“Spider-Man” (Insomniac Games)
“Spider-Man” for PS4 comes out the gate in the midst of the superhero craze, and it makes for an incredible experience. Being the first “Spider-Man” console game in nearly five years, there were high expectations for the web-slinger’s latest entry. Thankfully, I’m happy to say that many expectations were met and then shattered over the course of this game. An effective way to see the quality of the title is through its narrative. I’ve never been as engaged with a story in gaming as much as this one, as it felt like I was actually playing through a Marvel movie — action and all. As for gameplay, the leveling system encourages exploration, which is thankfully a joy to do. Simply swinging from building to building, doing tricks and exploring New York City is addictive, and it’s exactly what Spider-Man is all about, putting the player into the hero’s shoes even further. Combat — being another important system of the game — is done creatively and effectively, giving a wide array of options and freedom in how to tackle the bad guys. Different suits and gadgets allow for hundreds of combinations and strategies, making for the most customizable “Spider-Man” game ever. If I was able to choose sequels for games from this year, “Spider-Man” effortlessly makes the list: It’s a must-have from 2018. -Kyle Engels
“Celeste” (Matt Makes Games)
This sweet little game about anxiety and depression is a loving tribute to precision platformers. I don’t think anyone expected this to blow up the way it did. It’s hard to say just how widespread of a success “Celeste” was — we have no solid sales numbers — but as the game which regularly tops the Nintendo Switch’s sales charts, some moderate success can be assumed. It’s by far the most popular speedrunning game of the year.
On top of all that it’s just good: It looks good, it plays good and has a good message. It executes all its elements perfectly in tandem with one another and is a classic in the making. It tells its story, its mechanics enforce that story and it never overstays its welcome (unlike some other prominent recent releases). If you have time to play only one game this year, make it “Celeste.” Make it the game which is complete and tight and heartfelt, not one of the dozens of AAA experiences on the market which persists for dozens of hours or, like “God of War,” execute a brilliant story, only to forego any sort of closure or meaning in favor of a sequel hook. -Marty Forbeck
“Shadow of the Colossus” (Bluepoint Games)
At a certain level it’s hard to even list this as a 2018 entry. Conceived as a point-for-point remake of one of gaming’s all-time classics, “Shadow of the Colossus” manages to be just that. It’s the same great game you remember from 2005, just with all the assets and models redone so it looks more like a modern game. With entries like the “Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy” and “Spyro Reignited Trilogy” pouring onto the market, this sort of thing is starting to become standard practice for older classics. “Shadow” lacks some of the bells and whistles of those other entries — the addition of new content or features to supplement the original experience would’ve been much appreciated.
But “Shadow” is still noteworthy, if only because it plays and looks better than most any other remaster ever released on the market — and because it is an adaptation of a much better game than its competitors. Bluepoint Games is making a name for itself in the realm of remastering with titles like this: polished, good-looking products that are deeply faithful to the source material. But honestly, you could’ve reissued “Shadow of the Colossus” in its original format and it still would’ve gotten better reviews than the latest instance of the “Devil May Cry: HD Collection.” -Marty Forbeck
“Dragon Ball FighterZ” (Arc System Works)
“Dragon Ball FighterZ” is a recently released tag-team fighting game from renowned developer ArcSystemWorks. As the name would imply, “DBFZ” is based on the Japanese manga and anime of the same name. Because of this, the title delivers high-speed brawls that look to be ripped right out of the show. Being both a “Dragon Ball” and fighting game fan, this entry is an absolute blast. At first glance, “DBFZ” builds upon the foundation laid by previous anime fighters, with visual design and presentation at an all-time high. If you’re a fan of deep-shadowed animation, you’re in for a visual treat. The game’s mechanics are also much more beginner-friendly than one may initially believe with easy ways to close in on an opponent, and thus inspire more players to sharpen their skills. “DBFZ” just as effectively rewards players who are well-accustomed to the genre, providing a layer of complexity in its mechanics waiting to be uncovered. Besides fighting itself, the wide range of modes allow for a variety of intense matches, such as 3v3 battles, where six players must fight simultaneously, and coordination is key. All in all, “Dragon Ball FighterZ,” in my opinion, easily secures the spot for this year’s best fighting game, and it stands among the best games of 2018. -Kyle Engels
“PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds” (PUBG Corporation)
It’s glitchy, unbalanced, poorly optimized and its lobbies are toxic waste pools of hatred and foul language. Most importantly, it’s currently being beaten into a pulp by a game which is better funded, more accessible and arguably better-polished.
Despite all that, it helped start the “Battle Royale” game: one player vs. 100, last man standing wins, giant maps with long periods of waiting around doing nothing, just letting the tension build. It’s one of those ideas like “Minecraft” or “Harry Potter.” All the pieces were there, all the little inspirations and recombinant tropes. In retrospect, it seems almost obvious to put them all together — it’s just that one person happened to be the first to do it. In “PUBG’s” case, especially given how badly they’re now being beaten, you almost have to question if it was the right person.
“PUBG” technically released back at the end of 2017, but the battle between it and “Fortnite” dominated this entire year. Given that the developers just finished a months-long campaign to “fix” the game, it’s getting harder to say when anything is finished anymore. “Fortnite” is one of the most popular games in the world, but it still claims to be in Early Access: unfinished.
The point is, when people look back on 2018 in gaming, the “Battle Royale” craze is going to be one of the first topics of discussion. And, for better and worse, “PUBG” is the game that started it all. -Marty Forbeck