When you’re playing a game and are completely immersed in the experience, it’s easy to forget about all the work that actually goes into it. From little things that we might miss entirely, to things that are hugely important, but work behind the scenes to make sure we get the experience we want and might not get noticed by everyone, there’s just so much that constitutes the development of every single game. And as games continue to get better and better, as they have been doing, the work that their developers do on them deserves even more praise and recognition. Here, that is exactly what we’re going to do, by picking out ten developers that wowed audiences with stellar titles in 2018, before trying to do the impossible and choosing one among these giants that somehow manages to stand tall.
NOTE: The nominees and winner were decided by an internal vote held among the entire GamingBolt staff.
THE NOMINEES ARE…
When a studio is associated with names such as Unreal Tournament and Gears of War, not to mention the Unreal Engine, without which half the industry probably wouldn’t even existed, of course they’re going to be very well respected. A year ago, if someone had told us that a studio as large and as prestigious as that would go on to become even larger, we would have not have thought it possible- because where do you go when you’re already at the top? But then Fortnite happened. The explosion of Fortnite was something no one was ready for- it has become literally the most popular video game in the world, and continues to break records left, right, and centre. Which is why the way Epic Games have handled it is that much more commendable. From the way they keep finding new and exciting ways to change up the game and keep players engaged, to the way they’ve managed to find the perfect way to monetize a free-to-play game without slighting a single soul, to the overlooked fact that Fortnite, in spite of being as widely played as it is, always runs so well- Epic Games cannot get enough credit for how impressive they’ve been with nearly everything they’ve done this year.
Playground Games had been establishing themselves as experts of the open world racing genre with every new Forza Horizon game that they had made. With Forza Horizon 4, they proved themselves to be absolute masterminds. Because not only is Forza Horizon 4 a much better game than the already masterful Horizon 3, it may even very well be one of the best Xbox exclusive titles of all time. What’s even more exciting is that with them having been acquired by Microsoft, they’re now only going to get bigger, and will have access to more resources than ever before. When you consider the potential room for improvement that this studio with an already excellent track record has, you can’t help but be excited about whatever it is that they go on to do in the future.
When the logos of Spider-Man and Insomniac Games flashed on screens together for the very first time 2016, the entire industry took a collective gasp. It was a combination that no one could have thought of before, but when we all saw it, it just clicked. As it turned out, it clicked for a reason. Insomniac Games’ undying love for the famous wallcrawler is plain to see in every nook and cranny of Spider-Man, which is something that they did more than enough justice to in all the ways that mattered. From the surprisingly excellent and well acted story, to the slick and thrilling combat, to the amazing soundtrack, and, of course, the web-swinging, Spider-Man is a dream come true for every fan of the property, and Insomniac simply cannot be praised enough for getting it as perfectly right as they did.
For the first time in the history of Rockstar, the development of a game wasn’t segregated between studios- rather, all nine of Rockstar’s studios came together to work on Red Dead Redemption 2. That scope of development is staggering, and when you look at the product those thousands of people ultimately put out, it absolutely shows. Red Dead Redemption 2 has an unprecedented obsession with detail and quality, and a drive to achieve a very particular kind of experience that it makes no sacrifices for. It knows exactly the kind of game it wants to be, and exactly the kind of story it wants to tell, and not for one second of the entire experience does anything feel like it doesn’t belong.
SIE SANTA MONICA STUDIO
Sony’s Santa Monica Studio has been a giant among its impressive lineup of first party developers for over a decade now. So the fact that in spite of their pedigree and legacy, they managed to outdo themselves as thoroughly as they could with God of War in 2018 should tell you just how impressive the work that they did was. As a studio, they had the guts to not only bring back a franchise that had been waning in popularity and relevance, but also to potentially alienate its massive fanbase by going in a completely different direction. What’s even more impressive is that they did that with resounding success, and where lesser studios would have found it easy to wipe the slate clear and start fresh, they made sure that God of War respected where it came from, both in terms of narrative and gameplay.
