The Best Games of 2019 So Far

2019 has given us a bunch of stellar releases in only a few months, with many more heavy hitters lined up to launch before the year is out, too

by Luke Albiges May 13, 2019 at 11:09 AM


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    The Best Games of 2019 So Far
    With all the chatter around the next generation of consoles emerging, you might think that the current gen would be starting to slow down as developers shift to work on the new hardware. Well, you'd be wrong. 2019 has given us a bunch of stellar releases in only a few months, with many more heavy hitters lined up to launch before the year is out, too. Whatever your gaming platform of choice, there's more great stuff to play than there are hours in the day, so here's our rundown of ten must-play titles to help you prioritise the standout releases.
    As ever, we're not going to be including re-releases or remasters as they'd likely dominate the list if we did – the Switch alone has been inundated with yet more belated appearances of outstanding games from the past few years, enough to fill a list all of its own, in fact. From last gen's fantasy epic Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen and a handful of timeless Final Fantasy games from the series' golden years to modern classics like the cartoon chaos of Cuphead and Ninja Theory's striking and thought-provoking Hellblade, Nintendo's library continues to grow more and more formidable. Still, here are our picks for 2019's best original releases so far...




    Tom Clancy's The Division 2

    Tom Clancy
    Developer: Ubisoft Massive
    Publisher: Ubisoft
    Released: March 2019
    Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One


    Ubisoft's open world cover shooter sequel succeeded where so many similar games failed by enjoying a strong launch complete with a wealth of content to enjoy, and a solid roadmap that lays out even more interesting new stuff over the game's first year. Mission variety proves extremely satisfying on two fronts, with each having its own theme and flavour as well as housing unique sets of threats on each run after the first. Taking that one step further is the invasion mechanic, where clearing the campaign unleashes a new advanced military faction on Washington who take up residence in key locations and completely change how affected missions and Strongholds play out.

    Endgame revolves around clearing out this Black Tusk menace while slowly advancing through increasingly difficult World Tiers, all the while improving and upgrading your gear from a host of powerful options. The previous game's gear set bonuses now also apply to lower rarity equipment to help you pack more of a punch on your way to getting ready for the upcoming eight-player Raid, making everything you find potentially useful in reinforcing your chosen specialisation and gadget loadout. It's great right now, and it's only going to get better as more missions and modes are added to the game over the course of the year.



    Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

    Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
    Developer: FromSoftware
    Publisher: Activision
    Released: March 2019
    Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One


    The Dark Souls team don't mess around when it comes to difficulty. While Sekiro might not be in any way related to the Souls series, the developer's love for challenging players with terrifying boss battles couldn't be more evident. The sprawling interconnected map and hulking guardians that dwell therein feel somewhat similar to how the Souls games are set up, but the action itself is worlds apart. The focus here is on breaking enemies' poise in order to land crippling strikes when an opening is created, promoting aggressive play as you try to slash your way through their guard or unbalance them by deflecting their counter-blows.

    Sekiro, being a strictly single-player experience, means that you don't have to crutch of being able to summon help for tricky boss encounters like you can in Dark Souls. As such, there's nothing to do but learn every facet of each showdown – the vast majority of which are excellent – across multiple attempts until you finally manage to come out on top, which feels absolutely exhilarating. Couple the tight and rewarding swordplay with the many fancy gadgets and the stunning backdrop of a fantasy twist on feudal Japan and you've got yet another victory achieved for FromSoftware, a studio very much at the top of its game.



    Baba Is You

    Baba Is You
    Developer: Hempuli Oy
    Publisher: Hempuli Oy
    Released: March 2019
    Platforms: PC, Switch


    Few games wear their mechanics on their sleeves quite so openly or brilliantly as this inventive indie brainteaser, where the entire game is about manipulating the game's rules to meet a seemingly simple win condition on each stage. Game logic is presented as a series of on-screen blocks, with adjacent tiles forming the rules for the level – the three tiles that form the common rule 'Baba is you' mean that you control that cute little creature, for instance, while something like 'rock is push' means that you're able to move those objects around the stage. But nudge those rules to have it read 'rock is you' and suddenly, you're controlling a boulder instead.

    If it sounds confusing, that's because it is. Directly altering game logic to bend and break the rules certainly takes some getting used to, but the open-ended system allows for some extremely creative solutions to the hundreds of puzzles on offer. Don't let the basic visuals put you off – beneath crude graphics that wouldn't have looked out of place on an Eighties home computer system hides one of the smartest and most inventive puzzle games you'll ever play, and one that demands completely different thought processes to what you might have used in other puzzlers.



