Don’t Look Back in Anger
There’s a popular meme format that’s coincidentally been going since we started doing these big game of the year lists four years ago. Every one has a grizzled looking, battle weary personification of the year just passed telling of the horrors they’ve seen, only to then be confronted by the even more grizzled personification of the next year telling them it’s about to get even worse. Every year there seems to be more political division, climate change crisis, fear and anger than the year before. Now there’s a global pandemic forcing so many of us to stay self-isolated at home and comb through the absolute dregs of Netflix for something to watch. I myself have become so desperate I just watched the “romantic comedy” What If where a haunted looking Daniel Radcliffe looks terrified in each scene as if a gun was trained on him off camera, forcing him to read the cringe-making dialogue. But there is an alternative! Why not download some of the awesome games from the year past to distract yourself from The End Times occurring outside? The Hey Poor Player team have compiled a whopping 25 of the best below! Who will win our coveted crystal joystick this year? Read on to find out as we run through our Top 25 games of 2019!
25. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
OBJECTION! No Game of the Year list can be complete without one of the games that started out the fantastic gaming year that was 2019. I’m talking about the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy!
Phoenix Wright is a beloved game by those who played them on the GBA (2001, Japan only) or the DS (2005). However, it’s been almost 20 years since the original GBA release. Meaning there’s a whole generation of people that have come into gaming since. So, it makes sense to not only revisit these original three masterpieces but update them with HD graphics and achievements! Does it hold up though?
Yes, even several years later these games are a joy to play through. Sure, gaming has evolved a lot since the early 2000s, but there’s something timeless about these games to me. Phoenix and company are just a joy to spend time with. Plus, you always know you’re in for a good laugh or two due to the clever writing of the localization staff. Here’s to hoping we see another collection of Phoenix Wright games in the near future.
– Benny Carrillo
24. Pokemon Sword/Shield
Cranky Genwunner here — I can’t believe the controversy that surrounded Pokemon Sword/Shield considering it’s well-suited for trainers of all ages (and I’ve played them all since the beginning, so trust me when I say that).
First up, removing the National Dex was long overdue. From a world-building perspective, it never made sense that Kanto only had 150~ish Pokemon available to trainers while newer regions could have three to four times as many. At one point it was explained to players that trading with previous versions was trading “back in time”, which makes absolutely no sense. Game Freak should have stopped the madness after Gold/Silver (since you can travel to Kanto after beating the Johto league), so a round of applause to them for finally doing it.
And look what happened because of that — 400 Pokemon, pretty much all of which can be caught without both versions via the Wild Area? That’s manageable! 10 year old me would take a few weeks to get that done, and 30 year old me can actually achieve this while working a full time job.
But we got so, so much more than righting an overdue wrong: dozens of quality of life updates aside, that Wild Area is extremely engaging, Gigantamax Pokemon was an incredibly fun mechanic with solid lore behind it, the rivals were fleshed out and full of personality, and can we talk about that gym battle theme? P U M P E D.
It’s easy for heritage brands to become tired and dated, and Pokemon could have very well taken the predictable route that we’ve become accustomed to. Instead, Sword/Shield took a lot of big risks that, for the first time in many years, gave me childlike excitement in one of my favorite franchises, and it’s the payoff from those risks, and the bravery behind them, that make it GOTY material.
– Heather Johnson Yu
23. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
Kickstarter campaigns can always be a gamble. A project can sound amazing during the initial funding period, but what comes after that can be anything but (see: Mighty No. 9). Fortunately, Koji Igarashi and his team worked their butts off to make an outstanding product in the form of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Barring a couple production hiccups (the Wii U and Vita versions being cancelled and technical difficulties making the Switch version), this is as close to another Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and any of its numerous similar entries without being directly titled as such.
When I finally got the game in my hands this last summer I ran through the entire game in almost one sitting, and hadn’t felt this excited to play a “metroidvania” like this in quite some time. The fit and finish on this game is extremely well done. The graphics on the characters, monsters, and environments are dripping with a gothic atmosphere. The music meshes with the environments perfectly. The controls are pretty on point. The map is extremely well thought out and holds tons of nicely hidden secrets
In terms of well done Kickstarters, this is definitely a contender for one of the best. Outside of the Switch port which still has some technical issues, the other versions of the game are rock solid. With a good amount of content still in the works, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is an excellent game if slashing monsters, finding secrets, and filling in blue squares on a grid map are some of your favorite pastimes.
