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December 26, 2018 7 min read
In my brief history with doing these top 10 lists for Giant Bomb dot Com (A website ostensibly about video-games), I feel like I’ve come to understand what probably makes the job of writing about games so difficult at times: the landscape is constantly changing. This is a challenge for developers too, but, when I sat down to make this list, I developed a perspective on what it’s like to walk a mile in the shoes of someone who has to write about this insanity for a living. I DIDN’T LIKE IT.
One of the games I played the most in 2018, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, was actually released a few years ago. I played it at first in 2015, but I like it a lot more now than I did then. Why is that? Well, that’s complicated, and I don’t feel like turning this into a 6000 word treatise, but more to the point: should I include it on my list? I’ve listened to the crew on the end of year podcasts debate if game X should qualify for category Y, and, yep, that’s a real thing. Also, what the heck does one do with Fortnite list-wise? It’s hard to think about 2018 as anything other than the year Epic curled up this world into a tiny ball and started kicking it down the street; but should it be on a list of games for 2018? These are the problems one must apply sober, rational thought to if one is in this line of work.
In the end, I realized, “Hey wait a minute dumbass, you’re not a journalist. You’ve already been fired from Giant Bomb Chicago. You don’t need to worry about that. Just do what you always do, i.e. do whatever you want and let the GB crew pick up the pieces after the fact.” Along those lines: Alex, sorry I turned in my list so late. It’s with that in mind I present to you an unordered list of games I enjoyed playing the most in 2018.
This has fallen out of my rotation over the last few months, but it’s undeniably a game I played (and enjoyed) a lot in 2018. In part of the 6000 words I’ll never write on Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, I’d write a lot about how PUBG drove me towards playing R6. How PUBG’s randomness that I once found so endearing, pushed me towards R6’s clockwork precision. I was a PUBG addict, and the only way off the wagon was to go full-on straight edge. I was cured; I was free. And then this infernal snow map has come out, and once again I’m feeling the need to hot drop School just one more time.
When the game first launched, I have to admit it didn’t immediately sink its hooks into me. This game, unlike FTL, is completely deterministic. It’s possible to have the entire simulation in your head and see how it will all play out. It takes a high degree of skill and thought to get to this point. When I started playing, I think my inability to fully see the consequences of my actions hindered my enjoyment of the game. But that’s just because I was thinking about it incorrectly. This game has more in common with Spelunky than FTL, and once I understood this truth something clicked within me and I began to appreciate this game for what it is: a masterpiece. Unlike FTL, every time something goes wrong it’s 100% the player’s fault. Whatever catastrophe that just killed your Brute was avoidable. If the player has a deep understanding of all abilities in the game, every map is winnable. Acquiring that mastery is where the fun comes in.
There’s a group of co-workers that I consistently play games with. Keyser always wants to play Overwatch. Ramon wants to play Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Kurt wants to play something none of us have. Warhammer: Vermintide 2 was, for a bit this year anyway, our common ground. We’d get together and smash rat-people in the face, and turns out that’s pretty fun! I never played the first Vermintide, so I came into this game cold, and if I’m being honest I still don’t really get the combat (blocking and dodging are essential to getting gud from what I gather, and I just can’t be bothered), but if you can get three other friends into a party and smash some rat-skull together, it can quickly become a “just one more map” situation.
The first half of this year I watched a lot of Overwatch League. I started watching not due to an overwhelming interest in the game, but just to stay on top of all this eSports business that’s happening these days. I watched on the treadmill. I watched from my desk. I watched from bed. And then I started playing. I hadn’t booted up Overwatch much since the game first launched in 2016, and once I started playing again, I couldn’t remember why I stopped. I don’t play ranked, just grind Casuals and Arcade (which if I’m being honest might be why I’m having so much fun), but I do find myself thinking about an alternate universe where I never stopped playing back in 2016. I can see a reality wherein I became the best NA Mercy (I’m currently the #3 Mercy in Chicago by my calculations), with 500 hours under my belt. This alternate reality makes me happy.
