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December 26, 2018 10 min read
Abby Russell is one of Giant Bomb’s Associate Producers and a NYC based comedian. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and check her out in some of her favorite Giant Bomb features like 13 Deadly Sims and Six Crazy Frights.
With my second year at Giant Bomb under my belt, I am older, wiser, and hotter than ever. Looking at things with my new Hot Guy Eyes, I am definitely coming into this year's Game of the Year List with a fresher, sexier perspective. Last year, I ended my list by describing how I was humbled by the experience. Game of the Year lists weren’t gospel in 2017 and that sure as hell is true for 2018. Going into it a second time, I think it’s always good to remember not to take these things so seriously.
This year, I am simply excited for another opportunity to celebrate the games I love. I had countless people tell me they were encouraged to check out some of the lesser known games, like Bury Me, My Love and Subsurface Circular, because of the inclusion of them in last years talks. Hearing that these games affected a lot of people in the same way they did for me was really encouraging. I hope folks can find some games on this years list they'll enjoy, too.
I started working at Giant Bomb in May of 2017, halfway through a year of incredible games, which left me with some catching up to do. I simply didn’t have the time or means to check out everything I wanted to play from last year. Here are some of my favorite games of 2017 that took up much of my 2018.
Coming right off the back of Game of the Year deliberations 2018, I was glad for an escape into a game where I didn’t have to criticize, didn’t have to editorialize, and didn’t have to think. With Call of Duty: WWII, I could just play.
Not having played a Call of Duty game since Black Ops II, getting back into the franchise felt welcome and familiar. With the diversity of maps and load-out customization, I never got bored or tired. And with fun additional modes like Prop Hunt, I was glad to play this game deep into 2018.
Do you love Tiger Woods PGA Tour but are disappointed you can’t play as a version of yourself with mutton chops against your friend who looks like a horrifying b-boy beluga whale? Boy do I have a game for you! I hopped into this game long after the online lobbies were full, so when me and my caddy, Casey Malone, would hit the fairway we would often be paired with the only people who were still around; fully maxed out players who would simply trounce us at every hole. And it was so much fun! Everybody’s Golf is truly for everybody. It’s a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously while still having an in depth golf simulator.
With Hollow Knight making my Honorable Mentions list last year, it’s only natural that it would make a similar Top-Ten-But-Not-Actually-Top-Ten-List this year. With its release on the Switch, I was finally incentivized to hop back in for a deeper look into this world. To me Hollow Knight basically feels like video game ASMR. Not in the weird, is-this-actually-porn kind of way, but in its use of immersive, world-building audio. The dark, drippy environments where I stumbled upon map makers humming as they sketch and miners whistling as they plink away at crystals relaxed me, even as they challenging and deliberate combat excited me.
Not only is Florence a game that would be less effective on anything other than the mobile platform, it also delivers an affecting, grounded story. You play as Florence, a twenty-something woman who falls in love with a cellist. As you progress through their relationship, the game uses repetition and monotony to show her every day life and how it’s changed by this new relationship. While playing the mechanics become familiar and comfortable, paralleling Florence settling into her new relationship. As the relationship changes, the monotony breaks and so did my HEART! Florence doesn’t tell an ambitious or even all that new story, but the story it tells is so universal and impactful that it stayed with me for a long time.
Mario Party is back and better than ever, baby! After years of disappointing changes that both managed to over complicated things and also remove the little bit of strategy Mario Party games offered, I was glad to see Nintendo go back to a more classic Mario Party experience while still offering a bunch of exciting new modes. Although some may argue the boards are too small, I found with the ally system, two versus two games, and full on co-op modes I felt like I had some extra strategy to how I played the game.
Mario Party isn’t for everyone, but personally I think this game is just pure fun. I miss the days of playing couch multiplayer games with my family and was happy to jump back into an updated version of that experience I loved to much.
