Game Of The Year 2018

Game Of The Year Dec 31, 2018

Best Video Games Of 2018

  1. Subnautica
  2. Wreckfest
  3. God Of War (2018)
  4. Hitman 2
  5. Red Dead Redemption 2
  6. Marvel’s Spider-Man
  7. Marble It Up!
  8. Just Cause 4
  9. Celeste
  10. Forza Horizon 4

Honorable Mentions

  1. Two Point Hospital
  2. Overcooked 2



Subnautica

You start off in a escape pod from your gigantic spaceship, the pod is spinning out of control and a fire extinguisher hits you in the head, knocking you unconscious. Once you regain consciousness, you open your pod and find yourself floating adrift with nothing in sight except your spaceship half sunk in the ocean and completely torn up. It is your job to figure out how to get off this deserted planet covered in water.

Subnautica can easily be described as “Underwater Minecraft”, and yes, that is basically it, if you want to distill it into a two word category. But it’s so much more than that. You can explore and craft things that will help you survive and go down further, but there is actually a story to this game, there is a narrative thread that you get to slowly piece together as you explore more and more. The game does an extremely good job of coaching you how to first survive in the new environment by not allowing you to venture too far away or deep right off the bat. It guides you into learning all the mechanics of this game really quickly. Then you are basically set off on your own to find out what new and exciting areas are on this alien planet.

The exploration part is really why this game grabbed me. It is unlike anything you can imagine, especially coupled with VR. You feel like you are submerged into this planet, all alone, with no one and no sense of direction. Figuring out how to survive, what creatures will befriend you, or try to gobble you up. I am not one for building bases in games, and it more comes down to the fact that it becomes busy work. I like completing games, and the story is what drives me forward in games, not the creativity part, that is the job of the game designers. I would love it, if I was that type of person to be able to spend dozens of hours just building a base, but for me, I want it as simple and straight to the point as possible. Building 20 containers in a single large room to hold all my items seems much more efficient than spending a couple hours designing a intricate base, that I’ll only spend 2 minutes at a time every couple hours i, then move so far away, that it’s a pain to go back to and just dump it.

But that is what is cool about Subnautica, it lets you play it however you want to. If you want to mainline the game, and just go for the story stuff, or if you want to spend your time crafting these rad inter-connected bases to each other, or just spend time exploring and researching alien creatures, or hunt and try to destroy the crazy predators and just try to survive… this game lets you do that. It allows you to be able to do what you want, when you want. It doesn’t hold your hand, but it does give you a thread so it’s not just a blank canvas.

The game changed over the 4 years in development and early access. That’s also why I mainlined it this year once it hit version 1.0. I spent around 30 or so hours in the game since 2014, just checking up on it every once in a while, getting a bit further and further into the story, and the quitting when I felt I would be spoiling the game when it got finished. This was a good way to play it, because I became familiar with it enough to know what to do and how to get around without getting too far into the game.

Starting out in the beginner  area the “Safe Shallows” give you an immediate sense of what the entire game is going to be, exploration, collecting, crafting, and then moving on a bit at a time. Only relying on holding your breath, and searching around, then finding items to collect and craft a oxygen tank, then exploring and collecting and crafting a bigger tank, then getting a small portable seaglider to move quicker, then a small sub, then a big massive submarine that doubles as a mobile base. All the mechanics of the game, the items to collect, the story that is found piece by piece until it all fits together hours later, its paced very well. It give that childlike sense of wonder and exploration of a place you’ve never seen before, something that is unknown and taking the time to be and exist in that world, and even lose yourself in it, makes it my game of the year.


Wreckfest

Another game that started life as a kickstarter/Early Access game back in 2014 and somehow took years to come out officially. But it was worth it. Developed by Bugbear, the same team that created the insane Flatout series, this game feels like a much more mature title in every aspect. This isn’t the weird redneck racer with wonky physics where the main aspect was the bonus stages, where you hurl yourself out the window while trying to knock down giant novelty bowling pins. This focuses more on demolition derby and racing, with the car and track physics, where the destruction of the course is the main spotlight. The cars all have such a dynamic range of destruction to them. The technical term for it is Soft Body physics, which gives you a clear indication that these cars, even though made of metal, can bend and twist and compress, unlike anything you’ve seen in games before. It gives the game a bigger sense of realism, instead of something like Gran Turismo, where the cars can crash head on into a wall at 200 miles per hour and not have a single scratch on them. This gives the same sense of speed and that wonderful “Oh no!” moment, when you flip your car over a hill and the front looks something like a pug’s face instead of a hot rod.

The course also has a large focal point here too, where there is so many tiny things that have been placed on the outskirts of the track for you to create havoc in your path. Trying to cut a corner a little sharp, to edge out your rival, and knocking over a lookout tower that will collapse behind you and create a blockade of broken lumber. Or even crash through a set of hundreds tires, that someone spent time setting up as a protection point, and making them strewn about the track, is just so satisfying. And it’s something that no other racing games really do. It almost gives it a sense of a 70’s action movie, racing along an alley, to blow through fruit vendors and plates of glass that two men are moving back and forth through the street. The amount of destruction you can make on the track is staggering, and makes the course change throughout the race. Making you think a little bit differently on where you are going to make your braking and turning on each lap.  

