by Goran Damnjanovic, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 31st December, 2018
Dead Cells ended up on our list of best rogue-lite games and now the same title is holding a respectable 10th place on our best of 2018 games list.
All these accolades aren't for nothing because Dead Cells is one hell of a game. It's hard to point out its biggest strength; the fluid combat feels like walking on a street while listening to your favorite music when every move you make seems soft as cloud and sharp as a knife; surreal visuals give Dead Cells unique, trippy looks that scream psychedelic and combined with superb effect during combat send players into a state of trance where they are capable of breaking their limits and overcoming mental barriers that prevented them from reaching new, harder areas of the game.
Playing Dead Cells is being in a constant state of trance where everything is possible and once you enter the zone it all becomes a perfect action played in slow motion, a level of immersion not many games are capable of achieving.
But that's not all because Dead Cells also sports an excellent meta progression system where players keep abilities that allow them to reach new areas even after they die, a superb system of abilities and weapons that can be acquired during a single run, and a spot on level design that is based on random level generation creating unique levels set inside the same giant castle that follow a certain set of rules enabling the game to give players proper Metroidvania experience, where randomly generated levels can be considered as sacrilege.
The final result is a near perfect rogue-lite with a healthy dose of Metroidvania elements that isn't too punishing (well, it might feel that way during the first couple of hours) but that is extremely rewarding once you get the hang of it. A masterful indie gem that definitely deserves to land among the 10 best games of 2018.
We followed Kazuma Kiryu through six Yakuza games, from tales of growing up featured in Yakuza Zero, to a massive story of Yakuza 5 and with Yakuza 6 developers at Sega's Ryu ga Gotoku studio decided to end the epic story that started in 1988 and saw Kazuma growing up and becoming the man he is at the start of Yakuza 6.
The final chapter of the epic series of games is some of the best open world action you can find right now and a proper farewell to one of the best main characters we ever saw in a video game (or, in this case, in a video game series). The game's story is emotional, filled with twists and turns, a bit on the wild side (like a story of every Yakuza game after all) and its finale is the reason why many of us play video games in the first place.
But Yakuza 6 has to offer so much more aside its fantastic story.
The district of Kamurocho is back yet again and it is simply mind-boggling how developers managed to infuse Kamurocho with a breath of fresh air yet again, creating a recognizable yet new and exciting open-world playground that will again make you to often wander off from the main story in order to experience some of the numerous side activities the series is known for. Alongside Kamurocho, Yakuza 6 is also taking place in the calm city of Onomichi that provides a change of scenery compared to always light up Kamurocho, and is a perfect setting for this game.
The game is packed into a new and shiny graphics engine that pushes limits of what the PS4 is capable of rendering, making Yakuza 6 one of the prettiest games we've seen this year, especially when it comes to character models that look impressive compared to previous Yakuza games. Over the top combat is back and yet again you will beat up hundreds if not thousands of punks and each time you will do it with a big grin on your face; yep, the combat is awesome yet again but this is something we expected even before starting the game.
Yakuza 6 is a complete package; marvelous story, tightly packed open world filled with things to do, wacky moments galore made just to make us laugh at loud, and superb combat together makes one of the best games of this year and probably the best Yakuza game ever. Goodbye Kazuma-San, you will be missed.
Subnautica showed that survival genre is still alive and strong and more exciting than ever. Who would have thought that a small and unknown title that entered Steam Early Access four years ago would evolve into one of the best (if not the best) survival games ever? Subnautica is first and foremost an extremely successful Early Access tale; a game that showed how Early Access game should be handled. Developers listened to the community, they focused on fixing bugs first and adding new features later, and they kept optimizing the game until Subnautica became a beautiful game that can work flawlessly even on a PC that saw its prime in 2012 or so.
And once the game finally left Early Access we received an extremely polished product that should be shown to all developers who plan on releasing Early Access title.
The game has a head and a tail, it can be finished and while its story isn't quite complex or filled with plot twists and unexpected turns, it has a healthy dose of mystery and is enough to keep you hooked until the end, which isn't seen so often in a survival game.
And the gameplay is perfect, it really is. You slowly progress and build your base and new equipment, with every new foray into the murky depths of the alien planet presenting a unique adventure. Some of these adventures play like excellent RPG quests, others follow regular survival scenario of collecting resources and not caring about anything else, and more than a couple make your skin crawl in a way that only the best survival horrors are capable of doing.
