Another year, another top 10.
You know the standard disclaimer — nobody has time to play everything and there’s no way that this could ever be a comprehensive list. With a near-infinite amount of games to choose from on multiple platforms and in multiple genres, such a thing would be impossible to do in 12 months.
That said, I did manage to play a lot, and these were what rose to the top.
Thank you in advance for reading, and I hope you walk away from this list with the desire to check out at least one title that wasn’t already on your radar.
Happy 2019! Bring on 2020!
10 – Mechstermination Force, Switch review
This fat-free 2D boss rush asks players to control a tiny character and go up against robots that are ten times its size (or more!) — it’s an absolute blast. The mechanics are great, the graphics are gorgeous, and there’s no thrill quite like blowing off a piece of a robot, climbing inside through the metal wound, tearing up its guts with gunfire, and then finally ending up on top of its head before taking that out too. Each boss has a gimmick that explores different ways of taking on a titan, including several multi-stage fights and surprising, radical transformations. This one is aces from start to finish.
9 – A Plague Tale: Innocence, PS4/XBO/PC review
This story-driven medieval adventure offers heart, horror, darkness and hope, all in equal measure. I cared for the cast of ragtag characters and the tale kept me curious until the very end. In terms of gameplay, the balance between puzzle-solving and stealth is just right, and the first moment that I saw the rat-swarm technology in action was fairly jaw-dropping. Innocence also recalls the heydays of B-tier development when you never knew what you were going to get, and I love that the devs weren’t afraid to experiment with established formulas – they were also quite smart about where to allocate their resources, and everything that needed polish got some. This one absolutely hit the target it was aiming at, and I’d love to see more like it.
8 – Mortal Kombat 11, PS4/XBO/Switch/PC review
The team at NetherRealm has taken what was a crappy arcade title that carved out a niche for itself thanks to shock value alone and turned it into one of the premier titles in the fighting genre. Modern production values on MK are through the roof, there’s a ton of content, it feels great to play, there are in-depth tutorials, and the story mode is fantastic — it’s got thrills, laughs and plenty of fanservice for longtime players. Hell, it’s basically a feature film divided up into chapters and punctuated by fights. There’s nothing that Mortal Kombat 11 doesn’t do well — it’s purely fantastic, all around.
7 – Mutazione, PS4/PC/iOS review
As a carefully-targeted narrative experience, Mutazione successfully captures the nuances and realities of being in a small community, including all of the good and bad that goes with it. As someone who spent time in one such, the devs’ work rings true, and I was deeply impressed that they were able to translate it into the videogame realm. Beyond that, this was a story that had just the right amount of gameplay in order to keep things moving, while always staying focused on conversations, family, thoughts and feelings. There’s both heart and truth in this one, and it’s worth celebrating.
6 – Slay the Spire, PS4/XBO/Switch/PC review
This roguelike deckbuilder nailed so many things – it’s easy to learn, the UI is great, the systems are explicit, and the quirky graphics really caught my eye. I spent dozens of hours playing and admire how well its elements came together. While I wasn’t able to complete the entire game, the time spent was worthwhile and memorable, although there were a few missing elements that would have bumped it up much higher on my list — a little more permanence in progression and just a bit more player agency when starting a run would make it more respectful of a player’s time. Still, I’d recommend this to anyone even remotely interested in it with no hesitation.
5 – Blasphemous, PS4/XBO/Switch/PC review
Blasphemous and I got off on the wrong foot. I had trouble coming to grips with its wall-jumping and instant death spikes, and I nearly quit out of annoyance — but I’m glad I didn’t. As I pushed through, I found an incredibly compelling experience offering world-class art design built on decaying saints and quasi-Catholic grotesquerie. Every creature is interesting and repelling in equal amount, and I was fascinated by how much thought went into every aspect. Thematically, it’s been a while since I’ve played something so bleak and cynical, but it’s so earnestly presented that it was impossible to resist. The 2D metroidvania action is incredibly solid, many of the bosses are excellent mixtures of challenge and awe, and I have huge respect for the choice to make parrying accessible to people (like me) who don’t have lightning-fast reflexes – it made all the difference. Blasphemous is a stunning achievement.