Sadly, because this is a more mature title, where the silliness has been taken away a bit, there are no longer bonus games where the goal is to toss your driver as far as you can, or get as many points in a giant game of darts. That is the only real bummer of this game. Yes, there was a pre-order/Kickstarter bonus, where you are in an open environment with tons of jumps, ramps and all sorts of machinery to destroy your car with (to show off their physics engine), but this isn’t available if you get it now (not that I know of anyways) and it just is a fun sandbox area that performed so well even back in 2014. The sheer amount of destructible items, and damage your car could take, was the selling point. It was a genius move and a great way to promote the game, which was called “Next Car Game” at the time, was perfect, but I do wish they put a new, updated version into the final game, or even at least added it in, so you don’t have to launch it separately.

I spent about 18ish hours completing the game, doing all the races. Every time I opened the game, I felt like I was making progress, sure there was some races I sucked at, but for the most part I’d get 1st place if not second or 3rd. The game does a great job of ramping up, and letting you unlock parts to your car with money you earn, or even giving you special events to unlock new cars. It makes it a fun and rewarding experience for getting top place in a race. The only part I didn’t really care for was the special vehicle events. Riding a lawnmower, or a school bus in a demolition derby wasn’t very fun, as the just controlled poorly, had near zero acceleration, and just were more of a pain to maneuver all around. That, coupled with objectives in a time limit, like destroying a set amount of cars, just was tedious and made the game come to a standstill as it required me to start the same 3-5 minute event over and over and over again, just because I came up one short of their arbitrary number of destroyed cars. It was a pain, but luckily those events are few and far between the rest of the races.

The AI are usually pretty good, and aren’t like normal racers either, where they will all follow a straight line, break perfectly, and never try to make contact with you. This game is brutal, these AI opponents want you dead. They aren’t afraid to scuff their paint and really ram you in a turn. Thankfully, it never gets too out of hand where it’s like the cops in a GTA game, they aren’t trying to murder you into a bloody pulp. But they will try and get you out of 1st place if it comes to that. Which just makes the game much more fun, and adds a bit of white knuckle driving as well. You can’t just sit back and relax and take is easy on the final lap.

Some of my favorite races, where the tracks that have a criss cross crash setup. Where you double over a strip of the track and face oncoming or side coming cars. The amount of destruction that two cars going in opposite directions at 100+ mph, and collide is just wonderful, and brought a smile to my face every single time, even if it meant me losing 1st place and having to start over again. This is where the game shines, these races make you feel like a kid crashing your hot wheels into each other again, and it is just the best part of this game.

Wreckfest is Flatout physics, with a more polished and mature tone on it. Gone are the redneck white trash environments, but it does have the down south, american root to it. The cars are not to be admired, they are supposed to be ugly and crumpled. You are encouraged to go out and create as much destruction and mayhem as possible while still winning, even if your tactics are a bit underhanded. Wreckfest is a beautiful mix of racing and chaos, while still trying to be more grown up than Flatout, and that shows. Bugbear made a heck of a game, and I am glad that I spent $24 on it back in 2014 when it was announced, because four years later, I had a total blast with this game and will come back for more every once in a while, just to feel like a kid crashing his hot wheels together.


God Of War

Technically God of War 8, known as the 4th in the series (all the psp games and Accession don’t count), this game follows up after the 3rd in the series. Kratos has brutally murdered everyone in the Greek mythology,so where does he go from here? He sets up shop in a Norway, and now also has a new family as well. His wife has just died, and your goal is to light her body on fire and take the ashes to where she wanted them scattered. You employ the help of your son to come along as you now are solely responsible for him and teach and raise him to become a man.

The God of War series is known for several things, 1: Its an action combat game, button mashing the light and hard attack buttons are you main go to. 2: Your character is pissed off all the time and just wants to kill things. 3: It’s based in mythologies, so gods, and magic and all around weird things, are commonplace. It is great that this new game does away with some of that. The core game mechanics have been tweaked to now focus on a bit more of a tactical approach, where you have one Axe and you mainly stick to closer melee focused combat. Although you do have an out as you quickly are able to toss your axe into an enemy, and also recall it. This gives the combat a kick in the pants as recalling the Axe might be my favorite new thing in a game. Just throwing your axe past an group of undead and recalling it, only for it to come ramming into the group like a bowling ball to pins is so satisfying and just a joy to watch. Yes, you can absolutely make comparisons to Thor and his hammer, because guess what, that’s all part of this game, you are dealing with Norse gods here, so you’ll get caught up in that mythology pretty quickly. The game has puzzles galore in the midst of combat encounters as well.

The way that world is opened up to you, and you kinda get a more “go where you want when you want” feel to it, is a nice break from the others in the series of linear experiences. You can take your time and really just get lost in the world that has been created for you.

What I think is the main draw of the game, is that it does a 4th game in the series right. It’s not a reboot, and it doesn’t cater too much to the crowd of fans who loved the originals. It makes it, it’s own story. It goes out of its way to change the formula up into new and unsuspecting ways, but still makes it a familiar outing, like you still know this character, but he has grown and developed since they last time you saw him. It isn’t the same old same old, it isn’t a change of the fundamentals of the character to the point of “why even bother to call him Kratos?”, its that fine line of making the character more realistic, not as one note, and changing in ways that makes sense. It is extremely well done and the Sony Santa Monica team should be really proud to show that you can make a 7th sequel to a game and still make the character new and refreshing.

