This was supposed to be a bi-monthly thing. No excuses… all I can say is that writer’s block is real. I haven’t had a lot to say publicly as of late. And to be real, I haven’t had a lot to say privately either. I don’t know if 2019 is going to change that. But for here, for now, I have an article to publish. Nothing stops Game of the Year.
Let me copy/paste/revise my spiel from last year, one moment….
As an informal sendoff to the year, I’ll do what needs to be done — formulate a Top 10 list for the games of
20172018. As always, a write-up will accompany each nomination. This marks the 4th consecutive year I’ve done this. 2018 will see fourteen awards: 2018’s Game of 2017, Best Remaster (AKA You Got Robbed), the inaugural “This was Most Honorable Mention, but I Forgot About A Game and Already Wrote This” award, Most Honorable Mention, and the ten best games of the year.
DISCLAIMER: I’m a one-man team!
The scope of the list is limited to what I got around to this year. If your favorite game didn’t make the cut, don’t be blowing up my
DMs! Snaps?! According to most people I’m weird, so it’s probably for the best if your favorite game DOESN’T show up on my list. If you do feel like writing in — a tactful comment, criticism, or concern would be welcomed!
2018’s Game of 2017: The Evil Within 2
As of late, big budget horror games have been a rare commodity… A dying breed, if you will. After the Dead Space trilogy got disappeared, PT got cancelled then literally wiped from existence, and Resident Evil went soft on us for a long while, there wasn’t much to look forward to in the already bleak scene. With a subdued release, and an equally eerily low amount of fanfare, The Evil Within 2 does it’s best to resuscitate the rotting corpse of a dead genre.
The Evil Within 2 takes the grim, claustrophobic aesthetic of the original and expands it into an open world. Normally, I would hate this, but the designers cleverly created an uncongested play space sparse on objectives and collectibles. The barren nature of the map exemplifies the unknown. From what I can tell, the game was designed entirely around the notion that the thought of being scared is more terrifying than the actual scare itself. The number of genuine frights is limited, but The Evil Within 2 forces the player to walk on pins and needles at all times. Even if you’re not a fan of the genre, the game offers a fresh enough take on horror that you’d be remiss to ignore.
Best Remaster: Shadow of the Colossus
This was a lock for my regular list until I needed an excuse for more space. This product might as well be a 101 crash course on how to grab my attention and take my money.
- Take one of my favorite things of all time
- Slap a really, really nice coat of paint on it
- Don’t **** it up
Viola, you’ve won me over.
Shadow of the Colossus will always be a PlayStation 2 game at its core, but the uniqueness of it all allows it to age incredibly well. Shadow of the Colossus is a game of boss fights, a game of struggle, a game of overcoming mountains. And more than anything, it’s a game of isolation. As someone who basks in solitude, traveling across a forbidden land shrouded in silence felt refreshing, even empowering. The battles against the sixteen colossi are full of spectacle, and the extra level of graphical flourish brings a new level of immersion to the experience. If you value unique experiences, if you value spectacle, if you value narratives told through feelings instead of words, if you value art… please play this game.
This was Most Honorable Mention, but I Forgot About A Game and Already Wrote This: Yoku’s Island Express
You like pinball? You like adventure? If “yes” is your answer to either of those, then Yoku’s Island Express might be for you. Here’s my two sentence back-of-the-box summary: Yoku, an up-and-coming dung beetle mail dude (not male dude), is the last line of defense between a deity and the impending destruction of Mokumana island! With the help of pinball flippers placed conveniently around the island, Yoku must traverse the vivid, vertical landscape to restore order to the island in peril!
That’s one heck of a napkin pitch.
If you’re a fan of the 2D Metroid or Castlevania games, you’ll feel right at home. I found myself exploring every corner of the map — every nook, every cranny, trying to unearth the treasures that lie in wait. Unfortunately, the novelty wore well before credits arrived. In turn, some of the latter parts of the game felt like a slog. To me, the pinball often felt like it was more luck than actual skill. And if we’re being real, that’s the one illusion pinball has going for it! While navigating around proved enjoyable, besting challenges often did not. For a game about pinball, the number of actual gimmicks wasn’t impressive. Overall, Yoku’s Island Express should be viewed as more of a proof of concept than anything. That being said, there’s enough of an experience to be had to potentially warrant a purchase. It’s worth looking into for those wanting something a little more outside of the box, even if its they only play it for an hour or two.
