Ok look, I know, I said I’d try and do this earlier than I’ve done it the last couple years. Maybe one day I’ll make good on that promise but, for now, you’ll just have to take my sincere apologies.
I was all prepped to talk about how my busy work schedule had prevented me from hitting my goal yet again last year, fully expecting that the list of games I’d be putting down here would be near the lowest it has been. However I’m pleasantly surprised to report I managed to get through an impressive 48 (even if 3 of those are technically the same game, Destiny 2) my highest total in 2 years. The number of AAA titles has definitely declined with many last year demanding a lot more time than I was able to give to them. Still I played nearly all of the games I wanted to, the only glaring omission being God of War.
As I sat down to write this no title came front of mind which, in the past, has meant that I haven’t really found anything to crown the victor. However as I was putting together the list of games I realised it wasn’t because of a lack of titles, far from it, indeed 2 of them shared the highest score (9.5) last year with a further 4 coming in second (9.25). Adding into that there are 2 honourable mentions that I want to throw into the mix as they both gave me something I wasn’t fully expecting. Suffice to say 2018 delivered solid gaming experiences in troves and I’m honestly beside myself in not getting around to doing this sooner.
As always here’s the list of games I played last year in chronological order:
In the slightly devious tradition of awarding the wooden spoon to a game this year I have the oh-so-delicious pleasure of awarding it to not one, but two games that shared last year’s lowest rating: Elementium and The Quiet Man with a score of a mere 3. Elementium was a game I should probably have never played, something that was made and put out into the world without even a basic level of care and attention to what a game should be. The Quiet Man was bad for many other reasons, not least of which was doing a game like that in a completely ass about way that ended up ruining it completely. Whereas Elementium can be pushed aside as a dev’s first attempt at trying to make something The Quiet Man is from an established developer and large publishing company: both of whom have the resources and the motive to make it not suck horrendously. But they didn’t and so they thrust that mess onto the world to torture anyone who’d dare spend the cash.
As this year’s honourable mentions list is long I’ll blast through them with a quick list of why I wanted to point them out:
With that out the way my game of the year, which if you know me as a gamer is likely blindingly obvious by now, is:
Yes, I know, it’s another David Cage game who’s story is about as deep as any Twilight fanfiction might be but I fell for it yet again. I’ll argue that what makes these games strong isn’t the narrative but the performances that the actors give to it. Further to that the fact that the best part of the game, I feel, isn’t really even the game itself made seriously think about how we can define new player interactions with the medium. Whilst I haven’t had many good conversations about it yet it’s definitely a title I’ll refer back to when thinking about the numerous gaming traditions and how changing, augmenting or even straight usurping them can add a whole new dimensionality to our video game experiences. All things said and done if you haven’t played it I strongly encourage you do, even if you don’t play it strictly for the game itself.
The two runners up are Monument Valley 2 and Gris.
I’d been hanging out for Monument Valley 2 ever since I saw it released on iOS and instantly devoured it in one sitting when I finally saw it come out. It may not have done anything particularly revolutionary with its implementation but the story they told, mostly through the use of visuals with small bits of dialogue here and there, captured my heart straight away. Reading through my review again brings all those emotions back tenfold, not least of which because I’m now the father of a daughter myself.
Gris came into my sights just before it was released and honestly if there’s anything that I’d call reviewer bait (at least for me) it’d be this game. Beautiful visuals, amazing soundtrack and a story told eloquently without the use of dialogue are all things I look for and the short game trailers were enough to convince me it was worth my time. What makes this all the more impressive is that it’s the first title from Nomada Studio. With a debut like that I am so excited to see what they deliver in the future.
2019 has already brought with it some amazing titles and some amazing upsets in expectations. My list is, as always, brimming with big names and at least one previous Game of the Year winner. Whilst my expectations are high my time is likely going to be a little limited, new baby and all, but I love gaming too much to leave them all at the door.
I’ll just have to teach her how to hold a controller.
