It’s that time of year again! Each year, DigitallyDownloaded.net recognises the best, most interesting, most artful and most creative games across a wide range of different categories, and 2018 was no different. In fact, this has been one of the best years for releases, from big blockbusters all the way down to the tiniest of indies.
As always our selection process is as follows: Games released on any platform between December of the previous year (2017 in this case) through to November this year can qualify. If a game was released on one platform last year, and then a different platform this year, it can still qualify for awards (as has been the case in a couple of examples this year). The game doesn’t necessarily have to be released in the western market, though for obvious reasons we’ll reward games that are accessible and available for English-speaking players ahead of those that are too hard for most people to experience. The entire DDNet team comes together to shortlist, and then vote on the award winners in each category – awards are not based on reviews or review scores (because that’s one person’s opinion), so it’s entirely possible that the winner of a category will have a slightly lower score than a silver or bronze medalist, or a game that didn’t even make the finalists.
We often talk about how games are an artistic form. That much is settled – the few people out there that don’t believe that games are art are clearly being stubborn without reason. But, as a popular entertainment industry, there aren’t that many games that are made for the explicit purpose of being art, and when they are, they tend to get lambasted by a community of people who don’t tend to count “going to an art gallery” among the ways they like to spend their Sunday. As such, the below games are often highly polarising, and often don’t “play” as well as some others, but it’s the ideas, creativity and intent of each of the below award winners that has so attracted us.
The Quiet Man (Read our review here)
The Quiet Man is most certainly proof that a game might have a great idea, and be highly experimental and intriguing in design, only to land completely flat with the mainstream on release. Other sites out there will have this one lined up as one of the “worst games of 2018,” but here’s why we liked it; because it was willing to be less easy to follow in order to make a point. It was a game about a deaf protagonist that was willing to obscure meaning and make it hard for players to catch all of its narrative threads, as its way of reflecting the kind of alienating world that deaf people in the real world experience, and how they themselves often feel like they’re left out of the conversation.
By no means the perfect game, but an invigorating, creative, and earnest one.
We actually had a draw with the silver award this year, thanks to our voting system. The first of the two winners is Hidetaka Suehiro’s new masterpiece, The Missing. An intense puzzle platformer that quickly demonstrates how it is anything but a standard puzzle game, The Missing requires you to do obscene bodily harm to the protagonist, only to then use her limbs to solve puzzles and access areas that would be otherwise inaccessible.
Far from being goreporn, however, The Missing also weaves a masterful, powerful story in a way that only the mind being Deadly Premonition could hope to. It’s essential, truly artful stuff.
It’s rare for a game to focus on the idea of storytelling. Of course, there are plenty of games that are story-driven, right through to the point of visual novels, where they exist purely around their narrative. But Where The Water Tastes Like Wine is something very different; it’s a game with a story about storytelling, and through that, you learn things about American culture, life, and thought that we often forget about – particularly when it’s a country of the bombast and energy of America.
Subtle, reflective, and beautiful, Where The Water Tastes Like Wine is famous as much for how dismally it sold as it is for the game itself… but you’re doing yourself a huge disservice if you don’t play this one.
On the absolute most basic level you can imagine, The Midnight Sanctuary is a horror-themed visual novel. But to reduce it to that is to do it the most ridiculous disservice. The Midnight Sanctuary is a story about Christianity in Japan, for a start. This is one of the rare few countries in which Christianity had a minimal impact and there was minimal effort to push it onto the local people, but those few communities that developed around Christianity developed very differently to the rest of the world. This is a rare game that explores that idea.
The Midnight Sanctuary then backs that up with the most unique, surrealistic art style we’ve seen in a long time, an eclectic bunch of characters, and an oddball, but effective soundtrack. The Midnight Sanctuary is far too esoteric for most people, you’d have to say, but for those few that do “get it”, there’s one very potent game in there.