And so I have finally managed to get through a hefty number (around 50 or so) video games that released in 2019 and now I have sat down and feel confident in my ability to sort out which ones I enjoyed most… And which I enjoyed the least.
It's been a slog but I always try to play everything I am able in order to better inform myself and to experience as many video games as I can to fill out my list more effectively.
2019 was trickier than previous years, or at least that's what I found.
Attempting to compare the output of games from 2019 to those gone by is harder since it was something of a slump year for major releases.
But, that being said, there were still plenty of good things to happen and plenty of excellent titles released; it was an exceptional year for indie titles I can tell you that for certain.
I have decided that I'll get the negative stuff out of the way and list my least favourite games of the year before anything else:
Control - A narrative failure.
Days Gone - Days Gone is exactly what happened after playing this; all those days had vanished and I wondered why I should even care about what I was doing in that time.
Modern Warfare - The video gaming equivalent of the 'dumb blonde' stereotype.
Kingdom Hearts 3 - Playing this was akin to having my brain removed, without anaesthetic, before having my skull filled with cotton candy and Disney toys.
Pokémon: Sword and Shield - A children's game that seems to think children are idiots and don't deserve good things.
Contra: Rogue Corps - A baffling, tone-deaf game that feels designed by a committee of people who have never played Contra before.
So basically it was definitely designed by Konami.
Generation Zero - A game so incomprehensibly bad I almost forgot to include it because I had scrubbed it from my memory.
WWE 2K20 - I feel sorry for the developers being whipped by 2K into making this unfinished mess. It's so unbelievably bad that playing the game with friends makes it an even worse experience, because your friends will cut off all contact with you for making them play this guff.
Eternity: The Last Unicorn - I honestly wish I could tell you I didn't play this, my face aghast at the horrors contained within. It uses a fixed camera angle but also copies the same boss-fight style popularised by Dark Souls and Nioh. If you think that sounds like a ball-ache to play, you're not wrong at all.
Eternity is also the worst looking of the games on this entire list, mostly because it looks like collage of thirty different 90's gaming magazines mashed together.
Left Alive - My least favourite on the list, not because I think it's worse than Eternity but just because it made me sad.
I was playing the game, and it made me sad that I wasn't playing something better; better looking, something with better characters or better voice acting, better gameplay, better world design... Just something that made feel like I was having fun.
Playing it was an experience akin to gazing into the void and having the void look away from you with embarrassment.
So with that list out of the way, I can now at least move onto the good stuff.
Afterparty - Oxenfree 2: The Drinking Boogaloo
My Friend Pedro - Sunset Overdrive humour but with better combat
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice - Good but not great. Less boss fights next time please
Outer Worlds - The seventh-best Obsidian Entertainment RPG and the second-best game in 2019 to have its last word begin with a 'W'
Man of Medan - Shorter and less engaging that Until Dawn but still better than anything David Cage has made
Jedi: Fallen Order
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
My Personal Rating: 7/10
Respawn tickled my fancy with Titanfall 2 and proved their storytelling prowess matches their competency at level design, and so I allowed myself to become slightly optimistic about this title.
Upon its completion I believe that optimism was well-placed; the game was wonky and I ran into quite a few areas where the map just vanished while I was running around... Yet I'll take another Fallen Order over whatever Battlefront 3 ends up looking like.
It's interweaving worlds and customisation options are a solid start, though I would have appreciated a few more selections of lightsaber colour, design and clothing options.
Of course, the combat is a little off at points, the story never hits the highs of Titanfall 2 and it's obvious that the developers were a little unsure of themselves when it came to the map design so reverted to using a 'slide' in every single planet in order to allow Cal to get form place to place like he's visiting a bloody lubricant factory.
But on the whole I can cut them a little slack here.
It's Respawn's first third-person action adventure games as well as their first game to focus on melee combat as well as their first time utilising the Unity engine.
With those caveats taken into account, it's a flawed but fundamentally enjoyable ride with a final level that made me stiffer than Margerate Thatcher's corpse.
A Plague Tale: Innocence
Developer: Asobo Studio
My Personal Rating: 7/10
Plague Tale is one of the more "out of nowhere" titles that managed to make a solid impression on me.
I had zero knowledge of its release and then suddenly, every reviewer was talking about it and recommending it.
After having played through it twice now it's safe to say that the first half of the game is magnificent, with the uncertainty of the world, the horror of the rat infested townscapes and the feeling of urgency as townspeople and the military hunt you and your brother down.