House Flipper is a game about chores. I don’t mean that in the flippant way people sometimes talk about Animal Crossing, I mean you literally mop up dirt and wash windows and I loved every minute of it. Tasked with cleaning houses of individuals whose house guest trashed the place or renovating someone’s bunker to house their mother-in-law, I found the light story moments funny and the gameplay satisfying.
House Flipper doesn’t offer fancy graphics and the gameplay is simplistic as hell, but there is something so gratifying about slowly crossing everything off of your list and flipping these houses. The controls are easy enough to be a bit mindless, but there is enough to do that it doesn't necessarily feel monotonous. I found this to be one of my best “shut off and play” games of this year. Who knew organizing cans on a shelf could be so relaxing?
Like many people, Spider-Man 2 was one of my absolute favorite games growing up. I spent countless hours traversing virtual New York by attempting to swing from helicopter to helicopter trying to get to the Statue of Liberty or get to the top of the Empire State Building. I was thrilled to see that Marvel’s Spider-Man not only captured my rose-tinted nostalgia for the swinging and exploration of the first game, but it also offer a refreshing take on the Spider-Man character. While some of the major villain-focused story beats didn’t hit for me, I loved all of the interpersonal moments like Peter juggling saving lives while also making rent or navigating a text exchange with his ex.
In many ways, Marvel’s Spider-Man isn’t doing much new. The combat is of the same vein as Batman, it offers a rote checklist of collectibles, and--aside from those smaller, more personal moments--many moments in the story felt expected. That said, I had a ton of fun with my friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. I loved dressing him up in a wonderfully atrocious “punk” suit while I repaired people plumbing in Harlem or stopped birds from shitting diseases all over Central Park. Many of my friends who don’t normally play games played much of Spider-Man. I think there is something to be said about a very well done game that is good, accessible fun.
Thoroughly exhausted by the roguelike/roguelite/whateverthefuck genre, I didn’t see how adding shop management would make things more enjoyable. But once I started playing Moonlighter it clicked almost immediately. During the day I acted as a shopkeeper selling my wares to upgrade my hometown, and at night I explored dungeons, killing enemies and looting chests before starting the process all over again.
Each aspect of moonlighter is cleverly done. The shopkeeping becomes a fun minigame where you balance finding the right price for items while also managing theft and decoration. The dungeons felt challenging but manageable. Every time I died in the dungeons I knew it was because I got greedy and overconfident. Even inventory management is made fun with curses on items that will duplicate or destroy the items around it. Once I felt burnt out from selling, the day was over and once I felt tired of exploring a dungeon my backpack was full. I never felt like I was in an area, doing a task, or stuck on a level for longer than I wanted to. Moonlighter simply left me with a very balanced experience.
Mike Bithell’s Subsurface Circular was one of my favorite games of last year, so I was thrilled to see Quarantine Circular improve on what I already liked. In Quarantine, a near-future Earth is coming down with a terrible plague. When an alien being lands on a scientific boat tasked with finding a cure to save humanity, the people aboard aren’t sure how to react. Some are hostile, some are trusting, but it’s your choices as those characters that really impact where the story goes.
In Subsurface, I felt like the only real choice that mattered was the final one, but in Quarantine my decisions both big and small directly impacted my characters, interactions, and gameplay. Because of this deeper interaction, the story beats held a bigger emotional impact. When something well, I felt proud and happy for the relationships that were forming. In turn, when things went poorly I felt responsible, questioning what I could have done to prevent it.
God of War was the game that finally got me to upgrade to a PS4 Pro and boy was it worth it! So many realistic-looking games seem to shy away from color, so I was thrilled to see the rich, vivid, oversaturated environments in God of War. Each area and location felt unique, worth exploring, and relevant to the story.
The first time you throw and catch your axe as Kratos is so immensely satisfying. Hands down, God of War has some of the best audio design of any game I’ve played. From the weighty thud of your axe hitting its target to the crunch of your enemies’ heads as your smash them together, each sound cue adds to a richly textured world.
