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Best games of 2018: Red Dead, Forza, Destiny and more

The best games on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC and mobile

Year-end lists are a wasted opportunity, a relic from the heyday of magazines and newspapers, a recap of the recommendations you missed because an issue got lost in the mail or consumed by the family dog. They tend to be a bit foggy (why did I like this game, again?) and incomplete (what came out in January?). Worse, they arrive when we’re too busy with the holidays to put the lists to their intended use. A list of the best games of the year is more useful, more thoughtful and more complete, we believe, if it accumulates all year long.

So we’re making a change. Throughout the year, the Polygon team will collect its game of the year list in real time. We will update the list as new games make the cut, with the latest entries up top, followed by the complete list organized in reverse chronological order.

You may notice the inclusion of games that were either fully released or made available in Early Access prior to 2018. Because many games change from update to update, let alone year to year, we will include previously available games that receive a significant update within the year or become available on a platform that substantially impacts how that game is experienced. For example, Fortnite Battle Royale is our first entry, now at the bottom of the page, because we feel its recent seasons were the first great game of 2018.


Our newest additions:

Return of the Obra Dinn - men carrying long guns Lucas Pope/3909 LLC

Return of the Obra Dinn

Return of the Obra Dinn is a detailed, unique and beautiful murder mystery from Lucas Pope, the maker of Papers, Please. Drawn in retro monochrome, it’s set aboard an abandoned ship in 1805.

The player is an insurance agent tasked with investigating the ship, seeking clues to the deaths and disappearances of its crew. By a process of elimination, the agent pieces together the tale of a torrid voyage.

It’s a highly original cross between an old-fashioned novel and a narrative sudoku puzzle, in which facts and events are pieced together to present a satisfying whole. Pope’s game is a masterpiece in detail, style and story.

—Colin Campbell

Available on Mac and Windows PC.

Get it here: Steam

Red Dead Redemption 2 - Arthur and archaeologist Rockstar Games via Polygon

Red Dead Redemption 2

When Rockstar Games released the original Red Dead Redemption eight years ago, critics jokingly dubbed it Grand Theft Horse. The creators of the open-world Western shrewdly transported the power fantasies and juvenile social commentary of the Grand Theft Auto series to the American Southwest of 1911. Its sequel, released this year on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, unexpectedly stands as a counterpoint to both its predecessor and the Grand Theft Auto series.

Rockstar’s notorious satire has been replaced with a straightforward ensemble piece for Red Dead Redemption 2, and the previous game’s Southwest setting swapped out for the American South, blurring the story’s genre between Western and historical drama. It’s still a power fantasy, but the developers often toy with players’ assumptions. When I find myself horseless in the mountains, for example, I discover it will be a very long and dull walk home — one I probably won’t survive, what with all the criminals and deadly critters. The game is slower, stranger and, for better and worse, more confident in its storytelling, an ambitious albeit flawed exploration of life in the American South following the Civil War.

Before the game’s release, comments by one of Rockstar’s co-founders about the amount of overtime employees worked in order to finish the game raised questions about the ethics of creating these massive open-world games. Actually playing Red Dead Redemption 2 shows the limitations that come with such an endeavor. Here is a beautiful, surprising world. At its worst, it feels like an argument between hundreds of creative people, all of whom have a slightly different idea for this one hulking thing. At its best, it feels like a novel — a patient, cohesive, sweeping trip in another person’s boots.

—Chris Plante

Available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | PlayStation Store | Microsoft Store

Tetris Effect gameplay Monstars, Resonair/Enhance Games

Tetris Effect

For the past three decades, people have zoned out with the help of Tetris. The classic, nigh-perfect puzzle game demands unwavering attention, particularly at higher speeds. To excel at Tetris is to tune out the rest of the world.

Tetris Effect wants you to tune in; don’t just play Tetris, experience it. The PlayStation 4 game bathes the time-tested classic Tetris with showers of light and music. Every turn and drop of a puzzle piece cues a windblown chime, a tinkle of jazzy piano keys or the hum of a blue whale. Music builds and flows as you clear lines and stages. Tetris Effect exchanges the Soviet bloc architecture and catchy folk tune “Korobeiniki” of the classic Game Boy game for something closer to an electronic music festival held in a Frank Gehry building.