These horror moments are probably the best part of the game and are the main reason why you'll wish for developers to come up with some kind of co-op because, sometimes, Subnautica is a better horror than the best survival horrors out there. And it is a jot to play from the moment you crash till the moment you end your stay and return to the stars you came from.
As soon as you start playing this year's Spider-Man you will know why this game is one of the best games of the year and by far the best Spider-Man game ever to be created. The seamless way players can swing and travel across the huge island of Manhattan is so fun many of us spent hours simply swinging from building to building, simply holding R2 and pressing X from time to time to jump and gain momentum.
On this premise alone Spider-Man would be one of the best titles of 2018; this movement mechanic is so cool, it's the most fun way of traversing a game world we've ever seen. But then you also have a surprisingly deep and engaging story that goes beyond depicting just another epic clash between our friendly neighbor and some horrible villain. It explores relationships between protagonists and shows how and why some characters became what they are today, while at the same time showing the everyday problems of being a superhero.
And then you have the astonishing combat that, while borrowing lots from the Batman Arkham series, has its own identity that's undeniably Spidey's. It's fluid and filled with various moves and combos that can wreak havoc on enemies, providing a superb source of fun for players and making every clash an enjoyable scene that splendidly emulates movies and comics starring Spider-Man.
He has plenty of gadgets that help you when beating up bad guys, making combat an enjoyable mixture between fluid combos and finishers and quick moments where you unleash spider drones or web enemies to walls. Stealth is also done incredibly well if not too well; during stealth scenes, Spidey feels extremely overpowered but that doesn't ruin the fun of hanging from the ceiling and taking down unsuspecting enemies one by one.
The huge playground that is Manhattan is filled with collectibles and side missions which can be nice way to kill some time between main missions but the best quality of the game's open world is its huge verticality that enables players to seamlessly swing their way across the map, often forgetting the game offers excellent quick travel system.
The campaign is the icing on the cake; a love letter to all Spider-Man fans and a lengthy adventure made out of superbly designed missions containing all elements that make this game as good as it is - lots of combat, a bit of web swinging and stealth action, light puzzle solving, and a bit of on-foot exploration. The addition of occasional missions that put you in shoes of other characters is an excellent bonus. Insomniac Games created the ultimate Spider-Man experience that will be hard to top in following years.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the best Smash Bros. ever that comes with one major problem for Nintendo. You see, now that the company released truly ultimate Smash Bros. experience we are left to wonder how in the world they can top this masterpiece of a game. A fighting game like no other with a stupendously large cast of playable characters and an equally impressive number of arenas, Super Smash Bros.
Ultimate is the biggest release Nintendo Switch ever saw. You can choose between literally every character that appeared in previous games and unlike in most other games characters can be unlocked by simply playing the game. The game offers an incredible amount of content in the form of its many multiplayer (both online and local) game modes but this time even single player campaign is beefy and with plenty of enjoyable battles for those who prefer playing alone.
The combat itself is like nothing you saw in other fighting games. Super Smash Bros. always contained unique combat mechanics that provided different experience compared to other similar titles and this time developers managed to perfect it and create a unique style for each of its 70 playing characters.
The king of local multiplayer simply shines when playing against friends but the game also comes with online modes that make it a perfect time waster even when being alone in the house. This is one of the games that should be a part of the library of every Switch owner and certainly one of the best games of 2018.
Playing Into the Breach is like playing a colorful chess match; it's like playing a thinking game where the world is your wager; it's like waging a sublime battle between your mind and the urge to press that "End Turn" button. Because chances are, there will be something that could've been done better, there will be an enemy left unguarded and their attacks unanswered and ultimately, you will make that fatal mistake causing the power grid to fail and the world to end.
But that's the beauty of Into the Breach, a game where you learn upon your own mistakes and where there is a never-ending amount of Earths to save from the alien invasion. This small but oh so tasty mixture between turn-based strategy and rogue-lite is the best indie title of the year and the game with the best replay value out of all other titles that came out in 2018.
Into the Breach is a game where players lead a squad of giant mechs, each with their own set of attacks and abilities, and each one controlled by a pilot with their own set of additional skills.