– Kevin Chapman
22. Super Robot Wars T
2019’s entry in the legendary Super Robot Wars franchise had a lot to live up to. From the return of old favorites such as G Gundam, GaoGaiGar, and GUN×SWORD; to the debut of titles thought never to be in an SRW such as Cowboy Beebop, Magic Knight Rayearth, and Arcadia of my You- Endless Orbit SSX (aka Captain Harlock) there was a lot of hype for this one among the mecha community. So, was it awesome? Absolutely!
While the game isn’t perfect (check out our review for details) it is a ton of fun and manages to blend these various series together extremely well. In fact, I’ve been playing it for a second time recently and it still holds up! From its amazing attack animations to seeing old friends from our childhoods, to learning about series we’ve never seen before, Super Robot Wars T is a game that’s worth importing for any Turn-Based Strategy fan.
– Benny Carrillo
I didn’t know what to expect in my first 10 minutes of Eastshade, but I know that I wasn’t expecting to be emotionally and spiritually healed.
It’s hard to convey what I felt through words, but walking through the forest and coming across a quaint seaside town, the sun glistening through the trees and the dulcet tones of a harp playing softly, I just felt… better. Physically. Emotionally. Mentally. Spiritually. Everything was aligned, and I had not felt that kind of peace in years.
That feeling persisted throughout the entirety of Eastshade; however, it evolved — unfolded — over time. Peace, curiosity, excitement, accomplishment, awe, enlightenment… how could it be possible to experience all these things concurrently in a video game about painting villages? I wanted to learn more about each whimsical villager and help them with their needs while fulfilling my own goal of painting various landmarks of the island in an attempt to grant my mother’s dying wish. I helped a bear plan the perfect date for her girlfriend, an owl find enough quills to make pens, discovered an ancient tribe of natives who spoke in a different tongue, saved an endangered species, and even flew in a hot air balloon across the stunning, almost ethereal landscape.
But more than those goals and objectives, I found myself taking in the glorious serenity the natural setting had to offer. I’d look up at the celestial body orbiting the planet — close enough to see specks of green and blue — and gaze in awe at the thought of a habitable world so close to my own. I’d sit for long stretches of time in a small cave, looking at the dazzling array of bioluminescent glow worms dotting the ceiling, like stars in the night sky. And, upon reaching a particularly breathtaking cliffside with wildflowers as far as the eye could see, I choked back tears, recognizing heaven.
Eastshade is a game of quiet enjoyment. It is a game where peace and emotions take precedence over all. It is a game where every flower petal and cloud in the sky makes an impact. It is a love letter to all that is beautiful in nature and in the soul. Eastshade is my GOTY; I’m not sure I’ll ever play a game this spectacular ever again.
– Heather Johnson Yu
20. Blaster Master Zero 2
Talk about not just a blast from the past, but out of nowhere! Blaster Master Zero 2 was one of the best-kept secrets last year when it suddenly launched as part of a Nintendo Indies direct. However, this shouldn’t be a game that should stay a secret since it improves upon the original in just about every way.
While the first Blaster Master Zero was an homage and reimagining of Blaster Master, Zero II is its own unique story that takes place afterward. Your faithful companion, Eve, has become infected by the mutants and it’s up to you to travel the stars in the new GAIA-SOPHIA in hopes of finding a cure. And it’s from this point where Inti Creates does what Inti Creates does best and combines innovation with tight platforming to test your skills. It’s a great ride with a fantastic twist at the end if you go for that 100% ending.
Seriously, don’t miss this fantastic gem of a platformer and here’s hoping that Inti Creates gives up another nice surprise regarding this franchise sooner rather than later.
– Benny Carrillo
19. Disco Elysium
When we think of RPGs, it’s easy to forget the long and storied history behind them; for example, without tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons, there would be no Elder Scrolls, Final Fantasy, etc. At first, games used to draw heavily from Dungeons and Dragons, both in its source material and mechanics, but now there’s so much separation from the original inspiration that they almost feel like distant relatives that may never rekindle their former relationship. Which seems like… a waste, right?
The dev team behind Disco Elysium thought so too — a game that, when you ask it what genre it is, it says “yes”. A beautiful blend of point-and-click, narrative, and RPG with a heavy, heavy lean into tabletop mechanics (skills, moral alignment, personality, etc), players take on the role of a detective in a decaying city. What you do past that is absolutely up to you.
