2019 represented the final year that the current console generation had to itself. This holiday season will see the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X usher in the 9th generation of hardware to begin the cycle anew. 2019 felt uneven during its first half. It kicked off with a bang in January with the stellar Resident Evil 2 remake, then entered an up and down winter and spring. For every high-profile disappointment such as Anthem, Crackdown 3 and Jump Force there were bright spots that balanced the scales. FromSoftware once again reinvented their winning Dark Souls formula with the fantastic Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Apex Legends kicked the door down out of nowhere to stake a legitimate, and absurdly fun, flag in the ultra-competitive battle royale genre. Not to be outdone by Apex, Tetris 99 turned a joke idea into one of the year’s most engrossing multiplayer titles. Kingdom Hearts III saw the light of day after 13 years of rabid fan anticipation.

The summer brought critical darlings such as Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Outer Wilds, and Control before the ship really took off in the Fall. The Outer Worlds, Luigi’s Mansion 3, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and others helped close out 2019 on an high note. Even Hideo Kojima’s polarizing Death Stranding at least it facilitated conversations about artistic intent in game design that we’ll be talking about for years to come–for better or worse.

Narrowing down my most beloved games proved to be more arduous than I expected. I made more than a few Sophie’s Choice decisions.  A lot of great stuff came this year but these particular experiences stuck with me the most and took herculean efforts to pry myself away from. Without further ado, here are my 10 favorite games of 2019.

RE 2
1. Resident Evil 2
PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: January 25

Leon and Claire’s terrifying adventure scared the pants off of me in 1998 and this brilliant remake accomplished the same feat in 2019. The game captures everything that worked about the original and combines it with the superb gameplay of my other favorite entry, Resident Evil 4. I genuinely struggle to find anything bad to say about this game. Everything looks gorgeous thanks to Capcom’s fantastic RE Engine. Exploring the Raccoon City Police Department and solving its bizarre puzzles feels as tense and engrossing as ever thanks to the modern tweaks to the already strong design. Namely, one of the best in-game maps ever. It tells players literally everything they could want to know so that they can worry about staying alive instead of getting lost or confused. Note to other games: you can still be tough/scary and still guide players effectively.

The MVP of the experience is the intimidating Mr. X. His transformation into a persistent enemy is a genius idea I both loved and loathed (for the right reasons). His omnipresent stomping and Terminator-esque chase upon spotting you made the game unbearably oppressive at times. But this series is supposed to be frightening, and Mr. X is easily the scariest enemy of any game this year. More than perhaps anything else, Resident Evil 2 just feels so tight. The gameplay. The level design. The atmosphere. All of it feels so expertly crafted. This may very well be the greatest remake in gaming history. Seriously, try to think of one that so deftly maintains everything great about the original while introducing enough new, smart ideas that it feels like a brand new game at the same time. I’ll wait.

Resident Evil 2 had my Game of the Year vote since January and managed to hold onto to it despite facing strong competition along the way.  Well done, Capcom, and bring on the Resident Evil 3 remake.

1061-bloodstained-ritual-of-the-night-screenshot-2-1558678729

2. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: June 25

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is one of my all-time favorite games and Bloodstained may as well be called SoTN 2. Not only does it have similar DNA coursing through its vein, but it shares the same papa in Symphony of the Night mastermind Koji Igarashi. I remember first playing this game back at E3 2016 (with Igarashi himself watching over my shoulder) and thinking it seemed competent but rough. Years of updates and revisions have polished Bloodstained into a diamond that, much like Resident Evil 2, reinvigorates a classic formula.

Exploring the castle is an addicting treat thanks to fun traversal abilities, creative level design, engrossing progression, and a slew of cool monstrosities to slay. The Shard system allows players to mix and match a staggering amount of neat abilities absorbed from enemies, which can then be leveled up and assigned to multiple loadouts. Activities such as bounties, blacksmithing, and even cooking all offer fun diversions that play into the core experience without feeling like needless fluff. Bloodstained seized my attention and refused to relinquish it until I uncovered every nook and cranny of its world–and I was more than happy to oblige.

Control Jesse Throws With Powers

3. Control
PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: August 27

The stars finally aligned for Remedy Entertainment. I’m largely a fan of the studio’s previous works, but no matter how inventive their storytelling or presentations were, they all fell short of truly nailing it on the gameplay front. That all changed with Control. Wielding Jesse Fayden’s supernatural powers offered a power fantasy that only gets more enthralling as your skills grow. Few gameplay moments this year were as satisfying as flying into a room and telekinetically hurling a forklift into a group of foes as the insanely destructible environments exploded into decor confetti.

