This is easily the latest I have ever written one of these lists.
Last year was so jam-packed with big releases, spread so wide across multiple genres, that it was honestly overwhelming. So much so that I was fairly sure I would not be able to make a significant enough dent in the backlog to write a list like this and be satisfied with it; I had basically resigned myself to not bothering.
Then 2020 happened. And suddenly I had enough time to get through those remaining 2019 releases. Funny how that worked out.
Anyway — games in 2019 absolutely ruled. It felt like a year that took nothing for granted, with a lot of my favourite games this year presenting fresh ideas — like, really fresh ideas! Not just refinements on existing genres or series… I mean, sure, there was plenty of those too, and that’s great. But as I look up and down my list of played games this year, debating in my head what order I was going to organise everything in, I was really pleased to see so many truly unique ideas brought to life in last year’s big releases.
Before I jump into the HYPER OFFICIAL, DEFINITIVE NUMBERED LIST of 2019’s games — here is a list of honourable mentions. I enjoyed all of these to various degrees and some of them have been on and off the numbered list right up until the point I hit ‘publish.’ I recommend them all, they’re all winners folks!
- Baba Is You
- CTR: Crash Team Racing (remake)
- Disco Elysium
- Gato Roboto
- Katana Zero
- My Friend Pedro
- The Outer Worlds
- Super Mario Maker 2
- Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
- Totally Accurate Battle Simulator
- Void Bastards
- What The Golf?
And now for the actual list.
10. Mortal Kombat 11
The reboot of Mortal Kombat has been great. In fact, it’s been so great that following this suitably epic final chapter, I really don’t know what comes next. A re-reboot? A fourth chapter? An entirely fresh restart with all new characters? Who knows! With Mortal Kombat (2011), MKX, and now 11 (don’t get me started on this naming convention) they have re-told, re-envisioned, and now built upon the original games in spectacular fashion. The tight, visceral combat is the perfect mesh of deep but accessible; with the industry standard in tutorials for casual players like me. While the single player offerings are hurt by leaning heavily on real-money purchases and online connections; thankfully the story delivers big for the series conclusion (well, for now). Seeing these once two dimensional (in many ways) characters develop over time has been SHOCKINGLY satisfying, and combined with some cheesy twists, turns, and wacky time-travel antics has made this one of the most satisfying video game stories to follow in recent years.
9. Untitled Goose Game
If there was a lesson to be learned from how Untitled Goose Game took the world by storm last year, achieving near-mainstream meme status — it’s that video games need a little more small scale mischief. Also; that the entire globe has a shared understanding that geese are little bastards and we all secretly fear them. Untitled Goose Game was a perfect blend of charm, old-timey humour, and some basic but satisfying puzzling. You couldn’t help but smile through the brisk two hour runtime; stealing garden tools, agitating old people, and most importantly; dressing your goose up with a little hat and pipe.
8. Kind Words
It’s very easy to be cynical about not only the gaming corner of the internet, but the whole world wide web in general. It is, to be blunt, filled with the absolute worst of humanity. With Kind Words, developer Popcannibal sought to remedy that in a small way with their twee pen pal simulator. It’s simple; you sit down at your desk and you write little notes to send out into the ether, anonymously. A message of encouragement, a well wish, a quote you like — and that can be seen by any number of random players. On a more peer to peer level, you can write an anonymous letter asking a question or detailing an issue you’re currently struggling with – which other players can answer. Or you can do your best to offer insight into the struggles of others. While the game stresses that it’s important to seek professional help if you’re really struggling, it offers a wonderful outlet for people who just want to speak freely and get stuff off their chest. In my experience, the responses were always pleasant, well meaning, and in some instances very thoughtful. The game’s cute, relaxing audio visual package are nice and soothing, meaning this can be an easy go-to when you want to unwind. I only put a few hours into it, usually in 15-20 minute bursts — but it was nice to have a game-based outlet for some positivity and relaxation; something I didn’t realize I needed in a game until I got it.
7. Outer Wilds
So many games try and inspire a sense of awe in you; specifically when it comes to adventuring to far away, fantastical lands. Nothing in recent memory has inspired that in me like Outer Wilds. From the one of a kind clockwork universe you’re scrambling to explore, with its timed events and limited windows to see and do everything, to the wildly different ecosystems on all of the planets; which on the surface might feel like gimmicks, but when closely examined they represent intricate worlds with unique puzzles and mysteries to unravel of their own. The sheer sense of pride with every new discovery, either in the physical world or in the game’s deep lore, is thrilling. While I haven’t yet finished it (and unfortunately have had the broad strokes of the end game spoiled; such is life when coming to a game this late) Outer Wilds portrays the joys of exploration in an incredible way.
6. Sayonara Wild Hearts
Like Untitled Goose Game, Sayonara Wild Hearts is here for a great time, not a long time. Early on, the simple but pretty rhythm game can seem fairly basic. But the increasingly elaborate levels, and soundtrack that fuses crooning R&B ballads with thumping electronic beats, genuinely surprised and dazzled me with each new chapter. The minimalist plot is intriguing, if not thoroughly laid out, and serves up images and moments that are burned into my memory. The synchronisation of the story beats, player inputs, and music are a masterclass in player feedback; hitting that sweet spot at the end of every level as the song crescendos. At less than two hours to play through (not counting additional modes) – Wild Hearts is a perfect and memorable sprint that had a lasting effect on me… which mainly manifests as me still listening to the soundtrack on Spotify to this day.