With a mind-bogglingly massive script (over one million words) and seemingly endless ways to customize your character, it’s fair to say no player will experience the same game twice. Speaking of that script, it’s a legitimate masterpiece — GOTY material in its own right — full of surprising depth that certainly appeals to the more cerebral crowd. Basically, if you’ve ever played a tabletop game or in the very least understand the limitless possibilities that come from solid, adaptable storytelling coupled with original character customization, you’re gonna want to get your hands on Disco Elysium; the devs deserve every accolade for truly capturing this feel in interactive media.
– Heather Johnson Yu
18. Zelda: Link’s Awakening
What, thought Nintendo permanently ditched traditional Zelda in favor of Breath of the Wild’s open-air pizazz? Think again — the original formula that forged gaming’s greatest fantasy isn’t ancient history just yet, and what proof than remaking Game Boy’s greatest masterpiece in The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening? The short, squat sprites from Link’s quirkiest adventure are reimagined as porcelain Hummels, adorably marching along lovingly-adorned dioramas to the tune of minimalist woodwinds and strings.
Yet though veteran and newcomer alike are captivated by pitch-perfect pacing performed by action figures reminiscent of our youth, this Switch remake of Link’s Awakening deceives us via what’s, for my tastes, Zelda’s most poignant message — a seamless duality that forcibly confronts our roles as players. But there’s no malice at play here: it’s as much an escapist adventure as it‘s the series’ most heart-wrenching parable, and for as long as the former endures, there will always be a place for Koholint Island and, by association, classic Zelda.
– Anthony Pelone
17. Super Mario Maker 2
Aside from being one of the ill-fated Wii U GamePad’s few vindications, Super Mario Maker’s toy chest lit our imaginations aflame with trial-and-error, happy accidents, and blending four classic Mario games together into a big ol’ DIY package. While Super Mario Maker 2 may lose the innate convenience of said GamePad, it ups the ante with a bigger sandbox, not the least in an additional game (Super Mario 3D World), new toys (Angry Sun!), online multiplayer, and a tutorial guised as Mario and co.’s latest construction job (Never thought you’d see Toadette going off about the union? Well, here you go). In everything from Night Modes and ON/OFF Switches, all this is enough to overwhelm the casual Mario fan; why, even me — a diehard fan of Nintendo’s mascot — laments how my busy work schedule prevents me from unleashing my mind upon endless creations…
Not that I’m left pining for entertainment, of course: just like before, Course World is a never-ending buffet of creativity, its community gleefully expanding Mario’s boundaries in everything from subtle storytelling, games-within-games, or even this claustrophobic nightmare — all now supported by what’s home to Nintendo’s rowdiest online co-op experience yet, if my countless tears of laughter are any indication. While it’s a shame Nintendo committed to a slower update infrastructure, their generous offerings in Zelda tributes and Dash Blocks ensure further hilarity’s waiting just down the road.
– Anthony Pelone
16. A Short Hike
As the title suggests, A Short Hike is a very short adventure game, following an evening for Claire, a sweet little blue bird who only wants to receive a phone call from her Mum. However, stuck on a campsite with no signal, Claire has to climb/fly to the top of a mountain in order to take the call.
It took me about an hour and a half to get to the top of the mountain, although some people claim to have taken a little as forty minutes. But this is a game where you really need to enjoy the journey. Despite its pixelated appearance, the Short Hike game world is filled with beautiful colours and settings, with treasures to be discovered in every corner. You can race to the top of the mountain, or you can swim, fish, treasure hunt and interact with the locals.
The game has a not so subtle Animal Crossing comparison to it, but rather than playing as a serial procrastinator, mulling around with a bunch of other serial procrastinators, you’re an actual character with a goal and a wholesome story. It may be a short game, but A Short Hike packs a lot of emotion and beauty into that short journey. And if you like procrastinating- then great! There is a variety of fish you can catch and a guy who’ll buy them from you.
– Dougie Kokko-Powell
15. Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III
When it comes to games that have great narratives and characters, have amazing soundtracks, and above all else are fun to play; Falcom is a company that always jumps to the front of my mind. The Ys series is super solid, and more recently, their Legend of Heroes franchise has gained a ton of steam with the takeoff popularity thanks to the Trails of Cold Steel series. Though the Trails in the Sky and Zero/Ao games are amazingly well done in their own rights, Cold Steel is admittedly what really brought Falcom’s narrative heavy franchise into the mainstream.
