Top 10 Games of 2019 (Game of the Year)

After revealing our awards during the past several days, the biggest day of them all has finally come. That’s right, it’s the end of the road folks and time for us to award our greatest honor: Game of the Year. Both the nominees and winner were not taken lightly, having to exemplify the best of gaming to be named. It was a hard-fought battle, but without further adieu, here’s our top 10 games:

10. A Plague Tale: Innocence

The so-called “AA” release has only continued to gain more and more traction in the sphere of enthusiast coverage and consumption alike, and Asobo Studio’s A Plague Tale: Innocence was the undeniable jewel in AA’s 2019 crown. An amalgamation of safe, AAA formalities and practiced ideas it may have been, where the game might not have flown the flag of pure originality on a gameplay front, A Plague Tale’s surprising, startling revelation was in its confidence with the material it presented. An adventure game that may have incorporated the favored stealth-grass and AI patrol routes of many a big-budget action-adventure, but one whose story, characters and rats were the real intention and an effective one at that. Throughout the turbulent narrative of brother-and-sister duo Hugo and Amicia during the Inquisition of 14th century France, A Plague Tale’s harrowing, macabre-like tone — manifested through the rumbled swarm of the game’s many, hyper-carnivorous rats — stood out. The tension, tribulation and eventual triumphs of the two main siblings became the emotional hook — aided along the way by a growing assemble of supporting characters and puzzle-solving that at times cleverly, unsettlingly, hit home the game’s distortion of what “horror” may actually be by design. A Plague Tale: Innocence as a result, even amidst the charred and the dire infestation of disease its aesthetic so palpably portrayed, shone brightly — a wonderful example of the heights AA development can reach.

9. Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Since Fire Emblem Awakening on the 3DS, the series has made a name for itself as one of Nintendo’s most well-known franchises. While the 3DS titles helped revitalize the franchise, Fire Emblem: Three Houses took the series back to console in a great way. Players were treated to multiple paths to play through with each one having a grand story that uncovers different truths about the world. Characters are all brilliantly written and the gameplay, while familiar, tries some new angles that work fantastically together. While there was still a slight focus on character relationships, Three Houses made the storytelling much deeper and rich than the most recent previous entries in order to convey a world where it feels like each character is truly important in their own right. It’s an amazingly strong start for the series on Switch and was by far one of the most enjoyable games to release this year.

8. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III

Three years may not seem that long, but in the case of Trails of Cold Steel, 36 months at times felt an eternity in waiting. Given how the first two entrants in Nihon Falcom’s latest dive into the grand Legend of Heroes mythos, released so close to one another (to the point one can denote them, historically and in fact narratively, as two halves to one overall beast of a release), Trails of Cold Steel III had in a way more a stature of an actual follow-up than its premise initially presents. And while the structural formula and progression may seem all-too-familiar, that’s in no way a detriment against what is still easily the best set-up for a turn-based JRPG and one of the most fascinating worlds to see unravel step by step. Trails of Cold Steel III’s success lies in how brilliantly Nihon Falcom manage to pack pivotal scenes with so much to the point of breaking, yet somehow manage to keep things running so smoothly. Not for a second does the turn-based combat feel too much to handle (even with the new added features) or that the narrative is too convoluted to follow. For a series that remains so full of intriguing social, cultural, economic and political themes, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III’s versatility in its multi-layered gameplay, likeable characters and fascinating lore, upholds this series’ legacy as one of the genre’s absolute best.

7. Sayonara Wild Hearts

Simogo haven’t exactly been a stranger to acclaim this decade, having released unique and innovative mobile games like Device 6 and Beat Sneak Bandit. But with Sayonara Wild Hearts, the developers have easily crafted what could very well be called their magnum opus. At the very least, it was memorable enough to garner tons of attention, and rightfully so. Having already put unique spins on puzzle and adventure games, the devs now bring their skills to the runner subgenre, setting it all to a virtual pop album filled with astounding music and crafting several unique scenarios and gameplay twists guaranteed to surprise and delight anyone who plays it. Months after its release, we’re actually still trying to figure out the proper words when it comes to describing this blast of colorful energy, as it really does feel like an experience that no other game can deliver at this moment. So for now, let’s just leave it at saying that Sayonara Wild Hearts was one of the year’s best games that you should play ASAP.

6. The Outer Worlds

A game that asks of its players to jump through many a hoop to get to an otherwise simple end goal rarely ends on good terms. A game that offers additional detail should a player voluntarily desire it — even if for an otherwise insignificant moment of exposition or development — rarely ends on a bad equivalent. For all the well-placed, and deservedly-praised, systems in its role-playing gameplay and of finding the best build for what you intend to accomplish, perhaps The Outer Worlds’ stand-out achievement this year lies in the strength of its writing and the gentle persuasion its fictional setting so effectively manages. Whether that’s asking NPCs for more details about the Halcyon system — of the factions/struggles at play — or simply lending an ear for a companion eager to share their opinion, The Outer Worlds’ on-point humanizing an otherwise satirical look on a corporate-controlled future is one that remains resonant throughout. From the very first main quest right up to determining the fate of Halcyon by the game’s end; whether it was two companions chatting about seemingly random topics, to the banter they share back aboard The Unreliable. The Outer Worlds’ colorful artistry and morally-grey scene-setting was persuasive sure, but it eventually paved the way for a game you couldn’t help but repeatedly take a few minutes out of one’s adventure to take a closer listen to.

