The 15 Best PlayStation 4 Games of 2019

Games Lists Best of 2019
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The 15 Best PlayStation 4 Games of 2019

The times they are a-changin’. 2019 marks the last full year of the PlayStation 4’s tenure. Sure, Sony will keep releasing games for it into 2021 (and maybe even 2022), but with the PlayStation 5 officially arriving in 2020, the current model is about to be relieved of its duty in the entertainment center. It’s been a trusty old machine, but its day will soon be passed.

I don’t know if this is some kind of statement on Sony’s current priorities heading into its next console launch, but (without doing even the slightest bit of research to make sure this is true) I’m pretty sure this is the first year that no games actually published by Sony, or designed by one of its studios, made it onto our year-end list for the system. (No, Death Stranding didn’t make the cut. Sorry.) Every game below can be played elsewhere, but that’s meaningless to people who only own a PlayStation 4. And since the vast majority of people aren’t paid to write about videogames, almost nobody has a good reason to own more than one console. So if you’re one of the fortunate ones who settled on a PlayStation 4 as your videogame system of choice, here’s a list of some games from 2019 that you should think about playing. We can vouch for ‘em all.

15. Mortal Kombat 11

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Mortal Kombat 11 goes out of its way to break down the barrier between experts and regular players. It reduces the imperceptible into easy-to-follow, step-by-step chunks that anybody can learn. Of course simply knowing how to count frame data doesn’t mean most players will be able to do it that effectively with any regularity. Also, it’s entirely possible that new meta techniques will be discovered by the fighting game community as they continue to look for advantages, once again leaving most players out of the loop. And perhaps NetherRealm intentionally baked new meta tactics into Mortal Kombat 11, knowing that the most dedicated players would quickly find them and pass them around clandestinely like they once did these other techniques.—Garrett Martin


14. AI: The Somnium Files

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Death and taxes are certain, and so is my infinite capacity to fall in love with murder mysteries. There are few who write and direct murder mystery videogames as exquisitely as Kotaru Uchikoshi. After falling in love with Ever 17, Remember 11, and the unforgettable Zero Escape trilogy—his most famous project—I knew I’d follow his work for the rest of my life. Thus, the announcement of AI: The Somnium Files brought me much excitement. Just like his past games, AI: The Somnium Files takes the player on an incredible journey full of twists and turns, emotional moments, and the existential and philosophical themes that he’s known for gracefully injecting into his stories. While it has a few flaws and never matches up to the best moments of Zero Escape, it’s likely one of the games that will most strongly captivate and hold your attention this year.—Natalie Flores


13. Dragon Quest Builders 2

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Dragon Quest Builders 2 is set in the building genre that Minecraft pioneered but, in a lot of ways, Dragon Quest Builders 2 does Minecraft better than Minecraft. There is a central narrative, objectives, waypoints and streamlined mechanics that make the title welcoming to almost any curious person, whether they are into Dragon Quest or not. The is roughly based off of 1987’s Dragon Quest 2 and sees you, the titular builder (male or female), tasked with rebuilding society after the Children of Hargon (I don’t know) decide to make the world slowly die. Each attempt at rebuilding society in some way is met with violence. So what is the builder to do in such trying times? Collect resources and build those walls just a little sturdier and higher, of course! Dragon Quest Builders 2 is deliberately straightforward in both its narrative and core gameplay loop. Nothing is obfuscated, everything is as easy to understand as it can be, and once players fall into its task-focused rhythm, everything becomes smooth sailing.—Cole Henry


12. Wattam

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The newest game from Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi imagines a glorious world of friendship and joy, and is then kind enough to let us just hang out in it for a while. Yes, there are puzzles to be solved, and rudimentary “quests” to complete, but friendship is both the answer to and end result of almost every single one of them. The goal of Wattam is to make you feel warm and nice, like you’re comfortably snuggled up with your best friends, and it pulls it off perfectly.—Garrett Martin


11. The Outer Worlds

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Obsidian is on to something good with The Outer Worlds. The writing has an irresistible humanity, and the factions, skill system, and dynamic companion interactivity offer a beautifully complicated depth that makes me mourn the loss of Fallout 4 all over again. With it, I don’t have to miss Fallout: New Vegas anymore—I can just enjoy what its core features have become. So far, this new horizon looks promising.—Holly Green


10. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

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Fallen Order stacks some of the best parts of Metroid, Dark Souls and Uncharted inside a Star Wars trenchcoat, but that isn’t the smartest thing it does. That would be how it squarely centers on the stress and trauma of its characters. PTSD should be rampant in this universe, considering war is all anybody seems to know, and yet within the Star Wars canon it’s rarely been focused on as keenly or depicted as clearly as it is here. Its lead characters aren’t all that likable, for reasons that are both intentional and unintentional, and that is a flaw; still, they feel a bit more human than what you normally see in games and Star Wars stories, and that, combined with the guaranteed to please gameplay formula, makes Fallen Order a Star Wars highlight.—Garrett Martin


9. Mutazione

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Mutazione tackles several topics in the course of its five-hour experience, particularly the themes of traditional healing, outside interference and the perils of harboring a savior complex. Kai’s grandfather, while well-intentioned, triggers a chain of events that leads to tragedy, disrupting the emotional and spiritual health of the village. His interference is reflected in the slow but devastating disruption to the local ecosystem, a slow decay that isn’t addressed until his illness nearly leaves the town without a healer at all. It is only after Kai surrenders to the traditional wisdom of the elders that order and health are restored. Her grandfather’s method of teaching forces her to figure out the basics on her own, gifting her with an intuition that can only be learned through the trial and error process of hands-on work. In that way, the game is also a metaphor for her growth into adulthood.—Holly Green


