11+ games I played in 2019.

uhh first time using the list function so let's hope this works out! played more games in 2019 than I have in most recent years combined, and I had a lot of thoughts about them that I wanted to put into writing, if only to aid my failing memory.

List items

  • [Honorable mention.] So, I didn't actually play Judgment -- the gameplay of the Yakuza series isn't for me. But I did watch my best friend play through it and I thought it was another great Yakuza game. Framing it in the manner of a TV show was a nice touch; it was an exciting murder mystery that got deeper and weirder the more you tugged at its threads. Plus, you get the usual ridiculous side stories and excellent localization. They could make a hundred of these games and I would watch someone else play every single one.

  • [Honorable mention.] A bad idle game is like a pet rock: useful for staring at and not much else. A good idle game is like a pet cat: you slowly befriend it, learn its habits and what makes it tick, and eventually trick it into producing 1.8e308 diamond coins. This is a game I check on a couple of times a day, running various buff builds in order to complete secondary objectives, tweaking production builds to get a little more out of them, or (sometimes) simply watching number go up. Not particularly exciting, but a good substitute for a pet or a child. Would have been like #5 on my list, but it's not a 2019 release.

  • [Honorable mention.] Three of my top ten games are on this thing, I played another half dozen great games on it to completion, and there's another dozen or two past that that I still want to get around to. Ridiculous value, even if the launcher is crap. Go play Yoku, or Timespinner, or...

  • [#11] I already wrote a review of this game, so I won't go into much detail here. To be honest, I like this game more for what it is pushing toward (shorter games with themes relevant to our times) than what it succeded at (being a nice-looking and less-buggy Fallout with filler gameplay). Wouldn't have made the list if I had played more games, but I didn't.

  • [#10] Picked this one up on a lark while digging through gamepass. It's a tricky platformer that controls a little weird, but in a way that makes it exciting to play as you spend more time with it. I think it looks great and managed to stay fun and challenging. It does an excellent job of capturing bike physics and fitting them into a game.

  • [#9] When Tetris 99 was first announced, I read it as a naked attempt to get in on the battle royale craze -- a weird toy, at best. Instead, I found myself caring about Tetris again for the first time in decades. I never thought Tetris would be able to give me the feeling of picking off wounded competitors from hundreds of yards away. Now I just need it to give me the feeling of hiding in a closet for a quarter of an hour.

  • [#8] It's kind of like... pinball meets 2d Zelda? Smoothly delivered the experience of exploring abandoned machinery, and told an interesting post-apoc story through a scant amount of dialogue and documents. Swiftly dodging lasers and smacking around balls felt great, especially in the later parts of the game, when rooms with dozens of projectiles flying in all directions made for complex but not impenetrable challenges.

  • [#7] A brilliant take on the block-pusher. An understated but memorable soundtrack accompanied by a cute style. An absolute motherfucker of a puzzle game that requires creative solutions and allows you to do some really weird shit.

  • [#6] I don't often get excited for upcoming releases. There are just so many games in existence that I prefer to catch up on my backlog of games that are now $15 instead of getting them at launch for $60. But when I saw that Control was pretty much SCP: The Game, I wavered and picked it up only a few months later... for $30. I'm trying to improve, okay? Honestly, I'm kind of glad I waited. The setting is a joy to dive into, and it's probably the prettiest game I've ever played, but I found the gameplay unpleasant enough that I actually gave up on it about 80% in.

    For what it's worth, third-person shooters aren't my bag. I'm not that great at them, and they don't excite me. Everything else about Control kept me pushing through, because I wanted to hear the next audio clip, to read about the next weird item or event, to find out more about Jesse or Marshall or Pope or Darling. But, eventually, I found the action too stale and the checkpointing bad enough that I just gave up on it. Fellow user TK perfectly encapsulated my feelings with a quote: "I had a lot of fun with Control, but I feel like a lot of my love of that game could be distilled into a coffee table book of all of the collectibles."

    Still, I want more, and hopefully with better accessibility options (or at least a story mode) next time.

