Alex Van Aken’s Top Ten Games of 2018

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I started 2018 laid off, uninspired, & facing subsequent debt. I stepped down from the non-profit I moved to Colorado to start and I battled waves and waves of anxiety & depression. It’s been one of the toughest years of my life, but I have a lot of things to celebrate, including some great games.

So, without further adieu, here are my top ten games of 2018.

alex van aken

10. Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu

Pokemon Yellow is one of my favorite games of all time, so when I first saw the trailer for Pokemon Let’s Go I was pretty excited. Then, I found out the game was removing wild pokemon battles in favor for the Pokemon GO catching system, and i was pretty nervous. Turns out, though, Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee are pretty spectacular. While they’re essentially enhanced versions of Yellow, Red, and Blue – but without random encounters – it would be a huge disservice to write them off as a cash grab. For whatever reason, Pokemon Let’s Go feels fresh and brand new, and the changes and extra content like Master Pokemon Trainers that have been added to the game make me so excited for the future of Pokemon games.

9. A Way Out

Spoilers ahead.

a way out

Simply put, A Way Out is one of the most inventive cooperative games that I’ve played. Growing up, I played through all sorts of straight up bad co-op games with my father (early 2000’s licensed Lord of the Rings games come to mind), and I only wish A Way Out had released sooner so I could’ve played through it sitting next to him on the couch. That’s kind of the beauty of A Way Out though, it perfectly captures the couch co-op experience despite the fact it’s a strictly online game, as each player can see what’s happening on their partner’s screen at all times.

From the onset, both players are put into scenarios that must be solved by working in tandem. While I distracted a guard of the prison the game starts in, my co-op partner, Blessing, hid inside of a large laundry bin that we would later use to secure our escape. Later on, Bless outmaneuvered the police inside of a hospital waiting room while I grabbed the escape vehicle and met him out front. Throughout A Way Out, we solved problems together and grew closer to our associated characters, Leo and Vincent, which was honestly pretty easy when considering the caliber of the voice actors in play.

In the ultimate turn of events, at the end of the game, each player must turn on the other, and the game becomes a chase sequence which transforms into a player-versus-player fragfest. It all culminates in a rooftop showdown in which only one player can walk away from. In hindsight, the end-of-game twist seems so obvious, but in the moment it feels genius and inventive, and makes A Way Out an absolute must-play.

8. God of War

god of war

Sony Santa Monica’s 2018 reinvention of the stagnant series was my first time playing as Kratos, the reluctant anti-hero who is known for slaying a myriad gods and goddesses. Like many of you reading this, I found myself enamored with Norse mythology while playing God of War – so much so that I spoiled the ending of the game by googling a certain character’s alternate identity. I loved most of the interpretations and implementations of the Norse gods and jötunn, especially Jormungandr and Mimir. While I had issues with certain plot points in the story, overall I’m really intrigued by what this latest installment is ultimately setting up: fimbulwinter, the three-year long Winter which ushers in Ragnarok, the end of the world.

7. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden

mutant year zero

I’ve only spent a few weeks with the game, but Mutant Year Zero is one of the coolest strategy games I’ve played in a while. It’s quite well written, too, which is funny because much of the game’s narrative content could be construed as cheesy, campy, or predictable in other post-apocalyptic properties; but all of it works so well in this game thanks to the unique worldviews of its anthropomorphic animal protagonists, Dux and Bormin. Serving as Stalkers on behalf of humanity’s last bastion, Dux, Bormin, and the other characters you’ll eventually unlock are stuck in the perpetual responsibility of scavenging for resources for The Ark.

Yeah, they have an Ark.

While out in the Zone, which is the game’s No Man’s Land, I not only stumbled across many piles of valuable scrap, but a plethora of modern inventions – telescopes, boom boxes, and the like. While these are household items to us, to Dux and Bormin they’re historical heirlooms which once belonged to The Ancients. The earliest example, which I’ve already shared about on the OK Beast Podcast, is when the game’s two main characters stumble upon the aforementioned Boom Box and have an argument about whether or not it’s an ancient bomb that’s going to detonate. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden’s plot and narrative framework breeds interesting and often hilarious conversations between the Stalker squad.

Between the game’s RPG systems, which offer plenty of skill and equipment customization options for each individual character, and it’s turn-based grid combat, there’s plenty of ways to approach a given scenario. Players can of course ambush a group of enemies by charging into the fray guns blazing, but they can also play the game more stealthy, by gaining high ground cover and incapacitating baddies one at a time.

Whether you’re looking for a fun story or just wanting a twist on XCOM 2, I’d highly recommend playing Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. I haven’t finished the main story yet, but everything I’ve experienced in the game makes it one of my favorites from the year.

6. Marvel’s Spider-Man

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Crackdown, which is one of my favorite games, makes open world traversal so much fun thanks to the attention it gives to evolving its core movement set over time. To some extent, Marvel’s Spider-Man achieves something similar in its web-slinging system. From the start of the game, swinging around the city felt magical – and unlike other games with a similar framework, I couldn’t wait to navigate the city in between story missions. Add in a plethora of interesting in-game collectibles which are crucial to the Spider-Man universe’s lore, a classic Peter Parker story that honors most of its characters, and you can understand why it was so hard to put the game down.

But… next time, please ditch the auto-fail stealth missions.

5. Onrush

onrush

Onrush is Codemasters’ new multiplayer vehicular combat game that released earlier this Summer, and happens to be one of the most slept-on games to release in 2018. While Onrush isn’t much of a traditional racing game, it bridges the genre with class-based multiplayer games in really interesting ways. Onrush has eight different vehicle classes, each with their own traits and abilities. The Outlaw is a motorbike class the player can ride as in order to perform mid-air tricks or to drain enemy player’s boost – the resource that’s used to activate high speed special abilities called Rushes. When driving any of the game’s motorcycles, Onrush feels like some of my favorite early 2000’s BMX games, but then mimics a claustrophobic destruction derby when playing as the game’s heavier vehicle classes.

