While the team here at XboxEra are on a mission to shine a light on great Xbox related content, we’re all gamers at heart, and most, if not all of us own multiple consoles and devices.
So we’re not going to limit our Game of the Year list to just Xbox releases, but will delve into our favourite titles we’ve played this year. To keep things interesting, each of us will have 3 titles we can list here; Overall Best Game of the Year, Best Indie Game of the Year or a “Runner up”, and an Honourable mention. (Some of us may bend these rules a little!)
Without further ado!
Game Of The Year: Sea of Thieves – Anniversary Edition
Yeah, I know it released in 2018, but when the anniversary update released in March 2019, the game ballooned in scope and depth. And nowadays, I’d argue that with more and more games becoming service driven, the whole idea of a Game of the Year shouldn’t be limited to a release window. With the addition of a lengthy campaign dubbed “Tall Tales”, Sea of Thieves provided me some of my favourite gaming moments of 2019. As the Tall Tales still require players and crews to participate within the shared world, we encountered another hostile crew throughout our adventure, determined to stop us. It was like having our own personal villain, chasing us from location to location, always an ever present threat as we tried to find the Shores of Gold before them. This was completely emergent, and probably an experience I can never replicate. I have never had more laugh out loud fun and shenanigans in a game than I’ve had with Sea of Thieves.
Indie: Lonely Mountains: Downhill
Lonely Mountains sunk it’s teeth into me like no other indie game this year, though I have to admit it was a close call between this and Untitled Goose Game. The tight controls and quick restarts on failure made this game an irresistible meal, seeing me determined to get the best times and unlock all the bike parts. It’s flame may have burned briefly, but it shone very brightly all the same.
Honourable Mention: Oculus Quest
Yes, it’s not a game, no I don’t care about bending these rules a little. I was already a VR convert, having owned the first consumer release of Oculus Rift, but the Quest is such an amazing piece of technology. Fully wireless, with games like Beat Saber, PistolWhip and Superhot performing flawlessly, it is absolutely worth your time and money. And with the newly released Oculus Link, I get to play Half Life: Alyx in 2020 and enjoy full fat PC VR experiences alongside the mobile ones. Best of both worlds.
Game of the Year: Control
Control is the best game I have played all year because it feels like a culmination of a decade or more of work. Remedy, the developers of this game, have made many great games, including Alan Wake and Max Payne. Remedy’s latest attempt feels like the studio firing on all cylinders to make a truly special game. I wrote this about Remedy in my review of Control, “They are near masters at this point as story tellers, and are unparalleled in environmental story telling. The combat is the best they have done since Max Payne, and it feels awesome to move around the world and engage in combat.”
I still feel this way months later. Control thrives in its strangeness and ambiguity. The game is contained to an office building but in many ways feels infinite. Control is a game that I felt truly connected to by its incredible world building, story telling, and atmosphere. If you have yet to play it, please do not hesitate, it’s worth your time.
Runner Up: The Outer Worlds
The Outer Worlds is a really good game and a reminder why I like RPGs so much. Some of the best moments I had all year were moments when I simply just talked to characters. It’s hard for a 20 hour game to keep me engaged in its story the entire way through, but The Outer Worlds was able to do that. The game got weaker as it went along, and you really started to see the lack of budget as some of the areas and enemies started to repeat. But, for a foundation, this is an incredible achievement, and has me hopeful that Obsidian can turn this into a great franchise with an influx of Microsoft’s bottomless pockets.
Honorable Mention: Resident Evil 2
I had never played the original RE2 when it came out all those years ago. I had heard a lot of great things about it but I just never had the chance to play it. In many ways I am glad I never did, because the remake I played this year has quickly become one of my favorite survival horror game ever.
You play as either Leon Kennedy or Claire Redfield as you explore an abandoned and truly haunting police station as well as other areas. This game feels like a classic game made in 2019, and it’s nearly perfect. You explore rooms, solve puzzles, fight zombies, and occasionally run for your life. It’s fun and incredibly addicting. It’s a game that feels incredibly fresh and new even considering it’s a remake. If you like survival horror, this is a game you can’t miss.
Game of the Year: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order was a pretty fun adventure. I had a blast getting into lightsaber fights, exploring different worlds with their own unique story and characters that kept me engaged throughout the entire adventure. I loved the combat and learning from my mistakes with every enemy I encountered along the way.
