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2019 has been a pretty insane year so far. Most have been since 2012 realistically. But just because we seem to be on the edge of a Fury Road style apocalypse doesn’t mean we can’t try and relax. And what’s the greatest form of relaxation? OK watching the sun go down over a pristine Hawaiian beach with the people you love around you is probably number one but video games come in at a close second.
Although we’re still pretty far away from the autumn/winter silly season that doesn’t mean there’s been a dearth of great games. Whether you wanted to fight zombies, demons or your friends Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry 5 and Mortal Kombat 11 provided. Others might prefer to slow things down before E3 hits and the visual novel missed messages will definitely provide a meditative gaming experience. Some will be all about speed and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice gave us the stealth action fix with a FromSoftware twist. So without further ado here are some of the HeadStuff Gaming writers’ best games of 2019 so far.
What the world really needs is more Titanfall games. But failing that I suppose Apex Legends will do for now. The battle royale genre is rapidly becoming overstuffed with copycats and gimmicks. Old favourites like PUBG are slowly but surely falling by the wayside as Fortnite dominates the market. Still I’ve always been a fan of the underdog which is why EA and Respawn’s Apex Legends is here. Maybe underdog is the wrong word…
It’s gun play, matchmaking and movement are wound as tight as new drums but it’s brevity is what makes Apex Legends so much fun. Most matches only last about 20 minutes (or 10 seconds if your team are shit) and it’s this quickness that makes Apex easier to come back to than say Fortnite’s saccharine visuals or PUBG’s uncompromising tactical firefights.
It’s roster of entertainingly amoral characters always make for a varied squad make up and although Bloodhunter is my favourite all of them are so varied that it’s never a deal breaker when someone picks the enigmatic tracker before me. But beyond all of the above it’s that chase-the-dragon adrenaline rush that comes with the golden words “YOU ARE THE CHAMPION” that keeps me coming back. – Andrew Carroll.
Devil May Cry 5
If you had told me at the start of last of year that there would be a Devil May Cry sequel that would be on par if not better than the classic entries in series, I would have shook my head in disbelief. Although not without it’s few hiccups, Devil May Cry 5 is simply fantastic and will likely satisfy long-time fans of the series, such as myself. The combat has some of the most thrilling, complex but equally rewarding mechanics with the series signature Style-ranking system. Dante and Nero return with much of their move set from DMC4 with some bells and whistles to boot, and V puts an interesting spin on the combat’s formula with his use of familiars.
The RE Engine continues to provide some astonishing visuals (with a smooth frame rate to boot) that makes the combat all the more enjoyable. This is further complemented by some fist-pumping tunes, such as the obvious choice of “Devil Trigger” and the exuding personalities of all the playable protagonists. Lastly, DMC5’s story, while a bit structurally messy, delivers loads of character moments that will delight fans (eg. Dante doing an out-of-nowhere Michael Jackson tribute). Simply put, if you like good action games, you owe it to yourself to play this. – Neil McAllister.
You’re lying on your dorm-room bed, your best friend beside you, staring out the window. The evening sky is a cool blue, the room tinged amber by the sun as it begins its descent. Motes of dust drift gently across your field of vision. You’re talking about everything and nothing. How you’ve both been working hard. Too hard. How you haven’t seen each other in a while. How your friend’s relationship with her parents has gone sour. And then the conversation takes a turn. “Every day”, your friend says, “I wake up, force myself to do something I don’t like, and go back to sleep.”
This is a scene from missed messages, a game that’s hard to define. It’s about depression, but also friendship. It’s horrifying, but also heartwarming. It’s a game about bad moments and good people.
A relatively simple game made for Ludum Dare (a weekend-long game jam event), missed messages manages to pack some very heavy stuff into a very short period of time. Designed for multiple playthroughs of 15-30 minutes duration, the game is a visual novel with 4 possible endings determined by your dialogue choices. The art is beautiful and has a soft, gauzy quality that, together with the subdued lo-fi soundtrack makes for a dreamlike experience. But it’s the writing where the game really shines.
The set-up is straightforward. You’re a student, hanging out in your dorm room, which you share with your roommate May. You used to be very close, but lately, she’s been keeping to herself. You should be working, but you get an Air Drop message from a stranger. The question of how you spend the rest of your evening is up to you.
missed messages deals with dark side of the human condition: the things we feel but don’t like to talk about. Things like the feeling of being purposeless, lonely, and joyless – and perhaps worst of all, fearing that we cannot change. In discussing her depression, May articulates these feelings perfectly. “If I knew what I loved doing”, May says, “I’d be doing it by now”.
