Red Dead Redemption 2 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One): The new standard-bearer for open-world game design is a lavishly detailed Western set at the tail end of the nineteenth century. “Red Dead Redemption 2” tells the story of a gang who finds its outlaw lifestyle increasingly difficult to maintain as representatives of government and private industry consolidate their power from coast to coast. At the center of the events is Arthur Morgan, a pillar of the gang who, over time, comes to question his values. Watching Morgan interact with his comrades is as interesting as partaking in a shootout. If you can come to grips with game’s byzantine controls then nothing should prevent you from enjoying one of the finest games ever made.
God of War (PlayStation 4): Even for a god, the old cliche holds: becoming a parent changes everything. No longer the brash, psychopath he once was, Kratos, a.k.a. The Ghost of Sparta, has mellowed since he exterminated the gods of Olympus. Having left his native Greece for the land of the Norse, Kratos embarks on a quest with his young son to scatter the ashes of the child’s mother from the highest peak in the realm. Along the way they meet the World Serpent, befriend a severed head, and slay many monsters. Kratos’s struggle with the legacy of his past, as he tries to steer his son onto a better path, gives this stellar action game a welcomed bit of emotional friction.
Gorogoa (Android, iPhone, PC, PlayStation 4, Mac, Xbox One): This beautifully constructed point-and-click puzzle game was released just outside of the window for consideration of 2017’s best games. “Gorogoa” secures its place on this year’s list because few games before or since have offered such a fascinating meditation on the subject of spiritual growth. “Gorogoa” unfolds across a four-tiled grid over which players rearrange illustrated panels alongside or over top of each other. Doing so teases out new connections between places and phenomena that otherwise are separated by time and space. If you’re interested in video games as art then “Gorogoa” is one to be studied.
Tetris Effect (PlayStation VR): Here is a game that should come with multiple warning labels such as: ‘May cause hours to slip away in solipsistic bliss.’ Designed by the visionary creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi (whose “Rez Infinite” made the Post’s 2016 list), “Tetris Effect” takes Alexey Pajitnov’s classic puzzle game and wraps an audiovisual experience around it that’s psychedelic enough to put you in touch with your inner shaman. Playing Tetris amid swimming dolphins or at a celebration in the desert is distracting enough to push all other distractions aside. Once you start you may find it hard to stop.
Dead Cells (Mac, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One): The premise of “Dead Cells” is as hackneyed as any in video games — guide a faceless dude through dungeons and other inhospitable places where murderous creatures lie in wait. But if you have a fondness for the side-scrolling, hack n’ slash games of the 90s, then “Dead Cells” may feel like a natural endpoint. It channels the energy of an arcade experience by tasking the player with completing it in one go. However, a series of permanent unlocks means that a failed run need not end in vain. And randomized environments lessen the annoyance of repetition. A generous range of randomized equipment encourages a number of playstyles. Everything about it is polished to a sheen.
Marvel’s Spider-Man (PlayStation 4): Excelsior! It’s your friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man, loftier and fancier than you’ve seen him in 37 other games from the past 36 years. Sure, Insomniac’s often-thin narrative foreshadows way too much, but there’s some of the world’s finest, movie-like action ensconced within this Marvel-inspired New York City. The best web-swinging feats through Manhattan feel like a purposeful, mesmerizing fever dream. If co-creator Stan Lee were around today sitting atop the Empire State Building next to Spider-Man to observe the thriving mecca below he just might utter the mellifluous words, “Make Mine Insomniac!”
Where The Water Tastes Like Wine (PC, Mac): The excellent indie “Where The Water Tastes Like Wine” isn’t full of tricky, new methods of gameplay. Rather, it’s a compelling road trip on U.S. soil circa the Depression Era. The events encountered during this hardscrabble life on foot feels like they could well have happened. The musician Sting is here to do voice-over for a devil-like, philosophizing protagonist who wants to control your life. But it’s the smaller characters you meet on the side of the road that haunt you. And that’s what this narrative-heavy game does. The rich American myths presented here stay with you. And even when you forget the particulars of the many tales that have unfolded, you remember the greatness of the overall experience.
Moss (PlayStation VR; Oculus Rift; HTC Vive; Windows Mixed Reality): Moss the mouse. It doesn’t seem like much. Just three stark words. But when you add a fighting personality to a female, sword-wielding rodent and inject some of the best virtual reality we’ve seen on Sony’s PSVR system, the result is a puzzle-oriented platformer that nears the level of masterpiece. Graphically, too, Moss shines with verdant, bucolic forests and dimly lit, mysterious dungeons. And when Moss looks up to you for help, it’s not only sweet and touching. You happily become this strong, female warrior.
Florence (Android, Mac, iOS): Forget the very idea of angst. This short, emotion-filled experience made for mobile phones presents the ideal picture of a young relationship circa 2018. Everything here is a cut above. The mundane nature of the everyday (the crowded train ride to work, the toiling over spreadsheets) gives way to the floating feeling of attraction when Florence first hears the cello played by what will become the object of her affections. The music tugs at your heart without becoming cloying. It’s a game that’s the perfect digital stocking stuffer for the cynical friend in your life. If it doesn’t move the person who gets the gift of “Florence,” maybe it’s time to move on.
Monster Hunter: World (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One): This is for the core gamer. If you haven’t logged at least 100 hours in “Monster Hunter: World,” you haven’t really played this lush, action-oriented RPG. Yes, you kill or trap dragons of various species. Yes, you’re on a mission to save everyone’s very existence by vanquishing the awe-inspiring dragon Zorah Magdaros. But the world is so varied it’s difficult to stop playing, especially since Capcom has added events that include heroes and enemies from other games like “Horizon Zero Dawn’s” Aloy, Mega-Man costumes and the evil King Behemoth from “Final Fantasy XIV.” So, set aside some serious blocks of time. This monster of a game is very much worth the indulgence.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.
Harold Goldberg has written for the New York Times, Playboy, Vanity Fair, Boys’ Life and elsewhere. His narrative history of games is “All Your Base Are Belong to Us (How 50 Years of Videogames Conquered Pop Culture)” Random House. He’s the founder of the New York Video Game Critics Circle. Follow him on Twitter @haroldgoldberg.