A quiet year as the industry looks to save things for the new decade
2019 Game of the Year: Dirt Rally 2.0
I’m going to preface my article by saying I have continued my trend of not purchasing too many games in its release year and instead searching for titles from years past, as either pre-owned or Game of the Year editions. I mostly find that if I can be patient and wait a year or two, I can get that same game for much cheaper, and with all its bugs ironed out.
So, while I haven’t played too many games from 2019, the one that I enjoyed the most was Codemasters’ latest rally simulation, Dirt Rally 2.0. Departing from the simcade-oriented Dirt 4, the Rally brand focuses more on a realistic approach to the sport, encouraging players to drive cautiously on stages so that their car takes minimal damage across varying terrains. While some tracks, like Australia, are mostly flat and easy to navigate, there are a few locations, such as Argentina, which feature particularly tricky sections of hills and mountains, where your car can easily plunge off the side of a cliff and face terminal damage.
There are many beloved rally classics across the decade, and Dirt Rally 2.0 is a love letter to a sport with a rich history spanning more than five decades. Whether it’s modern Asian rally stars like Subaru, Hyundai or Mitsubishi, or the legendary European models of the 70s and 80s like Lancia, Peugeot and Audi, every vehicle in Dirt Rally 2.0 is perfectly crafted and a joy to drive. The game lacks the jump-in factor that Dirt 4 has, but there is a deep career mode which lets you experience the thrills of competition across many rally disciplines.
Honourable mention: Untitled Goose Game
I’ve always believed in supporting your local games industry. Promoting the growth of the Melbourne indie scene is particularly important to me. Untitled Goose Game, developed by the local House House – which previously brought us Push Me, Pull You – is an absolute riot to play and one of the most uniquely original concepts I’ve seen in a game. You play as a “horrible” goose, and your goal is to check off a number of tasks for the goose to enjoy his day. These goals include trapping a kid into a phone booth and stealing a farmer’s rake – basically, being a jerk towards everyone. The art style is wonderfully childish and the music, composed by Dan Golding, adds a layer to the game which shifts in mood and tone depending on whether you’re a stealthy goose or a crazy goose.
Honourable mention: Dead or Alive 6
Dead or Alive 6 is the latest entry in Team Ninja’s long-running fighting/costume collecting series. The game’s engine has vastly improved over the fifth game, featuring crisper animations and cleaner character designs. Controversy arose before the game’s launch after Team Ninja altered most of the character models to be less sexualised and more streamlined, but the end result was a game with more polish, continuing what I think is the best fighting game series.
I have always loved the series for its rich cast of characters, and there is no exception for the latest DoA debutant, Diego. The only frustrating thing about Dead or Alive 6 is that the money-grabbing season passes, filled with dozens of costumes, are still present. The season passes in DoA5 totalled north of $1,200, and I wouldn’t be surprised if DoA6 reaches a four-figure total as well.
Honourable mention: What the Golf?
What the Golf? is another take on the mini-golf craze, but unlike a lot of other ones that just give you silly courses and power-ups, What the Golf? completely subverts the genre. Sometimes you might be hitting the ball, other times you’re the club. Every hole is completely different, and with hundreds of levels, there’s so much variety in the game. The developer calls it “the golf game for people who hate golf”, and that’s fairly accurate. It provides a fun and zany campaign, and there are plenty of shoutouts and collectibles to unlock.
The most wonderful part of What the Golf? is it not only is a fun golf alternative, but it is also incredibly self-referential, with shout-outs to many of the most popular indie titles over the past decade or so. What the Golf? has levels based on Portal, Superhot, Absolute Drift, Happy Wheels, and several others. The campaign takes a fair while to complete, but there’s so much going on that it’s entirely fresh with each new world you enter.
2019’s biggest disappointments:
Voidpoint Studios and the Ion Fury drama
Earlier this year, Voidpoint Studios released a 90s throwback game in the vein of Duke Nukem. Like those games, Ion Fury is filled with the same kind of jokes and humour present in those games. One such gag is from a shampoo bottle hidden inside a bathroom, with a fictionalised version of the Olay brand – in this case, they went with “Ogay.”
While it’s a shit joke and one that you’d probably find in an episode of South Park, it’s not so much the joke that’s the issue – it’s the aftermath. ResetEra users picked up on the joke and began to encourage each other, and the wider community, to avoid purchasing the game due to the homophobic slur; the “campaign” got even more attention when screenshots of the forum posts surfaced on Twitter and the developer promised to patch the slur – and many others – out of the game.
Of course, that brought about a collection of people who thought the change was an attack on free speech. Ion Fury got review-bombed on Steam, with people encouraging others to avoid it because the slurs weren’t in the game, until the studio caved and put the slurs back – commenting on its creative integrity with a “fuck censorship” vibe. The whole thing left a really sour taste in my mouth; it just felt like Voidpoint was tapping into the Duke Nukem franchise’s edginess, but without any of the creativity (and I don’t even like the Duke franchise to begin with…).
‘Ellie’ and the drama behind the Overwatch scandal
One of the biggest stories from the beginning of 2019 was the tale of “Ellie”, an Overwatch player who seemingly came from nowhere to burst onto the pro scene. Early last year, “Ellie” joined an Overwatch Contenders team called Second Wind, but her profile on the team’s website appeared to be bare-bones compared to her teammates. People were so skeptical of Ellie’s very existence that they made it their mission to unveil her true identity.
