Top 10 Video Games of 2019

Although many folks have reached a general consensus that 2019 was probably the worst year for video games since 2014 it was certainly not a bad year for those of us who ferret out the odd second and third tier experiences alongside the mainstream. That said, I’m not going to push a bunch of bad Itch.Io games, arthouse walking simulators, or Death Stranding on anyone because none of that is worth talking about in hindsight. As I age and well, do more adult things like buy houses and settle into the suburbs of Seattle my time spent with games becomes less and less redeeming and I’ve stopped blaming life and started blaming their increasingly ‘unfinished’ and post-release patch reliant modus. Playing video games in 2019 is both a convenient joy and a horrifying low-value mess.

The joy comes from how much free shit you can get by trading in your personal information, hell a few of these games were played entirely in the span of the one month free trial from Xbox/Microsoft’s Game Pass. Playstation Plus gives me two games a month, most of which provides me with a digital backup of things I’d already purchased and Epic Games Store hands out most of those same games for free, swapping in a new one every 2-3 weeks. Free things are so numerous and experiences are so fluidly changing month-over-month that it all becomes a chaotic grind that amounts to the Apple App Store effect: A hundred thousand options, none of them valuable. The value in video games from my point of view has always been primarily found within complete single player video game experiences and that will be reflected in this list. I limit myself to two major ecosystems: The Playstation 4 Pro and a moderately powerful PC, not a gaming PC but a desktop spec’d for audio-visual production. So, no Nintendo products have hit my hands since the release of the Super Nintendo Mini.

The horror of 2019, and the decade in general, is the ‘unfinished’ but released game which relies on post-release patching for finishes. Remember my dogging on Death’s Gambit last year? They’ve patched and perfected that experience. The worst offender in 2019? Well, the most outrageous example comes from The Outer Worlds, a smaller budget open world RPG (which is on this list) that featured a weapon with damage scaled exponentially rather than in multiples. Many reviewers, pundits, and general YouTube/Twitch scummers all reported the game was ‘too easy’ once you get a sweet science weapon because it was so overpowered. Turns out it was a glitch, they patched it out and yet the conversation never got that addendum. Never buy a game at launch, never pre-order, and don’t ever trust the ‘conversation on games’. This renders podcasts, preview videos, etc. and modern video game coverage almost entirely worthless because they can’t spend a year replaying the game after patching cures the ills of each video game. These issues plagued (almost) every game I played this year and I felt punished every time I would pre-order, hype buy, or pick up a game within the first 1-2 weeks of release. Sorry for the rant, here are the games.

 #, Title (Studio, Platform)  Notes:

10. Void Bastards

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(Blue Manchu, PC)

Rating: 3.0/5.0

As much as I wanted to put Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Code Vein, and a few other games here in the #10 spot I had to sit and think about what games I played the most in 2019 and eventually handed it to Void Bastards, a roguelike-lite run-based first person ‘shooter’ that focuses on salvaging parts from ships, espionage, and the promise of freedom if your assigned prisoner can survive a gamut of unfortunate and random events. The loop of the game is intoxicating as you learn ship mechanics, types of ships, etc. It plays a bit like a first person ship marauder doing an inverted FTL: Faster than Light run, slowly making progress. All games of this type have a limited life but they never truly waste my time thanks to short run-based design.

9. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

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(ArtPlay, PS4)

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Was all of the Kickstarter campaigning, overblown media hype, and questionable re-designing worthy of the Castlevania legacy? No, and to be sure Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is an imitation of greatness rather than greatness itself. That said, it was a very fun game to dig through and play despite its annoying fan service and padded gameplay within a relatively small and unimaginative world. The way I see it Igarashi and his team were able to create a meaningful spiritual successor to Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia. Unfortunately the 3D design with a forced 2D perspective is massively ugly and only redeemed by the fun of exploration and myriad combat options available. If you’d said that this game was easy and boorish fanservice I’d agree and add that it was fun, too. My score has lowered for this game over time.

[CLICK HERE to read the full REVIEW]

8. Slay the Spire

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(Mega Crit Games, PC)

Rating: 3.25/5.0

2018 was the year that’d finally break me in terms of valuing Roguelike-lite video games. They’re such a boring grind in most cases but after discovering Dead Cells and Darkest Dungeon last year I decided to give several a try in 2019. The first one to truly grab me and not let go was Slay the Spire. Within each run you’ll earn cards to make a deck of, fighting using these cards and building a deck from the spoils. I started playing Magic: The Gathering starting at a young age and have some certain love for games that use deck-building as a mechanic but few are as straightforward and repeatable as this. Are there more games like this out there that do more? Yes, and none of them are as simple and fun to pick up and play as Slay the Spire. The catch? Well, all run-based games end up going nowhere because they rely on a ‘grind’ and after about ten hours it became evident that I’d had all the fun I needed to with it.

7. Metro Exodus

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(4A Games, PS4)

Rating: 3.25/5.0

Having put at least 40 hours of work into S.T.A.L.K.E.R.‘s trilogy and the first two Metro games this year in preparation for finally playing Metro Exodus I have to say I was pretty underwhelmed by this huge paradigm shift for the franchise. They’ve done something similar to Deus Ex: Mankind Divided in that the game’s progression leads you through a series of smaller and very detailed open areas before moving onto the next. Some of that claustrophobic, anxietous freakout survival horror feeling is still there but there is no feeling of consequence on the easier modes of this game. Tuning the difficulty and gameplay to a wider audience made it easier to focus on the story of Metro, which is unfortunately kind of terrible on this trilogy closing entry. In my review I rant about the illusion of choice a bit, and if you don’t play stealthily and non-violently you’re going to go to Hell.

