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AusGamers Top 10 Best Games of 2019
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 01:18pm 01/01/20 | Comments
Our personal list of the Top 10 Best Games of 2019...

2019 was a unique year in games. Some might call it a “bridging year” where all the bigger, better games will lay in wait from 2020 and beyond. Moreover, some of the best games featured here dropped in the early part of 2019, rather than in the more traditional Q3 and Q4 release windows. That being said, a number of games we’ll be revealing over the next 10 days truly belong in the annals of greatness; Triple-A to Indie and all in between, this so-called “bridging year” still served up enough to topple even the best of shame piles, or challenge those of you who think they have their action frame-data management down to a fine art.

A few pieces of housekeeping. Red Dead Redemption 2 PC didn’t make the list purely because it is a game that already won last year, and while it has PC-specific additions with performance and a few new content items, we’d be remiss to simply elevate a game that is, for all intents and purposes, barely changed from the already-perfect console release of 2018. Make no mistake, for the Desktop Jockeys out there, this is probably high up in their personal lists, and we acknowledge that, but 2019 also offered so much more.

Additionally, you’ll note that while garnering an 8/10 from us here, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is absent from this list. From a production value perspective, it ticks every box, but as explored elsewhere its gameplay loop and subsequent pitfalls mean it simply didn’t make the overall grade. We stand by our score because, as Star Wars fans, it scratched an itch we think many of you have been feeling this Holiday season after the cinematic release of Episode IX, where story is concerned. And it was a fun experience, it just *could* have been better.

That’s the point of these lists though; craft conversation and debate. To nitpick and dissect. But as was the case last year bear in mind this list is not based on review scores, rather it’s a reflection of the games that touched us in numerous ways throughout 2019. This is both mine and Kosta’s “agreed upon” list of the Top 10 Best Games of 2019, in order of 10th best to first. We’ll also repeat our follow-up feature of 2019’s Honourable Mentions, with the other 10 top games that didn’t quite make the grade, while revealing each of the Top 10 over 10 days beginning on January 1st.

And so, without further ado, here’s AusGamers’ Top 10 Best Games of 2019.

10. The Outer Worlds
Obsidian Entertainment (PC, Xbox One, PS4)

Our Review

Obsidian has slowly but surely become a reliable source of great narrative driven role-playing games, with recent efforts from the studio presenting tales in the sort of isometric perspective made popular by computer games of the late 1990s. Mostly with fantasy settings that would have every D&D fan in a 5k radius reaching for their multi-sided die. The Outer Worlds differs in that it feels more like the studio’s output from the subsequent decade, namely with the one-two punch that was Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic II and Fallout: New Vegas. And to a lesser extent Alpha Protocol. With veteran developers from the original Fallout-era at Interplay on board, The Outer Worlds presents a very Fallout-style experience in space. And really, that was enough for this sci-fi RPG to become one of our most anticipated releases for the year.

Outside of its genuinely funny satirical story and memorable cast of characters one of the more surprising aspects of The Outer Worlds was the fact that it’s a Fallout-style game without a litany of bugs, glitches, or engine quirks. Developed using Unreal Engine 4, it’s also a looker - presenting a vibrant series of galactic objects to explore, stunning skylines to take in, and strange alien creatures to deal with. The only real downside being an overall lack of Fallout-style exploration and scope to match its ambition and role-playing core. Two things born from the relatively small development team behind the project. That aside, the level of detail and player choice in the many stories found across the Halcyon system all add up to what feels like the beginning of an exciting new franchise.

9. Hypnospace Outlaw
Tendershoot (PC)

Our Review

The look of a game often has an immediate effect, from art-direction, to animation, to an overall aesthetic. That thing where you see a trailer; a clip -- even a screenshot, and connect to the material instantly. Almost purely on a visual level. Hypnospace Outlaw can have this effect, but perhaps only to those of us that have vivid memories of the early days of The Internet. Geocities, hit counters, sound effects, 90s clip-art, dial-up modems, and the sense that -- to borrow a somewhat dystopian phrase from a rogue AI becoming sentient with the sole aim to enslave humanity -- a time when the User was in charge. That, or you simply can’t get enough of the look and feel of the early-mid 90s computer art.

