The AU Review’s Game of the Year 2019

It hasn’t been easy to choose as a Game of the Year for 2019. This has been a pivotal year for the games industry. With new consoles on the horizon, and several high profile AAA titles delaying into early 2020, independent games have been able to take the spotlight in a big way. The games that made a mark hit hard, defying all calcified industry best practices, and left us thinking about them long after we put them back on the shelf. They tested us and sometimes bested us. They drove us mad and sometimes compelled us to fall in love. It was the year of subversion, of winking at an industry increasingly comfortable with huge profits and large scale layoffs. Of publishers wanting to avoid politics while dealing with subject matter that lives in the eye of the political storm.

We’ve chosen for our top 15 to reflect this challenging year. This year’s Game of the Year finalists run the gamut from simple puzzle games to tactical roleplayers to ripping up a Brexiteer’s garden with their own stolen shoes.

These are The AU Review’s Game of the Year picks for 2019:

15. Astral Chain

This is the first 2019 game I played and for that, it holds a special place in my heart. The fight mechanics are strong and inventive, but it was the wild story and interesting puzzles that took the cake for me. It doesn’t try to hold your hand through the game and it packs an ending that still gets me right in the heart. BRB I need a tissue. — Jasmin


14. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Activision Blizzard
Yeah, yeah, pipe down back there. I get it. Modern Warfare didn’t blow everyone away and we know that. The story, while capturing the urgency of a Hollywood military thriller, made a few questionable decisions about what it wanted to include and say. But this is CoD, of course. We all know why we’re really here: the multiplayer. There’s a reason we keep coming back, and that’s because it’s just so damn satisfying. It’s Game of the Year material, and while we all might be loathe to admit it, neither can we deny it. This year’s entry has tweaked the numbers again ever so slightly, but remains faithful to the reflex-based combat of old. Fewer microtransactions overall is the sugar that helps the grind go down. — Matt

13. Tetris 99

If I ever meet the mad genius that realised Tetris would make for a good battle royale game, I will shake their hand. There have been many iterations of Tetris over the years — the gorgeous Tetris Effect made our Game of the Year list in 2018 — but few of them outside the elite esports circuit has ever been truly competitive. Tetris 99 changes all that, dropping 99 players into a single game of Tetris. The goal is to fling junk at your opponents and defend from their attacks as you try to keep your own board clear. Then, as the game gets faster and players are knocked out, the stakes begin to climb. Will you claim the #1 spot? An exhilarating, refreshing and clever new approach to an old favourite. A great party game that delivers world-class thrills. — David

12. Fire Emblem: Three Houses

The hook of the Fire Emblem series has always been its marrying of deep, turn-based strategy to the strong individual character work of a JRPG. Fire Emblem: Three Houses goes all-in on both, crafting a story of youth, power and betrayal that would be at home in any good YA novel. It rewards the player for investing time and attention on individual characters by making them more useful in combat, giving a greater sense of control over your squad as a whole. Bringing out the best in your students and allies takes time but may be the key to victory in a critical fight. It’s brilliant and engaging work, perfectly scratching that one-more-turn itch. Highly recommended — David


11. Concrete Genie

Sony Interactive Entertainment

One of the year’s most surprising new IP’s. Concete Genie is a dart full of joy aimed directly at the heart. It’s a celebration of creativity, and the many ways we can tackle life’s darkest puzzles through art. Armed with nothing more than a magic paintbrush and his imagination, young street artist Ash will bring his crumbling home town back to life. The less you know going in, the more pleasant a surprise this game will be. Play it with the family these holidays. — David

10. Baba Is You

Arvi Teikari, Hempuli Oy, MP2 Games

One of the most inventive indie titles in a year jam-packed with them. Baba Is You is essentially a primer for coding. Puzzles are solved by manipulating the world through If/Then statements. These statements are represented as blocks and must be pushed into place to take effect. So if <Baba> <Is> <You> then You, the player, control the character Baba. But if <Rock> <Is> <You>, then suddenly you’re controlling a rock and moving it around. Watch the trailer above. You’ll see what I mean. The lightbulb moment, the instant you understand the game’s rules and how it all works, is an incredible sensation. You owe it to yourself to play Baba Is You. — David

9. Astroneer

System Era

The most pleasant co-operative experience of the year. Explore distant worlds with friends, mining each one for resources to build bases, utilities and eventually spacecraft. The thrill of creating together is a core component in Astroneer. You rise and fall together, the ambition of your grand plans sometimes outstripped by the resources at hand or the speed at which you can gather them. Somehow complex and serene at the same time, it’s a special title among many that think along similar lines. The perfect game to come home to after a long, stressful day. We can’t recommend it enough. — David

