Jordan Rees’ Top Ten Games of 2018

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10 Far Cry 5

From the Click Click Play review:

Ultimately, there’s plenty to criticise about Far Cry 5. The story is cliche-filled and quickly loses its edge, control is taken away from the player far too often – with each of the three secondary antagonists capturing our hapless hero multiple times, non-player characters joke and bark idiotic nothings in complete contrast to the dire setting, leaps of logic are rampant (why oh why doesn’t the player just escape the county to find help? And how doesn’t anyone from the outside world notice a bonified civil war kicking off in small town USA? … #VideoGames), the final boss fight is strangely low key and the end sequence is baffling (but kind of cool) with little payoff… the list goes on.

But none of these gripes really matter in the face of such a fun and open-ended sandbox that looks this good and plays this well. All the chatter around if the game is ‘political enough’ is largely the result of an unforced error by Ubisoft that I’m sure they’ll never risk repeating. It’s also quite a depressing indictment of our social climate that we would actively look to something as innocuous and disposable as a Far Cry game, of all things, for our political musings but here we are, I guess…

You can read my full Far Cry 5 review here

9 Octopath Traveller

I was totally hot for Octopath Traveller from the very first public showing of the game. It was clear that if nothing else – Square had a beautiful and charming release on its hands; the 2D/3D hybrid ‘pop-up book’ aesthetic is simply gorgeous, and pairs perfectly with Nintendo’s ‘do more with less’ philosophy. The promise of an expansive old-school JRPG in the mould of classic Final Fantasy entries like V & VI was alluring, especially given the acute identity crisis currently plaguing the series. The three-hour demo did little to lower expectations; a truly generous slice of the game that allowed players to transfer their progress upon release (more of this, please!).

After the first 30-or-so hours exploring Orsterra, my assumption was that Octopath would make the top half of this list – maybe even top 3. But it’s at the 40-60 hour mark that the game starts to creak a little. The conceit of offering eight unique starting characters, each with their own core narrative and abilities, weighs heavily on the game – to the point where I question the approach over a more traditional setup. With each new character that joins the team, it becomes clearer that their introductory missions are templated, their ‘unique’ powers aren’t all that unique and are sometimes useless or useful to the point of being broken. Worst of all – approximately half of the characters and their associated narratives are at best boring and at worst – crap.

So why does it make the list at all? Well as time goes on, I find myself reminiscing fondly on the time I spent with Octopath. This is largely due to the presentation – the luscious towns and dungeons are jaw-dropping, especially on a handheld screen, and the score is up there with some of Square’s best (check it out). It’s also well worth noting that the combat mechanics and encounters are a triumph, with battles that feel challenging and almost puzzle-like, and the Job & Break systems allowing for some surprisingly dynamic faceoffs.

I’d love to see more games in this style. Lose the multiple paths/characters nonsense, focus on telling a worthwhile story, double down on what Octopath got right, and it could be something really, really special.

8 Fallout 76

Fallout 76 is a buggy mess. Fallout 76 has a poorly defined endgame. Fallout 76 isn’t optimised for online/co-operative play. Fallout 76 has broken PvP. Fallout 76 is ugly. Fallout 76 is rushed. Fallout 76 is a cash grab. Fallout 76 deserves to fail…

Fallout 76 is one of the best co-op experiences that I’ve ever had in a game, and some of the most fun and engaging 95 (give or take) hours that I’ve spent gaming in 2018.

The most irritating thing about the latest Bethesda Games Studio release isn’t the bugs (they can and will be fixed) – it’s the way that they’ve played into the hands of ill-informed industry pundits who parrot the same boring, nonsense opinions ad nauseum…

You can recognise these types by just mentioning the word Skyrim within earshot of them. If their go-to comment is “buggy mess lol” or “when can I buy it for my microwave lol” then you know that you’re dealing with someone who is incapable of sensibly considering why a seven-year-old game is still very much part of the gaming zeitgeist, and why said game might have a few more stability issues than the latest cookie cutter version of Assassin’s Creed.

Fallout 76 is the buggy mess that these kinds of people insist on claiming that every Bethesda WRPG is. And by providing this kind of ammunition to its detractors, Bethesda has not only damaged its position as a top-tier developer but also made convincing consumers that online elements can work well in their masterfully simulated worlds all the harder. Which is a damn shame, as it turns out that playing these kinds of games with friends makes for a bloody good time.

