So here it is, Merry Christmas (eve). We’re a week away from unwrapping a brand new year, and the time has come to look back on 2019 and all it’s given to the world of PC gaming. We present, therefore, our list of Games of the Year, including our verdict on the best game that came to our platform in 2019.
At a glance, our list suggests a slow year for triple-A, with notable absences including many of the biggest publishers’ biggest franchises, though Red Dead Redemption 2 – perhaps the most triple-A of all triple-A games – is a substantial exception to this. Indies have more than stepped up this year, however, with the likes of Disco Elysium, What the Golf?, Outer Wilds, and Untitled Goose Game offering plenty of innovation, narrative heft, and sheer fun.
A quick word on methodology. We asked each of our team to rank their top five games that released this year, and awarded points to those games in descending order (so, five for the top-ranked game, and one for the fifth-ranked). The game that got the most points across the team is our GOTY, with the runners-up following to round out the top ten list you’re about to read. Simple! Oh, and you may also want to look at the PCGamesN Awards 2019 afterwards, too.
So, with no further ado, here – in ascending order – are PCGamesN’s Games of the Year for 2019.
While the Metro series has made some concessions to mainstream tastes over the years, it remains a proudly idiosyncratic FPS. Metro Exodus is no less charismatic than its forerunners, and is a game that rewards patience, care, and a willingness to immerse yourself in the sickly, stale, irradiated air of its subterranean tunnels (switching the terrible English voice acting back to the Russian cast is also a strong immersion technique).
What makes Exodus particularly special, however, is the way in which 4A Games has inverted the formula – where static, and sporadic, underground fortresses were your only refuge before, now a moving train and the people you pick up along the way represent your home. And it’s this intensified contrast, between safety and danger, that makes Exodus the most potent Metro yet.
Planet Zoo is completely adorable. We lost hours marvelling at the zoopedia of superbly animated animals we can care for, which are by far the best feature in this colossal management game, if you can learn to tune out the demands from grumpy guests.
Developer Frontier wisely leans in to the affinity that naturally arises with a focus on animal welfare – indeed, your objective is to raise animals and release them into the wild for conservation purposes. The warm, fuzzy sensation that tingles as you contemplate sending your babies back to nature, having raised them from birth, is a rare thing in games. Once you’re past the overwhelming interface, you’ll want to play Planet Zoo just to settle down with a hot drink and gaze at some baby pandas while listening to its soothing soundtrack. Bliss.
Untitled Goose Game
Move over, cats, the internet has a new animal obsession: geese. Untitled Goose Game’s unnamed goose is our best protagonist of the year and the game it stars in is one of our favourites of 2019. It’s a beautifully simple experience that spins an entire game out of sheer, childish schadenfreude. It allows you to be mean to innocent strangers in a safer environment than angering fellow commuters on your way to work, and adds loud honks to make it even funnier than that already is. HONK HONK HONK.
What the Golf?
What the Golf? is one of those rare things – a pure, unadulterated comedy game. Not just a game that’s funny, no – a game whose entire point is to be funny. It might only appear to be a simple golf game, but it goes to some amazing places in its pursuit of comedy, even if not every punchline lands. I really don’t want to spoil any of them, because doing so would ruin the entire jokes. But you should absolutely play this glorious, hilarious slapstick sketch show of a game as soon as possible.
As open worlds continue their inexorable sprawl, it becomes increasingly difficult to ignore the Truman Show-esque signs that something’s not quite right. ‘Didn’t I already save you from those bandits a few hundred metres ago?’ you exclaim, still wondering why so many people in the previous town were wearing exactly the same trousers.
Mobius Digital’s trick with Outer Wilds is to craft a smaller world – well, solar system – to explore, stripped of the scale and busy-ness of modern open-world games. And then it sets you loose within it with barely any instruction. The result is an adventure quite unlike any you’ve ever experienced. An investigative space mystery so disarmingly charming, and so deeply affecting, that it will stay with you long after you reach its conclusion and make everything else seem a little less important – whatever pair of trousers you happen to be wearing.
Disco Elysium isn’t for everyone. It’s an isometric CRPG without any combat, full of esoteric lore, and uses a drab colour palette. It’s fascinated by politics, which remains anathema to the subset of gamers who are bizarrely determined that their entertainment should not challenge them to think.
But for all these reasons and more, Disco Elysium is also one of the most daring games there’s been in years. Eschewing action means its exploration and conversation systems have to fill the void, and they do, offering such depth and challenge that interrogating a suspect becomes a kind of combative conversation. It manages to be beautiful despite those drab colours, painted as they are in hazy brush strokes that reflect your booze-sodden, fragmented mind. And for a global entertainment industry that’s worth more than movies and music combined, politics are still tragically underexplored in games – especially via the medium of heated debate with one’s own intestines.
