Somehow we’ve made it into a whole new decade. It’s 2020 now, and that’s problematic because I’m still struggling to remember that it’s not the early 2000’s. But anyway, with the coming of a new year means reflection on the last one. I’ve seen some people who appear quite disappointed with 2019, and while I’d certainly agree it wasn’t a vintage year there were still a lot of awesome games released. And I’m going to subject you to the horror of having to read my list of which ones I thought were the best of the best, the crème of the crop, the champions of 2019.
I say this every year but it bears repeating: due to time or a lack money or a combination of both there are games I just never get around to playing, or wind up playing far too late. So, here’s some honourable mentions of the games that very well might have made it onto this list if I had actually played them; Outer Worlds, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Metro: Exodus, Super Mario Maker 2, Astral Chain, Pheonix Point and a whole bunch more I probably can’t remember.
And now let’s do a few honourable mentions for games that were awesome but didn’t quite make it onto my list, starting with DiRT 2.0. Although a lot of fans have been miffed by the way DLC has been handled with DiRT 2.0, I was much more concerned by how awesome it is to play. Then the VR update came along and blew my tiny little mind.
Ashen is a wonderful little indie game that takes a lot of inspiration from the Souls games, but has its own fun ideas. It’s on Gamespass and is well worth playing.
Descenders is another indie game that didn’t quite make it onto my list. If you fancy a horror game then let me tell you nothing is quite as terrifying as hurtling down a huge hill on a mountain bike in Descenders.
Punching people in the face then executing them is always fun, and Mortal Kombat 11 did it brilliantly. I still prefer the way Injustice 2 handled the loot system, though.
It has been rough for Star Wars games recently, but this year we’ve had a big improvement with Star Wars: Battlefront 2 becoming the game it should have been at launch, and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order delivering an outstanding singleplayer adventure with fun combat, strong exploration and a good narrative.
Trials Rising just had to go and stuff stupid lootboxes into itself, didn’t it? It’s a shame, because underneath those and the awkward campaign structure built underneath is the same fantastic Trials gameplay.
Gears 5 managed to get the franchise back on track with a strong singleplayer campaign, good multiplayer and continued support.
And finally I’ve got the mention the beautiful remake of Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, a game that somehow still feels incredibly fun to play in 2019.
With that out of the way, let’s get this list going. Aside from the first entry on the list all the games you’ll see here are in no particular order. They’re a collection of games that I found most enjoyable throughout the year, and I have made no attempt to be look at them from numerous angles like I attempt to do in my reviews. These are just the games I personally loved the most.
Game of the Year: Control
There was never any doubt that Control would be on this list given just how much I praised everything about it when I reviewed. Hell, it’s the first 5 out of 5 I’ve awarded since bringing back the scoring system. It is my favourite game of the year, and one that I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone reading this.
I’m not sure what else I can say about the amazing job that Remedy did when creating Control, a game developed on a relatively small budget that can still take on the big, triple-A titles coming from massive studios with hundreds of peoples and insane amounts of cash.
While I adore the game’s structure, love its story, think the characters and acting are fantastic, and love the art-style it’s probably the combat that sticks with me the most. The way the game handles your telekinetic powers is simply sublime, letting you fling stuff around like a madwoman. You can’t sit still, so there’s a great frantic pace to the action that only becomes stronger when you get the ability to levitate above the battefield. And while all the chaos is going on, the environment is getting ripped to pieces with stacks of paper flying into the air, chunks of concrete flying around and desks being hurled into walls. It looks and feels amazing.
Gawd, I cannot recommend Control enough. I can’t. It’s the best game of the year, and it deserves so much more success than it got. Buy it, play it, revel in it.
Luigi’s Mansion 3
Luigi’s Mansion 3 is a game. Like, a proper video game. I don’t know if that even makes sense but it’s the best way I can think of to describe it. It captures that same feeling I had as a little kid playing Sonic and Mario, that sense of wonder and adventure.
Much like another game on this list what amazes me the most about Lugi’s Mansion 3 are the animations that bring so much life and personality to Luigi. He tiptoes through doors, shivers in his boots, leaps backwards in shock and clutches his handy vacuum cleaner like it’s the only thing tethering him to life. Which it is, I suppose. But it isn’t just Luigi as the enemy ghosts and bosses display just as much personality in the way they move and look.
