There are too many goddamn games. Far too many for one person to play, so much so that even if I was sent with my Pile of Shame to the afterlife, I still don’t think I would be able to get through them all. With such a huge amount of new releases out this year, it should be no surprise that the underrated games of 2018 are as varied as they are plentiful.
If you’re stuck for something to play or are trying to wean yourself off your Fortnite addiction, here are some of the year’s hidden gems that you should check out. Some of them weren’t that beloved critically and commercially at launch, others didn’t seem like they launched at all because of how hard it is to make an imprint on the landscape, but they are all worth your time.
Virtual reality had a big year in 2018 simply because of how many different experiences there were beyond simply shooting the bad things in the bad places. Polyarc’s Moss is the perfect example of that, a platformer where you take control and also take care of gaming’s most adorable mouse.
Playing as both a benevolent overseer and as the mouse herself, you must guide Quill on a journey that feels like it’s been ripped straight out of the pages of a classic fairytale. With some innovative uses of VR and a sweet tone that’s hard to ignore, Moss is one of 2018’s most uplifting games.
“Brief as it may be, it’s hard to deny that Moss might be the new standard for VR platformers. It’s a fantastic and fantastical adventure that will bring out your inner child and, considering the cynical world we live in now, you couldn’t ask for a better respite.”
2. Kingdom Come: Deliverance
Developer: Warhorse Studios Publisher: Deep Silver Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1
Perhaps Kingdom Come: Deliverance flew relatively under the radar this year because of how it simply is not bothered to present itself as a game for everyone. It’s not something that many can just pick up and play, rather a jaunt into medieval times that rewards patience over instant satisfaction.
It might also have something to do with the game being a bit of a mess at launch, though Warhorse have worked hard to fix its numerous bugs and performance issues since then. If you’re looking for an open world RPG that isn’t like many others on the market, Kingdom Come should be, ahem, deliveranced into your eyes. Christ, that was bad.
“Its problems may deter many players and arguably should until it’s in a better state, but it’s hard to deny that with some more polish and a couple of tweaked systems, Kingdom Come: Deliverance could be one the year’s best.”
3. Pathfinder: Kingmaker
Developer: Owlcat Games Publisher: Deep Silver Platform(s): PC
Another game that isn’t too fussed about having mainstream appeal, Pathfinder: Kingmaker is a hardcore isometric RPG that has been slightly maligned for being too punishing. You can see where those annoyances come from: there’s a lot to keep on top of with stamina and fatigue playing a massive part in your success.
Stick with it and overcome the learning curve, however, and the rough diamond shines through, especially when the kingdom management system comes to the fore. Just like Kingdom Come, this isn’t a game that you can play when you have fifteen minutes to spare. Instead, wear a crown made of tinfoil and become the tyrant you always wanted to be.
“Pathfinder: Kingmaker is an excellent game that successfully marries the best aspects of pen and paper RPGs with great exploration and a surprisingly good kingdom management game.”
Developer: Nyamakop Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment Platform(s): Switch, PC, Mac
While their heyday as console-sellers may be more or less over (unless Nintendo is involved, of course), platformers are still a whole bunch of fun, though they do need to think a little outside the box to really stand out. Enter Semblance: a game that goes the Katamari route of taking a well-worn premise and breaking it — quite literally.
You play as a creature that can deform themselves to form new pathways for progress by making themselves large enough to smash through obstacles. There are plenty of twists on the formula throughout, and when backed by a lovely aesthetic and a constant challenge, it’s not the only purple-centric platformer from 2018 you should be playing.
“By challenging traditional platformer mechanics, Semblance has redefined environment traversal in an unprecedented way, making for an unforgettable puzzle platformer.”
Developer(s): JW, Kitty, Jukio, and Dom Publisher: Devolver Digital Platform(s): PS4, XB1, PC
One of the better old-school adventures games to come out for a minute (heh), Minit is a twist on the classics of old. While it may look like an early prototype for Zelda (that’s a good thing), its usage of time means that it’s a far more immediate and pulse-quickening time.
