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Gamasutra's Best of 2019: The top 10 games of the year

2019 was an incredible year for games--a year so flush with work worth celebrating that it will surely be remembered for years to come.

January 3, 2020

10 Min Read

2019 was an incredible year for games--a year so flush with work worth celebrating that it will surely be remembered for years to come.

And because there were so many excellent games, the debate over which 10 games belong here was an exercise in debate, compromise, and in the end, consensus (...for the most part).

There are some omissions that are more obvious than others, but to us, every one of the games that made our list below are ones that we agreed would remain in our memories as having defined the year for technical sophistication, storytelling, innovation, and a pure intangible value in experience.

From a high-end multiplayer first-person shooter to a weird game about a rich-person sport, followed by a beautifully dreary RPG with a twisted-up protagonist, here are Gamasutra's top 10 games of 2019.

Also check out more game of the year lists from Gamasutra writers:

Listed in alphabetical order

Apex Legends - Respawn Entertainment

Apex Legends is the free-flowing, fast-paced shooter that took aim right at my happy place this year. I did not know that I could love the battle royale format again after my time with PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds ended, but Respawn Entertainment found everything that was good with PUBG and doubled down when making ApeLegs.

The game's mix of champions with unique abilities and huge maps with ample room for high-velocity shootouts already help it stand out before you even start talking about the oh-so-finely-tuned firearms. It's an incredible engine for player-driven encounters that leaves you with stories to tell even if you fail to claim victory. Fortnite may reign supreme, but I'm happy Apex Legends gets to live alongside it as a sci-fi battle royale spectacular. - Bryant Francis

Baba Is You by Hempuli

Baba Is You is yet another game that, like fellow charmers Untitled Goose Game and What the Golf, takes a simple idea and excellently builds upon that core until something perfectly ridiculous and wonderful emerges. In Baba Is You’s case, that first block is the idea of rearranging simple phrases to change the rules of the game itself. Baba Is You, Flag is Win might require you to walk the character Baba to the flag to clear the level, but rearranging the words themselves (Baba is You, Baba is Win) can yield the same result.

As another layer on top of that core idea, each word used to forge a rule exists as a block in the game world. They can be pushed to nudge a useful object into place, but doing so might trap a useful word just out of reach. Some rules remain inaccessible and unalterable, gradually forcing you to come up with more complex solutions to problems you’d conquered just levels before. It all adds up to an impossibly clever game that’ll have you reciting nonsense phrases again and again to solve puzzles that seem impossible up until the very moment they click and you’re shouting a celebratory “FLAG MAKE MOON IS OPEN” to an audience of confused roommates. - Alissa McAloon

Control by Remedy Entertainment

Control has everything I look for in a story-driven game. There's genuinely interesting lore, familiar yet challenging combat, and gameplay that supplement the two so neither element is ever fighting for attention from the player.

I was never bored. Control left bread crumbs behind which I eagerly followed, wanting to experience everything the game had to offer. From start to finish, I was engrossed in every aspect of what I saw, heard, and eventually Hulk-smashed into the ground with my mind.

That's no small feat. Every chapter I progressed to had me on my toes. What would I learn about my environment? What new skills would I pick up? How many government documents could I decipher through context clues among a sea of [REDACTED] text? And I was excited. It wasn't a chore, not a box to check off, but a choice.

Sure, the game couldn't progress without my input anyway but that's not the point. The point is that it's refreshing to see a new, weird IP take risks.  While the game doesn't stick every landing, Control is a well-written narrative I haven't stopped thinking about since launch for a reason. - Emma Kidwell

Disco Elysium by ZA/UM

Disco Elysium is a game that doesn't shy away from displaying realistic depictions of the worst parts of society and psyche and does so in a way that often makes the game absurdly unsettling or even disturbing. It's this pervasive sense of unease--that there is no solid foundation for anything, that constructs like laws and relationships are merely futile attempts for humans to control the chaos of the universe--that gives Disco Elysium its gravitas.

Despite the deep self-awareness and existentialism that swirls within the game's narrative, there are so many instances of hilarious "what the fuck" moments of surprise that make you want to wallow in the game's dreariness. There's a weird, twisted joy in this RPG that you simply cannot experience anywhere else. - Kris Graft

Kind Words by Popcannibal

Few games put as much blind faith in people to be fundamentally good as Kind Words does, and somehow, it works.

