Top Ten Games of 2019 (With Reviews)


published on 3/29/2019


Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Sekiro is not Dark Souls IV, but it is a response to criticisms of the Dark Souls series. The combat has become much more complex and involved, exploration is more than obvious side paths, and the world is much more open and free. It cut out plenty of the things that made Dark Souls great, but that's part of what makes Sekiro singularly amazing. After all the grumbling about the lack of evolution in the souls games, Sekiro shows that FromSoft will take risks and experiment. That can't help but serve as a reminder that this is still the studio that made Demons' Souls.


Baba Is You

Too many puzzles games rely on linear deduction rather than lateral thinking. Logic puzzles can be fun, but a logic puzzle will always rely on a step-by-step process that's a little too straightforward to be engaging for long. After a while, it can feel like a series of these sorts of puzzles are less brain-teasers and more like exercises in simple problem-solving, like doing homework.

Baba Is You, on the surface, is no different. It's a game about making logical rules and moving objects around in a certain order to solve puzzles, but it hides how subversive of an puzzle experience the game is. If you want to solve puzzles in Baba is You, you're going to have to get creative in ways that other puzzle games rarely demand you to be. You have to think outside the box in regards to what rules you form, when you form them, and even in how you do so. It's a game about bending logic more than following it, reversing the typical proportion of lateral thinking to logical thinking in puzzle games to make something you're not going to get anywhere else.

If you like puzzle games, play Baba is You. If you don't like puzzle games, play Baba is You.

Resident Evil 2 (2019)

Resident Evil 2 is a return to form for Capcom. It's tense, it's oppressive, and it'll have you hooked from beginning to end. The areas where it's different from the original RE2 show some real weaknesses. The lackluster and at times nonsensical B campaigns, the ill-fitting third-person perspective that removes much of the strategy of moving from place to place from the original, and the missing enemies types all make this remake much weaker than it should have been, and the original Resi 2 had its own issues that aren't solved here.

However, it's still a damn good game. I played it, I loved it, and I hope the developers will continue to provide more content to make me love the game all the more.


Don't Escape: 4 Days in a Wasteland

The Don't Escape series has been defined by change. It started as a simple flash game aimed at subverting the common "Escape the Room!" game, but with each of its sequels fulfilling on that subversion in its own distinct way and with distinct signs. No game in the Don't Escape series feels like any of the other ones

Until now.

Don't Escape 4 takes from every entry if the series to explore gameplay mechanics that couldn't be explored in short flash games and deepens them. From Don't Escape 2, it takes the time-management and exploration of multiple unknown locations for items to fortify your base. From Don't Escape 3, it takes the sci-fi and existential dread and focus on narrative. From Don't Escape 1, it takes the frustrating moments where you think "How the fuck was I supposed to figure that out?"

The basic idea is that you're living in the post-apocalypse, and each day, you're faced with a randomly generated crisis. You have to explore the wastelands to find the right items to shore up your home with so that you're able to ride it out. The areas themselves are static, which means you're going to be picking up quite a few useless items for your particular playthrough, but there is no small amount of ludonarrative synchronicity to play a game about scavenging in this setting.

Unfortunately, it feels a little too samey by the end, and the locales are too empty and dull to be as foreboding or oppressive as Don't Escape 3, which used lighting, music, and environment design much more effectively to create the tone that Don't Escape 4 is desperately trying to recapture. There aren't enough optional upgrades or options to find out for yourself, either, which by themselves might have helped the game overcome its other problems to make might future playthroughs interesting.

It's ironic that a game series build on subverting the genre only truly succeeds in bringing the feeling of those old Escape the Room flash games to Steam better than any other game has, even counting the likes of 999. That's not to say that I don't prefer the puzzle design of 999 (I definitely do), but there's something nostalgic about Don't Escape 4, even though I only played the previous entries in the series just yesterday.

Taken as a whole, though, Don't Escape 4 is less of a Escape the Room game and more of an adventure game, and while it was able to stand out in the former genre, adventure games are a much more competitive area of gaming, and Don't Escape 4 can't even hope to stand up to even modest competitors. Its story, sparse as it is, is only slightly above passable, and it's gameplay, while unique, is stretched too thin to get anything other than a C+.

It is worth playing, but I was hoping for a little bit more from this one.


Fallout is a broken game. I'm not talking about the usual host of Bethesda bugs that we've come to expect. I mean in a way that goes beyond that. Some skills and perks don't work, endings are mixed up, the first NPC you talk to has dialogue for their final questline the first time you talk to them!

