2018. What a year. Personally, it was a year that brought some the highest highs and the lowest lows.
I had relationships end and begin, I saw many late nights consumed by thought and conversation that both felt like despair pulling at the edges of my being and also that felt like their own pockets of joy, shut away from the rest of the world and lost in reverie. I think my choices reflect those moments, they are a varied bunch that offered me both solace and excitement. They gave me thrilling adventures, connected me to culture, and told incredible stories that I still hold in my heart. I truly believe the games below are works of art in their own ways.
For three of the five games of this list (Heaven Will Be Mine, Anamorphine, and Florence), I have written about them previously and will be re-visiting them here after some time and reflection. The other two I am excited to finally sit down and speak to why they impacted me. All of these games speak to relationships, finding a sense of place, and our external connections with the world.
Without further adieu, and in order…
Full disclosure, I am friends with a member of Artifact 5’s team, Samantha Cook. That fact aside, I truly believe Anamorphine has so much heart that while I do have some qualms with the gameplay execution, the story it tells and the method in which it does so is worth your time. When I wrote about it back in August, I said the Anamorphine has a powerful sense of place and shows a breakdown of one's self and of a relationship through some evocative imagery and through strong metaphor. Re-visiting it now I realize that it came at a crucial time for me and that is why it stuck so much.
Throughout my previous article, I wrote about how easy it is to connect to the problems that Elena and Tyler face within the game. This is because I was going through and had faced something very similar myself. 2018 for me was partly defined by the breakdown of relationships, and this would echo throughout my year. There was a shadow cast by mistakes and hurt that I could never quite slip out from under. Anamorphine captured that feeling so perfectly and put a voice and image to the discordant thoughts that had made a home in my head. Finding ground and a sense of place when so much is shifting is so hard, and I believe Anamorphine really lands that idea through the twisting of the apartment and of the cyclical and cynical nature of re-visiting spaces over time.
Our connections and relationships with one another are a way we define ourselves, and as they grow or twist or fracture, we can’t help but feel that reflection on ourselves. I think of all the games on this list, Anamorphine provided the strongest imagery of 2018, that breakdown of self and connection to another, is fully on display here. It also ends with on an image of hope, of re-building one’s self and a bridge to a new life’s chapter. That was sorely needed.
Wadjet Eye Games
Characters and their stories in games have always been something I hold close to my heart. My passion for the Mass Effect series, for example, comes from the love I have for the teammates I surrounded myself with and the stories we told. Unavowed has this exact strength, giving a fantastical (both in quality and in theme) story of supernatural beings and mythology with the heart being the team the game surrounds the main character with. I will avoid spoilers in this write-up but will say that the twists and turns of Unavowed are expertly written, provide solid moral choices, and are grounded and provide care by the supporting cast the game presents. You care about what happens more because you care for the characters that join you on this journey.
The game is structured like a point and click adventure game, similar in nature to other works Wadjet Eye has released. By this nature, the gameplay is serviceable and the puzzles are light (and occasionally confounding) but what will keep you drawn is the writing, and the voice acting that brings the cast to life. The game is also built to be a chase, following the path of a very evil creature that you wish to bring to justice. This pull draws you through the game as well as you stay just one step behind your adversary.
The title of the game comes from your group, an ancient order dedicated to combating and solving the supernatural mysteries that plague society. This particular chapter of this order resides in New York, and in a style reminiscent of things such as “American Gods” or Wadjet’s own Blackwell series, puts the player in an ordinary world surrounded by extraordinary myth and magic. The game draws from a variety of cultures and religions, ranging from the Djinn of early pre-Islamic Arabian myth to spirit mediums, and from Chinese folklore to fairy stories. These are portrayed faithfully and seamlessly, giving weight to each culture the game draws from.
Unavowed made me fall in love with the always rainy New York City that it portrayed, as well as the cast of characters it presented (shout out to Mandana, Logan, and Kay Kay). I also believe it furthered the genre thanks to the character focused presentation, and moral choices it presented. It is the connection you make with the world and the characters that make Unavowed special.
Mountains / Annapurna Interactive
When I wrote about Florence back in February of 2018, it was a very different time. The feelings I wrote about there still ring true in a way, but that relationship I spoke to then would end a few months later. In a way, Florence’s entire arc would actually become accurate as the year continued on. There is beautiful simplicity to Florence that makes it a classic and provides elements that so perfectly capture moments in relationships and dating.