With two Cold Steel games under Falcom’s belt at the time of release, the third entry in the wildly popular series had a lot to live up to. After all, the previous two games had spent hundreds of hours building up some very beloved primary characters which quite a few people had become attached to (myself included). With almost all the characters from the previous games going off to do their own thing, and Rean Schwarzer becoming an instructor of an (almost) entierly new Class VII, there were admittedly some concerns I had going into The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III. Fortunately, those fears were completely unfounded.
All the new characters mesh perfectly into the well established world of Erebonia perfectly and are amazingly well written. The gameplay systems, while mostly the same as the previous two games, have enough new features to make things fresh and add new strategy to battles (e.g. the Brave Order system). As one might expect from Falcom’s pedigree, the story and music are utterly astounding. Trails of Cold Steel III has tons of twists, turns, and well written characters – along with plenty of well crafted tunes to hold your interest through it’s well over 100 hours of content. Though you might benefit from playing the previous two games first for context and world building, Trails of Cold Steel III is a game you definitely don’t want to pass up. Even more so if you’re a diehard Falcom fan.
– Kevin Chapman
14. SENRAN KAGURA Burst Re:newal
I’ll be the first to say that SENRAN KAGURA Burst Re:Newal isn’t for everyone. And that’s totally okay. But, for those of you who do like a heaping pile of fan service-y cheesecake atop your hack-and-slash action games, the reason for this game making the list should be fairly obvious.
SENRAN KAGURA Burst Re:Newal isn’t just a re-release of the first-ever game in the series (outside of Japan, anyway), but an entire re-imagining of it; and a darn good one at that! From its fresh coat of graphical paint that adds plenty of vibrant bounce (pun intended), to its transition from 2.5D to 3D gameplay, there’s a lot to love about Burst Re:Newal. It’s got just the right amount of challenge, plenty of replay value, a surprisingly deep story, and, above all, is just plain fun. So, while I know darn well that not everyone rushed to pick up this game as soon as it dropped, it most definitely did right by its fans.
– Kenny McKee
13. Luigi’s Mansion 3
The wait for Luigi’s Mansion 3 was a long one–perhaps a little too long in some people’s opinions–but, after finally having gotten to play it last year, I think that we can all agree that it was most definitely worth the wait. While Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon was a great game in its own right, Luigi’s Mansion 3 finally feels like an honest-to-goodness sequel to that oh-so-wonderful ghost-busting game which graced the Game Cube during its infant years.
If I may be so blunt, Luigi’s Mansion 3 takes everything that people loved about the first game–and a handful of choice elements from Dark Moon–and makes them better. Be it the absolutely gargantuan hotel for players to explore, the frighteningly fun ghosties to gather up, or the characteristically charming Nintendo-esque delivery of the entire thing, Luigi’s Mansion 3 was, and still is, a wonderful gaming experience for Nintendo fans both new and old.
– Kenny McKee
12. Layers of Fear 2
Layers of Fear 2 was something of a shocker in more ways than one, not only was it a horror title that really made my heart race, but it also placed surprisingly highly on this list. To explain what an effect this game had on me, I give you an excerpt of a review I wrote earlier this year:
When entering the sea bourne world of Layers of Fear 2 for the first time, I was immediately struck by the feeling of not knowing who I was playing or what was going on – and what makes the game so distinct is how these feelings never entirely go away. I appeared to be a passenger on some sort of ocean liner from sometime in the early to mid twentieth century. From the scattered clues left around, it became clear I was following in the footsteps of James and Elise, two child stowaways on the ship, trying to scavenge for food and survive. Elise is the bold, confident elder sister whilst the younger James is very much her sidekick, not having much of an identity of his own.
Guiding the player along is the malevolent voice of the “Director”, encouraging the player to embody a “character” in some wider performance, though what exactly he wants is unclear, his explanations filtered through cryptic (sometimes Shakespearian) quotes and commandments. Rather masterfully, the fantasies of the two siblings – being pirates sailing crystal blue seas for treasure and adventure – are contrasted with reality. A hold full of rotting fish becomes chests of glistening gold treasure; their bitter abusive father, wounded in war, becomes a mutated one-eyed cyclops. Throughout Layers of Fear 2, you’re constantly working through layers of symbolism, trying to find out what, if anything, is real.
