Ranking the Video Games I Played from 2019

Originally Published: January 21st, 2020

Updated: April 14th, 2021

In press coverage from both Gamespot and Gameinformer of the then upcoming Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order, lead director Stig Asmussen described video games as being about a mediation between “wow” moments and player agency. As one of the most prominent voices behind the original God of War-trilogy this philosophy comes as no surprise; that series had no shortage of grand and astonishing sequences. Jedi Fallen Order contained plenty of its own “wow” moments and thrilling variations in combat, however, in 2019 video games proved just how many things they could be about. 

There have been many news outlets who have noted 2019 as a weak year for video game releases. While there was no runaway success as in the case of 2018 where games like the God of War, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Spider Man, dominated Game of the Year discussions, video games expanded their scope, potential and diversity in a manner only comparable to that of the development of cinema occurring throughout the 1950’s. 

Cinema needed a half-century before it was capable of freeing itself from the expectations and theatricality of the theater. Crucial films from the 1950’s like Stromboli, Sunset Boulevard, La Strada, The Wages of Fear, Seven Samurai, La Pointe Courte, The Seventh Seal, Elevator to the Gallows, and Floating Weeds culminated in Breathless to consecrate and signify modern cinema as we know it, liberating the art-form completely from the shackles of the stage while condemning cinema to a new and malleable grammar.

Innovations in video games, much like cinema, are often associated with technological advancements within the medium. As a result, the initial onslaught of attempts at executing a new-project with unfamiliar technology are typically rather mixed, such is the case with Alice Guy Blaché’s early experiments with synchronized sound and Méliès’ with color-in-film. 

New-console-generations present similar dilemmas and challenges for game developers. The first-wave of releases are often exciting due to their promise and hype but often lack technical polish. While last year was certainly a high-watermark for both top-tier, AAA titles and indies alike: Celeste, Into the Breach, Minit, and Return of the Obra Dinn, to name a few, 2019 presents a development similar to that brewing within cinema in the late-50’s and early-60’s.

The harmony between creators and their tools reached a climax in 2019 and is sure to spill over into upcoming releases in 2020. Developers have mastered their craft within the context of their current technology. Control demanded power from the first-generation Xbox One and PS4 that could not have been predicted, the developers are actually overworking our current consoles, they have overcome the technology and are ready for new toys and tricks.

Like cinema in the 50’s, video games arrived at the ultimate reason for their existence, where movies found themselves in capturing fading mythologies, peoples, places and feelings, video games manifest themselves as journeys. Films last from just a few minutes to three or four hours and anywhere in between, video games can be those lengths and much, much longer. Part of our experience with a game is inevitably marked by how much time we spent with it

Control collapsed time and space into a single building that contorts and distorts around you. Fortnite players around the world collectively lost their minds as the game collapsed into nothingness, all their hours of hard work seemingly vanished for thirty-six hours. The Outer Wilds was a galactic mystery full of terror and discovery, whose narrative appears before you at your own discretion, interest and commitment. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice does not allow a forgiving path, it forces the player to engage with its systems, even the most talented gamer would need to practice and hone their skills. The Outer Worlds allowed you to become your decisions, player agency was encouraged and wandering RPG-minutia was tossed to the side allowing for a more brief but refined experience that welcomes multiple play-throughs. Death Stranding and A Short Hike demonstrate the video-game as a journey for the player. Death Stranding can take twelve hours or fifty depending on how you play, similarly A Short Hike can be completed anywhere from twenty minutes to three hours. Our experience with video-games, unlike cinema, is entirely our own due to the fact that we are a participant in the narrative rather than an observer, as a result, our time, as players, with a game feels lived in a way only the best of cinema is capable of achieving.

While there are “difficult” films, they often disturb and unsettle the soul with bleak-topics, oppressive-direction and passionate performances. Difficult video-games, however, are unapproachable due to a reliance on physical and mental skills: familiarity with a controller, other games, hand-eye-coordination, and quick reflexes are necessities in order to complete many of the best games of last year. Much like films, you can either stomach the “difficulties” or you cannot, and your enjoyment or lack thereof is very much intertwined with your disposition towards the rough-edges of the medium in narrative-content, technique, aesthetics or style, which will inevitably alienate some audiences.

Art alienates. In the decades-old debate over whether or not video-games are art, they have emerged as the most important art-form of the 21st century not because of their ability to alienate through exploitation, content and aesthetics, as is the case in the history of cinema, but rather through the systems that form their gameplay. 

That is not to say that games are impervious to criticisms for being exploitative or having questionable content, rather they have developed to a position where they are judged more on their controls, gameplay, systems and playability rather than their narratives.

Sekiro is perhaps the best example of this phenomena. That game either clicks with your abilities as a gamer or it does not. And that is completely okay. There will be those turned away by it’s twitch-based combat and weighty-world, where each death subsequently makes the NPC’s around you more sick and ill. The grief that this causes is indescribable, in a game where dying is essential to getting better, From Software found a way to make it feel bad.

Ten years ago that would have been a criticism against Sekiro, because even a decade ago, games were based around the premise that they were “fun”. There were plenty of divergent experiments Myst for example, which is constantly mocked for being famously not-“fun”, spawned the first-person narrative/puzzle-driven-game that’s been continued by the likes of Gone Home, The Witness, What Remains of Edith Finch, Return of the Obra Dinn and even this year’s The Outer Wilds. They owe their essence to that radically pronounced experiment in mundanity. 

Developers have not abandoned the concept of “fun”, however, they’ve grown philosophically inclined to the idea that “happiness” is not simply being rewarded or having a wide array of crazy powers, it’s having those things because you’ve endured something. Whereas television and cinema have learned from overabundance and succinct duration a lightness, they assume that the hour and a half we devote is fairly disposable if we choose to spend it watching. Game developers are beginning to have a feeling for the weight of how we spend our time in the worlds we inhabit.

Video games, more than being about entertainment, or commerce, or technology, are about the time we devote to them; how worthwhile, notable, profound, transporting and revelatory those experiences can be because they are endured.

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1. Control

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC

Publisher: 505 Games

Developer: Remedy Entertainment

Best Moment: “The Ashtray Maze”

Rating: 5 out of 5

Control arrived in late-August. Until that point the game had been a footnote on my media-radar for the year, early previews for the game looked promising, but somehow I had always managed to miss that Control was developed by Remedy. This stoked the flames of my imagination as Remedy has been responsible for two of my favorite franchises in gaming history, the Max Payne series, and shortly-lived Alan Wake games. When Control released I was reluctant to spend the sixty-dollars for the entry price into it’s world. I waited until the weekend rolled around, at which point, I discovered an article about someone who had discovered a typed-document within Control that linked Control to the Alan Wake-universe. At this point, I purchased the game. 

A not-so-short-download later it was mid-afternoon and I had some friends coming over to my apartment. Outside of smoking a little weed and hanging out, we didn’t have much planned. When they arrived, we booted up Control. For the next two-days they watched me play that game as if we were-binge-watching a Netflix series. We mined every piece of data about AWE’s and Objects of Power, for forty-eight hours we only spoke in terms applicable to Control.  

Rare is the game that sinks it’s claws into you the way Control does. The beginning is so wisely unassuming and plain before dropping the player into the depths of The Oldest House, a government building possessing supernatural properties that cause it to contort and alter itself in geometry and structure. The mystery surrounding The Oldest House is palpable, it’s suspiciously empty and vacant upon your arrival, the few characters you do meet are strange and obsessed with the nature of the building. The cast is written with a near-perfect balance of peculiarity and bewilderment, Ahti the janitor in particular speaks in Finnish-colloquialisms transposed to English, but perhaps understands more about the phenomenons transpiring in The Oldest House than any other character. While the main character’s story-arc is rather abrupt, the ending sets up the post-game and future games within this universe with magnificent ease.

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Control is a fantastic game for so many different reasons but the moment when I knew it was one of my favorite things I have ever experienced in any medium was right after you receive your gun. This game has a number of game-altering powers that are jaw-dropping and exciting, at one point my friend said “the only thing that would make this game better would be is if you could fly”, within an hour, I had the ability to hover above combat and attack from the skies. Despite the fabulous execution of the gameplay, it was none of these abilities that made me place my controller to the side, pausing to take a moment to appreciate the craft of this game. Rather, it was the opening area where Control presents you with a room full of empty desks. 