I have seen my fair share of relationships begin and end and I cannot stress enough how clearly Florence takes moments and feelings and not only portrays them but reduces them down to a nearly text-less and mobile-friendly version of themselves. The puzzle piece conversations, the sorting out belongings, the thrill of discovering someone new and the pain in letting them go when things don’t work. The use of colour, the symphonic soundtrack, the message of hope that bleeds through, it’s these things and more that make Florence a classic.
I wish personally I taken more from Florence, at the end of the story, the strength Florence’s finds is within herself and the hope gained is drawn from her own talents and experiences. It’s something I’ve always struggled to do and 2018 was no exception. The connection I made with Florence has lingered with me all year and, many people who have never played games before loved this after I shouted at them (nicely) for a while that they should play this. You should play this too.
2. Monster Hunter: World
The world I lived in the most this year was one dominated by monsters. Through lush jungle, volcanic caves, and wind-blasted deserts, I journeyed with blade and bow to carve a place in the wild land. There is a lot of carving with Monster Hunter actually, but it is the former that I referenced which proves problematic, but I’ll get there.
Monster Hunter: World is so high up on my list for the stories it let me tell. Tales of desperation as I struggled (alone or with others) against creatures many times my size. There were dragons with massive wingspans that would toss me around like a ragdoll. There were giant beasts that would roll up and charge towards me, sending me diving for safety as I tried to find a opening in their armor. All matter of fantastical creatures came up against me, and each other. The way Monster Hunter plays and portrays its world is like no other game I’ve ever experienced before. It is truly a battle against nature as you struggle with every tool and weapon at your disposal to conquer the challenges laid before you. My own personal hunter found strength in the Insect Glaive, a strange weapon that would allow my character to leap and flip over the environments, using the weapon as a high jump pole to slash away at monster in mid-air. It was a delicate dance that felt both weightless and also felt like every slash had an impact. Eventually, I would land on the creature’s back and with a few blows sending it crashing down back to the earth, allowing myself and my party to wind up and land our strongest attacks against it. At the core of Monster Hunter is triumph. It is also desperation.
After capturing or slaying a beast, you then return to the settlement where you craft new weapons and armor from the creature’s remains. Using the bones, scales, tusks and whatever else you literally wear your fallen foe before eating a meal cooked by cat chefs and launching into your next adventure. The sense of scale and weight in Monster Hunter is almost unparalleled, with only games like Dragon’s Dogma, Shadow of the Colossus, or Dark Souls finding their way into the same league. It is a cycle of victory and defeat and finding resolve in the face of danger that will not hesitate. The game does a great job of making you feel insignificant as you watch these creatures battle and hunt each other, and then making you feel like a giant as you topple a creature that was once the top of the food chain.
Monster Hunter: World’s biggest strength is also the biggest flaw. Other games in the series did this differently but in this one, World falters in the context it provides you for hunting and conquering these creatures. You aren’t here to help fix a damaged ecosystem, or to help cull an invading species (with a couple exceptions), or become a part of the balance that is found here. Instead, it is a “New World” and you have come to stay and colonize, to hunt and conquer. The monsters you hunt or so life-like that you have to pause sometimes and wonder about the 20th Anjanath you are killing to get the gem it drops occasionally. Having a game’s mechanics clash with the story or characters it is presenting is not uncommon, but here it is worth a moment to wonder if the violence and colonialism within Monster Hunter could be presented in a different way, especially as it has been done before.
While I fell off the game partway through the year and struggled to return to it on a meaningful level, the constant events and additional quests and challenges helped make this game stay alive for a long time. The new expansion that looms on the horizon will also probably bring me back, though this time I may try my hand at the Charge Blade. It is the relationship between player and creature, the clash told time and time again that makes it the second best game of the year for me. It is unlike any other story told.
1. Heaven Will Be Mine
Worst Girls Games / Pillow Fight Games
At the end of July, I wrote about Heaven Will Be Mine, a visual novel that through the perspective of three different pilots within godlike mechs, asks the question of what it means to be human and what it means to be “other”. Within the confines of conflict, HWBM puts the pilots on a collision course with one another. It is these ensuing battles (as well as communications in the background of these events) that force them, and the player, to question the weight of identity.
Just before writing this article I played through the game again to refresh myself, and in doing so it pushed this game to my number one choice. The writing in this game is stellar (pun intended) and is so playful, and also so powerful. It pirouettes through concepts of culture and xenophobia while delicately pitting the protagonists in this dance of words and weapons that are both immediately relatable and also on a scale beyond comprehension.