5. Resident Evil 2
Is there anything more impossible to pull off than a good remake? Movies, games, TV shows, whatever. We live in an era obsessed with reboots, soft reboots, and remakes — and, basically, you can never please everyone. You either changed too much, or didn’t change enough. Or maybe you hit the perfect balance of how much to change, but what you changed annoyed everyone. With Resident Evil 2, Capcom somehow did the impossible; they translated the iconic, genre-defining structure of a mid-90s horror game into 2019, with updated visuals, mechanics, and quality of life improvements… and basically no compromises. Resident Evil 2 is among the benchmarks for graphical fidelity on the current generation of machines, and is damn-near the standard bearer for map design and general user-friendly inventory management and interfacing. With the stunning architecture of Raccoon City’s police department realized better than ever previously imagined, and a contemporary control scheme that feels responsive at every turn — the 2019 game doesn’t just do right by the original, it feels like a whole new standard for the genre in this day and age, in its own right.
Remedy have always melded the weird with the ordinary — fusing B-movie humour and themes with deathly serious, grounded stories. With Control, they’ve gone fully Lynchian — and in the process made their most ambitious, and arguably best game yet. The setting is the star of Control; an endless maze of a federal building, designed to control the paranormal elements of the world. That premise allows for tonnes of weird and wonderful sub-stories, and a meshing of the bizarre other-worldly concepts and mundane office banality. The gameplay is similarly ambitious, with Remedy’s classic fusion of responsive third-person shooting and something a little bit extra. As Jesse Faden, you can dash, shield, hypnotize and, most importantly, use telekinesis to take down your enemies. Any game that lets you pick random objects up with your mind and fling them at your foes, setting off a beautiful ragdoll domino effect is fine by me. And with Control’s impressive environmental destruction (albeit destruction that reeks havoc on PS4 performance) there is endless joy in flinging a table at an enemy, then lobbing the ensuing debris at his pals. With post-release content still rolling out; I can’t wait to return to the Oldest House very soon.
3. Apex Legends
If you think of PUBG and Fortnite as the flagships in the first generation of ‘battle royale’ games, Apex Legends represents the first evolution of the genre after that. With the zippy, brilliantly responsive first person shooting of a Respawn game, and some simple but effective streamlining of battle royale tropes, they were able to make one of the year’s most addictive free-to-play games. Pinging resources, jumping as a team, the ability to bring back downed teammates — all ideas so good, so effective at easing the frustration of the BR experience, that it wasn’t long before they were pinched by other games in the genre being released by industry leading publishers. The game-world split the difference between the garish Fortnite and the grey PUBG, with some well designed characters and hero-shooter elements. As someone who liked BR games in theory but struggled to enjoy the genre leaders; Apex Legends was a tremendous refinement of the game that really got its hooks into me.
2. Tetris 99
We all know and love Tetris. It is basically faultless in design, and is pure, unfiltered video game fun. And while I’ve logged countless hours of solo play with the gaming behemoth, multiplayer Tetris wasn’t something I ever tried out until 2019. The secret weapon of Nintendo’s online service, Tetris 99 takes the concept of player vs. player Tetris, inflates the number to the battle royale stratosphere and lets the competition commence. Never has the increasing pressure of a Tetris game been so intense as in 99. You will truly know the treachery of your fellow man when you reach the final 25 and your near-perfect run suddenly comes to a halt when you’re targeted by a dozen or so of your peers — but it wont deter you from starting all over again. Victory has escaped me in my 30+ hours of plucking away at Tetris 99 — but maybe 2020 will be my year (it hasn’t been as of May)
1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
I’ve never really been a Call of Duty guy. Like everyone else with a console at the time I played and liked the original Modern Warfare in 2007, but my time with the franchise has been minimal since then. But with the 2019 reboot, they’ve delivered one of the most satisfying, fun, addictive shooters of this generation. Before talking about the comprehensive multiplayer suite, I have to mention the campaign. While it’s not the best story in a game last year; it was a slick, engaging tale of military intrigue that made the usual globetrotting mix of stealth and shootouts worth journeying through.
But the real draw here was the multiplayer. The dozen or so maps in the base game are an excellent collection of layered, deep locations that can be approached from a number of ways, and no style of play can’t be adapted to them. I found myself experimenting with quite a few different loadouts and weapons because no one style trumps another; even when a certain map, on the surface, seems like it might favour the ranged game. There’s just so much to sink your teeth into; and it’s all made easy by the straight forward and clearly communicated way you can tailor a player class to your needs. And once you’ve crafted your loadout and dropped into one of the maps in question; the feel of Call of Duty Modern Warfare in your hands is damn-near unbeatable. The speed, the precision, the maneuverability of your character — it’s the same stuff that brought the franchise to the fore a decade and a half ago. It just. Feels. So. Good.
Keeping things interesting is the constant introduction of new playlists and seasonal modes; I’m typically just a team deathmatch guy but the way Infinity Ward has rolled out some sillier, more eclectic modes for brief spells means there’s always something new and interesting when you fire the game up after one of their tortuously long and numerous patches (hey this is the best game of the year but I can’t NOT mention those).
Perhaps neck-and-neck with Titanfall 2, this is the longest I’ve stuck with an online shooter after release, which means Modern Warfare is in the company of the very best FPS games of the generation.