We wait in limbo as two new consoles prepare to release in late 2020. It follows an unusual schedule as the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro buffed old hardware post launch. Faster load times and higher resolutions output from these machines, but the improvement doesn’t justify a new gaming ecosystem. The half-step consoles bridged the gap until the new generation in 2020.
The ancient console caused a myriad of performance issues for newer games. Developers then resorted to techniques like mandatory adaptive resolution and massive post-launch updates to improve performance. These techniques no longer work. As a result, surprise delays pushed releases for Cyberpunk 2077, Dying Light 2 and Marvel’s Avengers. Their releases sync with the new console launches, which eliminates any performance issues. New hardware should help smooth development.
New consoles and game delays still didn’t stop publishers from releasing amazing games to fill our time. We saw incredible remakes, new genres and familiar sequels, but a select few stood out. Here are my picks for notable games this year.
Most Disappointing of 2019: Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Maybe Fire Emblem: Awakening was a fluke. It feels like no matter how big or popular Fire Emblem becomes; it fails to replicate what captured me on the 3DS. Again, dialogue feels robotic and the story goes nowhere. After dozens of hours, I readied for an ending, but Fire Emblem: Three Houses kept going.
The series’ adaptation of the Persona-like school setting doesn’t quite match Atlas’ quality. The school felt more like a football field with doors. Huge spaces separated the characters. On the ground an item twinkled along your path, but the reward wasn’t worth collecting. I resorted to fast travel around the school. When you do speak to someone, the conversations bore. You learn of their past and their aspirations, building your relationship with them. The information feels forced, not within the flow of conversation.
My overall issue is I want to move faster than the game allows. Conversations run too long, combat sections take an hour and the cutscenes ramble about nothing. I wanted characters to remain grounded instead of presenting an exaggerated mold of stereotypes. The characters need more depth than their labels as meat head, shy hermit or eccentric teacher.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses gives players the option to join one of three royal families. Each tell a unique, but similar, story of growth during rising conflicts between religious and political groups. With so much promise on the surface and structural evolution, Fire Emblem doesn’t value your time. It’s not worth seeing through once, never mind three different times. Intelligent Systems just doesn’t know what made Fire Emblem: Awakening so good, and I don’t think they ever will.
Five Best Games From 2019
Game of the Year: Resident Evil 2
Resident Evil 2 Remake doesn’t piggyback nostalgia. I never played the original release in 1998, so the remake label means nothing to me. It aims to stay true to the original game, following the map layouts and overall story. The old doesn’t hinder the new, as the combat feels fluid and the presentation achieves realism. No game this year captivated as much as Resident Evil 2, so ignore any claims about lacking original content.
The best section of Resident Evil 2 involves a huge, unkillable monster named Mr. X. The burlesque, well dressed zombie chases you through a police station. Your nimble feet help elude him, but he moves quick too. He appears at random, stomping his way through the hallways you try to explore. He busts through doors, looking to pummel any living persons in his way.
His stomping echoes throughout the station. You never forget he’s around. As you try to crack a safe and fight off zombies, you hear him stomping through the hallways above you. It’s an unsettling feeling you must learn to manage. Every play session escalates your anxiety levels because you know the further you progress, the sooner you face off against him.
The ability to evoke such strong feelings shows the signs of a fantastic game. All throughout Resident Evil 2, I dealt with stress, fear and relief. Never did I grow frustrated with an unfair boss fight or dealt with gameplay bugs. Clear goals and rewarding challenges pushed me forward. I was invested Leon’s survival as I fended off hordes of zombies.
The one thing you want from any game is immersion. You want to forget your surroundings and focus on what unfolds in front of you. Even on a second playthrough as Claire, Resident Evil 2 pulled me in right from the start. It helped remind me of the games I love – a concise, deliberate game which brings a player along for an intense, rewarding journey.
Awkward live action cut scenes became Remedy’s signature storytelling technique. It’s a weird blend of in-game graphics and live performances. This mix of game and TV show ruined their latest release, Quantum Break.
Control refocuses on its video game roots by telling a weird story only video games allow. Its secret agency story, wrapped with a supernatural theme, understands player agency. Instead of watching alternate realities and time shifts, you explore them. You try to connect story details through side missions and optional character conversation. Control delivers a memorable story made by possible through the flexibility and freedom of video games.
