It is that time of year, time to pick those titles that deserve special mention. It is time to highlight those games that grabbed us, disappointed us and surprised us. Welcome to the Player 2 End of Year Awards. First up, 2019s Surprise of the Year.
2019’s Surprise of the Year
Paul James – Untitled Goose Game
Untitled Goose Game always looked like a fun title, but what was the game? As it turns out, there was quite a lot of substance under the hood of the game. Yes, honking at the locals and ruining their day is fun, but it turns out, much to my surprise, that there was a whole lot more going on in the game. Really smart puzzle design, and a surprising wealth of things to do beyond the critical path made Untitled Goose Game a lot of bang for my buck, far more than I’d realised. Melbourne REPRESENT!
Shaun Nicholls – Need for Speed: Heat
After the lacklustre instalments of previous years I was pessimistic when Need for Speed: Heat was announced. Fortunately, as Hewso found out for himself, Heat is a spiritual successor to some of the best instalments in the series. The mix of sanctioned races, street racing, and car customisation is everything I want in a Need for Speed game.
Hope Corrigan – Pokemon Sword/Shield
This isn’t really a surprise in that in a lot of ways it was a game that is mostly like the ones before it but Pokemon Sword. Once I realised I didn’t have to play it at all for work purposes I realised I could do something I haven’t done in years, and that’s going into a Pokemon game fresh. I kept myself as blind as possible to everything about it and I can’t believe how much of a treat this turned out to be.
Everything in this game is prettier than I ever expected a Pokemon game to be, given they’re sticking with the cartoony style. I’d see Pokemon on the overworld or encounter them in the grass and for a decent chunk had no clue what they were. I remember sitting on the couch next to my partner and exclaiming ‘WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS’ and then minutes later ‘WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT’ and I think that’s the definition of surprising.
Stephen del Prado – Deadly Premonition: Origins
While critical evaluation of the game tends to swing wildly between extreme scores, I’ve always found Deadly Premonition charmingly bizarre – it’s objectively bad in a number of ways but is so earnest in its love for the properties it’s cribbing from that I can’t possibly stay mad at it. While I own it on both PS3 and the PC, neither has what could be considered great performance, which is why I was so surprised that the Switch port of Deadly Premonition actually feels very robust, especially in handheld mode which also helps to alleviate some of the more dated visual elements. It may be a bit odd that my biggest surprise this year was a game that didn’t run like garbage (post-patch, at least), but here we are.
Nick Getley – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
I’m not saying Call of Duty was of sub-par quality, but its engine was old and its core mechanics were identical in each game. You can chuck in wall-running and hero characters all you want, but that’s the equivalent of wrapping tinsel around a turd. CoD was stale, and the only thing left was to take it back to the drawing board and overhaul it.
It might not be as overhauled as it might have needed, but Call of Duty: Modern Warfare gets the most important part of gaming right: it’s fun. A brand-spanking-new engine has finally been introduced, allowing for higher detail environments, advanced photogrammetry, and better lighting. They introduced the mounting mechanic, allowing for players to brace against their environments in an effort to control recoil.
CoD is also changing the way it handles post-launch content, with free maps and updates available for everyone. An optional, paid version of the Battle Pass will also be available for those seeking extra rewards such as character and weapons skins.
It may not be Call of Duty at its peak, but this is more than a few steps in the right direction.
Matt Hewson – A Plague Tale: Innocence
Wow, out of nowhere a game about the black plague in 14th century France stole my heart. A Plague Tale was nowhere near my radar when it hit, so when I reviewed it I was blown away by just how good it was. This is a story told with a deft touch, weaving conspiracy, religion and the occult together like few games ever have. The stealth/puzzle focused gameplay was also immensely satisfying, with the use of light and the heaving masses of vermin a masterful, if wince-inducing, touch. This is easily in my top five games of the year and should be in yours. Don’t hesitate, this is a game that deserves your time and the fact that it came out of nowhere is the biggest surprise of all.
Adam Rorke – Death Stranding
The justification for my pick here is going to initially sound confusing and weird but hear me out. I never played a minute of Death Stranding. Still with me? Now let me explain why I picked this. I have watched countless hours of streamers play and complete this title, and I was completely hooked into its universe and story, I only made me want to know more as the game went on. Watching on stream, I naturally missed large segments and missions and being that this is a Kojima game, even if I did watch all of those, I’d still be just as lost and confused. By the end of watching one of my favourite streamers get to the final mission, I was fully invested, I wanted to know more and it’s on my buy list (to be bought after I finish my current pile of shame). I even bought a can of Monster Energy drink for God’s sake! For a game that I haven’t even played, to have an effect like that on me is something special and it sure as hell surprised me!
Dylan Burns – Days Gone
Nothing about this game looked remarkable and so when it got average reviews I let it slide. It was only later in the year, as a few people on Twitter talked about it and I watched some YouTube clips, that my interest grew. It finally came on special during a PSN sale, so I took the plunge and I have to say I’m glad I did. This is a game with so much heart and ambition. It doesn’t always reach what it’s aiming for, but I’ve definitely had moments that rival anything produced by Rockstar. The story is really heartfelt, with a protagonist that is relatable but also able to shock you with what he is forced to do to survive in this bleak world. Basically, it’s a cross between The Last of Us and Red Dead Redemption, with a bike instead of a horse. I love this game a lot. It sold pretty well, from what I hear, so hopefully, there’s a sequel. The soundtrack is also really good.
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