The collectables in Fallen Order also had me coming back for more. I wanted to find out more about the worlds, find a new lightsaber part, or a new skin for The Mantis or my chirpy droid companion, BD1. At the end of it all, Respawn made a huge accomplishment with Fallen Order, a studio known for its amazing games in the Titanfall universe.
Indie: Lonely Mountains: Downhill
Admittedly, I did not play many indie games this year, but Lonely Mountain was a blast. I was always trying to find a new route to take for getting down the mountain faster or trying to beat a time I had previously. The best part about the Lonely Mountain, if you crash you do start over but the loading is so instant. Makes it very easy to pick up and play.
Honorable Mention: Apex Legends
Yes, Respawn really does win my heart this year. I have put countless hours into Apex Legends, I have streamed it a lot this year and met some amazing friends along the way. The shooting in Apex feels much better and collecting attachments to make your weapons better is highly strategic in battle. Every character in Apex Legends is different and has their own unique abilities, some I am not a fan of and some I absolutely adore. With a new map just released, and some pretty awesome skins that are getting better, I have every reason to keep sticking around for more.
Game of the year: Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition.
Sure, I could’ve gone with Sea of Thieves, Forza Horizon 4 or my all time favorite game to come back to: Warcraft 3. But those are older games, which had enough time to shine. For me it was between Planet Zoo and Age of Empires 2 Definitive Edition. I’ve written a review for the latter one.
Spoiler, I liked it.
Age of Empires is a respected franchise unknown to many console players. There have been PlayStation and DS releases I believe, but the franchise has never been on Xbox. Meanwhile my number two would be Planet Zoo. I could lose hours building a zoo. It made me feel 12 again to be honest. Sadly, I now have a job and an actual life to deal with. So losing tens of hours into building a zoo isn’t something I can do every week anymore.
Indie game: Dawn of Man
I’ve played a bunch of great indie titles this year. WarGroove, Descenders, Ape Out and Supermarket Shriek to name a few. But Dawn of Man was my favorite. Sure, it’s a really rough game with way too little budget. But it’s one of those diamonds in the rough on Steam. In Dawn of Man you try and build a prehistoric settlement. And life was rough back then. Very rough.
Honorable mention: Crackdown 3
Yes, that’s Crackdown 3.
For me Crackdown 3 is what a game should be first and foremost. Crackdown 3 is a fun little game that just didn’t work out. I had a lot of fun with both the campaign and the multiplayer. Sure, the campaign wasn’t very innovative or didn’t scream triple A. But I had a lot of fun jumping around collecting orbs. The multiplayer was a buggy mess with a staggering lack of quality of life options and content. But I’ve put around 10 hours into it because I had fun.
This year I had more enjoyment out of Crackdown 3 than out of Gears 5.
There, I said it.
Game Of The Year: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
This was a really tough choice. There’s quite a few games this year that I really loved and sunk a tonne of time into. Crackdown 3, Resident Evil 2, Apex Legends, Jedi Fallen Order, Pokemon Shield and Tetris 99 were all fantastic.
But as a long time Zelda fan, something about Link’s Awakening just had that certain je nai se quoi that you find in a game every now and again. Where you’re thinking about the game when you’re not playing it and you’re just counting the hours until you get to play it again.
I loved how much more intimate it was than most Zelda games, I loved how focused it felt and how gorgeous it looked. It managed to strike a nice balance of being from the old school, but without carrying over too many of the antiquities of a bygone era from which the game’s origins are based.
Runner Up: Crackdown 3
Sorry, I didn’t play any 2019 Indies this year so rather than just not say anything, I thought I’d give my Runner Up for GOTY in a year where I enjoyed a lot and that runner up has to be Crackdown 3. As the official biggest Crackdown fan in the world, Crackdown 3 didn’t disappoint the way it did so many.
It was everything I wanted the 3rd Crackdown game to be and only a terrible and completely unnecessary multiplayer mode stopped it being my Game of the Year. Orb hunting, how I missed you.
Honourable Mention: Resident Evil 2
This is how you remake or reimagine a classic game. The perfect remake is one where you can almost completely change a game from its original form to the point of it being almost unrecognisable and some how at the same time recapture everything that made the original game the classic it is.
Capcom have managed just that with Resident Evil 2. I will admit, Mr. X kinda ruins it a bit for me. He’s basically the sole reason this game didn’t get to the top of my list. This game would have been near perfect without him, but I’m aware I’m in the minority with this opinion. I just don’t like being stalked much in my games.
