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The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

This list recognizes games many of us love, but it devotes as much space to ones a few of us are passionate about.

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The 25 Best Video Games of 2018
Photo: Nomada Studio

In video game journalism, the desire for consensus is often wielded like a cudgel in an attempt to silence dissenting voices. Calls for so-called “objective” analysis—for a number-crunching product review rather than a thoughtful critique of what a game means, or doesn’t mean, to say—suggest a desire for the process to be all but automated. The cycle can be disheartening, especially when it suggests that what is said matters less than whether it lines up with impressions gleaned from marketing materials, or when it demands that a review score remain in the ill-defined bounds of an industry that feeds on hype and demands flattery.

But, then, it’s easy to conflate how people weaponize consensus with the concept itself, meaning it’s easy to overlook its uses. In such a loud, dense, and expensive medium, where everything seems to be crying for our attention all the time, it’s indispensable to be able to cut through the noise. It’s invaluable to see a handful of games everyone else is pointing to as something you should consider spending your money on. Those games—God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and even smaller but no less beloved titles like Celeste—are on this list, the ones that captured our imaginations and dropped our jaws just the way they did for thousands of players.

Just as useful, though, is to be able to champion the unsung in the face of consensus. We can laud the expansive world of Red Dead Redemption 2 and the underwater alien vistas of Subnautica in the same breath. This list recognizes games many of us love, but it devotes as much space to ones a few of us are passionate about: the outsider art of Arbitrary Metric or Hidetaka Suehiro, the RPG-mirrored journey of a man named Gary, a cooperative prison break, a pulsating neon-tinged platformer. We prefer to think of consensus less as a means to silence dissent than as a way to hack away at the brush and clear a path for our own individual passions, as well as leave space for you to find your own. Steven Scaife


The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

25. Forgotton Anne

Players waited for ages to see a game that captured the visual imagination and deep, earnest emotion of Hayao Miyazaki, and after Studio Ghibli helped work on Ni No Kuni, well, they were left waiting. Whatever magic the game contained was drowned out by one clunky RPG mechanic too many. The specific thing players yearned for has finally been conjured by Forgotton Anne, which goes beyond doing an admirable job of aping the look and feel of Studio Ghibli’s animation. Yes, the concept of a girl finding herself the orphaned enforcer of a world made by and for every forgotten object the human world has ever lost is ripe for the exact kind of emotional allegory that Miyazaki himself is famous for. Even still, Forgotton Anne has a power all its own when it comes to how it uses player choice against the player. The narrative sinks its teeth deep into exploring the idea of people struggling with being able to see immigrants as human, even despite the fact that Forgotton Anne’s immigrants are very much not, and it’s soul-crushing how relevant that plot element became this year. It’s even more so when our heroine’s choices and hypocrisies and so-called altruism comes back to haunt her later on. Forgotton Anne goes to beautiful, unexpected places, and while it wears its inspiration on its sleeve, it’s very much its own remarkable creature. Justin Clark


The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

24. A Way Out

What’s fascinating and successful about A Way Out is its insistence on a forced split-screen—even for online co-op. The game wants you not only to do your job, but to be aware of how the other player has gone about doing his or hers. This choice mirrors in players the begrudging trust that’s built between Leo and Vincent when the game’s prison-break narrative forces these two strangers to work together. You’ll chisel a hole in the wall while your partner in the next cell stands watch for guards. Then, it’s your turn to return the favor, by causing a distraction or breaking up a fight, knowing that you may need to rely on your partner later to do the same for you. But A Way Out actually shines brightest in its action-free sequences, which focus less on familiar cooperative activities and more on illuminating how players think—what they choose to focus on interacting with and how they respond when the stakes aren’t necessarily a matter of life and death. Aaron Riccio


The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

23. Donut County

Donut County is an absurdist comedy game about a raccoon inexplicably gifted with a phone app that causes mass destruction via remotely controlled holes in the ground. Similar in tone to cult classics Katamari Damacy and Noby Noby Boy, the game’s abstract concept is executed via simple gameplay wherein the player moves an ever-expanding hole around familiar settings to suck furniture, people, and buildings into the earth. There’s a sense of accomplishment in successfully annihilating everything in sight, from smaller items such as fence posts and pot plants, to larger ones like animals and gardening utensils, then cars and entire buildings. Nothing can escape you and your inexplicable instrument of doom. Donut County matches its one-of-a-kind gameplay with clever comedy writing, best demonstrated in an in-game encyclopedia—with its detailing of the raccoon’s ludicrous beliefs, such as cliffs being an alien-created trap—that satirizes the overused video game trope of collectables. Ryan Aston


The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

22. GRIS

At the heart of GRIS is the idea of recovering from anguish through coping strategies and empathy. As the game commences, a girl has undergone some kind of devastating trauma. Then, the player avatar, Gris, falls through the world and into a derelict and hopeless place devoid of color. A first, Gris can barely walk, her movements seemingly encumbered by her psychological tolls, but she perseveres through barren wastes to find a monument where she restores the first ounce of color to the world and gains the ability to jump. From here, each wordless and strikingly artful section of GRIS symbolizes a different aspect of dealing with a psychological trauma, which is represented here by predatory animals that manifest from black ink. Crushing depression is exemplified by gray colors and empty landscapes, which Gris brings color and form back to as she helps others, as well as reforms the girl’s fractured psyche. That the narrative is intentionally ambiguous is important, as the game would not have the universal appeal that it does if it only dealt with a specific traumatic event. GRIS is a triumph of deeply affecting interactive poetry. Aston


The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

21. The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories

When The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories starts, it’s a bog-standard indie platform-puzzler—albeit with an eye-catching, fluid animation style—starring a girl trying to save her missing girlfriend on an abandoned island. The very second lightning strikes, frying the girl to cinders, and a moose in a lab coat brings her back to life, The Missing takes a hard left swerve into the realm of the surreal and never looks back for most of its play time. Death isn’t a teacher in the game, but a most morbid, all-purpose skeleton key that fits every lock to every door if you’re creative enough. It’d be a bonkers gimmick worthy of stunned applause by itself, and then it becomes clear exactly what all this suffering was meant to represent, and suddenly, it’s the most progressive and affecting game of the year, an exercise of excruciating sympathy toward the marginalized that has absolutely no parallel in gaming. Clark

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