The usual disclaimer applies: Don’t read too much into the order of these games. I tried to sort them from best to extra-best, but such ordering is inherently arbitrary. Don’t hold me to this. Maybe five years from now I’ll still be talking about and playing the #5 game, and I’ll have forgotten the #1. I do what I can, but putting games into a specific order is silly.
Anyway, let’s get on with it…
If we were to order games by how much time they ate upAnd if we only count games that came out this year. then Satisfactory would easily claim my top spot. You might remember that Factorio took my #1 spot back in 2016. This game scratched that same itch, and it scratched it for weeks before I finally lost interest.
Like Factorio, you build machines to harvest raw materials and use conveyors to carry those materials to machines where they are made into more machines that you can then use to expand your nature-devouring industrial complex. The difference is that Satisfactory is played from a first-person perspective. Here you’re trading a bit of raw complexity for more immersion. Satisfactory isn’t nearly as deep as Factorio, but there’s something to be said for having the freedom to climb a tower and look out over your vast industrial crime with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
The game is still in Early Access and right now the balance and progression are a bit oddYou can’t build trains until you’ve already constructed a vastly inferior transport network, at which point the last thing you want to do is tear it all down to make room for a train., the controls need more polishThey STILL haven’t fixed the months-old bug where the camera controls get flipped when driving if you use inverted mouse controls., and the building interface is a bit wonkyThe collision boxes on items is really unpredictable and often it won’t let you build an item even though it seems like there’s lots of room.. If you were obsessed with Factorio then you probably own this already. If not, then you should probably give this one a little more time. It’s good now, but it’ll probably be a lot better in a few months.
The SCP FoundationSCP stands for Secure, Contain, Protect. is fictional government organization focused on protecting the world from paranormal threats. It’s basically the FBI, but for ghosts, telekinesis, dimensional rifts, haunted items, Old Gods, demonic spooks, and other assorted supernatural troublemakers.
The community maintains the SCP Foundation through a wiki featuring short fiction pieces presented as agency case files.
A lot of people rolled their eyes at Control, saying, “Pfft. It’s just SCP Foundation, The Video Game. It’s not an original idea.”
I just don’t get this line of thinking. We’ve had an uncountable number of games about soldiers, mercenaries, space marines, ex-cops, and adventurers. This is the first game where we get to play as the Spook Police, and the fact that the premise comes from another medium doesn’t reduce the novelty of this game.
Maybe you’re wondering what this game is doing so high on my end-of-year list. Didn’t I spend three weeks bitching about it earlier this year? It’s true that the combat got on my nerves, the self-unbalancing difficulty was obnoxious, and the constant firefights got in the way of the cool haunted house atmosphere. This would have been a better game if the combat had been less frequent, but it was still a really good game.
The environment designs were spectacular, the worldbuilding was top notch, and Dr. Caspar Darling’s expositional videos were made of pure charm.
#1 Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order EA™
To talk about this game, we need to talk about Dark Souls.
I love the idea of Dark Souls. I love the atmosphere. I love the way it tells a story through the world. I love perfectible combat systems based on timing and pattern recognition. I love games where foes seem insurmountable at first and gradually become trivial not because you leveled up and got a better gun, but because you mastered the game’s systems. I love the environments, the isolation, and the atmosphere.
Unfortunately, I can’t stand the harsh punishments the game deals out when you fail. It’s harsh enough to be a complete deal breaker for me.
I hate when you die to a new foe and you have to traverse several minutes of traps and trash mobs to get back to where you were so you can have another go at them. It makes my blood boil. It’s bad for my health, bad for the people who live with me who don’t like the shouting, and bad for my budget because controllers are expensive. Yes, I’m aware that it feels really good to master a foe and ace a fight that used to give you so much trouble. I love that feeling too, which is why I love Batman so much. The problem isn’t the task itself, it’s the impediment to practicing.
In the past I’ve described it as trying to learn to play the piano, except when you flub a note you have to go outside and dribble a basketball for two minutes. This slows down the learning process. The punishment for failure is that the game designer will devour a couple of minutes of your actual life before they allow you to tackle the task again. Worse, that extra gap between attempts makes it more likely I’ll repeat the same mistakes. When I mess up, I want to try again as quickly as possible. This time penalty isn’t just frustrating to me, it’s offensive.
