What the heck, we’re back here again?
I haven’t even had a podcast since the last time we argued about the best games of the year.
That doesn’t mean, however, that we haven’t been playing any games. In fact, you’ll likely find that we’ve been playing many of the same games as you folks have.
There’s plenty of wonderful titles that did not make the cut on this list. This is either because they simply did not get enough votes when spoiled for choice with games like Pokemon Let’s Go (two of ’em), Monster Hunter World, Yakuza 6, etc, or they were a bit too niche to catch votes. Examples of this include Nguyen’s beloved Detroit Become Human or Grant’s high praise of Pillars of Eternity II. These games are great and should not be passed up, and you can even read our reviews of them here on the site.
Admittedly, because we’re all quite busy people, there’s always bound to be some that passed us by too, even less than a day after these lists were submitted and counted. I say for myself that was the case for the absolutely incredible indie title The Messenger.
This is not necessarily a list meant to exclude some of the best games of the year, because there’s always more than 10 worth your time. Moreso, this list is a celebration of the crafted stories and experiential stories we all had in gaming and wanted to share our praises of them before the door of 2018 is closed.
Without further ado, here’s our list.
Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, Happy Gaming, and Happy List Assembly Season
Evan Griffin, TYF Gaming Editor
Honorable Mention: Shadow of the Tomb Raider (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)
The final chapter in the Lara Croft origin story ends on a thrilling high note with Shadow of the Tomb Raider. The trilogy – which includes Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition and Rise of the Tomb Raider – completes Lara’s development into becoming the resourceful archaeologist we know and love. With Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara explores the legendary city of Paititi to stop the evil organization Trinity from fulfilling a Mayan apocalypse that she herself inadvertently triggered.
The finale includes the familiar tomb exploration and environmental hunting from previous games, but Shadow of the Tomb Raider both improves upon those elements and adds so much more. The open world is larger than previous installments with more tombs and side quests available. In this entry, it’s noticeable to players that Lara is a more skilled protagonist than before, like breathing underwater longer, bartering for supplies in town, rappelling from cliffs, and performing even more complex stealth actions to hide from enemies. As a finale to the trilogy, Shadow of the Tomb Raider creates the full Lara Croft experience we’ve been waiting for.
- Justin Carreiro
10. Dragon Ball FighterZ (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC)
Quality is sometimes really subjective. What really makes Dragon Ball FighterZ stand out over its competition (and not just other 2018 games) goes way beyond the sheer polish the game possesses. From the moment FighterZ was revealed, it served as a shot in the arm that the fighting game community seems to have really needed. Just as the game launched, it became one of the coveted featured games at EVO 2018 – knocking the Marvel vs. Capcom franchise entirely off the docket. From there, tournament after tournament was filled with tense and stellar gameplay. FighterZ also served as the doorway for Dominique “SonicFox” McLean to transcend from talented newcomer to the FGC scene to full-on gaming icon. Of course, mediocre games don’t get to be the backbone of stories like these. Like the best fighting games of yore, FighterZ balances depth with accessibility; and is true to its source material through and through. If anything, Dragon Ball FighterZ is a better representation of Akira Toriyama’s epic combat panels than the anime or other games have ever been able to touch. It may only be for a specific niche, but Dragonball has an intensely committed and widespread fanbase, and FighterZ is the best they could ask for.
- Travis Hymas
9. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)
Ubisoft finally nailed it. The Assassin’s Creed series has been a tumultuous one ever since it debuted back in 2007. Some entries were critical darlings, some middle of the pack, and others utter flops. Exploring the world of Greece however, in this year’s Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, you can see the impact of taking a year off of the annual release plan back in 2016 has paid off for this franchise. For the first time ever in this series, the player had the choice of choosing a male or female protagonist and making it so either choice affected how the story unfolded. In choosing Kassandra, the bold and strong-willed daughter of a Spartan military leader, players follow her story full of plot twists and compelling narrative that keep you playing just to find out what happens next. For any other Assassin’s Creed game that I have played, the story always seemed a bit stale after part of the way through the journey, but here I didn’t even recognize my progress because I was so engrossed in what was happening on screen. The combat is rather simple and leaves much to be desired if you are looking for a challenge, but the naval combat of Black Flag has made a welcome return and the series has never been more vibrant. Colours of the Greek landscape popped and exploded off the screen leaving me stunned at the beauty I was witnessing. The quality of the game’s polish is a welcome sight from Ubisoft as they have delivered one of the best gaming experiences of 2018. I know, we’re surprised too.