We sometimes forget just how young video games are as a creative medium and how far they still have to go as methods of expression. But that relative youthfulness brings with it an incredible amount of experimentation with the many centuries of artistic expression that preceded the medium suffusing themselves into the storytelling lexicon of game developers. When all those elements come together it can create some of the most beautiful experiences that we’ve ever created. Gris, by Nomada Studios, is a fantastic example of what games as a medium can be, combining stunning hand animated visuals, a deeply moving soundtrack and game mechanics that evolve alongside the game’s visual style. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful games of this year, both in terms of visuals and its story.
Your world is filled with beauty; fantastic colours swirl around you as you raise your voice in concert. But suddenly your voice leaves you and the world begins to crumble, dumping you down into a place drained of colour and life. As you begin to stumble forward you notice that the world reacts to the small points of light that have followed you, allowing you to move onwards. There’s no telling if the path forward will bring back the world you once knew, nor if your voice will ever return, but you continue on hoping that one day you’ll see the world brighten once again.
Gris’ is a hand animated game that uses a watercolour palette and art style, giving you the feeling of a children’s book come to life. The developers favoured a simplistic art style although they thankfully didn’t skimp out on the animation frames (unlike a recent, similar title). Each of the different sections has its own distinct visual style which forms a key part of the game’s mechanics. Supporting all of this is an absolutely amazing soundtrack done by Berlinist, a music group from Barcelona. The whole album is up on Spotify and is honestly worth a listen just by itself. Suffice to say from a craftsmanship level Gris achieves a level of refinement I wouldn’t expect from a first time developer, even if it was founded by 2 long time developers.
Mechanically Gris is simple, essentially being a platformer with a few interesting mechanics. Most of the puzzles you’ll encounter are fairly straightforward, only requiring you to figure out the right sequence of moves in order to get past them. If you’re chasing momentos though there’s going to be a slight increase in the challenge, often including a timing element that’s not present in most of the required puzzles. You’ll gain new abilities as you progress but unlike many other platform puzzlers they’ll always be used individually or in sequence. This means that puzzles towards the end of the game aren’t really that much harder than those at the start. Mechanical complexity isn’t really a focus of the game however and nor should it be. Far too many games have ruined themselves by letting the mechanics get in the way of the core story.
Exploration is usually rewarded through giving you a momento although they don’t do anything beyond playing a cool sound (at least, nothing I saw when I was collecting them anyway). If I was to level one criticism here though it’d be that in the larger environments exploration feels cumbersome and the lack of a good reward doesn’t motivate you to seek them out. This is especially true for some sections where the game takes you through a large spanning environment for minutes on end, making you wonder where they could’ve hid things. Thankfully not exploring at all doesn’t detract from the overall experience but it could be rewarded just a little better.
PLOT SPOILERS FOLLOW
Here’s where I step into pure speculation about what I believe the story is about because, well, I had a fun time speculating as to what each of the game’s visual elements meant. The colour leaving the world feels like an allegory for depression, something which I think many of us who’ve struggled with it can attest to. The bird that torments you is doubt, the thing that keeps coming back and screaming at you, threatening to knock you down if you don’t prepare yourself for it. The small lights are akin to hope, building the bridges you need in order to push on as you try to restore colour to your world.
So the story is one of succumbing to doubt and falling into a depression so deep that it drains the colour from your world and preventing you from doing the one thing that will bring it back. It might not be the most unique of stories but it’s relatable and told beautifully which is really all I can ask for from most games. I haven’t yet gone around yet to see if my interpretation lines up with anyone else’s so I’d be keen to hear anyone else’s thoughts on what the visual story of Gris means to you.
PLOT SPOILERS OVER
Gris is a masterpiece, telling a beautiful story through the use of wonderful visual artwork, a great soundtrack and simple but solid game mechanics. It came at the perfect time for me to, after having put a bunch of hours into no less than 3 different shooters I was ready for something that favoured beauty over action. Nomada Studio has set themselves a strong precedent with this and I’m very much looking forward to what they start working on next.
Gris is available on PC and Nintendo Switch right now for $16.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 3 horus play time and 29% of the achievements unlocked.