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Dec 31, 2018

Scott Ellison II’s Top 10 Games of 2018

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Video games are a form of escapism, and this was a year we needed that more than ever. It’s great that 2018 had some amazing games, from the beginning all the way through until the end. There was something for everyone to enjoy and spend upwards of 100 hours playing. While it made the task of formulating a list of the best games of the year especially difficult, this is a good problem to have.


Honorable Mentions:

There are some games that I played this year that didn’t quite get a slot as one of the top 10 games of the year from me, but are worth making an honorable mention. These are games I think you should check out if you’ve dismissed them, or just plain missed them (yes, this is actually me cheating to add more games to the list)…

Phantom Doctrine

What if you took the TV show “The Americans” and mixed it with XCOM? You’d get Phantom Doctrine, a deep and complex game where you play as either a member of the KGB or CIA set to take down the fictional Cabal organization, with inspiration taken from real-world events. CreativeForge was committed to 80s technology, conspiracy, and tension surrounding the Cold War to elevate each of its tent poles. Aside from tactical gameplay, there’s a management element that’s equally as robust and fun to play with. With two branching storylines, and dozens of hours of content, Phantom Doctrine is satisfying at every turn. In year full of great tactics and strategy games, CreativeForge’s Phantom Doctrine works well because of its great world-building, story events, management, and its tactical prowess.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

While Call of Duty has been an annual release since 2007, the most daring and exciting change happened this year with Black Ops 4. Eschewing a single-player, story-driven campaign for battle royale called Blackout. While it doesn’t do anything much different than other battle royale games, it has a level of polish and tight controls you are familiar with, to be highly replayable by constantly getting you back for another match. The other staples, multiplayer and zombies return and they are in top-form, feeling and playing the best in years. The trifecta of modes is Call of Duty‘s most well-rounded multiplayer suite offering you won’t find in a one game anywhere else, than in Black Ops 4.


Last but certainly not least, is the most deserving of an honorable mention: Paratopic. A short-form horror game that looks like a lost PlayStation 1-era game that could have been written and directed by David Lynch. Arbitrary Metric’s first game as a studio is amazing, haunting, and spliced up in the most spectacular of ways. It won’t take you much time to see it through, or cost you much money, but it has lasting effects that will ruminate with you long after you’ve played it. Paratopic is the kind of game that will have you thinking that you underpaid for it.



The List:

And here are my favorite games I played this year, in a very specific order…


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10) Prey – Mooncrash

Prey was a mindfuck in 2017, and one of the best games of the year. It just did so many things right, and it was better than anyone thought it would be. Arkane Studios has done some amazing levels and design with Dishonored, and Prey took things to a new place with it’s connected world and trippy story. Now, Mooncrash is not a full game, but an expansion. It secures this spot because it feels and acts like its own game though it follows the events of the main game, and how well it manages to perfect the roguelike formula. Mooncrash asks you to get five characters off the moon through different means. Each person’s exit strategy is different, and managing all five in a single run is no easy feat – evidenced by the fact I haven’t been able to do this yet. But I instead restarted often in order to level up each character to make them strong enough to execute their exit strategy. On top of that, there’s an added layer of tension due to deaths that result in restarts, but because there is no saving or checkpoints ever. Arkane Studios has made the single best DLC, expansion, and extension to a main game I’ve played. Not only did Mooncrash absolutely turn the roguelike genre on its head, but they made a different kind of game within the game.


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9) Two Point Hospital

In my review, I admit that I’ve played next to nothing of Theme Hospital at its original release, or in its GOG re-release form. So, I didn’t have the nostalgia for the series or the developers at play. But thanks to Two Point Studios, helmed by the original creators for this spiritual successor, Two Point Hospital was something I could play for the first time without the reverence. And the game on its own is very good, albeit incredibly silly (as it should be). The game gently ramps up from a basic hospital with a few ailments, and in several hours I was running multiple wings of a hospital that covered specific cases with a level of efficiency that I was happy with. There are tons of new regions where new and equally weird diseases spring up to be dealt with. There’s a flow to starting a new hospital, and I felt I learned this quickly and often without thinking about it. Publisher SEGA Europe was right to get behind Two Point Hospital, because it shows that this type of management sim was sorely missed, and was very much welcomed back.


