Jump Dash Roll's Pick of 2019
Another year trundles on, another decade of gaming comes to an end. We were spoiled last year with some blockbuster titles — including God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2 — so it was hard to see how 2019 was going to compete. Yet compete it did. While the titles served up for our delectation over the last twelve months perhaps didn’t have the history of Rockstar and Sony’s franchises, there were plenty of truly outstanding games nonetheless. Indie developers like Studio ZA/UM, Mega Crit Games and Failbetter Games all produced stonkingly playable titles with real depth and variety. FromSoftware casually served up a brand new IP which won Game of the Year at the 2019 Game Awards, while Capcom’s masterful remake of Resident Evil 2 showed other veteran studios how to update old games without upsetting the fan base.
Everyone looks for different qualities in what they consider to be a “great” game, and here at Jump Dash Roll we’re no different. So, here are the team’s picks for their game of the year — let us know in the comments whether you agree!
Disco Elysium - Rob Kershaw
It’s all too rare these days that you can sit down to play a game and something immediately clicks. It resonates. There’s an electrifying sense that you’re in the presence of something wonderful. You know that you’re going to absolutely love it. The last time I recall that happening was when playing RiME; before that, it was Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s the feeling that I yearn to experience in every game that passes over my desk, but so few manage to bottle the magic that Disco Elysium poured over every facet of its gameplay. On the face of it, it’s just another RPG, and a wordy one at that. A million words of text about an alcoholic detective trying to solve a murder might not be the most appealing pitch for a game, yet it was immediately apparent when I first saw the game at EGX two years before release that these weren’t normal words. They had been crafted by a team of astonishingly good writers who drew on over a decade of experience playing Dungeons and Dragons resulting in descriptions, conversations and ideas that crackled with personality.
The world of Disco Elysium is small but dense, filled with dozens of side quests. I wanted to — no, needed to — complete them all. Yet here’s the rub: the sheer depth of skills and traits which you use to build your character means that it’s simply not possible. Your detective may be a feeble intellectual or a strong idiot, but either of those options will mean that specific tasks will be near impossible for you to succeed at. In any other game, this might have been a frustration. Not so here. Many of Disco Elysium’s best moments come from the consequences of flubbing a dice roll (the stats are rolled out in front of you), inadvertently opening new paths from your failure. Better still, your own personality takes the place of a traditional RPG party, but in many ways better, since they’re all facets of the character you’ve built. Arguing with your own Drama skill about how to interrogate a suspect or resisting Electrochemistry’s demand for drugs and alcohol can have their own impact — either immediately, or further on in the story.
The setting of Revachol was another highlight: a depressingly bleak city set in a society torn apart by civil war. It gave the studio plenty of scope to wax lyrical about economic and social philosophies, while pointedly skewering the extremes of each to comic effect. You weren’t even safe sitting on the fence; the game gave you just as much stick for meandering between — for instance — communism and fascism, and refusing to take a side. Each NPC had a story and a distinct voice, while the myriad dialogue choices available for you to navigate had startlingly different outcomes depending on the stats of your cop and the luck of the dice.
Comparisons to the similarly wordy and philosophical Planescape: Torment were inevitable, yet Disco Elysium exceeded Black Isle’s masterpiece in many ways. The oil-painted aesthetic had a timeless feel, the music was pitched perfectly, and there was no ropey combat to contend with — at least, not in the traditional sense. This was a game for lovers of quality writing, of exquisite world-building, of near flawless role-playing. For me, it’s not only my game of the year, but my game of the decade.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice - Luciano Howard
Since Dark Souls, I spend the time between each FROMSoftware game waiting patiently for the next. So, after Dark Souls 3 it was all about Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Whilst a change from the tried and trusted Soulsborne formula, it’s very much a FROM game. Basically they took Dark Souls and Bloodborne, got vertical and removed the RPG elements. Oh, and made it rock hard.
And yet, it’s still utterly compelling — if you have the skills, or the time to develop the skills. With the absence of online components meaning you cannot summon another player to help with a boss, or a challenging area, you are forced to go it alone, just like the one-armed wolf in the game (Sekiro).
Whether you do or not is a bellwether for how far you get but even if you don’t make it past the first area, the first boss, or elsewhere, the time spent in the world will be glorious. It will compel you to persist, if you let it, and if not? Marvel at the wonder of it all and long for Elden Ring and the return of that multiplayer component. Enjoy, folks.
Deep Rock Galactic - Shaun McHugh
BY THE BEARD. This was a complete impulse buy to play with a friend, merely on the concept of space dwarfs in space, doing space mining. What else do I need to say?! Sitting firmly in the middle of a Venn diagram including space, dwarves, mining, and beer: Deep Rock Galactic is a game which keeps me coming back again and again.