In Hypnospace Outlaw the act of browsing the web as part of a detective story set in a fictional and virtual representation of 90s multimedia offers up a wonderfully original, detailed and strange universe to explore. From new musical genres to made-up slang to fictional cartoon characters, there’s a level of realism and absurdism to Hypnospace Outlaw that feels quite unlike anything else. The clever use of a Windows 3.11-style operating system as the main interface and means of, well, playing the game adds to the charm. Plus, the story which spans various points in the HypnoOS lifecycle features a number of surprising turns and reveals, and genuinely fascinating takes on the premise of something like The Net. More than a glorified 90s internet simulator, Hypnospace Outlaw is one of the most interesting and memorable detective games in years.

8. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
From Software (PC, PS4, Xbox One)

Our Review

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is anomalous. On the one hand, while winning multiple awards, it’s still a snake that bites, and bites hard; full of venom. It’s a game designed for the hardened, or for the prepared. It is not a game for the Soul(s)less out there, and it will test you. But, it’s also structurally good from both a gameplay perspective and with its narrative. A boon the Souls-like titles of the past have *sort of* ignored.

But still, even that level of devotion isn’t for everyone. It’s fantastic that the game has garnered such accolade, but this comes at the cost of niche design and gameplay principle. What you need to know if you’ve lived 2019 Sekiro-less is that you’ll get an outlandish story with drunken ogres, a sculptor who makes helpful replacement arms, fire griefs, annoyed ninjas and a woman who *kind of* wants to help but… well, mystery abounds.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is unique in that it’s Hidetaka loosening his concepts, but tightening his ninja belt. It’s less ‘loose’ than his other opi (SP?), and narrative is actually its hook, but it is in a good way and we’d be keen to explore the [potentially] expanded lore on plate here. Just expect challenge and remember to pay attention to both your light and heavy inputs, because the frame data will get you. And, like a good ninja, sometimes it’s best to avoid combat.

7. Darksiders Genesis
Airship Syndicate (PC)

Our Review

We’ve covered the Darksiders series at length over its lifetime, through both the highs and the lows. But it’s a series that simply won’t quit and gamers -- and the industry -- is the better for it. We assumed there’d be a fourth entry in the telling of the Horsemen tale, given there are four of them, each unraveling a unique story of their own set to a similar timeline backdrop, as a third-person action-RPG lite experience. But, we were wrong.

Instead, the next entry found its way to developer Airship Syndicate (Battle Chasers: Nightwar), which is made up of former members of the series’ original studio in Vigil Games, while other members who worked on Darksiders III formed Gunfire Games (Remnant: From the Ashes). And that’s your history lesson for today.

So what makes the jump to Airship so important? They shrunk down the Horsemen (in this case original series lead War and his brother Strife), and made an isometric sandbox action game that on first appearance looks like a Diablo clone but, in execution (heh), is anything but. Darksiders Genesis features top-notch co-op fun, a beautifully-handled single-player character-swap system, gorgeous visuals, epic audio, fun voice-acting and most interesting of all, is ostensibly the gameplay makeup and loops of the previous games, just with a different perspective.

This is an artfully-crafted PC experience that is console-bound in February of 2020, and with the extra time alongside the earlier PC release, should come packed with a few changes to address the minor issues some had with its December drop. Overall though, those issues barely corrupted the full experience, leaving Darksiders Genesis both one of our favourite games of 2019, and a potentially bold new direction for an ever-troubled, but always-celebrated, series.

6. Observation
No Code (PC, PS4)

Our Review

Narrative-based games cover such a wide range of styles and influences that the days of cutscenes interspersed between moments of action, or in-between levels, is no longer the norm. Terms like environmental storytelling or emergent narrative refer to moments where you feel engaged and in control of story beats. Or the flow, pace, and perhaps even order of discovery. Observation from No Code and Devolver Digital presents a fairly straight-forward premise, and linear narrative structure. The setting itself could be referred to as standard sci-fi fare too; being stranded in space aboard a space-station with no clue as to what happened, or how to proceed.

Where it goes from there is anything but straight forward, with players put in the role of the onboard AI -- given direct control over systems and the station as the narrative slowly unfolds.

