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‘Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’? ‘Spider-Man’? Top 10 games of 2018

December 23, 2018
Kratos gets a son, Atreus, in Sony Interactive Entertainment's "God of War" for PlayStation 4.

Many of the best games of 2018 were about relationships: with family, with nature, with yourself. And many were just really damn long. Here are my top 10 games of 2018:

10. “Tetris Effect” (PlayStation 4, PlayStation VR): One of gaming’s most hallowed traditions gets a trippy makeover with visuals that will harness your concentration or test it, as well as new mechanics and play modes. And trying to finesse Tetronimos as an EDM soundtrack pulses, and colors swirl and explode at the fringes of the screen, pretty much sums up our inability to productively focus on anything these days.

9. “Red Dead Redemption 2” (PlayStation 4, Xbox One): The sequel to Rockstar Games’ landmark western delivers more majestic landscapes and an even more poignant story. But they’re partnered with leaden controls and cumbersome systems that make riding those landscapes and blasting through that story rather bumpy. Still, the game’s incredible design feats can make you forgive and forget its clumsier moments. Less forgivable is developer Rockstar Games all but forcing its employees to work dehumanizing hours to realize that half-cocked vision.

8. “Donut County” (MacOS, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One): Using raccoon sinkholes to swallow bigger and bigger objects across a variety of urban landscapes made this goofball romp one of the nicer surprises of 2018. And designer Ben Esposito plays with that “Katamari”-like premise to the end, throwing fun new types of puzzles and a nifty boss fight your way as you restore order to an infectiously sarcastic animal kingdom.

7. “Monster Hunter World” (PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One): The first “Monster Hunter” to target western console players accommodates them comfortably without sacrificing the difficult grind of its damage sponge boss rush structure, and the results can be as thrilling as they are maddening. It rewards and punishes in equally extreme measure, and for that reason alone, “World” explains why the franchise has long enjoyed such a devoted cult following despite basically being a colonialist resource extraction simulator.

6. “Florence” (Android, iOS): With winsome art and terrifically clever touchscreen usage, Ken Wong (“Monument Valley”) tells a story that captures so many dispiriting facets of 21st century adulthood in less than 30 minutes. There’s monotony, there’s the struggle to communicate, there’s the possibility some feeling you don’t understand will just manifest out of nowhere and ruin everything. It’s game design at its most elegant.

5. “Assassin’s Creed Odyssey” (PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One): By taking the polished stealth and combat of last year’s “Origins” to the massive and mythic landscape of Ancient Greece, the latest game in Ubisoft’s open-world stealth series stakes a claim as the best one yet. And as the charismatic Kassandra, leaping from rooftop to rooftop and sailing from island to island on the hunt for masked cultists and legendary creatures is so lastingly fun that the game’s enormous length hurts it little.

4. “Hitman 2” (PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One): Its levels are as richly detailed and its kills as wildly imaginative as those of last year’s episodic “Hitman.” But the sequel suffers from arriving all at once, minus the months you had to savor each one of the original levels. At the same time, though, you can assassinate the socialite leader of a 1-percenter cult plotting life after the climate apocalypse by burning her alive inside her own giant bird effigy. And who am I to argue with such poetry?

3. “Spider-Man” (PlayStation 4): The exhilarating web-slinging and combat of “Spider-Man,” together with its love for both New York City and Marvel lore, give the game a longevity and charm befitting one of the most enduring and popular characters ever. And in a year of overstuffed open-world games, Insomniac’s wraps up just before it wears out its welcome.

2. “Celeste” (Linux, MacOS, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One): This pixel art platformer is by far the most challenging game I played this year, a consistently brilliant cascade of new ideas twisted and stretched until they utterly exhaust your reflexes and memory. Its rigorous stages also give shape to a story about the parts of us we don’t like and our struggle to reconcile them. Likewise, the sight of those stages, and the seemingly impossible work they demand, may tempt you to turn away. But the only way out is through.

1. “God of War” (PlayStation 4): Kratos makes an almost flawless jump from Greek to Norse mythology in this soft reboot of the PlayStation saga. Not only does it reinvent his fighting into a more technical and intimate thrill, it manages to reconcile the absurd sadist he was then with the stoic father he is now. Visually amazing and movingly acted, it’s one of the most impressive game productions of the year. And with its deeply customizable offense, clever deployment of Kratos’ son and punishing three-headed endgame, it’s also one of the most purely fun to play.

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