Coming off of 2017, which was a huge and exciting year for games to me, 2018 seemed to be off to a little bit of a slow start and I’m not quite sure I can say it ever recovered to be at the same level as 2017, but that’s not to say there weren’t quite a few good games this year, though it felt a little slow or derivative compared to the last few years.

I also didn’t get to play 100% of the games I wanted to check out this year, but I did play about 80-90% or so, so I can’t complain too much about that. I’m also going to refrain from including remasters here (which there were a number of very good ones this year) and focus more on new or original content instead.

This was also the year I made the jump to owning a virtual reality setup, since the technology, software library, and price all finally made it worthwhile for me, so I’ll be touching on that here as well on a few games.

Here’s my short list of great gaming experiences from this year:

Earth Defense Force 5 (PS4)

This long-awaited new entry in one of my top gaming franchises of all time has finally arrived in December 2018, with the 5th main series entry of Earth Defense Force. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, just think of Starship Troopers movies combined with 1950s and 60s sci-fi B-movies with giant insects and flying saucers, all wrapped up into fun 3rd-person shooter gameplay. The series started back in the early 2000s and has made steady improvements with each subsequent installment, with EDF5 easily being the most polished and fun so far. Keeping all the purposely wacky and bad sci-fi dialogue and references but upping the ante with crazy amounts of enemies on screen, full online multiplayer and more levels than ever before (110 of them..,) this is a package that will not disappoint fans of the series or anyone looking for a chaotic, fun 3rd person experience.

Ashen (Xbox One, PC)

Ashen is another game released just this month but has already become one of my favorite games of the year in the 40+ hours I’ve already spent with the game. Ashen is like if you took Dark Souls or Bloodborne and combined it with a more minimalist and unique art style, and had a full co-op system where you can play the whole game from start to finish online with a friend. It also includes a cool story/progression system where as you progress, you have a town of people and buildings that expand and grow with each new thing you accomplish, slowly turning into a full-fledged, living and breathing city by the end of the game, all built by the relationships you have with the inhabitants. This is also a shorter and more focused experience than most Souls-type games, which is a big bonus for me. It’s still taken about 40 hours to get through the main story once, not including the New Game+ and harder modes, but it’s much shorter than how much time I’ve seen many people sink into other similar games. It’s also part of Xbox Game Pass, so it’s easy to try on Xbox or PC if you already have a subscription.

Home Sweet Home (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

Home Sweet Home is a first-person horror game (which I’ll be the first to admit is a very tired genre/style as of 2018,) that does things a little differently than most. The game focuses on a lot of stealth, which I enjoy in my horror games, but also has some of the most disturbing visuals and sound design that I experienced this year. Not just full of jump scares left and right, the game manages to make you frightened even when there’s nothing there, just by the atmosphere and sound design. HSH is created by a development team from Thailand and uses a lot of the religious themes and mythology from Thai culture and folk tales and weaves them into a modern narrative, making for a much more unique experience from the typical kinds of stories you’ll see in these types of games. This is also available to play in VR, though the combination of the disturbing visuals and a movement system that hasn’t quite been perfected for VR yet caused me quite a few stomach aches along the way, so use the VR mode at your own risk.

Moss (PSVR)

As mentioned before, I finally purchased a VR setup this year, and one of the game that was actually included with the set I bought was Moss. I had heard about the game earlier this year but never really thought I’d get around to playing it, but I can say I’m very glad I did. Moss was pretty instrumental in making me realize how far the quality and uniqueness of VR games has come, since one of my biggest concerns with VR for a very long time was that almost every game was just a first-person game without much variety, as the nature of VR is being in first person. Instead of falling into all the general tropes that most VR games do, Moss showed me that there’s more unique types of gameplay that can be generated with a VR world, since Moss puts you in the position of an omnipotent creature that’s overseeing a world, but within the world you see, you’re also controlling a cute and fun 3D platformer game with your controller while viewing it dynamically through your VR headset. This was the most innovative use of VR I had seen yet and made me realize that it can definitely be more than just a gimmick if the right talent and minds are behind it. I’d recommend anyone who has a PSVR to check out Moss if possible. It’s also one of the most pretty and detailed VR worlds I’ve seen yet, with a gorgeous story-book or fairy tale quality throughout and great level/environment design.

