10 – Subsurface Circular
Subsurface Circular is basically a murder mystery narrative text adventure but told with such style and panache by creator Mike Bithell (Thomas Was Alone, Volume) it elevates it above contemporary examples. You play as a Tek (robots who work menial jobs for their human masters, or “management”) detective who is investigating the disappearance of other Teks. The entire game takes place on the Subsurface Circular, a subway line for Teks and your only interactions with the world are through dialogue choices with the other Teks who come and go during your journey. Taking what could have been a rote murder mystery story and melding in themes of automation replacing human jobs, AI agency, and revolutionary ideals create a compelling and deeply satisfying story.
9 – ONRUSH
ONRUSH is the perfect racing game for people who don’t like racing games because despite all appearances it isn’t a racing game. The brainchild of the team who gave us Driveclub and MotorStorm, ONRUSH is an objective-based team battle game, with MOBA-esque creeps, and conducted at 100mph. You choose from a number of vehicle types which are essentially distinct characters with their own set of abilities and powers and compete against another team to capture objectives, or drive through time gates, or simply smash your way to the score limit first. There is no start or finish line, you all drive together in an endless loop in what is called the “stampede”, taking out ai creep cars and smashing your opponents while completing objectives until one team ends. It is thrilling, stylish, bombastic and utterly addictive. Criminally overlooked when it launched, the game has since been added to PS+ and the Xbox Game Pass so you have no excuse not to check it out.
8 – Bomber Crew
Bomber Crew is a delightful little sim game where you control the crew of a Lancaster bomber during World War 2. At its heart the game is essentially a management sim in the vein of FTL, you are never in direct control of the craft or your crew, you can only issue orders and watch as your crew carry them out. During the course of a mission, this will range from simple tasks such as taking off and navigating to an objective, through to ordering your pilot to take evasive manoeuvres while targeting enemy fighters for your gunners and directing your engineer onto the wing of the plane to fix a damaged engine. The gameplay can rapidly become frantic and chaotic as you desperately try to keep your bomber in the air and your crew alive while carrying out your bombing run, before limping back to base for much-needed repairs and upgrades. Short missions, simple gameplay systems and a charming art style make this a refreshing addition to the genre and well worth checking out.
7 – Forza Horizon 4
The latest and greatest entry in the Forza Horizon series, this 4th version is the most ambitious to date. While at first the move from the beaches, forests, and outback of Australia to the familiar but arguably more mundane British countryside (at least for those of us who live there) seemed unappealing to me, Horizon 4 has surpassed its predecessor in every way. It turns out the windy roads of Playground Games’ approximation of rural Yorkshire and Scotland, and the tight, hilly roads of Edinburgh make for a thrilling simcade racer. The additions of Forzathon Live (group activities for all players on a server to partake in together at the top of every hour), dynamic weather, and changing seasons on a weekly basis keep the game constantly fresh and full of new activities to partake in. If you’re looking for a good open world racing game that feels great to play, is staggeringly beautiful and is packed with content, you could do a lot worse than this.
6 – Marvel’s Spider-Man
I’ll say it here, and I’ll say it confidently – Marvel’s Spider-Man is better than any superhero game ever made, and that includes the Arkham series. Insomniac Games take the freedom of movement, traversal and combat from Sunset Overdrive and take it to its logical conclusion in the most agile of all superheroes. What elevates Spider-Man above other superhero games is that on top of making a game with incredibly satisfying, fluid combat, and the best web-swinging traversal ever put in a game, the story is a pitch-perfect comic-book story, with real, believable characters and a thrilling and at times downright emotional story which injects just the right amount of humour and camp to keep it from falling into the poe-faced misery the Arkham series devolved into. Insomniac have done the franchise proud and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
5 – Spintires: Mudrunner
Spintires: Mudrunner is possibly the most self-indulgent pick I have ever put on a GoTY list, in that I honestly cannot recommend this game to anyone unless you have the same very particular obsession as I do with methodical, system-heavy games that involve moving things from point A to point B. Spintires is a game where you collect logs from a logging station and deliver them to a lumber yard, and that’s about it. The hook is that you are driving through acres of muddy tracks, marshlands, raging rivers and flooded plains to do so, and you do it all in creaky old Soviet-era off-road vehicles. Using all tools available to you (low ratio gearbox, all-wheel-drive systems, lockable differentials, cable winches etc) you must navigate some of the most difficult terrains I have ever seen in a driving game to deliver your cargo, without running out of fuel or completely trashing your vehicle. To help with this you discover and unlock a fleet of vehicles on each map that you can instantly jump to so if you get completely stuck you can grab another vehicle and tow yourself to safety. It’s not a pretty game, it’s a very lonely game (unless you delve into the multiplayer which I have not), but it does one thing incredibly well and that one thing is absolutely my jam.