Layers of Fear 2 shows a superb level of craftsmanship for a horror title. It’s a case of life reflecting art that the developers at Gun Media are just as adept at creating a eviscerating experience as the game’s wicked “Director” is, taking the player through a punishing emotional gauntlet. It’s as much a mind-rendingly scary thriller as it is a poetic meditation on mortality and loss. It’s an experience you have to mentally steel yourself for, and if you’re interested in learning something new about yourself, it’s one well worth having.
– Jonathan Trussler
11. Blazing Chrome
While Konami has largely left fans of the Contra series in the cold for the past few console generations, the run-and-gun series remains one of the most iconic in gaming history. Thank heavens for retro-centric developer JoyMasher though, because Blazing Chrome is an absolute blast that no fan of the franchise should be without.
Borrowing the pacing and presentation of Contra III: The Aliens Wars and manic pacing of Contra: Hard Corps, Blazing Chrome allows players to choose from a feisty resistance fighter and a converted cyborg soldier to tackle the earth’s evil robotic overlords in a dystopian future. Featuring 5 intense levels to blast through in nonlinear fashion before tackling the game’s 6th and final stage, it has everything a Contra fan could hope for: giant bosses; hoverbike shootouts; laser-powered mayhem atop a speeding train; and all the power-ups your little heart desires.
From its phenomenal chiptune soundtrack to its gritty hand-drawn visuals, Blazing Chrome would have easily topped the charts had it released in 1994. Add to that unlockables like the ability to to plow through the game’s stages in reverse with an unlockable Mirror Mode, Boss Rush Mode, a grueling Hardcore difficulty mode, and two bonus characters, each with their own unique playstyles, and you have a hard-hitting 2D run-and-gunner you won’t want to miss.
– Francis DiPersio
10. Ace Combat 7
An important release in 2019 that might have flown under the proverbial radar (to avoid those proverbial Surface-to-Air missiles) was Ace Combat 7. To fans of the legendary Ace Combat series, it was a long-awaited homecoming. The last numbered entry in the Ace Combat series was way way back in 2007 with Ace Combat 6 and that title was also the last one to be set in the “Strangereal” universe, which is a fictionalized modern-world setting only vaguely analogous to our world. After Ace Combat 6, Ace Combat: Joint Assault and Ace Combat: Assault Horizon were released to critically mixed reception. Both titles were set in the real world
Assault Horizon in particular introduced a more cinematic dog-fight mode that essentially teleported you behind an enemy plane, letting you focus on shooting up close and personal. However, many Ace Combat fans found this approach too “dumbed down” and lacking in realism and freedom. With Ace Combat 7 being a return not only to the classic Strangeral setting and to classic free-form gameplay, anticipation for it being a return to form for the series was high and it lived up to those expectations.
The storyline subtly reflects the real world and the potential horrors of the runaway mechanization and industrialization of war. A major focus is the construction of the space elevator, symbolizing mankind’s collective desire to put aside earthly squabbles and reach for the stars together. It ends up becoming the focal point in a new war driven by an out of control military-industrial complex where the player has to fight soulless unmanned drones which are being mass produced to create endless conflict. The story manages to brilliantly capture the lives of a very diverse cast of characters whose lives are all weaved together by the war.
Ace Combat 7 is every bit the return to style and form that I had been hoping for after so many years. The legendarily high quality of music is back, with every mission having an emotionally resonant theme, the genres ranging from thrashingly good rock to stirring orchestral pieces. The missions range from insanely chaotic dogfights with swarms of planes to chasing ace pilots through tight canyons to massive free-form bombing runs where you’ll be taking out entire armies from the air. With this seventh entry, Ace Combat 7 returns to being the gold standard of arcadey flight simulators.
– Jonathan Trussler
9. We. The Revolution
We. The Revolution is a twisted, bloody strategy game, following the rise to power of a Judge of the revolutionary tribunal, set unsurprisingly during the French Revolution. There are many aspects of this game, but the main one involves various criminals, or unfortunates, standing trial before you. You listen to their stories and decide whether they will live or die. Your choices in this game affect many different parties, all equally hard to please, especially as every decision will upset at least someone. There are times when you have to choose between saving someone who is probably innocent, and saving yourself from the wrath of those you’ve been neglecting.
