The year 2019 has been a strange one in gaming history. Normally you’d see a glut of AAA games from major developers and publishers taking the spotlight around “game of the year” time. While I did enjoy bigger games like Sekiro, very few stuck with me for very long. This year it was almost exclusively smaller teams and older games that stole the show. These are my games of 2019.
American/Euro Truck Simulator
If you had told me in 2018 that I’d spend dozens of hours pretending to haul cargo from place to place in an 18-wheeler, I’d have called you crazy and asked you to leave my house. But here we are. It’s hard to describe the value that simply sitting back, relaxing, and hitting the virtual road can offer. Whole TV series, countless movies, and podcasts all were consumed with the accompaniment of the low hum of my truck’s engine.
The Truck Simulator series offers up a level of zen that you just don’t find often enough in gaming. On top of that, the ever-expanding maps in both games offer up varied landscapes to enjoy through America and Europe. It can let you go to places that you’d never want to waste your time going to in real life. I never want to drive through Utah again in real life, but I’ll take a spin with my 18-wheeler to deliver some mining equipment. Now hurry up and add Idaho already.
The Outer Worlds
The idea that The Outer Worlds was ever not going to make my personal games of 2019 list is laughable. Fallout: New Vegas is one of my favorite games of all time. Free from the constraints of Bethesda’s nightmare game engine, you can really see Obsidian flourish. The Outer Worlds pairs top-notch writing with solid gameplay. Even what looked like a game-ending quest bug had an in-game workaround. The amount of thought and care that was put into this game really shines through in every facet of the game. That’s not even touching on just how funny the dialog choices can be. It’s a rare case where I laughed out loud multiple times during my playthrough.
And it should not be discounted how accessible The Outer Worlds is because of its first-person gameplay style. While Obsidian has been making top-notch RPGs for years, it’s hard to argue that a traditional CRPG has a higher learning curve for the average gamer than one in the mold of a first-person shooter. Anyone who is a fan of the modern Fallout games owes it to themselves to check this one out. If this is what they can do without oppressive deadlines and a much smaller budget, I can’t wait to see the sequel.
Resident Evil 2
The original Resident Evil 2 has a special place in my heart. For one, it’s the only truly good survival horror game in the series. And two, it introduces the zombie-slaying king, Leon S. Kennedy. While I don’t like Leon’s new face in the remake, Capcom nailed everything else.
This is a masterclass in how to do a remake the right way. The setting and story have been touched up to be slightly more grounded. The tension in several of the story beats is powerful, especially towards the beginning of each campaign and throughout Claire’s campaign.
It’s rare to get a horror game that is any good while maintaining a player’s ability to have agency over their situation. That is to say, generating a genuine feeling of unease and fear without resorting to making you powerless in the face of your enemies. Resident Evil 2 manages to nail it and is very likely the best game in the series (don’t @ me, RE4 fans), not just one of the great games of 2019. Now if only we can get rid of gaming’s worst trend of releasing new games under the same name as the original.
I don’t have a lot to say about Beat Saber. I could spend time writing about how the controls are perfectly tuned. Or how the gameplay loop is easy to learn, difficult to master, and extremely rewarding. But I’ll leave it at this: Beat Saber is the best VR game ever made and one of the few perfect games.
There is nothing that can be done to improve the core of Beat Saber. I don’t say that lightly. The ability for users to make new levels with songs adds basically infinite legs to this game. My addiction to this game is so strong that I actually use it as my 30-minute warm-up every morning, so it’s certainly not just a hit game of 2019. Let’s just hope that Facebook doesn’t fuck it all up now that they’ve acquired the developer.
It’s pretty rare that a first-person shooter will have any kind of staying power. The Call of Duty games and Battlefields/fronts of the world largely come and go as soon as the next installment drops. So it is incredibly refreshing to have a game like Rainbow Six Siege. Even four years after its rocky launch, it is still going strong.
I feel like this is only going to become more common as the games-as-a-service model becomes more omnipresent. With over 50 playable operators, each with a distinct play style, counter, and role, it would be easy for Siege to become an unbalanced mess, but the fact that people continue to play all these years later is a testament to how carefully Ubisoft has been maintaining it.
And speaking of old shooters. Playing old games isn’t exactly novel to the PC gaming community, but man, Halo: Reach really is impressive in how well it holds up nearly a decade after its initial release. Technical issues aside, it is so damn good to have Halo back on PC. Reach is arguably one of the best games in the entire series. The Halo series is almost exclusively made up of bangers, so that’s saying something. With a great campaign and the definitive Halo multiplayer experience, this is about as good a shooter as you could hope for.
And lastly, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night did not have an easy time getting to market. Enthusiasm for the game dropped significantly during its development, in part because of the failure of other nostalgia-fueled Kickstarter games like Mighty No. 9. Others critiqued the lackluster visuals. But man did Igarashi prove them all wrong. Bloodstained is easily the best Metroidvania game to come out in years. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise given how good Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon was. I am on board with this series.