Santa Monica-based game developer Naughty Dog released The Last of Us in a nearly unrecognizable world in 2013. President Obama’s second term provided a backdrop of optimism—a serendipitous juxtaposition for austere art. Players controlled Joel (Troy Baker), the survivor of a zombie outbreak, as he trekked across the country with Ellie (Ashley Johnson), a girl immune to the pathogen. Joel and Ellie journeyed from Boston to Salt Lake City to deliver Ellie to a medical team that could turn her antibodies into a cure.
The end of a console generation usually signals a wave of indelible experiences. After years of learning a system’s capabilities, resourceful game developers craft the console’s grandiose swan songs.
Whether you like exploring story-rich environments as prisoners on the lam, immersing yourself in a role-playing game developed in-part by a powerhouse Japanese animation studio, or singing sea shanties with your friends on the hunt for buried treasure, 2018 truly offered something for everyone. 2018’s varied slate of games stood out to me as the most diverse field in recent memory, and yet, I can’t remember a year where the Game of the Year winner was so clear-cut.
Two brothers founded Studio MDHR, the independent Canadian game studio behind Cuphead. Cuphead, the studio’s first game follows two brothers (Cuphead and Mugman) who gamble their souls away in a casino owned by the Devil. To win their souls back, the two brothers must collect the souls of others who lost it all in the Devil’s casino. Players are tasked with shooting, jumping, and dodging their way through a litany of unrelenting boss battles to capture the souls of the Devil’s debtors.
In a meta-commentary about video games and our own free will, INSIDE developer Playdead’s second game (also its second masterpiece after Limbo) forces players to question the nature of control. The story tasks players with guiding a nameless boy through a series of puzzles and platforming levels in a gloomy, harsh world. The resulting journey leads players to escape from armed guards and infected animals, use mind-control helmets, and genetically modify the boy’s body to complete puzzles.
Though The Witcher game series dates back to 2007, Polish developer CD Projekt Red seems to have broken through with its third installment. Based on Polish fantasy novels by Andrzej Sapkowski, the games follow Geralt of Rivia, a witcher (or monster hunter, for those who aren’t well-versed in Witcher lore), searching for his adopted daughter Ciri.
The first full year of a new console generation is always cause for trepidation among gamers, and admittedly, 2014 (the year after the release of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4) is one of the weakest gaming years in recent memory. Still, that shouldn’t take away from the Insomniac Games’ excellent Xbox One-exclusive, Sunset Overdrive.
To me, Uncharted developer Naughty Dog operates on another plane of existence in the gaming sphere. The studio’s story-driven, guided experiences aren’t for everyone, but its games are my Platonic ideal.