By Alex Wakeford
As 2019 comes to a close, we at Universally Speaking wanted to sign off by looking back at ten of the most memorable moments and experiences in gaming this year.We’re in the final stretch of not just the year, but the decade now – indeed, this generation is coming to a close as well…
Next year, we’ll be seeing what Microsoft and Sony have planned for the future with Project Scarlett and the PlayStation 5.
2019 has been an interesting year for gaming because it was largely defined by new IPs – new stories, new characters, new worlds – rather than established, long-running franchises and remakes (though many of those got a spectacular look-in too!)
Naturally, the time has come to reflect on the best of what 2019 had to offer – not just at the best games, but some of the best, most unforgettable moments in those games.
10) Learning the truth about the origins of the Locust in Gears 5
The fifth mainline entry in the stories Gears of War franchise released in September this year as the second game in studio and series stewards The Coalition’s new trilogy, which promised to be the biggest Gears game yet.
Gears 5 notably set a whole new standard in the industry for the depth and breadth of its accessibility options, operating under the mantra of “When everybody plays, we all win” – a commitment it did not make lightly.
At the end of 2016’s Gears of War 4, we learned that Kait Diaz (one of the new characters forming this trilogy’s main trio) has mysterious familial ties to the Locust, the former enemies of the original trilogy, who have evolved into a new threat – the Swarm – decades later.
Studio head Rod Fergusson has compared Gears 4 to 2015 cinematic masterpiece Mad Max: Fury Road, where the story is Fruiosa’s (Kait’s) but we experience it primarily from the perspective of Max (JD Fenix).
“It was a natural choice. When you play through Gears 4, think of it as Mad Max: Fury Road. It was really Furiosa’s story and Max was the sidekick. That’s how it felt in Gears 4, the whole game is about saving Kait’s mom and JD is there to help her.” [VGR, ‘Rod Fergusson Compared Gears 5 To “Mad Max: Fury Road”’ (12/6/18)]
“The example I use a lot is Mad Max: Fury Road. […] It’s a Mad Max movie, but it’s Furiosa’s story and Max is helping her escape. For Gears 5, we decided it would be more impactful if you could be Kait and experience those emotions firsthand.” [The Telegraph, ‘Gears 5 preview: Inside the modern evolution of Xbox’s biggest blockbuster’ (30/8/19)]
Gears 5 follows Kait’s personal journey to Mount Kadar (a setting previously featured in Gears of War 2), where the origins of the threat humanity faces can be found, along with the truth about Kait’s connection with her grandmother – Queen Myrrah.
This was a long-anticipated moment for fans who had been following this thread of the story for over a decade and it did not disappoint!
9) Cleaning the fridge in Control
A little while back, we did an article on how Control crafts a perfect opening scene, drawing the player in and captivating them through strong dialogue and creative camerawork and imagery.
This time, we’re going to look at perhaps its best side quest.
During the sixth level, you must enter the Panopticon area of the Oldest House, where you’ll find a man named Phillip in a cell staring at… a refrigerator.
This seemingly innocuous, everyday object is an Altered Item, something that has been affected by paranatural forces – something the Federal Bureau of Control (which Jesse becomes the Director of at the start of the game) aims to study and… well, control.
Unfortunately, study of this refrigerator has revealed that it ‘behaves’ in an erratic and destructive manner when it’s not being watched – like a Weeping Angel. Ocular contact is the only thing that ‘calms’ it, and poor Agent Phillip has been unable to move from his chair for over twenty four hours, as his replacement never arrived for the next shift.
Depending on where you are in your progression of the main story, you may or may not be able to help Phillip right away, leaving him to stare at the fridge even longer…
When you do get around to sorting this problem out, Jesse will be transported by the fridge to the Astral Plane where an unexpected boss battle against a towering entity called ‘The Former’ will ensue.
You can miss this side quest entirely, which would be a real shame because it’s Control at its best – mad, unpredictable, and ridiculously fun!