By any other name a puzzler, Minit tasks you with completing areas with just sixty seconds to spare. While on the short side, there’s a lot of replayability to better yourself, especially when your actions in a previous sequence can greatly change the next. It’s also available at a pittance, which is always a nice bonus.
“Minit fully embraces its unique mechanics and quirky style to present a game that’s both refreshing, and yet comfortably familiar.”
Developer: Spearhead Games Publisher: Spearhead Games Platform(s): PS4, PC
It’s always surprising that more games don’t include the Groundhog Day gimmick: making you relive the same scenarios and seeing how your actions change the world at large. The Sexy Brutale did it to a degree and the aforementioned Minit made it the basis of its gameplay, but Omensight from Spearhead Games goes apocalyptic with the idea.
When your world is destroyed, you must travel back and forth between the day itself to unravel the how and why to stop it from happening. Backed by a good storyline and likeable characters as well as some strong combat, the only real downside Omensight is in how its camera, ironically, isn’t always brilliant. Still, if it’s personality and intrigue you want, Omensight has you covered.
“Glossing over the irony of including “sight” in the name when the camera is sub-standard, Omensight offers both an absorbing murder mystery and enjoyable gameplay. Definitely worth checking out.”
Developer: Appnormals Team Publisher: PQube Platform: PC, PS4, Vita, XB1
A text-based mystery might not be the most exciting game you will play from 2018, but it is one of the year’s most sincere. When Quinn finds himself locked in a room without any explanation as to how he arrived there, you must help him as someone on the other end of a PC in a chatroom.
STAY is a game all about relationships: the more you talk to and appreciate Quinn’s plight, the more he will open up. If you leave him to his own devices for too long, he will scold you for not caring enough. The big issue with STAY is that its puzzles can be a bit ridiculously vague at times, though with a guide in hand, you can play 2018’s best friendship simulator with no issues.
“Despite some frustrating and obtuse puzzles that hinder rather than enrich the narrative, STAY is a simple tale told with style and delivers an important lesson that we could all learn from.”
Developer: DONTNOD Publisher: Focus Home Interactive Platform: PC, PS4, XB1
More or less the prime example of a AA game, Vampyr brings plenty of mechanical innovations while trying to match the scope and ambition of games many times its size. That DONTNOD were able to create something enterprising while juggling so many different projects is nothing short of a marvel, though the game is not without some issues.
You play as a newly-sired vampire in a plague-ridden London who is forced to walk a tightrope between gaining power at the expense of humanity or by allowing himself to be overpowered so that he can help more people. It’s a game of constant moral dilemmas with some really interesting characters to decide the fate of, though the “stiffness” of some of it may be a turn-off. Look past that, though, and you have a guilt-filled delight.
“Filled with moral dilemmas and an unexpected strategic depth to its city system, Vampyr is a vampire RPG that isn’t afraid to bite back. Although some characters are quite stiff in dialogue, it’s still a great game overall with intense confrontations, fast-paced combat and a thrilling story.”
Developer: Digital Sun Publisher: 11 bit studios Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1, Switch
Everybody wants to be the hero, the person who earns the adoration of the public and maybe a pretty cool medal. But what about everyone else the hero meets on his journey, could you honestly say you never wanted to play as a shopkeeper in a dungeon crawler?
That’s exactly what Moonlighter is, a charming top down RPG-lite where you play as a small business owner with big dreams. It’s a brilliant twist on the well-established conventions of its peers, asking you to collect loot from your nightly adventures to sell to townspeople the next day so that the town itself can prosper. A small wonder.
“A true labour of love that you can’t help but adore, Moonlighter is the perfect addition to any game library. Endearing, involving, addictive, and challenging all in equal measure, this lovely little rogue-lite will have you hooked in no time.”
Developer: Codemasters Publisher: Deep Silver Platform(s): PS4, XB1
Look, we know ONRUSH is a bit of a meme at this point as a racing game without any regular racing or, apparently, players. There were two things holding ONRUSH back from being a success: some iffy connectivity issues at launch and an arguably too high price for what was always going to be a fairly acquired taste.