- Grant Johnson
8. GRIS (Switch, PC)
There is a temptation to call recency bias on us for putting GRIS on this list, but this one is truly the real deal. Utilizing a combination of a gorgeous art style and a powerful score, GRIS masterfully passes to players a truly sensory experience. As an added bonus, there’s much more proper “gameplay” than what trailers give a first impression of. While it’s hard to say the themes on display have never been explored before, GRIS uses this medium to convey them in something that feels like a universal language; placing the player just close enough to be invested in, but not attempting to necessarily inhabit the avatar, putting the tone at a risk a disconnect. This allows us to impose our own experiences onto this impressionistic game. I can walk away with a sense that GRIS is about grief, but someone else might see a metaphor of overcoming extreme fear – and I can’t say that person would be wrong. The only way to see what you can take from GRIS is to play it yourself.
- Travis Hymas
7. Iconoclasts (PS4, Switch, Vita, PC, Mac)
Iconoclasts is about devotion, both in the game’s themes and in its own development. The passion project of a single creator, Iconoclasts spends a lot of time thinking about the things that can drive people to do extraordinary things such as successfully release a stellar action-platformer but also terrible things like literally anything in politics this year. That can feel pretty bleak, but Iconoclasts avoids being about despair as much as it can seem. Aesthetically bright and mechanically perfect, the game manages to be engaging without being bleak – in fact, it’s a joy to play. It’s no secret Iconoclasts had a lot of great competition this year and yet the story of a mechanic just trying to do right by the people in her life was one of the most resonant for a lot of us here. That probably says a lot about our own obsessions, but it really is a fine game that is not worth missing out on.
- Travis Hymas, see his review here
6. Dead Cells (Switch, PS4, Xbox, PC, Mac, Linux)
Dead Cells is one of those games that not only has something for every fan of 2D action games, but does all of those elements right: It’s a Metroidvania full of action that also rewards exploration into crevases and corners of the map. Its roguelike elements not only make the game endlessly replayable, but it often intices you to make one more run to see what the new weapon or power you unlocked last time does. Its one of the best speedrunning games of 2017 – you’ll have a blast if you watch some of the record runs archived on speedrun.com – but also it’s a game that is at its most tense when you’re hurt, have made a wrong turn and are trying to dodge enemies to get to the end. Even though the PC version of Dead Cells is getting a lot of deserved love, it’s best in Switch handheld mode, where it stands as one of the best games of its type on a portable system that isn’t an official Castlevania product.
- Ryan Gibb
5. Celeste (PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac, Linux)
Visually exquisite, emotionally affecting, an exercise in the profundity of simplicity and an everclear point of purity in a market that’s otherwise saturated with cookie-cutter, I-beat-you-to-it copies of copies, Celeste stands out as a top title of the year for as many reasons as rounds of gameplay one will endure when attempting to complete its gorgeous, god-awfully difficult levels. The brainchild of Matt Thorson and Noel Berry, birthed in a game jam before getting jelled out to a full sweet release, the platformer feels both grander than the sum of its parts — a story about an anxious young woman named Madeline who ventures to scale the eponymous Celeste Mountain, the promise that answers to pain and a resolution to turmoil await at the landforms’ summit, increasingly tough obstacles to overcome, an impeccably timed score — and as close to the heart as the pieces that make it whole. Yes, Celeste is hard (wanna-rip-your-hair-out so, at times) but that’s where it finds its strength — and how it teaches players its core message, one vital to the human experience: Accepting failure and choosing time and again to grow from pain isn’t just as hard as climbing a mountain, it is climbing a mountain. But it’s also beautiful and warming, often winsome and other times eyewideningly dark, and begs the question, “If overcoming challenges is half the fun in Celeste, who’s to say it can’t be the same in life?”
- AJ Caulfield
4. Red Dead Redemption II (PlayStation 4, Xbox One)
*sigh* Okay, fine. I guess this game is pretty good. Look, I’ll be honest. I bought RDR2 on day one and kind of dropped it after a week for two reasons. One, South Park made me way too existentially aware of just how many grown adults were investing time into this sprawling map of old Texas, but also because it simply reminded me too much of the things I disliked about Grand Theft Auto V: it’s way too realistic. It’s sickeningly detailed. The texture, the lighting, the movement; they are astonishing, and even more stunning in 4K, no doubt. There is so much to do, and designed with ingenious, intricately built mechanics to do those things with, all just to keep you doing busy work. There is so much to praise, the most of which is the cast of characters, and Arthur Morgan’s characterization.
