Best of 2018: Top 10 Gaming Moments

This year’s moments list is virtually an even split between single-player story beats worthy of entire spoilercasts and the discovery of delightful game mechanics I just did not expect. That’s just about all I could ask for, as that spectrum of variety made this one of my easiest lists to write. It’s no coincidence that my number one entry is a combination of both of these types, and with a bit of right-place-right-time multiplayer magic sprinkled in, we’ve got ourselves another strong showing from the industry and another year of reasons to love gaming.

Also I apologise but some of these screenshots might show up really dark for you, possibly because they were taken on a really bright TV.

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VR BEST OF 2018 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s odd, but let’s have a beer. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

Spoilers ahead!

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10. Hot Air Balloon Crash – Overcooked 2

The first Overcooked was frantic and colourful and threw plenty of surprises at you, but they were always deliberately telegraphed and only slightly altered the game’s stages aesthetically. After a fair few of those kinds of stages in Overcooked 2 – enough to start getting used to the rhythm of the game’s heaven-sent ingredient throwing mechanic – the game threw me and two of my mates onto a hot air balloon amidst turbulent weather and frequent fires on deck that you have to put out (which ended up being my job). Luckily we were only meant to make salad, which is reasonably simple. But no sooner had we got our pathing and task division down than the entire stage suddenly broke apart and plummeted out of the sky, crashing straight into a sushi restaurant where all of a sudden we had to prepare – you guessed it – sushi. The shock, visual flair and immediate need to adapt made for an invigorating surprise that probably played a big part in ensuring we would actually try to finish the game.

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9. HD Rumble Sings – Kirby Star Allies

This is, dare I suggest, a (gasp) slight rule break. I didn’t technically play this moment, but I was in the room when the entire thing happened, context and all, so I’m including it anyway. As I half-watched my brother finish the main storyline of Kirby Star Allies while I was doing something else, he unlocked and started playing through a psychedelic bonus level, which ended with a door floating within an abstract representation of a Game Boy. Cue a short bonus level within a bonus level, the entire minimally-textured stage awash in the pea-soup green of the original Game Boy’s LCD screen. That was amazing enough, but then the level ended with the colour returning over a frame of a giant golden Kirby statue as the joy-cons in my brother’s hands played the classic Kirby jingle entirely with pitches of rumble. It kind of blew my mind as no other major game had indicated the Switch controllers could even do that.

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8. The Rapids – Unravel Two

Unravel Two is less about story than its predecessor (so I’m told), but the tension within some of its gameplay moments still allows for some that stick in the memory, particularly when playing in co-op. I almost put up a moment from early in the game involving an extremely angry bird, but the final level of the game just has it beat in my opinion. The almost-complete removal of a game’s worth of tension thanks to your sudden ability to double jump with sparkly flair as a gorgeously-rendered rushing river carries you to your ultimate destination is positively Journey-esque. It won’t play that way for everyone, mostly because Journey did it so well all those years ago, but I stand by the comparison. There are still momentum puzzles to navigate in this final stretch, so the water-skimming isn’t quite pure spectacle, but you navigate them with barely a care in the world. Just lovely.

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7. Walking Garbage – Detroit: Become Human

The moment you wake up as the android Markus in the middle of a rubbish tip comes – within the bounds of his story at least – abruptly after a not-insignificant stretch of doing fairly menial and/or peaceful tasks, albeit in a world with a fantastical science fiction tinge to it. The hard cut from pristine upper-class surroundings and fever-dream user interfaces to grimy, dark, rain-soaked refuse is ghastly, and the initial sequence of using button combinations to make Markus drag himself through the mud and reboot his body parts one-by-one is one of the few instances of David Cage’s high-concept metaphors nailing both its narrative and allegorical function. As Markus goes from crawling to hobbling to walking to climbing out of the tip – all thanks to the machine parts he takes from still-animated android husks around him – his physical rebirth mirrors that of his purpose, so much so that the otherwise cheesy slow-mo shot of him grabbing an unused trenchcoat after escaping and swinging it onto his shoulders actually feels earned.