As an avid online PC gamer, the concept of an online community in a game with virtually zero voice comms, which has almost no toxicity, and in fact one of the most amazingly helpful, friendly player bases I’ve interacted with in a game, is a rarity. This likely comes down to two key factors.
1. Mash V to salute. If you don’t salute me when I salute you, you are immediately labelled as a leaf lovin’ arsewipe. More often than not, the result of mashing V is a scene reminiscent of the howl in Zootopia. FOR KARL!
2. Buy beers for your team. That’s right. In between each round with your pals, kick back at the bar and line up a brew for each member of the party.
The devs are also absolutely incredible, and nothing seems to bring together a community more than developers that care, and work their guts out to continue delivering update after update of great content.
If you like smashing things with a pickaxe, and blasting alien spiders with a tricked out shotgun which shoots fire. Give it a tickle. ROCK AND STONE TO THE BONE!
Assemble With Care - Steve McCullough
Many technically and mechanically accomplished mobile games were released this year, but for me the most noteworthy are the ones which provoke a sincere emotional response from the player. The mobile platform has proved to be an ideal space in which to tell these interactive stories, and this launch title for Apple Arcade proved to be the most memorable one this year.
As travelling repairer Maria, you live a precarious existence going from town to town, fixing whatever needs your careful ministrations. Each object brought to you reveals a little about its owner, and the life they have led. The puzzles are intriguing without being prohibitively difficult, the voice acting is superb, and the synth-poppy style soundtrack syncs with the bright, vibrant pastel visuals to evoke a more innocent time.
In these dark and uncertain days, this kind tale of mutual cooperation and friendship stood out.
It offered the positive message to not write off that which yet may be salvaged, and that relationships as well as possessions can be repaired. Although we live in an undeniably overly materialistic culture, there remain those little objects of personal sentiment which have value beyond measure for us, but appear utterly disposable and obsolete to everyone else. Poignant and perfectly paced, Assemble With Care reminds us to treasure them, for they link us to those who we hold most dear.
Death Stranding - Ant Barlow
Death Stranding is unlike any game I have ever played. An undeniable allegory for the fractured times that we’re currently living in, Hideo Kojima’s game sends a message of hope set against a bleak backdrop of post-apocalyptic America.
In the beginning, stepping into the shoes of Sam Porter Bridges and heading out on my first delivery felt daunting, lonely and, ultimately quite frustrating. However, it was never not engaging. Being driven forward — either by the promise of more story of simply wanting to connect this world — and experiencing emotions that games have rarely (if ever) sparked in me before was incredible.
A game about forming connections both between sections of the game world and other players, the way Death Stranding approaches multiplayer is what makes it an absolute standout. Of course, it’s helped by a stellar voice cast, achingly beautiful visuals, a fantastic soundtrack and, of course, a truckload of Kojima nonsense in terms of the story, but seeing my world affected by the actions of others in both a direct and indirect way was what solidified this game as gaming’s crowning achievement for 2019.
To say more about Death Stranding would be to say too much. However, although likely defined by its divisiveness, I hope that Death Stranding will be a lightning rod for games going forward. It’s a game that has pushed the boundaries of what a big-budget, triple-A game can be. I hope we see its legacy reflected in more experimental games in the future.
Days Gone - Jesse Gregoire
This year has been one of divisive game reviews, and Days Gone is no exception. A post-apocalyptic zombie survival game, the title saw a range of review scores from terrible to great, with many critics not playing enough of the game to see it open up. Add to that a long development and numerous delays, and it was never going to live up to the hype.
Despite this, Days Gone engrossed me more than any other game this year. The game’s setting –– Oregon –– steals the show. Its vast, desolate landscapes and meandering roads are perfect for cruising around on your motorcycle. Its rainy forests provide great atmosphere as Deacon sneaks through the mud to take out a bandit camp. And its small towns, with narrow alleyways, are ideal for taking on the game’s sizeable zombie hordes.
Speaking of Deacon, the story is fantastic, and twists and turns are rife. The game gets you invested in the story right from the intro cutscene, and it gives off some serious The Last of Us vibes. It starts out a little cheesy, but it turns into something much more sinister later on.
Each character has a unique personality and agenda, and their pasts intertwine with others, delivering a real sense of lived-in world. All elevated by the intense emotion in the voice acting, making those story beats more impactful.
Days Gone can be frustrating (with parallels to GTA San Andreas' "Follow the damn train, CJ!" as you stray too far from an objective), and it certainly has some outdated design, but it’s a game that also innovates just as much as it doesn’t. Tackling huge zombie hordes in an open-world environment by using deliberately placed explosives as those rotten rascals chase you through your carefully planned routes makes this stand out in a genre that is quickly becoming trite.
