The best games of 2019 (so far)

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Look, you and I both know calling something “the best” is really just a way of jumping up and down and shouting to get your attention.  It’s shameless, I know. But now that you’re here, let’s dispense with the semantic bait. Let’s just say these ten games from the first half of 2019 have most effectively captured my attention, my imagination, and my time.  Which, to be fair, is pretty much my definition of “best”.  

But first, the disclaimer.  I haven’t yet played Total War: Three Kingdoms, inkle’s Heaven’s Vault, or Zen Studio’s Oprencia.  I petered out before making much progress in Far Cry: New Dawn, Metro: Exodus, and Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2, all of which I was mildly enjoying in the hopes they might get better.  I may never know. Also, I understand there’s a Crackdown 3, but you either have to hook up a useless Xbox One in your living room or wade into the hip-deep torturous inconvenience of the Microsoft Store to play it.  I love Crackdown as much as the next guy, but I have my limits.

I was enjoying Anno 1800 and World War Z immensely — immensely! — but both of them managed a critical failure that cancelled all my progress, and therefore all my enthusiasm.  In the case of Anno 1800, I hit a scripting bug in the campaign that brought everything to a screeching halt, but without me realizing it until a few hours of citybuilding later. The bug was eventually fixed, but not for people who had already run into it.  So many hours down the drain. In the case of World War Z, I couldn’t change the game’s resolution. In the course of troubleshooting the issue, I Googled solutions, edited .ini files, rolled back graphics drivers, and waited on Focus Home Interactive’s non-existent technical support.  Eventually, I resorted to the nuclear option: a full uninstall and reinstall. That’s how I discovered the Epic Games Store doesn’t have cloud saves, and furthermore Focus Home Interactive’s online servers can’t be bothered to store a 4kb user_progression.dat file that tracks all your progress, but only exists on your hard drive. Without that file, the server thinks I’ve never even played.  I guess Focus Home Interactive expected me to back it up on a 5 1/4 floppy. 

So much for all that. On to the ten best!

10. Conan Unconquered

After years of copying their own dated RTSs, Petroglyph decides to copy They Are Billions.  Good call!

9. NITE Team 4

Hacking games delight in watching me figure out how to play.  As if the figuring out is the game. “Here’s a command prompt, kid,” the hacking game says.  “Have at it!” Then it snickers as I fumble around, supposedly discovering the gameplay, supposedly unfolding some narrative, supposedly feeling like a hacker while I do it.  Instead, I feel like someone playing an Infocom text adventure trying to guess the right verb. Open? Access? Activate? Execute? Engage? Run.exe? But not NITE Team 4. NITE Team 4 is a set of elaborately documented tools, each representing some way of piercing its mostly self-contained faux internet to solve missions, earn experience points, and level up.  There are scripted adventures, open worlds, user-generated missions, and tutorials aplenty in here. It takes a fair amount of practice/tedium to learn its various command prompts — oops, I didn’t put a space between the -t flag and the time value for my osintscan — but its cybersexy sheen of verisimilude manages something too few hacking games accomplish: making me feel like a hacker.

8. Resident Evil 2

It might take Capcom four or five tries, but when they get it right, they really get it right.  At last, all that old-school Resident Evil nonsense nestled comfortably in a modern game.

7. Sunless Skies

More of the same evocative world-building that buoyed Sunless Seas, but now with less of the negative space that makes an ocean an ocean.  Impatient adventurers get where they’re going quicker, with more stuff happening along the way.

6. Division 2

Gun porn, post-apocalypse porn, level design porn, techno thriller porn, character animation porn, lighting effects porn, non-repeated asset porn, political metaphor porn.  The Division 2’s glorious gunplay in a gorgeous ruin is Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy fetishism at its most hawt.

5. Observation

A rogue AI yarn in which you play the rogue AI. Brilliant! How come no one has thought of this before?

4. Devil May Cry 5

Imagine God of War.  Imagine the accessible, gratifying, lovely fantasy violence.  Now imagine it’s been drained of its grimdark baldy-man musclebound tatted-up testosterone.  Substitute in a posse of borderline anime characters written with affection and the unmoored Japanese insanity of a Suda 51 game, but without any of the usual “is there a game down in here?” misgivings.  This is also the perfect antidote to the charmless Darksiders III and the “you shall not pass!” frustration of Sekiro.

3. Outer Wilds

This winsome open galaxy game is yet another nail in the coffin of procedurally generated space exploration.  A planet that’s purple instead of orange can sustain a universe for only so long. But the hand-crafted bursts of imagination floating around in Outer Wilds reward exploration like nothing else.

2. Void Bastards

What might seem at first glance like an underwhelming shooter turns into a survival rogue-like with a deft sense of focus.  Void Bastards is all about making you care about some specific space doo-dad, telling you exactly what it will do for you, exactly where it is, and leaving it up to you to plan how to get it and get out.  In space, no one can hear you scheme. Oh, and be sure to grab some food and fuel while you’re out there!

1. One Finger Death Punch 2

Mortal Kombat 11?  Pfft.

Okay, your turn. Which of this year’s games has so far most captured your imagination, attention, and time?

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