The power of games comes not only from the fact that we can battle a bunch of bad guys using impossible fighting moves, solve brain-taxing puzzles as part of a globe-trotting adventure, or get behind the wheel and tear through the streets with reckless abandon - their power to engage and enrapture also comes from the stories that they tell and they way that they tell them. Our interactive medium allows for deeper immersion in tales both long and short, and in 2018 there was no shortage of great writing and storytelling. From epic yarns about the gods to a fantastical twist on the truth about lost property, the last twelve months have seen us take on some unforgettable adventures.
5. The Council / Big Bad Wolf
While we'll remember 2018 as the year Telltale Games went down with a bang, there were interesting developments elsewhere on the episodic scene. The Council took one step back (to bring back meaningful puzzles) and two steps forward with its fascinating historical setting, occult plot, and RPG-like systems for abilities (which influenced your actions and possible choices). It may have had some rough edges, but we forgive those on account of giving us something that felt truly different in a genre that has sadly lacked innovation in recent years.
What's more is the plot really kept us hooked. This titular council includes various famous figures from history, and right from the start when we're locked up for stealing a book, we get thrown into a plot that is incredibly grand in terms of its scale. Of course, the characters are part of the charm with The Council, and how you interact with these legendary figures determines how the story develops, akin to something like Life is Strange.
4. Forgotton Anne / ThroughLine Games
Could you imagine a reality where forgotten inanimate objects went to another world? That's the proposition that Forgotton Anne offers us, as this world of Forgotlings - as these lost items are called - gives them a life of their own. In this place, they can speak and live their lives together in peace. Or so it would seem. You play as Anne, a human and helper to the leader of this strange and characterful world, and when an uprising starts you're tasked with diving into the midst of things in order to get to the bottom of the rebellion.
It's never that simple though, and questions are soon raised about corruption and power, with your own moral compass taking you into the spotlight. You have the power to give and take away life from these Forgotlings with a device on your arm, but what is the right thing to do? This 2D platformer really delivers in terms of story, and the Studio Ghibli-inspired art certainly enhances the intriguing setting. With excellent writing brought to life by well-directed voice acting and exquisite visual design, ThroughLine Games' delivered one of the year's most memorable adventures.
3. Detroit: Become Human / Quantic Dream
We had high expectations for Quantic Dream's Detroit: Become Human, and for the most part, this choice-driven adventure about newly sentient androids offers something that's both unique and engaging. Detroit focuses almost completely on narrative yet it was made to the highest standards in terms of production values (things like facial animations, acting, and graphical fidelity). However, this was more than just a skin-deep experience, and we started to care for Kara, Marcus, and Connor, the three androids we guide through events. Throughout this three-pronged sci-fi adventure, we're given a fresh perspective on our own society - the whole thing is set in near-future Detroit, a city re-energised by the production of androids - that's not always entirely comfortable, and along the way, the game touches on themes of slavery, inequality, and the abuse of power.
Scenes are full of interesting decisions and events that can change the course of the story in both major and minor ways, and you can go back and dive into things again and explore different avenues once you've played through once. We also enjoyed how the various branches of the story intertwined in certain places and how important bits of the backstory came courtesy of newscasts or digital magazine articles. It's not perfect, and there are times when Quantic Dream falls into the old habit of mixing up the pacing a bit too much (which makes for the occasional dull moment), but for the most part Detroit: Become Human succeeded in making us care, making us feel something, and making us think about not just the future, but our present and past.
2. God of War / Santa Monica Studio
If you would have told us a few years back that a God of War title would be one of this year's best video game narratives, we would have smiled and shaken our heads at the notion. After all, God of War and Kratos are meant to be brutal rage-filled adrenaline rides where you slay one beast after another in search of violent vengeance. The rebooted God of War, this time set in the world of Norse mythology, threw that notion out the proverbial window and offered a more mature and well-crafted story, and while it offered some of the brutality we've grown to know and love over the years, it also showed nuance in its depiction of the father-son relationship.
Kratos has always been about using violence to solve his problems, and while there is a ton of bloodshed here, seeing Kratos encounter a challenge he can't solve with his fists - his son and the questions he asks - provides a new facet to his personality, giving the series a much-needed breath of fresh air when compared to the raw, relentless violence of past games. Atreus can even help Kratos in battle, and in some ways, this is more a tale about his development and the growth of their relationship, rather than a story about Kratos fighting fantastical creatures.
The fact that the whole thing was held together seamlessly via Santa Monica Studio's cinematic-style one-take camera meant that not only was God of War a more human and engaging story, but it was also told with almost unparalleled flair.
1. Red Dead Redemption 2 / Rockstar
Rockstar really knows how to build a story and then tell it with style, and over the years the studio has put itself in a position where they can take the time to do things properly. They had already lured us into the world of the waning wild west via Red Dead Redemption, breaking our hearts and keeping us gripped with all the gunslinging that took place along the way, and now Arthur Morgan's adventure is here to throw us back on the rollercoaster in the form of a prequel set ten years before our outing with John Marston back in 2010.
This long-awaited follow-up starts off with a botched heist by the Van der Linde gang, and it's this motley crew that we stick with throughout this expansive adventure. We can do as we please in this deep and meticulously-crafted world, and as we begin to find our feet we get to see our camp grow and flourish, although that doesn't mean that we've left our lawless lives behind. In fact, there are a series of other crimes to commit, optional or otherwise, throughout the main story, and Arthur Morgan (and, by extension, you the player) often rides the line between right or wrong as he tries to scratch a living on this uncompromising frontier.
There's so much detail that keeps you hooked into the various stories the world has to tell you. Some are harder to find than others though, and curiosity is certainly rewarded. Whether you stumble upon encounters in the world or find the first threads of a story during a conversation with one of your friends in the camp, there's a wonderfully organic feel to the way things evolve and unfold. One thing to bear in mind, and we'll leave it to you to judge whether it's a criticism or not, is the commitment that Rockstar asks of the player; Red Dead Redemption 2 is an expansive game that only offers up its rarest and deepest secrets to those who truly hunt for them. If you've got the time to spare and you're up for an adventure of epic proportions filled with character and depth, look no further than this.
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