That’s all, folks.
So here we are. End of the year. End of the decade.
Later on, I’ll put out my blog for my game of the decade (blaringly obvious as it is), but for game of the year, it’s been a worse year gaming wise than even last year.
I barely scraped together ten games I’ve either finished or played a significant amount of time to put into a list, but even then, it feels somewhat hollow in a way. And like last year, that’s not a statement on the quality of the games put out. If anything, in a transition year as we get set for the next-gen machines, this has been a better year than 2012.
That said, my top three games are games I didn’t expect in a top three at all. A top ten, yes. Top three? As I explain for each entry, not at all. The actual GOTY does fulfill a sort of expectation I’ve had for a certain publisher for the past few years. And if anything, it’s a fitting end to a decade where my gaming tastes have altered and changed throughout, as past GOTY lists – and the upcoming Game of the Decade list – show.
More importantly, this list shows how much my tastes have evolved a lot over the decade. Compare and contrast this list with what I had in 2010 and you get an idea of what I care more about in games now than I did ten years ago (you can also compare and contrast with other years lists below too).
Here’s my ten for the year.
10 – Afterparty
Afterparty is a game I had been looking forward to for a long time.
Oxenfree is such an incredible game that had I actually played it the year it came out, it would have been in my top ten for that year. But I was already interested for what was to come from Night School Studio.
Afterparty didn’t quite meat up the lofty expectations I had for it after playing Oxenfree, but that’s not to say it’s a bad game. It’s really good, actually. Humourous, charming, some incredibly biting writing and fantastic performances from some of the cast. In fact, the game’s ending stretch is something I didn’t even remotely see coming.
To have the gall too from changing tone from horror to comedy was a massive risk too that paid off for the most part as making that transition is difficult, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. Night School definitely knew what it was doing.
Afterparty is on Xbox Game Pass so if you’re subbed there, it’s definitely worth checking into.
9 – Resident Evil 2
I am not a horror person (and this is going to be something I mention again later on). But Resident Evil 2 is action horror I deal with.
Resident Evil 2 is arguably the most beloved game in the series, if not RE4, but even if not, it’s still the most beloved of the Raccoon City batch of games. In 2015, it announced it was ‘doing it’ by remaking RE2 after much fan demand. But no one in their right imagined Resident Evil 2’s remake being *this good*.
For one thing, you get your money’s worth out of the REngine and how it is easily pound-for-pound one of the best looking games in the past few years. But it also seems to maintain the ethos and grandeur of what made the game so special first time round on the PS1.
With Resident Evil 3’s remake around the corner in three months time, you only imagine what has to happen then. But even as someone who can’t really deal with the traditional horror that RE2 (and RE3 will) provides, I can tell you that Resident Evil 2 was great horror gaming of what I played of it.
Even on the lowest difficulty.
8 – Kind Words
Kind Words isn’t a game in the traditional sense. Really, it’s just a small room with some decorations and you as your avatar at your laptop writing letters and anecdotes about the things wearing you down.
The kicker about Kind Words, though, is its community. It is legitimately supportive and kind. I sent a few letters out basically lamenting certain situations in my life at that time. And it came back and provided support and advice on what to do or just being an ear to listen. In turn, I provided support and advice when I could.
Kind Words is, again, not a game in the traditional sense, but that sort of relaxing, wholesome community – heavily moderated so it isn’t doesn’t fall to trolls or those who’d cause trouble on sight to make sure it maintains the reputation it’s known for – that provides a lending ear and care when needed is something to aspire to. Especially in a time when things look as bleak as they do.
It’s nice to have a comfort blanket around you sometimes. Kind Words is that comfort blanket.
7 – Sea of Solitude
Mental health in games has a scattered track record, but it is getting better at how it’s told. But one aspect of mental health that hasn’t been explored a whole lot – not just in games, but entertainment as a whole – is loneliness.
Sea of Solitude isn’t a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, frankly, if it wasn’t for its subject matter, I don’t think it’d be in this top ten. But the way it depicts loneliness is raw. And I say that as someone who deals with loneliness a lot, especially when mixed with a bad cocktail of depression, anxiety and that other thing.
