With six months down, 2019 isn't in the bag, but it's certainly halfway in the bag. That's a glass-half-full situation if ever I saw one. There are good years and bad years for gaming, we're told, but those hindsight goggles don't matter when there are already a ton of games—right here, right now, that have already come out in 2019—that are already shoe-ins for our Game of the Year talks in December. Now, not every one of these games introduced themselves to the public this calendar year. We start right off, for instance, with a game (NieR Automata) whose initial release date was in 2017, but makes the list because it got a game of the year edition and it was our reviewer's first time playing it. That counts. If a 2017 game makes the 2019 list, then you can rest assured that it's a game that's already aging quite nicely. We've even got another favorite (Workers and Resources) that's in Steam Early Access. Hasn't officially launched yet. Don't sweat the small stuff. But most of this list is 100 percent spanking new within the past six months. All of these get our endorsement.
NieR Automata: Game of the YoRHa Edition – While NieR Automata has been out for a bit, the Game of the YoRHa Edition just came out this past March and my review was my first time playing it. I tend to enjoy action RPGs and NieR Automata lets you customize your abilities quite a bit with plug-ins to increase your HP, your defense, and so on. You can also change and upgrade your Pod as well as the weapons you carry. Between the all the ways you can customize your gameplay and the story itself, this is one of my favorite PS4 games I've played so far, occasional weird camera angles notwithstanding.
Katana Zero – Ever since I started seeing ads on Twitch for Katana Zero, I had been wanting to check it out. So when I got the chance to review it, I jumped on it and I wasn't disappointed. I like how they fit the fact that you can keep trying stages over and over again into the narrative. A lot of the stages require a bit of strategy to finish, instead of just running and slashing everything in sight with no forethought. Also it uses retro-styled graphics which I'm a huge sucker for, so I was more than happy to sink some time into this one.
Resident Evil 2 Remake – This is something that I had been waiting years for, ever since Resident Evil Remake came out on the Gamecube back in the 2000s, and this 2019 remake was totally worth the wait. Even though it had been so many years since I played through Resident Evil 2, I still felt right at home playing this game. Capcom also managed to pull something off—something that no other developer has done since the original Doom—and that is to create a truly terrifying monster that can show up anytime and keep you on your toes for the rest of the game. Of course I’m talking about Mr. X who was incredible. The game was terrifying enough as it was. But hearing those loud footsteps letting you know that Mr. X was near would give me a panic attack every time he showed up. It was just like the Cyberdemon in the original Doom, where you would hear footsteps getting louder and louder, letting you know that you were in for a big fight soon. I really hope a Resident Evil 3: Nemesis remake is on the way soon.
Mortal Kombat 11 – After the major disappointment that was Mortal Kombat X, I had really high hopes that MK11 could redeem the series. It sure did, as this is the most fun I have had with a Mortal Kombat game in years. I absolutely love all of the new fighting mechanics they put in and the ability to create your own variations. Despite unlocking gear and skins still being an annoying process, I still love going in and creating all kinds of wacky variations for the characters. The roster is definitely one of the best parts of the game as well. After MKX, which had one of the worst rosters in MK history, MK11 was a breath of fresh air, finally bringing back characters people have wanted for a long time, like Frost, Jade, Noob Saibot Baraka, Skarlet, and more. Combine that with some returning new characters from MKX and some great new characters and you have a pretty solid roster. Except for Jacqui Briggs. Forget that character.
Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer featuring The Legend of Zelda – The highest compliment I can give Cadence of Hyrule is that I started playing it again as soon as I beat it for the first time. It isn’t a long adventure. Only a few hours, or a couple sessions depending on how much you’re trying to rush. But it’s definitely replayable, which isn’t always a common feat for shorter games. The game takes the clever rhythm mechanics of Crypt of the NecroDancer and mixes it with the classic tunes and familiar characters of The Legend of Zelda, with random map generation and local multiplayer that makes replaying it a pleasant surprise each time. The beats are infectious. The boss battles are fun. The level design is beautiful in its simplicity. It’s like listening to your favorite songs, remixed to add a bit of flair and consistent rhythm but still keeping the melody and familiar charm that made them so famous in the first place. Song of Storms and Gerudo Valley, anybody? Plus, there’s something oh-so-satisfying about hitting every beat just right—stabbing a bokoblin right as the beat drops, dodging a heavy area-of-effect attack just as the bass guitar kicks in...yeah. Fantastic.