4 – God of War
When I first heard that Santa Monica Studio was making another God of War game, I honestly rolled my eyes. After 7 games of bombastic, over the top, but increasingly repetitive and boring action, the thought of Kratos murdering his way through the Greek pantheon again was in no way appealing. That was not what we got though. God of War is both a continuation of the story of Kratos and a soft reboot. Mature storytelling that focuses on themes of fatherhood, loss, and responsibility, the transposition of the story from Greece to the land of Norse mythology, and the complete overhaul of gameplay and combat mechanics meant that God of War is not only the best game in the series by a long way, I think it is the best single-player story focused game we’ve had since 2015’s The Witcher 3. Ambitious, gigantic in scope, visually magical and with a genuinely moving narrative, God of War is a masterpiece and deserves to be celebrated.
3 – Sid Meier’s Civilization VI
I have been a long time fan of the Civilization games, my hours played in Civ V on Steam is horrifyingly high, dwarfed only by Football Manager ‘14. The only issue I have had with the Civ series is the fact that if I wanted to play the full-blooded version of the game rather than the more casual Civilization Revolution titles then I had to be chained to my computer for hours on end because a game of Civ takes a long, long time. Then this year Civilization VI was released both on iOS devices, and on the Nintendo Switch, I picked it up on iPad and it has been a revelation. The handheld version of the game is the complete package, with the only difference to the PC version being the lack of animated and voice-acted leaders and a slight downgrade in graphical fidelity. These omissions cannot come close to overshadowing the convenience of being able to relax on the sofa with some mindless TV on while you raise your civilisation of choice up from the stone age to the space age. Deep and complex, but with comprehensive tutorials and a wealth of tips, Civilization VI is the best entry in the series and is not more accessible than ever before. If you are a fan of the series, or of turn-based strategy games in general then you owe it to yourself to check out the handheld versions of this game.
2 – Destiny 2: Forsaken
The history of Bungie’s ambitious shared-world shooter series Destiny has been tumultuous. The first game had been a roller-coaster of exceptional highs and disappointing lows over its 3-year lifespan, and initially positive attitudes by the press and community to Destiny 2 gave way to disappointment following a lacklustre end-game and two poor expansions. Such was my attitude towards the series, that after spending nearly 2000 hours in the world Bungie had created, I proclaimed back in February 2018 that Destiny was dying. But as Bungie had done with The Taken King expansion to the first game, Forsaken has effectively rescued Destiny 2 from the brink of oblivion. Not only does it tell a coherent story for arguably the first time in Bungie’s history (the storytelling in the Halo series sucked too, fight me), but they managed to comprehensively change the way players interacted with the game.
Gone was the dependency on completing the raids, which were frequently incredible but demanded a team of 6 co-ordinated players and a significant time investment, with the newest raid supplement by a wealth of interesting and approachable end-game content that means that for the first time Bungie has struck the right balance between pleasing the hardest of hardcore players while keeping the game accessible to the more lapsed players. If you want to play this and nothing but this then you will struggle to run out of things to do each week, if however, you can only spare an hour or two a week then there is now a wealth of content that all rewards you with powerful gear so you can make meaningful progress in a short space of time. Destiny 2 is far from perfect, the Bungie is only ever one update away from messing the whole thing up, but for the time being with Forsaken, my favourite shooter is in the best shape it ever has been.
1 – Monster Hunter World
Capcom’s cult smash series Monster Hunter has always had a huge audience in Japan but has struggled to find a foothold in the West. What has always been a deeply satisfying and addictive series to play was hampered by almost impenetrable systems and quirks and one of the steepest on-ramps for new players of any game kept. I had tried with varying levels of success to get into a number of Monster Hunter titles and had bounced hard off all of them sooner or later. All that changed for me and millions of other players this year when Monster Hunter World roared onto PS4, Xbox One, and later PC, bringing with it a huge graphical overhaul and more quality of life improvements you could shake a hunting horn at.
Gone were the traditional segmented maps with loading screens between areas, replaced with beautiful and seamless maps with an increased emphasis on verticality. Tracking monsters, maintaining equipment, managing your inventory, using items, almost every system in the game was comprehensively overhauled to make them more accessible. All of these quality of life changes meant you could concentrate more on what you were there to do in the first place: going out and hunting some gigantic monsters. And the hunting has never felt this good, the monsters themselves are gorgeously rendered and have more vivid and realistic animations than ever before, meaning you can visibly see when they are telegraphing their next move, when they are exhausted, and then they are injured. The weapon choice was extended from previous entries and existing favourites such as the long-sword and charge blade had new moves and systems added on for the player to explore and get to grips with.
Combine all these improvements with a constant drip of free content (from a publisher who usually likes to charge for everything they can) over the course of the last year, from new monsters to new weapons, missions, challenges, tie-in events with other Capcom franchises as well as Horizon Zero Dawn on the PS4 version, Final Fantasy XIV, and the upcoming Witcher crossover event, and even the Monster Hunter equivalent of an MMO-esque raid and you end up with a game that I have sunk roughly 500 hours into over the course of a year. With more free content coming, and a fully fledged expansion coming later in 2019 I fully expect this will be a game that I will be immersed in for a long time to come.