Many of my favorite moments in this game were exploring the more optional side sections. Once the world opened up to me, I found the puzzles became more challenging and the combat became more exciting. I loved going to a new area, exploring every nook and cranny, and fighting whatever boss or creature awaited me at the end of it. I took issue with some of the more tired tropes in God of War but the excellent world and combat were enough to happily keep me going through the end.
Is virtual reality still far too expensive and cumbersome? Of course. Are there so few good games out for it you can count them on your fingers? You betcha. Do I need a third question for this section to really flow? Survey says: yes. I desperately want VR to succeed, so when there are promising new games released I am eager to check them out.
Viewing Moss out of VR, it doesn’t seem like anything special. It’s a platforming puzzler with some light action and a cute mouse protagonist. But once you look through that headset, it’s awe inspiring. You can immediately feel a sense of scale. You’re placed into a small, mouse-sized community designed in our regular-sized world. Quill, the aforementioned mouse protagonist, has real weight to her. I felt like I should be able to pick her up in my hand and carry her in my shirt pocket.
VR is a new medium, so the standards are still being set for how you move and interact with the game world. As someone who can get a little queasy with too much forced movement, I was glad that Moss keeps you stationary. I was able to look around and explore this beautiful environment, uninterrupted by unexpected movements or jitters. Each location is carefully crafted, placing you in the perfect spot to view the action. One of my favorite areas was an ancient cathedral carved in stone, with light rays shining through the columns and between little mouse statues. Moss was the first game where I felt as though I had a cinematic experience in VR.
When I heard Lucas Pope was releasing another game, I wasn’t surprised that it looked just as singular and innovative as Papers, Please. In Return of the Obra Dinn, you play as an insurance adjuster tasked with figuring out the fate of every member of a doomed pirate ship. At first it seems like standard pirate fare; a mutiny gone wrong. As I journeyed deeper into the ship’s history, I was continually surprised at the creatures, deaths, and lives I discovered.
Everything aboard the ship looks muted and monotone, creating only vague impressions of people’s faces and stilted tableaus of their actions. Hearing radio-show like snippets of audio from the scene you’re investigating, it’s easy for your imagination to fill in the details the game chooses to leave out. As I continued to uncover each death and put the names to the characters I was meeting, I was so immersed. In most games, you kill and plunder and don’t even think twice about the in-game characters' lives you just affected. Return of the Obra Dinn forces you to take another look. Every tertiary character has a name, a life, a death, and your journey discovering these details makes their lives meaningful. I have never played a game like Return of the Obra Dinn and I likely never will again.
For me, Red Dead Redemption 2 was the right game at the right time. The holidays are always tough, and this year especially was a series of difficult news, bad experiences, and heartbreak. Thank god Red Dead Redemption was there for me to just forget myself for a little while. Being able to boot up the game, put clothes on my dress-up-doll of a cowboy, and pet my dumbass horse was a wonderful way to escape.
Each character, each interaction, and each small moment made for a living and immersive world that I was eager to explore. Even after countless hours, I was still finding different little secrets on the map. I would stumble upon a lost cabin by a frozen lake where an ice skater lived before battling a debilitating injury. Or I would run into a man who was being kidnapped, free him from his attackers, only for him to shove me away thinking I was trying to kidnap him, too. Occasionally, the NPCs you help or the stories you discover will offer you a free piece of gear or loot, but most of the time things were left unresolved. I simply walked away and carried on with my journey, except now with something extra for my mind to chew on. Every moment isn’t fully explained or gamified to create some satisfying ending or reward. Like life, sometimes you have to fill in the holes yourself or just make peace with the fact that you won’t always get a satisfying answer.
Ultimately, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a game about life, loss, and coming to terms with the choices you’ve made and the person that you’ve become. I’m still finding peace with some of the unanswerable questions in my own life, but I am thankful for the opportunity to help answer them for Arthur Morgan.
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