To me, 2018 felt like kind of a scattershot year for video games with big gaming flashpoints appearing throughout the calendar year, but with major releases separated enough that 2018 never really felt cohesive. But this also meant that I was able to pick out my standout game of the year choice easily: Tetris Effect.
I knew I was interested in Tetris Effect the moment I saw the announcement trailer during Sony's Pre-E3 show. At first it was just the music that got me hooked (The track "Connected (Yours Forever)" is a certified banger). Funny enough, each time I tried to play Tetris Effect at a trade show or event I couldn't due to either the long lines for the demos or filled up appointment times.
- Tetris Effect
- Return of the Obra Dinn
- Red Dead Redemption 2
- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
- Into the Breach
- Assassin's Creed Odyssey
Here's something you must know about me: I'm a Tetris fiend. In high school and college one of my favorite relaxation activities was putting on some music and playing Tetris endless modes on one of those free browser websites. It's been shown in studies that Tetris helps calm anxiety by distracting people with a "flow" state otherwise known as being "in the zone," or tuned in to something to the point where everything else falls away.
This feeling, which I am all too familiar with, was taken to the next level thanks to PS VR, which is proving to be one of the best Black Friday purchases I've ever made. VR makes me dizzy and I often can't handle movement within VR. But for Tetris Effect, it serves as more of an ambient system, providing pure immersion without any gimmicks.
As I wrote in my blurb for Tetris Effect in USG's Top 20 Games post the VR mode, "reveals that there is a hidden dimension to Tetris, one that needed the emergence of a new medium to help tap into it." VR is that medium and technology. As a game, Tetris is almost flawless. Years of iteration have brought things like shadow blocks, quick drops, and block saves, but those are just refinements rather than evolutions. Who knew it would take 30 years and the emergence of VR to breathe new life and a true advancement to a classic?
As I said before, this year felt scattershot, and that included the types of games that were released. How can you look at games as varied as Celeste, Return of the Obra Dinn, Florence, and Red Dead Redemption 2 and arrange them in order of quality? It's pretty damn hard, I can tell you that. But it was my job to do so and, in the end, I've made a list I'm happy with.
Celeste offered the most complete package of any other game on my list this year. It was fun to play, great to experience in terms of audio-visuals, and had one of the best stories of the year. The reason why it didn't top my list was because I brought my own history with Tetris. But no other game this year came as close to flawless as Celeste in 2018. Every other game on my list had some nagging issue that was never fully resolved throughout my play—but not Celeste, which came and went with the precision of a surgeon's knife.
Likewise, Return of the Obra Dinn might be the most original experiences I had this year. The depth and complexity of its mystery put it at my number three spot. While the premise and gameplay are novel for sure, it was the fact that Return of the Obra Dinn never held your hand, and actually forced me to utilize all of my resources to get through that made it such a wonderful gaming experience. While most games on my end of the year list are enjoyments, Obra Dinn was a challenge—and a great one at that.
The explanation for the rest of the games on my list can be lumped together. Florence and Spider-Man made my list as they were two of the best stories I experienced all year. Florence for its nuanced and touching take on relationships, while Spider-Man had a great reimagining of Marvel's classic hero. Obviously, I enjoyed Florence's story way more, which is why I put it so high up on my list.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Assassin's Creed Odyssey were both fantastic entries into long-running franchises, but they're also the entries that reignited my passion for two series I fell off years ago. It was great to see Nintendo embrace the fanfiction-like appeal of the Super Smash Bros. series, but knowing that future characters will be as crazy as Joker from Persona 5 proved to me that Smash Bros. has gone full gonzo, and I can't wait to see where that leads.
Frostpunk and Into the Breach were both challenging games with settings I deeply care about. One, a post-apocalyptic winter armageddon that reminded me of Snowpiercer, and the other a mech strategy game that featured customizable robots. How could I not help but fall in love with either of them?
The only big question for me was Red Dead Redemption 2, a game that took me at least 14 hours to become fully invested in. I've always had a complicated relationship with Rockstar Games, as I've always been impressed by the scale of its worlds. At the same time I've always been confused by the developers' refusal to refine the gameplay or controls.
In the end however, Arthur Morgan and his journey through the dying wild west kept me hooked. His quest truly matched the scale and majesty of Rockstar's wild west, and Red Dead Redemption 2 is easily my favorite Rockstar game as a result.