I love a historical game that doesn’t shy away from how twisted events of the past really were. We. The Revolution does this perfectly. The tortures of the people are not presentenced lightly, along with the punishments of many who didn’t deserve it. It’s also a great “player choice” game, as it doesn’t fall into the trap of defining your choices as “good” or “evil.” Your choices just have consequences, some of which are more devastating to others. It also doesn’t try and pretend that your character is anything other than a complete bastard. You’re never made to sympathise with him and your motivation to keep him alive is more to get into the rest of the game, than to support his actions.
My pet peeve with this game is that you have to endure tutorials right the way through, even in the beginning of the final chapter. But I take that with a pinch of salt, as the game does keep you engaged right until the final verdict.
– Dougie Kokko-Powell
8. Shenmue III
2019 saw a handful of major franchises release their “big 3” — two of which were Kingdom Hearts and Shenmue. Both audiences had waited years for the next installment of the franchise, and much fanfare was made when both released. But where one was largely a let down due to losing sight of what made the original great, the other was as if the developers knew what was in our hearts and put it on screen. Where Kingdom Hearts 3 disappointed, Shenmue 3 dazzled, its brilliance appreciated immensely by the fans who had waited two decades to leave the cave.
So what made Shenmue 3 so great where others failed? First and foremost, the dev team remembered their core audience. While many trilogies (like the aforementioned) attempt to rope in fresh blood, Shenmue 3 was for the original fans. The mechanics that were revolutionary at the time of the originals still felt fresh despite massive improvements being made since their inception, such as day/night cycles and quick time events. The dialogue and voice acting was that old, wooden goodness — just like we remembered. The controls were even still slightly janky, definitely showing their age, but were reintroduced quickly with no practice, just like riding a bike.
And that’s all GREAT, because when I picked up Shenmue 3, it was as if no time had passed at all. Nothing to relearn, no confusing plotlines that ultimately contradicted themselves… just absolutely pure Shenmue goodness. Players got right back to exploring every nook and cranny, peeking around corners and in shops to take in the extreme level of detail lovingly poured into each pixel. It was like finding a favorite old pair of shoes that, when carefully polished, felt new again while still providing that familiar comfort we’d grown into over time. Shenmue 3 is the perfect example of how a franchise can make a comeback, and it’s all thanks to the dev team keeping the fans in mind.
– Heather Johnson Yu
7. Death Stranding
I’m still dumbfounded by all of the hate that Death Stranding has received, and is still receiving. I’m guessing all of the haters either, 1. Never played the game and just watched a bunch of negative YouTube videos, or, 2. Only played the first hour or so and then watched a bunch of negative YouTube videos, and never played it again. I’m here to tell you that Death Stranding has easily delivered some of the most memorable gameplay experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of having.
Many were put off by the delivery aspect of Death Stranding, but if you think about it, the majority of games we play have us traveling worlds to bring objects to different areas. This, in turn, often unlocks the next portion of the game. It’s a tried and true formula that developers have been implementing for ages. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Death Stranding is a game simply about delivering items. This game is so much more than that. This is a Kojima story, mind you. Many people who enjoyed Death Stranding will form their own opinion about what the story is about. For me, it’s primarily about bringing a broken society back together. But it’s also about losing a loved one, trusting others, and realizing that there’s ALWAYS two sides to every story. It’s a beautiful and sometimes downright ugly game that I hope gamers will give another chance. I can’t wait to see what Kojima Productions comes up with next! Please be Silent Hill!
– Mike Vito
In a market increasingly dominated by games as a service, endless sequels and aggressive monetisation strategies; Control presented a tremendous risk for narrative-driven stalwarts Remedy. Story-driven games aren’t as appealing to shareholders as opposed to the usual annualised releases, milked extensively for battle passes, loot boxes and a myriad of other monetisation methods.
But what a glorious game Control is. The 12-hour romp through the Oldest House, the home of the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC), pays homage to The X Files, Lost, David Lynch and bizarrely enough; the Creepypasta community.
You play as Jesse Faden, a twenty-something-year-old searching for her missing brother, Dylan. But, arguably the most important character in the game is the Oldest House; the ever-changing, and sprawling brutalist building. It’s home to many secrets, baddies like The Hiss, but also, a complex and engaging plot which bears all the hallmarks Sam Lake and his Remedy team have become synonymous for.