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6. Day One – Nintendo LABO Variety Kit

The Nintendo LABO experiment caught a whole bunch of flak from vocal people on the internet and it didn’t exactly sell new Nintendo Switches to families in the way Nintendo had likely hoped, but I haven’t heard much in the way of negativity about it from those who actually invested in the software/hardware/cardboard hybrid product. From parents with creatively curious kids to people like me, who sit right in the middle of the venn diagram of interest in Lego/robotics/origami/videogames, just about everything to do with the LABO setup is polished, charming and refreshing – until you can’t find a place to put the already-built stuff, of course. My first day with the Variety Kit was a procession of delightful moment after delightful moment, with every bit of extra curiosity on my part seemingly rewarded with another layer of options. From discovering the 1980s montage music toggle on the remote control car dashboard to unlocking a completely un-advertised HD Rumble test suite (which explained the Kirby thing and then went way beyond) to constructing that ridiculously cool working piano and customising it, that first day was quite cool indeed.

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5. Finale – Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion

When Nintendo announced their first-ever piece of paid DLC for the Splatoon series, explaining its fresh location, aesthetic and hard-as-nails bite-sized mission structure, they somehow neglected to mention that once you collected the four main MacGuffins of the loose plot the expansion would transform into a tensely-balanced, straight-shot gauntlet taken right out of the Portal 2 school of video game vibes. There is more attention to series lore and the characters who hold it up in that one stretch of gameplay than in anything else the young series has yet put on a screen. It comes complete with a surprise villainous turn, several direct references to humanity as an extinct race in the Splatoon world, a boss fight against the protagonist of the first Splatoon and an absolutely ludicrous final battle against a giant Greek statue head equipped with a city-destroying mouth laser. Shit is absolutely nuts.

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4. From the Mud – Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a story about a Lara Croft who makes mistakes and has to carry them with her. Most of the game sees her trying desperately to recover from an impulsive decision early on – one with literally disastrous consequences – and that journey eventually takes her to a stunning ancient city where she makes a valuable ally in her three-game-long battle against the Trinity organisation. After many close calls said ally then dies to allow Lara to escape the city, and just as she sits with her head hung in a canoe with her confidante Jonah – all the weight of her actions weighing on her shoulders – she is violently separated from both boat and friend and ends up on a mud-soaked shore with a minor army of Trinity goons in between her and Jonah.

After half a game worth of build-up (including a playable flashback to Lara’s childhood nightmares about her father’s death), this is a Lara possessed, who will stop at nothing to avoid another death of a loved one at her hand. She cuts through the first enemy with a primal rage that transforms her in-game model into a wild-haired spectre not seen in the series thus far, but the following stealth section – which is beyond satisfying – showcases just how far Lara has come in three games as she ruthlessly dispatches enemies one by one. The sequence ends with a fire-drenched horror film shot as an enemy cowers in fear at the Tomb Raider emerging from the water with murderous intent. The game doesn’t end for a while afterwards, but this is definitively the stretch of gameplay that delivers on the promise of the first Tomb Raider reboot five years ago. It rocks.

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3. Saved by Spare Parts – Starlink: Battle for Atlas

Early on during the week and a half when I was hopelessly enveloped in Starlink, I was pretty much only using Fox McCloud’s Arwing to complete missions, because come on, why would I not? The game wasn’t exactly challenging me all that much, mostly because I was putting time into grinding the game’s mod systems. Then I decided to do one of the Switch-exclusive side missions, which focus on Fox’s determined tracking of long-time antagonist Wolf O’Donnell. That took me to the door of an outlaw hideout floating in space – and the early introduction of one of the game’s very Ubisoft mechanics. Too early, perhaps, for my stats at the time. To infiltrate the scary skull-masked hideout – located in the middle of an asteroid field – you have to first take out various turrets and fighters. This got my heart racing because I absolutely love that Star Wars: Rogue Leader / original Battlefront II-style space combat stuff, but I bit off more than I could chew on one of my approaches and the Arwing was swarmed and destroyed.

