I always find it immensely hard to rank the games from a given year. I review so many in a 12-month period and I play even more, and I can absolutely fall in love with a game which the critic in me will only score a 5 or 6 out of 10. It’s not helped by 2019 being such a strange and uneven year both in and out of the games industry. It has been a year of crushing disappointments (and I don’t mean the election), from Anthem‘s distressing launch to Ghost Recon’s upsetting fall from grace – but it has also been a year of utter triumphs. Capcom, for instance, has singlehandedly taken the greater industry to school this year, in my humble opinion, but it doesn’t stop there.
Because 2019 has, for me, been a year of surprises, as I’ve branched out and tried genres I didn’t think I’d enjoy or had walked away from years ago. I’ve been playing strategy games and side-scrolling platformers galore, and my library has been much richer for it. Looking back on 2019 as someone who has played somewhere in the region of 60 new games, it feels almost like an insurmountable task to rank them, but there are stand-outs; there are games that have utterly blown me away this year, and a lot of them have been complete and total surprises. And that’s why I love doing what I do and being part of the Godisageek family: surprises. The things you don’t see coming. We don’t know what 2020 will bring, in games or in life, but I know that no matter what, I’ll be surprised and surprised again in the next 12 months.
But I digress, folks. Here are my top picks for 2019.
Black Future ’88: Life can be incredibly stressful at times, and now and then you just need a little catharsis. Black Future ’88 doesn’t ask for much in return for the therapy it offers: 18 minutes is all it wants, 18 minutes of your time in return for some bright, loud, frenetic fun, and it’s a price I paid over and over again.
Daemon X Machina: I wasn’t expecting much from this Switch-exclusive mech shooter when it was announced, but I was wrong. It’s bonkers and brilliant. Swooping through the clouds unloading a barrage of rockets and missiles, before slamming into the ground to continue the fight on foot and scavenge the wreckage of your fallen enemies builds into an addictive gameplay loop helped along by some truly weird writing and a cool, if uneven, story.
Children of Morta: This is one I think many will overlook, but it’s a unique RPG so crammed full of cool new ideas and emotional moments that it deserves to be played. An isometric hack ‘n’ slasher following the adventures of a family of heroes, Children of Morta is beautiful and, more importantly, different to anything else released this year.
Code Vein: This almost, almost, made it into my Top 10, because it’s absolutely one of the best “Soulslikes” released in recent years. Vampires and ghouls and blood beads and hats, oh my, the hats… It was on my radar from minute-one, and was well worth the wait when it finally launched.
This is how you remake a beloved game. No ifs, no buts – this is how it is done and woe betide any remake in the future that doesn’t at least aim for this bar. While we’re all chomping at the bit for the Final Fantasy 7 remake next year, we’ve known about it for ages, been waiting for what feels like years and years. But the Resi 2 remake was almost a stealth release. We got some images, a trailer, a release date, and boom, it was here, and by all the zombies in Raccoon City, is it a bloody incredible achievement? The addition of Mr X as a recurring, indomitable threat is pure genius, and along with the pace and flow, the improved voice work and visuals, the way it brings the entire game into the 21st century without compromising a single thing that made the original so superb, it’s an absolute masterclass in how to produce a remake.
This was one of those surprises I mentioned. It came almost out of nowhere, and I’ll admit to not thinking much of the initial reveal – but, wow. I spent several days straight doing nothing but chasing high scores and improved times in My Friend Pedro. The story of a possibly unhinged hitman and his talking banana, the titular Pedro, its mix of insane gunplay, off-the-wall ragdoll physics and pulsing music is utterly intoxicating. Ricocheting bullets, hopping on skateboards, jumping, bouncing, somersaulting and swinging through veritable assault courses of obstacles and enemies is ridiculously fun, even if it is ultimately over too quickly.
Another lesson from Capcom here, not only in how to bring an ageing franchise into the modern era, but also in how to take back your franchise from a team that were doing it justice anyway (I will always defend Ninja Theory’s DmC), and how to introduce a new character to an existing line-up and have him feel not only utterly unique but also 100% part of the universe. Dante and Nero were already established badasses, but new guy V is a wonderful addition to the line-up who brings something utterly new and fresh to the ball. DMC5 is a fantastic action game: it’s slick and gorgeous and beautifully balanced, and begs to be played.
I am a huge, huge Alan Wake fan, but when I reviewed Quantum Break I realised I was more a fan of the worlds Remedy builds than the actual gameplay that takes place in them – that was until I played Control. Jesse Faden’s story is endlessly entertaining, inventive, and exciting. It features some incredible writing, more imagination than many games could fit into double the run-time, and showcases some of the most interesting set-pieces I’ve ever played through. Say the word “Ashtray” to anyone who’s played it and you’ll see what I mean. There were some issues at launch, many of which have been patched out, but Control is one of those rare games that wasn’t held back by it, the glitchy nature of its own in-game universe serving to camouflage many of its shortcomings to produce a hugely enjoyable adventure.
