2019... once again, this wasn’t a fun year for me or anyone else really, but this year in particular just felt like it wanted to take things away from me. A lot of not-fun family issues happened to me earlier this year, but 2019 was also a year where the bad was balanced out by some good: this year, I finally broke into legit games writing, thanks to the wonderful folks at Unwinnable. 2019 can’t be all bad when you get paid to write about Crackdown 3 of all things, right? Right?
Okay, this was a pretty dry year for games, and it’s also a year where I’m going to forgo my annual best of what I missed in the previous year articles (I’ll explain a little more about that later this week, hopefully). I won’t say like others that 2019 was a not-good year for games, but I personally was disappointed in a year I hoped would be like 2012, the year before next-gen when every developer gave the old hardware one final round, producing some of my favorite games of the decade, and instead what we got was... better than average, but aside from one or two entries not a whole lot of groundbreaking stuff. Sill, I still found ten games to talk about, five of which are titles that deserve to be played and remembered after 2019 ends. Let’s get to it, starting with:
Alright, so... this isn’t quite as fresh or deep as Oxenfree. But dammit if this wasn’t one of the funniest games I played this year, and like Oxenfree this is still a gorgeous game. It doesn’t go anywhere near as hard as its predecessor, but Night School Studio’s second outing more than proved that their first game wasn’t a fluke, and it must be said that Milo, Lola, and Beelzebub himself were some of the most fun characters I spent time with this year. And the mini-games in this are actually pretty fun too, so good on you Afterparty. Here’s to whatever follows you up.
I know, I know. But I said earlier this year that this would make it onto my 2019 HMs, and after reminding myself that Crackdown 3 was indeed something that happened, I found myself strangely... glad, that I played it. Sure, it was a by the numbers open-world third-person-shooter that felt around ten years out of date, but truth be told I kind of miss open-world collect-athons that can just be finished in the span of a week. I played it, got through the story, upgraded my character to the max, enjoyed some of the platforming puzzles (which are genuinely nerve-wracking at times), and then went onto the next game in my backlog. And it’s free with xbox game pass, so it’s cheap. If you just want something to turn your brain off to and go through some surprisingly playable motions, I have just the waste of time for you.
Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
A version of Division that’s playable! Huzzah! I still kind of wish this had more narrative meat to it, and I do find myself yearning for the beautiful ruins of a snowy New York City, but those personal wants aside, this was the game I had hoped to play back in 2016. This really is Division 2.0, with most the problems from the previous game not only fixed, but Division 2 also managed to feel like a game that at release was a title that already went through all the year one teething problems we’ve come to expect from triple-A MMOs. The main reason that this stayed off my top five list though, despite pretty good combat and in-game progression, is that after the first month where I burned through it, I just didn’t really go back to it. I pop on Halo 5 and the MCC every week, I keep going back to Forza Horizon 4 and Battlefield V believe it or not, but Division 2... somehow, it just doesn’t have that attribute that keeps you coming for more. Still, great base game regardless.
Best Gears since Gears of War 3. Unfortunately that’s not saying a whole lot, but this still is probably the best multiplayer suite of the year. Alongside the strongest campaign in nearly a decade sits the quickest versus mode ever fitted to a Gears (for better and worse, I’ll admit), the most accessible and addictive horde mode ever, and escape which... okay, it is the weakest of the three multiplayer offerings, but when it fires on all cylinders and you find the right team to play it, it does achieve that sprint for your life firefight it’s going for, and I really hope The Coalition stick with it for Gears of War 6, which I’m now actually rather excited for. Week 1 connectivity issues aside, this has been one of my more enjoyable time-sinks of the year.
World War Z
Can we just have other studios make Valve games at this point? We got Team Fortress 3 in Overwatch, we effectively got Half-life 3 in Titanfall 2, and joy of joys we’ve gotten Left 4 Dead 3 in this game. You might look at World War Z and be perplexed as to how a game that looks like it does can be so fun, but trust me, this game just works. It really is a relentless firefight of zombies that are incredibly weak on their own, but when they come at you in their hundreds you really do start sweating. This was one of my biggest gaming surprises of this year, and it too gives me hope that we can still see stuff come out from Max Brooks’s zombie universe that’s more worthy of the name than that Brad Pitt movie. And it’s getting post-launch support too all these months later, so don’t worry about a fickle player base fleeing at the first sign of trouble.