[CLICK HERE to read the full REVIEW]

6. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

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(From Software, PS4)

Rating: 3.25/5.0

From Software‘s first attempt at a character action game using their tried-and-true Dark Souls game design and format as a launching pad is only a moderate success as a repeatable gameplay experience. I am endlessly impressed by the folks who were able to master the timing needed to complete this game, it was truly a savage and not fun experience on my end. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is an amplification, a honing-in upon the true challenge of 3D action games today and unfortunately that left me with roughly 5-6 hours of the full playthrough spent beating my head against tough bosses, over and over. This isn’t the only gripe, of course, but when I look back on my time with the game’s many successes I cannot ever claim that I had any serious fun playing it. The final boss absolutely killed my enthusiasm for Sekiro, and made me feel like an old idiotic slug.

[CLICK HERE to read the full REVIEW]

 5. The Outer Worlds

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(Obsidian Entertainment, PS4)

Rating: 3.5/5.0

The whole conceit of this game’s pitch to the public was “Set your expectations high on content, low on budget” as if the consumer should forgive the notoriously jank-charmed Obsidian Entertainment once more, after all of these years? Ridiculous as that is, The Outer Worlds is exactly what folks have been asking for since Fallout: New Vegas gave us yet another apocalyptic wasteland to pick and eat garbage from: An outer space version! In my review I’ll forgive some faults, dog on some technical issues, and rant a bit about various things as per usual but when I look back on the whole experience I honestly want to play it again, a few times, and try out different builds to use in this easy as hell ‘western RPG’. I won’t remember all of the characters, the combat, or choice-driven sections all that much but I did love the imaginative world it all took place in.

[REVIEW coming soon!]

4. The Messenger

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(Sabotage Studio, PS4)

Rating: 4.25/5.0

Though it is a port that came a year beyond its release on Nintendo Switch and PC the Playstation 4 version of The Messenger came out at the perfect time, March, of this year when I was looking for a way to recover from the disappointment of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. As it turns out I love action platformer games with time-travelling mechanics, fourth wall busting glibness, and insanely good chiptunes. This was more or less the game I was hoping Timespinner was going to be, a bit of a gimmick but with a fun set of platforming challenges. I was not expecting to love this game but I do, wholeheartedly.

[CLICK HERE to read the full REVIEW]

3. Blasphemous

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(The Game Kitchen, PS4/PC)

Rating: 4.25/5.0

As a dark and irreligious fantasy steeped in Spanish orthodox Christianity’s martyr obsessed suffering Blasphemous is an obvious artistic triumph from an aesthetic point of view. As a moderately sized and well-designed ‘metroidvania’ or action platformer it is at least above average. I’d spent the year expecting Valfaris to be the most ‘metal’ 2D game I’d play and well, since that game was a turd Blasphemous ends up being the peak of this sort of game design with brutal and bloody action. The soundtrack was a major highlight of this game, almost as much as The Messenger‘s, with ambiance provided by flamenco guitars and wailing chorales. Did the story make any sense? As a parable, sort of. A great challenge and a thoroughly fun experience.

[CLICK HERE to read the full REVIEW]

2. The Surge 2

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(Deck 13 Interactive, PS4)

Rating: 4.5/5.0

Iteration does wonders for second tier games but rarely without such a loss of residual jank — I loved The Surge when it came out a couple of years ago I had no real expectations of a sequel, figuring they would churn out some awful sci-fi sequel to Warren‘s journey. Instead they’ve introduced a myriad of ‘quality of life’ upgrades for that core gameplay loop while designing a set of smaller open worlds that loop together in a fantastically inventive way that reveals itself slowly over time. It can be reasonably likened to the original Dark Souls in that sense. This got the high score that it did because I was so enamored with the quality of the exploration and combat. The storytelling was savagely bad in hindsight and this is what dropped The Surge 2 down to second place this year.

[CLICK HERE to read the full REVIEW]

1. Control

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(Remedy Entertainment, PS4)

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Keep in mind that I played Control with the licensed music turned off so that they couldn’t copyright claim/monetize any streaming that I did. Yes, the soundtrack has some embarrassing moments if played without this. I’ve been going back and forth between this and The Surge 2 for GOTY for a few months now and to be sure I enjoyed both equally but the ‘original’ things that Control did with story, setting, and exploration ultimately makes it the most complete and memorable experience of the year. Combat is basically Star Wars: The Force Unleashed with guns but man, was it fun and a good way to expand beyond the follies of Quantum Break, a game I really wanted to love. Here’s hoping they leave it alone as a standalone experience and that the DLC ends up being worthwhile.

[CLICK HERE to read the full REVIEW]

So, once again I barely beat ten new games in 2019… What was I doing with all of my time? I was playing games from my 2018 backlog mostly. A few games were abruptly stopped because they straight up fucked with me (Immortal: Unchained) and a few just didn’t seem worth my time when new games came out (Red Dead Redemption II, Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, Spider-Man). Although an even bigger focus on the music side of Grizzly Butts didn’t allow much free time to make the kind of progress in my backlog as in previous years, I still completed a handful of other games.

  1. Shadow of the Tomb Raider (2018) REVIEW
  2. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (2018) REVIEW
  3. Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age (2018) REVIEW
  4. Code Vein (2019) REVIEW
  5. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (2019) Review coming soon!

And this means I’ve still got an extensive backlog of games to list and work my way through, including many incomplete games. So, I’ve decided to resurrect my BACKLOG column in 2020 since it will be a slow year for releases as a new console generation prepares itself. The first entry will start in the first week of 2020 along with a broader shake-up of regular features on the site.

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