Saturday 15 June 2019

Games of the year 2018: A collection of crackers

Red Dead Redemption 2
Red Dead Redemption 2
Astro Bot Rescue Mission
Forza Horizon 4
Assassin's Creed Odyssey
Nintendo Labo Vehicle Kit
God of War
Sea of Thieves
Celeste
Gorogoa
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

We are in a golden age of gaming and this list could have been twice as long. But forced to pick our top 10 of the last 12 months, these are the games you should not miss.

Red Dead Redemption 2

(PS4/XO) Age: 18+

The deepest, maybe the most unfathomably complex game of the year, Rockstar’s latest opus is an astonishing achievement five years in the making. Its brutal, harsh world of Wild West outlaws takes a long time to get going, an even longer time to know fully.

But when all other open-world games of 2019 have gone home, RDR2 will still be captivating us well into 2020, with its masterful interplay of narrative, scenery, morality and intricate underpinning of simulation systems.

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Astro Bot Rescue Mission

Astro Bot Rescue Mission

(PSVR) 7+

So playful and yet so considered, Astro Bot smashes it out of the park when it comes to VR fun. The portly bots from the PSVR launch line-up return for a much cleverer platformer that would do Nintendo proud.

The player sits in the middle of the action, directly interacting with scenery and the waddling bot. With audacious use of perspective and viewpoint, it’s damn near impossible to wipe the smile from your face for every minute you linger in this delightful alternative reality.

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Forza Horizon 4

Forza Horizon 4

(XO/PC) 3+

Microsoft’s tentpole release for the Christmas season (um, for the second half of 2018 damningly) doesn’t disappoint fans of the crazy racing series. But anyone with a passing interest in cars couldn’t fail to clock the sheer passion poured into Playground Games’ meticulous recreation of northern Britain.

That it manages to render its generous range of roads, countryside and vehicles across all the four seasons makes FH4 much more impressive. A pretty lake in summer becomes an iced-over track in winter. A rolling green meadow becomes a snowbound white carpet. An exhilarating drive.

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Assassin's Creed Odyssey

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

(XO/PS4/PC) 18+

After 80-plus hours spent in a phenomenal version of Greece circa 430 BC, my ardour for Odyssey remains undimmed. Sure, it’s Assassin’s Creed all over again, on one level. But tweaks to the combat formula (that deeply satisfying Spartan Kick, for one) along with breathtaking scenery and a gnarly plot render it fresh.

You may find yourself accidentally learning some terrific Greek history along the way too, not to mention some useful swear words. Even now, my mind drifts to the next piece of story DLC scheduled for early 2019…

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Nintendo Labo Vehicle Kit

Nintendo Labo

(Switch) 7+

Nintendo’s hybrid console had a quieter 2018 than its blockbuster 2017 but oddball cardboard sensation Labo was the highlight for me. It brings together the DIY, tactile aesthetic of Lego with kid-friendly video instructions to enable you (or your sprogs) to build impressive toy from stiff paper.

Three editions came to market into 2018 but, as good as they are, the Variety Kit and Robot Kit are left in the dust by the Vehicle Kit for its ingenuity. Children with imagination can even go off-piste and use a little bit of programming and some household items to extend the kits’ potential.

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Florence

(iOS/Android) 12+

A concise sketch of the highs and lows of a relationship, Florence deftly tells the story of a first date blooming into a deep love. Everyone who’s had their heart broken will recognise the narrative arc as Florence uses simple touchscreen interactions to draw us into the unfolding drama.

Created by one of the designers of the celebrated Monument Valley, Florence may be a short experience but few players will come away without feeling touched by its tale of love and loss.

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God of War

God of War

(PS4) 18+

Investing characters with believable emotion is an inevitable outcome of games growing up. But the least likely candidate was always Kratos, the permanently angry Spartan warrior of the God of War series. This reboot pulls off the impossible, making us sympathetic towards the tortured bald god as he wrestles with a raising a son while battling monstrous demons.

It’s testament to the strength of the writing that the storyline emerges the most memorable pillar despite strong competition from stunning visuals and an elaborate combat system built around a powerful axe.

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Sea of Thieves

Sea of Thieves

(XO/PC) 15+

The hearty pirate sim you see as 2018 rolls to a close is very different to the Sea of Thieves that launched back in March as a bare-bones adventure. The building blocks were there – naval navigation, ship combat and treasure hunting – for this funny and clever multiplayer game.

But veteran developer Rare has steadily fleshed out the activities, extending SoT beyond its initial appeal as an anecdote-generator (“remember thay time we fired you out of a cannon into a cliff?!” Mega-sharks, a giant kraken and skeleton ships are just a few of the challenges now awaiting unwary crews on the high seas.

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Celeste

Celeste

(XO/PS4/PC/Switch) 12+

AN emotional rollercoaster disguised as a rock-hard 2D platformer, Celeste lulls you into thinking it has no more story than Donkey Kong before hitting you with a series of sucker punches.

You’ll come for the knotty Super Meat Boy-style of try-and-try-again running and jumping, liberally littered with secrets, challenges and head-wrecking sequences. But you’ll stay for the surprisingly deep narrative, weaving themes of mental health and relationships into the design, gameplay and interactions.

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Gorogoa

Gorogoa

(iOS/Android/PS4/XO/PC) 7+

A solo project that soaked up six years of development, Gorogoa appear at first a simple tile puzzle, involving mere rearrangement of 2x2 comic panels to create a coherent story. But creator Jason Roberts quickly begins to toy with layers, alternative dimensions and a host of tricks to warp your mind.

It feels most at home on touchscreen devices, where a tactile swipe of the finger enable you to experiment quickly with arrangements. But its originality and craft shines through on any platform.

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