And without those out of the way, here’s TGRIP’s Top Five Games of 2019:
5. Need For Speed: Heat
I knew we’d get a legit good Need for Speed this console generation. I knew Ghost Games had this in them. I’m a little bummed we’re getting this right as this console generation starts wrapping but, but make no mistake, Need for Speed: Heat stands among the series best, not just for having good and balanced gameplay, but by having a personality that you just don’t see in most racing games. Not only does the Miami-lite setting lend itself very well to this iteration, but Heat also has one of the best stories in the series, thanks to having writing with a decent amount of nuance to it for a change, and also by being probably the most truly anti-cop game in NFS history. The cops in this game aren’t just grunts, they are real assholes with names, and in today’s climate of law enforcement that clearly needs more oversight and accountability, this game just hit harder than previous NFS games have by making them enemies you feel the weight and presence of. When a battalion of them come at you at night, when the only real tactic you have is to run like hell, they feel unstoppable. Which makes the story you play through of taking down a corrupt police department feel like it matters, which isn’t something you can say about most games period.
4. Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown
I’m a bit sad that everyone else forgot about this game at the end of the year, because Ace Combat 7 was one of the best surprises I had all year. The visuals, the soundtrack, the gameplay; I didn’t know I wanted a game like this as much as I did. I vaguely remember one of the first xbox demos I ever played being AC6 on the 360 over a decade ago, and this game felt like that memory come to life, and somehow the rose-tinted goggles didn’t come off. The story isn’t much to write about, but the gameplay is so damn good own its own you just don’t care, from managing your armaments to steering clear of enemy aircraft, to getting to an objective just in time before it destroys the whole world. Definitely worth the long, long wait, and one of the most underappreciated games of the year.
3. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Two EA games made my end of the year list? Something’s wrong with me. Or... maybe this is just when the broken clock got was right, twice in one day. In any case, this is one of the best Star Wars games of all time, despite the tired soulsborne gameplay it decided to go with (which isn’t an awful fit, I’ll admit, but not great either), and Jedi: Fallen Order made me remember why I liked this franchise so much years ago when I got into KoTOR, Republic Commando, and Empire at War. This feels like a star wars game through and through, and it’s the first time in too long that a SW game made the most out of its source material. This is a spiritual successor to The Force Unleashed, and I can’t wait to see where Respawn goes next with this series.
2. Borderlands 3
This was the most fun I had this year. I know many people weren’t too impressed that this was “just more borderlands”, but honestly that’s far from the worst thing you can get from a game. The writing’s still corny and the gameplay’s still relatively basic, but this still has all the stuff that endeared this franchise to me back in 2012: iconic visuals, solid and improved gunplay, open worlds that are just the right size between being big enough to lose yourself in but not so intimidating that you’re scared off from doing anything in them, and the mayhem you find yourself in time and again gives this game a great pace and feel to it that makes it distressingly easy to lose hours in. Sure, it might be just more borderlands, and I’m still waiting to see some of my favorite characters make their return in future DLC, but after seven years where we’ve seen AAA franchises go belly-up after trying too hard to stick with the times, or sell their souls out to make enough of a profit, Borderlands 3 just remained what it was, while polishing and improving where necessary and wanted. And that is all I really wanted. This game is exactly what I wanted.
Of course Control is my number one game of the year; what else comes close? Sure, there’s Death Stranding, but I want more than just a detailed hiking simulator. I want something in the vein of classic Max Payne games, and praise Remedy, this is their best game since Max Payne 2. Aside from being a visual masterpiece that’s jarring and fascinating, and having a story that’s at times pompous yet impressive among its contemporaries, this game is just plain fun. This is what Quantum Break wanted to be, a third person shooter that makes you feel like a badass, and it says a lot for it that even though this game pushed console hardware beyond its limits (even on my xbox one x), it still felt awesome to play, despite the framerate dropping in especially intense moments. This game also utilized one of the better parts about soulsborne games, where instead of having clunky combat mechanics, it incorporates bosses that will kick your ass but reward you when you find just the right tactic to bring them down. And when one of those bosses is a possessed refrigerator... how can you not like this game? This is one of the best kinds of media: deceptively approachable yet immensely rewarding when you try to get into it, from its themes to even its lore and flavor-text (game designers, take note of how this game writes descriptions for random junk you find). I’m still amazed this got made, and for its sheer ambition and overall success, Control is without a doubt my game of 2019.
TGRIP is a film graduate residing and writing in Portland, OR. TAY’s resident Xbox and racing game fan, he also (part time) reviews and does opinion pieces on games, movies, television, comics, and anime. He also runs his kinja sub blog Work(ing Title) In Progress . You can follow this third person narrating weirdo on Twitter @Dennis_wglasses, find his other work on Unwinnable.com and aniTAY, and his Gamertag on Xbox Live is “Aventador SVJ”.