Steven T. Wright reached out to a number of freelancers to discuss their favorite games from 2018. These lists are being hosted in Into The Spine, and all credit belongs to the authors. Make sure to follow Jordan Oloman’s work on Twitter.
1. Red Dead Redemption 2
Perhaps an unpopular choice, and to be clear, I’m not denying to its numerous flaws, but the way that Rockstar broke the open-world wheel with this title is the reason that I’m so enraptured by it. The L2/LT button changed everything for me: being able to interact with any NPC in a subtle manner has ruined my experience in the RPG’s I’ve played after it, where my agency (and that of the world’s inhabitants) feels locked down by arbitrary rules that tear the humanity and the homeliness from the curated environment.
Every stone you turn truly has something to hide, and the player is consistently rewarded for probing the boundaries and having an adventurous spirit. Some days I’ll hop in for supposed “work reasons” but I’ll end up getting distracted and start simply living through my character, taking part in the most inane tasks just to spend more time in its rich world. Even though I’ve completed the impeccably written, novelesque story, every time I log in I find something different, and my initial reason for playing is always warped into a multiple-hour caper of my own creation. Other games this year told a brilliant story, but none of them made me want to stick around after the fact. Red Dead Redemption 2 does both, and with finesse.
2. Tetris Effect
Since I’m not familiar with Mizuguchi’s work, I really did not know what to expect when I set out to review the new Tetris game. What I was met with was by far the most surprising and emotionally resonant experience of the year, if not the past five. Tetris Effect takes the foundation of an iconic puzzle game and transports it into the ethereal, taking the player with it on a sonic journey into the depths of the soul.
The game is full of so much humanity, the perfect antidote for a year full of the opposite. Synesthesia is baked into the design, and by merely flipping and dropping tetrominoes to the ebb and flow of gorgeous electronica, I was purged of my emotions, tears falling inexplicably from my eyes as the story of our own existence was laid out in front of me. The beauty of it is that it never forces you to feel this way, and what you take from it it is solely based on the connections you make in your own brain from the bombastic sound and colour.
This game proved to me that VR is not just a gimmick, but actually, a means to explore the unknown.
3. Return of the Obra Dinn
Lucas Pope is a genius. Whilst I didn’t really latch on to Papers, Please, Return of the Obra Dinn had me in its vice grip instantly. Never this year did I feel such a rush of excitement as when I started discovering the core concepts that make up this puzzle. The barren ledger and the time-turning pocket watch are like the gates to Jurassic Park: an endearing opening statement before a world of grisly fun.
It feels utterly manic to put your mind under such duress as to try to figure out the fate of 60 seamen, but you’re soon pulled along with ease thanks to the bursts of endorphins you receive from sussing out each sailor’s bitter end. It’s such a magnificent achievement from a mostly one-man show, one that easily stands up to the gargantuan AAA experiences that were layered across 2018.
This immense experience is wrapped up by the sound design: amazing audio cues and a soundtrack that is both period-appropriate and deeply memorable. Whether you make a mistake or a breakthrough, the little sonic jolts always kept me excited and ready to try again.
4. Life is Strange 2: Episode 1
I always find the Life is Strange series to be synonymous with a feverish melancholy, and Season 2 is no different. I can’t quite find anything else like it, a game that toys with my emotions in such a peculiar way in the context of a vibrant, surreal world. Episode 1 explored the dynamic of brotherhood in a manner I’ve yet to see, and as an only child, this was an alien experience that really taught me about the power of family.
The A.I is incredible. If I don’t watch my little brother Daniel as he traverses through the forest, picking up unsavory berries and crossing dangerous logs, he’ll make mistakes and lose trust in me. Whilst that’s on my mind, should I spend the little money we have on sustenance or sleeping bags? Life Is Strange 2 pushes you into difficult but beautifully rewarding responsibilities, as well as challenging the player with cutting political dialogue. This is wrapped in a bow by a beautiful soundtrack, from wonderfully utilized licensed tracks to ambient forest soundscapes. The sheer scope of the introductory passage really caught me by surprise, and I can’t wait for more.
5. Astro Bot: Rescue Mission
Silliness rules the day in Astro Bot: Rescue Mission. A delightfully charming game, it is the closest thing we’ve had to Ape Escape since well… Ape Escape, and the auteurs over at Japan Studio transported this revolutionary spin on the series seamlessly into virtual reality. Rescue Mission was absolutely overlooked in 2018, with few recognizing its existence, something that Sony has now remedied when it was showered with very just critical acclaim.
Astro Bot is a game full of optimism, an utterly spellbinding invention that never fails to throw something fresh towards the player throughout its many worlds. From slicing through a bamboo-laden dojo to exploring underwater microcosms, the connection you feel to your new little robot friend is palpable. You really do want Astro to do well, against all odds. Astro’s shrill exclamations of joy and cute idle animations made me believe that VR games can be more than just gimmicks. In my eyes, this game revitalized Sony’s headset with its commitment to making an experience that actually feels like a full game rather than a bite-sized demo. It’s an iterative spin on a third-person platformer that acknowledges and defies the trappings of the plastic medium and reaches the upper echelons of its genre.
The “holy shit that actually came out this year and nobody batted an eyelid” or “game that was swept hardest under the rug by Red Dead 2” award goes to: Battlefield V
Editor’s note: Jordan did not include any further copy. After much deliberation, we decided that the awards themselves are explanatory enough. Sorry, EA.