Any person familiar with Alan Wake or Quantum Break knows of Remedy’s obsession with including live action cutscenes. It never fit in Alan Wake, but brief appearances didn’t change much. For Quantum Break, these live action cutscenes became the focus. Lengthy episodes separated each game section. It felt like taking a break from playing to watch a TV show.
The segmented nature created a disjointed experience. During these cutscenes I got lazy, checking my phone when the on-screen events didn’t interest me. I sat down to play a video game, but instead got a passive story. Control rids of segmentation in favour of letting the player take full, well, control.
Instead of a shooting accuracy penalty from movement in Quantum Break, Control lets you move without restriction. You can levitate above the battlefield, dash over to the nearest ledge, then launch a table at the crowd below. The ability chaining works because each area encourages experimentation. Your telekinesis excels in rooms full of desks and chairs. You clear spacious rooms using your levitation and dashes.
The facility staff studied supernatural objects and concepts, adding both curiosity and doubt to each new area. Things seemed normal up until you learned of a possessed refrigerator or duplicating mannequin. Its strange world struggles to remain stable, yet it creates a cohesive, engaging experience for the player.
3. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
For the second year in a row, a Call of Duty made my top five list. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare offers a different experience from Black Ops 4 last year. Instead of an intense focus on battle royale, Modern Warfare packages a robust competitive multiplayer and a tense single player campaign. Although I miss the Black Ops battle royale, a brand-new engine brought a welcome change to overall feel. The new engine coupled with Modern Warfare’s cross-play support also brought me together with friends I never play with.
Cross-play exploded in after Super Mega Baseball and Rocket League. Other games like Fortnite and Gears 5 followed, but Modern Warfare best incorporated the feature. Cross-play connects Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC players. From there, your input method then determines your opponent. Since I prefer to play with controllers, I connect through my PC and join other controller players. If you want, you can mix keyboard and controller users, but those options depend on preferences. Playing with friends across all platforms lets me choose where I want to play. Most importantly, it let me play with friends I never speak to.
Features improved my experience, but a new design philosophy to expand map layouts kept me playing. Traditional Call of Duty maps follow the same three-lane structure to funnel players to contested areas. Maps then felt too similar despite visual or size differences. With the new battle pass model to introduce free DLC, some older maps returned. Crash and Vacant next to the Modern Warfare highlighted a jarring difference. Older maps felt cramped, linear and restrictive. After just a few months with these new maps, I don’t think I can ever go back to the three-lane layout.
Modern Warfare instead added verticality to maps and a variety of routes. One side may funnel you through a corridor, but the other expands to open sight lines with multi-level buildings. Each map looks and feels different, forcing you to alter your playstyle and weapon loadout.
No longer do weapon loadouts present just perks, camos and equipment. You can change sights, barrels, muzzles, grips, etc. A gun like the AUG starts as a sub-machine gun, but changes with attachments. Longer barrels and larger bullets lower the fire rate, but turns the AUG into rifle. In the back of my mind, I always wonder if someone still hasn’t discovered the perfect gun combination. Weapon variety extends to the series’ signature bombastic campaign.
Ridiculous movie action scenes still exist, but my favorite sections happen in quiet houses. You will clear a house or small apartment building at night. No music plays as your boots bends the creaky steps. You cut the power, so night vision goggles are active. In a column, you climb the stairs, stack doors and clear each room fast. These tense moments require split second decisions. You must distinguish between enemies and civilians. Some civilians reach for guns, while other cower to protect loved ones.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare offers a different, yet familiar package to players. Its best moments divert from the hectic firefights in favour of slower, smaller engagements. For the non-stop action, the multiplayer provides competitive thrill across all platforms. The new game engine refreshes the familiar modes and weapons as the series returns to its roots.
4. Luigi’s Mansion 3
Luigi’s Mansion 3 snuck onto my list after I played it in January 2020. After Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, I didn’t think Nintendo wanted to make more games for the franchise. I didn’t think anyone asked for more either.
In my review for Dark Moon, I said, “Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon won’t challenge with its puzzles or expand on the methods for capturing ghosts, but exploring each mansion and searching for secrets to then reach that always fantastic last boss, makes the trip worthwhile.” That same description (although very wordy) still applies with Luigi’s Mansion 3, yet it doesn’t feel the same. Luigi’s mansion 3 elevates ghost busting to new levels of ridiculous, often unbelievable, locations not suitable for a hotel.
