Despite having not played a Hideo Kojima game since the original Metal Gear Solid back in 1998, I decided it was time to break that lengthy drought by picking up the new social media/gig economy/Norman Reedus simulator, Death Stranding, so I could see just how weird the preceding two decades had made the gaming world's most notable auteur. Within an hour, all of my wildest hopes for pure video game absurdity had been met thanks to a crying baby attached to my suit and Academy Award winning director Guillermo del Toro informing me that he stole my fluids while I was unconscious to study them. If I had hit the power button then and never returned, my investment would've been worth it, but fortunately I kept going and soon discovered the true draw and greatest achievement of Death Stranding - the links between all the players undertaking this massive journey together.
This year has had its fair share of great games, but it has been seemingly devoid of the type of era-defining classics that made 2018 and especially 2017 such amazing years. Fortunately, this recession to the mean trend was bucked by the mesmerizing sense of adventure and call to exploration provided by Outer Wilds, the most memorable game of 2019 by far. While unraveling the mysteries of the universe on both macroscopic and quantum levels in between countless rounds of hilariously dying in unfortunate space mishaps or being engulfed in the Sun going full on supernova every 22 minutes, Mobius Digital's adventure game for the ages captivated my gaming senses by empowering me with the freedom to craft what feels like my very own adventure, unique from what anyone else will experience.
Dread is a powerful thing. When strong enough it can control our every action or even lead to complete shutdown and inaction. My first time playing Naughty Dog's seminal masterpiece, The Last of Us, four years ago was filled with an ever growing sense of dread and despair. This world was no longer safe for humankind and especially the young child you're trying to protect, who may just be mankind's last chance for survival. Every alley crossed and home searched was just another opportunity for an emotional hammer to be dropped on you until you were completely devastated. I didn't know what was coming, but I knew it wouldn't be kind. Each time that end of the world banjo music started so did my goosebumps.
Just when I thought it wasn't possible to be any more charmed by a Zelda game following the incredible rhythm adventure of Cadence of Hyrule, along came the utterly delightful and adorable remake of the 1993 Game Boy classic Link's Awakening. Despite having never played the original and lacking any semblance of nostalgia, I was immediately in love with this iteration of Hyrule's greatest hero. With each swing of my sword and lovable hop, I was somehow still transported to feeling like the 8 year old I was when the original was released.
Untitled Goose Game is perhaps the greatest gaming achievement of the year. Sure, it's not the most technically advanced game or even the most fun one, but its surreal rise from a joke amongst a team of just 4 game devs to the top of the Nintendo eShop and the national consciousness is nothing short of remarkable. The biggest game on Nintendo Switch right now isn't the adorably recreated, big budget Link's Awakening; it's a prank game about being an asshole goose. The devs could have easily phoned it in and relied purely on the ridiculous premise to move units and provide them with success, but you can tell they truly poured their hearts into this absurd operation as evidenced by each hilarious puffing up of the goose's wings, every annoyed resident's reaction to a honk, and all the poor, damaged property left in the mischievous goose's wake. They didn't just create a meme-machine, they truly delivered on the promise of being an asshole goose. While I thoroughly enjoyed my time as our bird anti-hero from the start, the true glory of the world's favorite goose's low stakes carnage creating prowess fully crystalized for me in the game's fantastic third area, The Back Gardens.
Ever since the original The Legend of Zelda let you name your save file, I've been trying to live out some world saving fantasies by making myself in video games. I've prevented the utter destruction of humanity countless times in the Final Fantasy series. I've braved the barren nuclear wasteland of Fallout. Even the virtual sports world has been utterly dominated by the 5'4" wunderkind known as Terry Kennair - fearless, boring-ass, tiny, bearded white dude.
Control, the latest release from the makers of Max Payne and Alan Wake, Remedy Entertainment, is one of the most unique games I have ever played. It's at the same time unlike anything I've experienced before and a glorious amalgamation of all the best parts of classic games like Metroid, Half-life, Resident Evil, and Bioshock distilled into their purest forms. Here's everything that stood out during my 20 or so hours touring the halls of the Federal Bureau of Control and investigating "altered world events" with the help of some telekinetic powers.