This list excludes DLC and remasters/ports. Additionally, I kept out games in early access, they needed to have their full launch in 2018.
- Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4): Rationally explaining what this game made me feel is almost impossible. As someone who has loved Spider-Man as a property since I can remember, in the medium of video games, Spidey has had hit and miss representation. While that’s a conversation on its own, what Marvel’s Spider-Man has done cannot be understated. Not only is the best Spider-Man game of all time, but it also taught me what I wanted, and should expect, from Spidey titles in the future. Swinging is magical and fluid. The combat is fast and intuitive. And the story not only returns you to familiar characters and locals but is a fresh interpretation of the character and universe. While I don’t think this game is perfect (the camera gets wonky at times, the side-missions can get repetitive and chore-like), it was perhaps the only game this year that reminded of not only why I love Spider-Man, but why I love games and how that medium can transport me and my imagination in ways that it hasn’t been since I first picked up Amazing Fantasy #15.
- God of War (PS4): A lot has been made of this game, and I’m not even sure I have anything unique to say about it at this juncture. But I will say this, what God of War represents is more than just how far the medium has come from in terms of technical advancement. What this game represents is the maturity and growth of the medium as a form of art. God of War has long been lambasted as a blockbuster of series in video games. Shallow characters, lackluster storytelling, and big, violent, ludicrous action just for the sake of it. But what this development team was able to do in crafting the story of an aging demi-god, a withering world, the relationship between father and son…is so far above and beyond anything I could have, and should have, ever expected from this franchise. This is without going into the gorgeous graphics, insanely addictive combat, and the perfectly crafted open-world. What Sony Santa Monica did with God of War was not only show how much video games have grown but they gave us a glimpse into how games can continue to mature with their audiences. We are past the days of games being violent and bombastic just to sell units. We are entering an era where games can become a progressive medium for intense, creative, and unique art.
- Detroit: Become Human (PS4): The power of choice and the agency of the player in games is something that makes them unique as a story-telling medium in art. While some games don’t utilize this to their full potential, Detroit not only effectively communicates its story to its audience but it gives them the power to impact and change the direction of the narrative and its characters. While some of the themes are aggressively unsubtle, overall, Detroit is a game that involves players on a deeper emotive and cognitive level than most other games. The ingenious of showing the decision tree at the end of each chapter leaves players feeling like they could have changed the story. Especially in moments of regret, where either you messed up or overlooked something, you feel like you need to go back and remedy your mistakes. But you also feel the need to continue with the story you have created. That is the power in this game, not necessarily in some profound message about race/technology/humanity, but in how it makes the player feel like they contributed to the narrative they are participating in.
- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Nintendo Switch): Sometimes in games, we forget the most addictive things are the simple ones. This is something the Smash Bros. franchise has always eloquently remembered about itself. It knows what it is. And what that is, is a game where you can play as some of the most iconic characters in video game history, and fight with your friends in memorable locations with different options of gameplay. No one person plays Smash the same, regardless of what the pro players may say. What is so great is that while the game seemingly has limited options, there feels like endless variety. Every match is unique. No two characters feel the same. Every map offers a different challenge and strategy to gain an advantage. Ultimate not only perfects this formula, but it offers the most variety and complexity of any Smash game to date. Not only can you play as every character from every game to date, or play on every map, but now you can online, and with a system, people actually like (sorry Wii U). Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is exactly what it sets out to be, the ultimate Smash game.
- Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee (Nintendo Switch): I have to be honest, even though I was vocally supportive of the idea, I could help but be initially trepidatious about this title. While I was excited for a reboot of the original generation Pokemon to come out on the first Nintendo system I’ve owned since my Gameboy Advance, the idea of introducing Pokemon Go! mechanics into the console game left me nervous. However, this game blew all my expectations away. Not only is an absolutely stunning visual remake of the original Pokemon world, but some of the added elements take the franchise to new and, in my opinion, more accessible and sensible territory. The introduction of seeing Pokemon roaming the wild (and the elimination of random encounters) was absolutely genius. It takes of the most aggressively inaccessible and confusing parts of the original RPG and both streamlines and modernizes the gameplay. Being able to swap Pokemon from your bag into the party anywhere and not having to find a computer also made this the game feel so much less like a chore, and more like an adventure. Other additions, such as shared party XP, and having your partner Pokemon learn the special moves, do the same. Even the elimination of wild pokemon battles, and the replacement with the Go! catching mechanics isn’t as dreadful as I anticipated. It adds a nice flow to the game and there are enough trainer battles that I feel like I’m not losing out on combat opportunities. While I would like to see a deeper game and a more engaging story, overall, if Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee is indicative of where the franchise of Pokemon wants to head, I’m all aboard.