It plays out like a survival horror game in most instances, with the human and inhuman horrors ratcheting up the tension as you go about the differing levels.
The mid-section is the turning point and begins to turn the game into a stealth/action game and the mechanics fall apart, the atmosphere changes and the final mission is a boss fight that is maximum levels of tonal dissonance.
This isn't to say the late game is bad... Okay it's pretty "not good" but it stands out like a sore thumb when compared to the original quality of the early portion of the game.
As a whole it's an uneven but ultimately rewarding experience, with more rats present than your average meeting in parliament.
Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening
My Personal Rating: 7.5/10
My opinions on the Zelda franchise are like my opinions on Star Wars; there are only two entries worth a damn and I like the rest of them every so often but my enjoyment of the product isn't a guarantee.
So colour me surprised when I played the Switch remake of Link's Awakening and ended up having a thoroughly enjoyable time, absorbing the adorable animations and stunning visuals as I made my way around the island and solving puzzles leading me inevitably to the Windfish.
It's a simple and joyous little game, that never over extended its welcome and came to a satisfying conclusion. Unlike other titles I have played in the series, I found its gimmicks to be engaging and its narrative (what little there was) to be utterly charming and satisfying.
The combat is shallow sure and the characters are so thin they may as well be two-dimensional but everything else about the game exhumes a sense of self-confidence that is simply infectious.
Link's Awakening knows it's as good as it is; if you give it the time and attention, it will be happy to show you why it thinks this.
Devil May Cry 5
My Personal Rating: 8/10
The focus of this game is fun and if you think that it isn't the game for you, then Devil May Cry 5 will throw enemies at you until you start grinning from ear to ear.
It's fun to play as V, looking like Adam Driver had a leg injury during a pagan orgy as you decimate your opponents with demon powers.
It's fun to play as Nero, whose wanking hand has received an upgrade to allow him to destroy other people with it too.
It's fun to play as Dante, where you can smash people in the face with a motorcycle like a Hell's Angel gone rogue.
I remember absolutely nothing about the game's plot, character interactions or dialogue.
It's a game built specifically for crazy people who will play the game over ten times to maximise their combo skills as they slay demonic hordes again and again.
It isn't a game built to leave a lasting impression on you from a narrative stand point, or even really a design stand point.
But it is built to be a tonne of fun, even if you play it only the once.
Developer: Kojima Productions
My Personal Rating: 8/10
In the same way that I have forgotten most of my time spent with DMC 5 I remember a tonne about Death Stranding; and yet I'd argue that overall, I think DMC 5 is far more fun and enjoyable.
Death Stranding exhausted me mentally, both in attempting to keep up with the bullshit being thrown my way and also just the sheer thought-power that goes into planning your route in-game, as well as thinking on the fly in order to escape sticky situations and reach your destination in one piece.
This is a game about hiking and delivering parcels.
It is also, at quite a few points, an action game.
It is also a stealth game.
It is a game that requires you to be involved and dedicated to putting the work into it and when you do, you feel that sense of accomplishment because of how much sheer effort goes into delivering even the simplest of parcels.
It is also a game where that gameplay loop begins to feel shallow fairly early on.
It is a game of exceptional narrative highs, reflecting on concepts of humanity and connection.
It also has some of the worst dialogue and dumbest moments I have seen in a game all year.
It has probably the best example of asynchronous multiplayer I have ever seen and therefore openly promotes teamwork and connecting with other people worldwide to accomplish in-game goals.
There's so much to love and loathe and despite the issue I have with it, I haven't stopped thinking about it ever since the credits rolled.
Developer: Sam Barlow & Furious Bee
My personal Rating: 8/10
To discuss Telling Lies is to it a disservice.
One doesn't talk about it or play it but moreso experience it.
Much like Her Story you work on the game from your desktop and this time around, you begin to unravel the story of four people as you uncover a period of two years of their lives.
This time around, Sam Barlow and his team focus on surveillance and the NSA and utilise this to great effect within the confines of an interactive drama.
Superbly well-acted, you will find yourself caring about the characters because these are fictious creations that feel real (and not just because they are presented in live-action segments); with smart dialogue and organic conversations, these are some of the best performances you will find in any medium.
This is before you take into account the exceptional direction and cinematography on display here and the sheer level of technical quality across the entirety of the game is a sight to behold, to the point where you can simply feel the effort dripping from every scene present in the game.
It's a stylish, confident drama and one that doesn't ever let up from beginning to end.