The goal is to save Earth from alien invasion by wiping giant bugs from all islands of the old world and ultimately defeating the hive mind that's lurking deep below the surface. Battles are fought on small, 8 by 8 grids but don't let the small battlefield fool you; each map is brimming with possibilities and victory, as well as defeat, is just a few turns away.
During each mission, your primary goal is to squash all bugs and to save civilians and the power grid with most missions coming with a few additional, secondary objectives that shake things up a bit and make each battle unique and exciting. Once the power falls below a certain threshold it's game over and you get back through the wormhole, to find another Earth to save.
There are countless versions of our world in need of saving because Into the Breach uses quantum multiverse theory where the number of parallel universes is infinite. That's great because every time you fail you know that this isn't the end but also every time you succeed you know that there are many more worlds in need of saving.
And with the excellent meta progression system that gradually unlocks new mech squads, each with their own set of unique tactics and abilities, this guarantees countless hours of fun trying out new approaches and strategies, making each trip into the breach a unique journey into the unknown with only one constant - take out the bugs and save the world, yet again.
Playground Games created the best and biggest playground of the year with Forza Horizon 4. This open-world race is marvelously designed and its map filled with exciting courses. The number of cars available is staggering and this time you earn them with ease meaning that after a couple of days you already have them too many to know which one to drive during the next race.
The map of virtual Britain is amazing with sandy beaches at the south and epic Scottish mountains on the north with the city of Edinburgh standing as the ultimate triumph of design in this amazingly detailed and pretty game. The map is dominated by huge stripes of pine forests and golden wheat fields dotted by picturesque villages and colorful flowery turfs that shine the brightest during the game's spring season.
And seasons are by far the most important addition in Forza Horizon 4. Seasons give the game life; they give a reason for players to return and drive seasonal championships and beat seasonal Forzathon challenges months after they won every race available on the map. Seasons change the whole map and create four unique themes, each filled with its own set of weather and vistas to drive on and admire looking at.
Forza Horizon 4 seasons are a great first attempt at creating a live game experience and this should only get better with the next Horizon title. This would be all for nothing if driving weren't exciting but Forza Horizon 4 caught the lighting of ultimate arcade driving experience in a bottle and decided to share it with all players of the game.
Simply driving while in free roam can be exciting and fun as hell, especially when behind wheels of some rally monster built both for roads and dirt and when you finally start a race, any race, you realize why Forza Horizon 4 is so good. Every race is marvelous to drive, especially those from rally and cross country series.
Until you drive a 5-mile cross country race across mountaintops located on the northwest of the map driving some huge extreme off-road truck with enough torque to move the Moon you won't know what the ultimate extreme driving experience is. And the game is filled with moments like that one, moments that are so good you wish for races to never end. And they don't because each week you get a couple of new championships to participate in; it's just a shame they can be beaten in a couple of hours.
But at least you know that come the next week you'll be able to ride that lighting a little bit more.
A decade and a half ago Tetsuya Mizuguchi wanted to create a revolutionary game for the newly released PlayStation Portable. His goal was to make something that would break the sensory borders and combine audio and visuals into one common sensation.
He wanted to base his game on Tetris but licensing it was a major problem so instead we got Lumines, one of the best puzzle games of all times. Many years later Tetsuya finally obtained Tetris rights and went on to create his Magnum Opus, Tetris Effect. To explain the sheer enjoyment of playing this game is fruitless because there're no words capable of transferring the feeling of pure awe combined with an immense hit of dopamine that's happening each time you start any level found in Tetris Effect. And the addition of the Zone mechanic keeps the game fresh and even more exciting.
Each level is crafted exquisitely and every single one is perfect at emulating the feeling of synesthesia, which was the main goal of the game. If you want to play this you simply have to either have excellent over-ear headphones or a solid surround system. And yes, this is one of the of titles that justify buying a PSVR because in VR Tetris Effect becomes an otherworldly experience that's infinitely better than playing the game on an old and boring 2D surface of your TV.
The Journey mode is short but incredibly sweet and once you finish that one you can play a dozen other modes found in Effects menu including Marathon Mode (which has an infinite option), infected mode, one of a couple of time-limited modes, or some special playlists created for the ultimate chillout Tetris experience. Simply put Tetris Effect is the best Tetris game of all times and the best puzzle game of this generation, period.
