As we once again find ourselves in December, let’s look back at what video games released this year. As I’ve mentioned before, game awards should celebrate what noteworthy games have accomplished this year. With these awards, I wanted to highlight some of the most memorable games for me this year.
This isn’t meant to be The Game Awards, but hopefully, it will bring you some entertainment or create discussion before we inevitably dive headfirst into a new year of video games. Here are three games that defined my 2019.
Embodiment of Scrooge McDuck: Red Dead Redemption 2
Red Dead Redemption 2’s scope screams excess in the way that Donald Duck’s uncle, Scrooge McDuck, hoarding and bathing in gold coins is excessive. It’s the outlaw cowboy simulator that comes the closest to what an open-world game actually promises. Playing as Arthur Morgan and living life robbing banks, running from the law and hunting legendary animals in turn-of-the-20th century America fulfills the desire to live truly free.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is packed with minute details that I’m sure only one in 100,000 people will even pay attention to. After about 30 hours of game time, I only just discovered that Arthur’s eyes dilate. Who even thinks to implement that in a game?
The character animations are also on an entirely different level compared to anything I’ve ever seen. Everything from how a horse gallops, to how the player dismounts or draws their gun is smoothly animated. The tradeoff is that this does lead to some unresponsiveness in the controls. It takes several seconds to aim and prepare to shoot, mount a horse or simply come to a complete stop after walking a few feet.
Although the stories about developers working 100-hour weeks really underscore exactly how much sacrifice is required to create a game of this scale, it also forces us to question if a fully-realized, open-world game is worth the human cost. Red Dead Redemption 2 is excessive, but it’s only a nagging thought while I enjoy the intricately-detailed American frontier Rockstar Games has crafted.
Best World-building: Control
I can’t say enough good things about Control’s mysterious setting, the Oldest House, home to the “Men-in-Black”-like Federal Bureau of Control. There’s a heap of terminology to become familiar with, but it still intrigues the player with snippets here and there about what exactly is going on in the constantly-shifting building.
The player character Jesse Faden’s journey to discovering what exactly happened to her abducted brother provides just the right motivation to kick-start the adventure and then the enemy Hiss’ invasion of the Oldest House takes it away. Before long, the player is completely engrossed in discovering every little detail through the Bureau of Control documents and training videos.
Control gives the player a few neat tools along the way, like the form-changing Service Weapon and paranormal abilities. The abilities take combat to the next level. Switching between telekinetically launching an object while levitating and firing off a few rounds with the Service Weapon feels incredibly natural thanks to how ammo and ability energy recharge. No game this year came close to matching Control’s sense of mystery. It always left me craving to learn more.
Childhood Dream Fulfilled: Ace Combat 7
Ever since I went to my first airshow as a child, I’ve been fascinated with fighter jets. It was mostly the amazing aerial maneuvers they’re able to accomplish, such as falling through the air like a leaf, but I also liked how they looked. I especially loved the streamlined look of the F-22 Raptor. Imagine my joy when the arcade fighter jet game, Ace Combat 7, brought the main series to PC for the first time.
I was also delighted to discover that Ace Combat 7 includes a few near-future, science-fiction laser weapons and aircraft. The story of the Ace Combat series is impenetrably complicated, with a fictional country starting a proxy war here or some elite fighter squadron going rogue there. That didn’t matter to me though, because all I knew was that I was flying at supersonic speeds, launching missiles at enemy aircraft or ground targets all around me, watching the explosions as I flashed past the resulting debris.
Looking to the future
There were a few games that I couldn’t include in this list because it would go on forever, such as the disappointing drug-trip, side-scrolling shooter game My Friend Pedro, and the childhood-ruining revelation that Pokemon games might not be good that I received from Pokemon Sword. Maybe I’ll find time to write about them someday. For now, I’m looking forward to finally being able to finish Red Dead Redemption 2 and maybe check out Outer Wilds. I also can’t help but be excited about what 2020 will bring, such as the dystopian Night City of Cyberpunk 2077 and the ultimate power fantasy of Doom Eternal. I can’t wait for another great year of video games.