Vinny Caravella has been playing very good games for a long time but they continue to keep coming out! It's kind of a miracle but it allows him to make lists even though there are usually more games than he can even play at this point. So many games. It's like the number of games go up and the number of free hours go down. It really doesn't seem fair. Oh, he also works at Giant Bomb. That helps with the games.
At first I was like, I’m not sure I’ll have enough games I feel very strongly about for my Top 10. Then I was all, wow I played and finished a lot of games this year, I’ll definitely have enough games for a Top 10 this year. Then, when I went to actually make my top I kind of had a number 1, number 2, number 3, and a number 4-15. Just one, big old group of games that I hard time a really hard time putting into any order. It’s not because they were bad games, but I think it was more that I really loved my top 3 and everything else felt just “very good.” I mean, seriously, my number one this year is on the shortlist for one of my favorite games ever. So here they are, my list of AMAZING and very good games.
I used to be a big real-time strategy player when those games were in their prime. I mostly loved building systems, and by systems I mean walls and defenses. I could spend my entire time in a mission (until the resources dried up) building the perfect base. Even the most impenetrable fortress for that given mission would then be meaningless come the next mission. RTS games began to be less forgiving to turtling and pushed more into fast action and hero units at some point and then they kind of vanished or morphed into something else completely. They Are Billions reminds me of the fun I had building up defenses but also makes good on having to expand outward to gather more and more resources. It’s a great balance that I constantly mess up in the game. If you don’t expand you’ll die from a bigger enemy wave. Expand too quickly and you spread yourself too thin.
I didn’t play much of the campaign, as I had already sunk so much time into the survival mode that when it finally released it felt like it was putting me on rails and limiting my strategies. I was still on my personal quest to survive just one map! That last wave… my goodness… that last wave.
I was a big fan of Until Dawn, and this hits a lot of those same notes. It’s very close to FMV, even down to the campiness, so it’s a pretty easy win in my books. The story is fun, the characters are cheesy but in the right way, and the length feels just about right. The best part was when Drew and I played it together on different systems. You get different experiences from the perspectives of different characters, and that can really ratchet things up when it comes time to making choices in the game. Finally, I'll always have a soft spot for games that try to do branching stories, and I’ll always applaud them when they pull it off, even if it isn’t flawless.
You know, a solid third-person Star Wars game. That’s all I really want. Kind of ever. I’m still chasing that Shadow’s of the Empire high. It’s not an easy life to lead, waiting for those good Star Wars games, so when they come out you need to celebrate a little bit. I didn’t experience much of the technical trouble others talked about, so I mostly just enjoyed the solid Sekiro-like fighting and the better-than-usual story. The game itself didn’t blow me away completely, but I really enjoyed my time with it, especially finding all the little bits of history and lore tucked away. I was also surprised how well they spaced out the upgrades, and the overall pace of it, especially coming off of something like Control. My complaints were mostly around some of the backtracking during exploration, the lame chest rewards, and the frustrating or disappointing boss encounters that didn’t feel fun. Actually, that last boss… man, that just felt like the attacks were coming out of nowhere and were unblockable. I really did not enjoy that.
When I started playing it, I didn’t really think Disco would make my list. But as time has gone by, I’ve found myself talking about the game more than I expected. I’ve found the experience to be more like a classic point-and-click adventure, heck even more like an old text adventure, than a CRPG--but there’s enough shared DNA between them all to warrant all the overlapping genre comparisons.
The parts of Disco that I like, I really like. I enjoy the writing and the way the game seems to form around you, sometimes subtly and sometimes overtly. I love that they put your adventuring party inside your head and you basically drop points into them to get them to talk more. Overall though, I think I’m enjoying vignettes or specific missions in the game more than the whole of it. I’m not a fan of some of the percentage skill checks and the way they are locked and then re-opened. Also, not a fan of the stat boosts on the items and clothing given you can’t change that stuff at the time of the check. Also, if there’s something I haven’t drilled down into inside a dialogue tree then please don’t grey out the root of that tree!
That all being said the game feels like it’s really trying to break that Paragon/Renegade morality model games have been stuck in for ages with new and interesting ideas and I love that. I don’t think it’s perfect but it’s ambitious and the more I have to describe it to people and think about everything it’s actually doing the more I like it.
