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The 10 best video games of 2019

Geese, ninjas, leather jackets, and more

It’s never easy narrowing down a list of the best games of the year, but 2019 seemed particularly difficult. There wasn’t a single blockbuster that dominated the conversation, games along the lines of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or God of War that everyone seemed to have on their list. That doesn’t mean it was a bad year for games — in fact, the depth and breadth of titles was impressive. During the voting process, The Verge staff called out 45 different games as ranking among their favorites.

After a lot of discussion — and a bit of arguing — we’ve managed to whittle that down to the 10 best games of the year. Check them out below.

Baba is You

Baba Is You

Baba Is You is both disarmingly cute and confoundingly clever. The puzzle game starts by asking the player (you) to move a little white rabbit (Baba) to a golden flag (win!), navigating standard virtual obstacles like walls, water, locked doors, and rocks.

The trick, however, is that all these symbols are arbitrary. There’s no logical reason that “you” have to be Baba instead of a wall, that a door should be unlocked with a key instead of a rock, or that the flag needs to signify winning instead of instant death. So in order to actually complete each level, you have to rewrite its rules on the fly by pushing words around the screen, ignoring the seemingly intuitive connections between objects and their purpose.

Baba Is You adds a new dimension to a familiar kind of spatial puzzle system, while still delivering that system’s satisfying blend of sudden inspiration and methodical trial and error. It’s also a delightful exploration of how video games build narratives around completely abstract rules. Whether you’re playing a hopping rabbit or an ambulatory wall, you’re just moving pixels on a screen — but one of those things is still much, much funnier. — Adi Robertson

Control

Control

What would happen if you took The X-Files, threw it in a blender with the Southern Reach trilogy, and seasoned generously with elements of Metroid and Zelda? You’d get something that looks a lot like Control. The latest action game from Alan Wake studio Remedy, Control is a supernatural thriller where players take on the role of Jesse, the newly appointed director of a paranormal government agency called the Federal Bureau of Control. It’s not long before things go wrong.

Almost the entirety of the game takes place inside The Oldest House, a strangely appropriate title for the FBC’s headquarters. It’s a sprawling brutalist structure, one hiding all kinds of unsettling secrets. The atmosphere is incredible: you’ll wander into rooms full of floating bodies, all chanting in unison, set amid otherwise mundane office furniture.

While Control is an action game — one filled with plenty of shootouts, a magical gun, and superhero-style psychic powers — at its heart it’s about exploration, as you delve further into the building in an attempt to understand its many mysteries. There’s a wonderfully cyclical structure at play: in order to learn more, you have to explore and unlock powers, which in turn lets you reach new areas to find even more secrets. You won’t have all the answers at the end, but Control will be the most fun you have reading redacted emails. — Andrew Webster

Devil May Cry 5

Devil May Cry 5

There’s a scene in Devil May Cry 5 where one of the leather-clad heroes lifts up a motorcycle, rips it in half, and uses those pieces as weapons to kill demonic monsters. Really, what else do you need to know?

DMC5 is a modern action game in its purest form. It’s refreshingly linear and wonderfully straightforward. Your goal is always clear: kill all the bad guys. Then, when you’re finished that, you move on to the next area to take on even more enemies. But that doesn’t mean it’s boring. DMC5 is painfully stylish, with fast, thrilling combat that puts an emphasis on looking good. You even get graded on your style at the end of each level.

It’s also helped by having three different playable characters, each of which is very different from the last, and an almost overwhelming number of weapons and upgrades that keep things fresh. That moment when you rip a motorcycle in half? It’s not even the coolest scene in the game. — Andrew Webster

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a lot of things. It’s a game that sees the turn-based tactical strategy series return to a home console for the first time in over a decade. It’s also a Persona-esque life simulator that has players juggling the wants and needs of their students. You could call it a tea party-based dating simulator.

The magic of Three Houses is that it manages to keep all those aspects together, with each mechanic feeding into the next. Combat helps your units grow stronger in specific traits, like magic and specific weapons; that experience in turn helps them succeed in lessons and training at school, which further enhances their abilities. Students who battle together grow closer, giving them deeper relationships that, in return, give combat boosts the next time they enter a fight.

But it’s not just about the mechanics. Three Houses boasts a cast of complicated characters and branching story paths that force players to pick and choose their allies and take up arms against their former friends. It’s a deep narrative that tries to portray the conflicts from multiple sides. Three Houses doesn’t just have some of the best combat in a Fire Emblem game to date. It makes you care about why you’re fighting, too. — Chaim Gartenberg

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

Link’s Awakening remains one of the most enigmatic and beloved titles in the sprawling Legend of Zelda series. The game was released for the original Game Boy back in 1993 as the fourth Zelda game; this was a half-decade before the groundbreaking Ocarina of Time. Yet, Link’s Awakening broke with tradition in ways few games in the series have since, making its 2019 remake a cause for celebration among longtime Nintendo fans.

In the original, famed game writer Takashi Tezuka alongside collaborator and Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto, brought players to a brand-new mysterious locale, the island of Koholint, that featured dreamy, almost surrealist storylines and settings. There was no land of Hyrule, no Master Sword, and no Zelda to be rescued. Instead, players were sent on a quest to collect musical instruments across an island composed mostly of talking animals, all to raise the all-powerful Wind Fish from a deep slumber.

