HeadStuff Picks | The Best Games of 2019
We are in the last days of a generation in 2019. There is little over a year left in the lives of the major consoles: The embattled Xbox One and the lauded PlayStation 4. This time next year we may be considering Halo 6: Infinite or Godfall for the 2020 version of this list. For now though there were still plenty of great games that were released in 2019 on PS4, Xbox, PC and Switch.
This year was not the banner year for games that 2018 was. There was no God of War, there was no Red Dead Redemption 2, there was no Assassin’s Creed or Spider-Man. But there were still some heavy hitters like the latest From Software game Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and the battle royale to beat Apex Legends. Whether it was a remaster of a classic horror, a new entry in a long-running racing series or one of the biggest battle royales this year once again there was something for everyone in 2019. All you had to do was look…
(Xbox, PS4, PC).
I’ve jumped in and out of Apex Legends this past year and for a while it was my go to game. Developer Respawn Entertainment were best known for the little played but much lauded Titanfall series before Apex Legends. Both games take place in the same universe but Apex Legends is far removed from the rebellion and mechs of Titanfall. A battle royale in the vein of PUBG and Fortnite Apex Legends took the frenetic fun of Fortnite and bolted on PUBG’s realistic, tactics driven gameplay without sacrificing anything.
Apex Legends has an ever expanding roster of characters from brick shithouse Gibraltar to androgynous pagan tracker Bloodhound. Although my favourite is Bloodhound who can see through walls and track injured prey all of the characters are so unique and diverse that no match ever really feels the same. Unlike PUBG you can’t lie in a house waiting for victory to land at your feet, Apex Legends requires you to always be on the move and it helps that your team members’ unique abilities often compliment each other. It’s unclear yet whether the battle royale genre will remain a gimmick or if it will become the de facto shooter in a few years. Time will tell but for now I’m aiming for that champion title. Andrew Carroll.
Devil May Cry 5
(Xbox, PS4, PC).
I’ve been waiting for a new installment to this legendary character action series since 2008’s frustratingly unfinished Devil May Cry 4, that [in]famously repeated almost half of its levels throughout a blatantly padded campaign. Unfortunately, level design is similarly bland in this new title from series mainstay Hideaki Itsuno, but the real star of the show hasn’t changed since the first game’s release almost two decades ago; the combat.
This is, simply, the most entertaining combat system this year, single-minded in its laser focus on providing you with a playground for combos. Nero’s Devil Busters compliment his satisfyingly primal engine-powered sword and booming pistol, Dante’s move-set is insanely deep eye-candy whilst newcomer V can literally score the carnage of his demon pets with Flight of the Valkyries. It’s easily the most dumb fun I had with a game this past year, with a huge amount of complexity under the hood for those willing to dig a little deeper. Niall O’Donoghue.
Lucah: Born of a Dream
(Switch, PC, Mac, Linux).
Technically Lucah: Born of a Dream released last year on PC, but I first heard of this game after the Switch version came out this year, letting me get to grips with this unique and fascinating hack-and-slasher. The work of developers melessthanthree and auteur Colin Horgan is raw, a brutal journey deep into the darkest corners of the psyche that tells its story with passion and honesty. The art is low-fi and evocative, chalk scribblings writhing across the screen towards your angelic avatar, with a pulsing soundtrack that helps maintain the world’s heavy and enveloping atmosphere.
Combat is satisfying, flowing from long-range gunfights where you weave through projectiles before getting close and personal to engage with the crunchy parry system. It feels like a hybrid of Hyper Light Drifter and a shoot-em-up, with modular upgrades keeping things fresh over the game’s short and snappy runtime. The game simply resonated with me, a hidden gem that just missed the top spot in a year filled with quality games.
(Xbox, PS4, PC).
I’ve never had more fun dying in a game than in Outer Wilds.
I booted up Mobius Digital’s award-winning title and woke up in the cosy deep-space backwoods of Timber Hearth, where friendly four-eyed aliens explore their solar system with homemade musical instruments. Less than sixty seconds later, I jumped into a geyser out of curiosity and died; the credits rolled and I got an achievement.
Later, you get drawn into a Groundhog Day time loop, trying to solve the mystery of your sun going supernova every 22 minutes. Using your junkyard-Jetson space shuttle, everything from a janky auto-pilot system to deep-space angler fish becomes a small emergent story as you explore the galaxy like an intergalactic Bill Murray.
This time-pressure that, by all rights, should feel limiting and annoying in an exploration game allows the designers to craft elaborate planets full of dynamic environment systems, like a planet filling up with sand in real-time.