For twenty minutes I demolished every-single desk, drawer, window and wall within that room, baffled that they actually broke apart. This cemented Control as a masterpiece within its opening moments. Video-game worlds often feel flaccid, artificial and distant from our reality. Control, for all its fantastical elements, is such a powerful work because it makes you feel imminently present to the environments surrounding your character because they are actively altered by your input. As your powers develop and you gain telekinesis, the world reacts to you in a more significant fashion, those desks that once took a whole clip-of-ammo to destroy are now lethal-weapons in combat. This was rewarding because of the physical logic first-applied to those desks. With a gun, they take about seven well-placed shots to decimate, however, after receiving telekinesis they are as light and weightless as feathers. 

The game emphasizes its title in this manner. By the time the credits-roll your roster of abilities is so varied and overpowered that enemies hardly stand a chance, the control, so to speak, is entirely within your hands, which the game interpolates into the narrative brilliantly. 

Control is one of those games, like it or not, that pushes the medium towards new heights, reminding us just how far we have to go before video games reach their fullest-potential. Much could be made of the mixture of mechanics from the Metroid-esque exploration to the optional narratives taking place in videos, journals and diaries akin to Bioshock or how Control builds off the auteur-like obsession Remedy applies to third-person shooters. Ultimately, however, Control feels like Control, leaving in its wake, a generation of game developers whose curiosity and imagination was ignited by the possibilities presented within the Oldest House. 

To quote the Old Gods of Asgard:


One Day I Will Return To Your Side: Disco Elysium and Hauntology | by Rose  DuBois | Medium

2. Disco Elysium

Platform: PC, MacOS

Publisher: ZA/UM

Developer: ZA/UM

Best Moment: “A Hard Look in the Mirror”

Disco Elysium is one of the most daring games ever made. Quietly, in its own radical way, establishing itself as the pinnacle of CRPG’s, building atop a tradition of table-top gaming as well as expanding that narrative to encompass Marxism and existential philosophy. Your first choice in the game is deciding to exist or remain amidst nothingness, and the exchange with the beings of this void (which are also phantoms of your mind) is simultaneously illuminating and hilarious.

The game begins with your (seemingly) unnamed character barely alive after an epic bender, he is informed firstly that he is a police officer, secondly that he owes a large sum of money to the hotel for drinks and damages, thirdly that he has been here for the past three days attempting to solve a murder. Each action, conversation and character is intertwined with one another, the world feels like a coherent system and though it is initially alien to your character, the lore and detail are woven fluidly into each interaction. The writing makes a charismatic first impression and only grows more electrifying as the experience progresses.

It is damn hard to make a political statement in the game industry, the best ones are often the most personal, but Disco Elysium pulls off something especially impressive, it’s politics are worn on it’s sleeve: greedy capitalists, union strikes, intellectual workers, environmental collapse, racism, debts, upon debts, upon debts but it’s equally invested in minutiae in a subversive way, displaying some aspects of Capital and The Communist Manifesto in an earnest and familiar manner: socialism as humanism.

Early on in the game you meet a gardener, who, up to this point in the narrative, is the friendliest voice you’ve been offered. She gives you directions to the crime scene in addition to displaying one of the core tenets of Marx’s Manifesto: relinquishing of personal property, by offering you her gloves to carry the body since she “has another pair”. It’s this subtle communism, that is also a humanism, that is perhaps Disco Elysium‘s most remarkable political stride.

The obsessive attention to the writing, characters and environment ensures the entire journey is bursting with originality, wit and insight. Disco Elysium sets a new high bar in the world of CRPG’s, Larian studios and Obsidian entertainment (the former of Divinity fame and the latter being developers of Pillars of Eternity) would do justice to an entire industry by taking note of Elysium‘s narrative and philosophical ambition. While those games have a dirge of lore, not much of it is entirely meaningful to the definition of your character or the designation of themselves in relationship to their world, instead they often provide background information. Disco Elysium avoids this fault by making every moment pertinent if not interesting, other CRRG’s will feel naked without an internal monologue (or dialogue?) judging each decision. Disco Elysium is a welcome surge of vitality in a genre that was becoming increasingly comfortable in table-top tropes that are here (dice included!) rendered as means to disrupt the system.

Children of Morta on Steam

3. Children of Morta

Platform(s): Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC, MacOS

Publisher: 11 Bit Studios

Developer: Dead Mage

Best Moment: “Tragedy Strikes”

Rating: 5 out of 5

Growing up, one of my favorite arcade machines was Gauntlet, a four-player isometric fantasy dungeon crawler beat em’ up, it was a dormant love I had not even recognized was as potent as it was until Children of Morta awoke a deep craving for cooperative action in a colorful fantasy setting, and then blasted it through a heartfelt rougelike filter. Awaiting the end of almost every run through caves and cities charted with thieves is a story that is moving and sentimental, a tale about familial relationships, bonds and legacy; the gameplay loop of gaining new abilities, upgrading characters and exploring new territories is rewarded further with these huge story payoffs recounted by an eloquent and compassionate narrator. To achieve this level of synchronicity between gameplay and story is a rare feat for any developer much less an indie studio and it’s without a doubt the best story yet told within a rougelike, emphasizing how far these games have to go; they are loaded with depth in systems and content but very few of them craft a compelling narrative. Children of Morta in that way is a fire under the sprinting heels of other roguelike developers. Who knows how long this trend will last? I love these games right now, but tastes change and new styles arise, other innovations emerge, Children of Morta proves how much there is to discover within this space, the distance the genre has to travel. The art-style renders the action in striking detail, making every special attack and big-group encounters visually radiant. It all adds up to a damn fine video game and maybe the best rougelike on the market.

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4. Outer Wilds

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC

Publisher: Annapurna Interactive

Developer: Mobius Digital

Best Moment: “The Heart of Dark Bramble”

Rating: 5 out of 5

Building off of narrative-based first-person games like Gone Home, What Remains of Edith Finch and Return of the Obra Dinn, The Outer Wilds launches you into space with a ship that controls somewhere in between Lunar Lander and No Man’s Sky, clunky but occasionally manageable. The game sets you on a twenty-two-minute time-loop where the galaxy, consciousness and existence is consumed at the end of that timespan, only to start you again back at the same starting point in a Groundhogs Day-esque repetition. You are tasked with exploring and discovering as much as you can in this brief period. This is a discovery-based game, but much like those formerly mentioned in this paragraph, there is a distinct terror to each revelation. Gone Home had an eerie, dreadful quiet. What Remains of Edith Finch was melancholy and inevitable. In Return of the Obra Dinn for every fate revealed, there was another sad ending to a perfectly miserable human life. The Outer Wilds builds off this legacy and presents the horror of space travel, the uncertainty of uncharted lands: the creatures, intrigue, danger, companionship, answers and untimely deaths that may await us in the cosmos. 

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5. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC

Publisher: Activision

Developer: From Software

Best Moment: “The Great Serpent”

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

From Software wants you to succeed. They just don’t want you to do so easily. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the Tenshu, spiritual successor we all didn’t know we wanted but desperately needed released to a variety of mixed criticisms and reviews, including from myself. I berated the boss-battles, a staple of From Software games, for not containing the advantages in combat that the Soulsborne-series offered. Boss-fights were unfair, but only as much as you made them out to be. If the boss pummels you in a single hit, it’s likely the developer is indicating that you need to spend more time leveling your character, they just don’t explicitly tell you or display a screen offering a reduction in the difficulty, if you are struggling it’s because you should be, it’s not supposed to be easy. Sekiro continues this affinity for difficulty without the compromise that the Soulsborne-games perfected. Instead is an unrelenting focus on precision in combat. At first this repulsed me from the game, I did not respect the requirements the game demanded of me. I had to stop the other games I was playing in order to bare down and “get good”. Once you open yourself up to dying, to loss, continual and seemingly endless defeat, then you’ve made yourself receptive to the freedom Sekiro presents in inevitability. Every death means that the friendly NPCs in the world, who are few and far between, grow more sick with a disease known as Dragonrot which simultaneously disables you from receiving your XP and money after you’ve died. The character’s remind you of the urgency of your mission in dialogue because it directly affects their mortality. Once you accept the responsibility of this mechanic, Sekiro, makes each death feel like a dire punishment against both the characters in the game and against you the player. At a certain point death becomes a necessary step towards victory which couples with this heavy weight attached to each perishing. The guilt and shame of each death is simultaneously aligned with feelings of progress and achievement. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is one of the most boldly designed games from a developer known for pronounced and difficult game-design. Epic boss battles, lush-orchestration, expertly-crafted combat, a vibrant, breathing world, interlocking exploration, and an enigmatically evocative narrative establish Sekiro as a new pinnacle in stoic video-game design.