It’s an engaging premise and setup for what could be passed off as a simple riff on 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the way in which the idea of being in control of the AI -- a collection of bits and bytes -- intertwines with the dramatic and human, is exceptional. Imbuing one's own traits onto SAM (Systems Administration and Maintenance) of course comes naturally, with Obervation’s exceptional pacing and rattling up of the tension then serving as one of its major triumphs.

Also, the overall sci-fi aesthetic which blends the claustrophobic and cluttered look of modern international space stations with lo-fi technology and analogue video artefacts is wonderful. All bolstered by equally immersive sound design and music. No doubt it’s been a stellar year for interactive sci-fi, and Observation is one of the reasons why.

5. Outer Wilds
Mobius Digital (PC, Xbox One, PS4)

(No Review)

After being in development for the better part of the decade, this year finally saw the release of the ambitious Outer Wilds -- a game that aims to recreate and capture the mystery, wonder and discovery of what space exploration might feel like. And, well, it succeeds in ways that no other game has before. The feeling of landing on a strange alien planet and stumbling into some strange ruins to discover bits and pieces of a story that spans thousands of years is not uncommon -- but Outer Worlds manages to make each of these moments stand out in ways that inspires true awe.

Having an entire solar system to explore without quest markers or a clearly defined mission or objective may sound daunting or aimless, but the very nature of the setup is genius in how it scales the immense to a more manageable size that never feels overwhelming. Having the world or system reset every 22 minutes like an episode of Seinfeld version of Groundhog Day is a brilliant move because it fosters and encourages focusing on single tasks that you can define without simply getting lost in a celestial sea of detail.

Also, by keeping each planetary body and floating bit of debris relatively small in size, there’s never a feeling that you’re simply travelling from one vast distant location to the next. Coupled with the realistic and exaggerated physics, Outer Wilds gets more engrossing and engaging the more you play -- with a deep and complex story to tell that is anything but cold and distant. In fact, the themes and emotions on display are warmer than the star that goes supernova every 22-minutes.

4. Luigi's Mansion 3
Nintendo (Nintendo Switch)

Our Review

The brother from the (presumably) same mother, Luigi, returns for what must be the worst curse of all; fighting annoying ghosts, ghost bosses and running around for a blundering old inventor who apparently can’t book a hotel room to save his life. (Should have probably paid attention to the Trivago woman and her catchy ads.)

We’re not even sure he knows what a patent is. Which is entirely at odds with Nintendo’s overall business strategy. But we digress…

Luigi’s Mansion 3, the obvious third entry in a series no one saw coming, or even expected to get off its ghost-scared legs in the first place, goes from strength to strength. Pure Nintendo puzzle and combat game-design married against arguably the prettiest product Nintendo has ever produced with myriad tech sleight-of-hand *things* dancing around in the background. It’s only ‘issue’ is that it might be a bit too easy in parts, though the puzzle side of the game saves this concern a little, but as a complete package, this one is fun for everyone in the family.

It’s cute and inviting to a fault. Stunning to look at and excellent to play. It features co-op and other modes outside of the main campaign, but we’re all here for the ectoplasm and on that front, it delivers. Add to all of the above “portability” and it’s difficult to look past it. Never have we had so much fun vacuuming sand from an Egyptian-themed wing in a custom hotel. Also, we’ve never, ever thought those words would leave our fingertips, yet here we are. Easily one of 2019’s most enjoyable gems.

3. Disco Elysium

(No Review)

Disco Elysium is as strange to describe as its title. Part detective story, part deep role-playing experience with character and party customisation and even combat. All wrapped up in a tale and aesthetic that is both grotesque and dystopian in its imagery as well as hilarious thanks to wonderfully written dialogue. In a way perhaps the best way to describe it, or pitch the premise in one of those short elevator rides Hollywood producers tend to take, would be to say that it’s like a classic LucasArts-era point-and-click adventure mixed with the deep role-playing, choice, and customisation of say a Baldur’s Gate or Planescape Torment RPG.

But even that is selling it short, as very few RPGs present such a complex and layered story that begins with a hungover detective having a literal conversation with the void. At its core a murder mystery that has you and your partner Kim Kitsuragi investigating the appearance of a dead body, the many surprises and discoveres throughout the lengthy campaign are truly something to savour.