Most Honorable Mention: Shadow of the Tomb Raider
I feel bad for Lara… I really do. Square Enix practically goes out of their way to make sure she doesn’t succeed. Ask me about any entry in the Tomb Raider reboot saga and I’ll tell you it’s a quality product, yet Square Enix has managed to botch the release window, marketing, or PR pitch Every. Single. Time. And every single time the ditch manages to get deeper, and deeper, and deeper. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s case, it was released a week after Marvel’s Spider-Man, Sony’s best-selling exclusive of the year. And to be frank, no one cared – Not the gamers, not the press, not even diehards like me. By itself, Shadow proves to be a respectable game that manages to bring Lara back to her Tomb Raiding roots. In the ultimate twist of irony, they did the thing everyone wanted them to do with the reboot all along, but waited for the exact moment everyone had their back turned.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider reels back the combat in favor of raw exploration and logic. This time around, intricate puzzles take center stage. On more than one occasion, I found myself looking at the screen for minutes on end in an effort to figure out what to do next. Part of me loves that! Modern games are afraid of puzzles. With the reduced attention span of modern audiences, no one wants to risk them losing interest after being stuck for a few minutes. Shadow solves this by offering difficulty levels for the puzzles. If you want to bang your head against a wall it lets you. If you don’t, there are options that allow you to circumvent them. Puzzles come in many shapes and sizes, so it’s easy to become engrossed in finding the solution. Needless to say, it paints a stark contrast to the run-and-gun nature of its two predecessors. I was happy they embraced this tonal shift, but to be honest, it felt weird.
The game features a MASSIVE skill tree of abilities for Lara to acquire, but most of it felt wasted due to the scarcity of enemy encounters. Large stints (hours upon hours) of the game passed where I didn’t encounter a single foe. Normally this wouldn’t matter to me, but with the game’s mixed messages via the upgrade tree and crafting, I expected to be more engaged on that end. Perhaps the most incriminating point to be made is the case of the combat itself being significantly worse than before. There’s not much variety to what you do and the foes themselves allow themselves to be exploited to a comedic extent. There was one instance in specific when I took out a guard while hiding behind cover. Another guard saw the body and approached his deceased cohort. From the same piece of cover I took him out. Then another. Then another. Then another. By the time I was done with this encounter there was a literal pile of four or five bodies inches away from my feet. Hilarious? Yes, but for all of the wrong reasons.
Overall, I don’t think Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a bad game. The jungle exploration caught me by surprise with how immersive it was, and the tombs themselves felt more intricate than ever before. I also appreciate the change of pace they went for. With all of that out the way, I don’t think Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a great game either. It’s hard for me to argue against it being the weakest entry in the trilogy. But for what it does right, I still feel strongly enough about it to give it Honorable Mention and provide you, the reader, a hesitant recommendation with an asterisk beside it.
10. Dragon Quest 11
Japan’s biggest series is back on the PlayStation 4 with a sexy new coat of paint. In a world where Japanese Role Playing Games (JRPGs) have decisively moved on from the genre’s turn based roots, Dragon Quest 11 vehemently doubles down on the classic way of doing things. In a way, it feels like a game directed by a bunch of fans on a gaming forum rather than actual game designers. This persistence proves to be Dragon Quest’s greatest asset and biggest folly.
For the most part, it just works. The story is campy, yet charming. On paper, the actual plot reads like a dime-a-dozen JRPG “hero is the chosen one, #riseup save the world” affair, but the world and supporting cast liven it up to the point of it being pretty darn good. This feat was made possible entirely by the translation. No questions asked, the writing itself steals the show. I was caught off guard! Each town hides a style within… One spoke in haiku. Dragon Quest 11 goes out of its way to be fun like the 16-bit games it derives from. Unfortunately, they couldn’t help themselves in their nostalgic ways and boneheadedly chose to roll with silent protagonist. Without a doubt, he’s the worst person in this game full of charm and personality.