Yes, yes. I know. It’s all part of the tone. It’s built into the lore of the world. It’s a required part of the experience. This is how the game designer wants you to feel. It’s all about perseverance. And so on. I’ve heard it all before. And fine. Those things are all probably true. But I still hate it and it still makes me miserable. I’m not saying Dark Souls needs to be changed to suit my tastes, I’m just telling you why I can’t play the damn thing.
Star Wars Colon Jedi Colon Fallen Order EA Trademark Symbol manages to keep things just barely within my tolerance for punishment. There were a few moments in this game that really set me off and resulted in a lot of shouting and teeth-grinding. In particular, it really sucked during my first play-through when I’d run into the randomly-spawning boss mercenaries, get steamrolled, and realized I had an epic ten-minute hike back to where I died, only to discover the bosses were gone and I couldn’t do the fight again.
Whew. I can feel the adrenaline rising up just thinking about it.
The first playthrough was really frustrating, but once I got the timing down I really loved playing the game. It felt really good when I met up with the requisite masked Sith nemesis on my second playthrough. The first time I fought her, she wiped the floor with me a half dozen times before I beat her. In the second game, she barely touched my health bar and I cleaned her clock.
(And then a cutscene negated my skill and I lost the fight anyway by writer fiat, because demanding combat and fixed character-driven narratives are fundamentally incompatible. But I’ll talk more about that in my inevitable retrospective.)
The more I played this game, the more I liked it. The story wasn’t anything special, but it was a nice sampler from the big box of established Star Wars tropes.
I realize this all sounds mostly negative, and maybe you’re wondering why I gave this game my top spot. The thing is:
- I’ve been waiting since 2011 for something else to scratch that Batman itch of perfectible combat.
- I’ve been waiting since 2002 or 2003-ish for a decent Star Wars game.
It’s been a long wait, and finally one game managed to fulfill both of those needs. I’m willing to overlook a lot of other problems with Fallen Order because it delivers on these two key ingredients.
I had to stop myself from starting a third playthrough because I needed to get started on this end-of-year writeup. Sure, the protagonist is muted. The story plays things comically safe. The ending whiffs on pathos and instead goes for cheap fanservice. The level design is obnoxious. The comic relief character is only mildly amusing. But still.
She might not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts.
Since we’re wrapping up the decadeDon’t EVEN start with the “Actually, the new decade doesn’t start until 2021!” nonsense. I organize decades by the second digit. Deal with it., allow me to award the first-ever Twenty Sided…
Game of the Decade: Minecraft
I began the decade playing minecraft, and I ended the decade playing Minecraft. I played vanilla Minecraft. I played modded Minecraft. I played popular mods like Technic, Feed the Beast, and Skyblocks, and I played various obscure modpacks. I played modpacks I made myself. I played the original Java Edition. I played the ultra-fast but mod-proof Bedrock Edition.
I built castles, houses, vast underground chambers, sprawling factories, villages, and cities. I lived on the surface, I lived deep underground, I lived as a nomad, and I lived on mountaintops. I tried magic mods, industrial mods, RPG mods, survival mods, farming / cooking mods, and mods where you create and explore your own dimensions like the characters in the Myst series.
I played with texture packs, special shaders, and even with raytracing. I played in creative mode, I played in survival mode, and I played in mods where you play in survival long enough to earn all the powers of creative mode.
I played alone, I played on a LAN with my kids, and I played on a public server with the Twenty Sided community.
And yet, in all that time I barely scratched the surface of all the things you can do in Minecraft. I played only a fraction of the mods. I never tried adventure mode. I never did any PvP. I never tried any of the various absurdist challenge modes. In fact – and I’m not making this up – I’ve never personally beaten the game. I’ve never visited The End dimension, never fought the dragon, never saw the closing credits.
Minecraft isn’t just a good video game, it’s THE video game. For me it has supplanted Pong / Pac-Man as the universally recognizable symbol of the hobby.
So that’s it for 2019. Here are the games I’m looking forward to in 2020. These thoughts aren’t important now. I’m just writing these things here so I can refer back to them in 11 months.
