The AU Review’s Game of the Year 2018

Choosing your favourite game of the year is hard. We’ve done it every year since we founded The AU Review’s games section in 2014, and it never gets any easier. In 2018, we played so many incredible games that it became impossible to list and number every last one of them, so we opted not to do it at all. Instead, games editor David Smith and head games contributors Leah Williams and Matt Arcari have compiled fifteen of their favourite titles, crossing genres, platforms, indies and AAA alike, in no particular order.

 

Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee

This year, I gave out my first and only perfect 10 score to a video game – it was for Pokémon Let’s Go: Pikachu, and it’s never been more deserved. While it had its fair share of doubters (from a vocal minority in the Pokémon fandom), the game proved them all wrong.

With a simple but balanced linear story, memorable cities to explore and a range of iconic Pokémon to catch, it represented the very best of the Pokémon franchise and became one of the funnest (and prettiest) titles to date. – LW

A Way Out

In many ways, A Way Out was the surprise of the year for me. What seemed like an interesting premise to begin with, as two prisoners bond over a plan to escape all while becoming an unintentionally large part of each other’s lives outside of prison. While the story is not worth spoiling in any way, I was admittedly taken by the charm both protagonists bring to the table as two believable and relatable characters experiencing real world problems; minus the fact that they are prisoners. The game also throws in a ton of mechanics and sticky situations which really adds to the overall variety the story offers. It must be said that A Way Out is a complete cooperative experience from beginning to end, and I honestly couldn’t imagine playing it any other way. The bond created through the story is also a bond that you share between each other as players as you genuinely care for the well-being of your partner. Everything about this game game as a surprise, and is well worth at least one play through. It’s a wild ride. – MA

Celeste

In any number of ways, rogue-lite platformer Celeste is a delicate balancing act. This balancing act is represented most fully in its fundamentals — Celeste is crushingly difficult but understands the frustration that difficulty can cause. It’s a big part of why I like Celeste so much. The wide popularity of Dark Souls inspired a glut of games across numerous genres that were built to be hard for the sake of it. Games in this mould don’t seem to like the player very much, equating a meat-grinder difficulty with fun. And for some, I’m sure it is. For others (like me), not so much. Celeste is a game for people who want to be challenged, certainly, but it doesn’t come down on you for failing. In Celeste, failure is part of the journey. Celeste believes in you and you mustn’t give up. “You can do this.” – DS

Tetris Effect

The year’s best puzzle game by a wide mark, Tetris Effect is a beautiful experience that feels, in the moment, not unlike guided meditation. It takes the best elements of games like Lumines — specifically the marrying of music to falling block puzzles — and combines them with dazzling visuals. There’s a VR component too which we’re sure is a wild ride. – DS

Spider-Man

Capturing the magic of Spider-Man is difficult to do. It’s a rare feat that hasn’t been consistently achieved, although there have been some bright sparks in his video game franchise. Spider-Man eclipses the lot, injecting an epicness and sense of accomplishment rarely seen.

Swinging across the cities of New York was so fun and memorable that I found myself swinging in my dreams for weeks after playing. Couple that with an incredible, heartfelt story and a showcase for the best of the Spider-Man villains, and you’ve got a recipe for a game of the year. – LW

Spider-Man is my favourite Marvel superhero so it’s safe to say I was super pumped about a new game on the horizon. Insomniac Studios have managed to create what I see as the greatest Spider-Man game in existence while standing as one of the most well rounded and genuine representations of the character both in and out of the mask. Top it off with stellar graphics and gameplay that truly encapsulates the feeling pf speeding about through an incredibly detailed New York city fighting numerous familiar faces as well as interacting with some newer faces such as Miles Morales which quite frankly have never received tons of attention from mainline Spider-Man incarnations. An impressive story and quality voice acting only add to the legitimacy that this Spider-Man game is no joke, and I cannot wait for a sequel. – MA

Jurassic World Evolution

I did not expect a movie tie-in title to become one of my favourite games of the year. Jurassic World Evolution does everything right, creating a deep park management sim that uses a beloved IP to find new elements to explore. Simple enough to get into, the challenge begins to mount with each new island you open up. Running a large park takes a deft hand and a lot of patience — life always finds a way (to fuck up your quarterly financial forecasts) and you need to be ready for it. – DS

Vampyr

Vampyr felt like a game that I’d been waiting nearly 15 years for. Somehow, despite the wild 2008 boom in vampire fiction that followed Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight franchise, video game vampires had yet to receive their time in the sun until the release of Vampyr.