Of course, it’s also just really fun to play. Hoovering up ghosts, sucking up money and solving puzzles all feel outstanding, even if the controls can sometimes be a pain in the arse. This is Nintendo at their best, putting out games packed with so much charisma that it should be illegal.
Untitled Goose Game
Videogames have seen many great characters, from Commander Shepard and his squad to Kratos and his devotion to killing the shit out of stuff. And yet no character in the hallowed halls of videogames can hope to match what Untitled Goose Game gave us: a goose. An untitled goose. He struts with confidence, honks with power, flaps his wings like a boss and can cause untold mayhem. He fears nothing. He demands respect. He. Is. Goose.
It’s the animations that are the unsung heroes of Untitled Goose Game. They’re perfect, and immediately suck you into the game so that you completely and totally roleplay as a goose: a feathery twat intent on tormenting the innocent townsfolk. There’s a reason for chasing a small child, harassing old ladies and generally being a pain in the arse, but the game never bothers to reveal it until the very end. Your motivation for 99% of Untitled Goose Game is that you’re a goose, and geese are assholes.
Look, the simple fact of the matter is that Untitled Goose Game was probably the funniest game I played all year. It doesn’t need complex levelling systems, stats, a big open world or some sort of bonkers roadmap for future content to be good. There’s just a series of simple but clever puzzles built on a couple of basic mechanics like grabbing objects and honking loudly at people. It sounds so stupid, like it should never work, but it does.
I suppose in some ways Borderlands 3 is a bit of a let-down. After waiting so long for Borderlands 3 it perhaps wasn’t the big leap forward that myself and others were hoping for. But once I got past that initial disappointment I realised that I didn’t want some revolutionary evolution, I just wanted more Borderlands, preferably with sharper graphics and good gunplay. And that’s exactly what I got.
Sure, to get access to the gloriously absurd amount of loot you have to put up with weak villains and some humour that doesn’t land. In that sense I’d probably say that Borderlands 2 is actually the better game as it has a great villain and crass jokes that still make me grin. But Borderlands 3 does have terrific combat, a more interesting skill tree system and loads and loads and freaking loads of awesome weapons to play around with.
Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled
I’m still pissed off that Activision decided to throw up a giant middle-finger to gamers by deliberately waiting until a month after launch to add microtransactions to Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled. Worse, is that prior to the game’s launch they claimed that there would be no microtransactions in the game whatsoever. They blatantly lied, then waited for the initial praise-filled reviews before tossing them in. Because of this I debated having Nitro-Fueled on my list at all.
But in the end I couldn’t ignore how much fun I’ve had playing Crash Team Racing. It’s a terrific remake of a classic game that has aged remarkably well. I’d argue that Nitro-Fueled is on par with Mario Kart 8 in terms of how it plays and probably even surpasses it. It’s that good.
The stupid thing is I could have handed microtransactions being in the game if they were there from the start and Activision hadn’t told us they wouldn’t be in the game at all. At least if you buy the game now you know what you’re getting: an absolutely awesome kart-racer with microtransactions stuffed into it.
It’s a shame that Days Gone holds back its facing off against one of its zombie hordes for so long, because the first time I tackled one and got my arse handed to me was a special moment. The second time I went in prepared, making sure I had plenty of ammo, parking my bike where I could easily get to it and checking out the environment for handy traps, chokepoints and terrain that I could use to my advantage. I killed the lot of them, but it was far from an easy fight. And. It. Was. Awesome.
Truthfully, if I was attempting to be somewhat objective then Days Gone probably wouldn’t have made this list. In many ways it’s nothing special, offering okay combat and a decent open world. Compared to other Sony exclusive games it isn’t exactly an undeniable piece of gaming brilliance.
But this isn’t an attempt to be objective, it’s my entirely subjective list and I found Days Gone to be heaps of fun. A lot of that came down to the fact that I just loved riding a bike around a zombie apocalypse. The rest of it was due to the excellent performance from Sam Witwer who brought lead character Deacon Saint James to life. While a lot of people found Deacon’s constant muttering irritating, to me it made him a much more real and interesting person, one who was constantly on the edge of snapping from the stress. He’s lost his wife, his best friend and the only person he has left is dying and there’s a freaking zombie apocalypse going on. That’s a lot to deal with, and Deacon is trying his best. It’s a stellar performance for a great character who holds up a solid open-world action game.
