Making games is an iterative process, and that extends beyond the development of a solitary title and into the world of franchises and sequels. Game makers are constantly expanding their ideas and refining the ways they create, which can result in impressive titles like we've seen this year with the likes of Far Cry 5, Black Ops 4, Darksiders 3, Red Dead Redemption 2, and God of War. Great games are often sequels because unlike movies, developers can more easily build on the foundations laid down by their predecessors. And that's precisely why it's worth celebrating fresh ideas and new titles set in original worlds - they may not always be more polished and the concepts may not be fully refined at launch, but making something completely new that can compete with existing franchises is no easy thing, and the games below have done just that and then some. Here's to the developers that aren't afraid to try something different.
5. Celeste / Matt Makes Games
If there's one breakout indie hit in a year that's been full of quality indie games it has to be Celeste from Matt Makes Games (and when a game can fend off competition from the likes of Dead Cells, Florence, The Messenger, and Into The Breach, you know it's got something special). It could easily be seen as another quality throwback indie platformer, but its themes and setting elevate it from the pack. We're not sure this game will ever get a sequel, perhaps it doesn't need one, but there's certainly potential for more here and so it makes our new IP list.
There are several reasons why it's deserving of this list too, as it combines excellent hardcore platforming like that of Super Meat Boy with a superb soundtrack and a story that really resonated with us. All elements of Celeste work well together in harmony, and even when the going gets tough and the difficulty hits hardest, it never becomes frustrating as you always know where you went wrong and why.
4. Frostpunk / 11 bit Studios
11 bit Studios has grown a reputation for making games that will make you think long and hard about your choices. Frostpunk is certainly one such game and it presented us with a world we'd be keen to see more of, or perhaps something different like Waterpunk (think Frostpunk in a Waterworld setting). Either way, the mix of city building strategy elements, choice and consequence, and survival elements pushed us to our limits and kept us coming back for more.
The gravity of the choices you have to make is perhaps the reason why Frostpunk works so well. This isn't about managing a thriving society, but one on the brink of extinction, and you'll have to make unpopular decisions so that you can pull through in the ice age that's taken over the planet. If the generator goes out, people die, and it's about weighing up risk versus reward. What's more is that we're still getting new content (like the Christmas Carol and Endless Mode updates we've seen drop since launch), so the journey is far from over.
3. Nintendo Labo / Nintendo EPD
One of the most innovative game concepts in years, Nintendo Labo married cardboard-construction sets with various interactive activities and games. Even if perhaps it hasn't been the runaway commercial success Nintendo was hoping for, we've already gotten several kits, and there's no reason to think it will stop here since the creativity that has been shown in producing these sturdy kits is matched only by how players can make use of them if they're really creative.
What Nintendo Labo's software lacks in terms of identity it more than makes up for thanks to the cardboard designs and the physical interaction and building process that expands on ideas we've seen before via the likes of Lego Dimensions. We're curious to see if there could be Labo extensions of larger games or if Nintendo will make any crossover Labo products with existing brands. For now, though, we have plenty to be getting on with, like a fishing rod, motorcycle, piano, and even a mech suit, all of which works seamlessly with the Switch and its Joy-Cons.
2 Starlink: Battle for Atlas / Ubisoft Toronto
Ubisoft may have joined the toys-to-life scene way too late (in fact, it would seem as though the toys-to-life train has not only left the station but has been left to rust on the scrapheap), and timing is important when it comes to video games and can make or break a fledgeling IP. That said, Starlink: Battle for Atlas has got the makings for a great franchise. In fact, we enjoyed it thoroughly and the world and universe is really well crafted. It's not easy to create a product that appeals to both young and old and we feel Ubisoft have managed just that. There's a strong central narrative, lots of freedom, and a diverse cast of characters where you'll find favourites as well as those you hate.
Another indication of how successful this world is comes from how seamlessly it pairs with Star Fox on the Nintendo Switch. That easy marriage speaks volumes about the franchise potential here. We're keen to see how Ubisoft handles Starlink moving forward, but we're hoping this won't be the last time we see Judge, Levi, Mason, and the rest of the crew in action.
1. Sea of Thieves / Rare
Rare has created a wealth of great franchises over the years including Banjo, Conker, Viva Piñata, Perfect Dark, and Killer Instinct, but it's been a while since they created something brand new, and given the fate of Lionhead Studios there must have been a lot of pressure on them to deliver with Sea of Thieves, their first new title after bringing out a range of Kinect software between 2010-2014.
And they did just that. Sea of Thieves may not have convinced all critics at launch, and while it was a bit barren in some respects, it got a portion of the Gamereactor editorial staff hooked on its pirate-themed adventures. Part of its appeal is the freedom offered to players along with the sheer beauty of the world. It's the addictive gameplay and atmosphere that keeps you playing, and the content on offer has been added to since launch via regular updates from Rare.
In many ways, Sea of Thieves gives players a canvas to create their own pirate legend and make their mark. There is a great sense of community, and even if there are elements that remind us of past great Rare titles, it's also a testament to a studio willing to throw out some of their old ways in order to create something new and modern. Surely they could have made another Banjo title, and we're actually getting a new Battletoads (in part thanks to Rare even if Dlala Studios is the main developer), but by going out on a limb (or walking the plank, if you prefer), they managed to create the best new IP of 2018 and a game that has secured the studio for the foreseeable future.
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