I ended up playing considerably more games than normal this year, which I suspect has more than a little to do with our team finally releasing Outer Wilds* back in May. Unfortunately, I had to scrap a few of my picks as I’ve been informed that Bloodborne came out four and a half years ago, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is barely from the same decade, and we are all hurtling at great speeds towards our own mortality. In honor of the staggering number of good games we will never have time to play, I present to you my Top Five Games That Actually Came Out In 2019.
Anodyne 2 goes places. It’s one of the most self-assured experimental games I have ever played, and it reminded me how much I love being dropped into a world with no idea of what I might find around the next corner. Even though the world it depicts is consistently bananas (hello pro wrestling title match held in a 2D village hidden at nano-scale in the guts of a 3D desert feline), the game’s solid mechanics and heartfelt narrative make it reassuringly clear that everything you are experiencing is, in fact, on purpose.
2. A Short Hike
This absolute gem of a game would have slipped beneath my radar if not for a friend’s recommendation. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it definitely wasn’t a bite-sized Breath of the Wild with (hot take alert!) better climbing and gliding. You’d think that combo would be terrible from a top-down perspective (I imagine at least one circle of hell is probably an isometric platformer) but I ended up really liking how the restricted viewpoint places the focus on your immediate surroundings. In a genre that often obsesses over chasing the horizon, it's refreshing to see an exploration game about being in the moment.
After working on Outer Wilds for so many years, it was oddly thrilling to become ensnared in another team’s time looping mystery. Thanks to Elsinore I have now reenacted every permutation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet that I can possibly fathom. Elsinore’s greatest strengths lie in its fantastic writing and the joy/horror of watching the painfully logical consequences of your actions unfold. This is a game that cares deeply about its characters, and I love how understanding their motivations is the key to unraveling the greater mystery.
4. Baba Is You
Baba Is You is an extremely clever puzzle game that systematizes the very thing that makes games games. The first time you change the rules of a puzzle so that the previously impassable walls simply become the goal is how I imagine Neo must have felt at the end of the first Matrix film. The game is brutally hard at times, but its nonlinear structure means you can always tackle a different puzzle when you get stuck. I am unfortunately 100% too stubborn to actually do this, but I appreciate the intent nonetheless.
The world of Control is so fascinating that I can’t help but wish the game’s structure and mechanics didn’t keep it on such a tight leash. Don’t get me wrong, force-tossing desks at possessed government employees is a whole lot of fun, but the more I learn about the Oldest House, the more I wish the game had 50% less combat and 500% more running experiments on paranatural rubber ducks. Control is still legitimately exciting territory for AAA games, and I hope it’s successful enough to warrant a sequel that lets me truly engage with the wonderful world Remedy has created.