Long story short, Ellie wasn’t even a real person, despite attempts to make it seem authentic. Overwatch player Punisher used it as a smurf account, and reportedly spoke to other women in an attempt to goad others into pretending to be her. The whole thing was a mess, and Punisher believed it was all to show that women are given preferential treatment in the gaming world, which is a load of bullshit.
The most disappointing part of the whole ordeal, though, was the way in which the esports community went after “Ellie”, attempting to uncover the person behind the name. The ramifications of this are twofold: on one hand, it shows that there are people out there who believe that women simply don’t belong in esports, and it continues a nasty trend of gatekeeping our hobby. For what appeared to be a silly little prank/social experiment, Punisher not only damaged his own personal brand, but also inadvertently risked the legitimacy of women choosing to go pro in their favourite esports. In either case, it is going to dissuade women from participating in professional gaming.
Everything that the Google Stadia represents
Google has already been in the game scene for a while, with its Google Play mobile storefront present on every Android device, but the company made perhaps its biggest move into the industry when it revealed a new streaming-based console service known as Google Stadia.
Stadia is basically everything I don’t want games to be: streaming games from your internet, instead of owning a physical copy. I’m already against the idea of digital distribution, but having to stream them is another problem altogether – Australia’s internet speeds are so inconsistent that I couldn’t see myself voluntarily investing in a Stadia anytime soon. I never outright want systems to fail, but I hope that Stadia doesn’t end up a success, if only so that its business model isn’t made the norm by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo.
The Fallout 1st pass live service debacle
I’ve never been a fan of Bethesda’s, and it could be easy for me to take another dump on the studio, but when it comes to the continuously-terrible Fallout 76… Bethesda deserves all the shit it gets and more. It would have been all well and good if the studio just released the game and supported it, but it decided to try and squeeze every penny it could from the players through a “Fallout 1st” player pass, priced at either $14 per month or $99 per year.
Despite the fact that I have little to no interest in Bethesda’s release schedule, I wouldn’t have been as upset with this news if the company decided to implement an EA Access-style service for the same price point. Instead, this is just going to a single game – a terrible one at that – and it’s only offering things that should be included as part of a free update, like unlimited storage and fast travel locations. Anyone who willingly pays for Fallout 1st is, in my humble opinion, a goose.
Yoshida and Fils-Aime announce their departures
This isn’t so much a case of being disappointed as it is lamenting the end of a generation. Both Sony’s president Shuhei Yoshida, and the head of Nintendo’s American branch, Reggie Fils-Aime, left after more than a decade of being the faces of their respective teams. Yoshida was very much a proud Sony partner, and a big part of why the PlayStation 4 was the dominant console this generation, while Fils-Aime was a champion of Nintendo’s family-oriented approach who really boosted the brand in the West. Both of them will be sadly missed.
What I’m looking forward to in 2020:
I’m not the only person to put this game on their 2020 wishlist, and that’s because it’s been on all of our wishlists for a number of years now. Cyberpunk 2077 is a video game sequel to the classic tabletop game Cuberpunk 2020. The game has been delayed multiple times – even to the point where there was a time where people thought it would never see the light of day – but CD Projekt Red, fresh off its success with 2015’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, is set to continue its RPG dominance into the new decade.
In The Witcher series, CD Projekt Red gave us an authentic universe based on spells and swordsmanship, and I would love to see the studio really nail the cyberpunk genre as well; if any team is capable of delivering on such a hefty goal, it’s this one. While 2019 was mostly about the indie titles superseding the AAA barrier, look for Cyberpunk 2077 to be a big reason why the blockbuster titles bounce back this year.
Dontnod’s 2020 lineup
Dontnod has been my favourite developer for some time now, and following the second entry in the Life is Strange series, the French studio is planning two new IPs this year. The first is Twin Mirror, which puts the player in the shoes of investigative journalist Sam, and tasks them with solving a mystery. I love games where there’s an investigation to work through, be it L.A. Noire or even Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, so I’m very keen for this one.
Tell Me Why looks to be more in line with the Life is Strange series, in which the character Tyler is a transgender male returning to his hometown with his twin sister Alyson. I truly hope that Dontnod can make Tyler a relatable character, because we haven’t really seen trans characters from major studios. In both cases, Dontnod’s style, where the player’s choices impacting on future events, is one that I will be very keen to explore in these two unique narratives. Both games will also be launching in an episodic format.
A new Forza/Gran Turismo with the launch of the Xbox Series X/PlayStation 5
Microsoft and Sony will both be releasing their new systems next year, and there’s every chance that at least one of them – and possibly both – will launch with a new title in their flagship sim racer. Both games are often used as a graphical demonstration of exactly what the console is capable of, and it’s getting harder and harder to distinguish the games from reality as the PlayStation and Xbox’s graphical capabilities grow. Therefore, I think it would be practical for the new consoles to release a sequel to demonstrate their graphical prowess.
I believe that Forza will be more likely of the two to launch, in the form of Forza Motorsport 8, as Turn 10 has managed to put out a new game every other year since the first game came out in 2005, whereas Polyphony Digital has only released seven mainline Gran Turismo titles (six, as well as Gran Turismo Sport) since its original release in 1998. However, Sony has already confirmed that a seventh mainline title is in the works, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was one ready to go by the time the PS5 drops late next year.
There’s a lot that could be on the radar in 2020, and I am more optimistic for this year than I was for 2019. While AAA development didn’t dominate like it did in 2018, there was still a lot on offer for gamers, as other Doublejump staff have shown in their Best of 2019 articles. I’m really interested in what Dontnod will bring to the table for next year, and of course, the new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X will bring a bunch of new top-shelf games with it upon launch.