What is life without fun? Few things are as fun as getting truly lost in a game you love. As we close out 2019, it’s time to look back on the games that dominated our free time. This year, we have top five (or almost five) lists from Joel Hruska, David Cardinal, Michael Justin Allen Sexton, and Ryan Whitwam. Our picks skew newer, but not everything we’ve been obsessed with is from the last year. These are just the games we’ve enjoyed the most in 2019.
Red Dead Redemption 2
As a primarily PC gamer, I was never able to play the original Red Dead Redemption, but Rockstar saw fit to make port the sequel to PC. The game suffered from a rocky launch on PC, and not all the bugs have been ironed out, but it’s still one of the most engaging gaming experiences I’ve had in recent memory. The world is detailed and rich with content, and not just repetitive fetch quests like some games that tout the size of their maps. The storytelling and voice acting are also absolutely top notch. Traveling to distant waypoints in many games is tedious, but the journey is part of the fun in Red Dead Redemption 2.
Pokemon Sword and Shield
Pokemon occupies a unique place gaming culture as a franchise that became a worldwide phenomenon without any full console releases. Pokemon Sword and Shield broke with tradition when they launched on the Nintendo Switch. They still have many of the same problems as older Pokemon games like clunky menus, confusing online features, and bad writing. That’s not why people play Pokemon games, though. It’s about catching ’em all, and Pokemon Sword and Shield do that better than any previous games in the series. In addition to the game’s linear routes between cities, there’s a vast Wild Area to explore. The raid battle mechanics are also a nice addition. You can waste truly obscene amounts of time searching for your favorite mons in these games.
Untitled Goose Game
Who would have thought a goose could be the bane of an entire town? But that’s what you become in Untitled Goose Game. The game presents you with a to-do list and turns you loose on the unsuspecting people of this unnamed hamlet. Some items on the list are simple — steal the gardener’s rake and put it in the lake. Others will take more planning and thought, like the quest to make someone put on the wrong glasses. This game speaks to some sort of casual maliciousness we all have when playing games, and it’s incredibly engaging. You will become the goose, and as you walk away from your vanquished foes, honking and flapping your wings, you feel almost unreasonably powerful.
The Outer Worlds
The Outer Worlds is basically a smaller, quirkier Fallout in space. As a refugee from a stranded transport ship, you have to make your way in the libertarian fantasy that is the Halcyon solar system. You can either support the mega-corporations that dominate the colony or fight to change things. Along the way, you’ll assemble a crew of misfits with their own backstories to explore across the Halcyon system. The settings are fun to explore, and the voice acting is surprisingly good. I will be the first to admit The Outer Worlds isn’t a perfect game; it’s too short, and there’s not enough variation in gear. Still, it’s still one of the best things I played this year.
I love giant fighting robots, and MechWarrior is the premiere giant fighting robot franchise. However, we went almost 20 years without a proper single player MechWarrior game. That finally changed a few weeks ago with the release of MechWarrior 5. You play as the leader of a mercenary group, traveling the stars in search of money and revenge at the controls of heavily armed mechs. The combat in this game is superb — the dozens of included mechs have unique characteristics, weapon loadouts, and roles. These war machines feel heavy and powerful, and it’s an absolute delight to blast other mechs as you fulfill a contract. The game does have some problems with a meandering storyline, and the voice acting is barely passable. I’m willing to forgive that in light of the incredible combat, though.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
Mutant Year Zero is one of my favorite games that I’ve played this year. It’s not really a full AAA title in scope — think of it as more of a “AA” game, bigger than an indie, but smaller than what a large studio would build. The game is built on the same engine used for the newer version of XCOM, but it allows free-moving exploration in ways XCOM isn’t known for. It’s not perfect — there are definitely a few rough spots — but it feels like a Fallout title (and includes a few easter eggs referencing that game).
World of Warcraft Classic
I haven’t had nearly as much time to play WoW Classic as I’d like, but I’ve definitely had tons of fun with it. Bringing back Blizzard’s iconic World of Warcraft proved to be a popular choice for the company. The mode has been more popular than Blizzard anticipated, though it’s not clear how many players are brand-new to the title versus those coming back to relieve the glory days.
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Don’t look at me that way. I never had access to a console growing up, which means I’ve had a lot of first-time fun with some of the old console games. Yoshi’s Island is a truly amazing game for it’s era, with gorgeous artwork and great level design.
It was designed to be a more ‘accessible’ platform, and I’m willing to admit I need that kind of feature, having basically never played platformers as a kid. I die. A lot. The restore button is going to break off the NES Classic long before any other component. I may not be very good at the game, but I’ve certainly had a lot of fun with it.
Sadly, I’m only in for three titles — I’ve scarcely done enough gaming to talk about it, outside of the above. One of the ironies of writing about the topic is that it’s hard to find the time to actually do it, and life had other plans for Christmas this year. I had planned to write an article about No Mans Sky, which I recently bought, but I’ve only been able to spend an hour with the title thus far.
Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi
I got my first taste of the Koei Tecmo’s Nobunaga’s Ambition game franchise roughly twenty years ago on the SNES. Afterwards I fell out of touch with the series but recently have got back into these wonderful strategy games with Nobunaga’s Ambition: Spheres of Influence and Nobunaga’s Ambition Taishi. Though both games provide an enjoyable experience as you fight to conquer the Japanese isles, Taishi has options to automate some of the more tedious aspects of the game and makes the later stages of the game significantly more enjoyable than in Sphere’s of Influence. Though it’s not what I’d call perfect, it’s currently my favorite strategy game that I feel any fan of the genre will enjoy.
Jade Empire is sent in a fictional world roughly based Chinese history and culture with Buddhist elements influencing the game’s story. The game also features its own artificial language that was created by a linguist explicitly for use in the game. Released in 2005, I first played this game when I was 14, and it helped to grow my interest in Asia. It’s by far my favorite game of all time, and I make it a point to replay this game at least once every year. Though my hopes for a sequel have yet to be answered, if you’ve never tried the game before its well worth giving it a try.
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy
This is another game that I first played years ago on the original Xbox. Set in ancient Egypt, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is predominantly a puzzle game with some fighting and RPG elements mixed in. I got back into this game this year after discovering that THQ Nordic had released a remastered version of the game with improved graphics. Though the gameplay remains unchanged from the original, it holds up well it’s still fun to play. There is also a fan based mod in the works which includes content cut from the original game.
When Lionhead studios launched the original Fable, it instantly became one of the best RPG games in the world. Later games in the series changed drastically and mixed reviews. Though the games were fun, they were also disappointing because of the extent to which they changed. Fable III has never been able to stand up to the original Fable, but trying the game again after a few years I found this game to still be fun to play and an enjoyable experience.
StarCraft 2 needs little introduction. Since its release StarCraft 2 has been a crowd favorite with the online multiplayer gaming community. The game also has a long and highly enjoyable campaign that also has plenty of replay value. Though I don’t play online much, I often return to run through the campaign, which is why I opted to include it in my list of top five games for the year.
Untitled Goose Game
This game comes pretty close to qualifying as the ultimate un-video-game — at least compared to most current hits. You can’t get killed. At most you suffer from a couple momentary ruffled feathers. There is no time pressure, unless you complete the entire game and decide to try and set speed records. Graphics are trivial and cartoon-like — but artfully thought out. It is fun, addictive, and can be played by anyone. You only need a couple buttons and a joystick, along with a sense of humor.
The plot is simple. You’re an annoying goose who spends your day harassing the unlucky denizens of a nearby village. When in doubt honking is sure to get a start out of them, and help you distract them. There are dozens of tasks you get to try to accomplish, ranging from breaking things to befuddling shopkeepers. Watching and kibitzing can be almost as fun as playing, so don’t hesitate to fire it up when the whole family is around.
For some reason lost in history, our family follows F1 racing. Despite the relative lack of passing or on-track action, we’re addicted. So it is great to be able to “follow along” with the season by playing the F1 games for each season. This year in particular, the game came out part way through the season, so it was possible to drive the same tracks that the racers would that weekend. There are extensive team and career modes, but they’re wasted on me, as I don’t have the attention span for them. But experimenting by driving different cars and different setups adds to the enjoyment of the race season.
Forza Motorsport 7
If it wasn’t for the F1 connection, I’d rate Motorsports 7 as a no-brainer winner over F1, and it definitely has the best AIs of any version of Motorsports. I really enjoy the versatility of the game, with a huge selection of cars, tracks, and race series. It is certainly not anything like iRacing when it comes to racing fidelity and true competitive racing, but the graphics are much more detailed, and I don’t participate in multi-player racing (other than with Avatars) anyway. I also play Assetto Corsa and Project CARS, but Motorsports is my go to if I just want to spend some time on track.
The most stressful video game experience ever for me was driving a mountain course in Dirt Rally in VR using my Oculus. I can imagine driving a NASCAR around an oval at full speed (as lethal as that might prove to be), but I can’t imagine driving at high speed on a dirt track hugging a cliff. So for the most part I stick with the forest tracks in Dirt Rally, but I love the combination of needing to drive the car and interpret the messages about the upcoming hills and turns from my rally co-driver.
Ultimate General: Civil War
This is another game where the campaign modes are wasted on me. But the detailed, and carefully-modeled, tactical engagements and multi-day battle strategies are great fun for a reformed hex board gamer like me. And unlike with tabletop versions of military campaigns, I can play this one against the computer any time I want. Like many games of its genre, it doesn’t get updated much, and some elements of it are behind the times, but it looks great on my 4K 32-inch photo monitor.
That’s the titles we’ve been playing — what’s held your interest through 2019?