I’ve read a lot of opinion pieces on other websites that say 2019 has been quite a disappointing year for games. But I have to disagree. Fine, it hasn’t necessarily been filled with a roster of impressive AAA games, but they take time to develop and there’s a lot more to this industry than just the “big boys”. Like the impressive surge in indie titles, created at a fraction of the cost and person power than the likes of Horizon Zero Dawn and The Witcher 3. Or the teams who devote their resources to creating a realistic offering of a real-life sport (like Codemasters and Big Ben). And let’s not forget the mid-tier studios who manage to pull off the unthinkable and develop a cracker against the odds (Pathea Games, I’m looking at you).
I guess, ultimately, it depends on what you look for in your games. But as someone who likes 1) the Yakuza series, 2) crafting mechanics, and 3) motorsport, this year has more than delivered. But don’t just take my word for it – well, actually do by reading my list below.
Editor’s note: In a change of format, Hannah has decided to list her games from #1 to #10. I could spend the half an hour it’d take to cut and paste the entries into the regular #10 through to #1, but I just can’t be bummed with it. Sickness and all that…
1 – Judgement (PS4)
The Yakuza series is a firm favourite of mine. So I when I heard of this Poirot spin-off in beloved Kamurocho, I was both intrigued and sceptical. After all, Yakuza is unashamedly JRPG. A genre you either love or you hate. And a series that has more backstory than this year’s [insert popular talent show]’s contestants. Does Sega really need to attract a wider audience by making a game that is Yakuza, and yet isn’t? Surely its loyal fans will be disappointed with the watering down of lore? And won’t the detective have to be careful not to get his hands dirty – removing the brawl mechanic from its sacred home?
The answer to all three is ‘no’. And ‘no’ is good.
SEGA didn’t have to make a Yakuza-lite game. But when you’re the guardians of a richly detailed universe, which has only ever been enjoyed by a minority of people, you’d be mad not to recycle those assets into something that caters for the majority that has until now eluded you. However, that’s not to say there isn’t something here for those more acquainted with its back streets. In fact, that was my biggest surprise – yes, it all felt familiar, but playing in that world through new character’s eyes provided a new sense of wonderment. These were no longer “my streets”; I was no longer “Yakuza”.
Then there’s the lack of reference to previous games, which is an obvious omission. But, remember, this isn’t a Yakuza game – not in the traditional sense. And keeping these “trade secrets” to a minimum does improve new user friendly-ness. I do believe there could have been a stronger nod to the main series (we are in its world, after all); it was one of my few criticisms. But at no time do you feel as though a reference was needed, and was being avoided. It doesn’t come up and if you didn’t know better, you wouldn’t know.
Finally, the fight mechanics – which do have a place in Judgment. In fact, Yagami is quite handy with his fists and any intangible items he has to hand, so much so that you’re not missing out on any of the action. If this is your first foray into the big bad streets of Tokyo, it serves as a great introduction. But there’s never a sense of hand-holding. When you fight, you fight!
To summarise, before I write a trilogy on how good Judgment is, this is a great instalment into the Yakuza franchise – either as a standalone tale or fully supported tangent. You see things from a different perspective, though they’re still as graphically perfect and kooky as those in the main game. And the script remains as polished as ever. What’s not to like?
2 – The Outer Worlds (PS4)
I like my games how I like my books – wordy! And boy does The Outer Worlds deliver. In fact, I’d say I’ve had more conversations in this one game than I’ve had with real folk all year. No joke. But the most refreshing thing about Obsidian’s latest release is the fact that it met expectations. You bought it, played it and enjoyed it, just how it should be. And that’s no easy feat in today’s market.
It’s an intriguing world, too, which certainly helps when the narrative takes such a central place. And it’s largely unscripted, in the sense that you can pretty much choose the direction you want it to take (and suffer the consequences, as a result). Plus, it offers great replayability because of this freedom, which makes it both a great game and a bargain.
3 – Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Switch)
You’d think Luigi would have learned by now that invitations to places you’ve never heard of, most likely in the middle of nowhere and run by a ghoulish loon, should not be accepted. But here he is, third time the numpty, hoovering up some more of E Gadd’s test subjects. And probably a few more gaming awards whilst he’s at it.
That’s because Luigi’s Mansion 3 is a very well executed sequel to the first (I consider the second a slight detour in the series). Nearly all of the same charm has been translated, along with all of the actions we remember. But the team at Ninty have also been able to inject a sense of freshness to the game. And that’s all thanks to the wonderful rendering of the motel/hotel.
The graphics are truly faultless, pretty much anything can be interacted with and the facial expressions Luigi can pull puts other games to shame. It’s almost as if he has a soul; he’s so emotive!
It could have had wider customisation options – like Mario Odyssey – especially when it comes to using your abundance of coins. Plus, you can at times become confused as to what is expected of you. But if a game is able to grab your attention and hold it like your favourite cartoon, then it’s special and doing something right.
4 – Ace Combat 7 (PS4)
Air force rejects like me can only live out their “other lives” through games like Ace Combat. But without a computer, we’re often left with a bland flying experience, with little in the way of physics. Luckily, the brains behind this series like to give us the best of both worlds – a challenging control scheme with an engaging narrative. Plus, there are hangars and hangars full of planes and upgrades for you to unlock, which provide an incentive to keep flying back around your old missions in pursuit of those all-important credits.
They’re not easy either, the sorties, or short. By the time you get into double figures, there’s a lot to gain from strategising. And sometimes you find yourself suitably unequipped for the challenge ahead. But that’s the beauty of Ace Combat 7 – whether you’re trying to unlock a new airframe or earn that coveted ace status, you’ll find yourself spending hours in the air, perfecting your stick skills, without any ground-based distractions. Just how it should be.
