Editor's Choice Awards – Best Games 2018
The cream of the crop from another stellar year for gaming fans
Welcome to our second annual Editor’s Choice Awards.With many high-profile games continuing to grow bigger, longer and more in-depth, not even the most dedicated among us have time to play everything.
Even a single epic like Ni No Kuni 2 is probably a solid month's worth of game for people who don't play for more than an hour or two a day, and action games have also begun to push towards similarly crazy lengths – look no further than Red Dead 2's seemingly unending campaign or God Of War's weeks of realm-hopping for proof of this.
With that in mind, we've decided to highlight our picks of the ten very best releases of 2018 to help those working through backlogs to prioritise what we consider the must-play titles, or to open new eyes to gems that some might otherwise have missed out on playing altogether. From inventive reworkings of classics from yesteryear to brand-new concepts only possible with the latest hardware, it's a varied list with something for everyone, so get stuck in and see how many of these modern classics you managed to get through in 2018, and how many should be added to the pile to try out in 2019.
Best Open World Game 2018 – Red Dead Redemption 2
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Released: October 2018
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One
While we weren't quite so blown away by Rockstar's Wild West prequel as many seemed to be, nobody could ever deny that the game is a truly remarkable technical achievement. Its world is stunningly realised and a delight to just ride around, which is fortunate as there's an awful lot of that to be done.
Minimal fast travel options force players to make most journeys on two or four legs (or sometimes by stagecoach if you're feeling lazy/flush/both), giving you more than enough time to drink in the jaw-dropping visuals, particularly with the ultra-smooth 4K implementation of the Xbox One X version.
There's an argument to be made that Rockstar might have gotten a little carried away with its attention to detail, as painstakingly crafted animations for every single action you perform can wind up making things feel a little sluggish or unresponsive at times. But as a sacrifice made to better flesh out the incredible game world and make it all feel as lifelike as possible, it's one you can adjust to in time even if you're used to snappier controls, and one that makes for the best cowboy sim ever committed to disc.
Best RPG 2018 – Dragon Quest XI: Echoes Of An Elusive Age
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: September 2018
Platforms: PS4, PC
Japanese RPGs went through a curious experimental phase last generation as many made moves to break free of the turn-based template that had defined the genre for decades. But based on the examples that have proven most popular in the last few years, its seems as though that traditional format is still what most fans want, and still what most veteran studios do best.
There's nothing here that will change your mind if you're not already a fan of JRPGs – save perhaps the lush colourful anime-style visuals – but those who do like their adventures to be of the turn-based variety will find one of the most accomplished examples of the genre of the modern age and, as tends to be the case with games like this, a game that offers absurdly good value for money as it goes on for ages.
Don't worry if you've not played the last few, either... DQX was an MMO-style game that never came out over here and all of the mainline entries stand alone as independent stores in their own rights anyway, so you're missing out on nothing is this is where you choose to join (or rejoin) the classic JRPG saga.
Best Puzzle Game 2018 – Tetris Effect
Released: November 2018
Some eyebrows were raised at the launch price of this reworked classic block-aligning game, but you can't put a price on perfection. Tetris was, is, and always will be just that – a perfect puzzle game and one that actually benefits from this fresh lick of paint more than you might expect. With its name derived from the phenomenon of seeing falling blocks in your sleep or peripheral vision long after you've stopped playing, it should come as no surprise that the game's new mechanics are more geared around players who have mastered the art of lining up tetrominoes.
The Zone mechanic basically freezes the well to let you drop multiple pieces at once, filling and subsequently clearing the screen for massive score boosts and a huge sense of achievement. There's a Lumines-like feel to the stylish presentation (the influence of that game's creator, Tetsuya Mizuguchi, as producer here, unsurprisingly) and the VR component on PS4 proved far more intense and engaging than one might think. A bona fide classic reborn and repackaged for a new generation.
Best Fighting Game 2018 – Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Released: December 2018
Nintendo's crossover fighter has been growing in scope and scale at a ridiculous rate with each new entry, and this is the most feature-packed edition to date. Every character who has ever appeared in the series is back, making for a total of 74 playable fighters with around 100 unique stages on which to duke it out.
While once a purely Nintendo love-in, the doors have now been opened to a host of familiar faces from elsewhere in gaming – everything from Metal Gear to Rayman is now represented in some way or another as Smash shifts to being a playful celebration of gaming in general.
Its simple showdowns might not have changed that much, but don't be fooled... while it might be dead easy for anyone of any age to pick up and play, Smash's status as one of the most popular games on the pro fighting game scene serves to highlight the depth and potential of its awesome systems for anyone who wants to really master the art of beating the snot out of some of gaming's most iconic characters.
Best Licensed Game 2018 – Spider-Man
Released: September 2018
You could maybe argue that Insomiac played it a little safe with the latest Spidey game, but in doing so, the studio actually gave many fans of the web-slinging superhero exactly what they wanted.
The last genuinely great Spider-Man game was 15 years ago on PS2 at this point, after all, so there's a whole generation of young new players (with whom Peter Parker's alter-ego is extremely popular) who would never have known the joy of swinging around a realistic Manhattan and decking thugs with a deceptively deep combat system.
Sensational visuals and superb tight controls work in tandem to make this the best opportunity any of us are ever likely to get to actually move and feel like Spidey, with more than enough thwips and quips to go around despite the surprisingly long runtime.