    [Edit] Missed a few points I wanted to make: a) I think Control does a great job of introducing you to its setting, not just through writing but through environmental storytelling, b) the nature of Altered Items provides a consistency of storytelling that helps the setting feel less disjointed than the SCP Foundation, and c) locating an overhead enemy by seeing its shadows on the wall in front of me was one of the coolest moments I had all year. Credit where it's due.

  • [#5] Heave Ho is a remarkable example of my favorite kind of multiplayer game: a goofy, colorful clusterfuck that is simply fun. It's collaborative, yet competitive. It's fun when you team up to grab the coin, it's fun when you kill someone by farting. It's simple to pick up, and difficult to put down. Without a doubt the most fun I had all year. Brutal on the fingers, though.

  • [#4] Holy crap, I almost forgot about Void Bastards! Best style of the year! From the visuals to the sound design to the writing, Void Bastards synthesizes humor and horror to great effect. I may have almost forgotten to put it on the list, but I will never forget how it looks, how it sounds, and how it feels to play. The tension of attempting to sneak my way through a trashed ship to flip the power to get the map to find the item to craft the device, all while trying to keep quiet so I don't attract any explosive vacationers or gruff, helmeted thugs, but moving quickly enough to make it back to the airlock in time...

    I feel the essence of a roguelike is the hasty exploration of the unknown, pressured by time and resource constraints, aided only by your reflexes, game knowledge, and luck. Void Bastards captures that essence more effectively than most.

  • [#3] If you told me 18 months ago that a battle royale would be in my top 3 games of the year, I wouldn't have believed you. But in late 2018, I got into BO4, then into Quake Champions, and then into Apex, which burst onto the scene near the end of my short FPS phase. Fortunate timing for me; despite my lack of skill, Apex was a blast to play, even if I spent most of my time hookshotting myself wildly into the skies with zero grace.

    It was bold of Respawn to launch Apex out of thin air with like six characters, one map, and one game mode -- forced cooperation. Despite its bare-bones state in February, it played so smoothly that it got its hooks into me anyway (to be fair, it helped a great deal that it was free to try), and I enjoyed the rest of the time I spent with Apex, win or lose. A very fun game that stands apart from other BRs due to fundamentally basing itself around coop play, and a personality-laden and diverse cast of characters to boot.

  • [#2] I have a tangle of conflicting thoughts about Sekiro, so here's one thing I am sure of: I love it. Beautiful in its ugliness and fair in its cruelty, Sekiro stands at the top of From's "soulsborne" series as a synthesis of (most of) its best parts, and plays like a comprehensive final exam. In playing Dark Souls 1 and 2, I learned a great deal about patience, about treachery, about using any tricks I could muster. I missed Bloodborne, but (as an external observer), it imparted in me the importance of tempered aggression, that a defense must be active in order to turn the tide. Sekiro expounded upon that idea; through its mechanics it presents defense as a temporary but eventually futile exercise, demanding that you kick its ass before it kicks yours.

    The first few hours were an excellent introduction to Sekiro's cycle of education and examination. You are taught the basics of stealth, then asked to use it to reach Kuro. You learn the basics of slashing and blocking, then asked to use them to defeat Yamauchi. Then, an inversion. You are overmatched in combat, are mortally wounded... then learn that death is not the end -- you can resurrect, regroup, and keep fighting, though now at a disadvantage.

    This cycle repeats. You learn how to dodge, evading what you cannot parry. You learn how to use your jump, how to attack and defend with the third dimension. You learn how to make a sudden entrance and gain an advantage. You learn how to run away and win via attrition. As you get more practice with your toolkit, you begin to synthesize. You use a sugar to get a free deathblow against a chained ogre, shortening the time he has to suplex you into a pulp. You use hit and run tactics to set up a favorable matchup against a drunkard. Then you face your first real examination. You cannot simply block, you must also dodge, you must also kick, you must also run.

