Year In ReviewWe look back at the highs, lows, surprises, and standouts in and around video games this year.  

2018 has been a blur for me. It may just be that I’m in the last year of my twenties, or it could be that extreme events just did not stop happening this year. As with any year, I took refuge in games when I wanted to relax, enjoy myself, socialize with friends, or just check out of reality for a while.

I’m sure I’ll revise my opinions on what’s the “best” of this year as time goes on, but for now, here’s a list, in alphabetical order, of ten games that came out in 2018 that made me stop and think, “Damn, that was a great game.”

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A Way Out

My playthrough of A Way Out ended as all games should: with me crying and Heather Alexandra apologizing. Though it can be corny and cliché, and in fact its story seems like a direct rip off of The Shawshank Redemption, A Way Out’s gameplay impressed me and kept me glued to my seat. It’s a fine example of gameplay serving the broader themes of the story, to the extent that a simple button prompt made me tear up.

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Florence

Dating is a strange thing that humans do that sometimes that I don’t feel like I fully understand. At the end of a relationship, especially a good one, you might find yourself wondering why you would put yourself out there just to get hurt again. Florence takes you through all that pain, but also through the joy of falling for someone, learning from them, and growing as a result, all in a series of minimalist puzzles.

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Frostpunk

I love video games that make me so stressed out I have to get up and walk around. Frostpunk, a city builder where you create a new world for your citizens in the frozen north, is that game. Here’s some cool questions I’ve had to ask myself while playing: Should I hold an emergency shift, requiring workers to work around the clock? How about legalizing child labor? Should we make soup to optimize our rations, or fill our meals with sawdust? It’s a game where everything starts bad and gets worse, and I love it.

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God Of War

I have never played any other God of War game, but after Jason Schreier spent many weeks telling us all how much we would like this one, I gave it a shot. I’m glad I did—it’s got thrilling combat, a direct and affecting story, and a wonderful vocal performance from Christopher Judge as Kratos. I did not know I needed to play a game where I could behead giants while being scolded by my black dad, but I sure did.

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Gris

In lieu of actually writing something here, I’m just gonna post a bunch of screenshots. Yeah, the puzzles and the music are both wonderful, but, man, just look at this shit.

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Into The Breach

I slid off this game the first couple times I tried it. The internal math you have to do to figure out how to save the city, take down the monsters, and try not to damage your mechs was too arcane at first. After taking a break and coming back to it, I was hooked. Suddenly the internal logic of this Kaiju chess, as Jason Schreier described it, made sense. Once you get this game, it’s like a Magic Eye puzzle. You squint at the screen until you disassociate a little and everything falls into place.

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Life Is Strange 2: Episode 1

I was skeptical about this one, but the longer I think about it the more impressed I am. It’s an unabashedly political game that directly responds to the political climate in which it was produced. You take control of two Mexican American brothers as they run from the cops who shot their father. Sean and Daniel Diaz are relatable characters, and the teenager dialogue is leagues better than the first Life is Strange. I’m excited to see where the second season of Life Is Strange goes, but even if I only ever play this first episode, I’ll be happy with it. There are so few games that tell the stories of the marginalized from the perspective of the marginalized that getting a chance to play one feels quite special.

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No Man’s Sky Next

I always liked No Man’s Sky, and I know I was in the minority on that one. At this point, I no longer consider it an acquired taste, but something everyone should try. It’s so different from what it was at launch that it almost feels like a brand new game. Planets are more diverse, with more alien-looking flora and fauna. Crafting and finding resources is more engaging. You can build complex bases anywhere on the map, including underwater. All that is good enough, but the way that Hello Games has served its community with these free, humongous updates continues to astonish me. My first time participating in a community event had a surprisingly emotional effect on me. Seeing all the messages left from other players, notes of encouragement, welcoming everyone to the planet, and even hearing people react with the same awe I was experiencing made me grateful that I played some small role in documenting the wonderful things people see and do in No Man’s Sky.

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Simmiland

I really love huge city builders and complex management sims, but they take so much time. Simmiland let me have the experience of a management sim in a fraction of the time. It pares systems down to their barest expressions—you put down resources and change weather with an in-game deck of cards, and then kinda just wait—but it still manages to have a lot of depth. One thing I love tooling around with is figuring out what kinds of flora and fauna live in different climates. I’m also very curious about the “Plague” card, and having my little civilization make a cure for it, but I don’t know if I’m cruel enough to use it... yet.

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The Sims 4: Get Famous

I’m on team “The Sims 4 has always been good, actually,” but playing it with the Get Famous expansion has changed the way I see the game. It’s not just the cool Perks and Quirks system of getting famous, where you can select cool Perks to being famous, and then get weird, negative Quirks based on internal parameters. It’s more than the way that becoming famous changes your Sims’ lives, adding a little more randomness into your gameplay. It’s seeing all the neat ways all these expansions work with each other. Although the Acting career made my Sims lives less predictable, it also made them better parents who could spend more time with their kids. I could write an entire article about the fun new stories I’m creating because of this expansion, and my plans for narratives about a famous photographer, a a pair of twins where one is famous and the other isn’t, or a black widow who murders her way through Del Sol Valley’s elite. Instead of doing that, I’m just going to keep playing The Sims for another couple hundred hours.