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The 25 Best Video Games of 2019

In 2019, the best games took the industry’s standard operating procedure and punted it out the window.

The 25 Best Games of 2019
Photo: Hempuli

Baba Is You

5. Baba Is You

A puzzler in which the player manipulates the rules of each level by forming short phrases with movable words, Baba Is You turns programming syntax into inventive and peculiar fun. Crabs can be refashioned into keys, the player can move a wall by literally becoming it, and the winning condition for a stage can, and often must, be reimagined. Finnish developer Arvi Teikari gives his game a nervous audiovisual aesthetic; every object pulsates to a quirky synth-laden soundtrack, hinting at the transformations that are about to occur. Some of the player’s attempted solutions can be adventures unto themselves, leading to reconfigurations that exude a wacky charm despite not translating to success. On other levels, the creative possibilities are limited because of sentences that cannot be split apart, requiring more heavy thought from the player about what can be done to advance. Baba Is You’s alternation between experimentation and brain-stumping logic makes it as compelling and challenging as any puzzle-based game this year. Pressgrove

Pathologic 2

4. Pathologic 2

Pathologic 2 is a hand around your throat. Few games have so vividly bottled despair and desperation, asking you to cast aside any and all preconceptions about what to value in a video game as you examine what you’re willing to hoard and what to peddle to save your skin. And fewer still do it with such overpowering, nightmarish style, at once theatrical and dreamlike. To be sure, the game, from the Russian-based Ice-Pick Lodge, requires some getting used to, but with the difficulty modifiers added since its initial release, the only real obstacle toward learning the nuances of its world have fallen away; the modifiers make it much easier to get into the game, without compromising the sense of place or misery. Pathologic 2 is a game built to cut you open and show you your soul, brimming with so many thrilling turns away from traditional game design that if it doesn’t become an instructive text, the medium will only be poorer for it. Scaife


3. Control

Home to the Federal Bureau of Control, the government’s paranormal secure-and-contain agency, The Oldest House is a sterile, brutalist setting at odds with the calamity escalating within. The player takes control of Jesse Faden, the agency’s new director, as she battles against an extradimensional invasion alongside other FBC agents, all fighting for the same thing: control of our reality. This is a game that makes the mundane terrifying. A room of possessed, demonic government agents pales in comparison to a malevolent telekinetic sailboat anchor, or a common household refrigerator that demands to be watched at all times lest everyone around it succumb to its violent wrath. Beyond this, Control compels with the backstory of Jesse and her brother, whose hometown of Ordinary was torn apart by a reality-altering slide projector later taken by the FBC, revealed in partially redacted government files and audio recordings. Such diary mechanics aren’t uncommon in video games, though Control’s cleverness comes in its layering of its deep lore with a discomfiting ambiguity. The game might be confined to one office building, but the endless chain of paranormal conflicts that take place within The Oldest House reach out to worlds far beyond our own. Aston

Outer Wilds

2. Outer Wilds

There are six unique planets in Outer Wilds to explore, and your curiosity will lead you to die in dozens of ways on each of them, before a Majora’s Mask-like time loop returns you to the start. Stand in one of rustic Timber Hearth’s geysers, and you’ll learn that being propelled through the trees isn’t what kills you, so much as your subsequent landing. Spend too much time marveling at the labyrinthine corridors and fossilized remains hidden within Ember Twin and you may learn firsthand that the sand is going to keep rising, gravitationally pulled off nearby Ash Twin like an orbital hourglass, until it either crushes or suffocates you. Falling through a black hole surprisingly enough doesn’t kill you, but running out of thruster fuel before reaching the science satellite at the other end of that wormhole certainly will. Death is at the center of Outer Wilds—literally so, in that its solar system’s sun is going supernova in 22 minutes—but what makes the game such a unique and enriching experience is how much it has to say about life. It’s not about winning so much as it is about what you accomplish and learn along the way. Riccio

Disco Elysium

1. Disco Elysium

It’s a common and well-documented complaint that role-playing games don’t always do the greatest job at truly letting players play a role. You’re typically just along for the ride, and calling the shots when it comes to crucial dialogue or combat. Disco Elysium, then, is the closest the world will ever get to having a playable William S. Burroughs novel, and even he would’ve needed a lot more drugs to connect the dots in all the labyrinthine and utterly bewildering ways that player choices here wreak utter havoc on the world and your sloppy, drunken burnout of a detective. It’s not enough that solving the game’s central mystery—a murder tied to a worker revolution in the city of Revachol—takes so many cruel and bizarre twists and turns along the way, or that the game’s art style feels like someone trying to capture the experience of watching Battleship Potemkin on acid, but that the protagonist’s stats actively work both for and against you the whole time. Your mental and emotional health is a torrent that can carry you away at any moment whether you feel prepared for it or not, which might be the most real part of such a deeply surreal experience. Your detective’s failures can weigh on him, making him emotionally unqualified to make certain decisions down the road, arrogance can lead him to take actions based on his rage, and his embarrassment can give away his secrets when his self-confidence drops. His every emotion has a voice, sharply written and impossible to deny, and they will have their say, during one conversation or another, and if the dialogue goes awry, never has a game of this sort made it so abundantly clear that you have no one to blame but yourself. Clark

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