Combat is quite satisfying once you’ve got to grips with its idiosyncrasies. Think a mixture between a conventional third-person shooter, with a dash of Quantum Break, or some other superhero soiree. Faden can summon a swathe of rocks as a shield, dash rapidly to dodge enemies and levitate aimlessly while raining down fire on various foes.
But what made this game so brilliant in 2019 was its uncompromising attitude to crafting a narrative-driven experience. It’s not afraid to be a little self-indulgent and be a bit heavy of its exposition. No, it meanders and builds a world I hope Remedy will revisit again very soon. And with the way some AAA developers are developing content, we need more games like Control.
– Jon Davis
5. Days Gone
Very few games truly capture the feeling of being one person fighting against overwhelming odds quite like Days Gone. Set in the wilds of Oregon after a zombie apocalypse has ravaged the world, the game casts you as Deacon St. John, an outlaw biker riding the roads with his best friend, scavenging and doing his best to survive as he struggles to get over the death of his wife.
The central gameplay loop is fantastic. At first you’ll be cautiously going from place to place, finding gas stations to keep Deacon’s bike fueled and finding research outposts which contain injectors to boost Deacon’s attributes. Then there will be those moments where you’re exploring a dark cave or a ruined building, rounding a corner to see hundreds of eyes reflected in your flashlight. Then the music works to a crescendo as you’re sprinting away full pelt from a full on horde of zombies giving chase as you topple obstacles behind you, lead them through all your carefully laid traps, toss molotov cocktails into the teeming swarm of undead as you do desperately do anything you can to slow down or thin out the pursuing throng. When you finally gun down the last few members of the brood and look out over the massive trail of corpses behind you, it’s a visceral feeling of relief and dawning satisfaction at having surviving a veritable army of clawing, biting, screeching freaks of (un)nature.
Then at the end of a massive run, you’ll return to the relative safety of one of the settlements, turning in zombie ears in exchange for currency to trick out your bike and buy more weapons. Then once again the anticipation slowly builds for the next pulse-pounding encounter with the horde.
Not only is Days Gone a very accomplished zombie mass murder em’ up, it’s also got a brilliant narrative, structured around the “Days Gone” since the zombie outbreak. The game takes you through playable flashbacks from the time before the outbreak, contrasting it with the depravity of the ruined present. Though many critics pointed out that Deacon doesn’t learn as much from the course of the story as he perhaps should have done, I still found it to be an incredible ride. I was so immersed in being Deacon and his struggles, I could certainly forgive him when he caught a break! As the real world goes through its own outbreak, I can think of few better ways to while away the hours than playing Days Gone!
– Jonathan Trussler
4. Seikiro: Shadows Die Twice
I was a latecomer to FromSoftware games, with Dark Souls 3 being my first experience of the SoulsBorne franchise. I quickly realised that spamming attack buttons simply wasn’t good enough, and these games require meticulous attention to details, and of course, gitting gud.
After finishing Dark Souls 3, my appetite for FromSoftware games only grew, and I turned my attention to its predecessors and the quite brilliant Bloodborne. So, last year, like millions of others, I awaited Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice with bated breath. I wasn’t disappointed; Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the best game I played in 2019.
What’s there not to like? A beautifully realised feudal Japan; a host of punishing enemies that can kill you immediately if you’re careless; a deeply rewarding combat system, geared towards perfecting your craft as a shinobi and of course, there are the bosses – and plenty of them.
And speaking of the bosses, they range wildly in terms of appearance, behaviour and challenge. From Genichiro Ashina, the Shinobi who punishes you into learning the mechanics; The Guardian Ape, whose towering and lumbering presence intimidates even veteran SoulsBorne players and of course, The Owl, who just simply won’t die.
But the star of the show is the combat. It’s punishing, yet fair and rewarding. As the Wolf, you’ll employ an arsenal of gadgets via your prosthesis to help you tackle your foes, but the central part of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice combat experience is your sword. Your katana allows you to strike down foes and wear down their posture; a key mechanic in the game.
Wearing down posture allows you to perform one-hit kills, but be wary, you’ve got your own posture gauge to worry about, which wears down every time you block and drains quicker if you rely on your block too much. Fights revolve around juggling this gauge, anticipating attacks, blocking accordingly and parrying.
From the get-go, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice gripped me. Everything about the game exudes quality and you can tell it was a labour of love for FromSoftware. Don’t deny yourself the privilege of experiencing this game. Sure, it’s tough, but like most things in life, the harder things in life are worth the effort.
