It didn't take long for us to declare 2017 a pretty great year for games, with a spectacular roster that included Super Mario Odyssey, Wolfenstein: The New Colossus and Assassin's Creed Origins. In our roundup last December we also listed what we were looking forward to in 2018 and, while very few of those titles made our final list this year, we can still confidently declare these past twelve months pretty awesome in the world of gaming.
We got a new God of War title and possibly the best Smash Bros. installment yet, while a few indies like Into the Breach and Celeste knocked it out of the park as well. Rather than try to come up with a simple "best of" list, the editorial team here at Engadget proudly presents the games that made the biggest impact on us this year, whether they were technically impressive, emotionally engaging or just flat-out fun.
God of War
Bureau Chief, UK
Despite it being a huge, critically acclaimed hit, I didn't buy God of War for half a year. I'd fallen into a Yakuza-shaped hole and was playing my way through that series' remastered editions. Waiting paid off, though — the godly epic from SIE Santa Monica Studio landed on PSN for roughly half price a few months later. Now was my chance. While I was never a fan of the original game's angry, horny protagonist Kratos, the idea that they'd given him a few decades of maturity and a new on-trend daddy look intrigued me. Then there were the fraught father-son dynamics, and the posit of throwing Greek god mythology up against Norse gods.
The game's characters and the story are subtly unveiled as you less subtly cave in heads and explore the Norse lands of Midgard. There are only a handful of characters but, because of that, they're all given more time in cutscenes and dialogue to cement what they're all about and what's happening in their world. Kratos (barring a couple of surprises later in the game) is the only part that's been transferred from the God of War series. Battles play out completely differently as your son Atreus functions like a (mostly invincible) support character with several elemental arrows at his disposal. Kratos' blades-on-chains have been replaced with a new frost ax that can be hurled into enemies, freezing some of them — it works similar miracles on puzzles spread across the main adventure.
What I enjoyed most was the epic, divine feel of the journey. Once I finished the main narrative, I realized that the main goal (spreading Atreus' mother's ashes from the highest mountain) never really changed, despite plenty of interruptions, drama and paternal bonding. Antagonists like Odin are referenced but you never get to butt heads with them — which at least teases the notion of future, similarly grounded GoW titles to come. Hopefully.
On the surface, Celeste is an ultra-satisfying, infinitely replayable, pixel-saturated platformer about a girl climbing a mountain. Its smooth mechanics alone would be enough to make it a recommended release of 2018. However, Celeste offers so much more. Buried behind the Metroid-Mario-Meat Boy facade and fantastic chiptune soundtrack, Celeste presents a moving, relatable story about confronting your worst internal fears while struggling with disappointment, depression and defeat.
Through its quirky characters, rich world and simple jumping mechanics, Celeste invites players to succeed, but at a price. It follows a young adventurer named Madeline as she attempts to climb Celeste Mountain and conquer its mysteries — the game is exceedingly difficult and some levels feel downright impossible, with mere pixels separating a successful jump from another death. However, there's always a way to win, and the game's intuitive, responsive controls encourage players to keep trying. The common theme in Celeste might be "die, die and die again," but given the game's message about perseverance and internal strength, it feels more like "try, try and try again."
Matt Thorson proved he could make a competent, butter-smooth platformer with TowerFall in 2013, and Celeste builds on this foundation by adding a powerful, heartfelt story to the mix. Celeste is an old-school adventure for the modern age; it's a ton of fun to play, but most notably, it's reflective and emotional without being overbearing. Celeste is a shining example of everything the video game industry gains from the existence of a thriving independent development scene.
I've spent dozens of hours this year shooting cowboys in Red Dead Redemption 2 and stabbing everyone in Assassin's Creed Origins (and Odyssey). However, in the end I find myself thinking more about an elegant love story from a mobile game more than any big budget title. Florence, from the makers of Monument Valley, is more like an interactive novel than a game. But it's a striking example of how smartphones — the blessing and curse of the modern age that serves as a gateway to instant gratification, never-ending work responsibility and FOMO-inducing social networks — can be used to tell old stories in new ways.
Girl meets boy, and has to figure out a way to fit him into her life. That's the basic gist. Florence is every twenty-something with a repetitive job and cute apartment. She's making a living, but lost the inspiration she used to have. Like a Murakami novel, we're introduced to her through the mundanity of her life. She can't help but hit snooze on her alarm several times. We swipe up and down to brush her teeth. We mindlessly like or repost images from a nameless social network while she's closed off from the world during her crowded morning subway commute. Her cubicle job is fine and sensible, but endlessly dull (the game forces you to match numbers to file the equivalent of a TPS report). She gets a call from her worried immigrant mother, who seems to judge every aspect of her life.
Then she meets Krish, a dashing cellist, and everything changes. I won't spoil what happens, but it's all told in a similarly episodic way. It reminds me of some of my favorite novels like Ethan Frome and Norwegian Wood, with the same sense of longing but minus so much tragedy. We've seen some games in the past few years that explore love and relationships (in particular, Life is Strange and Gone Home), but Florence has an identity all its own thanks to its sharp writing, gorgeous art style and soothing soundtrack. It's a pocket full of love, heartache and early adulthood.