4 – Far: Lone Sails, PS4/XBO/Switch/PC review
I fell in love with Far the very first moment I saw it, and it was one of those rare experiences when finally playing was every bit as trailers and screenshots promised. This lonely, contemplative journey across a desolate landscape is solemn and moody, yet the special relationship between the main character and his vehicle is a powerfully-beating heart at the center. I was touched by the themes, the story and even the ending. Every bit of it was wonderful, and I’ll never, ever forget standing on top of the ship with my sails straining to carry me across an empty desert as fast as they could — no combat, no danger — just me, my ship, and the wind.
3 – Door Kickers: Action Squad, PS4/XBO/Switch/PC review
This 2D cops-against-crooks actioner is purely awesome. It’s a tight, focused experience that delivers exactly what it suggests, and nails every aspect. The controls were dialed in, it’s simple, yet deep enough to be engaging, and the developers kept introducing new elements and twists that kept the formula fresh from start to finish. Even after hours and hours of play, I was still finding new strategies to employ and unexpected challenges to overcome, and I was compelled to finish every level with a perfect rating. While Door Kickers wouldn’t stand out if you looked at its description on paper — cops go into buildings and kill criminals — this is a pinnacle example of how execution is everything, and this game executes perfectly.
2 – Death Stranding, PS4/PC review
Death Stranding was almost my game of the year based on the strength of its mechanics alone. It’s interesting and brave to create an entire game about carrying boxes from one place to another, but the result was calmly compelling and the reduced focus on combat was refreshing. Many of my favorite moments were when absolutely nothing was going on — I’d be walking across a field or down a mountainside and I would enjoy simply being there in the moment.
However, what really elevated this game to a new level were the mechanics that unfolded over time. When I realized (after about 20 hours) that the landscape itself was changing based on cooperative use of paths and shared equipment, I was awestruck at what an innovative, creative feature it was. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to ignore that Death Stranding‘s story is a pile of flaming horseshit.
I enjoyed playing it all the way through, but there are so many good ideas that don’t go anywhere and so many elements that are never fleshed out that it’s absolutely baffling. And the ending? Nothing but a bunch of idiosyncratic nonsense that wouldn’t have gotten past a scriptwriting 101 class. The story and writing are truly, truly awful, and if Hideo Kojima had been able to focus on just a few ideas and had built them up properly, Death Stranding would have been my runaway pick for 2019’s best.
1 – Control, PS4/XBO/PC review
I absolutely loved Control. It is by far the best thing that Remedy Entertainment has ever made, and I was glued from start to finish.
To begin with, the moment-to-moment play is superb. The third-person action works perfectly with main character Jessie’s ability to telekinetically grab and throw things, and there’s a wonderful balance to be found by going from chucking hunks of concrete to using her transforming sidearm to pop off a few shots, and then back again. The pace of combat stays high and full of adrenaline-soaked kinetics when shit’s going down, but Control was also confident enough to build in quiet spaces and let the player breathe between skirmishes. It would be exhausting otherwise, and Remedy was right to acknowledge it.
When Jessie isn’t dodging enemies, taking a moment to enjoy the worldbuilding is richly rewarding. As someone who loves supernatural elements, interdimensional creatures and all sorts of mystery, it was right up my alley by recalling things like The X-Files, Warehouse 13 and even Twin Peaks. There are too many text files to read, but even after ignoring them (and I did) there was an abundance of atmosphere to soak in.
Supporting this, the sidequests were wonderfully unpredictable and varied, and I was surprised to find an entire cast of NPCs to interact with. The characters are a kooky mix of people steeped in weirdness and treating it as a 9-to-5 grind that pays the bills (wonderfully delightful!) and the creepy-cool janitor was in a class by himself. The environment was also a memorable character — and perhaps the most important one. The Oldest House is an impossibly abstract metaphysical creation that serves both mechanical and narrative functions, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
It stumbles a bit with an endgame that gets carried away with itself and I’m guessing that there’s some story-significant DLC yet to be released, but even taking these things into account, there’s no doubt that Control is my top game of 2019.