Carlos Ovalle’s Top 5 Games of 2018

Fellow gamers, what a time to be alive. This year, Video Games have taken yet another giant leap for the art form and for me has rivaled some of the best narratives seen in Film and in Television. Last year saw the likes of Resident Evil 7, Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild take top spots for me and the trend has only continued. Video Games are getting bigger, better, and even more memorable. As we countdown my favorite games of 2018, let us raise a glass to a tremendous year for game creators and for our ever-evolving  industry.

5. Spider-Man

Not since the Arkham series developed by Rocksteady Games have I ever felt truly like the titular action hero. From web-slinging across enormous heights to casually handing out funny quips in the middle of a fight, Spider-Man delivered a consistent blend of narrative and gameplay. One of my favorite segments in the game has you in full control of Mary Jane as you sneak around Grand Central Station with Spider-Man taking out enemies in the background. This segment works beautifully from a narrative and gameplay perspective because all it takes is one tap on the controller for Spidey to do his thing all the while you’re trying to keep your head low to avoid the bad guys.  All of this is happening in the midst of a fragile yet rekindling relationship between Mary Jane and Peter Parker.

Another exceptional moment has you fending off the sinister six in a fight we’ve only dreamed about as kids. The fight is long, incredibly cinematic, and it comes with high stakes. It climaxes in a big jaw-dropping reveal. Spider-Man does such a good job with its story that I sometimes forgot I was in an open world game.

4. Octopath Traveler

Every year I always look for an enduring Japanese RPG and this year Nintendo brought it in full glory with Octopath Traveler. One of my daily rituals was snuggling around my Nintendo Switch and a hot cup of coffee to play through this gorgeous game. While some may say the combat is repetitive or the story is paper-thin, I enjoyed Octopath Traveler because it reminded me why I love JRPGs in the first place. Playing games like Legend of Legaia, Wild Arms, Chrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy for me is about the arduous journey and the companions you gain or lose throughout the adventure. Octopath Traveler does this with 8 playable characters so at times it feels like you’re playing 8 different versions of the game.

Octopath Traveler also has an outstanding soundtrack to accompany its painterly aesthetics. I often found myself just admiring its art style and being fascinated by what Square Enix was able to accomplish. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Lost Sphear or I Am Setsuna as those tried a little too hard to pay homage to the old school JRPG. Octopath Traveler is old school, don’t get me wrong, but it has an innovative quality to it that allows it to feel contemporary.

3. Celeste

What an experience. Celeste was recommended to me by a good friend and while some recommendations go unfulfilled by either lack of time or disappointment, there was something inherently magical about this particular recommendation. He’s a man of good taste and has recommended me Owlboy, Dead Cells, and Hollow Knight but Celeste was calling me the most and I wonder why. Is it the infectious art style that I can’t stop looking at? Is it the haunting synths and melodies that echo throughout this long journey? Is it the theme of empowerment and fighting against your self-doubt?

Celeste works on many levels but at a glance it looks like a tough-as-nails side scrolling platformer, which it is, but the gameplay only servies the greater narrative. Your red-headed heroine is determined to climb the highest peak of the mountain but throughout her whole journey she is faced with criticism and ridicule. She even experiences this cynicism from her own self which ultimately manifests itself into an evil version of her that attempts to destroy her. Celeste is one of the most memorable gaming experiences I’ve ever had and I strongly anticipate the next game by Matt Thorson and the rest of his talented team.

2. Red Dead Redemption 2

I went back and forth between Red Dead Redemption 2 and my number one pick and to be honest, there’s no wrong answer here. I’ve talked about the greatness of Red Dead Redemption 2 ad nauseum and you can read a bit more about my thoughts here. It’s the rare sequel that not only outdoes its predecessor in spades but it compliments it. Red Dead Redemption should be remastered so that the two games can be fully enjoyed back to back like an extended cut of a film. On Xbox One you can experience the best version of Red Dead Redemption.

My favorite scene in the game is when the excellent song “Unshaken” performed by D’Angelo plays. It’s a poignant scene that has Morgan returning from a wild momentary adventure overseas. To see the plains, the familiar trees, the stagecoaches as the song plays in the background was such a golden moment for me that I never wanted it to end. Playing Red Dead Redemption 2 was like watching a brilliant TV drama. All it needed was a short recap every time I booted it up. The story moves at such a calculated pace that every moment feels earned. Every twist, every death, every reveal felt earned and left me speechless multiple times.

Honorable Mentions

  • Detroit: Become Human is Quantic Dreams’ best effort to date. I thoroughly enjoyed the Connor character and the overall pacing of the game felt more consistent than Beyond: Two Souls and Heavy Rain. While the game has a few shortcomings, it was definitely highly memorable and an easy one to recommend.
  •  Monster Hunter: World almost slotted into my list. It’s the game I’ve spent more time in all year and it was my first entry into the Monster Hunter series. I still play the game to this day. Why didn’t it make the cut? Honestly, I’m not sure why but there was so many games this year that were deserving. Monster Hunter: World could easily be number 1.

1. God of War

Like Red Dead Redemption 2, what else can be said about God of War? It truly feels like the pinnacle of what action adventure games can become. It’s not just a game, it’s a new bar that has been set. My favorite scene in God of War is a major spoiler so I won’t divulge much of it but it involves the past coming back to Kratos and the reveal of a new weapon. It was truly a monumental moment for me as I threw up my controller and yelped like a little school boy. My cheeks flushed, my heart thumped, I knew I was witnessing something special.

The best thing about God of War is that it never lost focus of its central theme and that is family. We begin the game with Kratos and Atreus and the story doesn’t forget that, in fact it uses this theme to great effect and delivers an emotionally powerful third act where family is pushed to the forefront for everybody. Even our enemies are tied to this very theme and it culminates into a tragic yet intriguing conclusion. This is Santa Monica Studios’ grand opus and I can’t wait for the next installment. Although, how could you possibly follow up God of War?

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