Well here we are, the big one. It’s been a long year, but also a very short one when it comes to this site. Even though this site hasn’t been around for very long, that doesn’t mean I just didn’t play any games before it launched. These five games I’m about to talk about are the ones that stuck with me the most and kept me playing the most this year. There might be some surprises on here, or it might be exactly what you’d expect. I really don’t know. It was pretty hard to pick these games, and especially hard to pick the order, but now I present Al Unlocked’s 5 best games of 2018.
5. Forza Horizon 4
I had never played a Forza game before this, and I haven’t even played a traditional racing game even remotely grounded in reality since Need for Speed Underground 2. I had an unhealthy addiction to Mario Kart, sue me. Despite these things I was very surprised by Forza Horizon 4 and fell in love with the open world, the visuals, and the feel of driving pretty quickly. It turned into that game that I would just park myself on the couch to play destress from a long day with. Exploring a fictional representation of the UK was so fun and relaxing, and buying different cars for me and my partner to play around with was great. The coolest thing I remember was driving around Edinburgh and having my partner (who had spent time there) basically give me a tour of the city, which goes to show how faithful of a recreation Playground Games managed to accomplish. The driver emotes seem like a pointless, but fun, addition to the game, and small little pointless things like that did little to dampen my enjoyment of this game. And I have still yet to even play any multiplayer! You can get Forza Horizon 4 on Xbox One or PC via the Windows Store, and it’s also available on Xbox Game Pass if you’re itching to try it but don’t want to commit to a full retail price.
4. Dragon Ball FighterZ
How does a game do Marvel vs. Capcom better than Marvel vs. Capcom? You get a lot of awesome recognizable characters, super flashy moves, a great tag system, and you have one of the best art styles ever seen in a fighting game. Arc System Works nails everything there is to nail in a good Dragon Ball game with Dragon Ball FighterZ. The game is fun, accessible yet with a high skill ceiling, pretty, and incredibly faithful to the source material. Like seriously, this is one of the most “Dragon Ball” Dragon Ball games I’ve ever played, and it’s also extremely balanced to boot. No having a Perfect Cell obliterate a Krillin because of the Dragon Ball lore. This game lets punching bag Yamcha go toe-to-toe with God of Destruction Beerus and it’s amazing (and has incited some hate-mail). The single-player content is a bit lackluster, and it’s also required if you want to unlock the Android 21 character created exclusively for this game, which is probably the most unfortunate thing about it. The fighting itself more than makes up for that blemish though, and is fun for pretty much Dragon Ball fan, unless you’re hopelessly attached to the Xenoverse games for some reason. I can’t mention Dragon Ball FighterZ without also mentioning the amazing competitive scene that it’s spawned in the fighting game community. The Evo 2018 finals for Dragon Ball FighterZ is some of the best fighting game action I’ve ever seen, and if you like Dragon Ball FighterZ at all you owe it to yourself to watch SonicFox vs. GO1. One of the best fighting games to come out this year, and there was a LOT of fighting games this year. Dragon Ball FighterZ is available on all current generation platforms, so there’s few excuses to miss this one.
3. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
I was pretty reluctant to put this on the list, as it released so late into the year on December 7th, but I’ve enjoyed this game too much not to. Nintendo’s follow-up to Super Smash Bros. for the 3DS/Wii U, Smash Ultimate’s tagline right off the bat was “Everyone is Here!”. That means EVERYONE. Every single character that has ever been playable in a Smash game is a part of Ultimate’s roster. That’s including Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid, who everyone thought was done with Smash forever thanks to some stupid antics from rights holder Konami. Apart from the roster however, this is the best that Smash has felt since Melee in my opinion. It’s almost like it took good parts from every Smash game before it and just smashed (haha) them all together. I accidentally just spend hours playing matches and lose a chunk of my day without regret. On top of just regular matches against your friends or online, there’s also some amazing single player content with the World of Light adventure mode, and a dramatically improved Classic mode experience. I have a few gripes with the game, such as the god-awful online experience and some clunky, confusing menus, but I can absolutely look past that. If you’re a fan of the series, if you’ve skipped out on an entry or two, or if you’ve never played a Smash game in your life, this is an amazing point to jump in! Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is on the Nintendo Switch and is an amazing addition for any Switch owner’s catalogue.
2. Dead Cells
Dead Cells came at me out of nowhere to be honest. I heard that it was a roguelite (check) with elements from metroidvanias (check) and Dark Souls (check), and I felt compelled to give it a try. What I thought I was just going to play for maybe a day or two and then move on quickly became my most played game of 2018, and was my Game of the Year until I played #1. This game has tight and responsive combat, a variety of weapons and powers to find and unlock, challenge that makes you sweat. Getting into a rhythm of killing enemies and moving quickly throughout a stage is so incredibly satisfying that once I start up the game I can’t do just one run. Dead Cells is available on all current generation platforms, and even on Mac and Linux!
Surprised? I was too. I first heard about CrossCode about a few weeks before its release in September, and it looked like it could scratch almost every single itch I had for a game. A top-down action RPG with a sci-fi setting and inspirations from Secret of Mana and The Legend of Zelda? Sign me up! It has a pretty interesting setting as far as I’m concerned as well. The best I can describe the game is Sword Art Online with balls. You play a character that’s trapped in a VR MMORPG and fight by throwing balls at enemies and smacking them up close with your chakrams. The combat is extremely satisfying, and is augmented by a skill grid, four different elements, and a ton of special moves. The game does exploration very well too, as you’re climbing ledges and jumping across gaps while looking for more hidden paths and experimenting with your abilities to come up with clever ways to progress along whatever path you’re on. The dungeons are about as Zelda inspired as you can get, with new abilities to get, and challenging puzzles and boss fights to test those new abilities. The game does a very good job of making sure that abilities and mechanics don’t become obsolete, with the final dungeon and boss testing literally everything you’ve learned throughout the game. The soundtrack is also one of the best I’ve heard in a very long time, and that’s comparing it to the likes of Kingdom Hearts, Xenoblade, and Smash. The only criticism I have for the game is that the puzzles become very long and unforgiving, with no sort of checkpoint system if you screw it up. A lot of puzzles in CrossCode take a lot of trial and error, unless you’re some kind of god and have amazing reactions, as if you don’t do the right actions at the right time, you have to start all over. Despite that, CrossCode is officially my Game of the Year for 2018, and I love nearly everything about this game. If you want to take my endorsement to heart and try the game, it’s available on Steam and is very inexpensive. Here’s to 2019 bringing a ton of amazing games!