On the gameplay side of things, the team trimmed every bit of fat around this prime rib of a game. I’ve never played an RPG as snappy as Dragon Quest 11. Every town you enter progresses the story, there’s virtually zero downtime between story beats, and side quests never feel like a requirement to face the next challenge. Combat occurs fast and hosts a lot of automation options therein. Levels come faster than ever! If you ever need to grind (which you probably won’t), the game provides the tools to make that process brain-dead. It’s hard to deny how basic of a JRPG Dragon Quest 11 is at its core, but enough quality-of-life improvements have been made to make the journey accessible to anyone and enjoyable for everyone.
09. Mega Man 11
Capcom can still make a good Mega Man game, who knew?! Instead of embracing the 8-bit style of its predecessors, Mega Man 11 chooses to try the New Super Mario Bros. “3D game on a 2D plane” approach, and it works! The Blue Bomber still packs all of the agility and responsiveness his series is known for. The brand new double gear system adds a layer of depth to the gameplay, one it needed to keep from feeling like just another retread of a formula that’s stayed mostly the same for ten straight games. Speed gear slows down time; power gear increases damage output. It’s all very simple, but actively shifting between the two styles in the heat of the moment invigorates the frantic platforming action.
Mega Man 11 does not lack in variety. Whether you’re running through a burning campground or bouncing off of balloons in a circus, every corner of every floor covers litters itself in color and charm. Stages, along with their respective Robot Master, feel polished to an extent that rivals the best the franchise has offered thus far. The soundtrack matches the overall liveliness of the game, doing its part in rounding out the experience.
A number of the quality-of-life additions Mega Man 11 retroactively make some of the older games in the series worse (being able to select weapons on the right stick saves time and lives)! Another new addition is the shop. The parts you buy along the way will make your journey so much easier. One item allows energy pellets to automatically fill your most depleted weapon; anyone who’s played any Mega Man before knows how much of a godsend that is.
The only big knock I have against the game is its difficulty… More specifically, its lack thereof. Checkpoints are more frequent than ever and extra lives can be bought for peanuts. At times, speed gear trivializes a lot of the more nuanced platforming offered by the game. Hopefully, in a year or two, Capcom provides a Mega Man 12 that’s just a smidge more demanding.
08. Dragon Ball FighterZ
Yo, they finally made a great Dragon Ball game! That might not seem like much of an accomplishment, but anime fans know how few and far between quality anime games are. Yes, I’ve enjoyed the Budokais and Burst Limits of the word, but even the most diehard defenders of those titles can acknowledge their placing of fan service ahead of proper, balanced gameplay.
Well, no more.
Prepare to get hot and heavy in this fireballs to the wall 3v3 Super Saiyan showdown. Beams of light fill the sky; mountains crumble as bodies torpedo through them; spiky-haired blonde dudes scream at one other with every fiber of their being. It’s perfect. It’s perfect. Moves and cinematic moments are inspired by the show down to individual frames. It’s weird to apply the term uncanny valley for something trying to recreate a 2D creation, but in this one case I think it flies.
The combat itself toes a fine line between simple and complex. Holistically speaking, individual characters don’t have a giant amount of moves or tools at their disposal, but the teammates they have at their disposal changes the math. The Dragon Ball portion works as the gateway drug. Once you’ve spent some time messing around with your favorite heroes and villains, you’ll eventually experiment with other characters for synergy. Every fighter plays differently than the last, yet the underlying language of controlling them is the same. Picking up Cell after messing around with Vegeta won’t be much of an issue.
The way ArcSys adapted tropes from the show and transformed them into gameplay mechanics is truly a sight to behold. Nothing beats summoning Shenron to grant a wish in a match that’s gone down to the wire. Oh, if only the single player mode was better… I can not emphasize enough how impressed I am with the fact they created both the best Dragon Ball Z game and the most authentic Dragon Ball Z game all in one go.
07. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Everyone is here. Pichu? Here. Five thousand Fire Emblem anime hair sword dudes? Here. That half-eaten burger you had for lunch the other day? Here.
Every. One. Is. Here.
Jokes aside, Sakurai and team crammed as many characters and references into this Switch cartridge as it could hold, Nintendo or otherwise. At least forty years of history from forty different franchises, all in one package.