    Over time you not only get new tools, you adopt new tactics, new perspectives. Oniwa and that damned bull teach patience and opportunism. The centipedes teach you how to win via superior posture management. Ashina Elite Jinsuke teaches you how to punish overextension. You start thinking about your plan before engaging enemies and bosses, you start thinking about thinking, improving your mindset and your play. You learn what corners you can cut, how to be bold, how to be overpowering -- you become less restricted not solely because you have more items or powerful techniques, but because you learn to think quickly and act with power, confidence, and mastery.

    At the end of it all you face an opponent who truly is a final examination of your reflexes, your skill, your mindset. Beating that enemy was one of the most satisfying moments I've experienced in a game: winning not because I had more raw power, but because I was simply better *because I had learned how to be better*. Okay, maybe I'm not a real sword-slinger, maybe this is just a video game. But Sekiro helped me achieve a feeling not of victory, but of mastery, and that's what felt so damn good about it.

    wish it had pvp though

  • [#1] I wish I could offer my opinion of this game on its own merits, because it does deserve to be evaluated of itself, instead of via comparison. Having said that, I've spent 7000 hours playing World of Warcraft, and about 1000 playing FFXIV, so... I can't help myself. FFXIV and World of Warcraft are both, first and foremost, treatises on war. But where WoW is about working endlessly to wage conflict, FFXIV is about working tirelessly to resolve conflict.

    In WoW, it always felt like I was meandering from place to place simply supplying garrisons, or carrying out contracted killings, or clearing out areas for invasion and colonization. I was asked to pick sides. I would fight one big bad simply to reveal another. I gathered ore to make weapons. I took up enchanting to empower armor. I crafted wars.

    In FFXIV, what sticks with me is the times I am asked to mediate disputes. To help refugees not solely through feeding them and locking them away, but providing them active roles in rebuilding their lives. To heal a nation whose citizens have been misled into centuries of unfounded war. I cook not merely to feed soldiers, but to help a restaurant combat a crooked food critic. I scavenge battlefields for relics not to fund war, but to fund reconstruction.

    This is not to say that FFXIV doesn't engage in warcraft or even revel in military glory. But it earns the right to do so because it always, always makes sure to ask where does this conflict end, where does the healing begin, and it always tries to provide an answer. War in Warcraft feels obligatory and omnipresent, and yet is not treated with the gravity it deserves. When Warcraft countenances the existence of the displaced, of the downtrodden, of the innocent, it is not in a way that maps onto the real world. People die when they are killed, and that is that. When a war ends, that war ends, and some other war begins. The prior war only exists insofar as it can be used to justify further war.

    I do not necessarily like FFXIV for its gameplay, though it does eventually have good gameplay. I do not necessarily like FFXIV for its main storyline, though its main storyline does eventually get very good. I like FFXIV because it feels like a living, breathing world, because its inhabitants desire and live lives outside of conflict. Even its antagonists are often driven to use force because they want to resolve a conflict, because they want healing or respite or order -- but this is presented as motivation, it is not presented as justification.

    In FFXIV, I help a restaurant maintain its professional credibility. I help a journalist get a hot scoop about how a farmer seeking better crops is hampered by religious dogma. I help a geisha-in-training express herself through her attire and eventually learn why people value tradition. I help a woman restore heirlooms because people do not merely need food and shelter after apocalypse, they need memories upon which to build a new world. I attempt to bridge the gap between two peoples who were formerly at war by revealing a shared history, and I do not necessarily succeed right away -- that story proceeds to this day. I help a man convince a fishing community that we cannot merely deal in the short-term solution of providing a voluminous food supply, we need a well-rounded diet to prevent malnutrition.

    FFXIV is packed to the fucking brim with stories about people who live despite conflict, not in service to conflict. These stories (generally, but not always) are thoughtfully written and lovingly localized. And as a player, you not only get to take part in seeing those stories, you can tell your own -- players hold costume competitions, seek work as interior designers, hell, you can busk in this game if you want to. I do not think it is perfect, and I do not always agree with its conclusions. But as a game that deals with war it shows its work in a way that most games refuse to, and I am still exploring it because I want to know more about its lives, its peoples, and its histories.