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I never thought I’d see the day where I’d be playing an XCOM-like BATTLETECH or MechWarrior style game, but thanks to Paradox Interactive and Harebrained Schemes, that was possible. BATTLETECH is an achievement in tactics and design. It tells an interesting tale in what is commonly thought of to be the most uninteresting time in the BATTLETECH timeline. Being a small fish in a big pond actually works well, as this small outburst of war is a great place to get started for those who aren’t familiar. BATTLETECH expresses the fragility of your crew when out on the battlefield, by including permadeath. Scraping by is the early game’s bread and butter. Once I gained access to the Argo, a massive ship, this is where the game really opens up and I stopped living paycheck to paycheck, and start earning some serious cash. The smartest thing the game does is upon story completion, where I was able to continue playing to earn reputation and money for my company. And with the latest expansion FLASHPOINT, it enhances and fleshes out the game in all the right ways, and lets you face stiffer competition in new “Flashpoint” mission types. BATTLETECH is extremely smart, and fun at all points.


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7) Far Cry 5

The Far Cry series has always been a favorite of mine. Far Cry 5 gave me an excellent first-person open-world experience, and blew my expectations away. Taking things to the USA for the first time, is as unsettling as it sounds. Residing in a rural town within Montana, it feels like “Anytown, USA”. Hope County is a beautiful place now taken over by a cult, and the Rambo-esque beginning that kicks things off is a tone to set all tones. The freedom to take on missions in any order or explore as you see fit isn’t new, but the environment of Far Cry 5 is what continues to set it apart from nearly anything else out there. It feels so relatable and tangible, more than any other location in all of video games. The way the developers have streamlined most of the things you do in the game helps keep its pace feverish. The gunplay and driving saw massive improvements, and the game as a whole felt like an evolution for the series. Now, whether you’ve been spoiled by the announcement of the next Far Cry game or not, the ending is something that needs to be seen, because it is the most unexpected but yet Far Cry-thing to happen in the series. Far Cry 5 was a lot of fun, that was dragged down by its post-release DLCs which I do not recommend. The events and happenings within Far Cry 5 are sure to stick with me for a while.


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6) The Messenger

The Messenger from Sabotage Studios is incredible every step of the way. From its first “twist”, to it’s second “twist”, the game offers an incredible amount of variety to keep itself fresh instead of going stale in its dozen or so hours of gameplay. I feel I can’t discuss this game without getting into the details of what makes it so great. To do that, I’ll have to spoil some things about it: The game first starts as an 8-bit NES style game, and after a few hours into it, I was introduced to the 16-bit SNES version of the game. Then, as a twist on top of all of that is that I could now go between the 8-bit and 16-bit styles to solve puzzles and navigate the world. The third act of the game to put away the ancient evil was almost too long, but managed to end at the right moment. So by the time I had finished it, I was ready to put it down, but I was doing so with a smile on my face as the credits rolled. With the recently announced DLC, I think next year will be the perfect time to go back and guide that ninja through the next adventure.


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5) Dead Cells

Billed as a roguelike Metroidvania, it succeeds at delivering that, and so much more. After releasing in full after being on Steam Early Access, Dead Cells is one of the finest games of the year. Being able to know how to get to the different branching areas of a level, collecting the different traversal power-ups, and learning what the best weapons are for your style of play, are all part of the experience. The in-game currency earned, called ‘cells’ are what is used to help you progress. It’s when you beat bosses you’re able to spend your cells on permanent upgrades that increase your health long-term, that’s where the game shines. While there’s a defined beginning and end, Dead Cells excels at being endlessly replayable. Motion Twin have a finely crafted game that has opportunities for expansions and DLCs for those who’ve made hundreds of runs already – and this will be the key to the game’s continued success and growth.


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David Szymanski, with the help of New Blood Interactive have made something truly special here. DUSK is a retro first-person shooter that refuses to be anything but the best. This isn’t a cutesy throwback title that’s shallow, or a first-person shooter that is actually a roguelike, DUSK is an honest-to-devil first-person shooter with no definable era. With a bevvy of sliders to make it look like DOOM, Quake, or anything in-between is a testament of its commitment to the FPS of the 90s. DUSK has three episodes with ten levels in each, and it plays just like the games it is inspired by. I just love how each level builds on the last. The weapons are all great, and you’ll be using them all across DUSK’s ten hour campaign. That’s only the beginning. With secrets to open, DUSK can last dozens of hours just to find everything. DUSK is masterclass FPS design and aesthetic that will go unmatched for years to come. I just can’t say enough at how good this one is.


