40. Wolfenstein: The New Colossus
If The New Order proved that MachineGames could breath new life into an ageing action franchise, The New Colossus saw the Swedish developer find a new legacy for the series. As crazy and ridiculous as the sequel becomes, it never loses sight of the grim truths that underpin the story’s emotional stakes.
Moving the action from Europe to an occupied America, The New Colossus is bold, audacious and unflinching. Both a continuation and evolution of the franchise, the shooter provides plenty of Nazi-slaying thrills with explosive weapons and outlandish level designs.
39. X-COM: Enemy Unknown
Firaxis’ revival of the X-COM franchise made an ancient strategy franchise feel fresh again by evoking third-person cover shooters like Gears of War and adding personality and moxie to the dry proceduralism of running an extraterrestrial defence agency.
At its best, Enemy Unknown forces you to pull out all the stops in pursuit of a victory against the odds. Then, it asks you to do it again. And again. At a certain point, the tables flip and you’re the one with the advantage. That singular moment, where the long war is all but won, is nothing short of magic.
38. 80 Days
A steampunk-flavoured re-telling of the classic Jules Verne novel, 80 Days is a text-based adventure game with a twist. Rather than play as the privileged adventurer Phileas Fogg, you take on the role of his valet. This shifts the framing of the story in striking ways and gives you the agency to chart the journey around the globe that you want to take.
80 Days is a game with many different routes and each one sheds new light not just on the game’s subversive reimagining of its source material but also the things that the original text romanticises or fails to critique.
37. Super Meat Boy
Though it’s since been canonised as poster child for modern masochistic platformer, Edmund McMillan’s Super Meat Boy ran firmly against the grain during the era of its release. Nevertheless, a combination of cheeky visuals, spicy level design, a boppin’ soundtrack and a willingness to push players around made the game a fast favourite for many fans of the genre.
There have been harder, prettier and more mature platformers released in the years since. However, none quite distil the childish appeal of the genre into the kind of unadulterated and addictive fun offered by Super Meat Boy.
36. Dead Cells
Born from the minds of a French anarcho-syndical workers cooperative, Dead Cells is a gnarly mash-up of metroidvania and roguelike. It takes the best of both worlds and ekes out a desirable and compelling middle-ground that’s comforting in its familiarity yet fresh in feel.
Dead Cells tasks you with finding your own formula for resolving the tension between the weapons you have and the challenges you have to overcome. It’s a game about effort, execution and experimentation.
35. The Banner Saga
A beautiful union between the character-driven Western RPGs like Dragon Age and Japanese RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics, the Banner Saga trilogy, which neatly carries your save data seamlessly from instalment to instalment, follows a band of human and Jarl (giant) refugees forced on the run after a legion of foreign invaders rise up from beneath the earth.
Set against the backdrop of a Disney-like nordic setting, The Banner Saga is about the end of the world, what the idea of an apocalypse really looks like and what it brings out in the people forced to endure it, yourself included.
Despite a familiar premise, SOMA manages to eke out a niche of its own. It’s not entirely unpredictable but, in the moments where the game goes in on grappling with the moral and philosophical quandaries it wants to explore are chilling enough to be worth the price admission.
It’s a testament to the richness of the themes that SOMA explores that you can play it with the survival and stealth mechanics completely disabled and it will still probably leave you deeply unsettled.
It’d be easy to write off Control as just Remedy sticking to what they know but that description just doesn’t do this third-person action game justice. There’s a sense of focus here that lets Control soar where Quantum Break and Alan Wake merely succeeded.
Control sees Remedy’s trademark storytelling go weirder than ever before but it’s the newfound sense of focus here that sees them deliver one of 2019’s best action games rather than just another game that isn’t Alan Wake 2.
32. Portal 2
If the original Portal was experimental and small-scale, the sequel saw Valve put a serious budget behind the concept. It’s a more ambitious game, with bigger levels, new mechanics and a secondary cooperative campaign.
Portal 2 feels like a gift to fans of the first game and an intriguing attempt at trying to one-up a short, sweet adventure that many considered flawless. Regardless of whether you think Valve pulled off the trick, it’s cool to see a developer of their pedigree try so hard.
31. Age of Empires 2
Ensemble Studios’ historic strategy game is considered the be-all-end-all of real-time strategy games.
Now available in a remastered form (with additional content), Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition pulls together elements from across the spectrum of strategy games and yields compelling results. You get the historical flavor of games like Total War and Civilization. You get the crunchy micromanagement of Starcraft and Total Annihilation and the systems management of city sims.
Even decades later, Age of Empires 2 is a strategy gaming icon that deserves all the acclaim it gets.
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