As VR continues to grow we’re starting to get bigger and bigger projects rather than just short little experiences. Asgard’s Wrath is one of these chunkier projects, a lengthy fantasy RPG built from the ground-up for virtual reality. It’s steeped in Norse mythology which naturally opens the door for comparisons to 2018’s God of War, but that’s where the similarities end.
It’s always difficult to put a VR game into words, but I’ll try. The first word that comes to mind is immersion: Asgard’s Wrath does a superb job of bringing you into its detailed and lovingly made world of action and puzzling. The environments are huge, often towering above you, the various characters you meet and talk radiate personality, even if they don’t get a lot to say or do.
There’s a lot of fighting to be done, and while it avoids the physics-based combat of other games like Blade & Sorcery or even the newer Boneworks it has its own unique style of swordfighting that feels frantic and fun.
I’ve not played enough of Boneworks yet to judge it, so for now I’m giving the crown of the best VR game to Asgard’s Wrath. I could say that Beatsaber deserves that spot due to how incredibly fun it is, but ultimately I think Asgard’s Wrath is a more important game for the virtual reality platform. It shows that VR can have bigger, more awesome games and not just dinky little things that last a few hours. Right now Asgard’s Wrath is the Skyrim or Witcher 3 of VR: an adventure you can get lost in for hours on end.
Choosing between Tropico 6 and Anno 1800 for this list was not an easy task, especially as I’ve been playing the hell out of Tropico 6 over the past couple of weeks. It’s a little more relaxed which has been perfect for my cold-filled head. I can just toss some citizens in jail and make a fortune from their incarceration. God, it’s good to be ‘El Presidente.
But ultimately Anno 1800 is a much deeper, more thoughtful strategy game where you take attempt to establish a colony in the 1800s, and in my case cock the whole thing up because I have all the forward planning skills of a fucking toddler. But the clever thing about Anno 1800 is that it’s extremely good at dangling an objective in front of you. In this style of game I often find myself struggling after an hour or two of play simply because I don’t know what to do next. I don’t have anything to push toward. Anno 1800, though is always nudging you in the right direction, giving you something to focus on if you want it.
You start with simple farmers who don’t need a lot in life, but to progress you need to start producing things that will entice a whole new class of people to come and set up home. So you start producing Schnapps from potatoes. And then you need to make sausages, and soap, and fine beers and each of these things needs its own little production line, until eventually you realise that you can’t grow or produce something. That’s where trading comes in, or you could establish a new colony on a different islands that offers fertile soil for growing the vital things you couldn’t before. It all starts so simply but before long you’re running several islands, waging a small war and buying out the opposition.
This is the kind of game you lose entire evenings, too. Sometimes entire days.
Devil May Cry 5
Despite being loved by critics and gamers alike when it launched earlier in the year Devil May Cry 5 doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of attention this GOTY season. Well, I’m here to rectify that horrible miscarriage of justice. Devil May Cry 5 is brilliant, a fact confirmed when Dante rips a motorcycle in half and proceeds to use both chunks to beat demons to death. That’s not a cutscene, either: you actually get to use a motorcycle as a weapon, even riding it and ripping faces to pieces using the wheels. It’s fucking brilliant.
The party piece is how Devil May Cry 5 manages to juggle three characters with three distinct and fully-fledged fighting styles. Dante dances around battles wielding a bunch of different weapons and styles that you can switch between on the fly, giving him a crap-load of combos. Nero has his swappable arms that switch up how you approach fights. And finally, V has the most unique mechanics of the lot, letting his summoned monsters fight on his behalf. You can debate which character is best or even if V’s mechanics manage to hold up against Dante and Nero, but what isn’t up for argument is that fighting in DMC5 feels phenomenally good. It’s so good at sucking you into the combat and then shoving you into that magical flow, where you almost have a special sixth sense.
The icing on the cake is the bonkers story, fun characters and barmy moments that the series is known for. Devil May Cry is truly back and I can’t wait to see what’s next for Dante.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2
For any desperate women out there (and you’d have to be desperate to consider me as possible dating material) you should know that the way to my heart is through giant spaceships blasting the shit out of each other. Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 has that in spades, offering up a brilliant blend of real-time tactical space battles featuring massive floating fortresses, and turn-based management of fleets and planets.
Since I reviewed the game there’s been a bunch of chunky updates that have introduced solid changes to the campaign, plus a whole Chaos expansion that adds another campaign to the game.
In short, if you like tactical thinking and giant spaceships then Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 is for you. And for me.