Gazing upon a desert sunset, walking through pristine snow and chilling with dolphins are so sensually rich on their own, it’s easy to overlook the simple fact that Tetris Effect is also a damn good puzzle game. Its additions ultimately don’t distract from the game; they compliment it, reminding us what an addictive, pleasurable and transportive experience a game of Tetris can be.

—Michael McWhertor

Available on PlayStation 4.

Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | PlayStation Store

Forza Horizon 4 - fighter flying over drifting car Playground Games/Microsoft Studios

Forza Horizon 4

Playground Games is a British studio made up of developers with a broad range of experience making driving games. So it’s fitting that this latest in Microsoft’s fun and loose Forza Horizon series takes place in a lovingly crafted version of the United Kingdom.

With the fantastic Forza brand, it almost goes without saying that the cars look beautiful and handle superbly, from high-performance racing beasts to retro runarounds. An open map guides players through a variety of challenges and mini racing seasons, with a heavy emphasis on challenging real players to online matches, or teaming up with friends for various challenges.

But the real star of the show is Britain, rendered in four seasons of sceptered wonder. Forza Horizon 4 is one of those driving games in which open exploration really is as much fun as carefully designed courses.

—Colin Campbell

Available on Windows PC and Xbox One.

Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | Microsoft Store

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey - Alexios leaping toward a soldier Ubisoft Quebec/Ubisoft

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Exploration, combat, stealth, role-playing progression and dialogue choice make up the core activities in this giant open world, but its kinetic elements don’t entirely do it justice.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a teeming saga of the Peloponnesian War, loaded with likable, believable characters, both fictional and drawn from history. Moody marine hues and bright Hellenic contrasts create an eye-pleasing world of mountains, meadows, cities and islands.

The story twists a warm familial reunion narrative with a cold, hard search for vengeance against an evil cult. Hidden shipwrecks, mythical beasts, combat arenas and creepy tombs add to a sense of a fantastical, expansive world.

Ubisoft built the Assassin’s Creed series on its big, dense open worlds. But Odyssey’s world feels like a turning point, loosening its focus on muted historical settings seen from grimny rooftops, and instead embracing vibrant colors, mythological beasts, and sprawling swaths of ocean and countryside.

—Colin Campbell

Available on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One.

Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | PlayStation Store | Microsoft Store | Steam

Destiny 2 loading Bungie/Activision via Polygon

Destiny 2: Forsaken

A year after Destiny 2’s release, the Forsaken expansion reinvented the entire game. Bungie completely re-engineered the weapons system to offer more flexibility and increased access to powerful guns like shotguns and sniper rifles. The flow of every combat encounter feels different, yet the series’ fantastic gunplay remains intact.

Forsaken also adds two new environments and Destiny’s best raid to date. PvP and the new hybrid PvEvP mode, Gambit, are faster and more enjoyable than the Guardian-on-Guardian combat of years past. Forsaken pours a foundation that the team at Bungie can build upon for years to come, starting with its new approach to seasonal content in the upcoming Annual Pass.

—Ryan Gilliam

Available on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One.

Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | PlayStation Store | Microsoft Store | Battle.net

No Man’s Sky portal Hello Games via Polygon

No Man’s Sky Next

The No Man’s Sky Next update is the game No Man’s Sky appeared to be in its early trailers and demos. Players have been given more freedom to explore the universe as they see fit, be it constructing an underwater bases or assembling a massive fleet of frigates. Crafting systems are revamped, the UI enhanced and new music added. You almost never lack something new to do or discover. And you can now truly play online with three other players — exploring the galaxy, transferring resources and building bases.

The addition of multiplayer had an unexpected side effect: the need for a third-person camera option. This new angle reframes the game. Your explorer is now an avatar who can gesture, sport different looks and be photographed with the game’s fantastic photo mode. We enjoyed the solitude of No Man’s Sky right from the start, so the third-person camera feels like a dramatic enhancement. There’s something about seeing our own character on a vast, unpopulated planet that nails the game’s impeccable sense of isolation and the vastness of space. The update that finally brings players together also makes it easier to feel like the only being in the entire universe.

—Clayton Ashley

Available on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One.

Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | PlayStation Store | Microsoft Store | Steam

Lumines Remastered - screenshot during ‘Urbanization’ song Resonair/Enhance Games

Lumines Remastered

None of the many sequels and ports for 2004’s Lumines stack up to the PlayStation Portable original, a marriage of high-fidelity graphics, pumping Japanese dance tracks and bright charm. That the original Lumines was portable made it all the more enjoyable.

Lumines Remastered, the franchise’s latest entry, is available for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and most importantly, the Nintendo Switch. The Switch version captures and in some ways bests the feel of the original, with improved visuals and better controls on the Switch’s comparably more spacious Joy-Cons. All versions feature “trance vibration,” a term that series creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi popularized with another of his beloved games, Rez. Additional controllers can be paired to Lumines Remastered and turned into vibrating nodes, humming in rhythm with the game. The Joy-Con controllers fit in your pockets or underneath your toes, providing a subtle vibration that adds a little extra texture to the experience without feeling too weird.

If “trance vibration” isn’t your cup of ayahuasca tea, Lumines Remastered stands on its own as one of the best rhythm games ever made. We’ve waited over a decade for an experience to rival the original Lumines on PSP. It’s finally arrived.

—Jeff Ramos

Available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Get it here: Amazon | PlayStation Store | Microsoft Store | Nintendo eShop

Team Cherry

Hollow Knight

Yes, we know Hollow Knight first came out in 2017. We’re ashamed to admit it, but most of us never actually played it last year. That changed when the game arrived on Switch this summer, and I realized just how big of a mistake that was.

I adore Metroidvania games, and, quite simply, Hollow Knight is the greatest the genre has ever produced. The game’s design, from its sprawling map to its bespoke customization system to its countless boss fights, is peerless. Better than Symphony of the Night, better than Super Metroid, better than Bloodborne. That quality is matched by a haunting score and hand-drawn visuals that look ripped from the pages of a Tim Burton sketchpad. It’s a feast.

And on the Switch, it has found a truly perfect home. Hollow Knight’s length and difficulty are made far more palpable when you’re able to trawl the depths of the bug kingdom on the go. As a bonus, the game has only gotten bigger with a handful of free updates over the last year. If you’ve got the stomach for it, you’ll find an unforgettable experience awaiting you.

—Russ Frushtick

Available on Linux, Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One.

Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | PlayStation Store | Microsoft Store | Nintendo eShop | Steam


Best games of 2018

Dead Cells - leaping with a hammer Motion Twin

Dead Cells

Without losing focus, Dead Cells brings together no fewer than six different genres into a single adventure. It’s an incredible feat. Creating an excellent roguelike or Metroidvania is a challenge on its own, but Dead Cells shows a mastery of each form as well as its contemporaries dedicated to a single genre.

Some credit goes to the game’s roots in Early Access, where its developers used feedback to refine and revise their ideas. By the time the game officially launched, Dead Cells felt like a fully formed creature, rather than a half-finished Frankenstein creation.

Despite the complexity of its design, it’s friendly to newcomers, slowly introducing new mechanics rather than repeatedly hurling players into impossible fights. And thanks to numerous secrets and upgrades, each death feels less like a game over and more like a step toward progress.

In the end, Dead Cells feels like so many games we’ve loved, and yet, there’s nothing quite like it.

—Russ Frushtick

Available on Linux, Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One.

Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | Nintendo eShop | Steam | PlayStation Store | Microsoft Store

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker - Captain Toad pulling a turnip out of the ground Nintendo EAD Tokyo/Nintendo

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

When Nintendo released Super Mario 3D World on Wii U — you know, the console that barely anybody owned — the game maker included a handful of experimental levels starring perennial Mario sidekick Toad. They were wonderful little puzzle boxes in which players guided the waddling Toad through diorama-like levels to collect stars. Nintendo later expanded that idea into a full game, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. Unfortunately, it too was doomed on the Wii U. Now available on Switch, one of Nintendo’s most underappreciated projects is getting the audience it deserves.

Treasure Tracker is a puzzle-adventure game that’s relaxing at times and confounding at others, thanks to Nintendo’s smart, sometimes devilish level designs. It is also consistently charming, as Captain Toad (and Toadette) light up the screen with beaming smiles and chirps of success as they hunt down golden treasures. It’s an accessible game with easy-to-understand rules, but it will regularly surprise you.