Apex Legends season 6 gameplay trailer showcases new skins | Dot Esports

6. Apex Legends

Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC

Publisher: EA

Developer: Respawn Entertainment

Best Moment: “Your first W”

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I did not play this game like some did. I downloaded the game during it’s heyday and enjoyed it, battle-royale’s these days are in an overabundance, however, when Apex Legends released, Fortnite and PUBG largely commanded conversations around the genre. From jump, it was a fantastic game, the “pinging” system has become a standard tool of communication across the genre, allowing those even without headphones to participate in some necessary team coordination in order to assure victory. The already-large-roster of characters has since been updated and expanded to include a multitude of abilities and character personalities. The mix of Overwatch-hero-shooter within the battle-royale formula proved to be a key part of the games longevity. At it’s core though, the round-to-round variability is the most enthralling aspect, never having the same match twice. Even the paths to victory have no apparent consistency because of squad-based mechanics with a hero-shooter system; if you can find people to play with all the time, cool, but you are genuinely missing out on one of my favorite parts of the game: the mystery and volatility of three different personalities with a limited communication set, tasked with beating other teams who have the same, and in many cases increased capabilities, while navigating characters whose powers they consider themselves (in many cases) most at home in. My dad has been playing this game since its release and I suspect this is a huge factor in what keeps him coming back. He can become champion only to have the next round be a splendid mess because his teammates weren’t putting in the effort necessary to ensure victory or because he decided to experiment on a character he was less familiar with; it’s a tug-of-war between individual agency, collective pursuit and unique powers that make this game so successful, it’s a microcosm of human politics blown up to gargantuan proportions.

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7. The Outer Worlds

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC

Publisher: Private Division

Developer: Obsidian Entertainment

Best Moment: “Drinking with Parvati”

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

The Outer Worlds filled a void that players didn’t even know existed. Equal parts Bioware RPG and Fallout game, The Outer Worlds is Obsidian’s return to the choice-driven stories they made their name on. For a new IP in a beloved genre The Outer Worlds carved a fresh lane for itself through comedy and clever writing. The stories throughout the narrative, in both side-missions and in the main storyline, feature colorful characters, shocking endings and supirise caveats to avoid, prolong or diminish the violence all together through upgrades and dialogue options. The cast of party members available that populate and fill your ship, The Unreliable, are multidimensional, charming and reveal undisclosed depth as they join you on missions and embark on personal conquests of their own. Their progress across the course of the game is both in physical strength and in spiritual development as they grow more familiar with one another and more comfortable with themselves. The writing is mostly fantastic with the exception of a few quests, in particular, there is a mission where you have to go find a group of missing settlers only to discover they have been cannibalized, this is one of the lamest RPG-tropes, every RPG has one of these missions, they are always boring and the reveal of cannibalism just doesn’t resonate because it’s anticipated. Outside of that quest and a small number of outliers, The Outer Worlds, writing sustains it’s quality through it’s 15-30 hour runtime. There are a diverse array of role-playing options, from a genius-locksmith-hacker to an intelligent-charismatic smooth-talker to a dumb-boneheaded brute, The Outer Worlds encourages multiple play-throughs due to the sheer breadth of variety in play-style. The conclusion opens up the game’s galaxy to the universe at large and with Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Obsidian, The Outer Worlds announced itself as one of the most exciting and fresh IP’s in an RPG-field of established heavy-hitters.

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8. Void Bastards

Platform(s): Xbox One, MacOS, PC

Publisher: Humble Bundle

Developer: Blue Manchu

Best Moment: “Application Denied”

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Made by a number of the original creators of Bioshock and System Shock, Void Bastards, builds atop the foundations of those first-person-survival-RPG’s and introduces a roguelike-loop with a wallop of nihilistic bureaucracy-skewing humour. The pop-art-meets-comic-book aesthetic brightens up a world of lethality and coldness. Your lone companion is an emotionless spaceship-AI that rehydrates prisoners known as “clients” from packets of condensed powder. Each client has a special ability in addition to occasional detriments that hinder your characters abilities in certain areas but lead to moments of comic-frustration. There are color-blind characters, some are prone to sudden outbursts of shooting, wasting precious ammo. This leads to eager anticipation every time you die, death is rewarded with unique and laughable gameplay-twists. On each run your “client” travels through a variety of abandoned ships, medical clinics, luxury-cruise liners, convenience stores, collecting necessary items to inquire further into the mystery of the company that employs you. Planning a route through ships full of hostile aliens to reach scattered junk, resources, fuel and machine parts requires forethought and deliberation. Careful tracking of oxygen, food, fuel, ammo and parts are essential to success. The objects that are key to survival propel you forward as the returns of the parts you give to your AI-companion grow increasingly diminishing, resulting in an ending of inspired understatement. Void Bastards is a smartly-designed roguelike that incorporates mechanics from foundational survival-horror titles with dry-scathing humor that displays the perils of bureaucratic nightmares.

Slay the Spire review: A brilliant mash-up of genres | Shacknews

9. Slay the Spire

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC, Switch, MacOS, iOS, Linux

Publisher: Humble Bundle

Developer: MegaCrit

Best Moment: “Shrug it Off”

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

In addition to being a dynamic deck-builder, full of game-altering cards with interesting risks and rewards, Slay the Spire features meta-progression after each run that much like Dead Cells, gives the illusion that you are always making progress, even when you lose. The over-world is a haggard-map littered with question marks, skulls, bigger skulls with horns on their tops, treasure chests, money bags and an ultimate boss battle, choosing your path to this boss is of the utmost importance. There is a route that likely means tough battles with high-rewards while a shorter route might ensure seeing the boss but discourage experimentation with deck-builds and will perhaps leave you weak and meager when fighting the levels-boss. The art-style of the game isn’t terrible per se but it certainly does Slay the Spire no favors in a crowded field of roguelike-deck-builders. The gameplay however is so finely-tuned and receptive that Slay the Spire stands proudly above the pack.

Blasphemous' is one of Prime Gaming's free games - Olhar Digital

10. Blasphemous

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC, Switch

Publisher: Team17

Developer: The Game Kitchen

Best Moment: “Our Lady of the Charred Visage”

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Blasphemous is a punishing 2D soulslike that shares just as much with From’s seminal series as it does with Metroidvania titles. The combat is pure Castlevania; the boss battles are retro enough to have a nostalgic personality, yet the rhythms and pacing so vital and finely tuned each fight is exhilarating, always prompting another try, overcoming some of the insurmountable dread of the Souls series. Blasphemous brings novel mechanics to the formula as well, instead of losing your “souls” (“tears of atonement” here), when dying, you retain them but you leave behind a “guilt fragment” which until you retrieve it again reduces the amount of “tears” you receive, when found you recover the fragment and gain your health back, it adds a fresh incentive for returning to where you died without the baggage of losing all your progress and grinding if you don’t make it back. As The Penitent One you traverse beleaguered medieval settings ravaged by plague and monsters, the environments are rendered in gorgeous pixel art, each boss is stunning from a design perspective, it might take you a few runs before you stop getting distracted by particularly gruesome or vivid details.