The anticipation is sky high on this one. The game is still months away and already everyone is expecting that this will be their GOTY. I’m predicting that once this thing hits the shelves, we’ll get a kind of Skyrim-style backlash where people who aren’t playing the game will get sick to death of hearing about it.
Can CD Projekt RED live up to this hype? I don’t know, but I’m more than willing to give them $60 to find out.
Flight Simulator 2020
A flight simulator that will use real-world satellite data to populate the surface of the earth? Sign me up.
Then again, this is Microsoft we’re talking about. Their efforts in the PC gaming scene have been so bad that incompetence seems like an insufficient explanation. I want to believe that they’re sabotaging PC gaming on purpose for some reason, because I just can’t believe that anyone could be this horrendously terrible.
I guess we’ll find out.
Watch Dogs Legion
I know I’m usually pretty hard on Ubisoft for Uplay and their idiotic devotion to DRM. I dislike the way their open-world collect-a-thon design will take 4 hours of good content and smear it out over 20 hours of gameworld. I hate the way they keep dancing around the edge of political topics for cheap headlines but refusing to actually DO anything with those ideas, thereby making their worlds feel sort of empty and gutless. Like… I don’t particularly need you to take a stance on a controversial topic, but if you’ve got the audacity to bring up something inflammatory during my gaming funtimes, then you don’t get to cravenly slink away and pretend like you never said anything. Piss or get off the pot, you annoying soulless troll.
But damn it – Legion looks really interesting. It’s an open world game where you form a resistance group to smash the state or whatever and something something Brexit. The hook is that there is no main character. You can recruit random civilians off the streets, and any of them can die in the line of duty. Build your own goon squad! Play as an unassuming rebel granny assassin!
I don’t want to wait for reviews. I need to see this for myself.
System Shock Remake
Supposedly this will come out this year, more than two years past the original promised delivery date. It’s been a long road for this game. The demo released in December did not inspire confidence. It looks right. It feels right. But can they get the content done and polished before they ship it? I have no idea.
Kerbal Space Program 2
Will this have the same magic as the original? It’s made by a different team, and there’s no guarantee a new team will be able to recapture the gleeful fun of rapid unscheduled disassembly. Still, the promise of new Kerbal content is really exciting. I’m looking forward to putting these hapless green bastards into space again.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2
And now I feel bad for giving the Jedi game a hard time about its multi-part name. I saw the preview for this at E3 2019, and it looked really good.
The Firmament is a new game from the Cyan, of Myst fame. Their most recent game was Obduction, which I loved until the merciless loading screens drove me away. Even so, I’m always on board for what this team is doing.
Wait, wasn’t this supposed to come out this year? Oh, it was delayed to March 2020? Well, I hope the game has really strong initial sales, because it arrives about three weeks before Cyberpunk 2077. Once Cyberpunk hits the shelves, I expect the world is going to stop caring about Doom. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the last Doom game. But the first few months of 2020 are going to be completely and utterly gonzo crazy, and a lot of games are going to be fighting for second place on the sales charts. I’m pretty sure Bloodlines 2 was delayed specifically because it was scheduled for March, and there’s just too much stuff coming out at that point. Same goes for Watch Dogs Legion, which was also scheduled for March 2020.
I don’t have a VR headset so I’m not going to get to play this, but I’ll be glad to see Valve return to their roots. Even if I don’t play it personally, I’ll feel good if the game gets good reviews.
See You Again in 11 Months!
That’s what I’m looking forward to in 2020. At the end of the year I’ll come back to this list and we’ll see how it all turned out.
Here’s hoping 2020 is better than 2019.
 And if we only count games that came out this year.
 You can’t build trains until you’ve already constructed a vastly inferior transport network, at which point the last thing you want to do is tear it all down to make room for a train.
 They STILL haven’t fixed the months-old bug where the camera controls get flipped when driving if you use inverted mouse controls.
 The collision boxes on items is really unpredictable and often it won’t let you build an item even though it seems like there’s lots of room.
 SCP stands for Secure, Contain, Protect.
 Don’t EVEN start with the “Actually, the new decade doesn’t start until 2021!” nonsense. I organize decades by the second digit. Deal with it.
Good Robot Dev Blog
An ongoing series where I work on making a 2D action game from scratch.
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