ADAM: Death Stranding
Much of the time you spend in Death Stranding is on long, grueling treks through the desolate remains of the United States. Thankfully these journeys are accompanied by the wonderful music of composer Ludvig Forssell. His original score, combined with a selection of licensed songs, does a great job of setting the mood for Sam’s journey. The title song from Scottish band Chvrches is also a classic.
JOHN: Outer Wilds
From the terrifying sound of your gasping breath amongst the deafening silence of space as your oxygen runs out, to the melancholy music that plays to let you know that (once again) the world is about to come to an end, the sound in Outer Wilds is able to convey an incredible amount of emotion. The music doesn’t just set the mood though, it also is an important piece of the story itself. The soundtrack isn’t bombastic or grandiose, instead, it shows just how much you can do by showing restraint, and the results are haunting.
Visuals in games can be impressive in a variety of ways. They can be incredibly detailed and highly rendered, or simple and clean. Few games, however, have been as visually stylish as Control. Everywhere you look you’re impressed by the striking designs. It’s an impressive achievement in art design and most importantly it has some absolutely killer fonts.
Never have I been able to more easily decide what the best looking game of the year was. The art design in Control is some of the best I’ve seen in years (or possibly ever) and sets the mood for the weird and bizarre story unraveling within The Oldest House. From bold color choices and lighting to the eerie imagery of possessed bodies floating in the air, the game is a constant stream of jaw-dropping visuals. The insanity that is The Ashtray Maze could have won this category completely on its own.
Yes. The baby in the jar is the best character of 2019. BB is with you throughout almost your entire journey in Death Stranding and serves as not only a companion to keep you company on your long treks but also as a partner to help you avoid danger along the way. What started out in the initial announcements trailers as kind of a joke and something to make memes about, BB turned out to be something far more compelling and an important piece of what made Death Stranding so special.
JOHN: Dr. Casper Darling
Reminiscent of the videos left behind by the Dharma Initiative in LOST, Control is littered with videotapes featuring the charismatic Dr. Casper Darling explaining to viewers what exactly the Federal Bureau of Control does and (kind of) how they do it. They can be awkward, funny, informative, and sometimes… unsettling. And of course, being a Remedy game, they decided to film the scenes using live-action footage of actor Matthew Porretta instead of using the game engine. It was a wise decision and helped to make Dr. Darling the most memorable character of 2019.
ADAM: Outer Wilds
In Outer Wilds, you’re allowed to explore the galaxy in any order that you choose, and the story is told by uncovering bits and pieces of written text all throughout the world. Think of it like a jigsaw puzzle. You can start with any section you want, but it isn’t until it all starts to come together towards the end that you see the entire picture. When it does come together, it reveals itself to be an incredibly moving and thought proking piece of art that left us floored.
JOHN: Life is Strange 2
There were some fantastic stories in 2019. From A Plague Tale to Control, there were a lot of games to choose from for Best Story. No story lingered with me longer though than the tale of Sean and Daniel Diaz. Two brothers, forced through tragedy to go on the run and try to find a place to call home. It’s a bittersweet story of what it means to be family, filled with a compelling supporting cast of characters and an ending that once again forces you to make an important decision that will stay with me for a long time.
ADAM: The Ending of Outer Wilds
Ending a video game is tough. It’s hard to stick the landing and bring everything together in a way that feels satisfying for players. The way in which the developers of Outer Wilds bring the game to a conclusion is not only brilliant from a gameplay perspective but they also manage to conclude the story in a profound and emotional way.
JOHN: The Ending of Outer Wilds
Outer Wilds is a game full of tremendous moments. From the underground labyrinth of Brittle Hollow to the terrors that await you in Dark Bramble, this game has no shortage of jaw-dropping scenarios. But the last 30 minutes or so of the game were completely unexpected and left me stunned. It is a torrent of mind-blowing imagery and features a final scene that had me unexpectedly emotional.
Resident Evil 2 was all but guaranteed to grace my top 3 when I walked away from my demo of it at E3 in 2018. Capcom crafted an homage to the PS1 classic that both terrified and elated me. The reimagining of the horrors of Raccoon City rewards gamers who have a history with the franchise as well as satisfies newcomers with a great stand-alone adventure.
Capcom proves the relevance of this once tired franchise in surprising fashion by going back to the 90s and retelling one of its best stories again. Resident Evil 2 is a classic reborn.
Outer Wilds is the most poignant piece of interactive storytelling that I’ve played in a long time. By giving the gamer an experience that sheds its layers and introduces new ideas, design principles and secrets every few hours, Mobius Digital has crafted a game that may be as challenging to get into as it is rewarding to complete. Outer Wilds is the definition of a story that can only be experienced through the medium of video games.
It is brilliant, confusing, frustrating, and poetic. While it may not have earned my top position for Game of the Year, it is an experience I truly wish everyone would take a chance on.
Death Stranding is a game with a long tail. Most gamers who follow the industry have anticipated, mocked or questioned what this project would be. It’s nearly impossible to approach Death Stranding on its own merits because there was such a story surrounding it.
it was much to my surprise then that I was so taken with this game despite the incredible amount of baggage it brought with it. The concept of merging the worlds of the living and the dead over a metaphorical narrative about reconnecting people in a time when we’re so divided is the backdrop for a gameplay experience unlike any I’ve ever had before.
Hideo Kojima in my mind has delivered his best game since the original MGS and definitely the most inspired.
The original Life is Strange was a complete surprise that became one of my favorite games of all time, so the expectations for the sequel were probably higher than was reasonable, but somehow developer DONTNOD created a follow up that is not only a worthy successor to the original but an amazing game with its own identity. The journey of Daniel and Sean Diaz was an emotional and bittersweet journey across America to try and find a place to call home and to find out what it truly means to be a family.
As a big fan of Alan Wake and Quantum Break, I was anxiously awaiting Remedy’s latest title. What I wasn’t expecting was for it to turn out to be their greatest game yet and one of the greatest artistic achievements in recent gaming memory. The mystery of The Oldest House and The Federal Bureau of Control had me completely hooked from the beginning. A brilliant combination of Lost, The X-Files, and The Twilight Zone, the world they created in Control is one of the most unique I’ve ever seen. And the feeling you get towards the end of the game when you become an uber-powerful badass makes for the most satisfying gameplay of the year.
No other game this year, or in recent years for that matter, has blown my mind the way that Outer Wilds did. What starts out as a rather simple expedition into space soon unfolds to reveal itself as one of the most brilliantly designed adventures of all time. Every 22 minutes the world ends and begins anew, and you must spend that time exploring and solving increasingly complex riddles, looking for the answers buried deep within. The fact that the entire game is laid out in front of you from the very beginning and the only thing that you acquire along the way is knowledge, makes the way in which all of the pieces fit together an absolute wonder. And perhaps the greatest thing about the game is the way that it just gets better and better the further you play, culminating in one of the best endings I’ve experienced in years.