Unfortunately, because this game is a single player, narrative driven story, I don’t want to go too much into spoilers, because the joy is seeing for yourself the incredibly fun story this game does have. It takes your expectations and flips them around a bit. Some can see the bigger twists coming from a mile away, but if you aren’t extremely well versed in the Norse mythology, it might come to you as a surprise.

The game does so much right, and I had so much fun playing it, I kinda hate talking about the few negative things about it. One is the mid-way through twist, that takes a very nostalgic term that feels very lame and boring. It seems that I’m in the minority on this one as I was glad to get away from the other 3 games and have something new and fresh and all it’s own, then to turn around half way and heavily rely one the core concepts just seemed really boring. The other fact is that the game does have several collectibles and fights that allow you to go back after finishing the story and collect them and do a whole type of tower grind system to get more gear, just seems pointless. I’m not one for going back to a game after I finish it. Some DLC does that well, but only some. Most just seem like a lot of filler work for people who only get a few games a year, and it just pads the game out unnecessarily. For those that like busy work, or filler material, fine I guess, but for me, It was a bummer to see stuff crammed into this game needlessly.

God of War is incredible, from beginning to end. It is cinematic when it needs to be, heartfelt and soft at time, crazy and epic at others (and I rarely use the term Epic, but here it really does mean EPIC). It is a great story all around. The bonding you do with your son is fantastic, Atrayus acts and sounds like a kid. One who wants to rebel at times, one who when scolded kinda closes up, or acts out when provoked. These characters turned from jokes into fleshed out enjoyable ones right before your eyes, and it was so much fun uncovering the depths of these characters.

Hitman 2

Hitman 2 is exactly was a good sequle should do. It should take the core concept of the game and all the mechanics, and add to them, improve them, and overall make it seem familiar but separate itself. The two years given to Hitman 2’s development did help in that aspect. Team IO interactive split from publisher Square Enix and we all thought there’d never be a Season 2 of the Hitman we all fell in love with back in 2016. That’s partly true as this isn’t a “Season” 2, it’s just 2. And it all released at once, like a normal game, instead of the sprinkling of maps throughout the year like Season 1. I for one actually think this hinders the game quite a lot and also another reason why it’s not top of my list this year. The game dropped in the middle of November, basically right as everyone was starting to do Game of The Year stuff, and it just kinda got shoved out the door with very little hype or media coverage.

This also allowed everyone to just play it like the previous Hitman games, where you play a level once and then move on to the next level. That is not how the new Hitman games should be played. That is why the Episodic content worked so well. It gave players time to breathe, to focus on the maps, and see how intricate and complex they truly were. When you have all the levels at your fingertips, and plus the fact that you can import all the previous game’s levels into 2, it just gives way too many options all at once. You are now forced to try and complete the same levels over again or just move on. For me, I don’t have the patience to retry levels when I know I can just move on the the next map right from the same menu. It just seems like an extreme backstep to the game changer that was Hitman 2016.

That being said, Hitman 2 is a actually fantastic game that is so crazy complex that it can be overwhelming at times, but the beauty of it, is that it’s only as complex as you make it. You can just follow the story objectives and kill the bad guys in the linear cookie cutter path the game lays out for you, or you can actually take the road less traveled and go off the beaten path a bit to discover secret entrances, costumes you had no idea existed, or even a different and crazy weapon that would be worthy of a movie bad guys death. Then you set out and plot your own course on how to kill your targets in new and exciting ways.

The game is deep, and when I say that, I mean it. There are so many different story lines, ways to kill targets, different costumes and setups that it can become extremely overwhelming, which is why the Episodic release worked, it allowed you to come back to the game a few weeks later and make the same single map feel totally different, by giving you new starting locations and costumes that you unlocked after completing it the first time. Now you can start in a kitchen or a event staff and begin undercover right in front of your target. And it all felt new. If felt fresh, even though it’s the same area. And that is the single best part of why Hitman works, as long as you take your time and really invest the time and free yourself of “this is a level, I have to complete it” you now have given yourself the freedom to explore and uncover the vast amount of locations and stories there are just hidden beneath the surface of the game.  

This game takes time to master, and that is such a refreshing thing for this franchise. Taking the time to “Master” a level and unlock all the goodies that the game rewards you for playing the same map over and over again. You level up extremely quickly and unlock so much each time you complete the level, it always feels like you are making a lot of progress. Allowing you to use those new unlocked weapons and gadgets in later levels also is something nice that a lot of other games don’t do.

There isn’t a whole lot new to the game, it mainly consists of destroyable security cameras, people now seeing you in mirrors, and tall grass that will hide you from detection. What is cool is that these are retroactively added into the old maps from the previous game, as those levels have received a facelift in graphics, and some new added features, but still remain basically the same. Elusive Targets are back as well, and the first one starring Sean Bean as an unkillable foe is just a nice wink to his career as well.

