The best games of 2019 | Your essential guide to the top new titles of the year

Tom Hoggins
The best games of 2019, featuring Resident Evil 2, Apex Legends, Metro Exodus and Kingdom Hearts 3

Even as we prepare for a cloud gaming future and the launch of the Next Xbox and PlayStation 5 in 2020, this year has provided some stellar video games of its own.

Each month we will take a look back at the best new games released across consoles, PC and mobile. And with plenty more to come, we expect this list to grow. Don't forget to add your own suggestions for your favourite games in the comments below.

So from survival horror brilliance to fearsome Tetris competition, Nazi-gibbing to Mario-building, here are the best games of 2019 so far.

Best games of August

No Man’s Sky Beyond

No Man's Sky Beyond

Hello Games' hugely ambitious space exploration sim has gone from strength to strength since its launch in 2016. Beyond is the latest free update that adds to its already sprawling universe, but is significant enough to be sequel in everything but name. The headline addition of virtual reality is a revelation as you careen through the stars and immerse yourself in No Man’s Sky’s weird and wonderful planets.

Best games of July

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Wolfenstein Youngblood

This sisterly spin-off of MachineGames raucous shooter has split opinion in some camps. For us, its quasi open-world arenas of co-op combat are a riot, with two players thundering through Nazi-occupied 1980s Paris, turning the Gestapo into giblets. You play as the feisty, foul-mouthed offspring of Wolfenstein hero BJ Blaskowicz. Perhaps the one disappointment of the more open nature of Youngblood is that they don’t get the detailed story the twins deserve. But time in their company, and the company of friends, is well spent in the terrifically labyrinthine levels designed by Dishonored devs Arkane Studios.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Fire Emblem Three Houses

The long-awaited Switch debut of Nintendo's anime tactical RPG has surpassed the lofty expectations. Here, the series goes all Hogwarts as you choose a house of the Garreg Mach Monastery to teach. The choices you make impact a heartfelt and characterful narrative, while the tense, turn-based battling is as good as ever. 

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3

As Marvel and Square Enix busy themselves with the blockbusting Avengers game, it has been something of a surprise to see the Ultimate Alliance series return as a Switch exclusive. But this punchy, toybox adventure is well suited to Nintendo’s console; a game keen on evoking an old-school brawler sensibility as Marvel’s comic-book heroes --both famous and not so much-- kick seven bells out of the titular Black Order.

Best games of June

Super Mario Maker 2

Super Mario Maker 2

Nintendo's brilliant creation tool heads to Switch. In some ways Super Mario Maker was ideal for its first platform, Wii U, with a gloriously chunky and tactile toybox allowing you to throw together your own Mario creations. Endless goombas? Yes. Death-defying fire pole runs? Of course. Unfathomably intricate calculators made out of ice blocks, spiny shells and clouds? Sure, why not? The Switch version retains this, of course, but with a more content and sophistication. There is a pretty compelling single player adventure that toys with the creator's possibilities, while a separate 3D Mario World setting allows you to build 3D levels for the first time.

Judgment

Judgment

Any excuse to revisit Kamurocho is a welcome one. Sega's seedy, neon-swept district of Tokyo --as made famous by the Yakuza series-- now plays host to a series of grisly gangland murders. As lawyer turned private detective Takayuki Yagami, you must crack the case while cracking heads. And, of course, take the time to take in that city, playing UFO Catchers, chasing toupees and taking dates to the district's finest eateries. An ever potent mix of fun, eccentricity and gritty Yakuza storytelling.

Cadence of Hyrule

Cadence of Hyrule

The brilliant Crypt of the Necrodancer had you exploring a dungeon and slaying its monsters in time with the beat of the game’s tremendous score. Cadence of Hyrule takes the concept and turns the rhythm-based dungeon crawling into a full-blown Legend of Zelda adventure. That Nintendo allowed its precious property to be spun in such a way by indie developer Brace Yourself Games speaks volumes about its quality.

Best games of May

Outer Wilds

Outer Wilds

A beautiful sci-fi exploration game that can be equally relaxing and terrifyingly stressful, Outer Wilds sets you on a 22 minute time loop between your astronaut awakening on a planet and the local star going supernova. Each playthrough allows you to hone your piloting skills and learn more about the galaxy and its mysterious residents as you explore its planets. You will die often and often horribly, but Outer Wilds is more a game about hope and progress, opening up new paths with every time loop. 

