Best Games of 2019

My favorite games from 2019.

List items

  • Sekiro has the bones of a Souls game, but the team at From Software have shifted from making RPGs with strong action elements to action games with RPG elements that at this point are only typical for the genre. That's not a knock, it's just funny how intertwined the two genres are at this point. What makes Sekiro different than other action games is that its action is just impeccably great. The stealth bits are fine, using your grappling hook to jump out of harm or cross dangerous gaps is fun, but the core of the game is you and your sword against the enemy. While it's common in games like this to avoid harm until you see a small opening to strike and then repeat the process, Sekiro is all about wearing down your foe's defenses until they're at your mercy. It's hard to describe but when you have learned enough about the enemy to dispatch them without ever backing off or relenting, it feels sublime. It looks pretty, it's interesting to play a From game with a real active story, but Sekiro is my game of the year because the combat is just that damn good.

  • Resident Evil 2 is the kind of remake that captures the feeling of playing a beloved old game without being slavish to the outdated design it may have been built on. It has a great balance between the obscure puzzles and atmospheric horror of the older games with the tense action of some of the later ones. It looks amazing, feels good to play, and features Mr. X, a relentless pursuer who will track you all over the place, his heavy footsteps finding your ear rooms or even a whole floor away, to the point that finding a way to defeat him, even temporarily, always brings a huge sense of relief. The story is still silly as shit, but would we really want anything else from Resident Evil? My one real complaint is that while the "A" and "B" scenarios that let you play both main characters are solid fun, they don't actually fit together on a story level, failing to create a cohesive final experience.

  • Control is a third person shooter with psychic powers. That description ignores what makes the game special, which is its sense of style and densely entertaining story. It takes place entirely inside the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Control, a mysterious government agency that locates and contains supernatural objects, objects which can cause events that disrupt a society that tries to pretend that nothing really weird ever happens. The headquarters building itself is as mysterious as any object inside, having existed long before the FBC was created and being invisible to anyone who doesn't know to look for it. If any of this sounds cool to you, you should check it out. The brutalist architecture and visual design of the building is cool, the shooting and powers are solidly fun, but the most fun I had with Control was just digging into the strange, funny, creepy history of the FBC.

  • Outer Wilds is a game about an explorer of a solar system, reliving the same cycle over and over again as they try to save their home from being wiped out by the sun going supernova. You have only a few tools with you as you drift around in your tiny spaceship, exploring strange and mysterious planets littered with odd natural phenomena as well as the ruins and writings of a civilization that came before you. You might want to know why you wake up where you started after dying, or what happened to that old civilization, or what you can do to break the cycle. At times the game is exciting, lonely, frustrating, terrifying, and awe inspiring. It's a unique game I would recommend to anyone who likes the feeling of being lost, of not being sure what to do, of finally finding an answer you weren't sure would ever be there.

  • Despite the simple gameplay and small size of the world you can explore, Disco is a big game with lots to dig into. You play a cop in a run down part of a city that was the site of a failed communist revolution decades earlier, with no memory of your life prior to waking up in the morning with a hangover and a murder you're supposed to solve. You proceed through the rest of the game principally by talking, asking people questions and responding to their responses. You have 24 different skills you can improve, half of which are entirely mental, and during conversations your skills have the chance of popping in and "talking" to you, giving you additional options which may or may not be useful. You can also "internalize" thoughts, which could give you benefits or penalties once you finish thinking about them. It's a game about small personal interactions as well as big political ideas, as you can get invested in the characters, the murder mystery, or the whole strange fictional world as you see fit. It's the kind of game where you want to play it again just to see how differently it can play out if you act like a different person.

  • Obsidian returns to the first person shooter/role playing/immersive sim genre when The Outer Worlds, a relatively compact but deep game where you play a late arrival to a solar system-sized space colony that is going through a rough time. You can ally yourself with the mad scientist who freed you from stasis or the colonial government that has a bounty on his head, and you can focus on shooting your enemies, sneaking around them, or talking them into letting you in the door. The game is at its best when you have multiple ways to deal with a situation both politically and physically, and it's up to you which one seems the most interesting, or will cause the most or least pain for those involved, depending on your goals. It has pacing issues at times, and it leans a little heavily on the "you're the savior of the galaxy!" narrative, but I had a really good time flying around to different planets with my companions. It's like a video game version of Firefly.

  • You can see Fallen Order as a synthesis of a lot of popular trends in modern action games. It has structural elements and the precise combat of a Souls game, modern traversal-style platforming, and Metroidvania exploration where your abilities are always expanding and unlocking previously blocked areas. Nothing about it is too surprising or innovative, but it's well put together and mostly fun to play. It also has an entertaining story, which explores the early period after the fall of the Republic which was shown in the prequels and does a decent job of fleshing out its handful of original characters. There are also some technical issues, but they also seem to be better than they were when the game launched a few months ago. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes video games and still has some affection for Star Wars.

  • Link's Awakening is the kind of remake that feels like the exact same game, but it's actually creating the idealized version of the original that exists inside your head. Besides the obvious graphical upgrade, the Switch version of the Game Boy classic has numerous improvements that don't really change the way the game plays, but makes the act of doing so simpler and more convenient. You have dedicated buttons for swinging your sword, raising your shield, and dashing, you can make notes on your map, and some annoying interface problems are fixed. Some of the later dungeons in the game have the same problems you may have had before, but if you want is a prettier, easier to play version of the same game, this is it. There's graphical stuttering in the outdoor areas that can be annoying, but if you can look past it, this is all you could want from a faithful remake.

  • Three Houses is the first console Fire Emblem game in 12 years, and Nintendo took the opportunity to expand the scope of the series. You're still commanding your small army on a tactical grid during the battles, but you're also spending time talking to the students you're teaching, choosing what they should study to improve as soldiers, and helping them develop their friendships with you and each other. It's also three or four games in once, since you can make multiple choices that determine which group of characters you spend the most time with and major directions the story can take. The story itself, about how a tenuous alliance between three major factions on the continent of Fódlan starts to crumble as their competing desires make the peace untenable, is probably the game's strongest asset, though there's plenty of tweaks to the combat to keep it different. The battles are fun, but it's really the characters that will keep you coming back to its lengthy campaign.

  • Ape Out's main story only lasts about an hour, but it's quite a delightful hour. Each section of the game is an "album", where you play a gorilla that breaks out of captivity and destroys the bodies of anyone who gets in its way as it runs for freedom while jazz drums go wild in the background. The music reacts to what's happening on screen, and that combined with the unique, bold visuals created a fantastic sense of style that is key to the whole game. The game is simple but fun as you mix and match a bit of strategic thinking with a healthy dose of aggression to get through each area. As the game stretches on it can get a little annoying when guys with flamethrowers and rockets are all out to get you, but like I said, you can finish it in an hour.