We expected 2019 to be a transitional year, but not quite to this extent.
With the spectre of next-gen consoles looming, most ‘triple-A’ seemingly tapped out almost entirely from this year’s Q4 blockbuster bloodbath, with virtually only the annual Call of Duty and FIFA franchises turning up in time for the Black Friday sales.
With the likes of Cyberpunk 2077, Final Fantasy VII Remake and Doom Eternal retreating into 2020, this year’s game stores made way for a plucky band of smaller titles – an eclectic mix of new IPs, indie originals and fresh-faced remakes which combined for one of the boldest software – if a little on the small scale – line-ups in recent memory.
Whether it was balancing stacks of cases up an Icelandic hill, or harassing the local villagers with your goose honk, 2019’s video games were anything but dull and predictable. And it’s been a pleasure covering them in VGC’s first year.
Together with our pool of expert freelance critics, VGC has crowned its favourite games of the year in several categories. Congratulations to the winners – we’ll see you next year for the main event.
VGC’s Games of the Year 2019
VGC’s Game of the Year: Resident Evil 2
2019 has been a banner year for Capcom. The publisher may have chosen to focus exclusively on existing properties, but in doing so it earned some of its best reviews – and financial results – in years, while each of its big releases exceeded player expectations.
DMC5 is the sprightliest fifth entry in a franchise we can remember. With Monster Hunter: Iceborne, it delivered an expansion every bit as substantial and exciting as the main game. Best of all was VGC’s runaway winner for Game of the Year, a luxurious remake that kicked off 2019 in spectacular style.
In truth, ‘remake’ doesn’t really cut it for this extraordinary makeover. Capcom might have plundered its past for the idea – its story still hews fairly closely to the original – but in every other way Resident Evil 2 feels like a truly modern survival horror.
Around every corner of the Raccoon City Police Station, a setting every bit as dense and intricate as the Spencer Mansion, you’re invited to marvel at what a difference two decades’ worth of technological progress has made.
It isn’t just a matter of vastly superior graphics – though between its masterful use of light and shadow and its delightfully disgusting gore effects, this is technically one of the best-looking games of the year. It’s also there in its move away from static camera angles to a claustrophobically tight over-the-shoulder perspective, which makes this feel like a totally different ball game to its inspiration.
It also manages to make zombies scary again. It’s not just that their decaying faces, torsos and limbs are rendered in more detail; nor that you can disfigure them further so they look even more gruesome; nor even their staggering (in every sense) animation – though that all plays a part.
“Capcom might have plundered its past for the idea – its story still hews fairly closely to the original – but in every other way Resident Evil 2 feels like a truly modern survival horror.”
Rather, it’s that they’re much more resilient and tenacious this time. Shoot off their arm and they’ll barely flinch as they shuffle towards you. With a leg missing they’ll still keep crawling, hoping to nibble a chunk out of your shins.
The game is pleasingly mean with its resources, and so you’ll have to weigh up whether it’s worth using valuable ammo finishing off these tireless opponents for good, or whether to simply stun them and sprint past. And doing that can come back to haunt you when Capcom deviously forces you back the way you came: as such, even rooms and corridors you’ve already visited can still hold a surprise or two.
The result is a relentlessly tense experience, and not only on your first visit. Whether you choose Leon or Claire, everything is remixed for your second playthrough, wrongfooting you just often enough that the uncertainty and unease remains. And that’s before you consider Mr. X, a near-invincible pursuer who adds an extra element of chaos – especially when he barges into rooms you’d previously made safe.
As a dry run for the even more unstoppable Nemesis in the publisher’s upcoming restoration of Resi 3, it bodes extremely well – and if this exceptional remake is anything to go by, Capcom’s outstanding run is set to continue well into 2020.
Because it’s a From Software game, Sekiro unsurprisingly isn’t for everyone – plenty of players will find it so outrageously hard that they will end up abandoning it in order to preserve their sanity. But if you’ve played and enjoyed a previous From Software game, then Sekiro is essential: the culmination of the developer’s modus operandi, honed relentlessly since 2009.
Baba is You
For pure inventiveness, few games from the past year match Baba is You, a smart puzzler from designer Arvi Teikari. In its most basic form, this is a game about pushing blocks to solve puzzles. The twist comes in the ability to manipulate the rules of the game — which are written on moveable blocks — by rearranging them in order to complete various goals. There’s simply nothing quite like it.