I wondered why the game wasn’t sending me back to base when I realised I still had a ship in my digital arsenal from the game’s base pack. Having never flown this ship before, I went to the menus to put it together and realised I could still use the Arwing’s broken wings to add agility to the craft, and I could attach them in a number of ways. So of course I faced them downward to make a sick thorny-looking fighter, gave it some homing projectile weapons and started barrel rolling and shielding like a madman. I got through all the fighters and turrets by the skin of my teeth after taking a few big hits, flew into the hideout and grabbed my loot reward. The high from that bunch of consecutive realisations virtually guaranteed I’d be locked in to the game for a few more hours at least. It. Felt. So. Good.

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2. The Final Battle – Spider-Man

To an outside observer, the idea of a final battle against Doc Ock probably doesn’t seem like anything worth writing home about. But within Insomniac’s painstakingly crafted Spider-Man, it is a heart-pounding, heartbreaking slice of cinematic gameplay at its finest. Though the Peter Parker of this game has been Spider-Man for almost a decade already when the story starts, allowing the writers to skip a bunch of well-worn tropes and throw in a veritable platoon of classic Spidey villains without getting bogged down in setup, they save Doc’s origin story for the game itself and entwine Peter with him by making the pair into idealistic lab partners. This turns out to be a masterstroke.

William Salyers’ performance as Otto Octavius brings a nervous energy to the character that is both endearing and foreboding, so that over the course of the game the build-up to his eventual turn feels believable and tragic. The fact that the final battle includes the debut of a badass black suit and is accompanied by a torrent of stunning rain effects is really just widow dressing, because this feels like a truly devastating breakdown of a working friendship that will likely be remembered by those who play it as one of the all-time great Spider-Man finales.

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1. The Blades of Chaos – God of War

God of War is a story about character growth, but it’s arguably even more of a story about fear of character regression. Our freshly bearded friend Kratos spends most of this first chapter of what is clearly going to be a new Spartan saga shadowing and looking out for his son while being completely unable to show any affection towards him whatsoever. We get hints early on that this may be because of how desperately Kratos wants to leave his beyond-bloodthirsty ways behind, so when it comes to light that he must retrieve a crucial part of that murderous history in order to save his son, the moment is well and truly underlined.

The sombre mood as you are forced to play through Kratos’ entire solitary journey back to his cabin in the woods is overwhelming, thanks to a booming, bassy score and a blood-drenched colour palette. The last few steps feel like lead and when the camera wrenches itself from the player’s control to focus on the titular God of War’s troubled-yet-determined hands, you could cut the tension in the air with a pair of Spartan blades. Which Kratos then proceeds to do, with an entirely new set of moves and animations (many of which call back to the old God of War games), more than halfway through the story. Incredible stuff.

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Honorable Mentions
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Victory Royale – Fortnite

Oh stop shrivelling your face up in disgust, you know how good it feels to actually win a round of a battle royale game. The fact that my first victory royale in Fortnite came alongside a good friend of mine – and during the week of its release on the Switch, when E3 had already made me so high on games – well that was just the icing on the cake.

The Final Climb – Celeste

Metaphorically triumphant, empathetically illuminating and just such a relief after all the trial-and-error deaths, the difficulty, music and emotion in the final chapter of Celeste are cranked all the way up. You revisit each major mechanic from the game’s earlier chapters, only now armed with a double jump that our heroine Madeline has earned by literally embracing the other side of herself. The moment when the music peels away and the flag at the summit comes into the frame is incredible.

Launch Day – Super Smash Bros Ultimate

Not since the release of Pokemon X & Y five years ago has one game brought so many of my friends and family together on one day, and I can’t even remember the last time I played one game for so many hours on day one. From surprise unlocks to the joy of discovering new mains to hilarious accidental bomb triggers that never seem to get old, it was all happening. What a special day December 7th was.

The Start of Any Boss – Octopath Traveller

I can just feel those of you who played a bunch of Octopath nodding vigorously out there. There are a lot of end-of-chapter bosses throughout this lengthy game and each one of their fights starts with a superb musical transition from one of the many adrenaline-pumping dramatic motifs into a boss theme. There are entire YouTube videos dedicated to how cool that is. Every single time.

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