Remnant: From the Ashes
Developer: Gunfire Games
My Personaly Rating: 8/10
Jank-Souls is definitely a sub-genre I can get behind, especially if they all turn out to be as well crafted as Remnant.
Sure, the game world blinked out of existence, two different boss fights failed to load, I went an entire level without my primary weapon and I somehow managed to get stuck on some stairs before falling through the map to my death... But the actual game, when it worked, was absolutely captivating stuff.
It's brutal and captivating and unrelenting and constantly evolving.
For a game with a small budget it makes the most of its distinct art style and atmosphere, spanning multiple dimensions and biomes to prevent staleness from creeping in.
It's interdimensional Dark Souls except with guns.
That's the selling point.
Now you know whether it's worth your time or whether I may as well have called it a marmite cupcake.
Developer: Mobius Digital
My Personal Rating: 8/10
Here's a small anecdote: It is really hard to review a game when it contsantly makes you motion sick.
Because Outer Wilds adheres to real-world laws of motion, it means that if you start to barrell-roll to the left in your spaceship mid-flight, you will spiral onwards until you manage to stop yourself or a planet stops you instead.
This means acceleration and deceleration are two tasks in and of themselves, leading to quite a few harsh words thrown the game's way as my ship hurtles forwards a little too fast and exploding into a fiery mess.
However, it's part and parcel of the expeirence of playing Outer Wilds.
It's dizzying, it's difficult and it is a game that absolutely refuses to hold your hand.
But that is what makes it so unique.
Outer Wilds doesn't give up its narrative easily and to the players willing to dive head first into its world.
And what a world it is, where multiple planets seem hostile at first but evetually, with a little knowledge and foresight you find yourself overcoming challenges one step at a time.
A planet that might have seemed incomprehensible to navigate previously might be a little more hospitable towards you now that you understand where you are meant to be going.
Outer Wilds is a game about information, history and context.
The game is rewarding to the player that isn't afraid of an uncaring cosmos; it will only ever give answers when your fingernails are dirty enough from all the digging.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Developer: Intelligent Systems, Koei Tecmo Games, Koei Tecmo
My Personal Rating: 8.5/10
My first Fire Emblem game is an experience that I will cherish forever (#BlackEagles4Lyfe).
At first I was expecting a strategy game that told it's story through a lens of weebiness.
And yes, I did get that.
But I also got a tale that spun its narrative across multiple years and utilised its characters to create organic conflicts that put you in the middle of it all and tasked you with providing tough answers to impossible questions.
It utilises the immediate set-up to spin a web of conspiracy and politics, war and sacrifice.
I think the best thing I can say about Three Houses is that it makes you care about the characters in your house to the point where they become as tangible as real people.
You get to know Edelgard, Dimitri, Claude and all of the students intimately, allowing for their character progression to really hit home thr further into the narrative you find yourself.
The arcs that these characters embark on are nothing short of brilliant and tragic in equal measure.
The game drags its feet at some point and could really have done with maybe a few hours trimmed off of its run-time but even as I type that, I find myself struggling to think of what could be cut that wouldn't also harm the overall experience.
It's just that damn good.
Resident Evil 2 Remake
My Personal Rating: 9/10
Resident Evil 2 was a game I missed the boat on.
Never got to play the original so therefore I have absolutely zero opinions on how this remake stacks up to what is considered one of the best survival-horror games ever made.
So what did I think?
Well the rating above in the subtitle should provide a decent answer to that question.
The use of tension is second to none, ratcheting up the fear-factor as you explore the labyrinthine corridors inch by agonising inch, ammo running low and enemies lumbering after you every step of the way.
And if Resident Evil 2 had just relied on tension then it would be a solid entry into the franchise, but when it allows the player to let loose and blast enemies away, the sheer force that goes into each gunshot blast is second only to Resident Evil 7.
The narrative is so-so and there definitely could have been some more work put into the multiple playthroughs to make them feel a little more cohesive.
Also Mr. X was a bad thing that should be scrubbed out of the history books.
But otherwise, I found it to be an immensely enjoyable time and now stands as one of my favourite survival horror games of all time.
Developer: No Code
My Personal Rating: 9/10
One review was read and I dived into Observation head-first and I ended up playing one of the best sci-fi games in recent memory.
It is to video games what Arrival is to film: A smart and pursposeful science fiction drama that stands as a contrast to the big budget blockbusters that flood the market yearly.
Observation doesn't reinvent the wheel but instead tells the story it wants, the way it wants to, divisive and obtuse ending be damned.