Again, I wasn’t expecting big things here. If pressed after the release of Darksiders 3, I’d have opined that the franchise had breathed its last. I thought Genesis would be little but a death rattle. Well, damn me if I wasn’t utterly wrong again. Not very good at this, am I? Anyway, Genesis turned out to be absolutely brilliant. It’s almost the most fun I had in 2019 with any single game, and was the perfect title to break in my new gaming PC. Genesis almost feels like the first game from a different viewpoint, mixing melee and ranged combat, screen-filling special attacks, more baroque posturing than a Vampire: The Masquerade convention, and one hell of a score. Well played, Mr. Madureira, well played.
Well, knock me down, as my dear old nan would say. EA, the corporation often associated with destroying the very image of the “Star Wars videogame”, not only published one of the best Star Wars games of recent years, but they also did it with no mictrotransactions, loot boxes, surprise mechanics, premium currencies or a bloody roadmap. EA did that. Electronic Arts. Honestly. Look it up. But the credit for Fallen Order is not EA’s alone. Respawn, hot off the success of Apex Legends and still allegedly salty over EA’s treatment of Titanfall 2, came out of the stalls swinging. There was no way they were settling for an also-ran here; they needed a hit and they damn well earned it. Yes, it had its issues in some areas, but as a pure Star Wars adventure it’s utterly fantastic, and further proof that Cameron Monaghan is destined for greatness.
As a huge fan of Bethesda and Obsidian’s Fallout trilogy (that is Fallout 3, New Vegas, and Fallout 4) the prospect of The Outer Worlds, a space-faring homage to that series, had me enthralled from the first announcement. My faith, it transpired, was well-placed. In a year where it seemed that Bethesda couldn’t get a hand up off the ground, Obsidian inadvertently stuck the boot in by releasing The Outer Worlds, a game that had many similarities to the Fallout games but very few of their faults. Polished and well-written, well-paced and focused, it’s a sci-fi adventure that packs in a huge amount of content without overstaying its welcome.
3. Gears 5
Where do I even start with Gears 5? Ditching the “of War” suffix, the sixth foray into the war-torn world of the CoG and the Locust sees The Coalition (having taken over after the original trilogy ended) finally proving they have what we knew they had all along: the ability to make this franchise truly their own. The potential was there with the mostly excellent Gears of War 4, despite a few bumps along the way, but with Gears 5 The Coalition have truly found their stride. While next year’s Gears Tactics is set to breathe new life into the series, Gears 5 proves beyond any measure of doubt that the franchise isn’t done with yet. Weaved through every scene of bombastic, balls-out action is a gossamer thread of heartfelt emotion, and for me it’s this glowing thread of humanity that elevates the Gears franchise above its peers – the risk taken to sow the seeds of empathy into the boot-trampled sod of macho posturing and growling gunfire is something that feels unique to the series.
Imagine a relatively small studio having the stones to enter the grand stage in the same year as Control, The Division 2, Gears 5, Death Stranding, without a storefront, without a Season Pass, no multiplayer, no guns, and a game that lives and dies on the strength of its characters and gameplay rather than marketing, controversy, or the power of its brand. Imagine a relatively small studio doing that and still managing to produce one of the best experiences of the year. I told you 2019 was a year of surprises and few games embody that like A Plague Tale: Innocence. Powerful, beautiful, compelling, absorbing – and totally, utterly, unexpected.
Okay, this is not a fresh release, that much I’ll admit. But talk to anyone who has spent considerable time in Capcom’s thrilling new world and they’ll all tell you the same thing: Iceborne adds so much content and changes so many base mechanics that it may as well be Monster Hunter World 2. Without a doubt, Monster Hunter World is one of the finest games of this generation, and Iceborne doesn’t just add to it; it transforms it in a myriad of subtle ways. Capcom have done it again, once more schooling other developers on how to support a game post-launch with piles of free content, patches and improvements, and a huge, game-changing expansion that doesn’t charge the Earth. Indeed, Capcom have supported World like a live service game minus all the MTX bollocks from day one. Yes, you can buy content, but you have to actually leave the game to do so. There’s no storefront, and if you want to you can play the entire game offline and solo and still reach the endgame – and survive it. That’s almost unheard of in this day and age.
Iceborne has been the one game this year that has simply captivated me. I thought I was done with World; I had moved on to other things. But with Iceborne, Capcom reinvigorated me in a way that only a fresh new game can. So yes, I may be cheating a little here, but for me this is the greatest single release of 2019 – and anyway, it’s my list, dammit.