All in all, this game is “more of the same”. And that isn’t a bad thing at all, I do wish it was released in a better and slower paced, that would have allowed me to take much more time and look forward to the maps release like an event. It’s not the end of the world as its still a fantastic game, I just wish I was able to play it throughout the entire year instead of several sittings.


Red Dead Redemption 2

The snowy mountains of the great Grizzlies find Arthur Morgan and The Van Der Lind gang caught in a huge blizzard as they escape from the Pinkertons. As you spend the next hour and a half or so learning the ropes of this game, it becomes abundantly clear this is setting you up for a adventure that will span many many hours.

Just the intro alone is a time investment, but it is so carefully crafted that there is none like it. It already has quickly become such a memorable intro in games, just like the Colossus of Rhodes battle in God Of War 2, or walking The Joker down the halls in Arkham Asylum. This game sets the stage right out of the gate, and hits you in the face with atmosphere just like the cold frost in the game.

From there you trek out to find a suitable location to set up a temporary camp and get the gang back on its feet. Once that happens, the game really opens up and allows you to kinda free roam around and do whatever you want. Sadly this open ended mode really hinders the actual game and causes so many people to invest way too much time into the beginning of the game without unlocking the various weapons or really learning the ropes the proper way, which results in a lot of wasted time. You are better suited to sticking to the story missions for the first couple dozen hours or so and only briefly exploring a bit and coming right back to camp.

Its just that you don’t really understand the core mechanics at the outset of the game, and sadly the game does a horrible job explaining some of what should be the most basic of gameplay elements. It’s only after around hour 15 do you start unlocking some stuff that you might have been wondering about for a long time. Like, “How can I catch this legendary fish? I don’t have a pole and have been to every city and I can’t buy one!”... Well, that question is answered by one of your gang members going out with you and teaching you how to fish, and giving you the fishing pole during that quest. It’s small things like that, that really do have a hindrance on the game.

Luckily the game doesn’t have too many glaring issues, its mainly small things, that are contributing to people not realizing that the game wants you to play it a very specific way. It is a linear story comprising of a lot of cutscenes, hand picked and crafted missions and various characters and locations that will be unveiled once you have progressed to a certain and specific point in the story. Only then will you be treated to what the game wants to offer you, and only in their specific timing. That is the real issue. You can’t play this game like a GTA open world game where you can do whatever, whenever and then just pick a mission whenever you want. I mean… you can TRY to do that, but it will result in a very uneven and stilted game experience, and just wear you out. It’s an uphill battle that you will always loose, like Sisyphus rolling his boulder up the hill. Just play the game the way the game wants you to play it, and you will have an amazing time.

Once you understand that, the game takes over you life, it is so big, so large and chock full of things to do, you can loose weeks and months just uncovering things at your own pace. And it does that extremely well. This isn’t a game that should be rushed to completion, this is a game that should be enjoyed, savoured and devoured until you are satisfied. I spent hours on end just exploring, spending around a in game week at a time out in the wilderness, tracking animals, spelunking, on treasure hunts, even just moseying around towns and helping folks as I saw fit. When someone rubbed my rhubarb the wrong way, up went the bandana, lasso and hogtying the unfortunate soul who insulted my honor, and a quick trip across state lines to an forest clearing and some railroad tracks made for a great serial killer moment.

This game lets you, be you. This game is the living embodiment of “emergent gameplay”. Something different is going to happen to everyone at different times, and it is up to you to have it play out the way you want. Yes, you’ll come across many of the same moments that everyone else has, its a programmed game, but it might not play out exactly the same. You might have low honor and the man who has been stalking the widow in the woods now is creeped out by you instead, or you might take the chance to get revenge on the couple that left you for dead in a mass grave. It’s up to you, and that makes this game stand amongst games like Metal Gear Solid V and Breath Of The Wild.

The story of Dutch Van Der Lind and his gang was one that was briefly touched on in Red Dead Redemption one back in 2010 and when everyone heard this was a prequel,a  collective groan spanned the gaming universe. No one wanted or really cared about the gang, because we already knew what was going to happen to them (You murder them all, by the way). Plus John Marston was that redemptive character, trying to get away from his past as a bad guy, so no one really wanted to play the jerk in this new game. And there is kinda a disconnect with me and Arthur at the beginning of the game. I played him as an outlaw who only killed when someone tried to kill him first. I greeted, and was nice to everyone, I maxed out my honor, and it felt great! But in a cutscene or two when Arthur keeps repeating throughout the game that he isn’t a good man, whenever someone tells him he is, it just seemed a bit off.

Arthur starts out as just another lame character that you feel like you know everything he is going to say, before he says it, but boy are you going to be in for a surprise when you hear the amazing dialogue they have written for him. He is well spoken and just such an interesting character and you just want to spend as much time possible with everyone in this game just to interact with them and hear this story play out.

This game is way too big to cover in such a small amount of space, but this game is special and it needs to be talked about. It’s a bummer than so many people played it wrong and wern’t told how to play it, which resulted in them burning out on the mission types and  falling off of it extremely early on. This game truly is a Western game, it’s big, expansive and has all the fun tropes of a western. Bank and train robberies, horse chases, quiet fireside chats, old timey characters and sayings, it’s all there, and it is meant to soak in like a river. Letting it flow around you and exist while you just lay back and watch and go with the flow.

