We’ve made a list, we’ve checked it twice, Anthem was definitely naughty not nice. Worse than naughty, even – it was disappointing.
But it’s almost 2020 now, and who even remembers a game that launched in March? Especially a game everybody, probably including BioWare, desperately wants to forget. Except at three in the morning, maybe, when you wake up from the dream. That dream. It’s the same dream. You’re supposed to be writing a geography exam, but you’re naked, and the servers are at max capacity and you’re stuck on a loading screen, forever.
Introducing OOPs, AWEs, and “fridge duty”, Remedy’s not-Alan-Wake-2-but-it’s-okay-now mixes The X-Files, /r/nosleep, and concrete geometry into a surreal, genre-bending game without equal this generation, don’t even @ me. [Tarryn]
While the indie scene is no stranger to innovation, big-budget video games often eschew the new in favour of the popular – that’s why most of your favourite games this year are “metroidsoulsbornevanias” instead of just, you know, being their own things. This is where Death Stranding stands out from the pack. It borrows only what it needs from other genres in order to craft something entirely unique, and there is no better proof of that than when you try to explain just what the hell the game is all about. At least, not without spoiling literally everything.
This mostly comes down to the simple fact that on paper, Death Stranding has no right to be any good. The premise is oversimplified, it’s not fun to watch, it’s not easy to explain, you literally cannot consume it any other way than by playing it. And yet, that’s what makes it so perfect. The moment the controller is in your hand, and you’re lugging packages to a nearby waystation, navigating treacherous terrain and anomalous apparitions with a baby strapped to your chest, it all just clicks. If I had to describe Death Stranding in a single word, I would call it transcendental. [Caveshen]
Always the game that cuts me off from civilisation for a couple of months after launch, Gears 5 delivered a compelling story, introduced new semi-open world areas to its campaign, solid improvements on its gameplay mechanics, and the euphoric ecstasy of cleaving your loved ones in half with a chainsaw gun. And Tarryn lobbing a frag grenade into the circle on any King of the Hill mode game with friendly fire enabled. [Gareth]
It’s my signature move. [Tarryn]
THE OUTER WORLDS
Obsidian is back and it’s restored my faith in first person RPGs. Interesting characters, dialogue and quests, an inventory system that doesn’t involve combing through piles of junk for superglue and screws, and fun combat are all wrapped up in a beautiful and unique-looking package.
When every new game is touting a ludicrously large open world with hundreds of hours of gameplay and a map that is lousy with stupid little question marks, it’s refreshing to play an RPG that’s so streamlined. [Dylan]
SEKIRO: SHADOWS DIE TWICE
A few years after finishing Assassin’s Creed II, someone mentioned that you could change the spoken language to Italian, and then play with English subtitles. I forever regretted not going back and doing that, so when I had the opportunity to live the life of a semi-undead warrior person, I wasted exactly zero seconds changing the spoken language to Japanese, and living out my samurai fantasy.
Whereas previous From Software games have felt like pointless exercises in stamina management, Sekiro throws all of that away in favour of a tight and precise riposte system that actually presents a challenge. So much of a challenge that it kicked off one of the biggest debates of the year, around difficulty in video games. That happened because it was a good game. One that everyone wanted to experience. Only, From Software expected you as the player to earn your playing experience. The absolute audacity of them. [Caveshen]
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice may have come from the developer of Dark Souls with its heavy and measured combat, but went for a far more frantic, up-close-and-personal sword-fighting… simulator, for lack of a better word. What really made it stand out was the way it forced players to read the movements of enemies to know when to attack, defend, use special moves, employ items, etc. So what? A lot of games do that. Well yeah, but not quite to this degree. Instead of chipping away an enemy’s health pool, Sekiro can wear down their guard to deliver an instant kill, but the enemies can do the same to him. To avoid this Sekiro must accurately parry his enemies’ strikes one at a time instead of simply keeping his guard up and losing his stamina.