8) THAT BIT in Outer Wilds
There’s a very emotionally evocative kind of magic to Mobius Digital’s Outer Wilds that is difficult to describe.
Whether you’re spending your opening minutes with the game roasting marshmallows over a fire while the person you’re sitting with whistles to himself without a care in the world, or using your signalscope to look up at the sky and listen to the sounds – the music – coming from other planets… it’s breathtaking in its elegant simplicity.
And then, on the other side of things, you might be exploring the solar system in your ship and come across the utterly enrapturing sight of two planets orbiting each other so closely that gravity is causing a great column of sand to flow between them.
The world in Outer Wilds is caught in a time loop. Every 22 minutes the sun will go supernova and you’ll start anew, with the potential for the world state to be very different after a reset.
Leading with that cosmically enchanting image makes saying anything more about this game futile. If that’s not gonna sell you on it, I’m not sure what will!
Outer Wilds is a masterpiece, not just of this year but it’s a landmark title in the industry for excellence in design. Get it!
7) Playing beer pong with Satan in Afterparty
You are dead. Your best friend is too. You can’t remember what killed you, and you have no idea why you’re in Hell.
Lola and Milo (voiced by Janina Gavankar and Khoi Dao) are college graduates and lifelong friends.
Literally. Lifelong… because they’re dead now, get it?
With no memory of how they ended up in Hell, Lola and Milo embark on a journey to find their way back to the world of the living, during which time they’ll meet a host of human and demon characters all delightfully voiced with Night School Studio’s signature approach to dialogue.
Night School Studio previously released Oxenfree in 2016, a supernatural mystery adventure game where your dialogue choices determine the outcome of the story (it’s another highlight of this generation).
Afterparty is similar in its approach, with Night School Studio expanding on their dialogue system (something Gamasutra has done an extensive study of) and further developing their unique ‘voice’ in the industry.
For Milo and Lola, they discover relatively quickly that the way to return to the world above is to bar-hop their way through Hell with the ultimate goal of out-drinking Satan.
Just like with Outer Wilds, what more is there to say? What other game is there that offers this kind of experience?
6) Going for a long hike in A Short Hike
Remember Journey? That transcendental masterpiece from Thatgamecompany in 2012 where your goal was to reach the top of a distant mountain?
A Short Hike is kind of like that, except you’re hiking up a local mountain because there’s good phone signal at the top.
Combine that with the kind of quests, minigames, and treasures you’d expect to find in a Zelda game, with every ounce of charm and self-aware fun, as well as a calm atmosphere, and that’s basically A Short Hike in a nutshell.
You play as Claire. Claire is a bird (and will certainly not be the only bird on this list!), she’s on a camping trip at a park with her aunt (who is also a bird, though not the aforementioned other bird who will be on this list) and is waiting for an important call. Naturally, the reception is poor and the only place she can reliably get a signal is at the top of the mountain.
From there, the game hands over to you and you’re given carte blanche to get to the top of the mountain however and whenever you want.
You could just head straight to the summit, paying little mind to the other people (animals, that is – who are not necessarily all birds) around you, and that’s a perfectly valid way to get from Point A to B… but that’s not quite the point of the game.There are numerous items to collect for various NPCs, and the dialogue pokes fun at the facade of collection quests in games. From buried treasure to seashell collecting, and many other types of optional side quests, you’ll be rewarded with something that can assist your ascent.
A Short Hike is, well… a short game, taking anything from one to three hours depending on how granular you want to get with your interactions.
It’s an experience that you can go through in one sitting, and is perhaps ideally experienced that way, which is perfect for people who don’t have dozens or hundreds of hours to invest in a digital odyssey, or are looking for a fun game to play with young ones in the family.
And even when you fulfil the objective of getting to the summit, the game doesn’t end. You can freely continue to explore the park and take part in its various activities, or just wander around to your heart’s content. This, coupled with a lush original soundtrack by Mark Sparling (which progresses dynamically as you explore the wilderness) makes for an unmissable and unforgettable indie gaming experience.
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