5. Control

The Ashtray Maze. If you know anything about Control, then we could arguably just say “The Ashtray Maze” for this entry and its inclusion on this list would arguably be justified by those words alone. But while The Ashtray Maze easily stole show as 2019’s best gaming moment, it doesn’t overshadow the fact that everything else in Control easily made it GOTY material as well. Be it the intriguing world of the Bureau of Control that you’ll want to spend hours exploring in order to find every supernatural story, the jaw-dropping graphics and brutalist architecture, or just some of the year’s most satisfying combat that gives you plenty of fun options for blowing away the Hiss, Control easily earns its spot here as one of the year’s best games. It is quite easily Remedy’s greatest game so far, and the developers deserve all the acclaim they can get for Jesse Faden’s bizarre adventure.

4. Astral Chain

Of so many titles that came out this year, Astral Chain stood out to many for being a wonderfully unique action title. It makes for a unique combination system that uses both the main character and their legion companions for battles unlike any other game before it. The deep combat system keeps players on their toes if they want to dive into the extreme possibilities, but also allowed for those who wanted to take it easy have a more relaxed experience in this futuristic world. The ability to go back and redo and mission while finding things missed before is wonderful. The soundtrack is also crazy outstanding, making wildly memorable songs that were great to just stop and listen to. There’s so much to love in Astral Chain from the wonderfully-crafted world to the memorable characters and legions that makes it one of our favorite games of the year.

3. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

It’s become typical to see any title released by From Software to end up on Game of the Year lists. The studio has mastered their craft of designing intricately-woven levels, subtle storytelling and difficult but rewarding gameplay. As such, it should be no surprise that Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is, once again, another slam dunk for the studio. Like previous efforts, Sekiro blends the kind of subtle storytelling and multi-faceted level design we’ve come to expect from the studio. When it comes to gameplay, however, From Software took the difficulty they’re known for and cranked up the speed. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is all about using height, speed and parrying to weaken and defeat foes. The game is a satisfying departure from the Dark Souls and Bloodborne games, all while retaining the same levels of difficulty and satisfaction. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a masterclass in level design, storytelling and gameplay, and From Software knocked it out of the park. Death’s a constant, but Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice makes getting back up worth it.

2. Devil May Cry 5

Capcom’s last generation partnerships with western developers on their major franchises were met with mixed reception. Bionic Commando, Lost Planet 3, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, DmC: Devil May Cry and more all didn’t go over too well with fans, with the latter being incredibly divisive among the community. It had a unique style, but there was something missing, a certain Capcom charm that fans have become accustomed to. Now that Capcom is developing most of their games in-house again, they have created a true sequel to Nero’s adventure and this time it’s better than ever. Playing through three different characters with drastically different play styles keeps players on their toes and makes each mission all the more entertaining. This mixed with the highly varied combo system, especially with Dante who uses multiple weapons and Nero’s variety of mechanical arms, creates a combat system unrivaled in the character action genre. It melds the three stories together very well, with even some “multiplayer” components sprinkled in that have other players going through missions adjacent with their own plot. It was Devil May Cry’s return to form, and Capcom was able to do so spectacularly, creating one of the best games of the year.

Resident Evil 2

What a year for Capcom. While they released an unsurprising number of remasters and ports, it was the two titles at the beginning of the year that stole the show: Devil May Cry 5 and Resident Evil 2. Even among our staff, the two were basically in a dead heat for who would be deemed Game of the Year, but in the end it had to be the remake of the classic horror title. This is a game that sparked massive nostalgia among fans, while introducing a brand new audience to what was loved over twenty years ago. There was obvious worry when it was first announced as Capcom wasn’t exactly doing the franchise much justice with entries such as Resident Evil 6, Operation Raccoon City Story and Umbrella Corps., yet the Japanese developer successfully went back to their roots and created an experience that rivals every game in the franchise.

This isn’t just a simple remake and even goes well beyond what was done for the first Resident Evil Remake on GameCube. Capcom took most of the original and modified the progression, exploration and pacing, among other things. Even some of the major events occur far more dramatically, such as a horrifically violent scene with Ben. We were beginning to worry that the series needed to go back to the fixed camera angles to create a frightening and atmospheric horror game, but Resident Evil 2 Remake showed that the over the shoulder camera can work so long as the developers were willing to sacrifice some of the action elements in favor of survival. Everything was done right with Resident Evil 2, bringing it into the modern world without having it lose much of its charm from the original. It’s a masterful experience that should not go unplayed, one that will be remembered as one of, if not the best, video game remake.

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