A situation like May’s has no easy solutions, and missed messages respects that. There is no Hallmark-card moral about quitting her career path and following her passions that will help. She can’t Eat Pray Love this away.
At another point, May discusses the peculiar insidiousness of this kind of deep sadness – that it becomes comfortable, routine. Sometimes, you don’t know if you even want to change. Better the devil you know.
missed messages is an experience by turns both soothing and unsettling. The playthroughs appear to reference each other and I initially got what I believe to be the worst ending, so perhaps that was why I felt slightly on edge for the remainder – the fear that the dream was constantly teetering on the edge of a nightmare.
Ultimately, missed messages tells a better and more real story in a couple of hours than most AAA games manage in 80. It deals with real stuff and deals with it well. Just please be aware going in that there are tough moments, including – mild spoilers here – a door I just could not open. If you find yourself willing to explore this stuff, I’d recommend missed messages, but please take care of yourself. – Dan Binchy.
Mortal Kombat 11
Past meets present in a generational showdown as the time-honoured fighting series returns for Mortal Kombat 11. The story itself plays out like a summer blockbuster spectacle, weaving kombat and well khoreographed kut scenes with apocalypse-defying antics. It’s suitably ridiculous, offering a palatable dose of nostalgia.
In keeping with the story, the roster features many of the old reliables, mixed with favourites from the series’ modern iterations, along with some interesting new additions. Every character is beautifully crafted with care and exquisite attention to detail. Most notable of which is Johnny Cage, whose fourth-wall breaking antics and smack talk with kombatants provide some solid komedy.
With a wealth of kustomization available for both kosmetics and abilities, you can style your fighters to your liking while still maintaining their unique kharacter.
At its heart, Mortal Kombat 11 is about the MORTAL KOMBAT. The mechanics have been streamlined to kreate a well-rounded and aggressive fighting system. The fantastic sound and visual design ensures you feel every punch, kick and bite. The infamous fatalities are as inventive and gruesome as ever: many will leave players wincing and their fighters in a far worst state. There are the klassic tower modes and online tournaments for veterans to test their might, while an extensive range of tutorials and AI practice options ensures newcomers are not stranded, offering plenty of resources to get good.
This is the culmination of NetherRealm Studio’s 27 years of passion and blood lust. It’s not just fan service, it’s a perfectly balanced fighting game for any and all levels of interest in the genre. – Eoin Karty.
Resident Evil 2
The things seen by Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield would drive braver men to madness. Leon and Claire mostly respond to the shambling undead, massive sewer worms and hulking unkillable mutants with catch-all phrases like: “What the fuck?” and “Yuck!” The Resident Evil series has been weighed down lately by increasingly ridiculous storytelling and an emphasis on action. The recent Resident Evil 2 remake brought the series back to its roots reminding players new and old what it means to fear what lies beyond the next door.
Although Claire’s story is the more badass and thematically rich playing as either her or former Backstreet Boy Leon feels good. The tank controls are long gone but the headlong, barely-fast-enough rush when you see Mr X lumber around a corner is still just as terrifying. Resident Evil 2 – despite the different camera style – allows for the same amount of tension in its moment-to-moment gameplay as well as its climactic boss fights and scarce cut scenes. Though we risk losing as much as we gain when a game is remastered Resident Evil 2’s remake proves that when done right it can eclipse the original in the best way possible. – Andrew Carroll.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
What does it mean to die? What does it mean to live again? How often can we rise, bloodied but unbroken, before our endless cycle of death begins to have a tangible effect on the world? These are the questions Sekiro asks us as it puts us in control of the one-armed shinobi warrior Sekiro. But Sekiro also forces us to fight an enormous, shit flinging ape. So as much as we can admire the dark thematic arteries and veins that pulse throughout Sekiro FromSoftware also puts it’s tongue firmly in it’s cheek from time to time.
Sekiro runs like a well-oiled machine. All of its component parts operate in tandem both in terms of how we play and what we play against. Mastery is the only path we can walk in Hidetaka Miyazaki’s latest masterpiece. Blind luck occasionally rears its head like a great serpent and occasionally skill gives way to furiously mashing the attack button but these moments are rare.
Instead players must wait like the proverbial (and literal) ninja. Fingers hovering over triggers and face buttons the pattern of their opponent’s attacks carefully mapped out in their head. Only then can we strike. Only then can such vicious, seemingly unbeatable foes like Gyoubu Masataka Oniwa or Lady Butterfly or the Illusory Monk be taken down in a geyser of infected blood. Sekiro knocks each of its challengers on their ass more times than they can count before beckoning and saying “Again”. And each time, we rise. – Andrew Carroll.