Like a lot of Nintendo games, it’s also great for kids and co-op play, with little in the way of frantic action or combat. (It’s also on Nintendo 3DS and it’s great there too.)

—Michael McWhertor

Available on Nintendo 3DS and Switch.

Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | Nintendo eShop

The heroes of Prey Mooncrash Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks

Prey: Mooncrash

In 2017, Bethesda released a handful of deep and inventive single-player games, including Prey, The Evil Within 2 and a stand-alone expansion to Dishonored 2. Critically lauded, none of them sold especially well, raising questions about the sustainability of smartly designed single-player games, particularly those in the immersive sim genre. Since then, some fans and critics have speculated on what the developers of these projects might be forced to create to stay alive. Vapid first-person shooters? Cynical battle royale games? Match-three apps?

Prey: Mooncrash is our first look at the future of immersive sims, and it’s unquestionably influenced by the rise of Twitch streams, with its pseudo-procedurally generated design emphasizing player expression and unexpected scenarios. In one playthrough, I had nearly escaped the game’s moon base when I found myself cornered by a gang of roaming enemies with telekinetic powers. I decided to wait them out in an air vent, but I made too much noise. Rather than wait for me outside, the enemies used their powers to detonate the gas lines in the vent, causing the pipes to spew fire. As I tried to escape, their telekinesis ability lifted me into the air, pressing me against the ceiling of the vent, allowing the fire to roast me like a pig on a spit.

Mooncrash hasn’t been made easier or less complex to appease a broader audience. Its semi-permadeath sessions encourage you to actually use all your fancy skills, rather than sitting on them for the perfect occasion. And its goals are refreshingly opaque, inviting players to discover how its elaborate systems work over the course of dozens of hourlong playthroughs — or to learn with help from a Twitch chat audience. That is to say, it’s a single-player game that might be better played with others watching, providing insight from their own playthroughs.

If Prey: Mooncrash hints at the future of Bethesda’s single-player and immersive sim projects, there’s reason to be comforted and excited about the future of the genre and its creators. (Though its commercial viability remains a question mark.)

—Chris Plante

Available on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One.

Get it here: PlayStation Store | Steam | Microsoft Store

sea of thieves 1.12 update the skeleton thrones Rare/Microsoft Studios

Sea of Thieves

Sea of Thieves emerged as a promising game in need of more content — a chaotic pirate sandbox kept interesting by its players. The core concepts of the game have simmered over time, its flavors bolstered by a regular update schedule and new systems that enhance the the game’s appealing foundation.

The beauty of Sea of Thieves is how organic and responsive it is. Very few systems stand between the player and the pirate sandbox. There are minimal menus, and goals are straightforward. The pirates’ tools have specific purposes, but can be manipulated in a variety of ways by clever players. And yet, when you combine all of the above and add other players to the mix, you end up with cinematic ship battles, dramatic betrayals and alliances, and an adventure that feels different from one session to the next.

Sea of Thieves’ expansion packs, The Hungering Deep and Cursed Sails, do a fair amount of heavy lifting to improve the core game. The Megalodon and Skeleton Ships add danger to the ocean, and convincing reasons for squads to team up. As the game stands in 2018, between the AI threats on the sea and the other players at the helm of their own ships, a session of Sea of Thieves can be as tranquil as a road trip with friends or as frantic and terrifying as the final firefights of a battle royale match.

—Cass Marshall

Available on Windows PC and Xbox One.

Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | Microsoft Store

Mario Tennis Aces - Mario powers up a shot Camelot Software Planning/Nintendo

Mario Tennis Aces

Mario Tennis Aces arrives on this list with numerous caveats. For fans of the Mario sports series, particularly the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance entries, Aces’ story mode isn’t nearly as rich as its those of its predecessors, more of a tutorial than an inventive role-playing adventure. For fans of local multiplayer, Aces still needs more options for matches, especially when it comes to its unusual scoring system. And for competitive players, Aces’ roster lacks balance; most online tournaments are currently dominated by Bowser Jr. and Waluigi players.