Furiously attacking an enemy then switching to defence to rhythmically parry a barrage of strikes – or reflexively pulling off the special counters for sweeps or stabs – that gives me a feeling of authentic sword combat like no game before. [Matthew]
CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE
Captain Price is baaaaaaaaaaaack! Infinity Ward’s franchise reboot is a bleak, provocative exposition of the politics and moral ambiguities of contemporary conflicts, featuring an exhilarating campaign that makes up for its occasionally questionable premise with laser-targeted explosions. [Tarryn]
DESTINY 2: NEW LIGHT
A slight cheat as Destiny 2 has been out since 2017, but its 2019 free-to-play evolution was my first dip into Bungie’s universe, or even MMOs really. I took the opportunity to push a bunch of friends from different continents to get onboard, and it’s been an amazing way to just stay connected with an increasingly scattered friend group – requiring just enough attention to keep you invested, but not so much you can’t just let it hum away in the background while you catch up. With the base game and several years of expansions and updates available for absolutely nothing, it’s an incredibly generous package, wrapped confusingly enough to make engaging with the community essential to getting to the best bits. [Chris]
Mostly for the couch co-op, especially now that they’ve mostly fixed the horrendous lag issues. This prismatic looter-shooter hits you right in the dopamine sensors and I’m looking forward to all that sweet, sweet DLC. [Christine]
STAR WARS JEDI: FALLEN ORDER
Have you ever played a game that was so close to what you wanted, you couldn’t help but feel it was made just for you? For me, that game is Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Not only was it inspired by Zelda and Dark Souls, a combination that was certain to pique my interest, but it also has an in-depth melee combat system similar to Sekiro, in which protagonist Cal Kestis and his enemies can have their guard stamina worn down and be left open for huge damage – or use accurate parrying to get around this. When Cal encounters other Jedi or specially-trained Purge Troopers, the melee matches become intense and reactionary. If you try to simply hack your way through, you’ll be dead before you can say “I have the high ground”. You have to learn to read their moves to respond properly.
On top of that, it’s the lightsaber game I always wanted. Most enemies can be killed in one or two strikes, just like the movies, and the few that can tank multiple hits with a laser sword usually have acceptable reasons, such as special armour, enormous size, or I’m a boss fight. Good enough, I’ll take it. A better Star Wars saber-swinging fantasy you will not find. [Matthew]
CHILDREN OF MORTA
Children of Morta could have been another run-of-the-mill action-RPG, but I feel like the narrative, gameplay, and art style all come together so perfectly that the result is something that’s more than the sum of its parts. The way the story and characters progress even when you die means that the game is challenging without being frustrating, and the couch co-op just enhances the whole thing as only couch co-op can. [Dylan]
MY FRIEND PEDRO
One of the real unsung indie heroes of this year, My Friend Pedro somehow swung in, crashed through a window, did a slow double backflip over our heads, shot every one of us in the face before the shattered glass even hit the ground, landed silently, and tactical-rolled into oblivion. It’s got action movie theatrics, bullet-time insanity, and lots of bananas. [Gareth]
RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2
Issues with the PC port at launch couldn’t keep me away from this game. I loved every minute I was immersed in the world, which feels full without being bloated. The characters, especially Arthur Morgan, are fascinating. The gameplay is solid, and the visuals are stunning. The single player component alone deserves a nomination but Red Dead Online is also a great source of enjoyment, especially with friends. [Dylan]
Like an especially attractive, yet distant, lover that keeps giving you gifts in the hopes you’ll keep putting up with their bullshit. And I will, because I get to trundle about on a magnificently-animated horse, peel raccoons, and react with belated awkwardness to any attempts at human interaction – living the dream. [Christine]
A game with so many great ideas it needed a solar system to fit them all. It can feel cozy and epic, frantic and still, peaceful and terrifying. Remarkable on a technical and design level, each planet full of mysteries and anecdotes that it would be a shame to spoil. If I had to pick one it would be when I got stranded in space with just enough fuel in my jetpack to set a course for one final destination. I made my choice, used my last boost, and then listened to the music that my fellow stranded astronauts broadcast into space as I drifted into the sun. [Chris]
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