Kyle’s Top 10 Games of 2018 [Guest Post]

10. Pokemon Let’s Go (Nintendo Switch)

Pokemon Let's Go

Sweaty palms nervously gripping a plastic, ridged, grey brick: A matching grey, bulky piece of plastic bolted to the front of the handheld provides just enough light to counteract the harsh glare of the sun, which beats down on the back of my neck and the tops of my knees as I shuffle back and forth, uncomfortable on the rough concrete steps outside my childhood home.

Cold, calculated series of attacks leave wild pokemon barely conscious as I smash a red and white ball into their faces and force them into captivity. Power is what I felt. Adventure, exploration, collection, tactics, music. Good GOD the music. Those rough, clipped tones still resonate within my skull today.

As a game, Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee falls horribly flat. Stripped of all meaningful combat mechanics apart from trainer battles, the world feels empty despite the obvious signs of life as wild Pokemon bounce around every square inch of it. Raising your party together through heated battle is what forms a bond between trainer and Pokemon, and since this game has very little of that, it ends up feeling soulless.

But a part of me can’t help but feel the sun on my neck and the weight of that heavy Gameboy in my hands, the reimagined soundtrack evoking just enough of those classic tracks to set my ears ringing joyfully. The Pokemon are animated beautifully, and truly no game in the series has ever looked this good. Having the ability to pick the Pokemon that follows you is a nice touch, as well.

They also threw in a few quality of life changes, like being able to access your collection of Pokemon at any time while out adventuring. It’s a nostalgia trip — and an emotional one for someone like me, who has many fond memories of battling with their friends and talking about their “catch of the day” during lunch period. However, since it never elevates itself above the nostalgia that made me buy it, it earns the last place on my list for this year. Thanks for the memories…

9. Battlefield V (PC)

Battlefield V

If you listen to The Shea Hates Everything Podcast you’ll already know that both Shea and I have more or less sworn off competitive multiplayer games. We get mad. We break controllers… and hands. So it goes without saying that when I put Battlefield V on my Top 10 List, I’m talking about the single player content. While I wish there had been a single narrative, the vignettes provided are a satisfying return to Bad Company 2 style open, objective-based environments.

There’s something to be said about giving the player a few objectives, an open area, and saying, “You do you.” It led to a lot of insane, bombastic moments that I felt like the author of. Skiing away from a series of explosions (that I set off, of course) across a frozen lake while bullets whiz past me, driving a troop carrier truck into a group of nazis and then blowing it up, hugging the ground behind a small group of rocks to avoid the gaze of enemy scouts, sitting for minutes waiting for the perfect shot, adjusting for bullet drop and knowing that as soon as I fire, all nearby enemies will be alerted; classic Battlefield moments are found plentifully here.

The controls are tight, the visuals are sharper than ever and the destructive environments are the most destructivest. Each vignette follows a different character that I would have liked to spend more time with, but the occasional special gadget, like the aforementioned skis, opens up new opportunities for navigating the open areas or encouraging different styles of play. Unfortunately, without any interest in the competitive multiplayer, my time with the game was short, but a hell of a lot of fun and a refreshing return to form for the series.

8. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (PC)

Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age

Oh look, more nostalgia! I have always been a stalwart Final Fantasy fan, and XII was an exciting departure when it came out, with systems that, to me, were new. The license board felt like the logical progression of the sphere grid from X, the new TRULY active, turn-based battle system was a nice blend of two styles of play that I enjoyed. It could do no wrong!

And then the characters opened their mouths; hour upon hour of boring and obfuscated chatter about some kingdom or other poured forth. Hour upon hour of poorly written, up-its-own-ass fantasy writing that struggled to emulate european and western politics-centric high fantasy novels. But luckily, where the story fell flat, the sense of adventure and a living world more than made up for it. That, and Fran turning me into a furry years before I or the rest of the internet knew what a furry was, had me sold.

The Zodiac Age makes it onto my list this year not solely because of nostalgia but because they added something meaningful to the experience: The ability to spend less time on everything. Now, you can blast through the whole thing at 2x or 4x speed! And for anyone who has played the original, the grinding can be a… well… grind. But no longer!

One of my new favorite ways to play is to have an effective gambit system in place, run a dungeon on 4x speed and watch as my characters’ levels rise and rise and rise, up, up, up. It’s a triumphant feeling to walk into a boss battle fully prepared, having done the equivalent of hours of grinding in a matter of minutes.

While it may seem odd that enjoying less of the game is a good thing, without the speed multiplier I wouldn’t have made it past the first boss. I just don’t have the time or patience I used to have for Japanese RPGs anymore, and this updated release of a classic respects that fact.