Aces is imperfect, but it’s worth, at the very least, keeping an eye on the community’s videos. As other critics have noted, Aces looks and feels like a fighting game. Rackets have health bars and can be broken; lose all your rackets, and you lose the match by KO. Special hits, trick shots and the power to slow time have led to high-level players flooding YouTube and Twitch with inventive strategies. As with a fighting game, Nintendo will need to commit long-term to updating and revising Aces, but even with its flaws, Aces’ track appears to have more in common with Splatoon than the fun but ill-fated Arms.

—Chris Plante

Available on Nintendo Switch.

Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | Nintendo eShop

A car crashes during a race in Wreckfest Bugbear/THQ Nordic

Wreckfest

The lengthy development of Wreckfest encapsulates the trajectory of midsized independent game studios over the past six years. Developer Bugbear began work on the project in 2012, around the same time that Double Fine’s Broken Age established Kickstarter as a potential funding tool for modestly scoped games. So in 2013, Bugbear tried to crowdfund its game. When it became obvious the studio wouldn’t meet its $350,000 goal, it terminated the Kickstarter campaign.

The team pivoted, offering pre-orders, along with a surprisingly deep demo, on its website. The pre-orders surpassed the $350,000 threshold within a week. In 2014, Bugbear pivoted again, this time putting the game on Steam Early Access. Within a week, it hit another $1 million in sales.

The project didn’t even have a name; Bugbear had dubbed it Next Car Game. It became Wreckfest in October 2014, and like so many Kickstarter and early access games, it began to sputter with setbacks, delays and fussy updates. But like a special few games within this ecosystem, at a certain point, years into development, everything began to click. Fans who had soured on the game returned for new updates. Its Steam rating began to shift toward the positive again. And in June 2018, the official release of Wreckfest delivered on the gleeful destruction of the original demo, while also standing on its own as a racing game that emphasizes destruction in a way its contemporaries won’t or, because of licensing agreements, can’t.

It says something about Bugbear’s ambition that a game originally meant to be released in 2014 feels so fresh, looks so beautiful and handles so nicely in 2018. And it speaks to the state of the industry that a doomed Kickstarter from half a decade ago could become, today, one of the best games of the year.

—Chris Plante

Available on Windows PC, coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | Steam

florence and krish header Mountains/Annapurna Interactive

Florence

Florence is a universal love story tastefully spiced with complicated emotions. It doesn’t need a huge budget or uncanny valley motion capture. Instead, its message benefits from humble story beats beats and playful interactions.

Florence is a game about love in all its varieties and degrees. It portrays the awkwardness of first dates, how two people can ease into each other’s lives. It shows the hills and valleys of a relationship with a critical but caring parent. It also captures the feeling of being a 20-something and feeling (despite all evidence to the contrary) that you are stuck on a path, like a parcel on conveyor belt carrying you to a predetermined destination.

Its greatest strength might be its minimal text. You assemble dialogue bubbles from puzzle pieces in conversations between Florence and her boyfriend Krish. When they get along, the bubbles may be only one or two pieces. When they fight, the bubbles fragment and the pieces become more jagged, the colors more intense. It’s evocative, but also engaging. The player is both a voyeur and a participant; this is both Florence’s story and our own.

-Simone de Rochefort

Available on Android, iOS.

Get it here: App Store | Google Play

God of War - Kratos and Atreus approaching the top of the mountain SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

God of War

God of War is a methodical reimagining of the action franchise. Rather than ignoring its past with a top-to-bottom reboot, God of War is a sequel that’s in dialogue with both the actions of its characters and its previous creators. But plenty has been said about where the entry fits alongside its predecessors. Mentioned less is how well God of War stands on its own, working just fine without the baggage of its prequels. You get the sense, a couple dozen hours into the adventure, that it was created by massive fans of all sorts of other games: The campaign takes inspiration from the Tomb Raider and Doom reboots, Dark Souls, Shadow of the Colossus and even Call of Duty — the widely praised ax throwing combat, for example, places a first-person shooter reticle within a third-person action game, creating something unique and fresh.