With the possible exception of Control, the below entries on this list are very well-executed refinements of ideas that have been kicking around for ages. By contrast, Disco Elysium is a true original. And it’s an absolute thrill.
From overzealous timekeeping purchase orders to haunted appliances, the Oldest House is creaking with bizarre happenings and flesh-eating agency apparatchik. Crafted by Remedy Entertainment, Control is a psychoactive trip through the bowels of a cold and bureaucratic government agency set on understanding the strange goings-on across the dimensions between which it exists.
Strangest of all is protagonist Jesse Faden’s stern conviction in the face of utter absurdity and otherworldly danger. Faden is often most concerned with how she’ll broach a tough subject with a colleague than how to single-handedly clear out the cryptid living in the basement.
Perhaps it’s the mythical weapons or mind-altering abilities that bolster Faden’s bravado – abilities that allow you to scour Control’s exquisite halls for its expansive lore with little concern for what lies in wait around the next corner. Control throws challenge and cheap kills at you in swathes to keep you entertained until the end.
Empowered by supernatural abilities, a unique and intricately realised setting, and a wonderfully disquieting story, Control is one of 2019’s most captivating standalone experiences.
Sekiro: shadows die twice
Does any developer make such consistently brilliant games as FromSoftware? Hidetaka Miyazaki’s studio has yet to match Dark Souls for raw innovation, but even with plenty of imitators, no one has refined the ‘Soulslike’ formula better than its creator. Witness: Bloodborne, Dark Souls III, and now, Sekiro.
Every addition is used to great effect. You get a grapple hook, which is why secrets are hidden in newly distant places and exploration happens in three dimensions. The superlative melee combat only has a purpose against Sekiro’s varied, challenging range of enemies and bosses – and enables the ever-impish Miyazaki to throw a couple of curveballs that catch you out in playing by Dark Souls’ rules. The stealth system is the only slight inelegance, but it still finds a meaningful place in more expansive level designs.
Of no less importance, every old feature that doesn’t contribute to the whole is shed. Dark Souls’ leveling system, which reinforced its narrative goal of empowering your soul so as to link the First Flame, serves no purpose in Sekiro, and so is gone. Like apparently everything FromSoftware makes, Sekiro is a masterclass in joined-up, judicious game design, and reflects a confidence and singularity of purpose that’s all too rare.
Resident Evil 2 remake
While Resident Evil 7 was a bold and necessary step change for the series following the shambolic Resi 6, the Southern gothic setting and claustrophobic first-person perspective were too jarringly different for some long-time fans of the series. Remaking Resident Evil 2 was the ideal response. It keeps the deliberate pacing and labyrinthine level design of 7, but returns it to a location and perspective that’s characteristic of the series.
Its zombies are undoubtedly its crowning achievement – shuffling, stiff, bloated monstrosities that groan and sigh and squelch with every staggered movement. Shots will tear away chunks of meat, plastering the environment with slicks of crimson, and sometimes the most efficient way to bypass a zombie is to shoot out its ankles, leaving it crawling in your wake. They’re comfortably the best zombies in gaming and endlessly satisfying target practice to boot.
Survival horror has been in a bad way for the past couple of years, so remake or not, Resident Evil 2’s considered approach to action and terror makes it a highlight of 2019.
Game of the year: Red Dead Redemption 2
Launched on consoles in 2018, Rockstar’s Wild West adventure Red Dead Redemption 2 galloped onto PC in November this year – and we’ve done gone fallen in love with it. While it had a bit of a rocky start on our platform, its scope, sophistication, and sheer heart shine through, delivering what we believe is Rockstar’s best game to date, and our official game of the year.
Charting the exploits of troubled cowboy Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde gang’s fight to survive a rapidly changing world, Red Dead 2’s narrative might is equaled by few others in gaming. To meaningfully extend a game as complete as 2010’s console-only Red Dead Redemption is no mean feat, but in Red Dead 2 and its enthralling story of a tight-knit gang coming apart at the seams as its egomaniacal leader spirals into madness, Rockstar hits a home run.
It’s especially welcome in contrast to the relentless cynicism of Grand Theft Auto V. Undoubtedly, GTA V set the standard for what the open world game should be this decade, and is important for the breathtaking success of its online mode, but Red Dead Redemption 2 is a refinement on that formula with a more poignant, affecting story. As Sam White concludes in our Red Dead Redemption 2 review, while awarding the game a rare ten: “dropping GTA’s acidic snark, Rockstar delivers its most mature, heartfelt story yet on a beautiful Western stage.”
Rockstar’s masterpiece is the intersection of the very best that open world games and action-adventure games have to offer, and a thumping repudiation of the notion that the sun is setting on the era of great single-player games.