Every fighter lovingly represents their persona and their series. And for the poor souls who didn’t make it into the proper roster, the World of Light single player mode does them some justice. In this mode, the “spirits” of hundreds of characters are represented through the horde of gameplay mechanics housed inside the game engine. No, you can’t fight against an actual Goomba, but what if you could battle five tiny Donkey Kong’s on an 8-bit Mario stage? This is just one of the many lovingly crafted challenges that awaits you in the campaign.
Gameplay runs the fastest it has since Melee. No matter how much chaos occurs on-screen, the frame rate stays buttery smooth. I can’t speak on behalf of the competitive Smash scene, but all 74 characters seem fun enough and balanced to be viable in a casual match. Instead of sticking with a main, I find myself dabbling into new territory every couple of matches. The stage selection and music options round out the hefty package. With millions of variations, this might be the last Smash game we need for a long, long time.
06. Detroit: Become Human
This is the type of big budget game we rarely see in this day and age. In an where the interactive story scene has mostly been relegated to the indie space, Detroit: Become Human gives us a glimpse of what’s possible when a title in the genre has big money behind it. In some ways, it shows us what a more diverse gaming industry would look like. It stands out on my “gameplay focused” list and instills it with variety. At its heart, Detroit is a game of cause and effect. For every action, there’s a reaction. One that’s neither guaranteed to be equal nor opposite. That truth is what separates the Quantic Dream approach from other modern Adventure game publishers. Whereas the Telltale Games (RIP) explicitly tells whether a choice they make matters or not, Detroit chooses to keep players in the dark (for the most part). I’m a fan of this style as it forces weight onto every decision allowing for a deeper sense of critical thinking, immersion, and investment into the character. No longer beholden to an arbitrary morality meter, I am free to react honestly as the character.
The overarching story is serviceable, but Detroit’s true shine comes from the moment to moment character interactions. The relationships amongst the cast weaves together like an intricate web. Throughout the game you will make hundreds of decisions — depending on how you act, and how you react, large swaths of the narrative will change. And I’m talking about genuine change. Without question, there are sizable chunks of the game you won’t see in your first playthrough. Entire character arcs can be missed. While that may sound alarming to completionists, it’s the only way this game’s choices could hold the weight they do. More so than any other 2018 release, Detroit provided me with a sense of ownership over my experience.
I thoroughly enjoyed two of the three primary character arcs. Kara’s tale of motherhood and Connor’s story of self-identity stuck with me long after the game was over. Markus, the other lead protagonist, has a story deeply seeped in racial imagery and borrowed symbolism. Your mileage may vary heavily on that one. On one hand, it’s hard to not see how tone-deaf it can be (There’s literally a “I have a dream button” prompt at one point). On the other, knowing how speech and text algorithms are handled for most modern bots, and my belief robot culture would essentially be a “Google optimized” version of our (humanity’s) culture and struggles, it would strike me with absolutely ZERO surprise if theoretical androids appropriated those exact points of reference. That’s not to say that it wouldn’t be offensive, nonetheless.
It’s complicated, but at the end of the day I was still able to enjoy Detroit more than most other titles this year. Graphically, it was one of the first titles that I felt fully vindicated my 4K TV purchase. I really got into the subdued Cyberpunk aesthetic they were going for and the art felt clean and cohesive from start to finish. As someone who recently delved into the world of art books, I am practically frothing for one about Detroit. The fidelity paired with the performance capture create an uncanny valley effect at moments. Every campaign has its own score, and each features some killer tracks. And on a personal note, the relationship between Kara and Alice hit me on a personal level… so much so that it’s hard for me to return back to the game. I’ve had my experience with the game and I don’t want it to change. I really hope the AAA space has room for more of these.
05. Red Dead Redemption 2
When I started writing this list, I had not beaten Red Dead Redemption 2. And I was fine with that. At the time, it didn’t seem like a game that was going to make the cut for me anyway. It was slow, and I was bored. I was convinced I’d be slogging away at it until March. But eventually, about 20 hours in, something started to change. The slow and methodical nature of the game didn’t disappear, but instead transformed into something else – immersion. Once I became invested in the character Arthur Morgan, the pieces of the puzzle finally started to line up. The game started to make sense. Never before have I experienced such a positive reversal of attitude for a game.