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It was looking grim for a while for IO Interactive who had an amazing game in 2016’s HITMAN, but for one reason or another, Square Enix couldn’t find it successful. So IOI went independent for a while, supporting the game before partnering with WB Interactive Entertainment for HITMAN 2. And this is everything you’d want out of a sequel to HITMAN, and more. Not only do you get an amazing, branching, and detailed campaign; but there’s co-op, and PVP in the form of Ghost Mode (admittedly still a beta) to round things out. If that wasn’t enough, you can get the entirety of HITMAN (2016) within HITMAN 2 to play without any additional cost. If that isn’t a deal, then I don’t know what is. HITMAN 2 fixes the few problems of the prior game by including a more robust tutorial to teach you what to look for while playing so you can be the best hitman you can be. HITMAN 2‘s campaign is more memorable and lavish than what came before. The amount of challenges to complete per level is twice that of the previous, and completing a level once or three times is still not enough to see everything it has to offer. The ability to replay these levels with more efficiency and experimentation is why I love it so much. It’s something I will continue to return to for its replayability, and upcoming live updates.


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2) Forza Horizon 4

Racing games aren’t as popular as they used to be, but Playground Games contains the minds behind several well-known racing studios like Codemasters and Bizarre Creations. The result is Forza Horizon 4, a finely tuned game that still focuses on the cars, but brings it to an open-world for the fourth time. You can see why this series is called “the fun Forza” much like you would say about “the fun Uncle”. The Horizon series has always been more energetic, and infused with a personality that the Motorsport series can’t compete with. Forza Horizon 4 settles into Great Britain this time, and introduces two main things which will forever shape the series going forward: the introduction of seasons, and being an online shared world. Seasons change the game mostly visually, and in a minor way in gameplay physics and how cars control on the roads. In conjunction, the game now being fully online means no separation between online and off, and it’s much easier to play with friends to do races, challenge each other, or just drive around to enjoy the scenery. If it weren’t for these two things, the series would begin to feel stale with this entry. While much of the things you actually do in the game (you know, like race) are the same, it’s the things in the periphery that don’t make it feel mundane or static. The world feels more connected and alive, and is a refinement for the series. Forza Horizon 4 is hands-down the best racing game out there, and just about the best game I’ve played all year.


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1) Subnautica

There’s one game that’s stuck with me throughout the entire year that I champion, advocate, and talk about more than any other, and that’s Subnautica. Unknown Worlds has had Subnautica in Steam Early Access for several years, and between the community and the developers, made what I think is the best game of the year. Subnautica is an amazing adventure from start to finish. It’s also a crafting and survival game, which might put off many people — but the way that these systems are intertwined with the story is so smartly done. You can make the game as hard, or as easy as you’d like. I chose something middle of the road that didn’t ask me to be concerned with food or water intake, but still allowed me to experience limitations without punishment.

The opening sees your massive spaceship crash landing into this water planet, and then doing what you can to survive with minimal resources. Subnautica has a story that unravels as you go along by achieving certain milestones, completing a certain activity, or a set amount of time passing. And these narrative threads are what pulls you along. You learn more about the people and planet around you by discovering life pods, and exploring the vast and varied underwater biomes. The planet is full of mystery and danger, and a few surprises along the way.


When I saw some fog in the distance, I just thought it was something to break up the usual horizon views so you could better tell what was a cardinal direction. By building crafts that could explore larger distances, I was surprised to find an island. An actual hard surface to stand on above water, and there were many of these! This is where the game started to take shape and made me realize that there was a lot more going on that it had led on. This planet revealed itself to be hostile, and there were aliens who saw it being threatened. Then there’s the infection as it begins to spread, and so much more that I think is better experienced for yourself. But Subnautica is so much more than it leads on, just like the planet you play on.


I cannot wait for the standalone expansion, Below Zero which will also begin in Steam Early Access, starting next year. Unknown Worlds have proven themselves with the original, and I look forward to see where things go from here.

Subnautica is still the blueprint for Early Access, and for survival games going forward. Subnautica‘s inclusion of a story with its survival and crafting is just expert-level design that I never got bored with, and loved the feeling of progression because of the interplay of its systems. After 40 hours of gameplay, I still want to go back and work on my habitat and explore more of what’s on that planet because it is so engaging. This is my Game of the Year.