The 2019 remake preservers every element of the game to a tee, save its visuals. The new tilt shifted aesthetic gives the game a toy-like diorama effect that’s stunning to behold. It makes revisiting the game’s rather straightforward puzzles and rudimentary combat both a trip down memory lane and a Zelda art tour of sorts. Much of the joy in playing this remade classic is in seeing it reimagined in such a vibrant, unique fashion — even if it is a bit breezy by modern Zelda standards. — Nick Statt

Outer Wilds

Outer Wilds

Outer Wilds is designed to deceive. Its box art makes it look like a cutesy forest exploration game, and the first half hour doesn’t really do a lot to change that impression. But anyone who has played the game for a significant amount of time will tell you to keep playing, or “Just wait until it clicks!” And does it ever click.

Outer Wilds caught me totally by surprise. Once I got comfortable with the floaty controls, I started to see what makes it special. It’s a run-based space adventure game, which, sure — I’ll take one of those. But, more than that, it’s a set of refined gameplay systems that elegantly mirror the narrative about the trials (and eventual failures) of ancient beings looking for answers to the big questions in life. How far they got to finding enlightenment about the “grand plan,” and how you’re able to reach those parts of the universe, are each similarly wound up in an intricate arrangement that takes hours to unspool. All you need to get to the end is curiosity.

In a year where Sekiro let me hack and parry my way to victory, and Fire Emblem: Three Houses turned me into a master tactician, Outer Wilds brought something totally different. It requires dedication to see the credits roll — but you simply won’t find another game that gives you this amount of profound things to do. — Cameron Faulkner

Pokemon Sword Shield

Pokémon Sword and Shield

Game Freak has been making Pokémon games for more than 20 years. The number of catchable creatures and places to visit has grown across eight generations since the original games, Red and Blue, but not much else has changed. Now the series has made its way from Game Boy beginnings to Nintendo consoles with Sword and Shield’s arrival on the Switch. It’s a tricky task to continually improve on the franchise, especially when there’s been little reinvention when it comes to the main series.

That’s part of what makes Sword and Shield such a delight. The hallmarks are all there — gathering a unique team, challenging rivals, and fighting your way to the top — but with new ideas to round out the experience. Gym battles feel epic in stadiums full of screaming fans. Raids with friends (or AI) give players the chance to grab special pokémon. A huge Wild Area offers the chance to roam and explore new areas in a way past games have not; being out on the road also means you get to spend more time with your team by camping.

Sword and Shield feel fuller and fresher than the series has in years. Instead of another rote adventure, they breathe much-needed life back into an otherwise familiar journey. — Megan Farokhmanesh

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

If the sign of a good game is that you enjoy playing it even when you’re terrible at it, then Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is an all-time classic up there with QWOP and Ikaruga. I still haven’t finished it, I possibly never will, and I don’t hold that against it. It’s me, not Sekiro.

From Software’s latest action game clearly builds on the studio’s previous titles like Bloodborne and Dark Souls, with a similar structure based on exploration and resetting enemy positions whenever you need to relax and cash in your experience. The combat system, however, is wholly new. It’s From’s tightest and fastest game yet, incentivizing players to go on the offense and rewarding flawless parrying.

Every time I die (twice) in Sekiro, I know why it was my fault. That makes it all the more satisfying when I do push forward and manage to overcome my tormentor. Couple this with a fascinating world fueled by a rich, original take on Japanese ninja legend, and Sekiro turns out to be a rewarding experience, no matter how much time you pour into it. If only I had more. — Sam Byford

Telling Lies

Telling Lies

Back in 2015, Sam Barlow released a curious game called Her Story. It was an experience almost entirely about watching short video clips; players trawled through police interrogation videos in order to piece together the details of a murder mystery. It was a compelling crime drama unlike anything else — and with Telling Lies, Barlow has gone a step further.

The premise is similar. After players uncover a stolen hard drive, they’re able to search a database of video clips, all of which capture four main characters in various conversations. The clips span two years, and you won’t be seeing them in chronological order. The trick is to find specific clues — the name of a person or place, or maybe a specific event or object — and then search it to uncover more details.

It’s incredibly engrossing, wrapping you up in a mystery with all of the requisite twists and turns. Telling Lies is significantly more complex than Her Story, but it evokes the same sensation, making you feel like a detective slowly piecing together a vast mystery. — Andrew Webster

Untitled Goose Game

Untitled Goose Game has a button devoted solely to honking. As a very bad goose, your purpose is to drive the residents of a small town crazy with your annoying antics. Sometimes this means a well-timed honk that makes a gardener hammer his own thumb; sometimes it means stealing a boy’s glasses and chasing him into a phone booth.

It’s a puzzle game driven by mischief. Each new space you wander into comes with a list of obnoxious tasks to accomplish, wherein the reward is more opportunities to wreak harmless havoc. Unofficial motto: honk loudly and break things. After its release, it was the bestselling game on Switch; it’s now available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Untitled Goose Game began as a goof among House House’s developers, but it grew into a cultural phenomenon that inspired fan art, parodies, memes, and tweets from celebrities like Chrissy Teigen. Its adorable aesthetic, simple play style, and low price made it instantly accessible for a mainstream crowd; viral status made it a curiosity even for people who don’t usually pick up video games. Untitled Goose Game solidified a universal truth: sometimes, you just want to be an asshole. — Megan Farokhmanesh

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