The game’s various objective modes, such as Switch, Countdown, and Overdrive, had me focusing on building up score by performing tricks and takedowns, racing to objectives, and staying alive as long as possible. Regardless of which mode I’m playing, Onrush feels chaotic and ever-changing – though for some players that may be a drawback. I’ll admit, the rulesets and mechanics take a few hours to get used to, but more so than any other game this year, Onrush hooked me and didn’t care to release me. Instead, with every round played this year, the game sunk its teeth deeper and deeper, and now at the end of 2018 it’s a game I look forward to playing any chance I get.

4. Fortnite Battle Royale

Many within the OK Beast community already know this, but I didn’t like Fortnite at the start of 2018. Mostly because for whatever reason people’s critique of PUBG, one of my favorite games, was always somehow tied to Fortnite – even though they couldn’t be less alike outside of both being battle royale games. Also, I sucked at building.

Towards the end of Season 6, I picked the game back up with my family and began watching high level Twitch streamers like Dr Lupo, both of which gave me a greater appreciation for the strategy and mechanics of the game. In an effort to play better and earn more victories, I started paying attention to the important, but sometimes overlooked details of the game like the order in which my guns were positioned, how to quickly build a base using less resources, when to rotate to another position on the map – so on and so forth. The game is constantly changing, too. Within the past month I’ve experienced: the temporary glider redeployment feature, which allowed players to deploy their glider at any time (not just at the start of the game), new locations which resulted from the game map being covered in snow, and an incredibly overpowered Infinity Blade – yes, that Infinity Blade.

Just like I did with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds last year, I’ve found myself chasing the adrenaline that comes with winning a match, and now Fortnite is nearly all I’ve played over the past month. With thirty wins under my belt since the start of Season 7, I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.

3. Rainbow Six Siege

This felt dang good.

At the start of 2018, I was unemployed and looking for a job. While I eventually found a job that I love, my search for gainful employment was definitely slowed down by Ubisoft’s incredible team-based tactical shooter, Rainbow Six Siege. The game’s attack and defend format creates some of the most tense multiplayer scenarios I’ve ever played, and with over 30 million registered players across the globe, I know I’m not alone in that feeling.

“Should I play Siege?”

Yes, if you’re okay with getting violently tossed through the wringer. Rainbow Six Siege will absolutely beat you down, convince you that you’re a stupid idiot incapable of executing any sort of strategy, make you forsake any social life you once maintained, and then slowly build you back up. I’m exaggerating (only slightly), but there’s a steep learning curve to the game which takes a few weeks to overcome because of the sheer amount of different operators and maps available for play. However, once players have a semblance of the strategies that various team compositions can formulate, they can begin to execute great plays to start winning games – exactly like I did.

Come play Siege with me, because I won’t be stopping anytime soon.

2. Q.U.B.E. 2

qube 2

The follow-up to a cult classic puzzle game, Q.U.B.E. 2 has players assume the role of a stranded archaeologist who’s been deserted on an alien world. To escape, players must solve a myriad of increasingly complex logic puzzles which incorporate the use of different colored cubes. Each color of cube has its own unique function upon activation: orange cubes extend out from the wall, blue cubes bounce objects off of their surface – so on and so forth. What makes Q.U.B.E. 2 so special is its emphasis on making the player feel like their solution was a creative one, even if their process was the only correct way to solve the puzzle. This effect is due to the rate at which the game introduces new variants to its base systems, and its success is largely dependent on whether the player has realized they’ve stepped into a room with an added rule set. Towards the beginning of the game, I launched an oil-covered cube down a path to bust open a door; and then later in the game, used the same mechanic to launch myself across a large chasm by riding atop the same kind of slippery cube. All things considered, the game retains a consistent level of challenge throughout the experience, though it never sparked frustration in me.

“It looks like Portal but with cubes.” Yeah, I know. However, it’d be a crying shame to reduce this game down to merely an attempt to recapture the magic of Valve’s puzzle series. Toxic Games, the creator of this excellent puzzle adventure, has crafted a unique experience that’s not easily forgotten, and one that’s qualified itself as one of my favorite games of 2018.

1. Celeste

I wish I had some grand statement about Celeste, like I did with Zelda: Breath of the Wild or PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds last year. The truth is, Celeste just landed on my Switch at the perfect time earlier this year. The 2D platformer’s narrative, which centers around the protagonist’s bout with mental health, struck a chord with me. This year I’ve struggled with anxiety, depression, and self-identity, which are woven into Celeste’s story and even directly inspire large aspects of the game’s excellent level design. Speaking of level design, every environment in the game was so well thought out and not only provides challenge to new players and veteran speed-runners alike, but ties near perfectly into the narrative elements happening in-game.

I’m not sure the story or lovable cast of characters would have hit as close to home as they did without being backed by an incredible soundtrack produced by Lena Raine. From the poetic “First Steps” to 2 Mello’s Mirror Temple jazz bop remix, Celeste’s music is leaps and bounds ahead of much of its competitors. Furthermore, some of the dopest remixes are introduced in Celeste’s B-Sides and C-Sides, which are essentially reworked levels inspired by the game’s main story – but with a much higher level of difficulty. Working through every level and plot point of Celeste was such a cathartic experience, and needless to say, I related to Madeline in a way that I haven’t to another video game protagonist this year.

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