Jeff Bakalar is an editor at CNET, and co-host of Giant Bomb East’s Giant Beastcast. He’s a delightful man and you should follow him on Twitter.
Hello Giant Bomb universe! I’m back from Florida, rotated in my chair until dizziness, kissed about 47 cheeks and ignored every postcard I’ve received since 2016 to bring you my one-of-a-kind officially licensed “Giant Bomb presents The Giant Beastcast’s powered by Jeff Bakalar’s Top 10 Video Games of the Year 2018™.”
This year I don’t have any fancy themes, no cute photos of my badass kid, just a steaming hot list of my 10 favorite games of the year. Hopefully, you’re someone who cares to read about them.
I was actually thinking about writing my top 10 list in the voice of Carl from Aqua Teen, but that’s just crazy.
10. Marvel’s Spider-Man
Hey, Spider-Man, I liked you a lot. Maybe not so much with side missions, enemy variety and whatnot, but the combat, the suits (the suits!) and the generally solid recreation of New York City was pretty great. And sure, the story felt damn close to what a Marvel movie storyline would have to offer, which by my count, makes it like top-two Spider-Man stories that aren’t comic books.
Either way, I still think there’s a future where this game goes from great to spectacular, so I take comfort in knowing Spider-Man will have plenty of sequels to build upon.
Gorogoa is a beautiful hand-drawn puzzle game that I instantly connected with. It brought me back to a time when I was obsessed with optical illusions and visual riddles, but could only experience them through collections printed in books or magazines. This game spoke to me in a way that ignited such a warmness that it still resonates close to a year after playing through it.
Moss provided the first PSVR experience that was right in my wheelhouse. It’s a game that silenced my general VR hangups and made me a believer. I really dug the game’s fantasy world, it’s absolutely adorable protagonist and the super-smartly designed range of puzzles. Peering in on the action like some kind of puppet master observing a tiny diorama never wore out its novelty for me. For PSVR, Moss is a must-play.
7. Return of the Obra Dinn
Just like with Papers, Please, Return of the Obra Dinn did not seem like a game that would initially appeal to me, but I was forced to play it simply because it was all anyone was talking about for a month.
I think the thing I love most about Obra Dinn is that it’s able to play by its own rules and logic and you’re somehow able to learn that vocabulary without necessarily deliberately trying to. Some of the loop can feel handcuffed at times, but I fell in love with the game’s mystery and genuine uniqueness. Whenever something comes along that feels as equally fresh and it does entertain I need to tell someone about it.
8-bit platformers had another great year and Celeste sold me right away with its charming premise and characters. I found it to be the right kind of challenging–mixing trial and error with inventive mechanics. For me, the most memorable moments of Celeste occurred when I completed a sequence that I originally believed would be the spot where I quit the game for good. Overcoming those bouts are what Celeste is all about. So thank you Celeste, for likely improving my overall reaction time and for making those awful NJ Transit commutes that more invisible.
5. The Messenger
The Messenger arrived just in time to scratch the itch that Celeste had satisfied earlier in the year. Beyond its goofy premise and chatty shopkeep, I loved how much I came to adore the game’s strategic double-jump mechanic. Being able to see how far along I had progressed in perfecting its execution was a rewarding experience in its own right–and more than enough to get keep me engaged until, well, you know.
4. Astro Bot Rescue Mission
Whoa, look at me with a couple of PSVR games on my list this year, eh? Astro Bot Rescue Mission should be soldered on to the board of every PSVR sold. This is the game that should be selling people on PSVR. It is the closest thing to a perfect VR package that I’ve played so far, meaning it’s the right combination of level design, reliance on VR in a way that doesn’t feel gimmicky and downright smart use of space. I hope, hope that the positivity towards Astro Bot is being felt where it counts, because this one of the very few VR games that got it right.
3. Donut County
I will not get emotional about Donut County. I will not get emotional about Donut County. I will not get emotional about Donut County.
Donut County gets cemented into the Bakalar Family Legacy Archives because it is the first video game my son ever played. And I’m not saying “picked up the controller and smashed a few buttons,” I’m saying completed all the levels himself (save for some boss fight help). The dude’s three and a half. Watching him go from having almost no ability to move the hole around the screen to commanding precise surgical maneuvers, understanding how the weight of objects react with the hole and using it to solve puzzles has been a truly beautiful thing to watch unfold. And I’ve been able to tell Ben Esposito (indirectly) about it too and that was pretty damn great.
1A. God of War
Shout out to God of War for zigging when we all thought it was gonna zag. Like most people I assumed I knew exactly what I was getting with a God of War Norse mythology reboot, and my goodness could I not have been more thrilled to be so off the mark.
God of War really did feel like it was on a different level, not just with its epic scale and presentation, but with a campaign that felt like you were constantly being shot out of a cannon over and over. This game made me feel like I was rediscovering the things that blew me away when I played the original on PS2. It’s that feeling I think I chase a lot when playing games, and give God of War credit for making me capture that again.
1. Red Dead Redemption 2
Red Dead 2 sits tied at the top of my list because I am still playing it, and I am not tired of it, and that’s gotta mean something. It’d be an exercise in redundancy to list the reasons why this game is an achievement, so I won’t.
Instead, I’ll say that Red Dead 2 has surprised me time and time again. It’s created scenarios I’ve never experienced in a game, made me react in ways I was not expecting and tricked me into buying into its world fifty times over. Red Dead 2 makes me feel like I’d get bored inside Westworld. For me, it’s the first game I’ve ever felt like I’ve lived inside.