7 CHASM

In a year that saw a renaissance and/or glut of Metroidvania type games (we really need to get away from that identifier…), the one that stood out to me was, ironically, the one that seemed to get the shortest shrift from critics…

CHASM is a love letter to a game that many see as the yet unsurmounted pinnacle, and indeed part namesake, of the aforementioned genre – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. And for my money, CHASM is the first game that I’ve played since Symphony that really nails the fundamentals of what these games should offer…

Crisp, weighty combat that encourages endeavour but punishes arrogance. Tight, responsive platforming that makes exploration tense yet satisfying. And an oh-so-gradual character progression that effectively balances delivering a sense of increased power with maintaining a satisfying level of challenge. Add randomised level design for each playthrough, New Game+ and weekly challenges to the mix and it becomes difficult to argue that CHASM isn’t one of the best action-platformers that we’ve seen in years…

6 Celeste

WhyYouShouldPlayCeleste.avi

5 Monster Hunter World

Monster Hunter is a series that I’ve always admired from afar. Too young to really appreciate it in the PS2/PSP days, and unconvinced by the choice of native hardware in the Wii/DS days – Monster Hunter World was the full-fat, mainline entry that I’d wanted for over for a decade. And Capcom didn’t disappoint…

The combat is deep, with a silly amount of weapon variants that all boast individual movesets and uses. Taking on the game alone is a challenge akin to Souls, and both series mitigate accessibility concerns by allowing the player to summon help in the form of online randoms. Character progression is crazy detailed and, at least from this newcomer’s perspective – promises dozens if not hundreds of hours of meaningful customisation that games like Destiny, The Division, Warframe etc should take a good, hard look at.

Complaints around some stiff and unintuitive multiplayer implementation aside, World is, by practically all measures I can think of, a home run for the franchise. It looks and plays great (a little framey on console, unfortunately), it does a commendable job of onboarding new players despite its hardcore, and sometimes unreasonably inaccessible, heritage, and most importantly – it sold shitloads

I struggle to imagine a reality where Capcom isn’t already gearing up for an even further refined follow-up to Monster Hunter World on the PS5/XboxTwo…

4 Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

There are five things that I wanted from a new Smash Bros game:

  • Keep the cast of Smash Bros Wii U (Cloud is so beautiful)ideally add even more
  • Return to the faster paced, technical feeling of Melee
  • Be on a good console
  • Have online that works
  • Prove to me that I’m as good at the game as I think I am

After playing Ultimate for a couple of weeks, I can confirm the following:

  • EVERYONE IS HERE!
  • The game feels faster and more technical than both entries since Melee
  • It’s on Switch – one of the best consoles known to man
  • I’ve played more than 100 online matches with almost no issues
  • I’m not as good as I thought I was…

Ultimate is an absolute joy for Smash fans like me who have felt let down time and time again since those heady, weed-fueled days in the 2000s where Melee ruled supreme. Having the ability to play a quick competitive match without having to organise a social occasion will be a reason for me to keep a Switch wired-up for at least the next half-decade.

Thank you, Nintendo. Thank you, Sakurai San.

3 Shadow of the Colossus

Conventual thinking dictates that a work of bonified interactive art, such as Shadow of the Colossus, should be remastered but not remade. Maintained but not ‘improved’. How could a modern development studio, let alone an outsourced one, possibly capture the minimalistic soul and unrelenting majesty that Fumito Ueda’s 2005 classic dared to present to a gaming public far too preoccupied with the baser pleasures of Guitar Hero and F.E.A.R?

Enter Bluepoint Games.

Bluepoint’s version of Colossus isn’t just a polished up-res with a better framerate (although if you want that, they already had you covered with their Ico & SotC collection in 2011), and it certainly isn’t some kind of cursed ‘reimagining’, desperately attempting to woo the Fortnite generation. No – Shadow of the Colossus (2018) is a painstakingly constructed, artfully conceived, and lovingly rendered vision that somehow, someway, has become the recommended means to enjoy Wander & Agro’s odyssey.

Given this minor miracle, the question now becomes – ‘what does Bluepoint do next?’. To which I which I humbly and hopefully reply – Metal Gear fucking Solid.

2 Red Dead Redemption 2

Rockstar has been pulling off the same magic trick for 17 years now. Somehow, they create open-worlds that are a generation or two ahead of the competition – detailed and interactive in ways that other games haven’t even hinted at. Pedestrians seem to have personalities, destinations, goals. Architecture is impossibly varied and layered, steeped in a fictional history that mirrors the real-life inspirations. Weather conditions, dynamic lighting, audio barks from passers-by, all come together to create spaces that, at least for a time, feel tangible and eye-wateringly impressive.

It’s an approach that doesn’t come without cost, in multiple senses of the word. Time – gone are the days of annual marquee releases; there was a five-year gap between GTA V & Red Dead 2, and that dev cycle is only likely to expand further. Money – we don’t know the exact amount, but intelligent estimates for Red Dead 2 are around $200m + marketing (so probably double that). Effort – making good video games is never easy, but by most accounts, Rockstar took this to a troubling extreme when it came to forging their more recent AAA behemoths.