When it clicks, it’s magic, a dense web of interconnected and intuitive systems that gives the Outer Wilds such a strong sense of place. Unfortunately, I got stuck on multiple puzzles, sending me [with shame] to walk throughs for solutions that felt like large leaps of logic. More damningly, a bug in the PS4 version corrupted my save file deep into my playthrough; Twitter threads and forum posts confirm that I’m far from alone in this. An unfortunate send-off for an extremely well-designed experience. Niall O’Donoghue.
Resident Evil 2
(Xbox, PS4, PC).
There was no way around the zombie. If Claire got grabbed she’d have her throat torn out but she knew exactly what would happen if she shot the zombie through the head. With no other choice she popped the undead cop and started to run. Behind her thudding footfalls echoed through the halls of the Raccoon City Police station. She didn’t need to turn to know that the eight foot tall, trench coat-clad and pale-as-death mutant was following her. A quick dodge into a save room ensured her safety but for how long?
There were some pretty decent survival horror games this year but you can’t beat an updated version of Resident Evil 2. The sequel to the granddaddy of survival horror games was everything I’d hoped for: improved visuals, heavy on atmosphere and tension you could cut with a knife. Although Riverdale reject Leon Kennedy’s story was never as interesting as Claire Redfield’s both characters have stood the test of time just as well as the zombies, the lickers, sewer worms and, of course, Mr X. Andrew Carroll.
River City Girls
(Switch, Xbox, PS4, PC).
Beat em ups aren’t so common nowadays. While the likes of Streets of Rage 4 are on the way the last major release in the genre was 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs The World for PS3 and Xbox 360. Which you cant even buy anymore due to licensing issues. But leave it to Wayforward to bring out a quality product with the street smacking, ass-kicking, fierce AF River City Girls.
A new spin on the famous River City Ransom (Kunio-kun) series, River City Girls has you take the helm with either Misako, Kyoko or both with a friend as you beat your way through countless thugs and some distinct bosses to find and save your boyfriends. With simple and hard hitting combos and moves you’ll be making thug blood flow through the River City streets with intuitive controls and fast gameplay.
Graphically the game is gorgeous, from its detailed slums to its jam packed shopping centres all with a pixel art aesthetic. Punches and kicks flow elegantly due to the slick animation and satisfy with their crunchy sound design.
Speaking of sound, River City Girls has one of the best soundtracks of the year from the immensely talented Megan McDuffee and featuring Cristina Vee for the rocking opening theme. The sexy synth pop evokes a Drive-esque feel in songs like “If You Dare” and “The Hunt,” while songs like “Bully” and “Watch Your Step” will make you want to look up McDuffee’s other work for sure. And “Noize” just slaps.
River City Girls is a nostalgic and enigmatic beat em up that brings the best of the genre into the modern age. While it still holds some archaic flaws like excessive money grinding and not being able to see the effects of items in the shops before they’re bought, those flaws don’t stand in the way of the overall fun factor. Dan Troy.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
(Xbox, PS4, PC).
Not exactly a huge surprise; I’m a huge fan of From Software’s past work, with Dark Souls my pick for game of the decade. However, Sekiro is a radical step forward for the company, who clearly relished the freedom of developing a single-player only experience after a decade of multiplayer-compatible titles and all the balance issues that come with them.
Fights feel like intricate and deadly dances, your shinobi Wolf trading blows and parries against regal generals and grotesque monsters until breaking through their posture for a dramatic deathblow. This is easily the toughest game From Soft have released this decade and each boss I encountered felt like an insurmountable brick wall to bang my head against. However, these stunning encounters gradually fold in layer after layer of complexity that culminates in a satisfying sense of mastery that is unrivalled in this generation.
Expanded movement and stealth systems allow for rejuvenated level design that caters for large amounts of experimentation and improvisation, whether through the ‘reincarnation’ mechanic that lets you get back up after dying for a second chance, swapping between shinobi prosthetics or shamelessly grappling away from fights like Sir Robin of Camelot.
The narrative and lore are absorbing, exploring themes of death and immortality thoughtfully, wrapped in a gorgeous rendition of Japan in the late 16th Century. I could go on (and hopefully will in a catch-up review in the new year), but for now, have a Happy New Year! Niall O’Donoghue.
Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order
(Xbox, PS4, PC).