Sea of Solitude should be applauded for how it handles and depicts loneliness. It’s not a perfect depiction, but it’s brilliant.
6 – Life is Strange 2
Here’s the truth.
I wasn’t as into Life is Strange 2 as I was the first game, one of my favourite games ever, or prequel Before the Storm. Not because I didn’t like or love the game or didn’t care for the relationship between brothers Sean and Daniel Diaz. For me, I cared more for the world of Arcadia Bay and the stories of Max Caulfield and Chloe Price.
But Life is Strange 2 is a timely tale of two brothers on the run in terms of the story it tells in regards to injustice, systematic and every day racism in America post-2016 Presidential Election and one or two uncomfortable aspects I won’t get into for spoilers other than than they border on incredible storytelling at times (particularly episode four) and fall within the remit of the themes you’d expect for a Life is Strange game.
I’m not the person to go into detail about it. Rather, it should be a POC writer who knows best on these topics than me, a white man who has a lot of privilege. And the best writer who’s been covering this beat the best is Natalie Flores. So go definitely hit her up (plus she’s awesome too, don’t let her Yennefer fandom scare you off).
But the gist of what I can say is this: Life is Strange 2 may not have hit for me as much as the Max/Chloe saga, but it is still very much a game you need to play. And if nothing else, five years after first starting out, it shows you that there are places Life is Strange is not afraid to go to.
5 – Apex Legends
Respawn makes good games. There’s no ifs and buts around that.
But the impact of Apex Legends is genuinely something else. Announced and released within the space of 48 hours as a battle royale game set within the Titanfall universe as AAA’s first big real test of battle royale games. I wrote about that at launch for GameDaily, so I won’t go into that all over again.
As a game, though, Apex Legends is just brilliant. I’ve not played it in a good while, admittedly, but for the first month, month-and-a-half at launch, I poured well over in excess of 50 hours. It was satisfying in every way: choosing where to drop me and my team, the satisfying gunplay you’d come to expect after the two Titanfall games, the rush to get a good weapon only to end up with a Mozambique.
This has been Respawn’s year in a way with the launch of Apex as well as Star Wars: Jedi – Fallen Order, but Apex is the one that stands out in massive fashion.
Don’t suppose we can get Titanfall 3 first before any Star Wars sequel, though?
4 – Death Stranding
I finished Death Stranding a month-and-a-half ago. I put around 35-40 hours into it. I wrote notes on it for review. And even now, I’m still unsure of how I feel about it in a way.
By all accounts, Death Stranding is my jam in every sense. It’s an expensive walking sim/courier delivery game. It’s a Kojima game. It’s batshit nuts and insane. It has incredible performances from the likes of Mads Mikkelsen, Margaret Qualley, Troy Baker and Tommie Earl Jenkins (the latter providing one of the most incredible moments of acting I’ve ever seen in a game, to be honest). The game has some incredible moments at times involving Mikkelsen’s character Cliff (including the ending). And you get some incredible views at times thanks to the Decima Engine.
And here’s the kicker. I know I loved Death Stranding. I know I love it enough to the point I’d included in my top ten games of the year and even as things stand within my top ten games of the generation so far.
But I can’t quite articulate why I love Death Stranding. It’s uniqueness is one part why I do love it, but not the main reason why. What those other reasons, I can’t quite place.
And Death Stranding is not without flaws. Even I am starting to get slightly weary of what Kojima does sometimes with his writing (particularly how it views asexualism within the game – hooooooo boy) and at this point in my life, I’d like to see Kojima do more shorter games (something in the 10-15 hour mark) because it feels like he can pad them out needlessly at times (though not as bad as Persona 5 was, though).
So yes, I loved Death Stranding. Enough to have it in my top ten for the year and possibly my top ten for the generation as things stand ahead of next year. But don’t ask me why I love it. Because even I’m still figuring things out.
3 – Untitled Goose Game
2 – Control
I am not a horror person. In fact, you may be thinking why I am even referencing horror in regards to Control when it’s a third-person action-adventure game.