If I’m being honest, the gameplay doesn’t feel great. Shooting is mostly done by auto aim, quick time events take away from various cinematic scenes, and console controllers need at least five more buttons to accommodate everything Rockstar Games want you to be able to do. That being said, all of it is done in service of the narrative. The arc of Arthur Morgan is a slow burn, but once you’re waist deep there’s absolutely no turning back. The supporting cast is nothing to scoff at either. Dutch, the leader of the gang, is perhaps one the most nuanced characters I’ve seen in the medium to this very day.
To be frank, this game feels like it shouldn’t exist. If you play it, I think you’ll know what I mean pretty quickly. The slow nature of the game counteracts so much of modern game design, all for the sake of immersion into the world. But Rockstar Games had faith in their vision and stuck with their plan through and through. When you open a drawer, you pick up items individually. When you skin an animal, prepare to wait 5-10 seconds each time. Normally, a game would show you the full animation once and skip it every time thereafter, but not Red Dead Redemption 2. The immaculate level of detail for a game of this size can only be described as uncanny. It’s incredibly pretentious, but it knows that it has every right to be that way.
Over ninety main missions in the story, and the cinematography for each one looks like it took weeks. I remember reading somewhere that content-wise, this game had roughly 4 seasons worth of TV in it. I’ll go ahead and say that’s probably low-balling it. I’m almost convinced that every single mission is scored individually too. Each track feels like it was created specifically for the moment you’re in. Even if you’re not into the western style, the game forces you to become immersed in it with every vantage point it can find. And without saying too much, the ending transcends games and rivals the best closure for a story I’ve seen in any medium. Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of few games that I can unequivocally call Art. If you have the time, be sure to experience all that this title has to offer.
04. God of War
As a diehard God of War 3 enthusiast, I was taken aback by the news that the series’ inaugural PlayStation 4 outing would be a departure. The previous trilogy played excellently and sold incredibly well… so why? Yes, Kratos may have slaughtered every major God in Greek mythology, but all we needed was a new venue. For all I cared, God of War could do the Tony Hawk Pro Skater approach. Give me one new mechanic and a new place to grind (my blades) and I’m happy.
Then it got bleak.
Kratos, a figure known for his brutality and rage, would be a more subdued version of himself and you plan on making him into a daddy?!
COUNT ME THE **** OUT.
Then the reviews started to drop. On more than one occasion I saw it described as the best entry in the franchise so far. I swallowed my pride and gave it a shot.
Dad Kratos is undeniably a far more nuanced character than before. Having his son, Atreus, around keeps him grounded and forces the God dad to be on his (personal) best behavior. While the game ostensibly functions as a reboot, the Kratos is the same one we’ve been playing as for all these years. In many ways, Atreus challenges Kratos to reconcile with his past as he learns what it means to be a father. For the first time in his life, Kratos can’t simply erase his problems with violence, and that makes him incredibly uncomfortable. On the other end, Atreus must grieve the loss of his mother and simultaneously learn to live with an emotionally distant father who doesn’t seem to acknowledge his existence. The game hosts a limited cast of supporting characters, each playing a pivotal role in the development of Kratos and the boy.
The combat system has been completely revamped from the ground up. Part of the me wants to call it Devil May Cry, part of me knows that it’s its own thing. The camera rests just behind Kratos’ back at all times. Axe in hand, the God of War must control combat space as he slices through opponents. Due to the proximity of the camera, the player must be vigilant of their surroundings to prevent being blindsided. Atreus acts as more than just a child you need to escort from point to point; in fact, he’s your sidekick. With the press of a button he’ll fire arrows into a designated foe to keep it pinned down or to assist in your sick combo.
Visually speaking , God of War is trading blows with the best of 2018. The image quality is practically unheard of. Every model and texture is as crisp as a razor’s edge, going incredible lengths in making this fantasy world feel like a reality. The amount of color staggered me for a God of War game. One area in particular looks like it was ripped straight from a fairy tale, and somehow it still fits! For all the things that changed, the score remains largely the same. The music retains its epic nature — low-pitch chanting finds itself interspersed deep within the orchestral blanket. I had my doubts going in, but this reboot was for the best. If you’ve played the previous titles (heck, even if you haven’t), don’t miss out on the most ambitious God of War to date.