As fun as it is to more or less be Jean Grey with an alien gun, Control’s world-building is easily its strongest suit. Remedy has created one of the generation’s most memorable settings in the Federal Bureau of Control, a deceptively mundane office building rife with supernatural phenomena. Whether it’s facing down a possessed traffic light or deciphering the wonderfully clever Ashtray Maze, the mysterious office never stops doling out mind-blowing surprises. The fascinating and sometimes hilarious employee documents do a phenomenal job shaping Control’s lore, as do Remedy’s trademark live-action video logs. Shoutout to Dr. Casper Darling, one of the year’s best characters. The archaic checkpointing and annoyingly tough boss encounters (most of which are optional) may be a bummer, but they’re tolerable when the entire package is as engaging and imaginative as this one.

Outer Wilds Timber Herth
4. Outer Wilds
PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release: May 29

Gushing about Outer Wilds is tough to do without spoiling anything. I think the game shines brightest when you go into it as blind as possible. The most basic premise I can give is that you control a space explorer from a race of quirky aliens and visit planets within a small but impressive solar system. The mission: unravel an ancient mystery surrounding the state of the universe. Outer Wilds doesn’t give players new items or skills to progress. Knowledge acts as the game’s currency; the more you learn, the more ammo in your arsenal for solving puzzles and determining exactly what’s going on. I love how the freeform exploration lets you visit planets in any order thanks to how clues connect with each other no matter when they’re found.

Once the breadcrumbs began lining up I became obsessed with chasing different threads across the wildly imaginative worlds that, again, should be seen with your own eyes. The epiphanies I uncovered not only made me feel like a genius, but they culminate in one of the most satisfying and profound conclusions of any game this year. If you have the patience to push through the seemingly aimless first couple of hours you’ll be rewarded with one of the generation’s most awe-inspiring and brilliantly designed titles.

Cadence of Hyrule Link and Zelda coop

5. Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda
Nintendo Switch
Release Date: June 13

Rather than just take the Crypt of the Necrodancer and slap a Zelda skin on it, Brace Yourself Games basically made a full-fledged Zelda entry with a rhythmatic twist. I never fully got into Crypt, but Cadence of Hyrule’s Link to the Past-style structure drew me in and kept me smiling all the way through. Though it features the play-to-the-beat dungeon crawling of Crypt, I played using the fixed beat mode that grants freedom of movement but enemies also move when they do. That turns Cadence into something closer to a cool puzzle game. Composer Danny B’s killer remixes of classic Zelda tunes make the game; it’s easily among the year’s best soundtracks. No matter how you play it, Cadence of Hyrule is a delightful experience. It also shows that great things can happen when Nintendo lets someone else take the wheel of one of their prized franchises.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare Captain Price

6. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: October 25

They finally got me. For over a decade I’ve been the anti-Call of Duty fan in that I sign up for the campaigns rather than the multiplayer. This year, though, Infinity Ward sprinkled some extra nicotine on its online modes as it quickly became, and still is, one of the most addicting games of the year. The almost overwhelming amount of progression types means I’m always working towards something, whether it be new killstreaks, weapon parts, or even leveling the gun itself, regardless if I win or lose. Rotating modes keeps the online fresh as I never know what to expect whenever I log in. Not to mention the snappy gunplay remains among the best in the industry.

Multiplayer may have its teeth in me, but that doesn’t mean the campaign isn’t up to snuff. The exciting–and sometimes controversial–story feels like a combination of Zero Dark Thirty and a Michael Bay action flick. It’s thrill ride boasting some of the franchises best-crafted missions (such as a particularly awesome stealth mission towards the end). Call of Duty has spent this generation chasing the magic it had in the previous console cycle to varying degrees of success. Modern Warfare, the series that made them a juggernaut in the first place, has finally gotten them back to that promised land.

Gears 5 Kait and Marcus

7. Gears 5
Xbox One, PC
Release Date: September 10

Gears-Don’t-Call-Me-”of War”-5 takes a winning formula that I was largely content with staying the same and takes chances that payoff in ways I didn’t know I wanted. I love having Kait Diaz in the starring role. She’s a great character, plus JD Fenix’s jarring new direction works just well. Cruising through the open-ish areas aboard the Skiff is a blast, even if said areas are a bit barren. Trusty robotic buddy Jack earns his keep as useful A.I. companion thanks to his genuinely useful abilities that were surprisingly fun to improve upon. As for the gameplay, well, its Gears which makes it a success by default. If all that wasn’t enough, the game tosses in Dave Bautista and Terminator’s Sarah Connor as a multiplayer skins because it knows how to speak to me. Gears 5 is my favorite entry in the series, and I can’t wait to see how The Coalition builds upon it in Gears 6.