Playing as the artificial intelligence on board a spaceship is already a neat hook, but here its the soundscape that does the heavy lifting; the creaks and groans of the space station make exploration a creepy affair, and the more you discover about what occurred, the less you want to turn that specific corner to reach your objective.
It's an excellent adventure game and one that won't leave my mind any time soon.
Developer: The Game Kitchen
My Personal Rating: 9.5/10
The Souls-like sub-genre has an entry every year and it looks like this year it belongs to Blasphemous, and if all of them could be as good as Blasphemous I would happily give them top spots every time I write one of these lists.
The art style is what will catch the eye and make no mistake the game is grogeously macabre, but for me it was the sense of exploration that really dragged me through the game.
Any time a boss gave me trouble and threatened to make me break my controller in frustration, the sense of wonder I felt as I explored more of the land of Cvstodia rivals that I felt whilst exploring Lordran and Yharnam for the first time.
Of course the game wouldn't be anywhere near as good as it is without the meaty combat contained within. Each swing of the sword feels impactful and it movement in Blasphemoushas a sense of weight to it that sets the bar for furture 2D games of this ilk.
Sit down Hollow Knight, your floaty and wonky combat has been usurped.
Blasphemous has everything I could have wanted from it: Deep lore, an awe inspiring art style, satisfying combat and excellent exploration.
I look forward to seeing a sequel come time down the line.
Developer: Red Candle Games
My Personal Rating: 9.5/10
It's sickening how much control China has over the media industry at this time.
One of the developers on Devotion mocked Xi Jinping by comparing him to Winnie the Pooh and then the game was review bombed on Steam by Chinese gamers and the publishers of Devotion made the devs pay for all the damages they incurred, before seperating themselves from their partnership with Red Candle Games.
This then led to Red Candle Games removing Devotion from Steam indefinitely.
And that was that.
The game doesn't exist unless you already bought it.
All over a meme about China.
And this is a bloody shame because Devotion is one of the best psychological horror games I have ever played.
It does everything that Layers of Fear tries to do but actually has some depth and thematic exploration in there.
It plays on fears of mental detirioration due to joblessness, marital disputes and financial stagnation wrapped up in a creepy, atmospheric package as you are stalked through a Taiwanese apartment complex.
The sound design, art style and level design is top notch, reminding me of the original Outlast in its presentation; the use of audio is especially noticeable as various "whispers" are heard in certain sections of the map, or a voice might echo back at you that is not that of the character who spoke originally.
There are even certain scares that others don't even experience, so layered are they into the experience.
We might never see Devotion on any platform ever again.
Much like the memories present within the game, it is gone but definitely not forgotten.
A Short Hike
My Personal Rating: 10/10
Now more than ever I feel like A Short Hike deserves to played.
It has a childish whimsy about it that few games can rpelicate, reminding me of what it was like when I would be on a family vacation and I would explore my surroundings... Minus all of the anthropomorphic animals of course.
The objective is simple: Hike to the top of the mountain.
However, in good old video game fashion, getting there is easier said than done, making you explore every inch of the island to upgrade your character to allow you to reach the tallest cliff on the island.
A Short Hike is a simple game and yet that simplicity allows for its level design and organic discoveries to shine the all the brighter.
It's a masterpiece of game design and playing it now, with all the craziness of the outside world raging around us, makes its sense of wonder all the more poignant.
My Personal Rating: 10/10
What else can I say about Disco Elysium that hasn't aready been said?
It is the smartest game to release all last year, juggling topics of morality, politics, identity and mental fortitude all the while creating engaging scenarios for the player.
The writing on display here is some of the best conceived for a video game.
The art style is at once blotchy and misshapen and yet also beautiful and striking.
Sometimes my Game of the Year is chosen due to how much fun I have with it (Persona 5, Undertale, Portal 2), other times it is because of what it does for the medium (Nier, Spec-Ops: The Line) other times it is because I love the narrative structure or characters (Oxenfree, The Last of Us, Valiant Hearts) but I also love games that challenge me (Return of the Obra Dinn).
Disco Elysium is the first time in a long time where I have experienced all of the above during a playthrough of one singular video game.
It made me ponder my existence, gasp in realisation and laugh out loud numerous times.
It's a game of dualities.
It is cynical and hopeful.
Bitter and funny.
Sarcastic and sincere.
Don't go into the game expecting a "grim-dark" tone; far from being edgy, Disco Elysium is one of the most human games I have ever had the privilege to experience.
And that is why it is easily my Game of the Year for 2019.