Take the time to really immerse yourself in this game. Roleplay. Sleep at your camp, wake up at dawn and dink the coffee set out for you, walk and take a few moments to greet your gang and pet and feed your horse. Ride to a far off mountain, take out a rifle and lie in wait for a animal you’ve been tracking, skin and sell the pelt at a nearby town, help fix a broken wagon, hop aboard a train and rob it, sell the goods to a fence, stock up on supplies for your camp, find a stranger and help them get back home. There are so many activities that allow you to live out your western fantasies, close to the kind you can dream of in Westworld.

Marvel’s Spider-Man

Spider-Man has it rough, trying to be an assistant to Otto Octavius, and get a grant for his experiments, to helping his Aunt run a homeless shelter, to navigating a rocky breakup with his ex and somehow try and win her back… all the while, trying to save New York City from hundreds of crazy insane thugs, ne'er do wells and all around bad guys. Being Spider-Man is mostly a thankless job, and luckily for this game, it walks a pretty good line with the balancing act of showing the Peter Parker and Spider-Man sides that the game allows you to play.

Again, this is kinda a game that should be familiar to anyone who has picked up a Spidey game in the last 13 years. The one comparison that everyone throws around is Spider-Man 2 based off the 2005 Sam Rami movie, why? I have no clue, there have been a LOT of other Spider-Man games, and even ones that did web swinging better, but it’s the one everyone gets compared to. And don’t get me wrong, I love that game as well, it just is that there are other Spidey games that do something more than just open world superhero playground.

This new “Marvel’s Spider-Man” doesn’t really follow any pre-established continuity or story ark, which is such a nice breath of fresh air. It’s not an Ultimate, or Spectacular story, it creates its own universe, with already well in place characters. Thank God we don’t have to sit through ANOTHER Spidey origin story, because I’ll hurl myself in front of a truck if I do…. Apparently the new Into The Spider-verse movie that just came out is six different retellings of the origin story… ugh, WHY??!!?!?! Anyways, even though this game has mostly all known characters, we join into the game at a point where Peter already knows everyone, saved and battled everyone and there really isn’t anything new here. He already hooked up with MJ and broke up. Which was such an interesting and new take on MJ. She wants to be a journalist and her and Pete are on the outs, all the while Aunt May is doing her own thing and Pete is also working for Doc Ock… but this is before he turns.

The “Main” story of this game and subsequent “Twist” of the game is something that is painfully obvious within the first moments of the game, which kinda sucks, but the game doesn’t really dwell on it too much, and the real game is everything in between the main plot points. This game does the small stuff EXTREMELY well, and that is where the major joy of playing this game lies. I want to give the game as much praise as I can, because there are a large swath of areas that I do have an issue with.

Web-swinging around New York feels just about as good as everyone says it does, it’s fantastic and nothing like it in anything else in games that aren’t named “Spider-Man”. The sense of speed as you gain and pick up momentum is insane, leaping off the Avenger’s Tower also is something that is just a rush. The combat is also something that really has been kicked up a notch or two. The fluidity between combos, being able to use powers from your suit, webbing enemies and tossing them overhead into others, and even stealthy picking off thugs from the shadows all flows into each other seamlessly like something out of a Batman Arkham game.

Insomniac also pulled off something special with the graphics, it is head and shoulders the best looking PS4 game I have seen. It is just a sight to behold. Being able to take a selfie on the top of the Empire State building, or even employ the in game photo mode to set up beautiful shots of Spidey battling baddies, or even just a spectacular sunset, it just looks absolutely amazing. The cutscenes also have that perfectly looking CGI on some models. Doc Ock and Aunt May both are standouts, and even though MJ doesn’t have that supermodel look that she does in the comics or cartoons, she has a added realism that her and Peter both share that make this extraordinary setting become a bit grounded in reality.

This is a lot of people’s Game of the Year, and when playing it for the first several hours, it really does seem worthy of that title, but as the hours drone on, the game just drops the ball a lot. The missions become extremely repetitive in the 14 or so hours it takes to complete the game. Fighting the same 4 thug types throughout the city, looking the same, with the exception of clothes, no matter what faction they belong to just seems totally unrealistic, even for a superhero game. But the biggest issue I have with the game is the same that I have for Spider-Man 3… It just tries to cram way too much into one game. Even without 100% the game, you fight and defeat Kingpin, help Otto Octavius become Doc Ock and assembly and defeat the Sinister Six, fight and take down Silver Sable, patch things up with MJ, take down Tombstone and several other prominent Spidey Rogues Gallery players, find a new villain Mr. Negative and take him down, also see the birth of Spidey 2, Miles Morales, witness Aunt May talk to Peter about being Spider-Man and also die, go through a whole story ark of Marvel’s version of Commissioner Gordon with Yuri the cop, figure out and uncover Norman Osborne's plan to heal his son Harry while eluding to Green Goblin and the Venom symbiote, plus the tons and tons of other city activities like finding and defusing bombs, stop carjackings, stop robberies, stop drug deals, stop turf wars and gang rivalries… the list kinda goes on… it is just too much. It’s sad because this game could have been a lot tighter and pared down to only focus on a couple core stories and that would have been enough. The first half of the game is absolutely stunning, amazing, spectacular… Anything else you want to tie into Spider-Man, but it just overreaches and fumbles with an unnecessary amount of bad guys and other stuff. It felt like they didn’t think they’d get a chance to make a sequel, so they tried to cram as much stuff into it as possible.