I haven’t played a lot of straight Team Death Match in any game since Halo 3. Multiplayer modes have slowly but surely became more complex, and my tastes have transitioned along with the games. The notion of roles and classes started to make their way into more than just that Valve game with the hats you can buy. Traditional multiplayer modes were left behind. That’s what makes BLOPS4 so shocking to me: I bought it thinking I would be playing Blackout, but I’m not. I’ve barely touched COD’s entry in the Battle Royale genre. Instead I have been grinding traditional multiplayer and loving every minute of it. I’ve even been playing Hardcore modes! Me! I’m 46 and have the reflexes of a drunken manatee, and yet I’m having a blast. If I were to ever write my previously mentioned 6000 word essay, BLOPS4 would be a footnote for sure; a data point demonstrating to the reader that after gorging on 300 hours of the chaos that is PUBG, I personally needed to return to the basics. And the basics are strong with this one.
I still haven’t gotten around to firing up God of War or Spider-Man, so I can’t personally weigh in on the resurgence of AAA single player games on PS4, and at the rate I’m making my way through RDR2 I possibly never will, but it’s hard not to be awed with the audacity of this game. To say it looks amazing is an absurd understatement. To say the production value is best-in-class is hard to argue against. The scope of the game is mind-numbing at times. That’s not to say there’s nothing wrong with the game, I find the gunplay to be stiff for instance, but without question I still love this game. One of the first quests I completed was to kill The Legendary Bear (shotgun to the head, BLAP!), after which I made a hat out of its cavernous skull. Now, when I’m riding around the world, I look forward to my interactions with rando NPCs. These NPCs can be put into two different categories: The first type greet me respectfully and the second type crack wise about my hat. If the latter happens outside of a town, they catch some hot ones. Every time, no exceptions. To the people at Rockstar who put that tiny detail into the game: Thank you, I love you all very much.
When all the news broke about Square Enix divesting themselves of IO Interactive, I made a lot of predictions. These were mostly of the drunk-on-a-couch-during-a-livestream-shouting-you-will-never-have-another variety. Thank goodness I was so very, very wrong. Every lesson IO learned about making HITMAN during Season 1 they carried into this sequel. It has every UI, UX, and quality of life improvement made during that span, and just starts off HITMAN 2 with these improvements intact. On top of this near-perfect platform for IO’s morbid recipe for fun, they layer a handful of amazing new levels. My only real gripe with Season 1 is that the quality of the levels was fairly inconsistent. Not to say any were bad, but the delta between, say, Sapienza and Marrakesh is pretty jarring. All the levels in HITMAN 2 are great, and the detail put into the set pieces scattered throughout said levels is the reason I’ve played them all numerous times. Oh, also, I blew up Sean Bean real good.
When this first launched in 2015 (!) my friends and I played it on PS4. We mostly did Terrorist Hunts and PvE-related things. The few times we tried Multiplayer we were routed and scared off the mode immediately. Still, I always looked back fondly on those nights and would occasionally attempt to rally support to take it for another spin. This didn’t happen until this year, when Ubisoft offered up this fantastic game on a Steam Free Weekend. It was a lucky turn of events that most of my game-playing friends were home that weekend, and most of us had more deeply embraced PC gaming during since our first dip into the game back in 2015. I dove into R6 that weekend and haven’t looked back.
To be clear, I stink. The game requires an insane amount of situational awareness which I lack. I lack it in part because to have said awareness, you need a deep understanding of map layouts, and operator abilities. Did the other team pick Thermite or Hibana when they were last on attack? Did they open up holes in the walls/floors/ceilings to catch you off guard with Buck? On and on. The level is a fluid, evolving thing in R6, and it flows around and through the special abilities of the operators deployed therein. You need a deep understanding of both things to be good at this game.
Which is why I’m stunned by how much I love it. I spent the last half of this year just getting raked over the coals. But every time I die, I learn something. I get satisfaction from just getting better at R6, just getting closer to that ever elusive “Hey I’m Competent” place of high honor. Maybe I’ll get there in 2019.
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