For all the doom and gloom expressed at the beginning of this generation, we’re clearly in a golden age of gaming with so much variety, and much of it incredibly polished. It’s getting easier to put together “best of” lists and harder to fill “worst of” lists. Problems remain, including [censored] publisher- and shareholder-driven monetization practices and a flood of low-effort, asset-flip, cheap-to-publish games that affect indie visibility, but we’ve still got a tremendous number of quality games to choose from.
Last year produced plenty of commercially-successful and critical-acclaimed games; some well-deserving of the praise, others that rode to high scores on a wave a hype (when a little more introspection was needed), and far too many disappeared behind a AAA marketing drive that tried to convince you there were only a dozen or so titles worth your time last year. With this list, we’re hoping to remedy that by asking the team to consider Games You Might Have Missed in 2018.
Andrew (self-proclaimed shameless fan)
I’m a shameless fanboy when it comes to the Darksiders series, finding no end of pleasure in their seamless blend of otherwise unremarkable mechanics, coupled with great aesthetics and an over-the-top story. Darksiders 3 was a long time coming and, as could be expected from a game with a shoestring budget, it doesn’t always live up to its predecessors. I’m also not a fan of the ‘Souls-like mechanics that feel out of place in the game, make Fury feel like a wilting petal, and drag down the pace. That said, it still excels at providing entertaining and larger-than-life villains, visually diverse environments that blend everyday locations with fantastical or hellish designs, plenty of puzzling, and a constant sense of character progression. Overall, it’s a game that I’d have recommended to any Darksiders fan with caveats, however, since a recent patch reintroduced a “classic” combat mode – allowing you to dodge-cancel out of combos – it’s now a must play.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
The first of two games this year that subverted my expectations of genres I’ve slowly drifted away from. XCOM-like tactical combat used to be a favourite of mine, back when I could pour hours into each battle, shamelessly save-scumming to ensure my favourite soldiers made it through. Road to Eden, developed by Swedish studio The Bearded Ladies and based on a tabletop RPG, let me take a team of wise-cracking anthropomorphic mutants into battle but, most importantly, also allowed me to explore the world in real-time and use stealth to even the odds before engaging the enmy. It’s a fun and fluid system that works far better than scouting a map turn-by-turn. It also helps that the RPG elements, presentation, story, and voice-acting are excellent for a small team and low-cost title.
For the last few years, I’ve been avoiding games in the ‘Souls-like genre that market themselves on difficulty. The unforgiving challenge, overwhelming sense of isolation, and oppressive atmosphere slowly wear me down and the rewards rarely justify the slog. Ashen, however, was breath of fresh air, shedding the grim setting and pairing you up with a competent AI companion (who could be an actual player). You’re tasked with bringing light back into the world by defeating the forces of darkness, while slowly recruiting and aiding a group of outcasts that expand your starting town of Vagrants Rest. The town and its inhabitants were reason enough to push on, while the diverse environments, pleasing visuals, beautiful soundtrack, and platforming mechanics (which aren’t crap by design), kept me going back out into the world to hunt down all its secrets. If you’re looking to scratch a ‘Souls-like itch without wallowing in endless misery, Ashen comes highly recommended.
Lynley (picks an appropriate choice…)
Old Man’s Journey
This year was a banner year for gaming. We were lucky enough to get games like God of War, Spider-Man, and Forza Horizon 4. However, it was many of the smaller games that I was able to try via the Humble Monthly Bundle that really showcased that, despite some shenanigans at the AAA level, the industry is healthy and the indie space will keep the hobby alive if - some say when - the next big AAA crash happens. The standout amongst these many titles for me was Old Man's Journey, a beautiful puzzle/adventure game that has you guide an old man on a simple quest after he receives a letter. You manipulate the environment with your mouse to solve simple puzzles that smooth the path for the Old Man to continue his journey. There is no action in the pew-pew sense, just a serene journey and a mystery to uncover as you walk this path with him. Along the way, you get hints of his life as certain stops trigger his memories. The story is simple, yet sweet and engaging, while the art style is amazing. I highly recommend that you give the game a try if you want to experience something different both, in terms of pace and the method of storytelling.
Douw (indie wunderkind)
A game that almost passed me by until it came up in several GOTY lists across the internet. Celeste tells a sweet tale of coming to accept your own inner demons and working through your problems. You overcome these seemingly insurmountable tasks in front of you through the medium of a hard-as-nails platforming, climbing Mount Celeste. With a great message and some slick mechanics, Celeste provides a great gaming experience that any fan of platformers should give a try. Just make sure you switch to the D-pad on your controller ASAP to avoid frustration!