Void Bastards

Void Bastards

Blue Manchu’s Void Bastards is many things: a strategic first-person shooter, a roguelike, a cel-shaded sci-fi horror. But by both blending and defying many genre conventions, this terrific game from former BioShock developers stands out as one of the most inventive games of the year. Playing as disposable grunts in a Great British space bureaucracy, you must travel the galaxy to randomly generated stations to deal with intergalactic red tape. The variables on each space station (hazards, enemies made allies) keeps things fresh, the exotic armoury is a delight and the humour is of a sharpness rarely seen in games.

Total War: Three Kingdoms

Total War Three Kingdoms

Horsham’s Creative Assembly has proved itself as one of the industry’s premier strategy developers with its Total War series. Three Kingdoms takes it to 3rd century China, casting you as a warlord taking their faction to the battlefield. The ‘4X’ strategy is as solid as you would expect, but Three Kingdoms stands out for its ability to tell affecting character-driven stories, even as you are leading sprawling empires to war.

Observation

Observation

Coming from Scottish studio NoCode, Observation is a brilliantly suffocating sci-fi thriller. It casts you as SAM, the on-board AI of the titular space station. You skip between the station’s cameras and manoeuvrable spheres, helping the crew restore power after it is crippled by an unexplained incident. A heady mix of sci-fi horror, computing puzzles and spatial wonder, this is as if Kubrick’s Space Odyssey was made into a game by the Alien Isolation team. Which makes sense, as a lot of NoCode’s team worked on the latter.

Best games of May

A Plague Tale: Innocence

A Plague Tale: Innocence

Not one for the murophobics, perhaps, A Plague Tale casts you back to 13th century France. On the run from the brutal Inquisition, you play as young noblewoman Amicia, escorting her young brother who is afflicted with a mysterious condition. As well as dealing with the merciless soldiers prowling the streets and fields, great swarms of demented rats have started exploding from the ground and consuming anything that comesinto the writhing mass. At its heart, A Plague Tale is a relatively rudimentary stealth-puzzler as you figure out how to safely transport Amicia and Hugo across the world, but its strength lies in characters and context, making for an affecting and singular story.

Rage 2

Rage 2

This neo-punk mash-up between shooter specialists id Software and open-world experts Avalanche is a ferociously enjoyable romp through a Mad Max-esque sandbox. The combat itself is exceptional, embellished with exotic weaponry, delicious superpowers and a fierce sense of movement and power. The open-world meanwhile, is actually smaller and less dense than some of its sprawling peers. This sometimes works to the game’s credit, however, with you scorching across the dustland between objectives, stopping off to clear bandit camps, stretch that shooting and be rewarded with a new power or fancy gun. A manic, knowingly silly game committed to a simple, satisfying loop. Works for us.

Best games of April

Mordhau

Mordhau

A surprise hit straight from Slovenia, Mordhau has sparked the imagination of PC gamers the world over with its heady, heavy medieval multiplayer battling. Developer Triternion has focussed on melee combat, coming up with some of the finest first-person swordfighting ever committed to code. You will parry, feint and find your footwork to deliver killer blows in sprawling battles that also includes ranged combat, medieval siege engines and mounted combat.

Mortal Kombat 11

Mortal Kombat 11

The newest entry into the hyper-violent fighting series may have well-documented issues with grinding for loot in a certain mode, but it can’t stop Mortal Kombat 11 being a compelling beat ‘em up in its own right. It is the most complex and thrilling combat system developer Netherrealm has created, while the developer has made a fine effort at teaching you its nuances with detailed tutorials. Backed up by a thoroughly silly but compelling story mode and, of course, the cartoonish fatalities that are gruesome enough to make you wince. This is Mortal Kombat at its best, despte those commercial concerns.

Katana Zero

Katana Zero

An impossibly stylish neo-noir action game inspired by the likes of Hotline Miami, Katana Zero casts you as the sword-wielding, time-bending assassin Chronos. You scorch through its side-scrolling levels, dispatching enemies with katana swings or environmental traps knowing that one hit will mean death. Like Hotline Miami, you will tackle levels over-and-over in a ninja-themed groundhog day; planning your perfect route and looking to execute it with precision.

Heaven’s Vault

Heaven's Vault

The next game from Inkle, the Cambridge-based studio behind the Bafta-winning 80 Days. Heaven’s Vault builds on the choose-your-own-adventure with a sweeping sci-fi archaeology tale. You are Aliya, travelling the cosmos with a robot companion in a rickety ship, hoping to decipher the mysterious hieroglyphic texts scattered through the cosmos. This has more puzzles to solve and exploration to do than 80 Days, as you investigate and interrogate the locals, but has the same sharp wit and writing in a deep and affecting yarn.