03. Dead Cells
From a gameplay standpoint, Dead Cells is a game with a near perfect loop. Spawn, triumph, upgrade, struggle, die, and repeat. It’s that simple. As a rogue-lite, death means you start from the very beginning: not from the checkpoint; not from the stage; the beginning. But in this case starting from the beginning does not mean starting from square one. Every run provides the opportunity to work towards persistent unlocks that will make subsequent journeys easier. Progress is palpable, and there’s a near tangible amount of goodness you’ll feel once you begin to sense it.
The game’s weapons, stages, and items are randomized to the point where every run feels unique. Dead Cells provides two options:
1. Adapt to the game
2. Make the game adapt to you
In a nutshell, Dead Cells throws a lot of options right at your feet. It’s your choice whether you risk picking up what it gives you or, conversely, leaving the gifts behind in an effort to instead stick to your role. I found myself doing the latter. At its best, Dead Cells gives the player a true moment of pause, a real Sophie’s Choice situation, over a weapon they’ll only have for 10 or 15 minutes. That’s nothing short of amazing!
You’ve heard it a million times in relation to Dark Souls – combat proves challenging, but fair. Every death is your fault, be it unnecessary risks, insufficient planning, or straight up not paying attention to your surroundings. Once you get a grasp of what’s to come, traversal shifts from slow and surgical to fast and focused. Stages that used to seem insurmountable become second nature. With over fifty weapons at the player’s disposal, people will eventually gravitate to certain methods of play. The post game content is where a lot of the game actually begins, so I see myself spending a lot more time with this one in 2019. If you want the best playing game of 2018, you pick up Dead Cells.
Out of all of the games that the list, Celeste is one I have the least to say about in words. I could do a lengthy write-up for it like the others, but doing that just doesn’t sit well with me. Celeste is meant to be an experience one goes into blind. You’ll just have to trust me on this one.
What I will say though is that Celeste represents a perfect synchronization of mechanics and message. The gameplay plays into the story and the story plays right back into the gameplay. And if that wasn’t enough, the soundtrack captures the feel of the environment immaculately. The platforming itself is challenging, but the nimble nature of the game prevents it from ever feeling frustrating. The game also offers assist options if it’s just too much for you. Normally, I’m against these types of modes, but for sake of seeing this game through, I’ll endorse it this once. In the short time I spent with Celeste, the game genuinely made me feel better… Better in a way that pieces of media rarely do. And for me, that’s something worth celebrating.
01. Marvel’s Spider-Man
How did we get here? Last generation’s Batman games gained universal praise from critics and fans alike, but if you told me five years ago that a licensed superhero game would be my game of the year, I would have DIED of laughter. 50% of them are straight up bad; even then, the other half typically end up somewhere between good and decent. So what did Marvel’s Spider-Man do to buck the mold? What did it do to be amazing?
1. The right developer was chosen for the job.
Insomniac, renowned for blockbuster series such as Spyro the Dragon and Ratchet & Clank, have one of the best track records in the industry. Time and time again, they have produced high quality products that appeal to wide demographics.
2. The game received the proper AAA budget it needed to succeed.
Part of the reason licensed games often falter is due to what’s known as the cash grab. In a cash grab, the quality of the end product is allowed to suffer due to a belief that people will buy it anyway due to the license. Fortunately, it doesn’t take long to see that a lot of Sony’s money and time went into this and. They intended to release a quality product from the start and it shows.
3. The developer was given artistic license to create their own vision.
Marvel handing over the reigns to Insomniac is perhaps the most pivotal move of all. Not only did it speed up the approval process, but it also kept their story from being pigeonholed in scope. Think about what would’ve happened if the game was tied to Homecoming: deadlines would’ve been strict to match the theatrical release, certain allies and villains would be off the table, and the story would mostly be a retread of what we’ve seen.
If any one of those three points had been compromised, any one, this game wouldn’t even be a shadow of what we received.
But here we are.
Anyone worth their salt in the industry will tell you that Spider-Man 2 stands tall as gold standard for Stan’s web slinger. Why is it so much better than the others, you ask? Simple, friend, it’s all in the swing. If you really think about it, Spider-Man’s one true job is to swing around New York in order to save the day. He can’t save the day without being able to swing around. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the thesis of what makes Spider-Man Spider-Man (does whatever a spider can). Nail that and the rest of the game becomes superfluous. F*** it up and you might as well be a nobody off the streets. I’m pleased announce that the swinging mechanics in Marvel’s Spider-Man surpass anything that came before it. Easily. In this game, it just works. Momentum and physics back every single swing through the city, making Spider-Man himself feels weighty, yet graceful as he propels himself through New York. A neophyte can make their way around the city just by holding R2, but an adept player will be running off walls, rounding corners, and calculating launch trajectories all in a matter of seconds. The game captures the spirit of Peter Parker perfectly. Spider-Man feels like he’s just reacting to the environment as it passes him by. Just like the movies.