7. Moonlighter (PC)

Moonlighter

Run-based games have never made sense to me. Why spend all of that time and gain nothing concrete to show for it, other than personal experience? I need a house to display all of my digital junk for nobody to look at! A house or… a shop! Moonlighter is a clever little combination of run-based gameplay, economy management, and town-building. Best of all, each of the three elements directly affects and flows into the next.

Head into the dungeon, get some sweet, sweet loot, leave before you die (hopefully), hit up your shop, display the items for sale, set the prices, open up shop and make some sales while running off dirtbag thieves, use the money earned from your shop on upgrading your town which gets you access to new equipment and items that help you get further into the dungeons, which gets you better loot to sell for more at the shop, which gets you more money to upgrade the town, which — you get the point. It’s a tremendously satisfying loop that is smartly designed to keep the game flowing.

I’ve also always been a sucker for great and interesting inventory management systems (Resident Evil 4 I’m looking at you), and Moonlighter’s does not disappoint. Since the better the loot you bring back, the more money you have and more access to upgrades you have, maximizing your haul is important.

While you have limited space in your bag, some items can stack more than others, and the better the item, the more likely it is to be cursed, enchanted, or unidentified. Cursed means it has an effect like destroying the item to the top right of it when exiting the dungeon, so you should put that item in the rightmost row of your bag so it doesn’t destroy anything. Enchanted could mean duplicating itself into the space above it, so if it’s a particularly valuable item, you would want to place it under a large stack of less valuable items so that when you leave, that large stack is now even more valuable. I think you get the picture. It’s a neat system in a neat game that comes together in a neat package. It’s neat.

6. Katamari Damacy Reroll (Nintendo Switch)

Katamari Damacy Reroll

Nana nanananana na na nana na nana na. *percussive mumbling* Nana nanananana na na nana na nana na na na na na— THIS MUSIC IS PERFECT THIS GAME IS PERFECT BUT IT’S JUST A REMASTER OF AN OLD GAME SO I CAN’T JUSTIFY IT BEING IN THE TOP 5 OF MY LIST SO IT’S AS HIGH AS IT CAN GO Nana nanananana na na nana na nana na *percussive mumbling* Nana nanananana na na nana na nana na na na na na…

5. Detroit: Become Human (PlayStation 4)

Detroit Become Human

Let me set the record straight: This is not a good game and those who are offended by it should probably be offended because it doesn’t handle any of the moments or subject matter well. At all. Slavery, The Holocaust, Domestic Abuse, Drug Abuse, Oh My! David Cage is incapable of saying much of anything about any of those things other than the fact that they’re bad and maybe we shouldn’t do any of them. However, despite these things, and perhaps because I am a white male who has never been subjected to nor experienced a couple of those things, my wife and I had a good time ironically enjoying it.

The uncanny valley between the stilted dialogue, performances, and the visuals (which are truly astounding) is symbolic of the way in which the themes and topics are handled; pretty on the surface, but lacking in depth. My wife and I sat continually flabbergasted at the melodrama and laughed incredulously for the several hours it took to finish this “masterpiece.”

Maybe a game I enjoyed ironically shouldn’t be in my Top 5, but damnit, Detroit was a great time — even if it was for all of the wrong reasons.

4. Fallout 76 (PlayStation 4)

Fallout 76

“Oh, go figure a guy with a Fallout Facebook profile picture would defend Fallout 76.” — Some straw-manning jerk on the internet.

I really like Fallout 76. It doesn’t handle as well as Fallout 4 which is a real shame, but the active VATS is more useful than I thought it would be, the writing in the sidequests, holotapes, and notes is the best it’s ever been, the interactions with other human players that I’ve had have all been positive, the base building and schematics systems are really smart and fun to engage with, all of the new craftable items and weapons are a delight to uncover, the new enemies have been terrifying to discover, and the environments are the best looking they’ve ever been.

I can’t wait to see where they take this game in 2019. There are a lot of really exciting things on the horizon… if they can just move past all of the negative press and questionable decision-making and messaging. There are a lot of great things to say about Fallout 76, and since this is MY list and not the rest of the internet, that’s where I’m going to leave it.

3. Red Dead Redemption 2 (PlayStation 4)

Red Dead Redemption 2

My blood pumping in my ears, my thumb cramping from mashing “x” to the beat of my horse’s hooves, my itchy trigger finger just waiting for the right moment as I close the distance to the rear of a carriage full of cash. Cash I need for the gang. Cash I need for a new pair of shoes, for cleaning my gun, for buying that new rifle with a scope at the gunsmithy. I pull my repeater rifle and the auto-target locks onto the driver’s head. The bullet I put straight through the back of his skull isn’t really his fault. Wrong place, wrong time and all that. But feelings are a luxury I cannot afford. Because I’m Arthur Fuckin’ Morgan.

