The Five Best Games from 2018

2018 was a year filled with a lot of firsts for me - especially regarding the video game industry. It was the first year I was paid for a freelancing gig. It was the first time I went to an industry event. It was my first playthrough of a Dark Souls game. As I look back over the last twelve months, I also remember some games that I was really fond of. After a lot of thought (read: six minutes), here are five games from 2018 that left the best impression on me, and that I think are worth recommending.

5. UNRAVEL TWO
The more intimate a co-operative game can go, the better. There are many games that have co-op in there for the sake of having it, but if it never feels like it's bringing two people closer together, then it's pointless. Unravel Two does not fall into this trap. Set on a stormy island , two players control animated creatures made from yarn known as Yarnys, and they must solve puzzles as they explore the island.

Unravel Two portrays its mood through music and colour. While following the two Yarnys on their adventure, a similar story is occurring in the background involving two teenagers as they rebel against the world around them. As the sound gets harsher, the screen darker and the puzzles harder, there is a clear expression in how the emotional toll of the story shifts, and we the players understand exactly how those characters are feeling without hearing any dialogue or seeing any faces. It's particularly fun to play with people who don't typically play puzzlers.

4. PARATOPIC
Paratopic is described as "David Lynch meets David Cronenberg" and I would say that's a pretty accurate descriptor. Being only one hour long, it's hard to size this up against some of the behemoths released this year, but Paratopic is probably the best horror game of the year. simply because it managed to portray dread much better than anything else I've played.

The game follows the stories of three unnamed characters: the assassin, the photographer and the smuggler. What makes Paratopic special is its jaggy, polygonal graphics and the glitchy, synthetic music that accompanies it. In many ways, the horror of the game is depicted by everything not feeling quite right, creating this consistent sense of dread throughout the whole thing. The crackly voice acting in particular is really creepy. It's short and experimental, but I think Paratopic deserves to be remembered as a weird adventure that just about manages to pull off what it sets out to accomplish.

3. MINIT
Speaking of experimental puzzlers, Minit takes the cake for featuring one of the most inventive mechanics I've seen all year. In Minit, you play the game sixty seconds at a time - meaning you begin, make some progress and then you die. You respawn and you pick up from where you left off.

The beauty of Minit is that every small thing you accomplish in each life carries over to the next. Collect a new item, open a door or activate a hidden secret, it'll be there waiting for you when you come back. Eventually, you will be able to optimise yourself so that you can complete a lot within a minute. It's genuinely surprising how much you can do in that space of time. Combine this with the unsettling ticking of the clock and monochrome Undertale-inspired graphics and it almost feels like a horror game in disguise.

2. HITMAN 2
Having played the Hitman series since I was a small child, it's no secret that a new entry to the series would be up high on my list. 2016's Hitman did a lot of favours, pulling the franchise away from Absolution's more linear structure and bringing back the open-ended mission design the original games featured.

When I reviewed the game last month I called it "unbelievably fun" and "a phenomenal experience". Considering I've probably put in about a hundred more hours since then, I firmly stand by that statement. Being able to enter a level you've played a dozen times, and still find new things to do is part of what makes it special. The way you can manipulate the way the different systems work - like moving around pieces on a chessboard - makes Hitman 2 an excellent puzzle stealth game.

Since release, it has already received a decent amount of post-launch content including a handful of new contracts and escalations, with many more on the way to extend the game's life after you've exhausted the main story missions. There was also the Sean Bean elusive target from last month, which I passed with a five-star rating. I really doubt I'm going to get sick of this game any time soon.

1. HOLLOW KNIGHT

I usually don't have fun with metroidvanias, and yet I loved Hollow Knight. An insect-like warrior known only as The Knight explores a vast underground world known as Hallownest. Along the way, they encounter the possessed remainder of Hallownest's former residents, who are slowly succumbing to a mysterious infection. As with other metroidvanias, Hollow Knight is all about exploration. The Knight will discover secret areas, find hidden connections and battle tough bosses as they journey deeper into Hallownest. Even after trudging through an area for the hundredth time, I would often keep discovering new things to do, and it became almost like an addiction to search every last corner of the world.

I know this is probably a cop out, since Hollow Knight actually released in 2017. However, my playthrough of the game was on the Switch edition which did in fact release this year, so I'm deciding that counts.

What I especially adored about this game is the art style. Muted blues and greys are mixed with more brazen colours to create this vivid look of a hostile place slowly being corrupted by a mysterious force. The characters are very alien-like in design; they look both friendly and dangerous depending on the context, as many start out as allies only to become foes later on (or vice versa!). In essence, the world of Hallownest feels like a nightmare fabricated by a child. The soundtrack is haunting but also wondrous, as each area's distinct theme creates a feeling of both safety as you grow more familiar with it. The game may be really difficult at times, but I think Hollow Knight is a remarkably beautiful experience that wasn't topped by anything else this year.
There are still so many games that I have yet to play. I never got round to seeing Kassandra's abs in Assassin's Creed Odyssey, nor did I ever feel the breeze of New York in Spider-Man. Hopefully I'll get to these some day, but for now it's time to look ahead to 2019. From Metro: Exodus to Gears 5, Untitled Goose Game to Anthem; there will be plenty to look forward to. I'm personally hoping it will be the year we address some of the more problematic parts of the games industry. Discussions on crunch, loot crates and the treatment of women and minorities have all taken place this year, but it's about time we take more action to ensure gaming is a better space for all. See you all next year!

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