It really has been a strange year, hasn’t it? Plenty of excellent games, both large and small, but many have flown under the radar. It’s been a seemingly sparse year, as a result. Some have said it’s not been a good one for games, but I would disagree. For me, it’s been a year where my Switch has seen more use than ever, it’s been a year in which I have discovered some incredible surprises, and it’s been a year that has seen some of my favourite series returning.
Sure, early on in the year I did find myself worrying that there wouldn’t be enough games to even make a top ten, but thankfully 2019 delivered the goods throughout its second half. I even broke my rule this year, by including ports in my top ten. You might be able to guess which ones.
Let’s dive right in, shall we?
10. Generation Zero
I normally dislike survival games, usually because they focus too much on boring mechanics and forget to actually include exciting gameplay. Avalanche’s post-apocalyptic, retro-futuristic Generation Zero still remains a game that is criminally underappreciated, despite arriving during one of 2019’s fairly quiet periods.
Part first-person shooter, part survival game, even part RPG-lite, Generation Zero was like a playable Simon Stålenhag painting. Set in 1980s Swedish countryside, your questionably-dressed character would spend their time searching houses, farms and bunkers in search of life. Murderous robots were plentiful however, and you would only have your wits and whatever scrounged weaponry you could find, to keep yourself alive.
This was my first big surprise of 2019 and a game that, despite a few technical issues at the time, really stuck with me.
9. The Outer Worlds
Look, it’s practically fact that Fallout: New Vegas is the best Fallout game, so when Obsidian decided to make a similar game (albeit without the Fallout licence) I think we all pricked our ears up. The Outer Worlds is filled with the heavy choices and humour of New Vegas, but in an entirely new setting with new characters. Parvati (voiced by Ashly Bursh) in particular is excellent, but the beauty of this game is that everyone will latch on to different characters. Everyone will play differently, at least in terms of how they approach conversations and decision-making. I myself played as an outlaw, with a heart of gold and a smart mouth. I would decide on-the-fly how to respond to certain characters (I really do like to roleplay these games, I’m a massive nerd like that) and situations, depending on whether I liked them or not, or sometimes I’d just laugh at a conversation option and go with that as a result.
It’s true that I wasn’t a huge fan of the shooting at first, but after reducing the aiming sensitivity it started to come alive. Once I started to upgrade my skills and weapons, I began to enjoy the shooting immensely. Each planet is fun to explore and each encounter is exciting, which leads to a fantastic game and one that I absolutely adore playing.
8. Darksiders Genesis
I wasn’t sure of this when it was announced, thinking it was too soon after Darksiders III. Being developed by a different studio, one that included some of the talent behind the original two games and also the creator of Battle Chasers: Nightwar, I grew less wary of Airship Syndicate’s Darksiders prequel. In fact, the closer it got to release, the more I just wanted to play Strife’s adventure.
As much as I love War (the Horseman, not the act), I elected to play as him rarely, wanting to focus as much on Strife as possible in this Diablo-esque title. I enjoyed the twin-stick nature of his shooting, combined with the familiar platforming and exploration of the Darksiders series, not to mention the fun relationship between Strife and War, and the way it evolves over the course of the story.
It took a couple of hours for Genesis to really click with me, and while I can’t see it topping any of the main series for me, when it got going I really began to enjoy it. Once again, Darksiders proves to be one of the most versatile series out there.
7. GRID Autosport on Switch
Yep, I broke my rule with this one. “No ports or remakes,” I would say to myself each year. Thing is, I enjoyed GRID Autosport more on Nintendo’s hybrid console than I did on any other format. To the point that within one month I had played the Switch version more than any other, including the Xbox 360 version that I bought on launch five years ago. For that, it just had to make my list.
I worried that it wouldn’t work without analogue triggers, or that the Switch’s overly sensitive sticks would struggle with the twitchy handling model of the GRID games, but I have never been happier to be proven wrong. It handles wonderfully well and the ability to play it handheld, including an impressive performance mode that keeps it running smooth, adds up to one of my favourite Nintendo Switch games in its entire library.
6. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Complete Edition on Switch
Here we are again, breaking my rule a second time. By rights, there is no way The Witcher 3 should run on the Switch. It struggled on the base PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles at times, and although this ported version is nowhere near the resolution of those machines, it still looks incredible and runs nicely. It’s especially impressive that I can actually play The Witcher 3 handheld.
I don’t think many would disagree that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of the best games of this console generation, possibly even the best, and none of that quality is lost in the move to Nintendo’s hybrid console. Trust me, I’ve played it on every system it’s available on, and it’s just as good on Switch as any other format.
5. F1 2019
As the site’s resident racing specialist, not to mention a fan of motorsport in general, it should come as no surprise that the best Formula One game to date is on my list. In the same way football fans love FIFA’s accurate representation of their favourite sport, F1 2019 is the most accurate and complete simulation of my favourite sport. Thing is, it’s not just for experts at racing games like some sims, it can be tailored to suit almost any level of skill, all while maintaining that feeling of participating at the highest level of motorsport.