On a personal level, 2018 was a year where I found myself struggling with my own identity and purpose. HWBM takes those feelings and that idea and ties it in with conflicts on a micro and macro level. I cannot understate the ease in which HWBM presents both dialogue, conflict and themes that are personally relatable while also maintaining these bigger questions of humanity and scientific discovery. It also does all of this without cynicism. It provides villains and trauma but doesn’t glorify them. Love and connection are the heart of this game. Even the “battles” between the giant mechs read as a parallel to affection. The near-misses, the grazes, the banter traded back and forth. The game tells us that these ship-selves can’t be destroyed, they can only change. Therefore, these battles are instead flirtation and vulnerability, sex on a grander scale.
The best writing, and the most relevant writing this year are found within Heaven Will Be Mine. Topped off with fantastic art, UI direction, and music, this game is a journey worth taking.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
I ended 2018 off with this game and while it is far from perfect, I love Kassandra and the world it presents. Greece is stunning and Kassandra might just be tied for my favorite AC protagonist (with Ezio and Bayek). The game stumbled with the forced heteronormativity within it’s DLC (I have not gotten there yet myself, this is a big game) but even with the promised changes, that is a big step backwards in the choice and narrative within the main campaign.
A Case of Distrust
I wrote about this game earlier this year while also interview Ben Wander, and this game definitely belongs on this honorable mentions list. It is a very well thought through detective game that I can only hope Ben does more of. My one complaint would be the length of it but what is there feels polished, and the mystery is carefully balanced to be thought-provoking but not frustrating. In addition, entertaining flavor text really reveals the world and history the game resides in.
I also wrote about Paratopic earlier this year but for me, it is the standout horror game of 2018. The jagged and rusty art style lends itself to the mystery and sense of unease the game presents, further amplified by its use of film techniques such as smash cuts from one character to the next. It is a lonely drive along an abandoned road, where your imagination fills the dark spaces with the worst thing you can imagine. Paratopic takes that worst thing and has it live just on the periphery, the whole time.
I don’t want to spoil anything about Circuits, so just go play it. If you do want more enough I wrote about it here earlier this year. It is hard to read, and that is the point. Circuits moved me more than any other game this year. Eileen Mary Holowka is an absolutely incredible writer and this game is full of such vulnerability that so many games lack.
Ni No Kuni 2
The original Ni No Kuni is still one of my favorite JRPGs ever and feels like a Ghibli movie in so many ways. When the sequel announced it was doing away with one of my favorite features from the first (the familiars) I swore off of it. I ended up caving and giving it a chance and was immediately charmed. While I don’t think it achieves the same highs as the first, it has heart and neat mechanics (kingdom management) that when combined with a great art direction, make it immensely likable.
I adore the Hitman series for all of the moving parts and absurd scenarios it presents. A puzzle game with murder and ridiculous “accidents”, Hitman (and now the sequel) is one of the most entertaining games I interacted with and watched this year. Hitman 2 really leans into the absurdity of the world, and each subsequent level made Agent 47 a little more dangerous in somewhat hilarious ways. The systems on display here and the way they interact are incredible and worth poking at, just to see how it either all falls apart, or how you can succeed in grabbing that assassination without making the whole Jenga tower of systems collapse into chaos.
The swinging! The great story! The twists on the canon! Spider-Man is by no means a perfect game with its over-reliance on tired open world/sandbox tropes, as well as his questionable relationship with the NYPD and its surveillance towers, but it is overall a great Spider-Man story. (Though second to 2018’s actual best Spider-Man story, “Into the Spiderverse”).
Need to play: Destiny 2: Forsaken, God of War, Battletech, Return of the Obra Dinn, Life is Strange 2
Growing up in a small town, going to school for graphic and web design and finally moving to Toronto, Colin began to look for a new project and landed on Third Person. He has always had a passion for video games and finally decided to do something about it. Inspired by websites like Giant Bomb, Polygon, and Waypoint, Colin has founded Third Person with the intent of covering games using a mix of the old and the new.
Colin loves to dive into RPGs of all kinds, exploring their worlds and developing his character. Well-crafted stories draw him in too, and he is always on the lookout for a new adventure.
When he's not spending a billion years in a game's character creator, he can be found behind his camera, reading comic books or probably sleeping.
Some of his favorite games: Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen, Alpha Protocol, Mass Effect, Overwatch, Life is Strange, Persona 4