What to buy for the gamer on your list 

A look back on some of the year's best video games

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - games to get The 2018 reboot of God of War is one of the top games of the year.
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  • games to get The 2018 reboot of God of War is one of the top games of the year.

What a year 2018 was for the video game industry.

Nintendo is well and truly back at the adults' table with its portable powerhouse the Switch; Rockstar Games (makers of the ever-money-making GTA V) dropped their once-in-a-half-decade opus Read Dead Redemption 2; and Fortnite has all but taken over the world in a feverish frenzy of battle royale. What a time to be inside!

Yet the biggest winner of 2018 (besides us, the gamers, of course) was Sony. It released not one but two standout exclusive titles that were on many reviewers' Game of the Year listicles: God of War (developed by Sony Interactive Entertainment Santa Monica Studio) and Marvel's Spider-Man (developed by Insomniac Games).

God of War (GOW) is a reimagining of the popular series of the same name which debuted on Playstation 2 in 2005. The 2018 reboot completely overhauled the familiar gameplay style, yet was in keeping with the fluid whirling attacks that made the old-school GOW combat so much fun to control. The story once again follows Greek mythology protagonist Kratos—this time older, wiser with a few more whiskers—with his young son Atreus through the Norse realm of Midgard.

While the core of the game is hack 'n' slash with a big effin' axe and taking down hulking Norse gods, demigods and their minion hordes, where GOW surprised a lot of its audience was the emotional connection Kratos builds with his son. Seamless transitions from cut scene to epic battles are graphic marvels that push the PS4 hardware to its limits.

Spider-Man also sits on a strong legacy of games, movies and comics, but slinging and vaulting through Manhattan's skyscape has never felt so polished. The urban environment is rich with detail and combat controls let you effortlessly latch onto household appliances and hurl them at your enemies. There's never any shortage of citizens in distress or villains to confront, all with compelling stories attached to them. Spider-Man has confidently usurped the superhero game crown from the indelible Batman: Arkham series.

Ejecting well out of Norse fantasy and the Marvel Comic Universe, the world of Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2) takes us back to the turn of the 20th Century in the American West.

Through the eyes of protagonist and outlaw Arthur Morgan, you explore a land rich with wildlife, postcard landscapes and settlements teeming with human activity.

The details of these environments (and how Arthur's animated figure interacts with them) is something that must be seen to be believed. The way Arthur gently calms his stressed horse as he leads it on foot through a snowy mountain path. How a rival gang member responds to your silent (or blatant) antagonism in a crowded saloon before hurling himself at you, fists flying. The golden light breaking on the horizon as you ride off towards the hills or simply cast your fishing line into the lake to help feed the good folks of your camp.

While the combat mostly consists of high-paced shootouts and firing headshots in the time-slowed "Dead Eye" mode, the rest of the game is very much a slow burn.

Rockstar wants you to literally stop and smell the roses and soak in the beauty of this countryside that has yet to be scarred by human industrialization. Travel by horseback takes time, and while I happily absorbed this unhurried pace for countless hours, by the end of the campaign my impatience began to rear its head.

That said, I'm on my second playthrough and am finding more and more compelling content. RDR2 is a must-play for every gamer and the rollout of Red Dead Online—however buggy it is right now—will keep that great content coming for years.

If you're a fan of pure first-person shooters (FPS), all eyes this fall were on Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (developed by Treyarch). Despite having no single-player campaign and iterating on what was criticized as being a fatigued franchise, Black Ops 4 was one of the fastest-selling games of 2018.

Part of this success was including a battle royale mode (the game style that shot Fortnite to overnight stardom) as well as a broad spectrum of multiplayer modes and maps. Runner-up for FPS game of 2018 is Canadian-made Far Cry 5 (developed by Ubisoft's Toronto and Montreal studios), which pits players against a militant religious cult in rural Montana. Explosions ensue, and you even get to play with a pet grizzly bear as a sidekick!

For the driving game fanatics, one of the few exclusives for the Xbox One console this year was Forza Horizon 4 (developed by Playground Games). The graphic fidelity is unmatched on the 4k-capable Xbox One X and in-game road and environment conditions change with seasons, making each racetrack replayable with variation.

Many longtime fans of the Assassin's Creed (AC) series have decried the last few games as annual rehashes, but 2018's also-Canadian-made Assassin's Creed: Odyssey (developed by Ubisoft Quebec City) has reinvigorated the series somewhat after 10 previous instalments.

While it encourages exploration over simple objective-chasing, it does suffer from the humdrum AC tropes and many gameplay mechanics will feel familiar to the older titles.

Back to Nintendo. I haven't added a Switch to my home entertainment portfolio just yet, but I'll be absolutely watching the Boxing Day sales this year. The beauty of the Switch is its portability, allowing gamers to play AAA titles with impressive graphic fidelity when on trains, planes and automobiles.

It came strong out of the gate in 2017 with both The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, but this year is surfing the success wave of fighting game tour de force Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and the beautifully rendered Final Fantasy-esque time capsule Octopath Traveler.

While available on other console platforms, I feel the best way to experience some of 2018's standout indie games is on the Nintendo Switch. Don't miss the high-action 2D platformers Celeste (developed by Canadians Matt Thorson and Noel Berry) and Dead Cells (developed by Motion Twin).

We're shaping up for a great snow season, but games will be there for you whatever the weather and injuries you hopefully don't have to experience this winter. Play forever!



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