Ape Out gameplay

8. Ape Out
Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: February 28

You’re an ape and you’re breaking out! That’s the premise of this absurdly fun and challenging indie title. While its gameplay resembles Hotline Miami on the surface, Ape Out randomly rearranges maze layouts and enemies on each run. That makes the game more of a fun test of reflexes than an exercise in memorization. Slamming dudes against walls while racing towards the exit becomes a thrilling dance that becomes increasingly harder to put down. Death comes swiftly and often but seeing exactly how far I progressed each go-around only added incentive to try again.

Ape Out’s ingenious sound design also makes it a standout. The percussion-based jazz soundtrack is built upon an A.I. that reacts to everything you do in real-time. Cymbals crash when foes are hurled through windows and drums speed up when the action intensifies. I can’t stress enough how much the soundtrack defines the experience; anyone using Ape Out as a podcast game is robbing themselves of one of the most inventive uses of music I’ve seen. Ape Out flaunts an addicting challenge and oozes style, and I’ll gladly break the ape out of his cell for another rampage.

The Outer Worlds Bandit Fight

9. The Outer Worlds
PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: October 25

I love Fallout, but I haven’t been truly engrossed in an entry since Fallout: New Vegas. Funny enough, that game was made by Obsidian Entertainment who, surprise, basically said “let’s do that again but better” with The Outer Words. While it has all of the trappings of a Bethesda RPG, Outer World’s sharp, humorous writing surpasses that of any Fallout game. I enjoyed hanging with my motley crew of shipmates and dug their Mass Effect-style loyalty missions. In particular, the galaxy’s sweetheart Parvati ranks among my favorite characters of the year. This may sound weird to some, but what I love most about The Outer Worlds is that it isn’t a sprawling 100-hour epic. The game can be finished in a fraction of the time thanks to the tightly constructed planets and missions. Trimming the fat this way allows the writing to shine through, plus it doesn’t hijack my increasingly busy life. The game loses some steam by the end but The Outer Worlds shows that condensing these types of RPGs can work. I’m very curious to see what lessons Bethesda gleans from it.

A Plague Tale Innocence rat pit

10. A Plague Tale: Innocence
PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release: May 14

This gripping narrative stealth game surprised the hell out of me and practically everyone else lucky enough to take a chance on it. Set in 14th century France, you control a noble-born girl who loses her family to an Inquisition slaughter, save for her younger brother. To make matters worse, a supernatural plague of rats has begun ravaging the land and may have some connection to your ailing sibling. The pair’s journey from emotionally distant siblings to something closer is genuinely touching, as are the moments they spend with the endearing cast of displaced children they meet along the way. Per the title, their innocent moments offer a great juxtaposition to the overall dark and often disturbing events that unfold. The largely textbook stealth design does offer some clever environmental puzzles based around staying in the light (which the rats hate). A Plague Tale: Innocence may be the year’s best hidden gem and deserves to shine under a brighter spotlight.

That wraps things up for 2019. I’d love to hear what your favorite games were in the comments below! You can also check out my previous lists for 2018 and 2017. Finally, here’s the complete list of every game I completed last year.

A Plague Tale: Innocence
A Way Out
AER: Memories of Old
Afterparty
Ape Out
Astral Chain
Banjo-Kazooie
Battle Supremacy: Ground Assault
Blazing Chrome
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the Necrodancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
Control
Crackdown 3
Dear Esther
Death Stranding
Destiny 2: Forsaken
Devil May Cry 5
Eternity: The Last Unicorn
Etherborn
Felix the Reaper
Gato Robato
Gears 5
Ghostbusters: The Video Game Remastered
Gris
Gylt
Headliner: NoviNews
Infinite Children
Kids
Kingdom Hearts III
Metro Exodus
Mortal Kombat 11
Outer Wilds
Photographs
Resident Evil 2 (2019)
Riverbond
Scrap
Sea of Solitude
Splatoon 2
SteamWorld Dig 2
Tangle Tower
Tetris Effect
The Forest
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (2019)
The Messenger
The Outer Worlds
Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
Untitled Goose Game
Void Bastards
Warhammer: Vermintide 2
Yakuza 0
Yu-Gi-Oh! Legacy of the Duelist: Link Evolution
Zombie Driver: Immortal Edition

Here’s everything I played in general but haven’t necessarily finished yet (if such a thing can be applied).

A Dual Hand Disaster: Trackher
Apex Legends
Assassin’s Creed III: Remastered
Blair Witch
Creature in the Well
Deltarune Chapter 1
Diablo III: Eternal Collection
Forager
Golf Story
Hypnospace Outlaw
Judgment
Life is Strange 2
Lonely Mountains: Downhill
Observation
Remnant: From the Ashes
Samurai Shodown
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Soul Calibur VI
Tetris 99
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan
Vasara Collection
WWE 2K20

 

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