Castlevania Anniversary Collection – The collection of arcade classics within the Anniversary Collection are mixed in quality, but to get all eight of them for like 20 bucks is pretty hard to beat. I’m late to the Castlevania train. You can thank the Netflix adaptation for getting me to the station at all. But all the same, it’s awesome to be able to play these classics in the comfort of my own home without messing around with an emulator or buying an entirely different console. Or, like, an entire retro standing arcade machine. Plus we get Kid Dracula, which is a treat for non-Japanese players since the game was never released outside of Japan prior to 2019.
Tropico 6 – Every now and then I come across a game that lets me feel what it's like to be the sole arbiter over good/bad, legal/illegal, and right/wrong. Having been married for over 27 years now, it is vanishingly rare to enjoy that kind of absolute authority anywhere other than my extensive forays to PC Land. In Tropico, I certainly had to endure "advice" and "persuasion" from external entities, but for so long as I was willing to deal with the lengthy periods of silent, moody disapproval brought on by my unpopular decisions...wait a second! That's pretty much the way married life works too. Never mind. Even without that, Tropico was a lot of fun. In addition to the almost-total autonomy, I enjoyed the depth and breadth of managing the rapid growth of our (well, my) island paradise and dealing with the inevitable problems with an iron hand, or an iron hand wearing a lightly padded glove, as the current situation warranted.
F1 2019 – I've only had it for a week, and it's on PS4 rather than PC, but it has very quickly found a permanent spot in my gaming rotation. Normally a PS4 game is held in reserve for when we're out in the middle of nowhere in our plush travel trailer, but this one is an exception: I am a huge fan of Formula 1 racing and try to watch every race. Watching a race is far more enjoyable when I know some of the idiosyncrasies of any given track, and the best way to do that is to drive it, or a reasonable facsimile, myself. I have much higher fidelity sims available to me if/when I am at home, but none of them include the entire list of tracks to be used in the 2019 season. I have traditionally been terrible at racing with a game controller (a Fanatec wheel/pedals combo spoils you like nothing else can) and can barely make it down a straight in Project Cars 2, but F1 2019 is very, very different. I strongly suspect that there is some hand-holding going on behind the scenes because I simply can't believe I can very adequately drive an F1 car in F1 2019 but cannot handle a F5 car in POC2. But I don't care—you don't use a console racer to provide 100% fidelity. You use it for good, clean fun. Or, I suppose, as a last resort for learning the complexities and subtleties of F1 tracks that are not popular enough to be added to more generic titles.
The Division 2 – I haven't really played a lot of new games. Work has picked up a bit this year and most of my gaming time was consumed by Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. That all changed with the release of The Division 2 in March. The game became my singular focus for a few months as I churned through the main game and almost all of the side missions. The gunplay and gameplay mechanics have been refined to near perfection, and the pacing was spot on. You expect developers to learn a lot in the progression of one game to the next, but the Ubisoft team really went beyond what I expected with the Division 2.
Genesis Alpha One – It's got a box-of-rocks enemy AI. Your NPC allies behave like muted clones. But mixing 2001: A Space Odyssey's weirdness with MS-DOS's brainy good looks? All of that easily hooks my Gen X sensibilities. The shooting in this sci-fi survival game is thankfully simple. It merely supplements a hungry gameplay loop: Zap minerals on roguelike planets, punch-up your retro-futuristic NASA suit, then build out your modular spaceship on the search for a new home among the stars. The self-destructive synthwave soundtrack adds an underlying sense of dread to the whole operation. It's a cold, slightly nerve-racking, deceptively hopeless game.