Danger Zone 2 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

For anyone unfamiliar, the Danger Zone series is created by the folks who worked on many of the older Burnout games, who formed their own studio called Three Fields Entertainment. The focus of Danger Zone is basically an entire game that is the same as the Crash modes from Burnout games. If you’re not familiar, this means you control a car and you need to work out the specifics by trial and error to figure out how you can cause the most damage within each level based on how and where you drive and smash things up. The first Danger Zone was a lot of fun when it released back in 2017, but DZ2 ups the ante quite a bit, feeling like an even more accurate throwback to the Crash modes of old. The gameplay ends up being more puzzle-oriented than being a racing game by any stretch of the imagination, and seeing the destruction of the cars and environments is as fun as it gets, especially now with even more high-res and high-framerate gameplay.

The MISSING: JJ Macfield and the Island of Memories (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch)

The MISSING was easily one of my most anticipated titles of this year, to say the least, and I can say it met and exceeded every expectation I had for it after fully completing it. Created by Swery65, the mind behind masterpieces of weirdness and wonder like Deadly Premonition and D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die, The MISSING is arguably his best and most important game yet. Without spoiling too much (you really need to experience this for yourself,) this is a dark horror puzzle platformer, much similar in gameplay to games like Limbo, Little Nightmares, and Inside. However, The MISSING has tons more unique elements than any of those other games in every way. The main mechanic for solving puzzles involves purposely dismembering or mutilating your character in order to access certain areas or things, and it makes for some very visceral, horrifying, and exciting moments. I’d have to say the story of The MISSING is the best of any game I played this year, nearly bringing me to tears towards the end, and having some of the most emotional and thought-provoking elements of anything I experienced in 2018. This comes as highly recommended by me as can be.

Sea of Thieves (Xbox One, PC)

When Sea of Thieves launched early in 2018, it changed the way I thought about playing games online by thrusting you into a world where any other player could be a friend or foe, just based on how they felt like treating you, and the game having no restrictions on player interactions and no limits of where you go to explore. As 2018 went on, they kept adding more and more content to the game and updating so many of the features or things that could have used updating, so the experience has now become so optimized and expanded that it’s only gotten better with time. You can see my review from earlier in the year for more in-depth description of all this, but it’s an online game that’s unlike any other that you can jump into right now and definitely a recommended try to get a few of your friends together and see what adventure awaits you on the seas. The game is also in Game Pass for Xbox or PC and can easily be tried without having to invest a full price to see if it’s for you.

Minit (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch)

Minit is another game with a very unique style, where the gameplay plays out almost like a 2D Legend of Zelda or similar action RPG game, but with one big stipulation, and that is that the whole game is on a 1-minute timer and you die every time that timer runs out. This forces you to try to find alternate routes and strategies to complete certain objectives as quickly as possible, and always putting a fun level of urgency and dread to each run you do, trying to explore or complete as much as you can before you die and have to go back to your last checkpoint. The story is a lot of fun, and the visuals/sound design are top notch, featuring a very minimalist, black and white pixel-art style with very authentic 8-bit sound design. Definitely a very unique and worthwhile experience for anyone willing to sink a few minutes in, and I guarantee you’ll be hooked after those first few.

Shikhondo: Soul Eater (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch)

While Shikhondo doesn’t break any barriers or do anything terribly new for it’s genre, it is easily the best new title of it’s kind released this year. Shikhondo is a Korean-made bullet-hell shmup/shooter game that takes its influences heavily from the Touhou or DoDonPachi style games, but with an art style based on strange and creepy Korean folk tales/myths and it makes for some of the most exciting, pulse-pounding gameplay I’ve seen from this kind of game in years. The stages all have a nice flow and the bosses all feel like a major showdown between you and a massive destructive force, and most of the bosses end up being so creepy they’ll make you wince back into your seat. The music is high-intensity electronic/metal music that’s also mixed with traditional Asian/Korean style music which can go from EDM/dubstep to death metal and traditional Korean woodwind or stringed instruments within the same track. Definitely a good example of the genre done right, and if bullet hell shooters are anywhere on your radar, I would definitely recommend checking this out.