8. Resident Evil 2

Remaking a game that I never really liked as a child is probably what I needed the most. Gone are the tank-based controls of yesteryear, as we hug our protagonists ever so closely over their shoulder to share in their heart attacks. Smooth, polished visuals and precise gameplay prove that survival horror is indeed a strong staple of our gaming landscape.
— Matt

7. Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order

Electronic Arts
Yes, I’m a huge Star Wars fan. But that doesn’t deter from the impact this game has had on the franchise, a reminder (after so long), that Star Wars games can be great, and relevances at the same time. Combining multiple titles and genres, Jedi: Fallen Order utilises the cinematic quality and traversal of Uncharted, the level design of Metroid, and the combat and difficulty of Sekrio. Rip-off I hear you say? Well, when it’s all this polished and engaging, not really, as it uses these mechanics to it’s advantage, with a little Star Wars flavour along the way. It doesn’t perform consistently, but compared to its impact within the Star Wars gaming universe, I can’t help but feel we have a winner on our hands. — Matt

6. Untitled Goose Game

House House
The little Australian game that took the entire world by storm. Untitled Goose Game hinges on a simple premise — it is a lovely morning in the village, and you are a horrible goose. The game itself is short and sweet; you, the goose, are given a to-do list full of mayhem. How you accomplish your goals is largely up to you. If you have your wits about you, it won’t take more than two or three hours to knock the whole game over, but you’ll have a great time and you’ll remember the experience long after. One to show the rest of the family over Christmas for sure. It’s already out on Switch but is coming to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 this week! — David

5. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Activision Blizzard
Ok, I must admit, this game pissed me off to no end. Rage quitting is an understatement. But if this isn’t a fine example of sword based combat done right, I don’t know what is. Wrap it all up in an intriguing fantasy world set in futile Japan, Sekiro is just begging for you to step into its world; just do so at your own risk. — Matt

4. The Outer Wilds

Mobius Digital

One of the most arresting independent games of the year, The Outer Wilds is a triumph of patience, willpower and clever design. You play as a character about to board a historic mission into space, destination unknown. Exactly where you go is up to you. Look around the local solar system. What looks most interesting? Head over and check it out. The Outer Wilds runs in 22-minute intervals. At the end of each interval, the sun goes supernova, a time loop occurs and your character ends up back where they started, about to head to their rocket. This 22-minute window encourages bravery, a willingness to try something different on each run. And as you do so, the game’s rather beautiful story begins to piece itself together in snippets and glimpses. Remarkable work from a studio to watch. A must play. — Dave

3. Pokemon Sword and Shield

Game Freak may be afraid to fully commit to any of the bigger risks in Pokemon Sword and Shield, but they have successfully reinvented the long-running franchise and transplanted it for a console debut. This is the first proper pair of Pokemon titles to make the leap from handheld glory to the increasingly stacked Nintendo Switch, and it’s easily one of the most enjoyable to date. The new UK theme certainly helps with that, expanding this incredible world filled with Pokemon – old and new – interacting in meaningful ways. Plus, it’s more of what has become one of the most dependable game formulas of all time, streamlined to cut away the fat and offer a more immersive experience. — Chris

2. Disco Elysium

This was a close one, and very nearly took out our Game of the Year top spot. The sleeper RPG hit of 2019. A sprawling, thoughtful, laugh-out-loud funny RPG that owes a debt to Planescape: Torment and Monkey Island. When your wayward police offer character awakens after a major bender with no memory of who they are or how they came to be in the middle of a murder investigation, it’s up to you to start putting the pieces together as your own inner demons egg you on. A game that rewards you for playing a consistent character over erratic-but-efficient meta-gamey decisions. D&D and Call of Cthulhu lovers need only apply. — David

1. Control

505 Games
This was definitely the surprise of the year for me. Control dished out an engaging story, illusive world and polished gamely mechanics that all combine for an incredibly original, mind-bending experience. It challenges you to dig deeper, and peek around every corner, all while making you feel like a boss (both literally and figuratively), as your scour The Oldest House in search of your long lost brother. I simply can’t recommend this game enough, and is almost a tie for my game of the year.
— Matt

Control feels like the game Remedy has been trying to make, over and over, for 20 years. Every lesson the studio has ever learned can be seen in its design. A clever mix of abstract Twin Peaks dread, Kubrickian aesthetics and Bad Robot-esque mystery box storytelling, Control revels in the unknown. Beyond the slow accretion of enjoyable superpowers lies an example of video game writing and narrative design so masterful that it will be used to inspire game design students for years to come. I can’t remember the last time I wanted to collect datapads and audio logs. In Control, they are one of the game’s greatest rewards. Every last piece of writing is important and directly serves the story. Each one gradually fills in the edges of a larger picture until it becomes a beautiful, arresting mosaic. We haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since we finalised the review. It’s a bold new IP with a vision and scale to match. Control is our Game of the Year for 2019. — David

David Smith

David Smith is the former games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously written for PC World Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @RhunWords.