Some would say that Fallout is a victim of its own lofty ambitions, but if that's true, playing this game in 2019 makes them even more unfortunate, because its highest achievements fall short of games that were being made 10 years ago. We live in a post-Dark Souls world, a post-Witcher 3 world, a post-Skyrim world, even! It just doesn't impress me that you can go pretty much anywhere you want to go from the moment you hit play, or that some quests have different outcomes. There are so few notable examples of the game challenging you in order to get the best outcome, or these quests going beyond a "Saint or Cock" dichotomy, that whenever I was exploring to explore, I only got more and more disappointed.

Fortunately, the linear progression is neat. You're given a quest with a time limit and told to ask around to find out where to find the object you need to bring back to your Vault to complete it. Nice little idea, particularly when the narrative toys with you and twists you around. Exploring the narrative world of Fallout, talking to NPCs and seeing how many of them have their own stories that are just going on around you makes the atmosphere of the game utterly spellbinding. This doesn't have much life or charm, but in a very Metro 2033 sort of way, it does have character. Unfortunately, it sort of flags at the halfway point only to pick up again right at the ending, but it is a hell of a ride anyway.

Don't go expecting a classic and you won't be let down, but it's a little too clunky and buggy and, well, generic nowadays to achieve greatness.


Fallout 2

Fallout starts with you walking through a cave mechanically taking down rats who can barely damage you. It's boring and it takes way too fucking long. Fallout 2 starts with you exploring an Indiana Jones temple, dodging killer scorpions and oversized cockroaches and solving puzzles where you're just dead if you don't get a grip!

It made for close calls and for me to have to stop and think to plan things out and where to go and how to solve the puzzles before the monsters got me. I wound up having to throw my spear in the first area, picked up a sharpened stick that was fired out of the Indiana Jones wall traps in the next room, and had to dodge and throw and dance through rooms 2 and 3. I'd run down halls to check chests, expecting them to hold the puzzle solution that would let me pass to the next room, only to find out that they didn't have much of anything and that I had run into a dead end. that enemies were swarming in behind me, and that I had to escape or die trying.

At the end, I was left with 1 HP and no weapon. There was a man standing in front of the last door. He demanded that we fight as my final test, and I thought I'd have to start all over, but a dialogue option caught my eye, and I knew I had to risk trying it. After taking the chance to try to convince him to not fight me, he agreed, and I stepped out of the temple, beaten and bruised, but victorious.

This is not a tutorial that welcomes the player. This is a tutorial that says, "This is Fallout 2. You've already played Fallout. You should know how this works. Show us what you learned and that you understand how to win in this game, or you'll keep doing this until you do." It kicks you in the teeth and I love it. Too many games fall over themselves to be accessible towards new players, and Fallout 2 shows us how great of an experience you can create when you stop worrying about that and just demand the player put in the work themselves.

It sets the tone for the whole experience, which on the whole is much more threatening and engaging. You're not handed a gun at the start--in fact, at the beginning, guns are hard to come by, for a newbie--and quests and towns are laid out in a way that's far less generic than Fallout 1. Fallout 1 had things laid out much more like a generic RPG. Towns were simpler and the main quests in them were pretty simple. "Go clear out the caves of this monster." "This character has been kidnapped by raiders, go save them." "Go to the town leader, help the town leader or help the town leader's opposition, there you go." The side quests and some of the later towns were much more than that, but it just feels like it follows its inspirations too closely.

Fallout 2's towns are intimidating. There's so much going on. Characters form this sort social web, where it's clear that they all have opinions about each other

The Turing Test

There aren't enough puzzle games that give you something to think while you're puzzling. Portal had occasional snippets of story, but it wasn't something you normally needed to consider while puzzling. The Talos Principle has even more occasional snippets of intriguing philosophy debates with a computer and written logs with things to think over, but they were too thinly spread out or poorly presented.

The Turing Test improves on both of these by featuring an overarching mystery and chats between the main character and an AI about broad philosophical concepts relating to AI, such as The Turning Test and the Chinese Room Experiment. Basically, you get either more philosophy or more information about the mystery with each successive puzzle, and this allows the puzzles to be only just difficult enough to engage without really challenging except for during brief difficulty spikes near the end of an area.

You're given time to contemplate what you hear while solving a puzzle that requires you to think without straining yourself, and instead of feeling toothless and unchallenging, it just meant I was much more taken in.

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