A Way Out (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

A Way Out is a title that is built from the ground up to be a fully co-op experience. This highly-cinematic and thrilling ride is a story of two convicts imprisoned at Alcatraz-style prison who plan an escape together and documents their relationship with each other from the day they both arrive in jail. A Way Out seamlessly and perfectly combines all of the best prison break and crime/action/adventure movies you’ve ever seen into a fully playable co-op game experience, full of amazing set pieces, thrilling and tense, gripping sequences from start to finish, including a story with enough twists and turns to keep you playing to the very end, and the gameplay usually has both players doing completely different things in different places, but meeting up from time to time, instead of being near each other most of the time, feeling more like a full co-op experience. One of the other biggest selling points of the game is that if you buy a copy of the game, you can invite any of your online friends on your platform of choice to play the game with you completely for free. Your friend just downloads an alternate version of the game for free and you can play the entire game with them without them having to purchase. So, there’s no excuse to not play this game co-op even if your friends are all poor. This is definitely an immaculately constructed cinematic game from start to finish and a great way to bond with a friend.

Bloodstained: Circle of the Moon (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch)

Bloodstained: CotM is a sort of spin-off game from a series that’s been in development for years now, and a total throwback to the 8-bit games of yesteryear, especially the Castlevania series. I did a full review of this earlier in the year, which you can read here, but if you’re a retro gamer who loves 2D action/platformers, Bloodstained is at the top of it’s class, with a perfect mix of new and old, and definitely worth your time if you fall into that category.

Remothered: Tormented Fathers (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

Remothered is a game that was in development and talked about for around 5 years, but was finally released in it’s full form in 2018. Remothered is a love letter in the most strong sense to the Clock Tower series, which is one of my all time favorites and a series that doesn’t really have many modern peers in the last 10 years. This is the hide-and-seek kind of horror game where you have very little ability to fight back against your attacker, but need to use your cunning to outsmart them instead. Unlike 2016’s NightCry (another Clock Tower spiritual successor,) Remothered is a perfectly modernized representation of this style of game, featuring a terrifying and huge Italian mansion and other locales as the backdrops for being chased by psychopathic killers. The story also features a ton of sharp turns and dark references to make you question what “family” really means. The difficulty is definitely pretty high here, just like its inspiration (Clock Tower,) so expect fierce resistance and a lot of failure on your way to escaping this nightmare, but it can be very rewarding once you figure things out and get used to the mechanics. Definitely recommended for classic horror gamers.

Call of Cthulhu (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

I’ve been a pretty big fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s work since I was a teenager, but we haven’t been blessed to have many great video games directly based on his work, though there have been many attempts at it, as well as a pen-and-paper RPG based on the Call of Cthulhu mythos too. This 2018 attempt at a Cthulhu video game actually managed to get everything very right, in a way that most of the games have not (besides Dark Corners of the Earth in 2005.) This game is actually largely based on the pen-and-paper RPG more than the original story itself, but it does an overwhelmingly good job at making you feel like you’re actually in an early 1900s New England and right in the middle of Lovecraft’s world. The gameplay is mostly puzzle and story oriented, with very little combat of any kind throughout, but really makes you feel like a detective who got sucked into this strange and macabre world. Many grotesque and disturbing scenes and situations are scattered throughout, and kept me very intrigued to the end. Definitely worth playing for any fans of Lovecraft, the tabletop RPG game, or just horror games in general.

Remasters

Since I mentioned earlier, I didn’t want to dwell too much on remasters, but we did get a lot of remasters of great games in 2018, many which were massive upgrades and some that were more just good modern ports of some of my favorite games of all time. Here’s a kind of “honorable mentions” list for the remasters I enjoyed a lot this year:

Money Puzzle Exchanger (Xbox One, PS4, Switch)
Twinkle Star Sprites (Xbox One, PS4, Switch)
Ketsui Deathtiny (PS4)
Spyro Reignited Trilogy (PS4, Xbox One)
Castlevania Requiem (PS4)
Game Tengoku: CruisinMix (PS4, PC)
Gal Gunvolt Burst (PS4)
Shenmue 1 & 2 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

Conclusion:

I hope this writing showed that even while 2018 as a whole felt less exciting as a whole for gaming in my book, there were still a lot of great games worth playing once you dig under the piles of junk or tired re-hashing of old ideas wrapped in new packaging that are also now released on a yearly basis in today’s market.

As always, feel free to hit me up and discuss games through various social media platforms or keep up to date with what I’ve been playing by visiting here: http://www.exophase.com/user/IDOLxISxDEAD

Hope to see you around next year, and hope gaming continues in a good direction and we can come back with just as many great ones at the end of 2019.