MATT MAKES GAMES
It is, sadly enough, never easy for an indie studio to be able to stand out in a market where massive developers and publishers with eye-watering budgets rule the roost, so when a small team does come along and do just that, you know that they have done something very, very right. Years ago, during a game jam session, two passionate developers by the names of Noel Berry and Mott Thorson created a small yet exceedingly impressive platformer within the span of 4 days. The work that they produced clicked with them, and they decided to expand it even further- in the beginning of 2018, we all got to play that game, called Celeste, which is a title that by now needs to introduction.
RYU GA GOTOKU STUDIO
Sega’s Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio saw a massive surge in popularity last year with Yakuza 0, when their long-running franchise finally started getting the attention in the mainstream that it had always deserved. This year, they capitalized on that newfound popularity in all the right ways. Releasing two games from a franchise within a single year (or four in two years, if you consider 2017) could easily be considered as milking, but when all of the games that are made are as excellent as Yakuza has been recently, all that work deserves nothing but respect. 2018 was an incredibly important year for the franchise, too. From delivering the finishing chapter in the story of Kazuma Kiryu, to successfully implementing the excellent new Dragon Engine, to releasing Yakuza Kiwami 2, probably the best game in the series to date, the Yakuza studio was on fire this year, and went only from strength to strength.
Hello Games were on the receiving end of vitriolic spite and hate from a dishearteningly large number of people when they first launched No Man’s Sky, a game that undoubtedly buckled under its own ambitions. In response to that massive backlash, rather than giving up or retreating back into their shell, this small indie team quietly went back to work, putting out one update after another to deliver on their original promises. With No Man’s Sky NEXT this year, they successfully turned it into the game it was always meant to be. Supporting games post-launch isn’t something that developers always get right, and yet somehow, Hello Games, a studio much smaller and with much fewer resources than most of the big names out there, showed a level of stubborn commitment to their game that simply cannot be lauded enough.
SORA LTD AND BANDAI NAMCO
Masahiro Sakurai, the creator and director of Super Smash Bros., said quite recently that every new Smash game that gets made is nothing short of a miracle. And it certainly feels that way too- and not just because of all the licensing work that must go on behind the scenes. Every character and franchise that you see represented in Super Smash Bros. receives the maximum amount of love and respect possible. This is a series that prides itself on being deeply knowledgeable about the entire industry at large, and then putting that knowledge to use with excellent, accessible, and riotously enjoyable mechanics. As the culmination of the franchise, that is truer in Ultimate than it has ever been in the past.
Ubisoft Montreal has, up until now, dominated the top of most favourite Assassin’s Creed games lists for years, having put out games such as Assassin’s Creed 2, Brotherhood, and Black Flag. This year, their counterparts in Quebec came along and stole the show with the amazing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Taking what is probably the biggest change in direction in the series’ history, Odyssey ambitiously turned Assassin’s Creed into a full blown RPG, and did it very, very well, with excellent combat and progression, choice and consequence mechanics, and a large and beautiful world that ranks as one of the best open world settings we’ve seen in years.
AND THE WINNER IS…
Red Dead Redemption 2’s ambition is staggering. Open worlds have been a thing for years, and story-focussed games have been a thing for years, while there have also been several titles in the past that have delivered insanely polished experiences that are brimming with details that many others would deem unimportant- but very rarely have we ever played a game that attempts to do all of those things – and succeeds. Even if one were to poke flaws in the actual mechanics of the game, the amount of painstaking attention and the dedication with which every single nook and cranny of Red Dead Redemption 2 has been created is something that, honestly, defies description. From the music, to the visuals, to the writing, to the world itself, and so, so much more, everything in the game is in service to a larger whole, and seeing such a harmony and such a stunning clarity of a singular vision is simply astounding to see- even more so when the game in question is as massive and expansive as Red Dead Redemption 2 is.