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11. A Short Hike

Platform(s): MacOS, Linux, PC

Publisher: Adamgryu

Developer: Adamgryu

Best Moment: “Rule Number Three: Believe in Yourself”

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Peaceful, delightful, poignant and funny, A Short Hike, is as short or as long of an experience as you desire. As Claire, a bird, you traverse a small island inhabited by other kooky, colorful and charming characters whose activities converge and criss-cross in a surprisingly humble and kind manner. The game explores friendship, human connection and the subjective nature of the difficulty and duration of our journeys both collective and isolated. The exploration in A Short Hike miniaturizes what made Breath of the Wild such an exciting game, the whole world is open to you from the beginning of the game but the revelations and discoveries can be accomplished at your own pace. For such a bite-sized adventure, A Short Hike, is a memorable, joyous trip. 

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12. Resident Evil 2

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC

Publisher: Capcom

Developer: Capcom R&D Division 1

Best Moment: “Meeting Mr. X”

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Resident Evil is one of the most important video game series in my life. RE: 4 was the first mature-rated game I ever purchased, however, most essentially, it was the first game I could not shut up about. I remember the afternoon after I first played that game being at baseball practice attempting to describe to all my friends the fierce sensation I felt playing RE: 4. Resident Evil 2 is a complete remake of the second game in the franchise, however, it’s the closest I have come to reliving the sublime intensity of playing RE: 4 for the first time. Like the original, Resident Evil 2 features a campaign for each of the protagonists, Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield. Each features variations on the other, enough so they feel like separate entities, however, their narratives encounter each other throughout their respective journeys, making for a deeply satisfying cohesion. Resident Evil 2 is such a fantastic game due to its pledge to the mechanics that made the series so renowned in the first place. The set-piece-shooter inclinations of RE: 5 and RE: 6 have been abandoned in favor of true survival horror gameplay, while retaining the taut third-person-shooting that developed in those more action-centric entries. Ammo scarcity makes a return in Resident Evil 2, likely thanks to the success of RE: 7 just a few years ago. That game was terrifying due to the confined-view of a first-person camera-angle and relied on a mixture of ammo-scarcity with first-person-shooting, however, the camera is placed behind the shoulder in Resident Evil 2. Forcing the player to turn around to face the enemy behind them in first-person is extreme terror, however, knowing the enemy is stalking behind your back and having a split-second to react to an incoming attack that you may or may not have enough first-aid-spray and green-herbs to heal yourself from lights up your brain like a power-grid, hundreds of outcomes both positive and negative race through your thoughts. The sound-design in this game is impeccable, the clomping boots of Mr. X lurking in the hallways of the police station, the groans of zombies crawling across the floor, lightning, heavy-rain. So many horror-games rely on big-jump-scares while Resident Evil 2 creates an overwhelming atmosphere of dynamic, limited-lighting, incomparably intricate sound-design, inventory management and tight-third-person controls, transcending the original game to become a new-horror classic.

LIFE IS STRANGE 2 | Square Enix Store

13. Life is Strange 2

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC

Publisher: Square Enix

Developer: Dontnod Entertainment, Feral Interactive

Best Moment: “That Freaking Opening

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I loved the first Life is Strange. In spite of some stilted, seemingly self-aware awkward dialogue, the narrative was effective and memorable. The tone was jarring in it’s ability to place science-fiction alongside high-school tropes amidst an unflinchingly dark storyline featuring suicide, abuse and serial murder. It shouldn’t have worked as well as it did, but perhaps as a result of these qualities, rather than in spite of them, the game was a smashing success playing something like a hyper-earnest binge-able Netflix series. The sequel continues this thoroughly original concoction of conflicting ideas and impulses to create something equally fresh. Life is Strange 2 is a captivating adventure. Dontnod has refined the mimicking aesthetic of post-2000’s-indie films via Phoenix, Bright Eyes (that moment from the first game), Sufjan and a dirge of other artists who fit this bill, creating a thematic realm where the teenage experience still exists as it did in a John Hughes film: a world of equivalent value and political tug-of-war as that of the adult sphere. If I may define politics here rather simply, it’s about the things we are allowed to do. In this way Life is Strange 2 is unquestionably more political of a game than its predecessor. While the sequel sometimes remains in the realm of being obligated towards hot-button issues, unlike the first game, it doesn’t telegraph morals for you, rather it allows the characters and their situation to speak for themselves. While some of it’s messages already feel dated in a post-MAGA society, it’s a reminder and artifact of America at a particular moment that many will attempt to minimize as time goes on, however, Life is Strange 2 boldly places you at the center of racism, discrimination, profiling and most remarkably the world of children. The vulnerability and fragility that Dontnod conveys in its brotherly relationship that forms this narrative is stunning, each one has a complex and multi-faceted personality whose development throughout is engrossing and consistently devastating. The first entry submitted you to high school drama intermingled with supernatural ability, without getting into spoilers, Life is Strange 2 has decisively higher stakes. This is a sorrowful and affecting story that, for this reviewer, is every bit as unforgettable and impassioned as the first game.

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14. Luigi’s Mansion 3

Platform: Switch

Publisher: Nintendo

Developer: Next Level Games

Best Moment: “Paranormal Productions”

Rating: 4 out of 5

After all these years Luigi is still scared of everything. He’s saved Mario twice from the clutches of the evil-King-boo and accompanied him on countless adventures across different genres and platforms, yet, he is still startled at the sound of a flushing toilet. Luigi’s Mansion 3 returned Luigi to home-consoles for his most detailed and hilarious trip thus far. He, Mario, Peach and the gang are headed to a towering-hotel for vacation. Things are not as they seem, however, and the hotel is run by malicious ghosts that Luigi must defeat in a series of physics-and-interaction-based-puzzles alongside Ghostbusters-esque combat. The boss-battles are clever and surprising, bursting with personality and character. Each floor is distinct and lively, the locales are unpredictable and diverse but packed with lush detail. Much like Control, Luigi’s Mansion 3, makes you feel more present to the game-world by having a responsive environment. Whether it’s blowing or sucking the Poltergust 3000, it always has a physical effect within the immediate world that astounds and amuses. The welcome addition of cooperative gameplay introduces one of Nintendo’s most ludicrous creations thus far with the slimy Gooigi, and I assure you, two Luigi’s running around with vacuums is almost certainly better than one.

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15. Nowhere Prophet

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC, MacOS, Linux

Publisher: No More Robots

Developer: Sharkbomb Studios

Best Moment: “Bad Omens”

Rating: 4 out of 5

Mixing the merits of choose-your-own-adventure-books with roguelikes, deck-builders and strategy games; in Nowhere Prophet, the player takes control of a prophet, seemingly chosen by an extraterrestrial object to lead a group of people through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Your followers are your cards and can be permanently killed if overused in battle, it effectively “exhausts” the card if they die, a real sense of loss is achieved by losing their abilities and their support as a follower. The “permadeath” option adds tactical creases as they often cost less points to play in an injured state but are also more likely to perish on the battlefield thereby being removed from your deck. The game’s complexity increases as you progress further in the map. New scenarios, such as: sick followers, arenas with high-rewards, birds that provide bad omens for you and your followers, appear across the many journeys this game tasks you with embarking on in order to achieve ultimate victory. Nowhere Prophet is one of the more unforgiving and intricate roguelikes but the commitment to depth is its greatest strength.

APE OUT on Steam

16. Ape Out

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC, Switch, MacOS

Publisher: Gabe Cuzillo 

Developer: Devolver Digital

Best Moment: “Outro”

Rating: 4 out of 5

Simultaneously satisfying vegans and Tarantino-fans alike, Ape Out, is a game about an ape escaping from a large ultra-aggressive militia across laboratories, high rises and military bases. The soundtrack consists of jittery-jazz drum patterns that are enhanced by your gameplay, every time a villain is slammed into a wall, resulting in a splash of harsh red on the essentialist environments, a cymbal crash is added atop the sporadic polyrhythms. The music adds to Ape Out’s near-constant sense of forward momentum, slowing-down is death in this game, not trusting the path you’ve chosen can mean losing a few seconds on the tailing guards. Level selection is handled by choosing songs from a vinyl-record, everything about this game screams “cool” yet it’s most enduring quality is the strength of the propulsive gameplay. At it’s best, playing as the ape feels like controlling an unstoppable machine of brute-force.