– Jon Davis
3. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
When I initially reviewed Fire Emblem: Three Houses, I can’t help but wonder if I was too harsh; yes, I was more than a little dissatisfied with its graphical presentation — it’s been twelve years since Fire Emblem hit a home console, and it returns with warped, patched-together backgrounds that’re rough even by GameCube standards? — and Garreg Mach Monastery’s generous courses rendered the strategic battlefields a tad too easy. And yet, here I am — on my sixth (and, for the foreseeable future, my last) playthrough with 170 hours logged. I’m walking around the monastery, engaging with my students and comrades-in-arms in classes and war meetings. As their charming foibles emerge through quaint tea times and quirky Support Conversations, I find myself still steadily piecing together the minutiae, lore, and history of Fodlan nearly a year later.
For any of its failures, Three Houses surges to Fire Emblem’s upper echelons if only for one reason: this is, by far, its most sobering depiction of war, wherein the kingdoms and armies clashing together aren’t framed as binary forces of good and evil, but as a tragedy driven by ideology. Any missteps in its four paths are overshadowed merely through our investment in this cast — the more we divest time and energy in micromanaging our soldiers-to-be, the further we fall into Three Houses’ beating humanity. If this team-up between Intelligent Systems and Koei-Tecmo is a sign of what’s to come, I’m all for Fire Emblem’s future. Now, uh, can we get an acceptable graphical engine for the next game, please?
– Anthony Pelone
2. Astral Chain
Astral Chain took me by surprise and had me thinking “Game of the Year” as soon as I fired it up on my Switch. Thankfully, the fun factor never let up. It has just the right blend of story and action to keep gamers entertained throughout every second of its roughly 20-hour campaign. In between all of the action, Platinum Games added just a pinch of their well-known quirkiness to keep things spicy as well as humorous.
Reading Astral Chain’s synopsis you’d be lead to believe that this is the type of game that seems too ambitious for its own good. As the story progresses, your protagonist (male or female depending on player choice) acquires several different “Legions” to help battle Chimeras, which are interdimensional lifeforms that are attacking civilians. Each Legion has a specific ability that will eventually be needed to progress the story. By the end of the game, how well you know and control each Legion will be put to the test. Thankfully, switching and controlling the Legions becomes 2nd nature thanks to Astral Chain’s brilliant control scheme. The story starts off very video-gamey and basic, but after a few twists and turns, you’ll eventually find yourself on the edge of your seat. Don’t miss out on this Switch exclusive!
– Mike Vito
1. Resident Evil 2
When it was first announced way back in the Summer of 2015, many survival horror devotees greeted 2019’s Resident Evil 2 remake with a healthy dose of skepticism. After all, fans of the genre tend to regard the original release, which made its debut on the Sony PlayStation in January of 1998 as a masterpiece due to its supremely haunting atmosphere and emphasis on genre staples like resource management and creepy cinematic presentation. And considering series creator Capcom’s penchant for focusing on action over abject horror when it came to more recent entries in the series, there was plenty of cause for even the most diehard series supporters to treat the news with a heaping helping of uncertainty.
After a long and relatively quiet development cycle, the game finally found its way to store shelves on January 25, 2019. And boy, did Capcom prove the doubters wrong. The reimagined Resident Evil 2 wasn’t just good; it was a textbook example of what a modern remake should be. Sure, it mostly follows the same beat of the original as you explore the familiar locales like the ruined streets of Raccoon City, the police station, labs, and more, but everything feels so much grander in scale. The zombies are more plentiful and deadly, the puzzles have been reworked and are more ambitious, and the hulking Mr. X, once relegated to particular scripted scenes in the original version’s Game B, proves to be a near-constant threat.
All of these elements come together to create a game that not only serves as one of the best survival horror games to release in recent years, but likely one of the most memorable examples of the genre, period.
That said, it’s no wonder Resident Evil 3 is one of our most anticipated games of this year. If you’ve yet to experience Resident Evil 2 yet, now is the perfect time to do so ahead of its follow-up’s April 3 launch.
– Francis DiPersio
Until Next Year!
So there we have it folks! Whereas last time Red Dead Redemption 2 rode off into the sunset with our coveted Game of the Year award, this time Resident Evil 2 shambles away with our crystal joystick clutched in its mutated tentacles. Was it deserved? Were there any games missing from the list you think we left out? Sound off in the comments below and have a great 2020!