2019 was a pretty great year for games, but it seems like every year is a great year for games now. There are just so many titles coming out for so many platforms, and many of them take so long to finish, that it’s only natural that great titles just sort of fall by the wayside. If you feel like you missed out on some high-quality games this year, you’re probably right – that’s why we put together a list of 11 of the most underrated games of 2019 for you to enjoy.
The Metroidvania genre is growing year over year, and it’s hard to keep tabs on them all. So when a new game by a studio that excels in them hits consoles and PC, it’s a shame when it doesn’t find an audience. Minoria released in September from Brazilian studio Bombservice, best known for Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight. It’s a really clever and interesting game that fuses the exploration and platforming that the genre is known for with intense, almost fighting game-esque combat. In Minoria, you can parry, dodge and slice your way through tough foes while learning new abilities. It’s a little rough around the edges but definitely worth a playthrough.
Funded on Kickstarter, the new adventure game from the team behind Dropsy was a love letter to the old World Wide Web, before five platforms hoovered up all of our attention. In the game, which bills itself as an “Internet Simulator,” you’re cast as an Enforcer for the massive company that owns the network, making sure users abide by the code of conduct and deleting and banning offenders. The entire experience is delivered through pixel-perfect browser windows overflowing with the kind of cruft that made the late 90s net so hilarious – animated GIFs, embedded MIDI, bad minigames and more. But beyond the aesthetic, this is a genuinely challenging and engaging detective story with some very difficult puzzles.
The third installment in 4A’s Metro series didn’t seem to make too much of an impact when it released in February. You can chalk part of that up to the fact that it didn’t push the familiar post-apocalyptic shooting and scavenging mechanics of the last one that much farther. Throw in launching as an Epic Games Store exclusive, which alienated many fans, and it makes sense. But iterating on a winning formula can still be satisfying, and this was far and away the most immersive, tense and ambitious title yet. Traveling on a train throughout Russia gave 4A’s designers a chance to create new and unique levels, and using the train as a hub area added vital downtime.
If you’re looking for a classic BioWare-style CRPG after the disappointment of Anthem, Greedfall might scratch that itch. Developed by French team Spiders, who have been knocking out action role-playing for a decade, it’s a rich and engaging adventure with some cool features. When a mysterious island is discovered, it could hold the cure for a plague that is scouring the rest of the world. However, numerous parties are contending to exploit the place, and the natives aren’t terribly happy about it either. It’s a little messy and a little buggy, but the ambition on display more than carries it through.
From creators of the original BioShock, this cel-shaded roguelike shooter is an addictive game where you’re always surfing on a razor’s edge of failure. Tasked with exploring randomly-generated space stations in search of vital parts. The fuel you gather there is always barely enough to get you to the next outpost, and you’ll often find yourself making the best of a set of poor choices and crossing your fingers and hoping for a miracle. Every death lets you keep skills you learned and weapon upgrades, so you always feel like you’re making progress no matter how many times you get whipped by alien hordes.
Blending survival elements and role-playing seems like a logical choice, and 2019’s Outward was one of the better takes on the concept we’ve seen in a while. You’re cast as a poor chump who needs to buy back his repossessed home, but things just get more and more complicated from there. A super dense web of systems made this one both very satisfying and a little frustrating – the game’s constant auto-saving removes the ability to take back bad decisions, but no permadeath means that you’re forced to learn from your mistakes and keep going. Every decision you make matters in Outward – there’s no way to smurf your character to godhood, so you really need to think things through if you want to survive.
Blood & Truth
VR gaming is still in a developmental period, and it’s hard to claim that we’ve seen a true must-have system seller. Sony’s Blood & Truth, though, got us pretty close. Initially intended to be an installment in the Getaway series, the PS4 first-person shooter puts you inside a Michael Bay movie, playing a former Special Forces soldier who, in the wake of a death in the family, becomes the target of the London mob in a series of violent, exciting set pieces. Although PlayStation VR isn’t the top of the heap hardware-wise, this is one of the first games that really sells VR as what we’ve been promised for years, making you feel like you’re deep in the thick of the action.
iD Software and Avalanche’s shooter sequel was embroiled in the discourse about whether its portrayal of the villainous mutant cannon fodder was ableist or not. There were a lot of poor aesthetic and narrative choices in Rage 2‘s single-player campaign, and the “open world” is remarkably confined, but the shooting action was whip-tight and engaging, with tons of interesting weapons and abilities that combine in fun ways. You definitely get out of Rage 2 what you put into it – if you want to take the time to experiment and play around with the extensive toolset the game gives you, you’ll have a good time mashing mutants into bloody pulp.
Originally intending to make a modern version of 2005 cult horror hit Pathologic, developers Ice-Pick Lodge instead wound up crafting a totally new experience. The first of three installments dropped this year, and although initiates bought in immediately, the mass market didn’t bite, which is a shame. Few games can fill you with dread quite like Pathologic 2. As a Russian surgeon, you return to your home town at your father’s request only to be thrown into an abusive, brutal nightmare for survival where death hides around every corner. It’s atmospheric, wildly challenging, and unlike anything else you played in 2019.
My Friend Pedro
Based on a Flash game, this stylish and hyper-violent 2D shooter won raves from speedrunners but didn’t make a huge impact, which is too bad. Games live and die on the way they feel, and this was one of the best-feeling titles of the year. Every level is a ballet of chaos teeming with objects you can use to dispatch your foes, and the way it keeps you feeling in control even as the world explodes around you is really remarkable. It’s a pretty short game – five hours will let you see everything My Friend Pedro has to offer – but we’d prefer a short, focused experience that lands perfectly over a bloated, unfocused one.
Remnant: From The Ashes
We saw a lot of games try to crib from the Soulsborne franchise this year, which on the whole we’re happy about – it’s nice to feel challenged again by action gaming. One title that didn’t make much of a splash but is well worth trying is Remnant: From The Ashes, by Austin-based Gunfire. This will be their last game as an independent studio, as THQ Nordic snatched them up right after it was released, and it’s a solid one. With more of a focus on ranged combat, as well as traditional co-op play, it’s a little more accessible than many other games in the genre, but these tweaks make for a rock-solid experience that was seriously slept on.
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