It’s a big risk; players can write each other inane, insensitive, or just plain rude remarks in Kind Words’ letters, and I'm sure some do. But the lion’s share appear to take it seriously, at least so far, and it’s been wonderful to see a game foster a community of players who seem earnestly dedicated to helping each other feel better.

I hit a rough patch this summer; Kind Words launched not long after, and I used it to write a little letter bemoaning my troubles. Within a day I had half a dozen thoughtful, kind replies waiting for me. They really helped; even months later, I still sometimes fire the game up to rifle through them, and answer a few other players' letters while I'm at it.

Because you have to, right? You don't have to be good, or right, but you have to let someone know you heard them. That's part of the unspoken agreement: this whole game of mutual support and encouragement only works as long as players are willing to log in and write nice things to each other, week after week, for nothing.

Games push us, constantly, to be better; better than the AI, better than the other players, better than our best run. Almost none of them push us to help each other. Kind Words does both, and for me, it worked. Here's hoping it keeps working for years to come. - Alex Wawro

Outer Wilds by Mobius Digital

Nearly a decade ago I sat down behind two programmers in my first talk of the week at my first GDC. I didn’t know either of them (or anyone, really) but I could hear their conversation from two rows back; they were discussing physics calculations for virtual worlds, sharing advice on how to model gravity and light in a universe that, for the moment, existed only in their minds.

I barely understood any of it, but I was hooked; I saw two smart people building whole new worlds in their heads, and I couldn’t stop wondering at how they did it. Now, almost ten years later, Mobius Digital has managed to evoke that same sense of wonder with Outer Wilds, an entire solar system built just to titillate and satisfy your curiosity.

It’s hard to know what the real value of a list of games is, here at the thin end of this long decade; let it at least be a gentle reminder that video games can be beautiful toys, evokers of joy, and few were better at it this year than Outer Wilds.

It’s a charming orrery you can bounce around in over and over, each time learning a bit more about how it works and why it exists. It’s a playable universe, replete with stellar phenomena that inspire real primordial awe and terror. It’s a singular work of game design, and one of the most interesting releases this year. - Alex Wawro

The Outer Worlds by Obsidian Entertainment

Obsidian's return to the world of first-person, choice-driven RPGs is a welcome one. Not only has the studio returned to the fold with a fantastically deep RPG with a clear point of view and setting that informs every single character you encounter and creates surprises around every turn, they've made a game that's actually really funny! Every time the game rewards "player choice" it does so by leaning into the unexpected and the surprising at every turn.

The characters are great, the worlds are beautiful, and it's the right mix of cynicism and anarchy for a corporatized future that doesn't feel too far from our own. - Bryant Francis

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice by From Software

Sekiro is more than just another difficult Souls-like by From Software. The developer took an already successful formula and made it more accessible while retaining the same kind of gratification and sense of mastery you get from other Souls-inspired games. This is thanks to a more forgiving save point system that lets you play for 20 minutes or for two hours. It’s the first Souls-like that respects my time and because of that it’s the one that I’ve played the most.

The game's hauntingly beautiful Japanese setting offers the player multiple points to attack enemies and progress through levels, while its Tenchu-inspired traversal makes you feel like a deadly stealth warrior. And the death mechanic that inspired the game's title is a brilliant and effective way to emphasize the value of a second chance. - Kris Graft

Void Bastards by Blue Manchu

Blue Manchu’s Void Bastards is a beautiful “one more run”ner, a game with a great core loop (scavenge derelict, often occupied spaceships for supplies) nested inside a stack of progression systems that can keep you playing for hours.

That Blue Manchu was able to make it pop with a colorful comic book aesthetic and a beautiful, biting wit is just icing on the Jaffa space-cakes. It’s never been harder to make a game that stands out, and Void Bastards’ success in an ever more crowded indie game market is something to celebrate. - Alex Wawro

What the Golf? by Triband

What the Golf is a game a about breaking expectations, building up new ones, and breaking them all over again. The game, and its first level, starts off with a simple gag: instead of opening the game by hitting the golf ball off the tee, the moment of impact of club against ball instead flings the golfer forward and your goal becomes propelling that rag dolled figure to the hole for victory. Each and every level offers some different play on the idea of golf along those lines, to an extent that seems infinite.

It’s an interesting example of endlessly iterating on an idea until it takes on a life of its own and somehow, even after dozens of holes, still manages to surprise and find humor and fun in an ever-evolving gag. - Alissa McAloon

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