‘Glad I Played That’

In 2018, Fort­nite con­quered the world, but it’s not the game of the year

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - Style - JA­SON BENNETT

2018 fea­tured one of the most solid line­ups in video-game his­tory, with ma­jor re­leases that pushed the lim­its of tech­nol­ogy. A tsunami of fran­chise se­quels and re­mas­tered older games made self-im­prove­ment a re­cur­rent theme, and the games just kept get­ting big­ger, bolder and more beau­ti­fully ren­dered.

We can’t even talk about the games of 2018 with­out men­tion­ing the un­stop­pable rise of Fort­nite, mak­ing it a house­hold name and one of the most-played games in the world. While it’s by no means a de­fin­i­tive list, and there will be no stat­uettes for any­body in­volved, here are my picks among the games that made a big splash in 2018. We can call these the first ever Game On “Glad I Played That” Awards.

GAME OF THE YEAR

Let’s get the big cat­e­gory out of the way first. God of War wove one of the most ef­fec­tive sto­ries of 2018, a tale of a fa­ther learn­ing to con­nect with his son over the death of the boy’s mother — set against the back­drop of Norse mythol­ogy. God of War fea­tured stel­lar voice act­ing, es­pe­cially by Christo­pher Judge in the role of Kratos, a demigod very good at fight­ing and not so good at par­ent­ing or be­ing a role model. The an­ti­hero Kratos was a changed man from ear­lier it­er­a­tions of the game.

God of War had en­gag­ing com­bat, en­ter­tain­ing puz­zles and stun­ning vi­su­als, but the real meat was the story of how Kratos, once a rage-fu­eled, god-killing wom­an­izer, finds him­self forced to re­flect on his life and legacy as he tries to steer his son toward not only man­hood, but also toward be­ing a bet­ter man than his fa­ther.

BEST ROLE PLAY­ING GAME

Mon­ster Hunter: World is kind of a weird game. It’s a co­op­er­a­tive, open­world “RPG” where you play as a hunter, us­ing weapons big­ger than your­self, to hunt down fire-breath­ing T-Rexes and other fan­tas­ti­cal di­nosaur-like crea­tures with the as­sis­tance of your trusty com­pan­ion, a talk­ing, bipedal cat.

But all that is part of the al­lure.

Be­ing a suc­cess­ful hunter re­quires strat­egy,

co­op­er­a­tion with other play­ers, and tac­ti­cal but­ton-mash­ing. Hunted mon­sters drop re­sources, such as bones or leather, that are used to up­grade weapons needed to tackle big­ger, more dan­ger­ous prey. It’s the cir­cle of life, or some­thing.

With sea­sonal events, crossovers and ex­pan­sions on the hori­zon, Mon­ster Hunter: World is locked onto its tar­get au­di­ence.

BEST SPORTS GAME

Hockey is far from the most pop­u­lar sport in Arkansas, but that’s pre­cisely why I like NHL 19. Foot­ball, bas­ket­ball, base­ball, etc., are sports I know and love, but video games are the only place I’ll get to play hockey — and NHL 19 makes me feel like I’m the real deal.

My brother and I com­peted end­lessly with Ice Hockey and its pix­e­lated, 8-bit graph­ics for the Nin­tendo En­ter­tain­ment Sys­tem back in the late 1980s, but NHL 19’s graph­ics are so ad­vanced you some­times can for­get you’re play­ing a video game.

You don’t need to be a hockey ex­pert to en­joy NHL 19 — right off the bat, the game asks your hockey skill level, mak­ing it easy for even novices to jump in and play. But it also has train­ing tu­to­ri­als to teach ev­ery as­pect of the game, right down to be­tween-the-legs goal shots.

With solo, co-op and “ver­sus” op­tions and a va­ri­ety of game modes, in­clud­ing a sin­gle-player fran­chise sto­ry­line, NHL 19 has vir­tu­ally un­lim­ited re­playa­bil­ity.

Get­ting to play as a mas­cot? That’s the ic­ing on the cake.

BEST FAM­ILY GAME

Su­per Mario Party for the Nin­tendo Switch is a col­lec­tion of vir­tual board games and mini-games for up to four play­ers. It fea­tures well­known Nin­tendo char­ac­ters, such as Mario, Luigi, Bowser and Princess Peach, and play­ers will take turns rolling dice to move across a game board and chal­lenge each other on up to 80 dif­fer­ent mini-games.