Remnant: From The Ashes Review - Under Priced, Underrated, And Great |  Player.One

17. Remnant: From the Ashes

Platform(s): PS4, PC, Xbox One

Publisher: Perfect World Entertainment

Developer: Gunfire Games

Best Moment: “Finally Killing that Asshole Gorefist”

Rating: 4 out of 5

Co-op games are one of the most underrated genres on the market, absolutely overtaken by giant single player experiences and only valued as persistent, evolving experiences like The Division and Destiny. Remnant: From the Ashes is a punishing, unforgiving cooperative soulslike that does not wish to be anything more than it is: a totally fun and challenging romp through a diverse array of biomes and terrains chalk full of difficult enemies and epic boss battles that never cease to create new twists on those that came before. The only critique one could level at the game is there isn’t quite as much loot as there probably could be, and if there’s a sequel, Diablo-esque item drops would be deeply welcome. For now, however, grab a buddy whose as masochistic as you are and hop into a terrific third-person shooter that will constantly test your reflexes and skills against an array of tough firefights and incredible boss battles.

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18. Sayonara Wild Hearts

Platform(s): Platform(s): PS4, PC, iOS, MacOS, Switch

Publisher: Simogo

Developer: Annapurna Interactive

Best Moment: “Begin Again”

Rating: 4 out of 5

Sayonara Wild Hearts is the shortest game on this list but it’s also the most stylish, a sweet-yet-fleeting hour-and-a-half bubbling neon overdose. Level to level the design is astonishing, bustling with electric energy, the flow is so seamless it’s difficult to put down, pausing would feel like stopping a movie during its climactic moment, every moment in this game is topping the one that came before it. The story is vague, but the feeling that it induces is powerful, the journey of this woman to reclaim her heart is ephemeral and rushing, like youth in pursuit of its end.. The rhythmic elements take a few levels to click but are intuitive fun that encourage returning after the credits roll to reach a new high score and listen to the infectious ear-worms that populate the soundtrack.

Slideshow: The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening E3 2019 Images

19. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

Platform: Switch

Publisher: Nintendo

Developer: Grezzo

Best Moment: “The Last Ballad of the Wind Fish”

Rating: 4 out of 5

Remakes seemed to have plateaued in the last three years. Since Shadow of the Colossus, they’ve seen an increase in quality and polish, so much so, that these “Remakes” are beginning to feel like new games entirely. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is the base game in a wildly different shell that somehow enhances all of it’s dreamy-glory. The dungeon design is largely intact from the original, which leads to some moments of serious frustration towards the final two dungeons, however, the largest alteration is the adorable art-style. Instead of the Gameboy’s original 16-bit limitations, Nintendo adopted a toy-box-aesthetic adding layers of surreality to an already strange Zelda game. The characters feel distant, occasionally breaking the fourth wall, but more often than not, the NPC’s feel deeply entrenched within their own bizarre-experiences, often rambling, speaking in sentences near impossible to respond to. The story is still one of the strongest in the Zelda series, often known for their elusive yet powerful narratives. More than just a new-coat-of-paint Link’s Awakening is a reimagining of a classic that reminds us of the series’ capacity for divergent and thoroughly odd narratives.

The Surge 2 Review: Deck 13 Takes a Proper Step Out of From Software's  Shadow | USgamer

20. The Surge 2

Wargroove on Steam

21. Wargroove

Platform(s): Switch, Xbox One, Playstation 4, PC

Publisher: Chucklefish

Developer: Chucklefish

Best Moment: “Deep in the Woods with Trebuchet’s”

Rating: 4 out of 5

Good tactics games are few and far between, the genre’s heyday long behind us, Wargroove reminds us all just how absorbing the genre is by miniaturizing and simplifying its core appeal into what is likely the greatest DS game that was never made. Your tactical approaches are challenged battle to battle by increasingly dynamic encounters, whether the developers are adding units, sight limitations or weather and terrain interference, you can never get too comfortable with one strategy or enjoy too much success with a single unit. The story is shockingly realized with a sympathetic and motivated cast of characters who really journey together, it takes them all across the kingdom to various biomes, each victory feels earned and there is never question as to the purpose of each battle as they all have a brief but effective set up that gives them additional urgency. Wargroove establishes itself as a franchise to watch in the coming-generation, whether it remains committed to pixel-art or makes the jump to 3D there is vision, intrigue and a drove of tactical thrills to be had.

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22. Sky: Children of the Light

Platform: iOS, Android

Publisher: Thatgamecompany

Developer: Thatgamecompany

Best Moment: “Holding Hands”

Rating: 4 out of 5

Thatgamecompany’s release following their breakout success Journey was met with years of heated anticipation. 2019 saw the release of Sky: Children of the Light a true spiritual successor to Journey that continues that game’s fascination with passive-multiplayer. This is certainly an unpopular opinion but Sky just might be a better game than its predecessor. Where Journey relied on a Shadow of the Colossus-esque immersion in isolation to evoke beauty and wonder, punctuated by encounters with other players in this seemingly empty landscape, Sky invites delight in company. All players who have not yet become your “friend” are displayed in ghostly-outlines of those player’s-characters. To invite them into your game your character offers them a burning candle that they can use to light their own candle thereby sealing your friendship and making them visible within your game world. Some puzzles require multiple people so unlike Journey this is not a game that can be enjoyed alone and is better with complete strangers. As the game progresses your character interacts with these “memories”, small narratives that play out in short vignettes. Through these “memories” your character is granted new emotes to communicate with other players. Eventually the game fills out your vocabulary so you can better articulate yourself in specific situations. Had a close call with the evil beasts that steal the light that allows you to fly and traverse the largely vertical landscapes? Wipe your brow to your pal afterwards to express your distress only for them to clap in praise at your mutual accomplishment. Someone grabs your hand and leads you right through the rain that diminishes the fire that allows you to connect with other players? Duck under cover and admonish them with emotes until they realize their critical mistake. When they find you, they just might let you lead the way since they assume you know what you are doing only to end up in a similarly compromising position. These moments convey the limits and capabilities of gestural communication, the only language you have is a physical one, there are not emotes for long-winded explanations but short, punchy, and effective statements. Until Sky: Children of the Light finds its way towards a proper release on consoles I fear it will always live in the shadow of its predecessor, doomed to be ignored and underrated, however, this is the most intelligent, playable, enjoyable and genuinely console-worthy game available on iOS.

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23. Astral Chain

Platform: Switch

Publisher: PlatinumGames

Developer: Nintendo

Best Moment: “Zone 09”

Rating: 4 out of 5

In a genre that seemed doomed to the bounds of Devil May Cry and Bayonetta, stylish-action has finally moved beyond demons and decaying-cityscapes into the realm of anime-science fiction. PlatinumGames, founded by Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami, Atsushi Inaba, who is responsible for works like God Hand, and Hideki Kamiya, director of Ōkami, Viewtiful Joe, and the original Devil May Cry, who all worked on Bayonetta in some capacity, have pushed the genre forward in appropriately grandiose fashion with Astral Chain. After the similarly groundbreaking (yet not as crowd-pleasing) Nier: Automata, the studio shifted-gears towards crafting a Switch-exclusive for Astral Chain. Unfortunately “Switch Exclusive” is synonymous with reduced graphical-capability. What Astral Chain lacks in being a visual-powerhouse it more than makes up for in its futuristic-setting and detailed world-design. The art-style is distinctly anime-influenced, the colors-pop with bright and bold luminous-neon, the game features numerous references to mangas like Neon Genesis and Akira, altering familiar tropes into original content. The highlight, however, is Astral Chain’s singular approach to combat. As an officer of Neuron, a police force tasked with investigating the presence of Chimeras, hostile alien creatures from another dimension called the “Astral Plane”, you control a “Legion”, a tamed-Chimera that only your character is capable of controlling. The “Legion” is tethered to your player by a chain. This “chain” between you both, outside of being the titular feature of the game, is innovative and unconventional. The “Neuron officer” is controlled with one joy-stick while the “Legion” is guided with the other, the chain in between them can bind enemies, create dynamic combos, and even act as a trampoline for enemy attacks; sending them flying backwards across the map. The game is much larger than anticipated, a roughly 20-30 hour experience, which is mighty lengthy for a game of this genre. Astral Chain makes efficient use of its running time. The fear with stylish-action games in general, is that their bombastic plots, splashy-move-sets, and too-cool-for-school characters grow stale rather quickly, so they often feel like a constant game of one-up-manship where the game is always trying to overcome the moment previous, encouraging safety in brevity. Astral Chain eschews this tradition, instead incorporating Yakuza-esque side content: goofy characters, menial tasks and minigames in between the hectic battles and flashy violence. This prompts exploration in a manner largely foreign to games in this genre, there are secrets to be found that reward you not only with gear and XP, but earned moments of participation, cooperation and struggle. Astral Chain has set a new high-bar in a genre that thrives on creating a product more explosive and outlandish than previous entries. Long live PlatinumGames!

