I’m not the best at the yearly listmania that comes with late December, whether it be in games or music. Mostly due to personal idiosyncrasies, my habits usually involve digging around for off-colour stuff of years past than whatever is freshest on the shelves —not to mention a powerful parsimony that makes it hard to drop all those hard earned shmollars on a brand new game. This year, however, saw the release of many long awaited games for me and a little bit of a spending spree immediately following my acquisition of a new PC just to see what it was really capable off, so there’s more shiny expensive games here than there would usually be. So let us go off, here’s some of my favourite stuff from this year.
5. Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey
Ancestors’ mood is something real special: Somewhere between actual nature documentary, a contemplative ode to our collective human heritage, and one of those trashy Discovery Channel shows that plays Hard Rock over footage of cobras attacking rats. It comes to be a more serious and therefore less arcade take on one of my old time favourites, E.V.O.:Search for Eden. However, where that game had played with the idea of evolution as a neat curio, Ancestors genuinely seems to treat the process with admiration and awe. It’s a game that’s not at all uncomfortable slowing down your progress, or making things less intuitive to try and give you a small idea of just how hard it was for the very first humans to discover, understand, and systematise something as simple as holding a stick in your hand. It can be frustrating, and it’s not exactly a David Attenborough documentary, but I found myself fascinated with it every time I put it down, and immediately wanting to pick it back up even if I knew it would simply end with all my apes dying again
4. Code Vein
Never let it be said that I am above anime bullshit because I, dear reader, am absolutely not. Code Vein’s many stylistic conceits finally made one of these Souls style games click with me all the way down, from art style to story and gameplay. And let me tell you, that feels really good. Months later I still believe the Ichor and Code Inheritance system are some of the best I’ve seen in terms of pushing the player to start fiddling with all the variables of a combat system. And I still get a bit emotional when I recall certain scenes, even if they didn’t amount to that much by the end. Though I was cynical going in, I really can’t deny just how much fun I had with every second of Code Vein. Figures that the one Souls-like that I completely fall for is the one with Nu Metal Anime Vampires.
3. Disco Elysium
It’s hard to find a specific thing to praise about Disco Elysium when it does so many things right. Perhaps, what I found the most refreshing is how it belies a level of political literacy almost unprecedented in an industry that continuously traffics on the symbols of government and war within its most prized series. But even more than that, the game is just witty, funny, and touching in the ways that all good writing is. I could spend hours highlighting little enjoyable bits, like how invested I was on the existence of a fictitious cryptid by the end of the game, but I think what’s truly special about Disco Elysium is how coherent it all is. It can be ridiculous and light-hearted one moment, and genuinely grim and mournful the next in ways that feel appropriate. It’s the rare game that I feel could be genuinely called “an adult game” with all that that entails and I’m genuinely excited for what its developers and the industry at large do to follow up on it.
2. Devil May Cry 5
DMC V BABY! It’s here! After 11 years, it’s here and it kicks so much ass! For sure, the story feels like they took their unfinished plans for 4, jammed them together into a premise devised during the first month of production and then didn’t get time to finish this one either—but whatever! Nero has a real impact! Dante has so many freaking moves he rivals a Tekken character! The fact that V’s gameplay works at all is a miracle in and of itself. It’s astounding how good DMC V plays. I feel perfectly comfortable calling it the pinnacle of the character action subgenre. Especially with quality-of-life features like a training room, and an a-la-carte selection of bosses through the Bloody Palace. It’s to the level that I’m at a loss for how it could be significantly improved in a hypothetical DMC 6. For me, DMC 3 is still the best experience to play beginning to end as one cohesive experience, but DMC V is the game I’ll be playing for the rest of my life and still never come close to squeeze out all it has to give
Control is a confusing experience top to bottom, and so full of eccentricities that it almost sounds like nonsense whenever I describe it. Yet, it all manages to coalesce into a very satisfying experience, and ultimately into my game of the year for 2019. It takes all the imagination of something like the SCP foundation, with all the skill and experience of the Remedy creative team to create a fascinatingly weird world. Not to mention wild and frenetic gameplay that gives you the objectively best super power of flight, a version of the objective best skill in Mass Effect the kinetic charge, and a variety of other fun powers to use. Whilst many here at the Chooch have complained about the boss fights and the health system, personally I found the high lethality of engagements and health management to be a blast. It pushed me to a highly mobile way of play, that would see me constantly dashing about, psychically throwing objects, and ground pounding behind cover. It all makes for that enthralling “being in the zone” feeling that very few activities, like video games or sport, can provide.
This deep engagement is facilitated from the start by an aesthetic that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Combining everything from Brutalism to high-gloss sci-fi, with just a little bit of Mirror’s Edge and some very bold palette choices, it had my eyes glued to the screen the whole time. Sprinkle in some references to my beloved Alan Wake, a collection of spooky-sounding rock music, and a puppet show — fun fact: I love puppets — that is the first piece of moviemaking to get me kind of scared in years, and Control tickles all kinds of personal buttons for me. Had you told me in 2012 that the easter egg in the song from Alan Wake’s American Nightmare referred not to an Alan Wake sequel, but to a new IP altogether, I would have been upset. But now that it’s here and it’s as sick as Control, I can tell you this was totally worth the 7 years I didn’t know I waited for it.