- Octopath Traveler (Nintendo Switch): Something about the JRPG’s of old is special. The pixel graphics, the 8-bit music, 100-hour stories, grind-y gameplay. Perhaps it’s with nostalgia and rose-tinted glasses that I see these things, but Octopath Traveler was a promise to reintroduce these things to a modern gaming environment, and it was a promised delivered. While nothing here is groundbreaking, it’s a modernization and refinement of the type of game I grew up on that made me fall in love with this title.
- Florence (iOS, Android): A mobile game on my list??? While I’m not as vocal of a critic about games in the mobile spheres as others, mobile games do carry a certain connotation that while I think there are exceptions, they have more or less earned. Florence however, is something unique. It’s not based on a gameplay loop meant to addict you then exploit you so you can continue to progress. It’s three dollars up front, but what you get is a gorgeous and moving experience that is unlike anything we have seen in this space. There’s not complex gameplay, no in-app purchases, no bright flashing gadgets or gizmos. It’s a story that will make you laugh, cry, and remember what it is like to fall in love. There’s something special about the emotional connection Florence makes with its players, and for $3 on your phone? It’s something everyone should experience.
- Jurassic World: Evolution (PS4, Xbox One, PC): There’s something about park simulators that has always struck a chord with me. Additionally, Jurassic Park (and dinosaurs more in general), has always been perhaps one of the greatest influences on my life. Mix those two together? Gold. There’s nothing overly complicated about the game, but it does add an element of chaos and unpredictability (on par for the chorus with the theme of the franchise) that most park simulators don’t have. The gameplay is simple and fairly streamlined, but it feels as big and rambunctious as any Roller Coaster Tycoon. It feels like a big-budget Jurassic Park game, and that’s the highest praise I could ever give something like this.
- Monster Hunter: World (PS4, Xbox One, PC): Having never played a title in this series before, getting into Monster Hunter: World was rather a daunting task. There are A LOT of mechanics to this game, to the point where even now I’m not sure I can comfortably explain all of them. However, this game is loads of fun. Running around and tag teaming giant beasts with your party is an awfully rewarding experience, and there’s a lot in the game to make you feel like you’re continually progressing. The story is less than captivating, however, and if that is what you’re looking for in a big RPG, look somewhere else. However, if tight gameplay, smooth combat, cool monsters, and a gorgeous environment to explore are all you need, then this is the game for you.
- Red Dead Redemption 2 (PS4, Xbox One): This is the title I’ve spent the least amount of time with. There is this big, vibrant, and lively open world that certainly feels like the most real open world I’ve ever played in. The random encounters with wildlife, the long traversal, and the weather patterns all feel natural, and make it feel like you’re actually engaging in the cross-country journey. For me though, the story is lackluster. The thing that should be holding this game down and keeping me engaged on a deeper level just isn’t clicking for me. I feel no investment for Arthur Morgan. He doesn’t click with me as a character like the other protagonists do in the more story-central games on this list. While I’m enjoying the journey and can marvel at the technical achievement of this game. I can’t help but wonder how much more I would feel invested if I actually connected with the story on a deeper level. Red Dead Redemption 2 is still great, and I obviously have loved it thus far for it to make my list. But it’s not quite the powerhouse of a game I was anticipating, and hoping, for.
Honorable Mentions: Battlefield V, Super Mario Party, A Way Out, Sea of Thieves
Didn’t Get to Play: Ni No Kuni II: Revenent Kingdom, Frostpunk, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Dragon Quest XI, Dead Cells, Moss, Tetris Effect, Beatsaber, Astrobot Rescue Mission, Assassin’s Creed Odessey, Celeste, Return of the Obra Dinn
Biggest Disappointments: Fallout 76, Mario Tennis Aces, Madden NFL 19
Most anticipated 2019 releases: Kingdom Hearts III, Y2K: A Postmodern RPG, Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Order, Resident Evil 2, Anthem, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, The Division 2, Pokemon 2019, Control, Crackdown 3, Gears 5, Luigi’s Mansion 3, Man of Medan, Metro Exodus, The Outer Worlds, In the Valley of the Gods