Mortal Kombat 11 (for PC) Review | PCMag

24. Mortal Kombat 11

Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Developer: NetherRealm Studios

Best Moment: “Mastering your First Character

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Mortal Kombat rocks. Plain and simple. It will always be awesome to beat up your buddies as this cast of characters and rendering them at this level of graphical fidelity is especially visceral, each fatality is disgusting. NetherRealm has doubled down on the depth-of-combat fans have come to expect from the series’ diverse roster. There are an obscene amount of combos to master and discover, each character is its own language. The individuality and playability of each one is remarkable, each move set is it’s own series of hoops to jump through, offering near endless opportunities to replay and learn new characters; this could be your game for life, it is absolutely overwhelming, it has the expansive content of an open world game simply within the mechanics of it’s playable characters, no fetch-quests or fat, just characters beating the living shit out of each other.

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25. Death Stranding

Platform: PS4

Publisher: Kojima Productions

Developer: Sony Interactive Entertainment, 505 Games

Best Moment: “Don’t Be So Serious”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Hideo Kojima is one of the most respected and recognizable video-game-directors, which is why Death Stranding, his first game since leaving Konami, is a truly audacious statement. As a Playstation-exclusive, or any first-party-exclusive for that matter, Death Stranding, is completely unprecedented. Rarely has a Lead Director received so much unadulterated creative control over such an expensive and ambitious project. The result is an absolute mess, however, there has never been a mess quite like Death Stranding. The story is unwieldy, pretentious and absurd, a character named Fragile says things like “I’m fragile– but not that fragile”, and the audience is expected to keep a straight-face, however, despite all the inexplicably terrible writing and ludicrous-story-twists, Death Stranding is a profound experience. Delivering packages across a broken, post-apocalyptic America while building structures for other players and utilizing theirs as Sam reconnects more of the Chiral network is effective not because of upgrades or jaw-dropping set piece-moments (which there are several of both), but rather because of the tedious, straining gameplay and the help you’ve received or dispensed along the way. After traversing a majestic and lethal swath of terrain the accomplishment is in the journey, not the reward. The production design is stunning, the landscapes are gorgeous and impeccably detailed, the soundtrack that accompanies these self-crafted moments of discovery; sighting a new valley or scenic vista are awe-inspiring and grandiose. For better or worse there will never be anything quite like Death Stranding.

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26. Lonely Mountains: Downhill

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC, Switch, MacOS, Linux

Publisher: Megagon Industries

Developer: Thunderful

Best Moment: “Shortcuts Only”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

If the Trials games are too hardcore and turbulent for your tastes, but riding bikes on impossible-courses still sounds like fun, Lonely Mountains: Downhill, is the game for you. I’ve tried tirelessly to break into the Trials games as they are often well-received and attract a fervent niche audience, however, the hard-rock music/dubstep, explosions and stunts are often discouraging to my tastes. Lonely Mountains: Downhill is the perfect cocktail of an arcade game. The courses are challenging, offering a range of pathways, shortcuts and hidden diversions for those willing to look for them. There is always an assured path that promises victory, however, the real fun is in experimenting with the less likely passages. They are often more lethal, when completed, however, the gratification is immense and incomparable but celebration is quickly thwarted by the dangers present on the track. Using rigid geometry for its environments and a limited color palette, Lonely Mountains: Downhill exchanges the attack-on-the-senses method of the Trials games in favor of a soothing environment and the delicate sounds of a biker alone on the trail.

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27. Plague Tale: Innocence

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC

Publisher: Focus Home Interactive

Developer: Asobo Studios

Best Moment: “The First Kill”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Plague Tale: Innocence feels like a game from a bygone era. A one-off single-player IP that mixes a number of genres and styles to create something entirely its own, it’s a third-person stealth-puzzle experience but it’s most akin to The Last of Us in that it stretches an escort mission to game length, interwoven with tense sequences and meaningful characters. It feels entirely out of touch with the demands of modern-gamers who clamor for massive open-worlds and living-multiplayer games, which is to Plague Tale’s credit, the game is focused on the duo at the heart of the narrative, Amicia and her brother Hugo. Their journey through plague-ridden France is harrowing, they are subjected as witnesses to unspeakable atrocities and commit some of their own. Murdering someone with a swarm of rats doesn’t feel good even if that person is ordered to show you no mercy. The herds of rats that populate many areas in this game, and form the backbone of the puzzles, are a terrifying sight, their bodies overlap as they scurry across each others backs, their eyes glowing a sinister red. Aside from some frustrating boss-battles the gameplay mixes novel rat-based combat with solid-stealth elements in an intriguing fashion. Plague Tale: Innocence is by no means a fun game but it weaves a compelling and genuinely shocking narrative about the melancholy pain and intense trauma that comes with growing up, all accompanied by a brooding, dread-fueled score. 

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28. Gris

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC, Switch, iOS, MacOS

Publisher: Devolver Digital 

Developer: Nomada Studio

Best Moment: “Running with Your Reflection” 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Unapologetically beautiful from start to finish, Gris is a gorgeous, allegorical, and evocative journey about a woman reclaiming her voice and returning color to the world around her that technically came out in late-2018 but was left out of a majority of Game of the Year discussions last year and was not reviewed until 2019. The visuals are stunning and the music is overflowing with rapturous emotion. The story is all the stronger for its ambiguity, traveling across dilapidated ruins, solving puzzles through passive interaction, are enhanced by the mysterious buildings and strange, occasionally terrifying but often endearing creatures. 

Devil May Cry 5 Tips - All the Essential Devil May Cry 5 Tips for SSS Rank  Combos | USgamer

29. Devil May Cry 5

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC

Publisher: Capcom

Developer: Capcom

Best Moment: “Dante and his Silly Cowboy Hat”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Corny dialogue, ridiculous characters and chaotic-combo-based combat unite into what is a fantastic Devil May Cry game. While I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Ninja Theory’s 2013 reboot, there aren’t quite as many gadgets and the campaign feels much shorter this time around, 5 feels like the game fans wanted after 4. With three playable characters, Dante, Nero, and newcomer, V, there are plenty of combos to be conquered and mastered across the game’s nineteen missions. The animations are fluid, bursting with color and finesse. The narrative itself is a bit flimsy, even for a stylish-action game, it’s a “revenge” story, Nero wants his missing arm back, however, outside of the occasional one-liner, the inclusion of a story is often awkward and obligatory, although Capcom does a great job welcoming veteran fans and first-time players alike, in explaining established-lore while adding new wrinkles and plot developments to a well-worn-tale. The game controls like a dream, each of the three characters has a unique approach to combat, the fluidity, ease and accessibility between their combos is remarkable. The biggest criticism against 5 is the lack of a new-game-plus option. Devil May Cry 5 throws a plethora of skill points the player’s way during it’s campaign, however, there are still plenty of skills left locked when the credits roll, it would be a blast to revisit missions as a character of your choosing until they are maxed-out with upgrades. Outside of the lazy-story and the absent post-game, Devil May Cry 5, is a fresh start for a classic series.

