Hi everyone! Drew again. Happy Game of the Year! It’s that special time of year when a bunch of people go into a room, yell a whole bunch, and then POOF! Out come surprises.
I was pleasantly surprised by many games this year, but perhaps the biggest surprise of 2019 for me was that I didn’t like a game that has received practically universal acclaim: Outer Wilds. I tried, you guys! I really did! I think I must just not... like... adventure games? Not trying to be a contrarian here, I wish I DID like it as much as everyone else. But instead, I’m left just as perplexed as I was when people could suddenly fly at the end of Indigo Prophecy.
I played Supermassive's follow-up to playable horror B-movie Until Dawn in the "Shared Story" co-op mode (you can watch Vinny and I play through the entirety of the game here), which by many accounts is THE mode to play.
Because we were playing on separate consoles, Vinny and I each got to control a handful of the game's love-to-watch-them-die characters in separate but simultaneous scenes. The game doesn't tell you what's going on with the other characters at these times, so a lot of the fun I had with the game was derived from Vinny and I yelling updates at each other across voice chat about what was happening on our screens.
Things don't always go your way in Man of Medan, but that's kind of what makes it fun.
Okay so technically this game came out in 2018 on PC and PS4, but an Xbox version was released this year, and 2019 is the year I finally played it. I Kickstarted Overload back in 2016 because I love Descent. And guess what? THEY MADE A NEW DESCENT.
It's very Descent, by the way, right down to the way your ship flips around and blows up when you die. Even better, though, is that the formula is still fun! It's still basically Doom with six degrees of freedom: fly around, kill enemies, use colored keys to open doors. Pretty basic, but the game has a nice sheen of polish on it. The weapons sound fierce and punchy, the ship controls feel great, and exploring labyrinthine space mining facilities is still a ton of fun.
The first of three Apple Arcade games on this list, Assemble With Care pushed some very specific buttons with me. I was a LEGO kid and have always loved taking things apart. The gameplay parts of Assemble are pretty much that: flip a 3D model of a radio around, select your screwdriver and swipe to twist it, then reconnect a faulty bit of wiring to make the radio as good as new.
They're not terribly complex puzzles, but they do scratch the same itch I get when, say, building a new computer. The game guides you along your fix-it journey with a light, well-told story and, at about an hour long, feels just right. Like when a Lego brick snugly clicks into place.
Mini Motorways, another Apple Arcade game, is the follow-up to developer Dinosaur Polo Club’s mobile hit Mini Metro. The two games are pretty similar: draw routes for your people-movers so they can get to their intended destinations.
I found Mini Motorways the more intuitive of the two, but just as full of the same relaxed, contemplative pacing (which owes a lot to the game's spartan, synthy music and sound effects). Considering the existence of Mini Metro, it's not something to get Apple Arcade for, but easy to recommend for those who have subscribed.
I love Alan Wake, and since Control feels like Alan Wake with Jedi Force powers, it hooked me pretty quickly. Remedy's signature FMV works terrifically well here, too, though the Lost-style obfuscation of "what's really going on" did occasionally make me want to just plow through the story and ignore all of those world-building touches. Which I tried to do, but found myself getting stuck a number of times. Thankfully, your character is fun to… control, and The Oldest House is such a delightfully weird setting that I didn't mind the backtracking and maze-solving too much.
I really enjoyed looking at A Plague Tale. There's a battlefield scene a few hours in that actually made me say "wow" out loud. The characters are likewise impressive. The voice acting is generally quite good, and I found myself caring a lot about Hugo and Amicia's plight in a brutally well-realized, plague-ridden France.
The game is mostly stealth sequences, and some of them definitely tested my patience, but for the most part they were an effective vehicle to take me through the cool environments and engaging story.
I won't go so far as to say that this Modern Warfare made the same leap the original one did in terms of graphical fidelity and cinematic presentation, but against all odds, this Call of Duty game felt new to me. Now, this could be because I haven't played a COD in a while, but I found the missions fresh and engaging. Multiplayer, by contrast, felt pleasantly nostalgic. As soon as my virtual boots hit the ground, my muscle memory was right back where I left it, ready as ever to go five and 20.
In Void Bastards, you are one of an endless number of "criminals" sent out on missions to salvage spacecraft with deadly, randomly-generated interiors. Resources are scarce, and that's not the only thing that makes it challenging. You yourself are a roll of the dice, gaining weird character traits that are often negative, like "smoker," which makes you cough periodically, something that could potentially alert enemies.
You never really know what you're going to get, but like any good run-based game, I was never angry when I died. I knew I would get some fun quip from the game's snarky computer character, and there are enough persistent upgrades that, no matter how short your doomed character's life, it still feels like progress.
I'll add my name to the list of "I wish I could just buy this game outright and not pay for Apple Arcade." Grindstone, though, is the closest thing to a subscription-seller as I ran across in my few months of trying nearly every game on the service. During that time, Grindstone became my go-to phone game.
The color-matching, combo-building gameplay is tricky without making you feel like you're ever stuck or like there's that one "correct" move to solve the stage. Like a lot of other games on Apple Arcade, the fit and finish of the art, animation, and especially the music made it a joy to look at and play.
I love Grindstone, but one game isn't enough for me to justify paying five bucks a month. Perhaps I'll hear about another must-play on Apple Arcade in the future and check back in with my good friend Jorj.
1. Apex Legends
I have a small, scattered group I play multiplayer games with, and finding the perfect game for us can be difficult. Because of our different schedules, any kind of game with level progression just results in mismatched characters. And traditional deathmatch-style games just don't seem to hold everyone's attention.
Apex Legends was the perfect game for us. Nobody gets over-leveled, and the game is different enough from other games we’ve played that it felt fresh and new. It also helps that Respawn makes sublimely-tuned first-person shooters, a genre our crew is all familiar with.
Apex has led to the most intense gameplay experiences I've had this year; the most crushing defeats and the most elation in victory. It's so easy to hop into a new match that we always felt like "this could be the one." And this year, it is!