Game Of The Year: Resident Evil 2
Resident Evil is one of my favorite video game franchises. So I was all too happy to return to the world of survival horror. Resident Evil 2 easily sets the benchmark for how remakes should be done. The talented developers at Capcom have lovingly recreated the setting, plot, and characters in a way that should please both long time fans and newcomers alike. Featuring some of the best graphics, moody music, and solid gameplay around. Even as a remake, Resident Evil 2 is still able to stand up to the best this industry has to offer and that’s why it’s my GOTY.
Indie: Shenmue 3
Built on almost two decades of hope and anticipation, Shenmue 3 was a monumental release for me this year. The game has proven that dreams can happen when you combine the undying passion of both the creator and fans. Continuing right where the last game left off 17 years ago, we play as Ryo Hazuki as he continues his quest for revenge for the death of his father.
Despite the meagre seven million dollar budget, Shenmue 3 retains the extreme attention to detail the series is known for. Buildings are exquisitely modelled, the areas are still large enough to get lost in, and the world feels alive with each unique NPC having their own daily schedule. Characters may not match the heights found in Gears 5 or an Uncharted game, but they still look great for an indie game while staying true to the designs found in the original Dreamcast releases. Admittedly the gameplay and pacing is not for everyone but fans of the first two titles, adventure games, or those looking for something different in an age of shooters should check the game out.
Honorable Mention: Control
You enter a large monolithic building, don’t see a soul around, eventually running into a lone janitor and later a dead body with a gun that…morphs? That is how Control opens up and the games only gets crazier from there. You play as Jesse Faden, the new director of the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC), a government agency created to research paranatural events. You start off looking for information on your brother but soon find out there is more behind the FBC than you originally thought. The game takes place in the Oldest House, the headquarters of the FBC, and let’s just say things have gotten out of…control. From this point, you go through the Bureau’s twisted corridors, learning the mysteries behind the FBC while unlocking new areas – metroidvania style.
The gameplay builds on Remedy’s past titles and is one of the best third person shooters. On top of your morphing gun, Jesse will gain a number of abilities such as telekinesis, hovering, and a fast dash. The combat is chaotic and challenging as you deal with the humans possessed by supernatural forces, or the Hiss as they are called. Tight mechanics, excellent level design, an intriguing story, and impressive graphics all create one of this year’s most engaging experiences. You should check it out of you haven’t already.
First of all, what would a Slicer Dyster post be without some amazing GIFs to go alongside it?
Game of the Year: Gears 5
I pretty much knew Gears 5 was going to be my GOTY the moment it was announced. The formula struck me from the moment I played my first Gears game (Gears of War: Ultimate Edition). The technical test only confirmed my hype for Gears 5 as it combined the best of Gears gunplay with the interesting addition to Versus called Arcade.
And finally, on September 6th, we finally got our hands on all four modes. And ever since launch, the game wasn’t able to lose my interest for nearly three months. With the recent launch of Operation 2, I’ve been investing even more time into it than I could ever imagine.
The game felt insanely fresh even while it re-used a lot of the characters and especially lore related to the Gears universe. Adding old characters like Paduk and introducing new characters like Fahz and Lizzie were just perfect additions. While the open levels have been certainly a divisive portion of the campaign, I saw them as an opportunity to “escape” (see what I did there) the tense and constantly “on-the-run” nature of typical Gears campaigns. Seeing the beautiful red sulfuric deserts of Vasgar or the snowy winter wonderland vistas of Mount Kadar just felt super refreshing.
Also, they finally made Jack expressive. Thank the lord for our flying door-ripping waifu. Unless my console starts an uprise for “too much Gears”, I doubt I’ll stop playing this game and I can’t wait for Gears Tactics and the inevitable Gears 6.
Runner-up: Devil May Cry 5
I dropped DMC4 just one hour after playing and while DmC was a neat game, it still wasn’t able to convince me that DMC was a “must-play” action series. Three playthroughs of DMC5 later, I was finally convinced. The over-the-top nature of DMC was put very prominently and it just feels amazing to play. Bloody Palace is an amazing PvE mode but what the game lacks to even have a chance at dethroning Gears was a well-done coop implementation.
Characters, animations, dialogue, … it all just felt amazing and I can’t wait for whatever Hideaki Itsuno, director on the Devil May Cry series at Capcom, is working on next. Whether it is a brand new Devil May Cry experience or the long-rumoured Dragon’s Dogma 2, I’m all for it!