Its career mode builds nicely upon previous games, adding a few new ideas on top of the changed rules of the 2019 season, and the addition of the F2 series is something I have been wanting for years. I even dabbled in the multiplayer more than ever, just wanting to get the most out of this year’s game because I absolutely loved it. Still do, actually. Reckon I’ll be playing this all the way up to 2020’s game.
4. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
I was unsure of this one when it was first announced. Sure, its premise was excellent and I’ve been wanting to see a game set in the post-Order 66 era ever since Revenge of the Sith. It’s such an interesting point in the Star Wars timeline that hasn’t had much airtime. Honestly, the thing I was disappointed about was its boringly human protagonist. It’s amazing how often, in a galaxy far, far away, the hero is always a bloody human.
That disappointment still remains, but Cal Kestis was played brilliantly by Cameron Monaghan. Okay, so he could still have been played brilliantly as an entirely different species, but perhaps something may have been lost in his expressive performance.
Anyway, Star Wars Jedi is an excellent adventure, especially for fans of the sci-fi series. Its combat is deep and rewarding, even more so as you progress, unlocking new Force powers that bring with them some cool (and possibly amusing) moments. The Souls method of respawning enemies was unnecessary and out-of-place, but I enjoyed the combat enough that it rarely proved frustrating to me. The combat in general was superb, especially when you nail the parries. Sending a laser blast back at its shooter, then parrying a Purge Trooper’s attack half a second later, will always feel cool. Even better when you can follow it up with a Force Push, scattering a group of Stormtroopers in the process.
Simply put, Fallen Order is the Jedi Knight follow-up that I always wanted.
3. Remnant: From the Ashes
Being a Darksiders fan and, as a result, a Gunfire Games fan, I did know about Remnant: From the Ashes but never really knew what it was. When it arrived, I was growing tired of Soulslike games with their unnecessary levels of difficulty and, let’s face it, they’re everywhere these days. Remnant does things a little differently though, removing some of the frustration that often comes from this overcrowded subgenre and even shaking things up by adding an almost Destiny-like, co-op shooter element. The result was 2019’s nicest surprise, as far as I’m concerned.
The shooting was fun and weighty, as were the melee attacks that could be employed when close-quarters combat became unavoidable. Every battle was intense, whether you were against two enemies or ten, and the way it subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) ramped up the challenge as extra players came into the mix, just made it feel so rewarding when you made it out alive.
Even played solo, you never felt truly in control, but in the best way. What seemed like an easy fight could quickly escalate into a panicked battle for survival, and if you heard the chime signalling the entrance of a special creature, you knew the shit was about to hit the fan. The balance was rarely uneven though, and more often than not, I could fight my way out of those situations. That said, sometimes a new enemy would appear and only through dying did I learn how its attacks worked, in order to come back stronger.
Death is a natural part of games like this, but Remnant didn’t take away your XP like other Soulslikes. You could still go back to the main hub, level up your equipment, and go back for another try. Which I did and will continue to do so, because Remnant: From the Ashes is a very special game.
I had given up on ever seeing another GRID title. A favourite series of mine, it seemed too late in the life of the current consoles for a new game to appear, but then Codemasters hit me with that surprise announcement in May. I was, of course, quite happy with this news. Even more so that it would be such a short wait for its release, even after a last-minute delay.
GRID has never been a simulation, but as I said in my review, it’s certainly sim-adjacent. It concentrates more on reproduce the feeling of driving in various motorsport disciplines, only with the physics a little more exaggerated. For me, this is exactly what made Race Driver: GRID so great, and 2019’s series reboot recreated that splendidly. It was all about the racing, and it nailed that aspect.
It seems like Codemasters is committed to improving the game through player feedback too, which can only mean more good things to keep me playing throughout 2020.
1. Resident Evil 2
Of course this is my number one. Capcom did an incredibly good job in updating the original Resident Evil 2 for a new generation, while remaining as faithful as possible for the fans. Honestly, I would say it surpassed the original game, it’s that good.
I have played through this game, both scenarios each time, around four or five times this year. Most of those playthroughs were during the first month or so, because I just couldn’t put it down. I loved the new versions of Claire and Leon, probably the best yet, and good ol’ Billy Birkin has never looked so good. Or slimy. Or eyeball-y.
The most impressive aspect of the remake was the way it implemented the infamous Tyrant (or Mr X, as the memes now know him), as he stalked Leon and Claire throughout the Raccoon City Police Station. I’ll never forget the way he slammed open the library door on the first floor, before barreling through a zombie, knocking the reanimated corpse over the balcony with a sort of squelching thud. It was simultaneously hilarious and terrifying. I’ve seen him toss around Lickers and zombies alike, relentless in his pursuit of poor Leon and Claire. The sound of his stomping still haunts me now.
There it is, then. 2019 was a good year, but ultimately it was a January release that held my top spot throughout. I wonder if April’s Resident Evil 3 will do the same in 2020?