Insomniac makes sure that the combat system represents the web singer’s style just as accurately. Fights often have the player switching between melee and web abilities, shifting between the ground and the air. Once airborne, our web swinger employs his acrobatics to make short work of the foe. The game is so fluid and animations flow so well into one another that, at times, it almost feels like dancing. Spider-Man’s web tools provide a wide amount of variation in fights, often providing useful crowd control. It wouldn’t be Spider-Man without his trademark Spider-Sense. Moments before an attack connects, Spider-Man’s hyper-awareness kicks in (indicated by blue lightning bolts), giving players a chance to dodge imminent danger. The game is never afraid to remind you that, beneath the mask, Peter Parker is just a regular man like you or I . It only takes a couple good hits for him to go down. Gunshots ruin his day fast. Combined with the maneuverability gained by the swinging mechanic, this rendition of Spider-Man feels like the real deal.
From a holistic perspective, Marvel’s Spider-Man is objectively one of the best looking games of 2018. My jaw nearly hit the floor the first I witnessed the level of detail on Peter’s suit. In 4K, we’re talking down to the lines of fabric! Surfaces reflect realistically based off their transparency, allowing the buildings of New York to come alive like never before. Spider-Man animates like a real person; transitions between high-speed movements feel akin to watching parkour. The game runs at a consistent frame rate with the occasional hiccup here and there. The main characters had extra attention put into their models — the lifelike detail they feature allow it to recreate the vibe of the Marvel movies. In terms of detail and fidelity in an open world game, it’s only bested by Red Dead Redemption 2. The sound design comes straight from a Marvel Cinematic Universe film. The choice to have the main theme fade in as Spider-Man begins his swing is one of the best sound design choices I’ve seen in this industry. No matter the situation, no matter how stagnant you were mere moments ago, this theme tells you to get up and be a hero.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in this package lies within its story. Honestly, I’d argue that it rivals, perhaps surpasses, what we’ve seen from the movies. One important aspect to remember about Marvel’s Spider-Man is that it’s an original take on the character. In Insomniac’s rendition, Peter Parker is 23 years old — this means he’s been at the superhero gig for a while. He’s had time to process what’s happened with uncle Ben, time to get with and get over Mary Jane, and time to establish history with many of his greatest foes. Familiar names such as Osborne and Octavius appear, but be prepared to have expectations subverted. Despite being the first entry in the story, bold choices are made by the end.
The love I have for Insomniac’s storytelling (and why I prefer it over the movie renditions) comes from their overt emphasis on portraying ALL aspects of Peter Parker’s character: the courage, the generosity, and the faults. Movie Spider-Man can be defined by his pursuit of responsibility. In turn, the Parker in this universe found that a while ago. Instead, his trial this in this edition of the story is one of sacrifice. Peter’s inherit necessity to do good and willingness to only see the best in people cost him greatly. He does free work for Dr. Octavius when he can’t afford rent, all for the betterment of society. Spider-Man, New York’s greatest hero, literally has to crash on his aunt’s couch at the homeless shelter she runs. He’s giving his last, it’s costing him greatly, and he just doesn’t know what to do. In some ways, Peter Parker steals the show. Like many of us, Peter wants to do good by the world, but his unrealistic approach weighs heavy on him and his supporters. To take care of others, you must first take care of yourself. Peter will have to come to terms with that if he truly wants to be great.
In conclusion, Marvel’s Spider-Man ushers in a new echelon of superhero games, one I hope sticks. The game fires on all cylinders, providing the ultimate Spider-Man simulator as well as delivering one of the best stories developed for the character in recent history. Watching Peter struggle as he gives back to the community of New York was nothing short of heartbreaking. It made me, the player, want to do more with my life. It’s one thing to deliver a great game — it’s something else when to make someone want to be a better person.