Runner-up: Civilization VI for Xbox One
Yes. The port which is nearly 3 years after the original launch of Civ 6 on PC. I absolutely loved Civilization Revolution on Xbox 360 and it constantly bummed me out that we probably wouldn’t see another Civ game launch on consoles. The Switch port had me hopeful but the announcement made me just insanely happy. Bought the game day-one and I was able to beat the entire achievement list within its launch week. The lack of leaders and the overpriced list of DLCs sadly enough keep it away from being my GOTY.
Honourable mention: Xbox Game Pass
Hah, thought you could escape a post made by me (Slicer Dyster) without even a single mention of Xbox Game Pass? Well, you’re wrong since I’m still going to mention XGP in this GOTY article.
The service has become a must-own sub and I can only recommend people to subscribe to it. The past twelve months have been stellar with both amazing third parties like Monster Hunter or Devil May Cry but obviously amazing first-party games as well (including the ones currently on the horizon).
Game Of The Year: Apex Legends
While I can’t say I was particularly satisfied with some of the post-launch support and the monetization schemes, from its initial launch version all the way to our days, Apex Legends has delivered a gripping battle royale experience. Incredibly tight and exciting gameplay, surprising additions to the formula of the genre, and most importantly traversal options that always kept battles fresh and exciting.
The experience Respawn managed to get by building two of the most mechanically satisfying shooters of the generation (the two Titanfall games of course) was used brilliantly to deliver a smaller-scale but no less exciting team-based shootout, where the launch map in particular had excellently crafted areas that would encourage aggressive playstyles and fierce shootouts as opposed to the hardcore camping that characterizes most BRs.
The characters, artstyle, audio and lore may not hold a candle to other class-based shooters like Overwatch and Team Fortress 2, but the gameplay loop is one of the strongest I’ve seen in any FPS, and I’ve been there for the genre since its humble beginnings with Wolfenstein 3D. I don’t really play it much nowadays anymore, earlier during the Fall I kinda fell off due to the grindy nature of the pass and some other issues I won’t bore you with. But it’s the 2019 game I spent most time with, and few other FPS games felt as viscerally satisfying as Respawn Entertainment’s second last game.
Indie: Demon’s Tilt
I’m not surprised at all that one of my favourite games of 2019 comes from a day one release on Game Pass. Microsoft’s “Netflix for games” opened my eyes on so many gems that I might have missed otherwise, and what better way to celebrate that than a brilliant game released mere days before our end of the year lists started arriving?
While I definitely consider myself a shooter and racer fan first and foremost, there’s many styles of smaller, indie productions I absolutely adore. Roguelikes, metroidvanias, match-3s, or to go back to older formulas pinballs and bullet hell shooters. Well, Demon’s Tilt combines these two with hints of hack ‘n’ slash, delivered in a lovely audiovisual style reminiscent of the mythical SEGA Mega Drive. What’s there not to love about it?
And indeed, this game got me addicted pretty hard. The sheer variety and mechanical complexity of the table, the infectious beats, the addictive gameplay loop means that most days after work my first thing is try and get another shot at the world record, something I’ve held myself a couple times already and that I’m once again trying to 1-up. It’s definitely one of the most exciting pinball games I’ve ever played because it goes so far beyond what we’re used to see from this genre.
Give it a shot, it’s available on Xbox One and PC for Game Pass and Game Pass Ultimate subscribers!
Much has been said about this game by my colleagues already, as such it’s hard for me to add more. Despite being someone who puts Max Payne and Alan Wake among his all-time favourite gaming memories, I wasn’t sure Control was the game for me. I eventually decided to try it on sale, and boy I was not ready for this.
Does it have the best shooting? The finest traversal? The smartest level design ever? The most gripping story? Not by a long shot. Hell, it has multiple issues in fact, from the confusing maps to framerate woes even on Xbox One X. But what this game achieves in terms of enviromental storytelling is simply astonishing. The brutalist interiors, the oppressing calm of the cubicles turning into an explosion of colours and objects, the haunting sounds.
Control is a journey like no other. It may look like a fairly generic shooter with Jedi powers thrown in, but I guarantee you it’s nothing like that. It’s a game where every step you take is a journey of discovery, one that deconstructs the players’ expectations at every corner. It’s a game that I wish I could erase from my memory once every couple months so that I could experience its surreal nature from scratch again.
There are better shooters out there. Hell, there’s been third person action games with better gameplay in 2019. But none went close to the artistic brilliance of Control.
That’s a wrap! It’s been a whirlwind 6 months for the team here at XboxEra, and 2020 is looking to be one of the best for gamers yet.