There are var­i­ous game modes, in­clud­ing the rhythm game Sound Stage, a two-ver­sus-two Part­ner Play mode, and a River Sur­vival mode, which sees play­ers pad­dling a ca­noe down a river. Nin­tendo has long had a fo­cus on mak­ing games that can ap­peal to the whole fam­ily and can be en­joyed with friends, and Su­per Mario Party fills that niche well.

BEST ON­GO­ING GAME

Fort­nite pre­miered in 2017 to quite a bit of pop­u­lar­ity, but it was the re­lease of the freeto-play, ever-evolv­ing Fort­nite Bat­tle Royale mode that turned the game into a global juggernaut with 125 mil­lion play­ers in 2018. Ac­cord­ing to Su­perData, a dig­i­tal game re­search com­pany, Fort­nite earned more dig­i­tal rev­enue than any other game last year, tak­ing in $2.4 bil­lion dol­lars.

How does a free game earn so much money? The se­cret lies in sell­ing its V-Bucks — dig­i­tal cur­rency used to buy cos­metic items, such as char­ac­ter and weapon skins, dance an­i­ma­tions and emotes. None of it af­fects game play; it all just makes peo­ple look cool, and some­how that’s enough.

Fort­nite’s other suc­cess se­cret was pig­gy­back­ing off Player Un­known’s Bat­tle­grounds, which first pop­u­lar­ized the 100-player kingof-the-hill com­bat mode both games use. Not that PUBG, as it’s known, did poorly — it made more than $1 bil­lion last year and was the world­wide top-gross­ing pre­mium game.

BEST VIR­TUAL RE­AL­ITY GAME

Most play­ers still haven’t jumped onto the vir­tual re­al­ity game band­wagon, but 2018 was a year that saw real progress in mak­ing con­verts, and a large part of that comes from Beat Saber, a mu­si­cal rhythm game that is sort of a cross be­tween Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revo­lu­tion.

Play­ers wield dual lightsabers as glow­ing blocks hurl toward them. They slash through the blocks to the beat of a techno-heavy sound­track and trippy vis­ual ef­fects. It’s not an es­pe­cially com­pli­cated game at the eas­ier lev­els, but it’s also not a game you can sit down and play pas­sively.

With Beat Saber, you’re up on your feet, swing­ing your arms and mov­ing from side to side while dodg­ing pro­jec­tiles. It’s the per­fect game for some­one wor­ried about a seden­tary life­style — plus it’s just re­ally fun.

BEST PUZ­ZLE GAME

Close on the heels of Beat Saber comes puz­zle-game Tetris Ef­fect, which has a vir­tual re­al­ity and a non-VR mode. Tetris came out in 1984, and there have been loads of ver­sions since — so what’s dif­fer­ent about this game? Well, you’ve def­i­nitely never played a Tetris game like this one: It com­bines Tetris with mu­sic, sounds, vi­su­als and vi­bra­tions into a psy­che­delic mas­ter­piece.

Brightly col­ored par­ti­cles and sound ef­fects trig­ger with ev­ery spin or nudge of the fall­ing blocks. The game has con­stant ex­plo­sions of light and sound and im­ages, and ev­ery­thing is con­nected to ev­ery but­ton press.

It’s also more than just the tra­di­tional Tetris game — each level has its own rules, with the speed of fall­ing blocks in­creas­ing or de­creas­ing, and as the game pro­gresses, dif­fer­ent vis­ual themes are splayed across the back­ground.

BEST MO­BILE GAME

It’s only a few more months un­til Game of Thrones’ fi­nal sea­son be­gins air­ing in April, but if it’s hard to wait that long, there’s a mo­bile game that might tide you over. It’s a strange mashup of Wes­teros meets Tin­der, but Reigns: Game of Thrones is an en­joy­able if grim monar­chy sim­u­la­tor.

Take com­mand as Daen­erys Tar­garyen, Cer­sei Lan­nis­ter, Jon Stark or oth­ers from the best-sell­ing book se­ries and HBO tele­vi­sion show, and try to rule — or at least sur­vive — as long as pos­si­ble.

