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 Luke Winkie’s work on Twitter.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
I’ve spent a long, healthy life shitting on Super Smash Bros. I suppose that’s rooted in a certain fighting game elitism, but even that was unearned. (I’m terrible at fighting games.) Still, there was a certain dopey snobbishness in the way “Melee people” talked about Melee. “No items, three stocks, the way the game is meant to be played,” as if somehow this stupid fucking mascot brawler aspired to a higher power. As if a game where you could smash Jigglypuff’s skull in with a baseball bat was meant to be played in a way where you couldn’t smash Jigglypuff’s skull in with a baseball bat.
All that being said, I kinda get it with Ultimate: the footsies, the metagame, the precise acrobatic posture it takes to land one of those sky-ribboning air combos. Maybe it’s because I spent the lion’s share of my time with this game with my brother, who’s a much better Smash player than I, – or maybe I’ve just consumed enough Evo streams to start unconsciously attempting to mirror pro tactics – but this is the very first time the franchise has felt like an actual, honest-to-god fighting game. The hallowed bullshit that colors the edges of this scene is still lame as hell, but I have to admit now that it’s at least marginally true. Also, K. Rool’s down-A feels very, very good.
I remember when I first played this in VR at E3, and the opening board with that fucking “We’re All Connected” song legitimately devastated me emotionally. It really says something about our political and social culture in 2018 that a optimistic trance banger served up via Tetris metaphor could feel accidentally (intentionally?) prescient. I’m happy to have Tetsuya Mizuguchi – and his permanently-stuck-in-1998-but-somehow-still-awesome aesthetic ideals – back in the industry, and I would gladly welcome a whole series of his Neo-from-the-Matrix takes on other classic puzzle games. Do Breakout next!
Red Dead Redemption II
This game feels to me like the way Austin Walker talks about No Man’s Sky. A sumptuous, finely-detailed world that gets a million times better the second you stop playing it like a traditional Rockstar game. I almost feel like one of those weirdos who role-play on live GTA servers by stopping their cars at the red lights, when I bask in the moonlight amidst all of God’s living creatures, hours from civilization, with only the lanterns from passing stagecoaches guiding me home. I never felt immersed in tangerine dream universe of No Man’s Sky, or Breath of the Wild’s beautiful, rhapsodically frustrating sprawl, but there is something about Rockstar’s fake West, captured in the moments before its final tipping point, that I adore walking through. All the complaints about the gummy controls and deliberate pacing are totally valid, it just happens to work for me.
One thing though. Please Rockstar, for the love of God, fix your mission design. Why does every mission in this game end with me shooting a million policemen or gang members? How the fuck are there this many people in the Lemoyne Raiders, anyway? There’s enough people in that gang to populate an entire fucking state. The performance are so good in Red Dead Redemption II, but it’s a real shame that the story missions don’t reciprocate.
Into The Breach
The single greatest feeling in video games this year is staring at a grim board in Into The Breach, already half-resigned to your inevitable termination, and finally picking out one fringe line of play that will keep your fragile planet alive for one more turn. (Thank you electric smoke, you’ve bailed us out so many times.) I will never be a great chess player, but the eureka euphoria in this game gives me a smidge of what Magnus Carlsen must feel when he nails some esoteric rook defense. Or, you know, whatever.
God of War
This is an extremely boring choice, but it’s still true. The fact is that God of War gave me one of my favorite combat systems in years. By the end of the game, once you’ve reached peak bullet-time symbiosis with your magic attacks, Atreus’ bow, and the duality between that Axe and the Blades of Chaos, I felt like I was playing a bullet-hell take on Dark Souls. It was so fucking brutal, and demanding, and insane, giddy fun. I used an amulet that refreshed the cooldowns of my Runic powers for the entire game, which meant that I could bang out four of those attacks in back-to-back-to-back-to-back order. I very, very much enjoyed ravaging my frame rate with that thing.
I’m not a God of War fanboy. I’ve played the entire series and I think the second game is awesome, but Kratos, even in the pits of my most juvenile inclinations, was always pretty poorly painted to me. (In retrospect, it’s hilarious how IGN and Gamespot routinely lauded him as one of the best characters in our industry. How far the games media has come!) It was clear that Cory Barlog was wrestling with his own legacy, and the fundamental nature of what a God of War game could even be when he set out to reboot the series. Honestly, on paper, the idea of a solemn triple-A God of War apologia dripping with a liberal, white-guy, I’m-a-feminist-now-that-I-have-a-daughter farce initially turned me off immensely. I admit now that I underestimated him.
God of War hits its notes with a candor and a humbleness that I found extremely surprising. It never claims to have all the answers, and instead allows its doubts to hang on every word. Yeah, some of the character arcs are a little jejune, but overall I was super impressed with the way this game was able to articulate the communication breakdown between fathers and sons. It’s damning how relatable Kratos and Atreus’ failure to express their affection to one another is. Yes, I’m probably projecting a little bit, but that’s only because God of War attempts to speak to a subject that goes unaddressed in the majority of media. It is the first good Boy Video Game. I hope other triple-A studios take note of the empathy of its storytelling in the future.
These go to The Return of the Obra-Dinn, which needed one more twist to be truly transcendent, and to Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII, which is awesome and also barely a new video game.