Workers and Resources: Soviet Republic – A confluence of events came together around my introduction to Workers and Resources. Suffice it to say, with the wife and kiddo out of town for a full week, my home turned into a USSR man cave. I don't know about the politics of that statement. All I know is, Workers and Resources is, by a fair margin, the most wonderfully complex—and pain-in-the-neck complicated—resource logistics and city-building sim I've ever played. You can put up a rusty red star in the middle of your Communist urban planning. You can send anti-religious propaganda over Soviet bloc airwaves. You can accidentally plan your bus routes to go between the kindergarten and the Comrade Drinks Bar, both of which are crucial to having in your community. I party like it's 1989 with the Cold War in full swing. And due to looking up tutorial after tutorial for this game, Google now has me pegged as some kind of Lenin-loving socialist sympathizer.
Total War: Three Kingdoms – A lot has happened. I lost a wife and a brother, both during a confrontation with the Yellow Turban Rebellion that I knew I couldn't win. Dad "died of old age" at 46 right after that. I reunified the Chen people, divided the decadent Han Empire down the middle, and formed a triad coalition with two other powerhouses. I watched my commanders throw down one-on-one duels in the middle of 10,000 warring troops. I brought Liu Bei onto my council after he lost his entire nation, but had to give him a concubine to keep him happy until that undeserved promotion finally turned up. A lot has indeed happened in Three Kingdoms. I'm only on maybe turn 80 of my first game. The end is nowhere in sight. The Princess Bride famously warned us to "Never get involved in a land war in Asia!" But here I am. I've spent seven years trying to like Crusader Kings II. Turns out, all Crusader Kings II needed to do was be Total War: Three Kingdoms instead.
The Division 2 – Possibly the only MMOFPS game in this whole current generation that nailed the launch—there were quite a few in the last gen that stumbled out of the gate as well. There's also ample content incoming over this first year's roadmap to look forward to. And so far the only real misstep has been the near-impossible launch difficulty on the raid for consoles. It's not the power fantasy I'm looking for, and for that reason it won't end up on my final games of the year list. That's just like, my opinion, man. But I'd be wrong to not recognize it here as the most impressive AAA title I've played thus far in 2019.
Overcooked – This was a PS Plus free game for May and it is an awesome little frantic puzzle game. I'm not even sure what genre to put this in. But it has adorable visuals, a great control scheme for one or more players, and a fantastic variety in locations, tools, recipes, and responsibilities. It is easy enough to play single-player but absolutely demands help to master every level.
Destiny 2 – What is it about Destiny that keeps pulling me back? Actually, I know the answer: I have a great clan of friends that act as a siren's call. As for what kept them sticking around Destiny 2 on the two separate occasions I took long absences for good reason? That I don't know. There has been a lot broken about this game since launch; something that makes The Division 2 stand out all the better. But as of right now, midway through 2019 and out of Activision's shadow, Bungie is doing a lot of good things. I think D2 is finally getting to the place where it is realizing its potential.
Resident Evil 2 Remake – Resident Evil 2 Remake showed me the value of old games spun for a new generation. In this case, it was literally a game that launched quite a few generations back and being remade from the ground up into an entirely different engine. It throws in a bit of the classic Resident Evil, with the slow zombies that creep up on you before you know it, and some late action-horror controls a la Dead Space, and actually lets players move and shoot at the same time! What's also great is that the game looks darn good. I'm not that invested in how good a game looks, as long as it has a distinct visual style that vibes with every other part of the work. But it helps that this game looks the way it does, because it's yet another layer that the devs put on top of their remake, making it earn that title even more.
My Friend Pedro – I reviewed My Friend Pedro recently, so it may be a little convenient for me to pin it as my favorite. But the thing is, it really is as good as it sounds, looks, and plays. Mixing gunplay, puzzles, classic gameplay elements such as bullet time, and even some commentary on video games, censorship, and violence, it's a smart package wrapped in a neat little box. What I forgot to mention in my review, however, was that it even managed to play on my Office Dad PC in the first place. It's a fresh release on both the Switch and PC, so I was happy when the game managed to play without hilariously crashing on my first playthrough.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Randy gravitates toward anything open world, open ended, or open to interpretation. He prefers strategy over shooting, introspection over action, and stealth and survival over looting and grinding. He's been a gamer since 1982 and writing critically about video games for over 15 years. A few of his favorites are Skyrim, Elite Dangerous, and Red Dead Redemption. He lives with his wife and daughter in Oregon.View Profile