Everything is Awful, Except Playing Games

Looking back at the games I played in 2018

But even that comes with the caveat. The world may be a dumpster fire but people making games should not be killing themselves to bring them to market. It makes no difference if you are working 100 hour-weeks building the biggest game ever made or working on a your personal seven year passion project one while accumulating debt and no access to affordable health care, people should be able to work in reasonable and more sustainable environments.

That being said, each year continues to deliver better and better experiences for players. There are more options across more genres every day. So much so, that I hardly found enough time to play even a small fraction of games I wanted to play, read about, or listened to lively debate on various podcasts. There are massive games like Red Dead Redemption 2, God of War, and Marvel’s Spider-man that are still in my queue. And even more smaller games adding to that pile of shame – Dead Cells, Donut County, Florence, Obra Dinn, and Ashen to name a few.

Games I Loved

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Rebellion

Kassandra views a sunset
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is beautiful even when streaming the game.

Since I first stepped into the Animus with the debut of the series in 2007, I have been a big fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. No matter how the series has evolved, the core concept of exploring a sci-fi historical world with the ability to stealth murder anyone at anytime was so satisfying (though I could do less with forays into the naval elements).

Last year’s Origins was a fantastic return to form from the latest entries in the series, and Odyssey just about improves upon that game in about every way. Like Bayek, Kassandra is a fantastic character and the game gives the player the ability to flesh her out in their own way (for the most part). The Greek Isles were beautifully rendered. Gameplay was smooth and tight. The story was wonderfully bizarre, funny, and engrossing at the same time. I spent more than seventy hours in this world.

All this, and I streamed the entire game.

I was able to play the entire game without downloading a single MB via Google’s Project Stream Beta test. My overall experience was one of glowing satisfaction. There were occasional slow downs and artifacting, but I have to say, if this is a test of how games will be delivered in the future, I’m here for it.

If there is anything to gripe about the game for me, it is its slow turn from stealth action game to Action RPG. Gone is the ability to stalk your prey and dispatch them from a hay bale. However, there was another Assassin’s Creed experience released this year that did provide that stealth rush, Rebellion.

And it’s a mobile game.

And while progression through the game is so heavily gated with experience points, timers, power scores, and resources so as to be a microtransaction nightmare, when you actually get into the game and stab an enemy from a hay bale, it is so good. I would have loved to see a one time purchase that could have doubled progression speed which was used to great effect in Odyssey. As it is, the game is a grind that borders on masochistic if you’re not willing to shell out the cash to get those numbers up higher faster. I just want to murder fools from a hay bale.

Ubisoft is skipping this year as they did a couple of years ago which resulted in the great Origins game. Hopefully they can use this time to learn from every iteration of the game to make the build on this year’s games and create the best game in the series yet.

Subnautica

Subnautica game play
Base building in Subnautica is satisfying, just be sure to reinforce your walls.

Polygon did a great video where they reviewed the top fifty games of the year in seven words or less. Their review of Subnautica was spot on: “Super chill… until it’s super not.”

I have always loved a good survival game. I’ve spent dozens if not hundreds of hours in games like Minecraft, Don’t Starve, and No Man’s Sky. But they’ve all lacked one thing for me – a proper driving force or narrative beyond just surviving. (No Man’s Sky was improved by the Next expansion, but was so repetitive as to turn me off the game eventually.) Indie game classic Miasmata provided a bit of this with the goal of finding a cure for your sickness and avoiding the beast. The Flame in the Flood also strived to push the player forward beyond just surviving but world was a bit too disconnected making the grind for resources as much luck as anything else.

Subnautica bucks this trend by providing a mystery that is slowly revealed as you delve deeper and deeper into the depths of its oceans. You still have to manage your hunger and thirst, gather resources, and manufacture tools to explore what’s beyond the murky depths hundreds of meters below the surface. But the player is driven by finding the next upgrade that allows you to explore further and get closer to escaping this planet’s grasp.

I’m looking forward to getting more experiences that force you to survive and yet weave that through a narrative experience that gives the player purpose to survive in those worlds rather than just succumb to its elements.

Celeste

Celeste gameplay
Man, Celeste’s art is gorgeous.

Mental health is an issue that plagues more people than we will probably ever truly understand. Western society, especially in the United States, is built on our insecurities and anxieties. I myself have felt crushing depression at times in my life. Imposter syndrome is a very real thing.

Celeste is the first game to have moved me this much since Journey from thatgamecompany.

Everything about the game is beautiful – the classic graphic style, stunning soundtrack by Lena Raine, exquisitely tuned mechanics. But the metaphorical and literal story it tells about Madeline and her journey up the mountain named Celeste are what make game stand out above its peers.

Play this game as soon as possible if you have not already.

Games Everyone Else Seemed to Like But Me

Into the Breach

Into the Breach game play
Into the Breach is impenetrable for me so far…

I’ve listened to many hours of glowing praise for Into the Breach on the various podcasts I listen to. It appears on nearly every top ten list I’ve read. I just can’t get it.

It’s been described as a puzzle game more so than an RTS, but something about it hasn’t clicked with my brain. FTL never clicked for me either. Maybe the games from Subset are just not for me.

I only recently picked it up and so I may not have given it enough time, so I’ll keep coming back to it for the time being. But for now, I don’t see it as the transcendent game experience I’ve heard described over and and over again.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Link battles Ridley in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
I guess I need to unlock the Red Suit for Link before returning to the volcano in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

As with RTS games, fighting games have never been a first choice for me, especially the Smash series. That’s not to say that don’t like them; I hold Street Fighter II as one of my favorite games of all time. But it’s something about the chaotic nature of Smash or that you have to push a button to jump that turns me off. I have too much muscle memory from other games to get into the gameplay.

I also think the UI, especially the Main Menu, is a mess. It took me forever to find the story mode. A basic tutorial would be nice as well.

I’ll keep playing it with my son as he loves it. It is a blast to jump into a local multiplayer match with him even if I don’t know what I’m doing. He’s well on the way to unlocking the bajillion characters and stickers. Eventually he’ll be able to teach me how to play better.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to crush him in Street Fighter (while I still can).

Looking forward to 2019

This new year is already off to a great start. This month I’ve played the delightful Pikuniku from Devolver Digital. I am also looking forward to trying out the Resident Evil 2 Remake and then Anthem next month. Until next time!

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