The Arkham games have made Batman the dark, brooding masked face of comic-based games for years, with this serving as an enjoyable and playful counterpoint from the Marvel side – the cinematic universes of the two comic giants perfectly reflected in gaming, and we certainly hope we haven't seen the last of Insomniac's run here.
Best VR Game 2018 – Astro Bot: Rescue Mission
Released: October 2018
With the notable exception of certain Mario games, 3D platformers don't carry the weight they once did. Heck, it took a studio of veterans Kickstarting and developing a new retro-style platformer in Yooka-Laylee for many to realise that the format died out for a reason, although that's not to say that there isn't room for this kind of game in today's market.
Rescue Mission expands upon the one-level Astro Bot tech demo seen in PSVR freebie The Playroom VR, and the results are endlessly surprising.
Neat puzzles, fun gadgets, neck-craning off-screen secrets, charming presentation, an amazing sense of involvement... Rescue Mission has all this and more, with its typically quite short stages hiding enough to make two or three plays of each typically required to get everything, not least because of how easy it is to just get caught up in the experience and accidentally ignore the tinny cries of a stray robo-friend or two. An experience unlike any you'll find elsewhere, despite the fact that the core of the game stays true to what was so great about the genre 20 years ago.
Best Racing Game 2018 – Forza Horizon 4
Released: October 2018
Platforms: Xbox One, PC
A few slip-ups from the mainline Forza series haven't stopped Horizon from becoming the most dependable name in arcade-style racing in modern gaming, and this fourth instalment keeps the bar as high as ever.
The season-shifting system is quite ingenious, cycling through the four unique seasons on a fixed schedule as you progress to let you learn the perils of each, before opening up to a real time clock where each season lasts a few days at a time.
With an assortment of events, collectables and routes that only open up in the correct season, there's something new to discover every time you play, and that's before you start fiddling around with creating your own custom events or hooning around the idyllic UK countryside en masse in a multiplayer group.
Handling is fantastic and the game throws new cars at you frequently via a surprisingly generous lottery system, though you can still grab your ride of choice from a dealership, tune and tinker with parts to your heart's content and share custom liveries with other players – there's so much to do that the fun never stops, no matter what time of year it happens to be.
Best Multiplayer Game 2018 – Monster Hunter World
Released: January 2018
Platforms: PS4, PC, Xbox One
Co-op play has always been central to the Monster Hunter experience, and Capcom's biggest game of 2018 soared to all-new heights in this regard. The SOS system allows solo hunters to call for assistance from hunters around the globe should they bite off more than they can chew, while an enhanced lobby system makes it easy to group up with other hunters with the intent of going after the toughest beasts as a quartet.
In addition, the new Mantles allow for a degree of role customisation to make fights go a little smoother – have a Lance user pop on the Challenger Mantle, for instance, to draw a monster's ire for a short while and tank it with their shield, or have gunners obscure themselves from the target to offset their naturally lower defense.
Frequent updates have added new and returning monsters, including the epic Kulve Taroth showdown where multiple teams race to damage and ultimately defeat this massive elder dragon in an amazing fusion of cooperative and competitive play. With a massive expansion called Icebound due later in 2019 that will introduce new areas, monsters, weapons and a whole new difficulty rank for experts to challenge, this deadly dino destroyer show know signs of going extinct any time soon.
Best Indie Game 2018 – Celeste
Publisher: Matt Makes Games
Released: January 2018
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PC, Switch, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux
As much as we adore the multiplayer archery tomfoolery of Towerfall, if you'd have told us a few years back that its creator would go on to make one of the best single-player games of 2018, we'd certainly have had a quizzical look ready for you. And yet here we are, living out that exact scenario and this beautiful indie platformer about overcoming obstacles both mental and physical is a true delight.
Employing a similar art style to Towerfall (albeit with a generally brighter palette), Celeste mountain is a mysterious and challenging opponent, though you'll quickly go from falling off at every other step to chaining dashes, warps and other crazy mechanics together into fluid movement sequences that feel enormously satisfying to pull off.
Celeste works just as well as a one-and-done experience (a fantastic and wholly memorable one at that) as one to attempt to master, as its punishing B-Side remix stages will test the platforming skills of any player.
That this tiny team has managed to make a game with more heart and soul than practically any triple-A title you might care to mention is proof that just about anything is possible with the right attitude... which is quite neatly in keeping with the game's own message.
Best Action-Adventure Game 2018 – God Of War
Released: April 2018
Mass overhauls of already successful series are incredibly rare these days – the old mantra of 'if it ain't broke...' seems to be the one most commonly followed when development costs are so astronomically high and most fans already know what they want. When done well, though, they can be absolute game-changers (quite literally), as evidenced by classics such as Resident Evil 4 and more recently The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild.
Like those games, this sequel-cum-reboot swerves away from the traditional and is all the better for it, with rage-filled antihero Kratos much more subdued and in control as he tries to set a better example for his young son, Atreus.
There's a greater degree of intimacy to everything, be it the interactions between father, son and the rest of the superb cast, or the much closer, more visceral combat as the Dad Of War trades chain blades for enchanted throwing axe with a much tighter field of view than in the zoomed-out combat of previous titles.
A truly stunning realm-hopping reinvention and comfortably 2018's strongest release overall, especially impressive for a game that gave up so much of what made the God Of War series popular to get to this point.
Do you agree with our picks? Let us know your favourites in our discussion thread.
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