The virtual worlds we lost our lives to this year.
Spooky ghost ships. Lush realms of the gods. Future cities roaming with rebel robots or shack towns full of outlaws. The places you could go in 2018 while stuck in a bean-bag in your pants were wondrous indeed, and these were the video games that took us there.
Monster Hunter World
Like a cartoon, Victorian-themed Dark Souls, Monster Hunter World pits you against a whole, massive continent of tough monster bosses, each of which demands strategy, patience and stamina to hunt down and despatch. Some of these beasts take an hour or more to fell – bring a hip-flask.
Return Of The Obra Dinn
Remember Papers, Please? The game where you played a border passport-checker, an ostensibly dull profession game that grew character-testing moral twists? This new game from the same designer, Lucas Pope, had you playing an insurance-loss adjuster investigating the fate of those onboard a merchant ship that has mysteriously reappeared strewn with bodies, having been lost at sea. In a year of impressive arthouse games (Florence, Life Is Strange 2), the retro mystery of …Obra Dinn was the most satisfying and intriguing, like being sucked inside an old ‘80s desktop adventure game.
Tired of tanking yourself to the max and plodding across thousand-mile maps in titanium armour? Then Spider-Man’s first entirely successful game appearance was for you – the major appeal of the game was the slick and sensational way you could swing and somersault your way across an impressively near-accurate open-world New York.
Shadow Of The Tomb Raider
Closing the reboot trilogy, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider completed Lara Croft’s journey from stranded rookie Raider to ass-kicking guerrilla tasked with preventing another one of those pesky Mayan apocalypses (apocalypsii?). It also realised the promise of Lara’s latest incarnation – a finely balanced concoction of brain and fire power, of suspense and spectacle.
Dark Souls Remastered
Indulge me. The remake of 2011’s Dark Souls is tired old ground for many gamers, and there can’t be many who ever want to lock horns with Black Dragon Kalameet again – or any of the other fiendishly tough bosses that lurk within this expertly coiled swonrd’n’scorcery world. For us first-timers, though, Dark Souls Remastered was the most immersive, challenging and – for DSIII veterans – surprisingly forgiving gaming experience of 2018. Sun = praised.
Shadow Of The Colossus
Talking of remakes, the 4k update of 2005’s Shadow Of The Colossus served to prove how timeless that classic game was, holding its own against 2018’s grand open-world opuses by dint of the space of the landscape and sullen beauty of the gargantuan beasts that Wander must hunt down and basically peck to death. Enduring art.
Detroit: Become Human
Quantic Dream’s long-running ambition to create a convincing playable movie slid a step closer with Detroit: Become Human, the interlocking tales of three androids fighting for recognition and emancipation that plays out like a kind of socially conscious quicktime Blade Runner offshoot. The promise of QD’s butterfly effect gaming – every decision effecting the continued plot of the game – inches closer to reality.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Devoted assassins get off on the panoramic landscapes and repetitive, box-ticking formulas of the celebrated series (infiltrating heavily-guarded compounds, offing heavily-guarded personages, etc), so it was a bold move for Peloponnesian war epic …Odyssey to broaden its scope so far into Witcher 3 territory. Plus, those overwhelming, free-for-all Conquest Battles gave you a gritty, manic taste of life in the Tory party.
Red Dead Redemption 2
Despite its glacial pace and interminable fishing missions, there’s no denying the ambition and achievements of RDR2. It aspires to the status of cinematic post-Western, novel and liveable wilderness world – if you’re deeply averse to real life you can spend pretty much every waking hour living as a trapper, horticulturalist, camp caretaker or hog-tier of innocents on these sprawling prairies. But when the game’s gunslinger-GTA pulse quickens – train robberies, town-wide shoot-outs, not driving a cart of suffragettes slowly through town – it’s an unbeatable, rootin-tootin thrillride.
God Of War
In a year crammed with flawed releases, only God Of War had it all: pace and scale, beauty and intelligence, cunning and challenge, might and magic. Where Red Dead Redemption 2’s snail-paced plotline crawled towards a bleak, inevitable conclusion we already knew, God Of War had us second-guessing everyone and everything, from the trustworthiness of the dwarves, witches and enormous sea dragons abetting ‘retired’ god Kratos on his fantastical journey to, at several points, which way up the universe is supposed to go. The battles were tectonic, the puzzles compulsive, the world (and it’s various alternate dimensions) big enough to bewilder but condensed enough to conquer. Add in a touching father-son relationship journey and you have a mythological open-world Last Of Us. God-like, in fact.