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From indie darlings to AAA masterpieces, 2018 played host to plenty of standout games. But which one deserves the title of "Game of the Year?" Well, that all depends on how you look at it.
For some, picking a GOTY is as simple as looking back over the past 12 months and deciding which game stole the most hours from their life. For others, it's a complex process involving research, bar graphs and lists comparing the pros and cons of each title. Other, potentially saner people, simply play the games they want to play and don't worry about deciding which one was arguably "the best." But where's the fun in that?
Picking a Game of the Year is admittedly a strange process, frequently requiring bizarre mental gymnastics in order to find a way to compare games that have practically nothing in common. Games like Celeste and Red Dead Redemption 2, for instance, exist on opposite ends of just about every spectrum, but both are considered by many to be solid contenders for the 2018 title.
As for me, picking this year's top game was a piece of cake. I just sat back, took a deep breath and went with my gut. Or my heart. Or my head. Or...
My Gut: Red Dead Redemption 2
Looking back over 2018, the best game of the year was undoubtedly Red Dead Redemption 2. In the coming years, if you were to look up the definition for "AAA masterpiece," you'd likely find a picture of Rockstar Games' latest epic. All you have to do is look at the game being played for five minutes to know that it's something special.
Red Dead 2 was made by a staff of thousands and that (decidedly problematic) labor shows in every square inch of the game. The soundtrack is top-notch, the performances are stellar and Rockstar's Wild West romp is the best-looking game of this generation.
And while it's easy to paint the game as a classic with broad strokes, that level of quality can be seen right down to the finest of details. Whether you're in the midst of an epic shootout atop a speeding train, riding your horse across a prairie while the sun sets at your back or slowly making your way through a snowy forest to track deer, Red Dead Redemption 2 feels like a living, breathing world overflowing with awe-inspiring detail.
A technical marvel of intricate, interlocking systems, Red Dead Redemption 2 is an absolute behemoth deserving of high praise.
My Heart: God of War
Okay, sure, Red Dead 2 features a mind-bogglingly detailed world that's easy on the eyes, but have you heard anyone talk about how "great" that game is without also running through a laundry list of caveats that make you question if they actually like the game at all?
Red Dead 2's parts are far greater than its sum, which is not something you can say about the true Game of the Year, God of War. Santa Monica Studios' massive reboot also boasts some killer graphics, great performances, a beautiful soundtrack, and an engaging story, but it goes the extra mile to earn its praise by actually being fun to play.
Rather than let players run loose in a massive world that takes 37 minutes to ride across to deliver a deer carcass to their camp (only to discover the meat has gone bad), God of War instead boasts a more guided trek through a semi-open world that rewards exploration and is positively packed with things to see, puzzles to solve and Norse monsters to beat the stuffing out of. More importantly, the game is a well-paced joy to play that takes you on a memorable, emotional, exhilarating adventure you won't soon forget. And when it's over, it's over. No DLC, online pass or "games as service" nonsense. God of War is a top-to-bottom stellar game and that's all there is to it.
My Head: Fortnite
That's all well and good, but what are the real criteria for determining the Game of the Year? Is it the game that had the biggest staff? Is it the game that cost the most money to develop? Does the GOTY need the best graphics, an orchestral soundtrack and a story that "really makes you think?"
Shouldn't the Game of the Year be the one that fundamentally changed the landscape of the industry? Or what about the game that goes beyond the boundaries of that industry in order to become a pop culture phenomenon and a household name? Ask a random stranger on the street to talk about Red Dead 2 or God of War and there's a good chance they'll just offer a blank stare in return. Ask that same person about Fortnite and they'll likely break out a (currently litigious) dance, talk about how they saw Ninja on a recent episode of Ellen or complain about how their kids won't shut up about it.
Of course, none of that would matter if Fortnite itself wasn't an elegant, fun and lovingly crafted game that has 100 percent earned its spot at the front of the pack. Epic Games took a good formula, bolted on a boatload of simple, yet brilliant, ideas and turned a lighthearted battle royale into a global phenomenon that's a hell of a lot of fun to play. More importantly, the team is making constant adjustments to the game and piling on more and more unique twists that make Fortnite worth coming back to week after week.
If the Game of the Year is the one that has had the biggest impact (both in and out of the industry) and will likely still be talked about and played years from now, then Fortnite is the clear winner for 2018.
Angel On My Shoulder: Monster Hunter World
Then again, maybe the game of the year is the one that takes you completely by surprise, sinks its hooks in deep and keeps you glued to the television into the wee hours of the morning. Shouldn't growth count for something?
Few series have evolved quite like Monster Hunter, which stormed onto the scene early in the year and caught pretty much everyone completely off guard. The series has always had a cult following, but World catapulted Monster Hunter into the limelight by making a notoriously niche series far more welcoming to average players.
Capcom wisely ditched some of Monster Hunter's more frustrating components and bolted on more intuitive gameplay, open maps and features that negate some of the unnecessary grind. The result is a game that more players than ever can enjoy, and that's exactly why the game was so successful in finding a massive audience this time around. Frequent updates and seasonal events have kept players returning to World, making it an unquestionable darling of 2018. It's an impressive leap forward for the series worthy of all the recognition it can get.
Devil On My Shoulder: Earth Defense Force 5
Oh, I'm sorry, I thought we were talking about the best "game" of 2018. What's with all this talk of artistic merit, engaging narratives and stunning performances?
You know what video games are good for? Turning off your brain, escaping the real world and blowing shit up for an hour or two.
Red Dead 2 features realistic buildings, but I can't chuck sticks of dynamite through a window and watch the place explode. How's that for "unparalleled realism?" And you're telling me that Kratos, the freaking god of war, spends his latest adventure battling mythological creatures worrying about whether or not he's being a good father?
You know what game doesn't mess around with any of that junk? Earth Defense Force 5. That game knows exactly what it is and it doesn't try to be anything different. You want a thousand different kinds of guns to shoot? It's got them! You want to go toe-to-toe with giant ants, frog people, flying saucers and kaiju? EDF 5 has 100-plus levels of it! Is that skyscraper blocking your view? Three grenades and it's rubble, pal!
"But the story in Red Dead 2 is actually an allegory for how the world is---" Shut up with that nonsense! You know what the story in EDF5 is? Giant monsters are attacking and you need to kill them. The end.
Earth Defense Force 5 is goofy as hell and packed with the kind of over-the-top action that made video games a hit in the first place. If anything deserves to be called the Game of the Year, it's the game where you can drive a tank and fire round after round into spiders the size of an SUV.