Even with the DLC, which clocks in at 3 chapters at around 3 hours each, it feels overwhelming. This game is best spent playing in small chunks, because it can get a bit tedious near the end. Trying to 100% this game is not the way to go unless you REALLY like the same couple side mission structures that have been taken directly from other Spider-Man games in the past.

I enjoyed my time with this game, obviously, or it wouldn’t be on this list. There is a reason Spidey is one of my favorite super heroes, but with this game less is more, and they did not get the memo. Spreading out the story and characters would have been much better. And even the hidden fanservice things in the game aren’t as deep or well done as something like the Arkham games. All in all, it’s a good game, just not my absolute favorite. Hopefully for the next game in this series, Insomniac will try and slow the pace a bit, and give us a much more curated and tighter experience and everyone's favorite neighborhood Spider-Man.

Marble It Up

Take the NES game Marble Madness, and mix it with Marble Ultra Blast on Xbox 360 and you have Marble It Up. Actually, it’s more just  Marble Ultra Blast than anything else. And that’s because the same team who brought us the excellent Ultra Blast game on Xbox Live Arcade back in 2006 is back with Marble It Up. It was a Nintendo Switch exclusive at the time, and I didn’t even know it was going to come out on PC, so I begrudgingly bought it, but at the price of $20 it was a nice birthday present to myself.

You follow the simple task of rolling a marble around a level, with hills, drops and even jumps, into a goal. Almost akin to Super Monkey Ball in a way. There really aren’t collectables in most levels, near the end you might have to tag several gems as a way to make the levels more complicated, but nothing too crazy for the most part.

The real fun is the physics in the game, where you roll and gain momentum, the surfaces also have unique properties that will allow you to slide and bounce in certain directions that will cause you to go flying and you have to navigate carefully throughout the map. Making it to the end is only half the challenge, you are also timed. Now, I’m not really one for timed missions in games, and a game soley built around time trials isn’t my cup of tea either. But there is just something so relaxing about Marble It Up, the soundtrack itself is a mixture of various types of House, Techno, and Drum and Bass tracks that really do pull you into the game and bring you into a almost hypnotic state. Retrying a level over and over again isn’t a source of frustration or even aggravation, it makes you focus and allows you to notice the small issues that you are making to cause you to fail or not get the best time. Games rarely walk that fine line right, but this game does it wonderfully and allows you to try and try again until you get that golden time.

Yes there are power ups but they are nothing really out of the ordinary, a speed boot, a slow down the timer effect, a gliding powerup and a double jump, that allows you to course correct a mis timed  jump. But you never have to rely on these too much, they are just there in the perfect spot when you need them. The main things you will be focusing on is the momentum of your marble and the jump. Jumping at the right time and really knowing the speed and momentum of your marble and being able to control both in tandem is the main key to completing this game.

The game isn’t too difficult and can be completed within a couple sittings, around 3ish hours or so. The only real gripe I have with the game is that there are only so many levels, and the first couple handfuls are tutorials. The game is very basic and doesn’t really require tutorials, devoting 6 or so levels to teaching you basics out of the 40 is a bummer.

Luckily this game is just one of those you can sit down for 15 minutes and be satisfied if you have to stop playing, but always sticking in the back of your mind, and fantasising about the next time you can play it, and where you could cut some corners to get that gold medal for time. Its not the best game I played this year, it isn’t even that amazing of a game, it was just a really really fun time, and sadly there are not a lot of games like this anymore, this team made their last marble game in 2006 and that was it. So over a decade without marble games, it certainly was fun to come back to a familiar type of game that is out of the ordinary dime a dozen shooters or character action games.

Just Cause 4

This is the best sandbox chaos game I’ve ever played. Period. I laughed out loud more with just playing around with the balloons and boosters than any other game I think I’ve ever played. This game really does get the “make your own fun” aspect, and even though it only gives you a couple of tools, those tools are so versatile, that it really just lets you lose and to have crazy amounts of fun, with only a select few gadgets.

I’m going to get the bad stuff out of the way first, since sadly everything in the game that is normal “it must be good to make the game a good game” is really really really bad. Characters, bad guys, motivation, setting… all absolutely abysmal. Rico is such a bland and onenote main protagonist that you couldn’t pick him out of a lineup of one. The setting is just another small fictional island country just like the others in the series. The bad guy doesn’t have a face (I literally don’t remember if they show him on screen or not, and couldn’t tell you what his name was) and the major new hook and motivation for the game (weather) is basically non existent in the game too.

The big marketing push for this game leading up to release is that there is big weather settings. Storms and Tornadoes. The title screen every time you launch the game is all a big storm cloud with lightning and thunder. Every trailer features tornados extensively in them, talking about the mass destructive power they posses. In the 22 hours it took me to beat the game, I came across one storm and one tornado. Each where main missions where you HAD to do them to move the story along. The storm one just seems windy, raining and was just more in the way than anything else. The Tornado one was interesting as it did cause damage, but it was such a small part of the actual mission (most if it was set up) that it barely left enough time on screen to make an impression. It was there and then gone. For such a major part of the marketing behind the game, it is not really even in the game at all.

