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Best of 2018: Video games

by BEN COWLES

WITHOUT a doubt the best game this year is Rockstar Games’s Red Dead Redemption II (RDR II).

 

Not only is it a marvel to play and behold and its gameplay mechanics, story, characters, voice acting and its open world setting push the medium forward, the game’s political undertone is also fascinating, especially for us lefties.

RDR II takes place in 1899 as the lawlessness of the frontier is coming to an end. And though “civilisation” is moving in, the now not-so-wild West is no less brutal for its inhabitants.

 

Though players can cast the game’s protagonist Arthur Morgan as a ruthless bandit, the game makes clear who the real antagonists are — the greedy industrialists hell-bent on squeezing the West’s plentiful resources for their own ends and crushing all those who stand in their way — the natives, women, black people, the working class and its nascent labour movement — with their Pinkerton enforcers.

 

Without getting into spoilers, Morgan’s gang are basically rebelling against a way of life foisted upon them. They’re lashing out at a society, government and economic system that doesn’t want them and which the gang views as illegitimate.

 

RDR II carries on Rockstar Games’s tradition of satirising and exposing the brutality of capitalism, the capriciousness of its authority and the vacuousness of consumerism. The game is not perfect but it raises the bar for the medium and is one that will stay in the minds of leftist gamers for a long time.

 

Sony Santa Monica’s God Of War was another superb game. Though the previous four games in the hack-slash series were well loved in their time, they were really nothing more than instantly gratifying adolescent titillation.

But that all changed in April. Suddenly the game’s central character Kratos had gone from being an ultra-violent caricature to a deeply complex, but still savage, character who's struggling to deal with his horrific past, his wife’s passing and fathering his young son in a dangerous new world.

 

The game changed its mythological setting from the Greek world to the Norse. And, by Odin’s beard, what a fantastic job the the developers did depicting the gods, Valhalla and the creatures that dwell there. The twist at the end of the game is a mind-blowing treat, especially for anyone interested in Norse mythology.

 

The survival genre has come into its own in recent years and perhaps it's the environment’s looming demise spurring this trend. Hinterland Studio’s 2014 first-personal survival game The Long Dark, which received a significant update this year, is a fun though incredibly tense yet somehow cathartic way to prepare for the apocalypse.

The game takes place in the northern Canadian wilderness after a geomagnetic storm knocks out the planet’s power sources, leaving people to survive without electricity, heating or any of our modern conveniences.

 

Surviving in this harsh environment is extraordinarily difficult, thanks mainly to the sparse rations of food and water and the ravenous wolves who seem to be thriving. But each day you make it through this beautiful snowy world is a victory in and of itself. Intertwining all of this is an intriguing, episodic story involving a desperate search for a lost relative.

 

I'll never forget the guilty jubilation I felt after finding a working rifle and shooting one of the blighted wolves that had caused me such grief — a strange emotion for a vegetarian.

 

Some other fantastic games this year that must not go unmentioned are Insomniac Games’s Marvel’s Spider-Man web-swinging around New York was a blast, along with DrinkBox Studios’s tough-as-nails yet adorable Metroidvania platformer Guacamelee! 2.

I wish I’d had more time to play these two brilliant games but the ones mentioned above soaked up all of my time.

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