Got some down time this December?
Our staff nominated their favourite videogames of the year to get you through the holiday period.
Grace Bruxner Presents Haunted Island: A Frog Detective Game
Videogames curator Jim Fishwick says
Let me tell you about a perfect comedic diamond of a videogame called Grace Bruxner Presents Haunted Island: A Frog Detective Game. Our eponymous hero is sent to the rescue of a sloth being haunted by a ghost and digs deep into the mysterious goings-on.
It’ll take you about an hour to play and a lifetime to forget. There are fun, unexpected point-and-click puzzles, spooky disappearances, and a heartwarming romance subplot, but GBPHI:AFDG also happens to crack along with effortlessly funny dialogue the whole time.
While The Cowboy Game and The History Murder Game are ambient behemoths that promise a long laundry list of features in exchange for weeks of a player’s life, Bruxner has thrown down a gauntlet. This is a videogame with a laser-focused scope and clear identity, executed flawlessly.
God of War
Operations coordinator Isabelle Parker says
There really aren’t enough games about war. There aren’t even that many with the word ‘War’ in the title, and as this is the sole and admittedly rather exclusionary criteria by which I winnow away the unrelenting waves of “indie”, “experimental”, and “genuinely transcendent” technological chaff, my interest was piqued. This was not just a game about WAR, but about the GOD of WAR!!!
We assume the role of Cray-toss, a sub-monotone Delphic brick of meat: a tragically underrepresented segment of society in 2018. It is through this champion that God of War deftly tackles life's most inalienable experience; raising a child as an ageless, immortal god for which the entirety of reality bears no consequence nor joy. Through the circuitous cleaving of utterly depleted mythological banalities, God of War affirms the unequivocal solution to the struggles of child-rearing: BIG-BOY MUSCLE VIOLENCE!!! 10/10.
Red Dead Redemption 2
Games programmer Arieh Offman says
It wouldn’t be a GOTY article without an appearance from Rockstar’s sprawling western epic.
Set prior to the events in the original Red Dead Redemption, the narrative follows Arthur Morgan’s physical, philosophical and ethical journey as part of the Van Der Linde gang (of which our previous protagonist, John Marsden is also a member). The game sets a new standard for interactive world-building, and does it on its own terms – those expecting a continual fast and frenetic ride will be initially disappointed. That is until they settle into the game’s curious and ponderous rhythm. RDR2 forces you to slow down, rather than speed from quest point to point on the map. The rhythm is curiously ponderous and reflective.
I wouldn't say RDR2 is flawless: 30 hours in, I was still battling a control system that seemed to actively work against what I wanted it to do. But persevere, and you'll find a grand adventure probably unlike anything you've played before.
Education deliverer Garry Westmore says
Technically Foundation isn't out yet, but you can access the Alpha build of the game which already looks fantastic and is incredibly fun to play. Harking back to games like The Settlers series, Foundation has all the familiar elements of a medieval city builder, building a micro city economy from the bottom up. Get your villagers to chop lumber, mine stone, find food, build farms, sheer sheep. As your economy and population grows, the types of buildings and jobs you have access to get more complex (and impressive). Soon you're opening up trade routes, designing your own monuments (think churches, military keeps) and taking your village to a full-blown medieval city.
It very much romanticises the medieval era, there's no fighting or disease and the game is extremely cute, but you do have to keep your villagers happy by making sure they can access food, water, clothing and employment.
It ticks all the boxes for a city building game; resource and economy management alongside the aesthetic pleasure of designing your own village and buildings. Look out for the full version in 2019 I say.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the third in the Tomb Raider reboot (but the 12th TR game ever!) and while it does play it fairly safe, sticking closely to the format of the previous two iterations, honestly that doesn’t feel like a bad thing. The combat is a well-oiled machine at this point, meaning it’s fairly intuitive, enjoyable and exactly what I want from this kind of game. The tomb exploration is incredibly fun and an absolute visual treat alongside some simple but engaging environmental puzzles.
The best part of the reboot series though, has been the growth of Lara as a character. Lara now feels more like an actual person who makes choices, has motivations and *finally* discovers there are consequences of her actions. SotTR makes a point of not pulling some important punches, and it was refreshing to finally seeing Lara reap the consequences of touching stuff she probably shouldn’t and murdering her way through a small army.
Downsides of the game? Piranhas. No thank you. I’d like to have stern words with whoever decided to put piranhas in the already stressful water levels.
My honorary mentions: Spyro Reignited Trilogy, God of War.
Fortnite Battle Royale (FBR)
Games educator Vincent Trundle says
Fortnite Battle Royale (FBR) came out in late 2017 but really came to the fore this year and is my game of the year 2018.
It received some pretty negative criticism as violent, addictive and time wasting, largely from people who haven’t actually played it, watched it played, and often don’t play videogames generally.
But for me, FBR is an ingenious and evolving game with fast-paced gathering, hunting and building mechanics, combined with team-focused gameplay, playful cartoon graphics (reminiscent of the highly popular Team Fortress 2) and a world that itself is a character with a developed narrative. I love the way it relies on teamwork, collaboration, strategic thinking, spatial understanding and imagination, and while I wasn't that satisfied playing it myself, watching my 11-year-old get really good at highly coordinated team and solo moves was really fulfilling.
I acknowledge it's not a perfect game: the ruthless encouragement of in-game purchases is far from ideal (there's a great explainer on how to gatekeep and protect your wallet here). But the violence criticism is pretty baseless. The Australian Government rates it as ‘M’ which holds it as containing ‘moderate impact’ violence, which perhaps comes from its incitement of ‘headshots’, though there is absolutely no blood and extremely minimal simulated violence.
Don’t fan the naysayers' flames. Two or three 20 minute sessions on Fortnite every other day is a good thing. And the dancing? Phenomenal.
Doki Doki Literature Club
Games programmer Arieh Offman says
OK, first a confession – DDLC was actually released in late 2017. I only got around to playing it this year however, and it was so impactful that it had to be my game of the year.
DDLC is an award-winning indie game by a tiny development team led by Dan Salvato. It first takes the form of a traditional Japanese style dating sim – you are invited by your childhood friend Sayori to join her after school literature club. As with most visual novels, there is a lot of reading, and initial interactions take the form of interactive poetry, and it is here that you realise there is something darker and deeper beneath the surface.
I don’t want to spoil the game for those who have yet to play it, but suffice to say that the self-imposed trigger warnings that pre-empt the game are well deserved. It has been a long time since I have played anything that made me question my agency as a player, and whose fourth-wall breaking metatextuality stayed with me for weeks after the credits rolled.