not be perfect, and it might not be our choice for the best game this year, but it's certainly the most game of 2018. And that's an achievement worthy of recognition and respect.
Winner: God of War
God of War feels focused. Its world is big, but never large enough to leave you feeling aimless. There are different combat styles and magical upgrades to try out, but you'll be fine just mastering a handful of your favorites. There's a linear narrative experience with a tightly plotted arc complimented with just enough side content and challenging bonus bosses to enrich the experience without distracting from its heart.
God of War took risks when it deviated from some of the most recognizable elements of the original games in the franchise, but looking back it's clear that each change was the right move. The new camera perspective works perfectly, and makes the action more immediate and visceral. The new setting opens fantastic new mythological doors for the series. And the Leviathan Axe is every bit as satisfying to use as the classic blades ever were.
The game looks absolutely fantastic (just barely losing out to Red Dead for our visual award) and features some of the most satisfying sound effects heard in modern games. The plot unfolds with surprising twists and turns, and stands on its own feet while also indulging in some immensely satisfying callbacks to the older games in the franchise. There are visually distinct worlds to visit and enemies that test your skills in different ways. And the core voice cast does stellar work, driving the interactions between the game's two main characters that are what elevate God of War from a great game to the very best title of 2018.
While the original games in the series explored pathos and supernatural melodrama fitting for its Greek setting, 2018's God of War told a story that was surprisingly grounded and relatable. Kratos is a parent who wants to shelter his son while also helping him grow up. He's a father that wants to teach his son what it means to be a man and a god without seeing him fall to the darker sides of those roles. We see Kratos be stern, distant, overprotective, and even tender. We see Atreus idolize his father, then rebel against him, and then we see the two come back to one another, forming a bond that feels true and heartfelt.
All that, and God of War is also a game where you tear werewolves apart with your bare hands.
Congratulations to God of War, winner of GameCrate’s 2018 Game of the Year!
Check out our full 2018 award list for more.