The con­trols are sim­ple — play­ers will swipe left or right on var­i­ous de­ci­sions, such as what to do about an in­va­sion of un­dead or guards’ want­ing more money. Each de­ci­sion has an ef­fect on mil­i­tary strength, re­li­gious favour, do­mes­tic pop­u­lar­ity or state wealth, but you don’t know whether that ef­fect is pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive un­til af­ter the die has been cast. Anger the pop­u­lace too much and, oops, it’s off with her — or his — head.

BEST OPEN WORLD GAME

Red Dead Re­demp­tion 2 was more than just a video game, it was an epic nar­ra­tive travers­ing time and space to draw play­ers back to the late 1800s.

The game’s metic­u­lous at­ten­tion to de­tail in ev­ery re­gard, from singing folk songs around a camp­fire to watch­ing wild an­i­mals in­ter­act with each other in the wild, makes this game seem like a fron­tier-life sim­u­la­tor.

It boasts a mas­sive but de­tailed world, with mul­ti­ple biomes, like grassy ex­panses of open fields, sprawl­ing forests, gator-filled swamps, star­lit desert land­scapes and snow-cov­ered moun­tain peaks. Hun­dreds of an­i­mal species, from tiny frogs to mas­sive buf­falo, fill the world and make it seem alive.

Peo­ple, too, are part of the story, in­hab­it­ing struc­tures from rus­tic farm­houses and small towns to bustling ma­jor cities. The sto­ry­line — about the end of the Old West way of life and the in­evitabil­ity of the mod­ern world — is com­pelling, and a mul­ti­player op­tion lets you play with or against friends, but just pa­tiently ex­plor­ing that fron­tier par­adise on horse­back is a treat in it­self.

BEST-SELL­ING GAME

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 has the du­bi­ous honor of not re­ally be­ing the stand­out game in any par­tic­u­lar cat­e­gory, but also be­ing the top-sell­ing video game of 2018.

The sin­gle-player cam­paign was aban­doned en­tirely for Black Ops 4, but in­stead we got a new mode: Black­out, which is the fran­chise’s first 100-player Bat­tle Royale mode, let­ting it com­pete directly with Fort­nite and PUBG. It’s not go­ing to de­throne Fort­nite, but it does of­fer some­thing unique: splitscreen couch co-op mode, so you and a friend can fight 98 other play­ers to­gether.

Other modes in­clude the tra­di­tional mul­ti­player of­fer­ings plus a zom­bie-fight­ing co­op­er­a­tive mode.

There are some in­ter­est­ing maps to bat­tle on, such as the RMS Ti­tanic, Al­ca­traz and an arena in an­cient Rome.

I don’t think Black Ops 4 loses too much from drop­ping the sin­gle-player cam­paign — Call of Duty’s forte has al­ways been its mul­ti­player prow­ess, and the game­play and graph­ics far sur­pass PUBG in Bat­tle Royale.

There you have it, the 2018 GIPT Awards! I’m thank­ful for the great games we got to see in 2018, and I’m pre­dict­ing that 2019 is go­ing to be even big­ger.

Nin­tendo Re­leased in Oc­to­ber, the fam­ily friendly Su­per Mario Party is part of a se­ries of games fea­tur­ing fa­mil­iar char­ac­ters.

Rock­star Games

Red Dead Re­demp­tion 2 is a pre­quel to a Western ac­tion-ad­ven­ture game re­leased in 2010, but it’s more than just a video game — it’s an epic nar­ra­tive travers­ing an im­mer­sive world full of vivid re­al­is­tic de­tail.

Sony

God of War, a third-per­son ac­tion-ad­ven­ture game based on Norse mythol­ogy, tells the af­fect­ing story of a medi­ocre fa­ther’s heroic ef­forts to help his son be a bet­ter man than he is.

Cap­com

Mon­ster Hunter: World is an ac­tion role-play­ing game that in­volves hunt­ing and killing … mon­sters, of course.

Beat Games

EA Sports

NHL 19 is an ice hockey sim­u­la­tion video game de­vel­oped by EA Van­cou­ver and pub­lished by EA Sports.

Epic Games

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