    Apex Legends

    Apex Legends
    Developer: Respawn Entertainment
    Publisher: EA
    Released: February 2019
    Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One


    The battle royale scene has become as crowded and chaotic as the many games that make up this booming genre, although few manage to come close to the most popular examples like Fortnite and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. Then again, few have the clout of a major publisher and a highly acclaimed development team behind them, which might explain why Apex Legends was a literal overnight success. The free-to-play multiplayer title came out of nowhere in early February, amassing a million players on day one and over 25 million in its first week alone, then doubling that number by the end of its first month.

    It's an interesting hybrid of traditional battle royale mechanics and those found in hero shooters like Overwatch, with each of the eight default characters (six unlocked from the start, with the rest unlocked either with in-game currency or actual cash) having their own unique abilities. As you'd expect from the developer of Titanfall, both movement and gunplay feel fantastic, and the powerful personal abilities of each of the available Legends mean you'll quickly start to gravitate to a personal favourite based on how you like to play. The ingenious 'ping' system is a revelation for the genre, allowing active and useful communication without saying a word by flagging up useful items or enemy locations to squadmates with the touch of a button.



    Resident Evil 2

    Resident Evil 2
    Developer: Capcom
    Publisher: Capcom
    Released: January 2019
    Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One


    Capcom appears to want to come out swinging at the beginning of the year these days, with last year's Monster Hunter World staking a claim at the Game Of The Year crown before January was even over and this stunning survival horror remake doing the very same in early 2019. The original PlayStation horror game gets a complete and comprehensive makeover, reworking some elements of the classic while twisting and updating others just as the GameCube remake of the first game did so well. If you've fallen out of love with the series as it experimented with more action-skewed gameplay and first-person perspectives in previous iterations, this return to the classic survival horror template will be just what you wanted to see, and the good news is that few games do it better than this.

    The RE Engine is an amazing piece of tech and helps make the game look just like the PlayStation original did in your head some 20 years ago. It's visually outstanding and the detail in every aspect makes it all the more terrifying, whether it be the chunks of rotting flesh that are ripped from zombies as you put shots into them or the creepy ruins of the nightmarish Raccoon City itself. As before, Leon and Claire both have their own campaigns to get through (as well as unlockable variants that intersect a little more on the way to the true ending), and there are a bunch of extra modes and challenges to keep you going long after the two's painstakingly remade survival tale is over.



    Tetris 99

    Tetris 99
    Developer: Arika
    Publisher: Nintendo
    Released: February 2019
    Platforms: Switch


    If you'd have told us late last year that Tetris would be the next game to get in on the battle royale action, we'd have laughed it off as just another of many of the jokes about inappropriate series hopping on the bandwagon. But no, this is a real thing, and it works way better than it has any right to. Multiplayer Tetris is no new concept, with cleared lines from your own screen dumping junk lines into the bottom of opponents' wells to make their lives that little bit tougher. Here, though, with 98 rivals also looking to prove themselves as grand masters of classic puzzle gaming, you need to decide where to send your trash on the fly – you can ditch it on random unfortunate souls, throw it back at those targeting you, aim for struggling players, or drop it on those doing pretty well for themselves.

    The 98 tiny wells that surround your own track opponents' progress in real time and show who is targeting you, which can be pretty scary when the entire screen border lights up like an ominous Christmas tree. But with a little luck and a lot of quick thinking and forward planning, you can send the trash flung your way right back at rivals as you continue to create full lines and chip away at your block-packed screen. If you were on the fence about buying into Nintendo's paid online play service, this intense, entertaining, and free twist on the puzzle classic might be just the push you need to take the plunge. Even if it's not quite the same kind of sensory delight as Tetris Effect, it's worth it just to see that a Tetris battle royale game can actually work, and works really damn well.



    Devil May Cry 5

    Devil May Cry 5
    Developer: Capcom
    Publisher: Capcom
    Released: March 2019
    Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One


    Bayonetta has been the undisputed queen of the stylish action game for a good few years, but the king is back now, and he's brought a few friends. DMC5's amazing over-the-top action is split between three separate characters – DMC4 star Nero brings interchangeable prosthetic arms in place of his old Devil Buster grab abilities, newcomer V offers a novel indirect combat system where his demonic minions do all the legwork, while series frontman Dante is back with an even more ridiculously packed arsenal of tricks and toys than ever before. Of the 20 missions, some dictate which character must be used, while others allow you to choose who to bring, with other players filling in for those you leave on the bench in a loose but nonetheless creative pseudo-co-op system.