Instead of a mansion, Luigi explores a hotel bursting with creativity. The game excels through level design as each floor adopts a new theme. The theme dictates the type of puzzles and challenges. The pirate themed level puts you against a giant pirate ship sailing on water. This all happens in a hotel. On one floor. It doesn’t make sense, but I love it. It throws away any logic for the sake of fun.
On another floor, you climb numerous flights of stairs to reach the top of the floor. An elevator button hides inside the blossom of a monstrous tree. So, in addition to multiple floors and staircases on a single floor of this hotel, a huge tree grows. The higher you climb, the more the hotel becomes a theme park. One floor puts you on a movie theatre set, travelling through TVs like Mario travels through paintings.
Like Dark Moon, these puzzles won’t strain your brainpower and bosses won’t challenge your dexterity. Luigi’s Mansion 3 aims to destroy reality in favour of unhinged creativity. In this hotel you’ll find floors within floor, pirate ships and movie sets. No complex story or strict objective forces you to stay focused on survival. The game encourages you to vacuum up the entire room for collectibles and find any pesky ghosts hiding around you. While most franchises fizzle when reaching the third entry, Luigi’s Mansion 3 finally realized the endless possibilities of playing in a paranormal world.
5. Ring Fit Adventure
Working out sucks. It’s hard, boring and takes times. But it’s important. Ring Fit Adventure tries to address all the negatives with exercise by making your time just a little better. For the past few weeks, Ring Fit Adventure wedged itself into my workout routine. It brought much needed variety to my cardio and weights. Although an exercise game, Ring Fit Adventure excels by giving players a great video game first.
Ring Fit Adventure uses both joy con controllers. One fits into a leg strap, while the other joy snaps into a plastic resistance ring. These two accessories monitor your movements during exercises, which controls your character’s attacks. Demonized dumbbells, yoga mats and kettlebells block your path as you try to navigate the overworld.
Like an RPG, you level up and acquire new equipment. The shop sells new exercise gear like shorts, shirts and shoes, which increases your attack and defence. Leveling up also increase your stats. Without the bump in strength, enemies take too long to defeat. I found myself during fights too tired to continue, so I had to quit and try again another day.
To take down enemies, you must squat, plank and squeeze to perform successful attacks. Some involve holding the resistance ring in front of you, while others just require your legs. Colour coded attacks correspond to enemies colours, so you try to exploit weaknesses. Purple enemies take more damage from purple attacks, so prepare to squat away their health. I hate planks and knee-to-chests, but I needed to defeat yellow enemies to get through the level faster.
Like any game, you want to use the most effective items and attacks to progress. In Ring Fit Adventure, the same rules apply. You optimize so you can stop your workout, while also optimizing to progress through the game. My character’s progress motivates me, but ending the level motivates me the most. It’s a strange feeling to both anticipate and loathe playing a game.
Things Worth Noting
- I bought an Oculus Rift S this year. Beat Saber mods keep the music library fresh while I navigate through a giant library of VR titles on the side. Games I really enjoyed: Superhot VR, Lone Echo and Beat Saber.
- The Gears 5 co-op campaign and competitive multiplayer experimented with some new ideas, but I wish Coalition took greater risks. The campaign features open areas explorable by sand ship or ice sled. I enjoyed exploring, until these areas started to feel like empty space between the linear, traditional Gears
- Devil May Cry 5 is unnecessary. The photorealistic graphics and decent combat can’t salvage the flimsy story. There’s nothing left to tell in this timeline with Dante and Nero. I don’t know what issues are left unresolved that require five different games.
- The Division 2 brought the streets of Washington, D.C to life, even after the apocalypse. Each alley leads to a parking garage, which then leads to a ladder, which then leads to a new area. The city connects dozens of playable areas without interrupting your exploration. Ubisoft doesn’t get enough credit for the detailed world it built in The Division 2.
- I tried hard this year to quit games early if they began to feel like an obligation. With so many amazing games releasing each week, there’s no sense in forcing myself to play something. If I’m bored, annoyed or unfulfilled, I move onto something new. Some notable games I quit and will never revisit: Death Stranding, Zelda: A Link’s Awakening and Prey.