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30. Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Platform: Switch

Publisher: Nintendo

Developer(s): Intelligent Systems, Koei Tecmo

Best Moment: “Teatime” 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Being a teacher is hard. Students come and go with new classes, year to year you get older and the kids remain the same age, the distance between growing more irreconcilable. Fire Emblem: Three Houses exacerbates this sensation by thrusting you into a world of political, religious and class tension, tasking you with training a generation of students who will decide the fate of a nation. From the start of the game you are offered the choice between three disparate houses, the Golden Deer, the Black Eagles and the Blue Lions, each offering a distinct play-through with a different cast of characters. Despite characters mouths never moving, and all the dialogue either being read or simply spoken, I have seldom felt so attached to a cast-of-characters. Each character that populates the school, from the fearful, cowering students to the prideful, arrogant nobles, to the leaders of the church, display three-dimensional personalities that burst with conflict and sensation. There are male-students who struggle to treat their romantic-interests decently. Some students are scared to attend classes much less enter a battlefield. Learning their personalities, fears and desires is the game’s strongest component. The strategy-gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played or even glanced at a Fire Emblem-game, tile-and-unit-based-tactics construct the entirety of the game’s combat, however, it’s more thrilling due to the work put in outside of war. The hours of training, classes and preparation spent with students all cumulates on the battlefield where the students test their skills and display their talents. “Permadeath” is still an essential component of the series, however, Three Houses has an option to rid yourself of that mechanic entirely. I began playing on that mode, made it about fifteen-hours into the main-story before the guilt of a number of deceased-students began to weigh on me heavily, there was no enjoyment or fun I could extract from the game any longer, knowing those teenagers deaths were on my hands. As a result, I started over without it…. Did I mention how hard it is to be a teacher?

Save 30% on Mutazione on Steam

31. Mutazione

Platform: Playstation 4, MacOS, PC, iPhone

Publisher: Die Gute Fabrik

Developer: Die Gute Fabrik, Akupara Games

Best Moment: “A Melancholy Song”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Mutazione is an unassuming little adventure about rebuilding community, environmental collapse, history, calamity and gardening. It’s a coming-of-age story at heart but the supporting cast of characters, the mutant island inhabitants afflicted by radiation from a meteorite thirty years prior to the events of the game, are committed, loyal and quaint people with dramas and foibles whose growth is substantive and touching. Like any point n’ click game it can be a bit frustrating to wander the map when the objective is less clear but the world is constantly bustling with fauna and plant life mutated and exotic. How you play the main character in her interactions is not necessarily going to affect the story in massive strokes but it will shape and mold your conversations with the island inhabitants, pressing on meaningful subjects or trying to defuse the situation with a joke. There is also a significant amount of gardening, the main character is tasked with refurnishing the island: the goal becomes to design gardens in places where there is no life, the sweeping environmental change in the village casts a spell too on the villagers, it’s a subtly potent environmental message that is made all the stronger by emphasis on connection and community. The minimalist art style makes the games darker, more torrid narratives all the more resonant and mature, never sacrificing their intricacies.

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32. Streets of Rogue

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC, MacOS, Switch, Linux

Publisher: TinyBuild Games

Developer: Matt Dabrowski

Best Moment: “RIOT! RIOT! RIOT!”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between the methods in which a medical professional, tech expert, gangster, or a gorilla would employ in solving a given problem than Streets of Rogue just might spoil all the remaining mysteries left for you in this world. By combining RPG-class mechanics with the procedurally-generated level-design of roguelikes, Streets of Rogue, offers a wealth of options for how to tackle a multitude of different situations. A gangster might be able to garner enough support from fellow gang-members that breaking, entering and stealing from a highly-secured facility is a breezy-albeit-bloody affair. The thief has the opportunity to sneak in without causing a scene while a tech expert would be able to disable the cameras, guns and traps wired throughout the building, however, both would arrive at a disadvantage if thrust into combat. Roguelikes often succeed because of a feeling of consistent progress despite the inevitability of a “game over”-screen, however, Streets of Rogue, has succeeded in making each-round feel distinct and individual thanks to its diverse and varied roster of playable characters and dynamic interlocking systems.

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33. What the Golf?

Platform(s): iOS, MacOS, Switch, Linux, PC

Publisher: Triband

Developer: Triband

Best Moment: “Ouch”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

What the Golf? is a game about subverting expectations. Any preconceptions about, sports and physics-based-comedy-games in general are rewired and reworked in a consistently hilarious and inventive fashion. The first level is simultaneously misleading and reassuring, affirming the standards of the basic rules of golf before abandoning and altering those foundations. The controls are perfectly applicable to mobile gaming and the levels are short enough to complete in a small amount of time while making solid progress. What the Golf? is a game packed full of constant surprises and consistent laughs with a myriad of clever video game references across its numerous levels and rewarding challenge-courses. 

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34. Grindstone

Platform: iOS

Publisher: Capybara Games

Developer: Capybara Games

Best Moment: “Clearing an Entire Room in less than Five Moves”

Rating: 3 out of 5

Once upon a time:

I was playing Grindstone and a stranger asked, after they had observed me playing for a moment, “is that a Candy Crush update?”.

Grindstone is assuredly, much, much more than an update of the well-worn connect-three-genre. The game’s newspaper-comic aesthetic and gleefully-gory gameplay establish a tone that is entirely its own, like a bit-character from Rick and Morty stepped out of the show and created their own game. Your goal is to collect Grindstones across various puzzles, the more monsters you kill in a single turn, the more Grindstones one receives. Once all the monsters required to clear a zone have been eliminated, the exit to the map opens, however, so to do the secondary objectives. This often leads one to make dangerous and confounding decisions, if you die in the level, you lose all of your collected Grindstones and other loot. A smart player might head straight for the exit and come back after they’ve received their rewards, however, thoughtless, greedy people will try to collect everything in a single run. Grindstone leaves those decisions wisely in your hands. The only thing holding this otherwise stellar game from great heights are the poorly-executed boss battles. They require a number of attempts to figure out but are often not that satisfying or memorable, they feel like unfortunate bumps in a largely smooth experience. Certainly more than an update on Candy Crush, Grindstone, encourages experimentation in what was becoming a stale genre.

35. Darksiders 3

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36. Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Developer: Respawn Entertainment 

Best Moment: “Receiving a double-sided lightsaber”

Rating: 3 out of 5

Writing about Star Wars in any capacity feels like polluting an already fervent and extremely noisy cultural conversation between Rise of the Skywalker and The Mandalorian, however, Jedi Fallen Order is not only the most successful piece of Star Wars-based-media to be released in 2019 but arguably one of the best Star Wars games ever. Which only highlights how difficult it can be to craft a truly extraordinary Star Wars experience. Fallen Order lacks an identity of its own, it’s an assemblage of elements from the Uncharted series, the Soulsborne franchise, and the exploration emulates Metroid. Force Unleashed was a God of War clone, Battlefront ripped the Battlefield formula, Knights of the Old Republic is remembered for being a great Bioware game rather than a worthy addition to Star Wars, and Republic Commando was undeniably piggybacking on the success of sci-fi shooters like Half Life and Halo. Fallen Order continues this trend of avoiding innovation and originality. The combat is fun, but it’s better elsewhere. The exploration recalls the shortcuts of Bloodborne with a fraction of the revelation. There are highlights sure, when the various elements coalesce into a whole, the game can be quite thrilling, however, more often than not Fallen Order feels like it’s standing on the shoulders of giants.

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37. Untitled Goose Game

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC, Switch, MacOS

Publisher: Panic Inc.

Developer: House House

Best Moment: “The Quack Button”

Rating: 3 out of 5

Untitled Goose Game was perhaps so successful in 2019 due to its ability to expand upon certain trends, such as, the meme-based-chaos-genre that developed in the wake of Goat Simulator, and the minimalist-whimsy of games like Donut County and Katamari Damacy, however, much of its charm arises out of the ability to effectively “gamefy” ruining human’s lives. The player is given a list of tasks to complete in a certain area, which often involves wreaking havoc or spreading mischief by stealing or misplacing people’s items. There is real delight in seeing the frustrated reactions of the town’s residents as many of them do not have fully-animated faces so their emotion is largely displayed in their body movements: an increased-pace, hands-on-the-hips, a scratch of the scalp; the game is incredibly gestural despite its minimalism. Playing as the goose, the player is certain to have many feelings as well, luckily there are buttons solely dedicated to goose-honking and raising your wings in an aggressive position. While the puzzles occasionally rely on the tedious nature of trial-and-error and can dip into a habit of repetition, Untitled Goose Game, always gives you a reason to smile. Now with co-op!