But if there’s a certain element of horror I go for and appreciate more than typical horror (exceptions are made – see above), it’s atmospheric horror. It’s in part why I got into Twin Peaks a few years ago and why I loved Alan Wake as much as I did at the time.
But what Control did is next-level above and beyond the Lynchian-shaped inspirations within Alan Wake. The atmosphere it cultivates mixed with the absolutely sublime art direction and the story within is just incredible in brilliant ways.
Courtney Hope provides the performance of the year as Jesse Faden, but closely followed by Matthew Porretta as Dr Casper Darling’s weirdly charming but creepy performance.
Don’t let what I’m saying take away the brilliant action-adventure gameplay of Control. It is seriously brilliant and genius at times. And although the ending stretch of the game had an unneeded significant difficulty spike and the boss fights in the game were meh, it was an brilliant all-rounded game.
It’s now at the point where for the first time in a long time, I am actively looking forward to upcoming DLC for a game. Particularly for the second story DLC and how it ties into Alan Wake.
Intentional or not, Remedy has become the David Lynch of gaming in how it’s able to do atmospheric horror in its games, such as with Alan Wake and Control. I can only hope they embrace that with the next game it does, but even then, Remedy shows it’s currently at the top of the class when it comes to storytelling.
1 – Sayonara Wild Hearts
Sayonara Wild Hearts is a game about heartbreak.
This is something that was mentioned as one of the game’s selling points by developer Simogo besides its main point of being a pop album game. And it couldn’t have been more appropriate at the time I played it.
Context: A few weeks earlier, I told someone I had feelings for them literally minutes before going under for significant dental surgery, petrified I was going to die from the anaesthetic (even though this was my third time going under). A few weeks later, once I recovered and was able to speak coherently, we sat down and talked for an hour about my feelings and what not.
It didn’t go my way, but it also provided one of the most raw and emotional conversations, if not the most raw and emotional, conversations we’ve ever had to one another. For me, ever. We always said we’d still be friends no matter what happened before and after the chat, and we still are (I’d consider this person one of my best friends, frankly), but even I had no idea the chat would provide such an incredible emotional catharsis.
Nevertheless, it still stung. It’s always a 50-50 gamble to put yourself and your heart out there, only for it to not go the way you really want it to. Cue a night of being thankful for said friend who you just confessed your feelings to, but a night of listening to Cara Dillon all night.
So playing Sayonara Wild Hearts on my iPad Pro a week after that went down was incredibly cathartic. It really is a game about heartbreak. The interpretation of said heartbreak being left up to the player, but how the game revolves around it is genuinely what makes it so good. The catharsis of healing, the battles you have to go through to get into a better place, the process of finding yourself at peace with everything.
See, the thing is I could be talking about mending a broken heart in real life, and I am, but this also applies to how Sayonara Wild Hearts. It’s not just the game itself and how it plays too. Rather, how the game manages to exude style in a way that has exceeded past games attempts (sorry, Persona 5, you’ve been dethroned). Most importantly, the soundtrack is as close to perfection as you can get. It’s not even so much my soundtrack of the year as it is my actual album of the year. Begin Again will be the Sound of Summer 2020 (it should be).
Frankly, it is criminal not many outlets are considering it or have considered it for GOTY. This is a game that should be high up on many lists beyond honourable mentions or leaving them out Game of the Year categories. It is legitimately absurd, to be honest. But here we are.
Sayonara Wild Hearts also represents, at least for me, the culmination of what I’ve been saying for the past few years on this blog and on Twitter: that Annapurna Interactive is one of the best publishers in the industry right now. I’d go as far to say from a pure qualitative standpoint, it’s easily in the list for top three best publishers right now. For me, it wasn’t so much if it’d publish a personal GOTY, but when. And after a lineup this year that included SWH, Funomena’s Wattam, Mobus Digital’s Outer Wilds and Sam Barlow’s Telling Lies, it really has been a stellar twelve months for it.
2019 has been the year of Annapurna Interactive.
Sayonara, 2019 and the 2010s. 2020 and the 20s, lets pop.
Honourable Mentions: F1 2019, Gears 5, Tetris 99, The Division 2, Code Vein, Wattam, Kingdom Hearts III, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.