Best games of March

Yoshi's Crafted World

Yoshi's Crafted World

Yoshi’s Crafted World is a great, fuzzy stress ball of a game. For grown-ups, and I use the term loosely, it is a relaxing flutter as a fluffy dinosaur around a saccharine world built out of yarn, cardboard and sticky-back plastic. For kids, it is an imaginative introduction to side-scrolling platformers. With Yoshi lobbing eggs at shy guys as he bounces from cardboard clouds, hitching a ride on a train made out of buttons and butter tubs, battling with bosses crafted from a beach ball by villainous wizard Kamek.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Sekiro

From Software's brutal shinobi adventure is a ferociously challenging video game as you are transported back to medieval Japan as the one-armed wolf, taking on beasts and men in ferocious combat. Sekiro is a game that, for better and worse, lays down an almost belligerent challenge. Keep playing, by all means, if you can handle it. Such fierce difficulty will not come as a surprise to veterans of From’s previous games Dark Souls and Bloodborne, of course, and will likely relish Sekiro’s propensity to kill you often and without mercy.  Few games task you so harshly or dare to drive you to such frustration, but few games are as rewarding or exhilarating when you succeed.

Hypnospace Outlaw

Hypnospace outlaw

A finalist for the Indie Game Festival 2019 award, Tendershoot's Hypnospace Outlaw is a deliciously weird portal to an alternative, hallucinatory internet of the 1990s. You play an 'enforcer', trailing through primitive and surreal websites to shut down copyright infringement and other harmful web content.

Children of the 80s remembering their first dial-up forays into the wide-world-web will come for its reimagining, full of low-res imagery, garish colours and MIDI sound clashes. Them, and everyone else, will stay for the bizarre and conspiratorial tale.

The Division 2

The Division 2

This sequel to Ubisoft's military looter-shooter moves the action to Washington DC. It's an evocative setting full of detail, with famous landmarks repurposed in a time of crisis. Night falls and the weather shifts; fog rolling in to cast an ephemeral pink glow. It is a fine playground for shooting down bad guys and collecting sweet new knee-pads. Yes, the politics are wonky and the story wafer-thin, but for smartly constructed online play and compelling turn-your-brain-off action, Ubisoft's latest is ruthlessly efficient.

Devil May Cry 5

Devil May Cry 5

Dante returns with cocky nephew Nero and mysterious goth V in a game determined to show you a rocking good time. Capcom's revival of its heavy metal adventure is focussed on pure action, giving demons a good kicking with three varied characters packing a wealth of weapons. Like its stablemate Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry 5 takes a deliciously old-school approach to game design and throws it into the future with blistering visuals and style.

Best games of February

Trials Rising

Trials Rising

The latest in Ubisoft’s compulsive motocross racer is the series at its best. Pilot your motorbike across a series of devilishly designed courses featuring impossible jumps, loop-de-loops and stomach-lurching catapults. An excellent ‘University of Trials’ teaches you how to adjust your weight and perform vertical landings and smooth transitions, helping to enhance your skills and gain an understanding of Trials excellent physics in a way the series hasn’t really managed before. I could have done without the cosmetic  loot box frippery getting between me and my bike, but the core of Rising is so good it is easy to ignore.

Tetris 99

Tetris 99

We’re not sure anyone expected Fortnite and Apex Legends to be taken on by Alexey Pajitnov’s classic puzzler Tetris in the battle royale arena. But here we are. And competition in Tetris 99 is just as fierce as any deathmatch. The core is classic Tetris: different shaped blocks fall into a well, which you must position to create horizontal lines. Make a line and the blocks disappear, let them pile to the top and it’s game over. Or in this case, you are knocked out from the 99 player skirmish going on. Other players can send over ‘junk’ to push your blocks to the top, you contending with attacks while trying to upset the balance of your opponents. Simply put, it works brilliantly, a game full of tension and excitement.

DiRT Rally 2.0

dirt rally 2.0

DiRT Rally 2.0 takes the series back to its roots. A proper, detailed celebration of the sport of rally, offering everything you could possibly want in a video game about the discipline. Just you, your co-driver and the voice in your ear thundering along country roads, mountain passes and forest routes, mud kicking up behind you as the weather threatens to break. Filled with challenges and customisation, DiRT Rally 2.0 is the definitive rally game.

Devotion

Devotion

Call off the search. The elusive replacement for PT has been found. Devotion is an intensely scary horror game that takes place inside an ever-changing apartment. As you gradually uncover a horrifying mystery, you’re given a glimpse into one family’s life over a number of years in the 1980s. There are some great puzzles, and a neat reality-bending mechanic that sees you nipping back and forth between the apartment during different eras. Most importantly, it’s freaking terrifying in a coherent, satisfying way that won’t leave you with too many questions, but will leave you with a sense of lingering unease.

