The time has come! White smoke! After discussing over 100 amazing, or at the very least, interesting games we have arrived at our decision for game of the year 2019. Historically, the last year before new consoles has been a little scattershot, with a mix of huge sequels that show off everything a developer has learned over the course of the last generation and games that feel like they kinda have to be shoved out the door before the new consoles render them entirely obsolete. Ultimately, 2019 feels a little different that than typical scenario, with a wide variety of games across all platforms. We saw a lot of new things, games iterating successfully on the huge genre of the day, and games by teams both large and small that stood out above the competition. While we've seen some people try to write off 2019 as a weak year for games, we think that's off-base. Here are the games we've awarded in 2019.
Best Music - Outer Wilds
Outer Wilds' soundtrack has a breadth that feels like it matches the overwhelming cosmic scale of its setting. The game opens with a humble, rustic post-rock style that sounds exactly like your home planet's earthy, wood-fired technology looks. And while that style acts as the grounded refrain that the game's intimate, melancholy story always comes back to, the soundtrack also goes new places musically just as you visit the strange and wondrous places across the solar system. It sounds alien and mysterious as you wander ancient ruins. It reaches a cathedral-like, almost religious grandeur when you're staring out the observation window of a platform orbiting just miles above the flaming surface of the sun. And it goes unnervingly discordant in places where exotic physics have taken over and the very rules of reality appear to be bending back on themselves.
What elevates Outer Wilds' score is the way it uses certain recurring motifs to enhance the moments when the game really comes together in its final hours. It takes the morose yet urgent stinger that you hear every time the game signals that your 22 minutes are yet again about to end, for instance, and layers underneath it a more driving, triumphant feeling when you begin your final voyage, making you feel in your gut that this time it really is the end of all endings. And the game builds to an emotional crescendo during its last moments, layering the signature instruments of your companions--the harmonica, the banjo, the drums, even the otherworldly piano--into the most complete version of that old refrain from the beginning of the game, in a way that makes the soundtrack come full circle just as everything else does. It's a timeless example of music that enhances and builds on everything the game is doing, a crucial piece of a cohesive, unforgettable whole.
Best Style: Control
Control is a tremendous-looking game that matches smart visual design with a strong technical presentation. One backs up the other, in a sense, because you wouldn't be able to build a world where all the signage and layout worked and made sense without having enough fidelity to ensure all those signs were clearly readable. And you'd have a technical showpiece with no substance it it weren't for the little things, nuances in the running and hovering animations, for example. Or how about the stark, white text that blasts out at you when you enter a new area? Even the little things, like the way the desks are laid out in what appears to be some kind of abandoned secretarial pool, contribute to making the world of Control feel grounded and reality-based.
This, of course, is what makes the shifting and twisting world of the Oldest House work. If the place didn't have that lived-in feel, watching it reshape itself while you're still inside wouldn't have the impact that it does. The astral plane wouldn't stand out if it wasn't set against an oft-times incredibly normal plane. Covering all those bases is why Control has the best Style of 2019.
Cool Multiplayer Thing of the Year: Apex Legends
Apex Legends iterates on last year's whole battle royale thing really well, but what makes it stand out as the Cool Multiplayer Thing is the way the game uses systems and dialogue to keep players working together--even if they don't especially want to.
The game's take on a contextual ping system lets the team-based shooter work for players without a headset, which these days, seems to be most players. There's certainly a time and a place for voice chat, but as the years go on, subjecting yourself to public chat just seems like a worse and worse idea. Being able to tap a button and essentially say "hey, there are bad guys here" or "hey, here's a gun you might need" creates the opportunities for co-operation between players who won't, or perhaps can't communicate in other ways. This can take many forms, up to and including "there is a baby sleeping in the next room so I can't just sit here and shout out compass coordinates at you."
On the other end of those pings, the dialogue helps players stay informed while also giving the game a lot of character. Sure, we probably don't need to hear Bangalore barking out facts about guns anymore, but that doesn't mean that it isn't at least a cool idea. Anyway, being able to play a team-based game, alone, with strangers, and have things come off in a surprisingly coordinated way is something pretty special, and it's one of the things that makes Apex Legends stand out here in 2019.
Best Story: Outer Wilds
Outer Wilds is a game about a balance between exploration and story. The exploration drives the story and, by the time you are wrapping things up, the story is driving your exploration. It's a grand tale told on a cosmic scale, but it's also a lonely one as you ease into the role of a sole chronicler of a lost history. It's a murder mystery. It's an origin story. It's something that, as has been said many times before, is hard to dig into without delivering massive spoilers.
The two most impressive things about the story though are probably the way it's told and how satisfying the resolution is. You're uncovering the tale and mystery in a non-linear fashion, finding pieces that won't make sense not because of level design but because of your unique playthrough. And the story is your inventory, it's how you progress in the game. You don't find a physical key to unlock your next door but instead you find and use information. You keep gathering and unlocking until finally you have all the keys and all the doors are open except one. When then you walk through that last door, you've got little more than the same items and abilities you started with. Except now you are accompanied by all the knowledge you have gained through hours of exploration and gathering of information. The world feels truly different, yet nothing in it has changed. It's hard to think of something that compares to it in video games in general, let alone in 2019.
Without further ado, here is Giant Bomb's Game of the Year 2019. Thanks for listening and we'll be back with you in 2020.
Game of the Year: Outer Wilds
While elements like music and "story" are certainly standout portions of Outer Wilds, they're only pieces of the overall picture. That's fitting, given the nature of the game's slow build and reveals. Those reveals might seem small at first, but eventually you might just see how those small pieces fit together into something monumental. Ultimately, though, those small, quiet moments are just as important as the satisfaction that comes from finally seeing the big picture really click into focus. And that's what makes Outer Wilds so special.
Of course, it's also a game about exploration where the stakes end up being fairly low a lot of the time. Its very nature encourages experimentation, whether that's you learning how to fly the game's ship without having it shatter apart into pieces after every "landing" or trying to look at a particular installation from a different perspective, you simultaneously have all the time in the world and never enough time to get things done... until you actually get things done, of course. That slow-pouring vibe set against total annihilation works so, so well.
Other games have certainly tugged at some of the concepts that Outer Wilds handles so expertly, but the way this space mystery plays plays its hand ends up making every moment matter. The journey and the destination are equally important here, and the two add up to form 2019's Best Game.