    It's all very, very silly, in the best way possible, and feels like a true continuation of the series proper – 2013's DmC proved divisive in many respects, but this just picks up from the back end of DMC4 like Ninja Theory's reboot never happened and just goes full throttle from the off, never once letting up. It's amazing to look at, although the action is so frenetic and relentless that you might need to hand someone else the controller to truly drink it all in. A welcome comeback from one of the progenitor series of this niche genre, as well as being one of the easiest entry points for anyone who fancies turning simple button presses into ridiculously cool attack strings.



    Wargroove

    Wargroove
    Developer: Chucklefish
    Publisher: Chucklefish
    Released: February 2019
    Platforms: PC, Switch, Xbox One


    Nintendo's Advance Wars tracks pretty high on our (absolutely not made up) series-we-miss-ometer, so it's reassuring to see that we apparently aren't the only ones craving cartoony turn-based strategy. After several delays, Chucklefish eventually came good with this spiritual successor to the Advance Wars legacy, and it was well worth the wait. If Fire Emblem comes on a bit strong and Disgaea throws around numbers beyond your comprehension (which it absolutely does, no matter how high you think you can count), this return to the simple old ways of doing turn-based map battles will likely be exactly the kind of alternative you're looking for.

    As well as a bunch of its own character-based campaigns to play through, Wargroove even offers the ability to craft and play out your own stories and branching narratives, allowing for potentially endless play as these creations can be shared with and enjoyed by the whole community across multiple platforms. The colourful visual style oozes charm and helps make the strategy side of things feel a little less heavy, although make no mistake – it's still a deep and rewarding slice of strategic wargaming, where one wrong move or smart use of a commander's Groove power can turn the tide of battle in a single turn. There are a host of cooperative and competitive multiplayer options too, so the fun never has to end.



    Kingdom Hearts III

    Kingdom Hearts III
    Developer: Square Enix
    Publisher: Square Enix
    Released: January 2019
    Platforms: PS4, Xbox One


    In all honesty, we're still struggling to come to terms with the fact that Kingdom Hearts III actually exists. Chatter around the crossover sequel first began well over a decade ago, and even its eventual announcement came almost six years back, and in that time, there have been myriad spin-offs and side games released to try to help make sense of the series' convoluted narrative. The operative word there is 'try' – in actual fact, they sort of made things worse, but that's where this third and final mainline release in this particular saga comes in, and boy, does it ever have a lot of loose ends to tie up.

    Even if you don't (or can't) untangle the ridiculous narrative spaghetti, there's still a lot to love about Kingdom Hearts III. The over-the-top action-RPG is a whistle-stop tour of many of your favourite Disney and Pixar universes, and there's no better way to fully immerse yourself in the worlds of popular movies like Frozen and Toy Story than through these beautiful and faithful recreations. It's a crazy crossover and no mistake, but it's also an unparalleled opportunity for Disney fans to dive deeper into the worlds they love, and it's well worth playing for that reason alone.



    Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown

    Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown
    Developer: Project Aces
    Publisher: Bandai Namco
    Released: January 2019
    Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One


    We've long had a soft spot for the Ace Combat series, and this latest instalment is arguably the best its fusion of high-skill dogfighting and fast-paced, almost arcade-like action has ever been. Set against the backdrop of several fictional warring states, Skies Unknown tells a genuinely interesting story – rare among most similar military vehicular action games but not uncommon for this series in particular – and you'll be as captivated by what happens between mission as what goes down during them. It looks pretty great generally but the impressive weather effects really steal the show, creating treacherous canyon runs in low visibility and dense pockets on thunderclouds that brave and/or stupid pilots can use to try and lose pursuers in at the risk of frying their cockpit systems.

    On top of the campaign, there's a multiplayer suite for anyone who wants to see how their skills hold up against the world's greatest virtual pilots, and PS4 players also get a fantastic bonus in the form of an exclusive VR mini-campaign. The speed of the game and the full freedom of movement in three dimensions make for an intense experience that is one of the best available on the platform right now, and even though missions are simplified and visuals take a bit of a hit to ensure perfect performance, it still looks and feels absolutely phenomenal.



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