This list excludes DLC and remasters/ports. Additionally, I kept out games in early access, they needed to have their full launch in 2018.
- Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Order (PC, PS4, Xbox One): Jedi: Fallen Order is some of the most fun I’ve had playing a video game in ages. Just like Spider-Man last year, Fallen Order isn’t by any metric a perfect game: but it is a fun game set in a universe I adore, with a story that feels every bit as consequential and cinematic as the films. The Souls-like combat is really a joy to play and lends itself to less frustration than the games it mimics. The traversal and exploration feels incredibly engaging, and while rewards are sparse and not very diverse (ponchos galore!), there are just enough of them hiding around that gives players the motivation to pursue them. This is easily the game that brought the biggest smile to my face in 2019, and for that, it earns the top spot.
- Resident Evil 2 (PC, PS4, Xbox One): Remaking a classic game from the ground up is perhaps one of the most daunting tasks in current game development. Not only do you have to actually recreate the game, but you also have to recreate what players remember experiencing when they played it This act is incredibly tough to manage, and for Resident Evil, it meant a lot of reworking the foundations of what made the game. However, Capcom doesn’t shy away from modernizing the iconic survival-horror title, and completely rework the experience of RE2 without losing the spirit or charisma of the original. Gone are the overhead camera angles and tank controls, replaced with a surprisingly intimate third-person view. The addition of new mechanics from RE7 also adds depth and layers to the game that was previously absent and makes this game feel new and feel big. RE2 is a perfect example about how to go about a remake. Don’t be afraid to modernize, don’t be afraid to mix it up, but remember the core of what makes the original piece special.
- Kingdom Hearts III (PS4, Xbox One): At this point, Kingdom Hearts is so convoluted that not even it’s most die-hard fans can give a concise description of its central narrative. To be honest, I have not kept up fully with the “side” entries of the franchise, but the major titles (1, 2, Chain of Memories, Birth by Sleep) are games that were essential to my growth and investment as a gamer. So while the meta-narrative of KH3 may have been lost on me, it just felt good to get back into a new story of Kingdom Hearts. And this entry, for better or for worse, felt undeniably like a Kingdom Hearts game. While I personally found the seemingly endless amount of mechanics and combat gimmicks overwhelming, it didn’t distract from the wonky joy-filled experience that all KH games are. This may not have been the best title in the series, but for having waited almost 15 years for it, it is a title that felt good to play.
- Borderlands 3 (PC, PS4, Xbox One): A lot can be said about the post-game content, the ending of the story, and how 2K has failed to keep updates to the game consistent and rewarding. However, I can’t deny that for the majority of my playtime through the main campaign and side quests, that BL3 felt great. As a looter shooter experience, BL3 proves again why it is the king of the genre. It is so smooth and just feels so right. The signature slapstick humor remains predominant, and while the central narrative takes a backseat to gameplay and changing environments, I can’t help but be in awe of the scope of this new title. It is undeniably Borderlands for the next generation, and that’s ultimately what I wanted from this game.
- Pokémon Sword/Shield (Nintendo Switch): A lot of the themes for these first five games will feel the same. They represent franchise entries that felt at home in their next-gen systems. And to this end, Sword/Shield is another example of accomplishing that goal. While there has been rhetoric about the lack of substantial changes to the series’ first mainline console title, this game feels at home on the Switch. It undeniably is bigger, better, and a more holistic experience than the Gameboy and DS titles. Was it the earthshattering re-envisioning of the franchise many had hoped for? No. But it’s a traditional Pokemon title scaled up to fit on a home-console and that is something I never thought I’d experience.
- The Outer Worlds (PC, PS4, Xbox One): Sometimes simple is best, and this RPG from Obsidian is remarkably nothing new, but also remarkably exactly what I wanted. In a generation of gaming where Fallout has come up short with expectations, this choice-based RPG is exactly what I was looking for from the genre. And the choices, unlike Fallout at times, feel consequential. Tangibly watching the world around you, and relationships you have, change based upon your actions the pinnacle of gaming satisfaction for me. The Outer Worlds doesn’t boast groundbreaking gameplay or visuals, but it does offer that deep gratification of feeling autonomous over a story and a character.
- Death Stranding (PS4): In a sense, this maybe isn’t a great video game. You essentially are Norman Reedus walking around delivering packages. Exciting right? But in another sense, there isn’t another gaming experience like Death Stranding. And that experience for me was immensely enjoyable and rewarding. Most of the game is remarkably cathartic. Even though it’s sci-fi/horror story keeps a vibe of atmospheric terror, that backdrop only makes me more likely to go back to the game, even though it’s core gameplay loop I’ve found to be quite peaceful and serene. All of this is said and I haven’t even touched upon the aspects of social engagement in a largely desolate environment, and a game that is meant to be a solo experience. Kojima is able to blend all these elements to truly create that something, that for better or for worse, is uniquely memorable.
- The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan (PC, PS4, Xbox One): If you’re looking for a good fright-night story game, this is for you. The developers of Unitl Dawn are back with a smaller title, but one that is just as engrossing. Fundamentally the story isn’t anything new, but it is well crafted. The new mechanics of players being able to swap between characters as the story progresses also adds a sense of social engagement that Until Dawn hinted at but didn’t fully tap into. For a new and smaller experience, the development team really focuses on refining what made their indie-horror title a hit, making this just as enjoyable of an experience.
- A Plague Tale: Innocence (PC, PS4, Xbox One): Stories are always what I take away from games, and A Plague Tale is perhaps one of the most haunting and memorable ones of 2019. The story centers around you (the protagonist) leading her brother on an escape from Inquisitors through the French woods during the time of The Plague. The core gameplay mechanic is stealth and puzzle-solving, but the added addition of having to watch out for your younger brother raises the stakes and forces you as a player to engage in those situations differently. The game is packed full of memorable imagery and moments, making it one of the most powerful titles of the year, with my only complaint being that it wasn’t longer.
- Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 (Nintendo Switch): Sometimes all you want to do is play as a collection of your favorite superheroes and beat up on iconic baddies. Ultimate Alliance has always understood that this is the core ideal of their franchise, and never stray too far from that path, especially in this new title. There are more heroes, more villains, and more abilities than ever before, making this game a perfect mindless experience. The story is even more complex and thoughtful than previous titles, giving the game just a little more gravitas than before, and leaving players wanting more than just the clean and simple gameplay the series is built on.
Honorable Mentions: Apeout, Apex Legends, Metro: Exodus, Tetris 99, Sagebrush, The Blackout Club, Farwell My Love, Sayonara Wild Hearts
Didn’t Get to Play: Disco Elysium, Observation, Gears of War 5, Blood & Truth, Days Gone, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Yoshi’s Crafted World, Trover Saves the Universe, Control, Link’s Awakening, GTFO, Code Vein, John Wick: Hex, Little Town Hero, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Moons of Madness
Biggest disappointments: Madden NFL 2020, Blair Witch, Anthem, Mario Kart: World Tour