The main missions, stories and even side quests are all very boring, by the books, cookie cutter missions in an open world game. There are a couple characters that do stand out a bit more than the rest. A director of an action movie was the one I spent the most time with, since her missions where tied to unlocking mods for the balloons. She has you do a bunch of action stunts while “hidden cameras” are rolling. No they aren’t, and this is a major gripe I have about the game, it just doesn’t feel like a completed game. They have the ideas in place, but they aren’t dressed up nice. LIke, you meet up with a stunt coordinator that says they have to get a shot with you driving 100 mph. So you jump in a car and drive, once you hit 100mph, the mission says complete. Nothing more. You don’t have to do it in a specific area, just the game needs to register that you drove 100 mph. You could bail out of the car, walk to a bike, balloon it up into the sky, pop the balloons thousands of feet into the air, and jump on the bike and pull the trigger and get 100 mph registers, and the prompt would still say completed. There clearly isn’t cameras in the sky, nor did you drive the proper vehicle either… That is what I’m talking about.

The big complaint as of the time this is written, is that the game just looks like complete garbage. It looks awful, the console versions suffer from extreme motion blurring and a locked 30 frames per second and some slow down during massive explosions due to the physics. The PC versions is heads and tails better than the consoles, but it still suffers from massive pop up textures and even textures not loading in at all. It is able to hit butter smooth fps of 60 or higher, and even with a decent GPU you can get extremely fluid game play with the massive amount of chaos happening on screen all at once. It really can be both a technically masterpiece and also a total baffling nightmare all at once.

Now, on to the good stuff. This is the ultimate sandbox game. You have 3 main types of gadgets you can deploy called tethers, These have the functions of Retract, Boost and Balloon. With these three funtions, you have mods that can be unlocked and equipped. You can choose how hight you want them to go, how fast you want them to activate at, which direction they activate, and many more. Then on top of that, you have the choice on combining them to have boosters and balloons, or retract and boost, or balloon and retract, or all three. Then even more on top of that, you have the choice of three types of activation methods. Whether they will activate automatically, or having something different happen while tapping the up button, or having something else happen while holding the up button. Then you also have 3 loadouts labeled A B and C. So the combinations are basically endless. I know if can be a bit overwhelming, and the game does a great job of easing you into everything and giving you enough of a tutorial to learn how to use everything without being overwhelmed.  

A great example of the crazy stuff you can do is this: You call in a cargo plane to drop off a jet on a mountain, it deploys and now you and a jet are on top of the highest mountain in the game, but there isn’t any room to actually get in the jet and start it up and fly away. So you place several balloons on it, and some boosters on the back as well. The balloons won’t activate until you tap the up button, and the boosters won’t activate until you hold the up button. You climb on top of the jet but don’t get in. You tap on the up button and the balloons inflate and take off. Now you are miles and miles up in the sky. You climb into the cockpit and you reach such an altitude that the balloons pop. the jet is now falling. You hold up on the dpad and activate the boosters, now you can gain speed and maneuver the jet until the engines turn on and then you fly away.

Another example: You are in a firefight on a base with a mission that has totally gone sideways. Everyone is surrounding you. Loadout A has retractors, Loadout B has Balloons, and C has Boosters. You use Loadout A to tether two bad guys together and as the teather retracts, they fly into each other and get knocked out. You use Loadout B to tether a balloon to a bad guy and watch them fly away, to use C to add a couple boosters to a cargo container and sent it rocketing off into a group of other bad guys behind you. Then you switch between A B and C to add to the chaos. You retract a bad guy into the cargo container, then you attach two or three balloons to another bad guy, as he starts to float away, you attach a tether to the cargo container, then attach a booster to the floating bad guy, you activated it and the ballon, bad guys and cargo container all attached to each other fly away like a rocket and explode high in the sky.

It's just an insane amount of fun that you can have and then taking cars, boats, planes, civilians and even animals into the equation too, it creates the perfect sandbox of total and complete mayhem. It might not be the most well made game, it isn’t the prettiest game nor does it have a good or compelling story that needs to be told. But it is possibly the most amount of fun I’ve ever had in a game that say “you create your own fun”. What I did was create a character who is a total psychopath who leaves want and destruction in his wake and also a tons of balloons that have humans, helicopters and boats dangling in the air behind him.

Celeste

Celeste on paper seems like just another indie, pixel art platformer that prides itself on how “hardcore” it is. The pride and joy of these games is the death count. Look how hard we made our game! Those have never really interested me, because they rely on cheap tricks to boost the difficulty and it's just trial and error throughout the game. Memories where all the hidden traps are, and you can beat any one of those.

What’s really neat about Celeste and what sets it apart is that it is simple. Simple in premise, simple in controls, simple in execution. It really does so much with so little. Even the entire point of the game is summed up in the first piece of text in the game, “This game is about climbing a mountain”. That’s it. It's so simple, but for anyone who has conquered a mountain, that mountain might be much more difficult that originally thought, but you try, you gain experience, and you learn the various things that make the mountain unique and it allows you to conquer it, if you don’t give up.