The reassuring thing about Rockstar and the state of its team can be found in the easily identifiable counters to these concerns. Time – Rockstar’s business model now heavily relies on interim re-releases of their latest title – look how long GTA V has stayed in the charts, jumping between console generations and then onto PC – it doesn’t matter how long your game takes to make if the previous is still selling like hotcakes. Money – even if Red Dead 2 cost $600m all in – it made more than that in the first few days on the market, and will continue to sell (at a clean profit) for years to come. Effort – Rockstar’s response to the recent working conditions outcry was well executed, and it genuinely seems like they’ve made real strides in effectively managing the work/life balances of their wider team.

It’s telling that nearly two months after release, many, if not most, players still haven’t completed Red Dead 2’s campaign. The game is as vast as we’ve come to expect but also begs the player to take their time and revel in the experience. This cowboy simulator is just that – a near photorealistic and staggeringly detailed recreation of America’s West in the late 1800s. The leather of Arthur’s boats seems to crack as he jumps from his horse, building interiors are bespoke and feel lived in – reflecting the personalities of their inhabitants, NPCs walk, stagger, dance, and fight via beautifully tailored animations that notably vary from one person to the next, and each square mile of the environment is handcrafted, with hills, caverns, treelines, and shores forming a naturalistic biome that puts other attempts at similar world-design to shame.

The first ten or so hours that I spent slowly unraveling this witchery were revelatory, and some of the most immersive that I’ve ever experienced. The game marries technical grunt with soulful exposition in a way that renders its significant budget an utter bargain. It’s a sensation that I haven’t really felt since first playing GTA IV, and before that – San Andreas, and before that – GTA III… You get the picture.

This is a prestige release – quite possibly the only prestige release that we’ve really had in the medium – and it’s a release that forgoes some (many would argue too much) accessibility in order to pursue artistic ends; something that I’d love to see other high-profile studios attempting more.

It may be a magic trick of diminishing returns, but for now at least, when it comes to creating living, breathing open-worlds – Rockstar are without equal.

1 God of War

In 2016, I thought nothing could shock me more than the British people voting to leave the European Union.

THEN

In 2017, the Amercian people voted to elected Donald J. Trump as their President and Leader of the Free World.

Nothing could or would beat that, right?

THEN

In 2018, Jordan Rees decided that a God of War game (!!!) was not only his Game of the Year, but also one of the most well-crafted video games… ever.

2019 is going to have to be bloody mental!

Now look – this is in no way meant to diminish any of the previous iterations of the franchise. God of War has been a staple and technical showpiece of Sony’s first-party output ever since it’s PS2 debut…

But God of PS4 is just a different beast…

Sony Santa Monica has taken the mature and cinematic storytelling that now lies at the heart of so many PlayStation exclusives and used it as a vehicle to soft reboot Kratos, not to mention the world in which he resides, into something unrecognisably subtle, emotive, and substantive. Naughty Dog raised the bar for this kind of storytelling via their spectacular The Last of Us, and it’s fitting that God of War now picks up this mantle with a story that also has a parent/child relationship at its centre.

But God of War isn’t just jumping on the bandwagon here – Santa Monica goes toe to toe with Naughty Dog’s finest and, in some respects, even comes out on top. There’s no cognitive dissonance when it comes to slaughtering hundreds of enemies, ala Uncharted, here, and Atreus moves between his cinematic and gameplay forms much more elegantly that Ellie in The Last of Us ever managed. Obviously, the more fantastical setting helps to avoid these issues, but they are just some examples of how incredibly well God of War is put together…

The story really goes places but is ultimately subdued given the subject matter – and is all the better for it. You build a bond with your son and you come to understand Kratos as a man, as a husband, as a god, and as a father. The supporting cast is small but each interaction builds the tension and is meaningful.  The cinematography is mind-blowing, with the entire ~40 hours seemingly taking place via a single camera shot. The graphical fidelity and incredibly slick action sequences stand out as some of this generation’s best and have fuelled countless GIFs and photo-mode snaps on social media.

Time and time again you’re left awestruck by some impossibly large Nordic mythical entity that fills the entire screen or smashes the environment into an alternate form. By far my favourite example of which is Jörmungandr, a sentient serpent so large that his body can be seen from virtually any point of the game’s map – a trick that helps to create a sense of tangible space in a way that I haven’t seen done as well since Dark Souls 3.

By the game’s end, I was left fully satisfied with the conclusion but also hugely excited about where the next chapter/s can go. The likely major beats are signposted pretty heavily, and some less apparent hints are also playfully sprinkled throughout the world. Again – it’s really saying something that I and so many others like me who once were apathetic at best towards this franchise are now diehard fans…

Your move, Naughty Dog…

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