What a dumb game… and it’s great. I’m usually a completionist in games, partly because I want to be maxed out on whatever I can grab before moving onto the next part. I want to be more powerful than the game expects you to be. Bloodstained doesn’t seem to care. I felt like at some point I had broken the game, and that felt fantastic. The amount of different items, shards, and weapons is overwhelming and silly... but also kind of amazing? I’m glad I was able to play this with someone who already knew some of the secrets already. I get a sense that this is a game I would have done one of those “what’s the best weapon” searches about 4-5 hours in. It just became fun and I like fun games that don’t take themselves too seriously. Breaking the skill ramp can be a hard balance to get right, because becoming too powerful too early can make things boring, but this pulls it off. I’m not exactly sure why or how, but it does. I actually don’t understand much of how this all comes together, because it probably shouldn’t…
There are not a lot of games I can play with my kids where I feel like we’re really working as an equal team. Usually, in a straight co-op situation, things can get frustrating if the difficulty spikes, or they get mind-numbing if it’s too easy. Luigi’s Mansion 3 seems to solve that problem by having a single-player campaign that can be played with two people. The second player just takes on the duties you’d normally have to do, and the whole experience with another player feels additive. Like you’re getting away with something you shouldn’t. Add into the mix that playing along as Gooigi makes you basically invincible, and that if you’re seven and don't have to listen to your Dad sighing because he has to do the same part for the tenth time... well, you’ve got a winning combination on your hands. I rarely had pull out the “Let me just do this part by myself to move us past” line, and that was great. I genuinely enjoyed playing this game with my kids. Like, I honestly did and I like this new world.
I didn't own a PlayStation until I got a PlayStation 2 Slim in 2004. I mean, I was broke and in college at the time. I got to see and play games in the dorms, but they weren’t mine. So what I did was rent the entire system from Blockbuster during summer breaks to play games. RE2 was one of those games I remember playing during a rental session and it blew me away. Twenty years later, only the emotional memories remained of RE2, while most of the factual knowledge had been paved over by hundreds of other games. The remake was able to both stoke those emotional fires and rip up the pavement to unearth decades old memories I'd thought lost forever. AND, aside from all that nonsense, the game looks, plays, and just IS great. It’s arguably the best Resident Evil experience currently available anywhere.
3. Apex Legends
I’m not a competitive player. In the many, many years of writing these lists I’ve expressed that enough. It takes certain experiences to really get me to engage in that space, and they usually have to involve some form of cooperative play. Respawn gets so much right in this team-based Battle Royale entry that I wound-up coming back to it week after week with my brothers. We were never that great but we had a lot of fun, and did actually win a couple (maybe... exactly 2, possibly 3)!
The characters, weapons and upgrades, and especially the ping system all worked to keep us in the game and feel competitive. It felt like a good balance between the methodical nature of PUBG and the frantic pace of Fortnite. I mostly played as Mirage which started as a defensive move on my part until I really learned how to use his abilities offensively. It was a great and satisfying learning curve. I’m not sure how much we’ll go back to Apex as time marches on but I guess that really depends on how much they keep updating it.
I’m a fairly unapologetic supporter of Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy. I mean, really, I’m already a big fan of third-person action games, and when you throw in some mind powers you’re just icing the cake. Control stuffs all of this into a fantastic setting, mixing bureaucratic red tape with bizarre, otherworldly, mind-bending phenomena. The skill tree is fun, and the powers work and control well. That’s usually one of the tougher bits with games like this, and they pull it off by putting some of the powers on rails. It’s fine though, as it's more of an action game than telekinetic puzzle game.
I had one beef, though. By the back third of the game, I had collected all the available powers, and the game never really challenged me to change up how I was using them. The enemies and the encounters became a bit routine. That being said, Control is probably the game I’m most excited to come back to once the new DLC starts hitting.
1. Outer Wilds
Outer Wilds currently sits somewhere in my top 10 games… ever. Everything about it clicked for me. I absolutely love the narrative, with everything tying up fairly neatly by the end. I thought the mechanics of the game, and the underpinning premise all made sense within that narrative. It’s kind of hard to talk at length about why I loved it so much without spoilers, because the game is all about exploration and all the emotions that accompany discovery. The sense of wonder as you uncover clues among each of the planets is amazing. The adventure game element of collecting and using knowledge instead of inventory items works exceptionally well. Seriously, I could probably go on and on about why this game sticks with me so much, but if you’re with me on this you already know. If you haven’t played it, and you think it might be for you, I can’t recommend it enough. Go play it.
Ok, that's my list. Thanks for reading! I'd like to of course thank everyone for being a part of the Giant Bomb community, my coworkers, and of course my very patient family this year for the missed vacations and long hours at the office.
And now...here are some bonus things from 2019 that I really enjoyed:
We finally played Viticulture after it had been sitting on my shelf for ages, and it was awesome. I mean, people have said it's awesome for a long time now, but who really wants to play a game about making wine when Scythe is also sitting on the shelf?
Well, don't I look like a fool. Viticulture is great.
I'm not sure when we actually got Sushi Go Party! but I do know we've played it a lot this year. Easy to setup and the games are quick enough where I don't feel like I need to make a whole GAME NIGHT event to play it with my son. Highly recommended.
The New York Times Crossword Puzzle App
I finally got into the app so I could do the crossword puzzle on my commute, and I still can't make it past each Wednesday (though my wife helps me finish the Sunday puzzle).
Wizkids Gargantuan Dragons Minatures
I bought these at some point during the year and haven't had a chance to paint them yet or put them out on the table but each time I see them I think "Wow, these are so freaking cool. Definitely didn't waste my money. Good job Vin".
FanToys' RoadKing (AKA Motormaster)
This is one of my favorite transformers I bought this year. He's amazing and his whole trailer folds into him when he's in robot mode. What a swell guy.