The strong year the industry needed before a new generation
My game of the year: Resident Evil 2
I spent the vast majority of this year as an observer rather than as a player, which means that this is going to be a strange pick for one very simple reason: I’m not a horror game fan at all, and I didn’t actually play Resident Evil 2 in full. I’m sure that’s going to make this a controversial pick, and that’s fine; Resident Evil 2 isn’t getting my pick because it’s the best game I played in 2019, and it’s not getting my pick because it’s an amazing game (although based on what I’ve seen, it is) — it’s getting my pick because it is exactly what I think about when I see a 20-year-old title getting re-released at full price.
One of my biggest pet peeves over the past few years has been seeing how many remasters are being released at full retail price despite only really including graphical improvements. I loved Final Fantasy VIII Remastered because Square Enix had the conscience and the respect to understand that it’s only a partial remaster, so it should only be sold for a portion of the full retail price, but then there are other remasters that don’t include much more than a touch of paint and some extraneous features commanding full retail price, and I don’t understand it. That’s why Resident Evil 2 stands out to me: it’s the first of the full-on remakes. By harnessing the technological advancements of two incredible decades, Capcom was able to create an even scarier, even more intense experience for us all to relive; it stays true enough to the source material that we know it’s a remake, but it captures what we all saw back in 1998, when those pixelated graphics felt just so very real.
If nothing else, Resident Evil 2’s success has made me so very excited to see what Square Enix can do with the Final Fantasy VII Remake, and it’s given me hope that I might yet see remakes of some of the other incredible experiences I had as a child. That makes it a more-than-worthy pick for a Game of the Year.
Honourable Mention: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
Instead of continuing to try and reinvent the wheel and keep up with all the innovations we’ve seen in other, somewhat-similar properties, Infinity Ward finally realised that what most Call of Duty fans want out of their Call of Duty games is, well, a Call of Duty game. Obviously, Modern Warfare has a few more modern touches than the earlier titles, but this is a Call of Duty the way they used to be made: no gimmicks, no ridiculous multi-level maps and gimmicky-but-still-terrible weapons, no exo-suits, none of it; it’s just you and your guns. It’s got a great foundation, a gripping campaign, a strong Multiplayer offering, and a healthy infusion of nostalgia — and it all comes together to create exactly the Call of Duty release that us old heads wanted to see.
2019’s biggest hits and misses:
Hit: The community’s fight for what’s right Over the past year, we’ve seen the community — and the industry as a whole — come together to fight against some particularly shitty business practices. The most prominent of these practices has been the “crunch” culture that has, for lack of a better word, infected many studios, but John’s going to talk about that a little more tomorrow so I’ll gloss over that one, sufficing to say that I’m glad people are starting to talk about the human cost of game development. What I’m going to zero in on is the movement that began (at least within the games industry) with Cecilia DiStefano’s exposé on Riot Games’ despicable “culture of sexism”, and the amount of other developers who that article empowered to come out as victims of similar sexism and poor workplace conduct. In an increasingly diverse industry, these kinds of practices simply can’t be allowed to continue, and it’s wonderful to see (most of) the games community coming together to make sure that it doesn’t.
Miss: Microsoft’s naming conventions Microsoft copped considerable flack for calling its eighth-generation console the “Xbox One”, and it didn’t stop when the computing giant released the Xbox One S in 2016 or the Xbox One X in late 2017. Apparently, that flack was lost on absolutely everybody with any power to make a decision in Redmond, Washington or elsewhere, and Microsoft has chosen to go with “Xbox Series X” for its ninth-generation console. You know, a very similar naming convention to the console that appeared on so many Christmas lists just a year or two ago? Yeah, we’re going to end up with some very confused parents, and some very amused (or very angry, let’s be honest here) kids, next Christmas.
Miss: EA’s treatment of its FIFA community For all of its flaws (and there were many), FIFA 19’s live content offering was the best we’ve seen outside of a World Cup year since Ultimate Team began, and as we hit January it’s clear that the company plans to make that a thing going forward. Unfortunately, though, despite the company’s claim that “10,000 eyes” check over any and every content release before it goes live, FIFA 20’s live offering is still riddled with mistakes, and EA simply has no idea how to deal with them. Case in point: if it’s an issue that makes life easier for the players, it gets dealt with within hours (the Prime Icon SBC exploit from FIFA 19, for instance); if it’s one that screws the players over, though, such as this week’s FUT Champions Player Pick debacle… It took two days. These are two isolated examples, but this company has shown its players time and time again that it doesn’t care about them — all it cares about is its bottom line, and unfortunately it knows that people are going to keep contributing to that no matter how many times it gives them the finger.
What I’m looking forward to in 2020:
Hades’ full release… On PlayStation 4 (hopefully!): I’m a massive fan of Supergiant Games as a studio; its first three releases (Bastion, Transistor and Pyre) are among some of the best single-player experiences I’ve had in my time, and so I’m genuinely excited to see how its next release, Hades, will turn out. It doesn’t look like Supergiant is stepping too far out of its comfort zone as far as gameplay is concerned, which is really not an issue given that the studio has absolutely mastered what it likes to do, but this is the team’s first go at telling a story in a setting it hasn’t created from scratch — and Greek mythology is one Hades of a place to start!
The only real problem I have based on what I’ve seen so far is the fact that it’s coming to PC first, and there’s no date for the console version… I’m just hoping that comes out sooner rather than later.
Seeing where the Switch goes from here: Early in its life cycle, I was convinced that Nintendo was going to kill the Switch by neglecting it in the same way it did the Wii U — I even had a massive article in the works looking at the patterns I was seeing — but the company has done a phenomenal job proving me very, very wrong over the past year and a half. By mixing new releases from its most beloved first-party franchises, bringing a few major third-party titles into the handheld realm and, most importantly, embracing the independent development scene that has gotten so very much out of the Switch, Nintendo has cemented the console’s place as a real must-have, and I am so happy to see it.
I plan to pick a Switch up in 2020 (somewhere in between saving every penny I earn for my wedding), and I’m excited to see where Nintendo can take it.
The Final Fantasy VII remake: Final Fantasy VII defined and popularised a genre, a studio and an entire platform when it originally hit the shelves in 1997, and went on to make a huge number of “Best Game of All Time” lists as the years went by. It was a truly incredible game, not only for its time but in general, and with Square Enix hitting its straps over the past couple of years I couldn’t be more excited to see how this remake turns out.
Obviously, the rest of the ninth console generation: Of course, they’re shiny new toys for us all to play with, but a new console generation is always such a wonderful thing because it gives us the chance to imagine what could be possible. There’s never a better time to be in games journalism than when all the news starts coming out and we start to really see what these consoles are going to be capable of, but more than that it’s just so exciting to see what developers are going to come up with. My biggest hope for this generation has nothing to do with the games we’ll have to play, though; I just hope that the consoles will last the entire decade or so, even if I do have to pay a little more for it.
I had a really crazy, really amazing year in my personal life, so gaming took a bit of a back seat and I spent the year watching the industry with interest. As a whole, though, 2019 was a strong year for the games industry — not the strongest, don’t get me wrong, but it was the net positive the industry really needed heading into a new decade and a new console generation. I’m super excited for gaming’s 2020, and I’m even more excited to cover it here on Doublejump!