We scored the game a 10, but a perfect score doesn’t mean a perfect game. (Does such a thing even exist?) One of the pleasures of a game as big and ambitious as God of War is that it inspires great criticism. Deorbital hosted a set of pieces, including this great read on the series’ unique and complicated place within games from Jackson Tyler. Hamish Black produced a video praising the game’s companion, Atreus. And Bullet Points Monthly published its own series of interesting critiques. God of War feels like a game we’ll remember as a distinctly 2018 product: a glossy testament to the astonishing artistry and craft of games at this moment, and a reminder of how much room the medium still has to grow.

—Chris Plante

Available on PlayStation 4.

Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | PlayStation Store

Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom - Price Evan Level-5/Bandai Namco

Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom

No, you needn’t have played the first Ni no Kuni to enjoy its sequel, a feverishly optimistic (and welcomingly naive) Japanese role-playing game inspired, in part, by the works of Studio Ghibli. Its colorful animation conceals a rich but not overly complicated kingdom-management system that gives the adventure a grand sense of scope. A fairytale storyline gives its motley band of heroes a playful pep that feels anachronistic, if not flagrantly in conflict with our times.

Here’s Cameron Kunzelman’s take from our review: “There’s not a wasted breath or a plot point that doesn’t manage to pay off in a significant way. Ni no Kuni 2 is a solid contemporary JRPG that brings a lot of design ideas that I love into sharp, clear focus while staying entertaining and engaging throughout.”

—Chris Plante

Available on PlayStation 4, Windows PC.

Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | PlayStation Store | Steam

An eight-by-eight grid where Into the Breach’s battles play out will include flat tiles, cities and water features as well as mountains Subset Games

Into the Breach

Into the Breach would feel like a Nintendo game, were it not so fascinated with the death of human civilization at the hands (claws? maws?) of grotesque aliens. Similarly to what Nintendo has done with so many genres, creators Justin Ma and Matthew Davis distill a complex strategy formula into an approachable, forgiving idea that feels almost like a classic board game. That isn’t to say Into the Breach is easy — it isn’t! Rather, it’s fair, taking time to teach you rules, presenting them clearly within the world’s design, then testing you to see what you learn and how you adapt.

In an interview with RockPaperShotgun, Ma said half of the game’s four-year development was spent on the user interface. “When we decided we had to show what every enemy was doing every single turn, and that every action needed to be clear, it became clear how bad that nightmare would be,” said Ma. The magic of Into the Breach is that, to the average player, the work doesn’t show. It’s invisible. Everything works, just as you’d expect it to. Which, again, mirrors the je ne sais quois of Nintendo’s catalogue. What makes truly great games special is, often, not something you spot. It’s something you feel.

—Chris Plante

Available on Nintendo Switch and Windows PC.

Get it here: Steam | GOG | Nintendo eShop

Shadow of the Colossus remake - Wander stabs a colossus, sending a spray of black blood into the air Bluepoint Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment

Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus is one of the best games on PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3 and now PlayStation 4. The 4K remake, produced by Austin, Texas’ own Bluepoint Games, is a respectful (but not too respectful) restoration of the classic. This isn’t a reboot, nor is it a light-touch upgrade. Instead, it’s akin to a modern performance of a classic script. Everything is there, just as you remember it, and yet it feels fresh and more present than actually returning to the PS2 original, a game that isn’t quite as smooth and pleasurable as we remember it.

In our review, I wrote, “The original’s bare-bones interface would rapidly be replaced by a decade of open-world games loaded with minimaps, health bars and countless on-screen prompts telling you precisely what to do, how to do it and when — only for that minimal interface to return to fashion again in the past year.” Shadow of the Colossus feels like it could have been made today, not because of what’s in the game, but what was purposefully left out.

—Chris Plante

Available on PlayStation 4.
Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | PlayStation Store

The sea is scanned in Subnautica Unknown Worlds Entertainment

Subnautica

Subnautica first appeared in Steam Early Access in 2014, but didn’t get a formal, full release until this past January. I remember years ago playing a promising but relatively thin and unfinished game that borrowed from previous construction hits like Minecraft while paving the way for the glut of survival games that would flood the market during its lengthy development. How wonderful to say that Subnautica in 2018 is richer and more mysterious than I could have expected, a sprawling and playful experience that captures the thrill of survival and exploration games while largely trimming away the busy work that has accumulated on the genre like biofouling on the belly of a boat.