This massive beast of a game was in development for almost a decade and when it finally came out the whole market responded with virtually universal praise and it's quite easy to see why. Red Dead Redemption 2 shines with its world and story, the two pieces of the game that make it what it is; a supreme story-driven experience that at the same time provides abundance of side activities most of which are even better than the main offering.
The story itself is exceptionall with Arthur Morgan being the best main character we've seen this year in any game. He's marvelously well written and his journey is filled with personal transformation as well as a ton of subtle moments that build up his character in a truly magnificent way. The second part of the story deals with The Gang, the shifts in its internal leadership and the ever-changing relationships between its members, which are on a level of an excellent movie or a novel.
Put together, Arthur and other characters build a superb drama set in a world that moved on and where there's simply no place for people like Arthur or Dutch. Add to all this exemplary voice work and you got yourself a story better than in 99 percent of this year's movies.
But that's not all because the second star of Red Dead Redemption 2, its huge world, adds oh so many additional layers to the experience. World building is unmatched in any other open world game and the scenery of the American West during the turn of the 20th century is captured like never before.
The world is alive and populated with lifelike NPS which are filled with their own stories for players to uncover. And while the story is gritty and serious side missions are filled with humor and with scenarios that will make you laugh aplenty. There are additional activities to perform in the game such as bounty hunting, fishing, hunting, as well as lots of mini-games like poker which ultimately makes the world of Red Dead Redemption 2 choke full of interesting ways to spend time inside the game.
And you will want to spend whole days inside the piece of the Wild West that is this title because visuals are incredible. The nature, the soft dynamic lighting, the crazy draw distance, the incredible level of how everything is put together (the art department really has to be praised here), and the richness of details on every single character and the huge amount of lifelike animations bring the question of just how Rockstar managed to make this game to run on current-gen consoles.
But the game isn't without its flaws. The major weak point are its controls, which feel dated and sluggish and can really deter the experience, especially during horseback riding (which is a massive part of the game) and shootouts (another huge part of the game), creating a noticeable weak point in otherwise impenetrable level of quality of most other elements. Overall, Red Dead Redemption 2 is the ultimate cowboy simulator, a game where you can role-play as a dusty gunslinger like nowhere else.
God of War received a soft reboot and the final result is a live example of a perfect action adventure game. This game has it all: an excellent story that doesn't feature cast of characters as wide as in Red Dead Redemption 2 but that manages to build its two main characters as good as the Wild West drama, a superb combat filled with exciting moments and killer combos, surprisingly deep character and equipment customization system, spot on pseudo-open world design, and a marvelously built world.
This time Kratos is cast into a Norse world and the game explores his relationship with his son, Atreus, while at the same time prepares the scenery for another epic clash between Kratos and the gods (this time of completely different pantheon).
The relationship between the father and the son is one of the strongest points of the game, a story inside the story that includes the mother of the boy who plays a major role in the tale even though she never actually appears in it. Their epic journey is filled with adventure and throughout the game players are treated with rich storytelling and even better gameplay.
This is where God of War truly shines, with its precise and sharp controls, extremely fluid and easy to learn but hard to master combat, a plethora of different enemies each coming with its own set of moves and behaviors, and rich and detailed list of moves. Environmental puzzles are placed between set pieces and provide a joyful distraction that puts your brain to work after epic battles where reflexes play the main role.
The game rewards exploration like few other titles, with aplenty of side quests coming with their own tales of the North, creating a subtle storytelling tool that familiarizes players with the world without forcing them to read walls of text. Here, lore is dynamic and it isn't buried in some thick codex containing hundreds of pages of written word.
The final part of the puzzle that once solved reveals ultimate gaming experience of 2018 is the game's visuals. Characters are extremely detailed and lifelike, environments are perfect in both technical and artistic sense, and visual effects set a new bar for games released on the PS4.
God of War is a living proof that we need more single player story driven games because this one is a masterpiece of video game design that is triumphant in its quest to reward players with an interactive experience they will remember in years to come. God of War threads its web of terrifically tailored pieces that together create the ultimate story-driven single player gaming experience, the best game so far for the PlayStation 4, and the overall Game of the Year.