In the end, it kept me coming back for more. And in a time when open world games are ubiquitous, grindy time sucks, that’s what matters.
Days Gone isn’t perfect –– but it doesn’t have to be.
A Plague Tale: Innocence - Matt Jordan
It wasn’t the rats - although they certainly played their part. It wasn’t the visuals, striking as they were. I can’t ascribe it to the atmosphere, no matter how darkly the miasmas hung overhead, or the soundtrack’s funeral dirge marched grimly along. No, what set A Plague Tale: Innocence apart for me this year (and there have been some crackers over the last twelve months) was the thoughtful individuality with which it presented itself.
The game wasn’t a sequel, nor was it made by a big name, and it didn’t openly riff on a well-established genre — instead it went out of its way to tell a layered, horror-tinged story in the unique setting of a magical-realist 18th Century France. A brand new IP must be an absolute bugger to get rolling, and whilst it hasn’t had the immediate impact that, say, Horizon: Zero Dawn achieved on release, I’ve now a keen interest in whatever the next project for Asobo Studios will be.
Mashing together horror, puzzles, history, and deep character relationships, A Plague Tale: Innocence was an unexpectedly satisfying experience — and one I’ll happily recommend to anyone. With beloved series like Uncharted and Metal Gear Solid having drawn to a close, it’s heartening to see that potential and ambition still evident in new properties such as this one.
Outer Wilds - JD Saltz
No game this year affected me as deeply as Outer Wilds. In it you play a space explorer in a small universe where the sun explodes every 21 minutes. With a map and an onboard computer that collects the information gathered between supernova explosions, you set out to discover the secrets of the solar system and a lost civilisation — beginning each run from the same launch pad.
There is no combat, no power ups or skill trees — just you, a lonely traveller exploring outer space, gathering more knowledge with each loop. Occasionally you meet NPCs, lost explorers like yourself, each playing a different instrument that can be located by use of your sonar telescope. It’s an information game that takes the repetition of a roguelike but subtracts the procedural generation, offering instead a collection of planets and planetary events that spin on repeat like clockwork.
I couldn’t get enough of the game’s sense of discovery, sublime sense of scale, and folksy charm. It surprised and delighted me again and again. The ending itself was an unforgettable reward. If you haven’t played this game, give it a try. To my mind, Outer Wilds is one of the best examples of the adventure and discovery possible in the medium.
Telling Lies - Jon Peltz
If you had told me that some of 2019’s most innovative game ideas would come from the mostly defunct FMV genre, I would have said you were loopier than a Kojima plot. For a game with a limited control scheme, Telling Lies manages to engage the player in way that more complicated games strive for mightily. Playing Sam Barlow’s spiritual sequel to Her Story feels like using your computer to spy on someone, but every instinct you have leads to actually unveil some crucial piece of information. It simulates getting caught in a Wikipedia vortex written by John Le Carré.
There are several points in Telling Lies where you can reach a conclusion about the events that occurred, but if you keep exploring and searching you may find different perspectives and clarify certain character motivations.
It is the FMV genre’s take on an open-world game, with the player able to approach the story from a number of different angles. Instead of unlocking landmass or skills, the player earns new pieces of information and times and dates that give context to the rest of the story. Curiosity is always rewarded, and what can at first seem like an unmanageable and overwhelming amount of information soon becomes an assortment of tools for the player to explore the game’s “world.”
Telling Lies is also a refreshingly political game with a strong point of view, in an industry that can be skittish about taking sides. The game isn’t afraid to cast judgement on its characters or their actions, and has a moral clarity that could have been eschewed in a lesser game.
Barlow’s seemingly simple game is a shockingly effective way to immerse the player in the detective mode. We can only hope he continues to mess with funky interfaces and narrative trickery in the future.
Apex Legends - Peter Taylor
Picking a game of the year is always a tough affair. There are plenty that deserve the accolade and whittling it down to one always feels a tad unjust. With that being said, however, Apex Legends had such an impact on not only the free-to-play scene but the Battle Royale genre as a whole it’s hard to look past it. Following its release other Battle Royale games such as Fortnite took note of the many quality of life improvements Apex Legends brought to the table and realised that they were pretty awesome. From its fantastic ping feature to the player respawns, playing Apex Legends in the first week after its surprise launch was a revelation.
A large part of the fun can be put down to Respawn’s experience developing Titanfall. The fast and fluid combat is ridiculously fun and, if you wanted to, you could play and contribute without saying a word on comms. Its cast of Legends were varied and inclusive and it continues to be an easy go-to when I want to let off steam. The rounds are quick, the gameplay is fun and really, what more do you want from a game?
Do you agree with our team's choices? Let us know in the comments, and have a happy new year!
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