You play as a young girl who stands at the bottom of the mountain. You have nothing with you, and the only real controls you have is move, jump and dash. That’s it. So you start at the bottom and just work your way up. It isn’t really much of a side scrolling game, but more akin to the older arcade games, where you have a single screen that is inter-connected. Get to the next screen, and that’s where you respawn once you die. And you will die… a lot. But what this game does is that it doesn’t pride itself on difficulty, it is just plain difficult, but doesn’t shove itself in your face with it. It wants you to complete it, almost cheering you on in certain ways. During loading screens it tells you there is a help mechanic that is there for if you need it. There were about two points in the game at the very end, where I felt I was banging my head against a wall on how to get past a certain point, and almost used the help, but I stuck to it and was able to get passed it on my own. But for those that hate retrying the same jump 300+ times, it is a welcome feature.

You meet several people throughout your climb, and the story does get a bit preachy about depression and mental illness at one point, but it is quick enough that I don’t think it brought down the story too much. I do think there was a large difficulty spike at the very end of the game, where I tripled my entire death count in one section. I mean sure it was the very last part of the game, but for the most part I got through the game pretty quickly. That last section took almost a fourth of the time playing the game to get past.

Even with the death counter, the difficult parts the game really does shine as an example of polish and tight controls that you don’t normally get in many games. The controls feel precise and every jump always feel perfectly timed in the button press. Air control and dash also feel spot on. That’s partially why I did finish this game and not put it down after starting it, like so many other games like it. It feels like time was taken with this game, a bit of extra care that makes the game stand out against the rest.

The music is hard hitting when it needs to, calming to hit those story beats to really make an emotional impact at other spots, and devoid of all music at others, leaving you breathless while you are battling a blizzard and mach wind speeds. The game just boasts so much creative passion and care in every aspect, even the music and sound effects couldn’t escape.

The game also features collectables in the form of Strawberries (that do nothing, and the game even tells you to not get hung up trying to get them as they do not unlock anything and are just for bragging rights,and nothing more). It also has hidden rooms that hold cassette tapes that allow for Remixed levels called “B-sides” and even the more hidden C-sides. I collected a few of these if I came across them and if I felt like I was able to get them. There were a couple I tried to get in several attempts , but if I was just nowhere near close to collecting them, I just passed on it and moved on. Which I thought was nice that I wasn’t stuck trying to get them just because I might be missing out on a cool unlockable.

I didn’t think Celeste was a game I would love this much. Everything I heard about it, and saw of it, immediately turned me off of it, but I’m glad I took the chance to play it. Hard for the sake of being hard is never what a game should try and go for, but if the game is just difficult, but crafted well and it also encourages you along the way, well, that’s something special. Celeste is something special and unique in a sea of generic platformers. Sometimes people have their own mountain to conquer, whether that mountain is a mountain of injustice, or in my case and actual mountain. Everyone should take on this challenge and conquer this mountain.


Forza Horizon 4

This game was a real surprised to me in several ways. I am not a car guy, I’m not a sim racing guy, and I wasn’t going to spend $60 on a sim car racing game. But with the magic of GamePass, Game Anywhere and a $1 promotion all from Microsoft, they were practically giving this game to me.

The Forza series is one I’ve never really cared for, as I always saw it as a knockoff of Gran Turismo, which it basically was when it started way back in 2004 on the original Xbox. Back in the 360 era, the Forza team broke into two factions and we got the Horizon games. Which leaned more into the Arcade style racer, that focused more on speed and points over getting first place and not scratching your perfect car.

Two years ago I picked up Horizon 3 that took place in Australia, with its fancy forests, beaches, deserts, and cities and towns. I had a blast with it and when I booted up 4, I was treated to the new location of Great Britain. With its green hills, quaint towns, and… that's kinda it. There are some forests, but I just didn’t get the same ooh and aahs of the vibrant colors in Australia. The UK does boast something that no other games did. That is the weather. Seasons. Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. These seasons change based on the time you play and your progress. It does change up the locations enough to make certain areas and tracks seem fresh and new, but for me it didn’t make it change enough for me to really care all that much.

There are several race challenges that were really a blast and so different and unique to a racing game that I got immersed in it. A director making me do stunts, a blogger that makes me drive the cars that made her Top 10 cars in video games list, a AR racing mission that makes the world look like a Halo level… There are some really cool parts to this game.

The graphics are top notch, Car games have always been a staple of “look at how good video games look” and the Forza games are one of the best examples in showing off lighting and detail. The wet road, the treads of a tire, the carbon fibre of a hood. All these are showpieces and it does look mighty impressive, especially at 4k resolutions on a PC running a solid 60fps. It's such a bummer that PC is the only version that does 60fps too, because it really does make such a big difference in how the game looks and also performs.

Forza Horizon 4 does a lot of amazing things with cars, there are so many cool awesome looking cars that you only could drive in a video game, and especially with this one being a more fun and less serious take on racing these super cars, you get to really put them through their paces, and also have a blast launching them off jumps, slamming them into other cars and drifting around massive turns. The focus on more of the rally racing events is a welcome change of pace for me, and really got me into caring about cars just a bit more than I normally do. I’d be lying if I wasn’t racing for the chance to play Forza Horizon 5 in 2020.

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