Vampyr succeeded in escaping the horror that was late-2000s vampire fiction, taking inspiration from classic vampire and gothic literature and carving out its own name. While it didn’t spark the vampire revival that I’d secretly hoped for, it managed to stand out in a year filled with superhero antics and action brawlers. – LW

Dragon Ball FighterZ

Dragon Ball FighterZ was a surprise on just about every level. It’s a genuinely great fighting game in its own right, it’s the first good Dragon Ball Z game in who knows how long and it stole Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite‘s wig in a way no-one could have anticipated. It captures the halting style of the beloved series’ animation without sacrificing speed or mechanical dexterity. Simple to pick up and difficult to master, it is very easy to see why FighterZ has built such a strong following in the competitive fighting game community so quickly. – DS

Red Dead Redemption 2

I try to refrain from using the word masterpiece when describing games, simply because no game is perfect, and the word should be reserved for only a few titles of such a prestigious nature. This is one of those titles. When you hear the name Rockstar, my mind immediately thinks ‘quality’. And here it is no different. While this isn’t my pick for game of the year (that goes to God of War) I can admit that so much of this game is done right it makes my head spin. The vast and detailed open world, the incredible graphics from water effects to environmental and lighting all the way to incredible award-worthy performances and the creation of memorable characters such as Arthur Morgan, I can see why this may take the crown for game of the year. The story is deep and emotional, the gameplay is fluid and functional and every moment spent with this game is an experience all on it’s own. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a masterpiece. – MA

Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire

Obsidian knocked the RPG game out of the park in 2018. The follow up to their successful CRPG throwback, Pillars of Eternity 2 takes players into the dangerous Deadfire Archipelago on a swashbuckling, island hopping pirate adventure against the backdrop of a mad god inadvertently set on destroying the world.

God of War

God of War was both a huge surprise and everything I expected. I know it sounds confusing, but there was no doubt in my mind that God of War would blow myths socks off as one of the premiere action titles of the year. However, it surprised me just how original the 4th entry in an admittedly ageing franchise could be. Set in Norse mythology this time around, God of War manages to pack exiting gameplay, stellar graphics, genuine and heartfelt performances across the board in a package that still manages to tell an engaging tale of a father longing to connect with his son. Yeah, that’s a God of War game. – MA

No Man’s Sky Next

I was right about No Man’s Sky and I will crow about it forever. No Man’s Sky Next was a vindication, not just for Hello Games’ sprawling vision for the title but also for every indie developer who’s ever been screwed over by a major publisher and left to weather the social media storm on their own. Despite Sony’s hanging them out to dry two years before they were ready to ship, despite the unprecedented, overwhelming backlash to the title at launch, Hello Games soldiered on. Next represented the game’s second major annual update since launch, marked its platform debut on the Xbox One and implemented numerous features — like universal multiplayer — that the developers had stated were on their way well before launch. If you haven’t played No Man’s Sky since then, now is the perfect time to come back. It’s a complete product now, and the game you wanted it to be. Put all the internet bullshit aside and try it again. You’ll see what I mean. – DS

Sea of Thieves

At launch, Sea of Thieves was beautiful but ultimately a bit empty. I enjoyed my time with the game, but it felt like we ran out of things to do in it very quickly. Thankfully, Rare have continued to support the game with wave after wave of content updates, adding new enemies, ships and features to keep the game bubbling along. As a multiplayer title built for hanging out after work, Sea of Thieves is without peer. The intersection of high stakes loot runs, co-operative ship management and idiotic multiplayer nonsense allows the game to bring something to the table that few team-based multiplayer games deal in — pure joy. All of Sea of Thieves‘ best moments are systemic, entirely random encounters with other players or computer-controlled denizens of the deep. Ship battles have an intensity you can’t replicate anywhere else, the feeling of discovery is almost constant and the sea sickness is extremely real. – DS

Forza Horizon 4

No other racing game even came close to Forza Horizon 4 this year. Despite my problems with the way the game changed its reward system to maximise monetisation, the Horizon series remains precise brand of racer. It rides the delicate line between arcade and simulation, but lets you tweak that balance to your satisfaction. It isn’t so much built around the desire to win but rather the desire to have a good time. Notching wins and taking the perfect racing line every single time? You want Forza Motorsport. Taking a $4 million sports car off-road and burying it up to the windshield in a river? Forza Horizon likes the way you think. The choice of the UK as its setting is a great one, as is Playground Games’ decision to eschew more obvious locations in favour of places and cities not commonly represented in video games. It’s also one of the most beautiful games on the Xbox One, and is a statement piece for anyone with an Xbox One X. – DS

—————-

What a year. After a list like that, we’re sure you understand why we ended up shaking this list out the way we did. There are so many that didn’t end up being featured — Return of the Obra Dinn, Into the Breach, Super Smash Bros Ultimate, Dead Cells and Dusk just to name a few off the top of our heads — and we wish we could have included them all but then the list would have been 500 items long and we wouldn’t have been able to go home for Christmas. We’d likely still be working on it now.

The AU Games team would like to extend our thanks to all of our wonderful contributors, past and present, for all their hard work this year. We wouldn’t have gotten through it all without you. To our readers, thank you for sticking by us, even when we turn up in fits and spurts. 2019 is looking like another mammoth year for games and we’re pumped to get started, but for now we’re taking a little break. We’ll see you back here in January.

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David Smith

David Smith is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously worked as a freelance games journalist and critic, appearing on PC World Australia. He tweets at @RhunWords and plays the odd game at twitch.tv/RhunWords when the internet works.