Disco Elysium is also one of the purest RPGs of 2019 in how its intricate and original collection of skills and attributes inform just about every interaction, major choice, or potential confrontation via dice roll. Choice and freedom in character development and progressing a story is often something championed, and on that front Disco Elysium is resounding success - where everything you say, even if it’s sarcastic seems to matter. Perhaps it’s best put this way - you know how in an RPG you try and exhaust all dialogue options just to see all of the responses? Well in Disco Elysium, the systems are all so intertwined that doing so complicates things in unimaginable ways, even to the point of abruptly ending the experience.

2. Metro Exodus
4A Games (PC, PS4, Xbox One)

Our Review

One of the year’s best games by a country mile train line in 2019 was Metro Exodus, which featured series protagonist, Artyom, leaving the ‘safety’ of the Moscow metro system on a cross-country escape to a new way of life in post-apocalypse Russia. This setup meant the game could play with less claustrophobic, linear spaces in favour of open-world-esque sandbox biomes -- from the tundra-caked flats of Volga to the arid wastes of the Capsian, the game gave players a new way to look at the torrid state Dmitry Glukhovsky’s novels left Russia in. And while it could be looked upon as a gimmick, the team at 4A Games utilised its design freedom to craft a game with as much disparate gameplay and exploration as possible, resulting in a gorgeous, grim -- yet hopeful -- entry in an unlikely expansive series that will only get better with age.

Some of what makes Exodus stand out is the seasonal shifts. To be honest, until we learnt that the game would feature a stop across all four seasons outside of the metro, above ground, it wasn’t as high on our radar as it ought to have been. Not in line with franchise fatigue, but more a question of “how much more supernatural subway traversal can we handle?” plagued expectation. However, we weren’t just *pleasantly* surprised with the game’s environmental diversity, but with how 4A gave us different ways to experience those unique spaces. Driving a hacked VW kombi through the desert, or riding flying foxes through overgrown woods; it just never got old. Take into account the studio is a technical master and became the ray tracing benchmark for Nvidia and its suped-up new series of RTX cards and, boom, it just announced itself, like winter, turning suddenly into spring.

Not just one of the year’s best, but one of this generation’s best.

1. Control
Remedy (PC, PS4, Xbox One)

Our Review

A very creative friend asked us recently to name a ‘space’ within our favourite mediums that isn’t *sort of* of this world. Astral planes, headspaces, liquid space… those types of things. It didn’t take long to jump immediately towards Control’s Oldest House -- an ever-shifting complex of corridors, quarries and offices. Of a janitorial space poor old Groundskeeper Willie could only dream of emptying his slop bucket from. Featuring a maze with a soundtrack that would make David Lynch blush. A place where handling a single weapon makes you its director.

Remedy has spent its time as a developer centred almost solely on story, matched by our interactive medium’s ability to break through passive walls; crafting gameplay, and gameplay loops, that feed this slithering narrative, wriggling this way and that. And in Control, the studio has offered up its greatest masterclass in combining storytelling and interactivity.

If you haven’t walked the halls, corridors, cafeterias, offices… et al, of The Oldest House yet, in the shoes of protagonist, Jesse Faden, you’re a monster. A floating Hiss saturated in red, chorusing nothings (or something) to an almighty shift. An alert out of plane sight, but alarmingly close and forever alive, yet inanimate. Control conjures images and sensations beyond a cheap scare or a human-turned-flesh-eating chomper could. And its elevator pitch is simple: What if we had Kubrick work with Lynch, Fincher, Carter, Noon, Moore, Palahniuk, Ellis... Wake, and gave the hero a gun that shifts in and out of [time?] and it was like Excalibur, but wasn’t? Also robots -- it has no robots. Well, you’d be 505 Games greenlighting is absolutely the best game of 2019.

Control is, honestly, in rare air.

Thanks for sticking with us through 10 full days of delivery where our Top 10 Best Games of 2019 is concerned. We'll be following this up with a single feature highlighting the other 10 games that only just missed the mark, in an Honourable Mentions role call. As this is the final post in the Top 10 Best of feature, all Comments made from the Day 10 news post will appear here, so feel free to throw us your stance on the list, as it stands.

Latest Comments
Posted 09:50am 07/1/20
Yeah a few here im interested in now, especially the Sci-FI.
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