That poor wagon driver didn’t need to die. I could have lassoed him or held him up at gunpoint. I could have pulled my horse in front and forced him to stop, thrown him off the side and driven off with the carriage while he shouted curses at me. Or I could have let him be, hunted for my money or robbed a bank or a cowboy’s camp in the middle of the night. But all of those things are way more work, and the controls suck butt, so sorry, not sorry, driver. Bullet meet skull.

This game would be top of my list if it played competently. I cried at the end of the story. It takes a lot to make me cry at the end of a game, but Rockstar got me. All of the little moments between Arthur and the rest of the gang, the people we lost along the way and the way in which we lost them, the rich, populated (but not overly-populated) world, all of the little options open to the player like brushing your horse, upgrading your camp, how you interact with NPCs, all of those amazing relationship-building quests and the WRITING. Seriously, the WRITING. AND THE PERFORMANCES. So much of this game is so damned good, but I didn’t want to put my hands on the controller because it felt like hot garbage.

Also, the fact that the epilogue started immediately instead of being a separate launch from the main menu does the final moments of the campaign a grave disservice. I have no idea how that made it past the playtesting phase, but it really soured the end for me. So it gets the bronze instead of the gold. It had GOTY potential written all over it. It’s a shame it had to end this way, Red Dead.

2. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden (PC)

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden

Every once in a while, a game proves me wrong. I remember when I first saw a trailer for Mutant Year Zero and I thought it seemed like a really dark spiritual successor to Beyond Good and Evil. Then I found out it was really a spiritual successor to XCOM, and at the time I wasn’t up for a difficult turn-based tactical game so I wrote it off. Fast forward to its release in December of this year, and after watching some coverage I took the bait and decided to give it a try.

Set in a bleak post-apocalyptic future where anthropomorphic animals roam the wasteland, it doesn’t do much to freshen up that setting. However, there are some very important differences between this game and XCOM, and I believe those differences are what made it more interesting and accessible to me.

Mutant Year Zero is sort of an open-world game. It’s a series of smaller areas connected by pathways on a larger map, all of which you can freely travel between at any time (once you gain access to them). There is no home base to upgrade, just a party with three active members that you can rotate at any time outside of battle. Outside of combat you can walk around freely, avoiding circles of detection around each enemy, luring them away from their friends and taking them out silently, making the larger encounters that much easier. This game is much more about player agency than a game like XCOM where it feels like there is a binary right and wrong way to play each scenario.

It has many classic RPG elements like skill trees, equipment slots, lots of stacking effects and percentages; all things I’m familiar with, and the writing is serviceable. You also come across a really colorful cast of characters as you move through the story and level up at a decent clip, unlocking better and better abilities, purchasing better and better weapons. As a full package, Mutant Year Zero really delivers, and when you get that perfect stack of attacks and take down a group of enemies without taking any serious hits, it’s a fantastic power trip.

1. Return of the Obra Dinn (PC)

Return of the Obra Dinn

Man, I love surprises. They don’t happen often in the AAA game space, so naturally my top game is an independently developed one. My friend and I saw it teased a couple years ago and thought the art and concept were interesting, but with no release date announced, we soon forgot about it. And then it dropped like a sleeper hit this year and we didn’t even notice until Steam advertised it on the homepage.

Obra Dinn isn’t a cooperative game by design, but that’s how I played it. I’m positive that had a huge impact on my enjoyment of it, as my friend and I don’t have much time to play games together anymore, so we really tried to make the most of our time deducing the fates of the crew on the Obra Dinn. Discovering the little hints and systems that the game contains but doesn’t explicitly tell you was immensely rewarding and made us feel like Holmes and Watson (I was probably Watson). We even choreographed a little dance to do every time the confirmed fate music would play. We’re really cool.

My only frustration with the game was the inability to launch into the death panoramas from the book, causing us to spend a lot of time walking slowly around the ship near the end, trying to do some mop-up with the harder-to-determine fates.

It was paced brilliantly, controlled as intended, had a helluva unique look, a great, if simple, soundtrack, and some impressive voice and foley work. This game is the full package, and while it was a month or two ago that I finished it, the echoes of some of the story reveals still stick with me. If you want to feel really smart, this is the game for you. So since I’m not smart, but like to pretend I am, Obra Dinn is my game of the year.

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