2019 has certainly been a year, and while it’s had its ups and downs, I’d like to think it’s been a pretty strong one for games — in part because the expected crop of sequels, franchise entries, and long-anticipated debuts fell surprisingly flat, clearing the field for new and unusual titles to have time in the spotlight.

With that in mind, it’s time for me to go over 2019 and decide on what I’d like to remember moving forward into the next decade. To do that, I’ll be cribbing GameCritics’ patented “High/Low/WTF” format (which should be familiar from all of our reviews) to pick a highlight, lowlight, and WTF-light from the many games I tackled.

HIGH: Outer Wilds helped me rediscover wonder.

It’s pretty grand claim to say that a game helped me “rediscover” wonder, and on balance I’d agree that it’s a bit of an exaggeration on my part. Games never really stopped being wonderful, but Outer Wilds is the first in years, perhaps since the PS2 era, that I really felt a sense of discovery and endless possibility in the medium.

One of the unfortunate parts about being as close to game news and culture as I am is that that familiarity can drain a bit of the magic out of playing a new game. Part of it’s from “knowing how the sausage is made”, so to speak, but also from being so connected to the daily news cycle that the surprises rarely hit the way they would with a more detached player. Outer Wilds managed that feat for me, thanks to its relatively unknown status as a former student project.

Mobius Games put together an incredible clockwork solar system and left players to explore it at their own pace, uncovering its mysteries bit by bit. At its conclusion, they also managed to create a genuinely moving meditation on just what happens when the world ends and dealt with that sometimes-paralyzing sense of inevitability.

LOW: Anthem fails to launch.

I had high hopes for Anthem. Perhaps they were misplaced and intended for a version of BioWare that doesn’t really exist anymore. Perhaps I was just bored of Destiny and hoping for a new shared-universe action title built on BioWare’s revered storytelling pedigree to sink my teeth into.

Instead what I saw in my few hours with it was a messy, incoherent slog that grappled with unresolved technical hurdles (those loading times!) and lacked a vision for what it wanted to be beyond “as popular and long-lasting as Destiny or Warframe“. It was a disappointment. Considering the information that emerged later about conditions within BioWare and about Anthem‘s troubled development, perhaps it should have been seen as inevitable.

With news that BioWare is planning a complete overhaul to salvage its long-term prospects, I’m disinclined to give up on it completely. After all, I do vividly recall Destiny being thought of as a similar disappointment back when it launched, though the blow was softened by the fact that it was leading the way at the time. At this point, it may take a genuine miracle to get my hopes up again for Anthem. Perhaps next year.

WTF: Google Stadia makes the streaming future look awful

While this is based on second- and third-hand information since Google Stadia isn’t available in my location, it’s still baffling that a company as large and profitable as Google would make as many rookie mistakes as it did with the rollout of what should’ve been the glorious herald to a future of gaming defined not by the hardware sitting on our desks and in our TV cabinets, but by the “series of tubes” attached to our internet services. A Star Trek-like future where all the power of every computer was available not just at our fingertips but at any “computer-like” device we approached seemed within our reach.

Conceptually that’s all still on the table, and being perfectly honest, much of Stadia’s shortfalls in pricing, content, and delivery are in execution rather than vision. What’s ironic is that with the warranted suspicion directed at “Big Tech” and and the data and surveillance-driven nature of all modern society’s most dystopian aspects, I’m not sure I want it anymore.

It’s not really fair of me to put that all at Stadia’s feet, but at the same time, it’s on Google that the service they marketed as the future of gaming became a reminder of why that future could in fact be a bad idea.

Josh Tolentino
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