World War Z' Tells New Stories Within the Film's Universe - Variety

38. World War Z

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC

Publisher: Saber Interactive, H2 Interactive

Developer: Saber Interactive

Best Moment: “Zombie Walls”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Everybody agrees we want another Left 4 Dead game, this is no secret. For now, we have World War Z, which though imperfect does some really admirable things to the tried-and-true formula. For instance the amount of zombies on screen and the real weight they take on by amassing into thick walls to reach higher distances is consistently a sight to behold. The level design is not quite as streamlined or the atmosphere as thick and palpable but the leveling of individual guns and separate classes does make for a fun addition to the formula. Though it does lack replay-ability in certain areas, particularly playing the same level over and over agin if death is continuous can highlight how stale and underwhelming some of the design is because the beats and moments just don’t feel all the exciting to reengage with, there is some fun to be had in this occasionally enjoyable licensed third-person co-op zombie shoot em’ up.

Image result for baba is you gameplay

39. Baba Is You

Platform(s): MacOS, Switch, Linux, PC

Publisher: Hempuli

Developer: Hempuli

Best Moment: “Wall is You”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Baba is You should’ve been fantastic. The game cleverly twists programming-logic allowing you to control different characters, items, and objects in the environment by switching the arrangement of words in a sentence. Baba is You, but You could also be whatever other words are in the environment. The premise is genius but the execution is extremely frustrating. Excitement in Baba is You arises when big switches in logic and role reversals prevail, however, the game often forces you to push boxes and other various objects in a particular order, and while there is a button devoted to a move-to-move rewind for convenience, figuring out the path the developers are forcing you to take is not particularly fun. Ultimately Baba is You, is a small indie that deserves a sequel to cement and actualize its brilliant concept. 

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40. Pokémon: Sword and Shield

Platform: Switch

Publisher: The Pokémon Company, Nintendo

Developer: Game Freak

Best Moment: “That First Dynamax”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

A woman outside the PokéCenter asked me what my birthdate was, assessed my horoscope, told me I was destined to catch legendary Pokémon, and then disappeared. 

In all seriousness, this begins as a deliriously fun romp through a new region, with fresh and old Pokémon alike. I haven’t played a Pokémon game since middle school, and while Sword and Shield is not exactly the open-world-Pokémon game we had all clamored for, it’s certainly a delight. Seeing Pokémon wander casually through the wild-area is the completion of many-a-childhood dream. The Galar-region is diverse, loaded with interesting locations and your standard-Pokémon-folk, all competing to be the strongest trainer in the land. Once the grind of catching Pokémon, however, is where the game really starts to break down, the combat remains the same after twenty years, simple inputs of opposite types and moves that grows thin after the first two or three gym battles, proving to be a fairly meaningless leap-forward for the series, a deadly static for the series as it makes it’s jump to home consoles. Ambition and growth would’ve radically altered the outcome of this entry.

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41. Borderlands 3

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC

Publisher: 2K Games

Developer: Gearbox Software

Best Moment: “To Be Continued…”

Rating: 2 out of 5

There is a scene in Almodovar’s latest, Pain and Glory, where aging filmmaker Salvador Mallo has a conversation with a former actress he has not seen for many years. He speaks of how much the film moved him, despite him disliking it upon its initial release. She responds (I’m paraphrasing) “The film has not changed, your eyes have”. I feel similarly about Borderlands 3. I loved the Borderlands series throughout middle and high school, I poured hundreds of hours across 1, 2, and the Pre-Sequel, obsessed with the constant loot-loop and near-endless amount of guns. I never thought the games were hilarious but I found the humor tolerable. I’ve grown-up tons since the last numbered entry in the franchise, my eyes have changed and frankly, Borderlands hasn’t. The gameplay is almost identical to the first three entries in the franchise, the shooting is standard but completely unremarkable, the world equally stagnant and weightless. The voice-acting is some of the most ear-piercingly aggravating I’ve heard this console generation, everyone seems to be doing some variation of a nasally southern accent that I just pray someone finds funny in this world, otherwise, it’s an absolute abomination. While I understand Gearbox’s urge to retain the heart of the franchise it’s entirely too stubborn, by not improving Borderlands has regressed. With that said, the new cast of Vault Hunters have an interesting array of abilities and the skill trees have awesome builds and variations. Borderlands 3 is the most fun after the credits have rolled, there is a “Mayhem Mode” that allows you to select different difficulty tiers for increased loot and XP, but I was so exhausted with the games dated visual style, infuriating characters, and standard gunplay after 25-30 hours that I fell off shortly after completing it.

Arise: A Simple Story video game review - The Washington Post

42. Arise: A Simple Story

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, Switch, PC

Publisher: Techland

Developer: Piccolo Studios LLC

Best Moment: Walking Up That Hill

Rating: 2 out of 5

I wanted to like this game a lot. I enjoy “art” games a ton: Journey, Abzu, you name it, I’ve dug down and given it a shot. Arise: A Simple Story was a game released in the final days of 2019 and I badly wanted to play it back then but it fell by the wayside in my backlog. Finally getting around to this, I wonder if I might have enjoyed it more on release. Arise is a game that enters with pretension around its own intentions. It knows itself to be “art” but can never reconcile that ambition with actual gameplay. So, while the time manipulation mechanic is on-paper “cool” and the environments are lovely, the narrative exists in the post-Braid zone of ambiguity, striving for it’s own kind of poetry in storytelling but all this comes together in a bland and rather stale package. It’s the first “art” game I have been absolutely petrified with boredom by, it was comical to me how little I was interacting with the game, the platforming could be slept through, and the button inputs could hardly be labeled as “interactive”. Arise is a wee bit like watching paint-dry, technically “art” but completely devoid of urgency and mutual relationship between art-subject, a monologue from the developers to a sleeping audience.

Metro: Last Light Redux review | PC Gamer

43. Metro: Last Light

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC

Publisher: THQ, Deep Silver

Developer: 4A Games

Best Moment: Railroading “Wolfenstein” Style

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Listen y’all, unless your name is CoD or Halo, it’s hard being a linear first-person shooter in this marketplace. Metro has been one of my favorite franchises since childhood when I became obsessed with the first games cinematic trailer. I only owned a Wii so I didn’t get to play the original until the same year as the sequel Last Light, which after having just engaged in the original, could not have been more happy to see everything I had loved improved upon, the atmosphere had been deepened in it’s integrity; each moment dripped with heavy breaths and the dread of nuclear fallout, the radiation and lacking clean oxygen affecting the narrative and gameplay. The dynamic lighting-mechanics made for a compelling stealth component. The first game largely kept itself committed to the titular railroad, where Last Light went topside as a result of the ending of 2033. This was a huge maneuver narratively, there was more ambition in Last Light, a sense of coexistence whose theme was echoed in its narrative; main character Artyom accompanying the last of the “dark ones” (a group of post-nuclear mysterious beings) in a journey of hope. This optimism and sense of rebuilding is pervasive in Exodus. It sets itself up as the final entry in the story, and while the narrative is likely the most compelling bit, with the plot’s year-long duration and changing environments with the seasons, visually the story is immersive and it attempts to steal some pages from the Wolfenstein playbook with the natural conversations and observations in these “talking” sections in juxtaposition to the stealth and shooting. The writing is just not up to snuff, hearing these characters speak is grating and annoying, every other Russian accent is a fake one so even if there is good dialogue stomaching it’s fidelity (or lack thereof) is brutal. There are ideas within that aren’t necessarily bad and the story occasionally follows some interesting threads, concluding the trilogy with resonance and poise, however, at each moment it’s insufferable to stomach because of the lack of detail and effort allotted the voice-acting. There is so much ambition in the world-design, the mix of stealth and action, the employment of “wide-linear” level design, that should all work together but is consistently diluted by what is at best, place-holder voice-acting and middling writing that only serves diminish the seriousness and integrity of the game. It’s a disappointing finale to one of the industries most persistent ugly ducklings that I just hope gets it’s proper due someday, perhaps this is in the form of a next-generation remaster, a proper budget or just a reassessment of what did and did not work about this game and the series at large but there is hope for this wasteland yet, here’s hoping it’s not the last one.

44. Days Gone