In 2016, right in the thick of development, Subnautica’s director, Charlie Cleveland, responded to questions about why the game didn’t include guns. Cleveland, who had previously worked on first-person shooters, described a change of heart in reaction to the tragic Sandy Hook shooting. “I’ve never believed that video game violence creates more real-world violence,” Cleveland said. “But I couldn’t just sit by and ‘add more guns’ to the world either.

“So Subnautica is one vote towards a world with less guns. A reminder that there is another way forward. One where we use non-violent and more creative solutions to solve our problems. One where we are not at the top of the food chain.” The decision has fostered something beautiful, inspiring, different.

—Chris Plante

Available on Mac, Windows PC, Xbox One.
Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | Steam | Microsoft Store

Celeste - ‘I can’t breathe’ Matt Makes Games

Celeste

Matt Thorson’s follow-up to TowerFall takes one move from the competitive multiplayer game (its buoyant jump) and mines it for every fleck of creativity, like a chef creating a prix fixe menu around a single, delicious and flexible ingredient. Celeste is a challenging platformer, in the line of Mario or Meat Boy, but notably, it includes tools to modify and alleviate the difficulty. You can slow the game speed, turn on invincibility or skip chapters. Thorson’s game doesn’t judge players for how they experience his work. And for those who want a more difficult experience, collectible strawberries are tucked throughout the world of Celeste, typically in precarious places, provoking highly skilled players to pursue challenge for no greater reason than “it’s fun.”

The decision to trim the stress from a notoriously stressful genre pairs well with Celeste’s story, which plunges into the shadowy trauma of anxiety, depression and meeting the expectations of those we love most. A charming art style and an uplifting score hold everything together, like a warm sweater or a bear hug. Life is hard enough, Celeste seems to say, there’s nothing wrong in asking for help.

—Chris Plante

Available on Linux, Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC.
Get it here: Steam | PlayStation Store | Nintendo eShop | Amazon

Monster hunter world chef palico Capcom

Monster Hunter: World

Here’s Polygon’s Chelsea Stark laying out everything you need to know about Monster Hunter: World: “To answer the three most pressing questions around Monster Hunter: World: Yes, its creators have made a notoriously inaccessible franchise into something that, if not totally accessible, somewhat resembles it. Yes, it’s still filled with countless menus and tough-to-parse mythos. And yes, this game lets you be best friends with a cat.”

There’s a BFF cat — what else can I add that might convince you to give Monster Hunter: World a try? You demand more? For fans of Capcom games who haven’t leapt into this daunting franchise, Monster Hunter: World carries a bounty of goofy cameos. The game has received post-launch updates featuring characters from Street Fighter, Devil May Cry and Mega Man. For non-Capcom fans, the guest stars complement the abundance of other additions, from new quests to humongous beasts. Monster Hunter: World was a great game at release. With each month, it’s only gotten better.

—Chris Plante

Available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One.
Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | Microsoft Store | PlayStation Store

Fortnite - woman looking at a glowing cube Epic Games

Fortnite Battle Royale

Don’t worry about being late to Fortnite Battle Royale. The creators of this colorful and constructive twist on the battle royale formula ensure that new players have plenty of chances to jump on board, constantly reimagining and retooling the map, weapons and modes. The most dramatic changes take place across seasons, reminiscent of Blizzard’s Hearthstone model. Over a couple of months, players progress through the ranks, unlocking new costumes, gliders and bonuses. And when the season wraps, everybody returns to zero. Of course, none of these upgrades and rewards give players an advantage on the battlefield, so if you don’t care about cosmetics, there’s no wrong time to start — or reason to spend money.

Whether you come to Fortnite through a console, a PC or a smartphone, the items and experience you earn are persistent. (Unless you play on PlayStation.) We’ve found ourselves rotating where we play, enjoying a week on an iPhone, then craving the precision of mouse and keyboard, then spending a week on the couch with an Xbox controller in our hand. PUBG revolutionized this genre, but Fortnite is quietly revolutionizing the fashion in which big video games seamlessly exist wherever you wish to play them. And it’s free!

—Chris Plante

Available on iOS, Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, Xbox One.
Get it here: Epic | Apple Store | Microsoft Store | PlayStation Store | Nintendo eShop

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