I’ve never been the biggest Star Wars fan. Let’s just say The Clone Wars movie killed most of my interest and now I keep up for the sake of memes more than anything else. Still when my brother asked for Jedi Fallen Order for his birthday who was I to say no? After all, it meant I could play it too. When I completed it towards the end of 2019 I was impressed by how much I felt like a Jedi when playing it. Admittedly I thought that the Souls-like mechanics felt bolted on unnecessarily and the platforming could have used more time in the oven but that didn’t stop me from carving my way through Storm Troopers and all manner of aliens.
Jedi Fallen Order benefits from an extreme sense of accessibility. I’ve fallen a little out of love with the Souls games and their cousins Bloodborne and Sekiro recently. Simply put I don’t have the time to spend weeks on a boss anymore. So the fact I can burn through boss fights quickly and easily while still enjoying the feel and sound of a lightsaber battle means a lot. The game is a great addition to the haphazard collection of Star Wars games out there and the fact that it allowed me to play on a lower difficulty without the kind of judgement games like Wolfenstein dish out felt as great as force pushing a whole squad of troopers off a cliff. Andrew Carroll.
Team Sonic Racing
(Switch, Xbox, PS4, PC).
Team Sonic Racing’s gimmick is that in each race you’re teamed with two other racers. You can pass items to each other and provide boosts to teammates behind you, doing so will not only help your partners but also fill up your “Team Ultimate” meter, which when unleashed, grant’s your team a speed boost and invincibility but it lasts longer if done in sync so teamwork really does make the dream work here. At the end of a race your team’s placements are converted to points and the team with the most wins. This means coming in first doesn’t guarantee victory if your partners finished late. You’d think this would be annoying and result in a lot of unfair losses on your part but it is more manageable than it sounds.
Characters are split between three classes similar to Sonic Heroes with speed (higher acceleration), technique (draws rings and keeps speed off-road) and power (heavier and can open secret shortcuts). Character choice is the games weakest aspect. While character banter in races is some pretty nice stuff and keeps races a bit more alive and satisfying, hearing “YOU’RE GOING TO PAY FOR THAT SILVER” when Silver whacks Eggman off the track is charming, it’s the lack of characters that hit. Cutting the other Sega characters was one thing but 15 characters is pretty weak for a series with as many characters as Sonic the Hedgehog. Especially with obvious omissions like Cream the Rabbit, Infinite, Espio and Charmy, the Babylon Rogues, heck go all out and have a Mania team with Classic Sonic, Mighty and Ray.
Team Sonic Racing is a great kart racer for people good at Mario Kart because it still gives you plenty to do in first place. You can pass items to a teammate who needs it, lay out a slipstream for lagging partners to boost through the usual work of staying in first. While not as difficult as racers like Crash Team Racing, it can still catch you off guard and is great with friends.
The story may not be much to write home about but it has some fun character interactions in the cut scenes and that’s all you need. It also boasts side missions that can get really unforgiving at times, particularly the checkpoint drifting and ring collecting missions.
With fun action packed races, unique mechanics, tons of car customisation (that is completely free, take that Crash Team Racing) and plenty of replay value Team Sonic Racing is a fun racer that’s worth picking up. And holy God the soundtrack, it could’ve been the only talking point this whole time. It’s incredible, one of the best in the series. If you don’t buy the game at least boot it up on Spotify. Dan Troy.
Untitled Goose Game
(Switch, Xbox, PS4, PC).
Simplicity at its finest. Untitled Goose Game grabbed all of the attention leading up to its release, from its peculiar yet hilarious name, cute graphics, piano only dynamic soundtrack and frankly ingenious concept. You are the goose. And the goose is an asshole. Terrorize, trick and torment these innocent townsfolk for no reason whatsoever.
An idea so original it can’t be put into a single genre, though the closest would be a stealth based puzzle game. It is a very unique experience and while it doesn’t dive as deep into the concept as it could’ve, it still stays humorous and engaging for the entirety of its fiendishly disappointing run time.
Untitled Goose Game will take you maybe 2 hours to finish and for a €20 price tag that is not great. Untitled Goose Game costs more per hour than minimum wage. Extra tasks do get added to your to-do list in the post game that take advantage of the fully connected world and it is fun to speed-run once you know what to do.
Untitled Goose Game is an approachable romp where its simplicity and charm shine through. Despite its disappointing length, it will engage you enough to be ultimately satisfied with the experience… should you enjoy the joke. If the initial concept doesn’t sound funny to you then you won’t get much out of it. But if it seems funny to you then get it’s worth a shot, even if you should wait for a sale. Dan Troy.