This is the hardest Giant Bomb Top 10 I’ve had the honor of writing. I’ve talked a lot on Kinda Funny Games about how this has been a weird year for games because there hasn’t been a standout like God of War or Red Dead Redemption II that everyone in the industry points to and says “There it is; that’s Game of the Year.”
I’ve seen it as a negative--that there hasn’t been a game that’s universally floored all of us--but sitting down to write this, I realized that this was actually a positive. My list is brimming with games I love. I bet when we sit down to record our Kinda Funny Gamescast Game of the Year in January, my list will have changed because
I find myself arguing with myself and struggling with my ranking order.
But that’s what Jeff pays me to do. Well, he doesn’t pay me for this list. I mean, really, I kinda ask to do it, and it’s Alex I talk to, BUT NONETHELESS, I'm here to serve my annual purpose to the Giant Bomb audience until I eat wings again on the E3 live show.
Lots of games held this spot when I was drafting this list. The Division 2 once occupied this spot, Grindstone had its moment here too, and even Tetris 99 had a cup of coffee here. However, in the end, I wanted to give Assemble with Care the official nod.
For the uninitiated, this Apple Arcade title is a playable storybook. The narrator’s a traveling handywoman new to town. Through the story she gets odd jobs, and the gameplay has us fixing the cassette players and music boxes she comes across. However, the items we fix have the added effect of helping to mend the broken relationships in these clients’ lives.
It’s a short, heartwarming tale that sees our narrator helping others and realizing she may need some help herself. I felt this one in my bones when the credits rolled.
Man, did the release rollout for Life Is Strange 2 hurt this game. I started playing the episodes as they launched, but by the time Episode 3 came out, I struggled to remember what happened in Episode 2. So, I stopped and let everything stack up until the final episode dropped earlier this month. What a game!
It’s a crime this has flown under so many people’s radar. In a world of devs and publishers being so scared that they need to say “Our game isn’t political” before launch, Life Is Strange 2 puts you into Sean’s shoes and asks you how you’ll survive a life on the run with your little brother when it seems like the whole system is rigged against you. I’m a 36-year-old white dude whose morals are based on Superman. Seeing these two Mexican-American boys treated the way they were by the police, passersby, and seedy employers changed the way I made decisions in the game. What’s the point of doing the “right thing” if the truth never wins out? I only finished this last week, and I’m still wrestling with the themes and lessons the game taught me. Life Is Strange 2 is a testament to the power of video games.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is my most played Switch game of 2019. The gameplay loop is an addiction. I beat the story, beat it on the next highest difficulty, started an even harder run, and then got obsessed with leveling my characters in the Infinity Rifts. There was a fight where I just kept replaying as Ms. Marvel for hours to level my team to 100. Why? Because this game is a toy box filled with my favorite Marvel characters. I take out Cap and Spidey, slam them into bad guys, and when I tire of them, I cycle in Hulk or Spider-Gwen. It’s leveling for leveling's sake, it’s unlocking new costumes, and it’s just flat out fun.
When I reviewed Control on the Kinda Funny Gamescast the afternoon after I beat it, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I loved Jesse’s journey through the Oldest House, but the final wave after wave of bad guys and the cheese methods I used to beat them left a bad taste in my mouth. How did I really feel about the game? Well, I answered my own question when I tried to move on to other titles that weekend and couldn’t; I went right back to Control. The intrigue of the Oldest House, the amount of fun I have with Jesse’s powers, and the sci-fi spooky unknown--Control is amazing. Bring on all the DLC.
When PSVR dropped that London Heist demo oh-so-many years ago, I remember thinking, “This is cool, but could Sony London make an entire game out of it?” Blood & Truth proves that they could, and if you own a PlayStation VR headset, you owe it to yourself to get this game. Blood & Truth combines a fun story with great performances and some truly immersive gameplay. Throwing back enemy grenades, shooting bad guys from monkey bars made of rebar, and ducking under the dashboard to reload and heal? These are all moments that could easily be just tech demos for VR, but Sony London weaves them together to make you feel like a badass in your very own secret agent movie.
The thing I hate is hearing people say, “Death Stranding is a hard game to recommend.” It’s not. Does figuring out a way to climb over a mountain while balancing boxes and listening to the rain sound fun to you? If you said yes, you’re like me and you’d like Death Stranding. Death Stranding hit hard for me. It was Metal Gear Solid-like inventory management mixed with completing objectives and checking boxes in a strange new world. That’s my jam, but the most surprising thing about death Stranding was how relaxing I found it. Yeah, there are BTs and MULEs, but they’re easy enough to navigate around. The literal balancing act of Sam’s journey and never quite knowing what would be over that next ridge? I’m so into it.
4. Telling Lies
We did a let’s play for Her Story years ago, and let me tell you, that is not how you want to play a game based around performances and detective work. So, when I downloaded Telling Lies, I poured a cup of coffee, put on my headphones and… played in-game solitaire. Something about watching the random selfie videos didn’t click at first, and I was close to giving up when I found a narrative thread in the game, gave it a tug, and because enraptured. I grabbed a notebook from my bedroom, and began investigating. Over the next few hours, I filled pages with code names, connections, and theories. My life is video games, and I’ve never played something the way I played Telling Lies. I adored the experience, and I’ll never forget it.
Concrete Genie is one of the most complete games I’ve played this year, and perhaps this entire generation. What I mean by that is not a moment of time or a space on the map is wasted. Everything feels like it was lovingly handcrafted and placed for you to enjoy in this gorgeous storybook world. Having only played the VR mode at preview events, I was floored by the quality of the cutscenes, the sincerity of the voice acting, and the fun of the gameplay. Painting the walls and bringing life back to the desolate town was soothing, scaling buildings to search for collectibles was charming, and doubling back with paint skates to polish off the Platinum hours after the credits rolled was rewarding. It’s a game that I 100-percented and then immediately mourned the end of the journey. I don’t say that about a lot of games, and it’s just one of the reasons Concrete Genie is so special.
I already know what you’re saying. “Borderlands 3 at No. 2?! How much are they paying this guy?!” The answer is: a reasonable sum. It’s important to me to point out that I host the official Borderlands Show for 2K every month. This has nothing to do with my pick, of course; I got the job because I love Borderlands, and this third installment is no exception. The gunplay is tight, the weapons and characters are outlandish, and level scaling/everyone getting their own loot means that I can play with anyone at any point in the game and not feel like I’m wasting my time. In a world of “What’s the next game you’re going to play?” Borderlands 3 has been the consistent itch at the back of my brain. I’ve Platinumed it and I still jump back in to chase loot and increase my Guardian rank. I’m stoked for this month’s DLC and everything Gearbox has planned for 2020, which I can’t tell you about due to NDAs.
I am not a Star Wars guy. I mean, like anyone, I enjoy the movies, but I’ve dedicated my life to being a video game and comic book dork, so Star Wars has never been an obsession outside of spouting off about midichlorians and Watto when friends start having conversations about the films. That said, I found Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order intoxicating. The presentation and scope left me wide-eyed, the story was fascinating and heartfelt, the combat challenged me, I’m still exploring planets to this day--long story short, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is why I play video games. That’s why it’s my game of the year--it’s the example of everything I want in my games. I mean, sure, I wIsh it dIdn't take so long to load and that the sliding/rope mechanics were better, but those are minor gripes for a game that literally made me love Star Wars.