However, at the end of the day, when the sun sets, and you get down to the nitty gritty, it’s not all that fun. The character controls are clunky, as I’m sure chaps and such were back in the day. The hunting is tedious, as it truly is in the wild. Is this game focused on creating an experience more than something fun? I argue that the first Red Dead Redemption found a perfect balance of those things, but maybe I’m just crazy. Anyway, I guess Red Dead Redemption II is pretty good. I have my problems with it, it’s not perfect. The Bounty system’s completely broken, but yeah. It’s a well made game. It makes you feel things. Contemplate morality, and such. You tell me. You probably played it too, if the sale numbers are right.
- Evan Griffin
3. Super Smash Bros Ultimate (Nintendo Switch)
One of the most hyped games of the year, Super Smash Brothers Ultimate definitely lives up to expectations. As its name suggests, it is truly the ultimate Smash Bros game in every way. The title brings back every character to ever have appeared in a Smash title and adds eleven new characters, with an unbelievable final count of seventy-one character (and six more on the way). Each character feels unique, with fluid controls and dynamic mechanics that let this game play more smoothly than any other in the series. The basic fighting matches that the game revolves around are supplemented by an expansive single-player campaign called World of Light, which brings in over a thousand extra characters as Spirits to help you battle your way through a series of rich, unique battles, turning the party game turned competitive fighter into something of an RPG! Truly amazing, that Sakurai. Ultimate’s gameplay is rounded out by the inclusion of bonus features, such as the option to customize almost any aspect of play, or to listen to over eight hundred songs from a multitude of games, and create your own playlists. The online battling system is Ultimate’s one weak spot, with many players reporting connection issues and bad matchmaking, but recent updates have already improved the situation, and there are more to come. With amazing gameplay and an unbelievable amount of content Smash Ultimate is a shoo-in for our number 3 slot.
- Sam Carpenter
2. God of War (PlayStation 4)
In this era of sequel reboot, it’s rare for a property to successfully update itself without feeling like nothing other than a cash grab. Director Cory Balrog and the rest of the team at Santa Monica Studios took a ton of chances with God of War. Maintaining the roots in Greek mythology, but replacing the role it once had for Nordic mythos, a visual overhaul, and stylistic as the game is presented as one long camera single take, grounding you in this new world that Kratos explores with the major addition to the game: his son Atreus.
What really sets this game apart, both from other games this year as well as other entries in the franchise, is the narrative. Barlog has stated how the birth of his son influenced the themes of fatherhood and family explored in God of War. May players were reminded of their own relationships past, or even gained new perspective through the prism of Kratos, the Ghost of Sparta, thrust into fatherhood in a new world. My father left the country of his birth to provide a better life for our family. Growing up I always felt a small distance between us. His childhood and life experience where so vastly different from mine that I always struggled to connect with him. That’s changed as I’ve gotten older, and God of War thematically encapsulates this struggle so vividly, allowing sons and fathers of any kind to always keep that in perspective.
- Jose Cordova
1. Spider-Man (PlayStation 4)
Silky-smooth and beautiful are the traits with which the house of Spyro has made the narrative of Spider-Man a reassurance and a primer in the same build, using cherished familiars to engineer bridges toward trailblazing possibilities. If you have been friends with Spider-Man, you’ll love him more. And if you are new, you’ll bond in a flash. Even the mechanics make a beeline for the emotions, too, with every swing around a gorgeous New York, every moment of press-triangle-to-be-neighborly and every shot snapped in Photo Mode direct glee into the system. There is a bonus of sorts for this gamer as well in seeing Asian characters, Captain Yuri Watanabe and especially Mr. Negative, having a surprising amount of involvement in this universe, further enriching a year where the community makes stride after stride in popular culture. Can’t remember the last time a game made a player stand up and slightly sleepless because it’s over. Whoo.
- Nguyen Le
Thanks for coming by The Young Folks! We hope you liked this list, and we’re curious if you agree or not. Share your favorite gaming memories with us from this year on our Twitter, Instagram and Twitch @TYFOfficial!
If you’re interested in that list of other, more understated, underrated, but extra appreciated games hinted at, we may do so in the coming days in podcast form on our twitch channel, below.