5 – F1 2019 (PS4)
The Formula One franchise is repeated every year, only with a fresh lick of paint and a few revisions. But whereas you could easily forego the last one, if you already owned 17, the 2019 edition is more than worth your attention. For starters, it includes the supposed “feeder” system – Formula 2 – and offers you the chance to pull off an Albon/LeClerc/Norris. But the real star of this show isn’t called Hamilton or Vettel; it goes by the name of improved ‘shadows and textures’.
Suddenly, the night race in Singapore feels something much more than Codemasters have simply turned the sky off and turned on the floodlights. Instead, the glare of those titan torches feel as though they are actually upon you – along with the millions of eyes of fans worldwide. Then there’s the transitioning of time in Abu Dhabi, which occurs so naturally. And the gloomy overshadowing nature of improved dynamic weather. But it’s the cars that really stand out this time around.
It’s almost as if the console, and technology, is finally doing them justice. These are multi-million-pound creations, after all. They just don’t always come across like that in pixel form. However, that’s all changed now as they’re practically jumping off the screen – down to the very last fragile wingtip. This realism extends to your opponents, who you’ll want to challenge you for position just to try another view of their body…work. And don’t get me started on the shadows – they’re so distracting, I almost forget it wasn’t them that I was racing!
6 – Dragon Quest Builders 2 (Switch)
Ask me to name another game where poop collection is a thing and I’d fail to answer. Whether that’s a good thing or not is questionable, but there’s no doubt that Dragon Quest Builders 2 makes this mechanic a fundamental, and fun, addition to its line-up. Even if it is hard to believe that watching a queue of NPCs go do their business could ever be classed as entertainment.
But whereas many games continue unapologetically with their series, ignoring critique, Square Enix has certainly taken the opinion of players on board and implemented their suggestions whilst adding a dose of new to the familiar.
Personally, I really enjoyed the first but found a number of nuisances along the way that proved annoying at times. In contrast, Dragon Quest Builders 2 keeps all of the fun of the first (including the entertaining dialogue, which is very cleverly written) whilst managing to remedy its few faults: tools/weapons are now long-life, your carrying capacity is much improved and crops have been introduced. The worlds are also far more interesting.
It’s true that the first few hours are overly tutorial-based, and the combat leaves a lot to be desired but this JRPG-Minecraft-Harvest-Moon lovechild gives you plenty of reasons to keep coming back for more.
7 – My Time at Portia (Switch)
The winning formula of Stardew Valley can be seen in a number of games. But few – very few – are ever able to recreate the magic that made their inspiration a global hit. My Time at Portia does manage to craft a compelling cast of townsfolk, who reside in an equally inviting area, populated with an entertaining array of tasks. But it also achieved something that Concerned Ape’s project did not – it offered players a more linear experience, whereby story progression isn’t just measured in parsnips and community centre upgrades.
That is not a criticism of Stardew Valley – it’s a game that continues to hold my attention to this day and a title I own on more than one platform. But sometimes it’s nice for it feel as though the story is ticking along without you having to go out looking for it. Plus, you get tired of the same old faces and places. Hence, cue My Time at Portia – with its delightful graphics, freshened quests and impressive script.
8 – WRC 8 (PS4)
Dirt Rally receives a lot of hype owing to its impressive rendering of mud, amongst other assets. But the series has been let down on both occasions by a lack of official WRC stages. Now, there’s not much you can do when the licence is held by a rival, but sometimes we stay at home racers want to pit ourselves against recognisable routes – just like those we see on TV. Which is where WRC 8 comes in.
With 100 stages from the sport, and the teams to go with it, this is a rallying game that nearly has it all. There’s even a career mode, a la F1 and Codemasters – sort of. Sure, the graphics are a little disappointing compared to its rival – especially as it has been away now for a couple of years – but the licensed assets more than make up for it by offering a truly immersive experience. And the handling isn’t half bad either, especially on tarmac!
9 – Forager (Switch)
Footballers only have two goals in life, which is incidentally two more than Forager. But amongst this aimlessness is an admirable purpose – that to put the objectives fully in the player’s hands.
Do as much or as little as you want. Expand your horizons or settle amongst the locality. Automate the majority and click yourself silly with the rest. The choice is entirely yours. But the one thing that Forager doesn’t allow you to control is its hold on you, which quickly develops and barely recedes. In fact, some view the repetition as the main point of Forager – its core, so to speak – and that’s what proves so addictive.
That’s not to say there aren’t any accolades to earn, though, because there are a number of achievements for you to pursue. Some, like 10 deaths, will be awards you’d rather avoid but at least you have an excuse for perishing. And perishing often. But that’s just part of the fun of which there’s a lot to have.
In all, this is a simple time-sink of a game that you’ll find hard to put down and even harder to explain. So I won’t even try to.
Better experience it for yourself instead, then.
10 – Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order (PS4)
I can find a number of faults with this game, which is why it’s so low down on my list. But beneath it all, Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order is an interesting mash-up of styles that has a certain charm about it.
Whether you’re scaling new heights like our friend Nathan Drake or solving brow furrowing puzzles like Lara Croft, there’s something for everyone – or every mood – here. Its various worlds offer you multiple opportunities for exploration, even encouraging you to come back to uncover their secrets once you’ve grown as a Jedi. And it’s brimming with Star Wars’ assets, which is only ever a good thing.
Sure, the team should have ensured it launched in a better state. And maybe it is a little copy cat-ish of other’ styles/mechanics. But games rarely launch polished these days, and imitation is a form of flattery, so that’s a compliment really.