While ONRUSH has been a bit of a failure for Codemasters et al, it doesn’t detract from how fun it can be, affording racing fans a more varied time rather than simply crossing the finishing line with the kind of “mood” that calls back to the PS2 era. Unsurprisingly, you can buy ONRUSH for next to nothing already, so maybe there’s hope for it yet? Maybe?
“Onrush is a lot of things. It’s brash, bold, experimental, but most importantly, really good fun to play. Its success will be determined by how well the team based concept catches on with gamers at large, but we’ve got high hopes for it.”
11. Unravel Two
Developer: ColdWood Interactive Publisher: EA Originals Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1
While the original Unravel was beloved by many, it wasn’t always that accessible. Unravel Two quickly fixed that with the introduction of better controls and the option for easy co-op, so much so that anyone of any gaming experience could pick it up and immediately know what to do.
Possessing the same serene charm of the original game but with a more optimistic outlook, Unravel Two is a photorealistic beauty with puzzles that, while not always totally obvious, make it a game for basically everyone. One of 2018’s most unsung platformers, here’s hoping Unravel Three doesn’t release in the middle of E3.
“It’s a genuine step-up from its predecessor with smoother controls and more gameplay styles while also retaining the irrefutable charm that won the first game so many fans. With any luck, Unravel Two will win many more.”
12. Donut County
Developer: Ben Esposito Publisher: Annapurna Interactive Platform(s): PC, PS4, iOS
First things first: Donut County isn’t what you would call a challenging or particularly deep game. Instead, it allows its irreverent humour and kooky characters do all the talking, though there is something to be said for playing as a gigantic hole in the ground.
Your job in Donut County is simple: swallow up everything you can into a big chasm. The more you engorge the hole, the bigger it grows, meaning that you can engulf entire buildings with a little bit of fiddling. Thanks to collectibles and secrets as well as the short playtime, Donut County is some silly fun that you can dip in and out of.
“Donut sleep on Ben Esposito’s Donut County because it’s a hole lot of fun, even if it is a little on the short side.”
Developer: Caustic Reality Publisher: Caustic Reality Platform(s): PC
It’s hard to make horror games scary without relying entirely on jumpscares, even more so to sustain the terror factor for the entirety of the game — so much of horror media tends to fall on its face in the final third. That’s thankfully not the case with Infliction: a terrifically tense time set in a suburban home.
Many of the tropes of a modern horror game are present (find the thing, put the thing in the thing), but it’s in the presentation where Infliction really excels. Ugly in all the right ways, Infliction keeps the scares at bay until just the right moment each time, meaning that this is one 2018 game you won’t want to let slip you by.
“Infliction succeeds where a majority of horror games fail by providing genuine scares through its hair-raising environments and terrifying spirits that stalk the player.”
14. Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption
Developer: DARK STAR Publisher: Another Indie Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1, Switch
With FromSoftware seemingly done with their Soulsborne games (for now, at least), it’s up to other developers to continue the good work. Nioh and The Surge may be two of the most obviously inspired Soulslikes, but you also shouldn’t sleep on Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption: a boss rush with chibi-like aesthetics that belie its difficulty.
Like the opposite to Mega Man, Sinner revels in allowing player choice in how they approach bosses but with the caveat that they become more debuffed the more bosses they conquer. This creates an increasingly difficult game the further into it you dive, though anyone from the Miyazaki Appreciation Club will probably relish the challenge.
Similarly to Moonlighter, Wandersong tasks you with taking on the role of a less than normal hero: a bard who just wants to sing all of the troubles of the world away. It’s a heartwarming time that kicks normal conventions out of the window, pretty evident early on when you discover that your singing voice is your weapon.
Packed with heart and dedication from everyone involved, Wandersong is a pure shot in the arm for anyone feeling low, its message of hope sure to resonate with those who need it. It’s not a hard game by any means but it’s an innovative and inviting time all the same. Plus, the music is just bloody great.
“It’s been an intense time with plenty of stresses for me personally lately, though the game wasted no time in helping to soothe some of them. Wandersong is an emotional and seriously affable experience that is bound to put a smile on the face of even the most jaded of gamers.”