Metro Exodus

Metro Exodus

The third entry into 4A Games survival shooter manages to take the dark heart of its fearsome, underground oppression and transfers it to sprawling sandbox levels as you tear across post-apocalyptic Russia in an armoured train. It manages to switch between open-world exploration and terrifying, claustrophobic encounters with craftsmen ease. While its rickety, crunchy gunplay and deliciously analogue grit gives Metro a more convincing post-apocalyptic flavour than many of its peers.

Eastshade

Eastshade

Eastshade is an absolutely gorgeous open-world adventure game. You’re a painter, exploring the titular island. Chat to locals, explore the world, bask in the beauty. It’s a slow, relaxing, visually stunning game that’s easy to get immersed in when you want a break from hectic real life. It’s also set in the same universe as Leaving Lyndow, a short narrative adventure game from 2017 which is also well worth playing.

Etrian Odyssey Nexus

Etrian Odyssey

Etrian Odyssey Nexus is essentially a greatest hits of the series, combining some of the best dungeons from across the games, tweaking and remastering plenty of them. It’s a classic EO dungeon crawling affair, with turn-based combat, mapmaking and exploration a plenty. The series has always been pretty hardcore, and this swansong to the 3DS iterations is no different. It’s compelling, gripping, and there’s plenty here to sink hundreds of hours into. Goodbye, dual-screen Etrian Odyssey, we’ll miss you.

Apex Legends

Apex Legends

EA and Respawn’s surprise launch of free-to-play battle royale Apex Legends has been a runaway hit, capturing 25 million players in its first week. Its success is well-deserved, simply because Apex is a fabulous spin on gaming’s hottest genre. Its blend of last-man-standing mechanics with Overwatch style heroes works brilliantly, coupled with crunchy shooting and  clever respawn and voiceless communication systems. Plus it has an absolutely scorching slide manoeuvre. Wheeee!

Best games of January

Sunless Skies

Sunless Skies

Failbetter Games’ brilliant hybrid of rogue-like survival and smart storytelling is a real British triumph. You play as a captain of a flying train that chugs across the sky above smog-filled UK clouds. Victorian-inspired steampunk cities tower above the clouds, in which you travel to collect jobs and trade goods on your way to finding fame or fortune. The exploration is challenging and tense, while the interactive fiction narrative is exquisitely written. An unusual gem well worth seeking out.

Kingdom Hearts 3

Kingdom Hearts 3

By now you may have heard that Disney and Square Enix’s barmy mash-up is rather fond of loquacious and barely comprehensible cut scenes, carrying on the series convoluted storyline. For fans this is fabulous news, but even for newcomers Kingdom Hearts 3 still manages to fire the imagination with its hyperactive combat and delightful use of famous faces. Fighting alongside Goofy and Donald Duck, adventuring with Woody and Buzz, even visiting Big Hero 6’s San Fransokyo. It’s daft and overbearing at times, but pulled off with such craft, gusto and earnest joy that it’s hard not to be swept along for the ride.

Resident Evil 2

Resident Evil 2

Now this is how you do a remaster. This reimagining of Capcom’s seminal 1998 survival horror is pulled off with such gusto it is as much a modern marvel as it is a terror-fuelled nostalgia trip. As Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield you traipse through the terrifyingly twisted halls of the Raccoon City Police Department. It looks fantastic, full of creepy lighting and ghoulish zombies and creatures, and its welcome old-school sensibility means it keeps the ethos that has made Resident Evil a survival horror stalwart for over 20 years.

Ace Combat 7

Ace Combat 7

Another solid entry in the Ace Combat series. Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown doesn’t offer up anything particularly revelatory, but its excellent, bombastic dogfights and cheesily dramatic plot make for a lot of fun. It might just be blowing up things in a plane, but doing so has never been better or more visually impressive. Plus there’s a VR mode on PS4 if you’re into that sort of thing. A seriously fun action game.

The Eternal Castle [Remastered]

Eternal Castle

The Eternal Castle [Remastered] is an intriguing title. It claims to be a remake of the original game from 1987 but, well, let’s just say everything about The Eternal Castle is part of the experience. It’s a 2D platform adventure in the style of Another World and Flashback, with an extremely appealing lo-fi pixel art style. Intriguing, mysterious and challenging, with dozens of secrets to find, it’s a real gem. And who doesn’t like a bit of a meta-mystery in their video games?

What are your favourite games of 2019 so far? Let us know your suggestions in the comments below.

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