Ever felt like your video games needed more bard in them? Well, look no further than the whimsical tale that is Wandersong. With a unique art style, rhythm- and tone-matching mechanics, and a cast that explodes with character, Wandersong's short but gleeful playthrough is something you owe yourself to at least give a look (and listen) to.
Lethal League Blaze
The original Lethal League was something of a dark horse in the world of 2D fighting games, one in which no contact was made between the combatants. Rather, damage was meted out by a singular ball bouncing around the arena at increasingly scary speeds. With Lethal League Blaze, some new mechanics and an updated pseudo-3D look make for a familiar but more refined experience that should be tried at least once.
From the creator of Pony Island comes a new meta take on gaming characters and what happens to them after their story has been told. Unfortunately, this game fits in that rare and wonderful "the less you know about it the better it is" category of games (see more later). As such, I will have to leave things vague. However, if you are looking for another quirky and very meta tale to entertain, you should definitely give The Hex a try.
See, I told you that another of these types of games would make the list. A follow-up, maybe prequel, maybe sequel, maybe alternate universe take on the cult hit Undertale. Deltarune does a fine job of keeping expectations up, all the while subverting them in interesting ways to make you wish there was more than just the initial chapter to play through. Here's hoping the larger team pays off and we see the next chapter sooner, rather than later. For now, you can at least get a taste for things to come.
Two Point Hospital
Calling yourself the spiritual successor to the legendary Theme Hospital is quite the claim to live up to. Fortunately, the developers managed to live up to that title with the charming and familiar feeling Two Point Hospital. If you've been craving a management game in which curing the strangest of ailments around is a core feature (remember kids, never lick the foil from the yoghurt) then Two Point Hospital is the nostalgia-fueled game you’ve been waiting for.
Into the Breach
From the creators of Faster Than light comes a turn-based, grid-style, mecha-on-kaiju slugfest. With many lessons learnt from previous roguelikes, Into the Breach lends itself to many playthroughs as you find the right time-travelling pilot and mech combo that’ll lead you to victory against the alien threat. With new combos and upgrades available each time, and randomized missions and layouts, you can be sure to spend more than a little time mastering this game.
Moonlighter popped up on our radars from seemingly nowhere, however, the mix of shopkeeper simulator and roguelike dungeon-runner was an inspired experience that worked to keep our attention for a long time. With a great art style that oozed with character (sometimes literally with the early enemies), and a soundtrack that suited every environment, Moonlighter definitely deserves your attention.
Sam (picks a half-indie title)
A Way Out
Considering we never officially reviewed the game (and I’m sure it flew below many radars), I’d like to shine a spotlight on Hazelight’s A Way Out. Strictly a co-op experience, the game manages to work multiplayer elements creatively into the gameplay. Everything happens in real time on both screens, allowing both players to complete multiple story objectives simultaneously (even within cutscenes). While the plot is somewhat cliched, except for a pretty hefty gut-punch of an ending, A Way Out’s unique gameplay and relatable characters elevates this title to one of the unsung greats of 2018. It’s worth experiencing with a friend because as you form bonds between Vincent and Leo in the game, so do you build a bond with your real-life partner. I loved almost every minute, and strongly urge you give this a go.
Rob (picks an AAA title that got no love)
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
My pick would be Shadow of the Tomb Raider (and the whole reboot trilogy if you’ve avoided them ‘til now). I was initially against making Lara Croft a sobbing, angsty "teenage girl" because, in the prior games and movies, she’s always been shown her as a ruthless, combat-ready woman, ready to take on any challenge in her attempt to defile another ancient tomb. However, the reboot came along and provided a decent spin on her character arc. While SotTR stuck with the "I will murder you all" revenge motivation, while throwing in some quaint throwbacks for fans the world over, it was a brilliant ending to the reboot series (narratively). My favourite remains the first one, but SotTR was a great way to end the storyline of this iteration of Lara Croft. It’s by no means perfect - what game really is – and I both loved myself for finally jumping into the series, and hated myself for waiting this long.
So that wraps up our lengthy list of Games You Might Have Missed in 2018. It’s just a small selection of titles we got around to playing, no doubt representing only a tiny fraction of the many excellent games that came out last year - overshadowed by several huge releases and AAA marketing campaigns. We’re always looking to expand our shameful backlog so, if you want to recommend any other game released in 2018, let us know in the comments below.
Enjoys games with awesome stories and characters, along with new and interesting hardware. Dislikes day-one patches and driver updates.
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