8. Falcon Age

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There’s a message in Falcon Age that resonates and pushes back against many established tropes of the genre. The backwater planet, of course, is still a planet. Planets have ecosystems, are populated by people, and all people deserve a right to peaceful existence and habitation. Where other sci-fi media, even games that I enjoy, like No Man’s Sky, present a fundamentally adversarial and resource-collecting relationship to planets and the inhabitants of them, Falcon Age shows a different side of the story. The planet, along with the creatures on it, are shown as valuable members of an ecosystem, and the game’s limited scope means that the world still feels alive, and concerned with things on a greater scale than you as a player. It’s a comforting feeling, and a bold statement for a development team to make with its first game.—Dante Douglas


7. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

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“Fun” is a nebulous, subjective concept that many critics try to avoid, but there’s not a better word that sums up why Sekiro’s repetition never becomes a problem. Sekiro’s tightrope combat—a delicate balance of patience, timing and precision that can swing from stately to furious in an instant—is so physically and intellectually satisfying, and such a consistently evolving challenge, that it never grows old. It retains the same kernel of sheer, unabashed fun that you feel from the first time you get a handle of its defense-oriented, posture-disrupting action, but slowly tweaks it through the steady introduction of new skills and techniques.—Garrett Martin


6. Judgment

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The thing about Judgment is that, whenever I put it down, rather than think more about the game and what I was just doing, I thought about the possibilities it represents. I thought about the game that comes next, and the one after that. The stories that aren’t packaged as exceptionally well-told neo-noir crime thrillers. I was thinking about what developer Ryu ga Gotoku could do in a game without combat, one just about food, how place is physically constructed and interpreted, or the space that women occupy in Kamurocho. In a way, I wanted Ryu ga Gotoku Studio to do something more daring. And then I realized, while mechanically and narratively this game is an iteration, its daring is in the willingness to honor the humanity in everything, and then impress that upon me as a player.—Dia Lacina


5. Shenmue III

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There’s a beauty to Shenmue III that I hope will not go unremarked on. A visual poetry that is simultaneously ungainly and stirring. Walking through the impressionistic fields of soft yellow and pink flowers in Bailu, seeing children practicing martial arts, all under the watchful ancient gaze of tremendous mountain ranges. Each person’s face in Shenmue feels unique (even when it’s not), emotive and full of life (even when gasping like a turtle). The framerate stutters at times, NPCs pop in unexpectedly, but the world feels alive, despite the limitations of budget and technology. It is genuine, honest. Opening a dozen drawers in Shenmue III is clumsy, awkward, and tedious. It showcases the limitations of the textures used, the lack of fluidity—but each trigger of the opening and closing animation is evocative. The emotional honesty of rummaging through a large dresser, which, when was the last time you thought deeply about what rummaging through a dresser even feels like? Shenmue III wants you to sit with those feelings.—Dia Lacina


4. Heaven’s Vault

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Heaven’s Vault is a sci-fi adventure starring a young historian named Aliya, who must travel around the galaxy to solve a mystery surrounding the disappearance of a professor on her adopted planet. In order to find him, Aliya has to translate the writing etched into artifacts she finds on various moons and at dig sites, each providing a piece of the linguistic puzzle that will unlock more clues to an emerging mystery. It is equal parts history and detective work, highlighted by a reverse engineering process that gives a surprisingly insightful look into the work that actual archaeologists do to decipher languages. As Aliya encounters new inscriptions, she must use everything from root words and context clues to good old fashioned process of elimination to figure out what they mean. Untranslated phrases are broken down into glyphs, which can be filled in based on those that are already known, or by those you can guess the meaning of based on how they relate to other glyphs. It reminds me, somewhat, of the ongoing efforts to translate Etruscan, a language mostly known from tombstones and ossuaries. Heaven’s Vault illustrates the creativity and intellectual flexibility needed to fill in the blanks when translating a language with almost no text examples. It almost makes you feel like a real archaeologist.—Holly Green


3. A Plague Tale: Innocence

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This subtle, believable approach to characterization reinforces that A Plague Tale is an unusually patient and confident game. It lets its story unfold slowly, avoiding the urge to dole out increasingly elaborate set pieces with a predictable regularity. It never lets its pacing or sure-handed command of character become subservient to plot or the need for action or difficulty that’s assumed of videogames. Sometimes the notes a publisher sends game developers can be felt while playing a game—there’ll be too many action sequences, or ones that drag on for too long, or stories will feel truncated, as if a crucial plot point or bit of character development was cut out to make things move faster. That never happens with A Plague Tale, which maintains a consistent vision and pursues it at its own pace.—Garrett Martin


2. Outer Wilds

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It’d be easy to make Outer Wilds sound like a mash-up of familiar influences. It’s built around a recurring time loop like Majora’s Mask; you’ll fly from planet to planet in real time in search of ancient secrets, as in No Man’s Sky; you’ll explore a variety of eldritch mysteries baked into this solar system, not unlike a new-fangled Myst. Those ideas are implemented in such a unique and seamless way, though, that the total package feels unlike anything I’ve ever played before. It focuses on a race of gentle spacefarers who build rockets out of wood in order to map the other planets that circle their sun and dig up answers on ancient settlers who left wisdom spread throughout the galaxy. The developers have clearly thought long and hard about the alien universe they’ve created, from the specific nature of its physical laws, to the culture of the creatures who populate it. The result is a game that feels appropriately alien, strengthening our desire to unlock its mysteries and explore its culture.—Garrett Martin


1. Control

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Remedy has worked hard to unite the mysterious and the mundane since at least Alan Wake, and Control is an almost ideal distillation of that theme. At its heart is the bureaucratic exploration of the unknown and unknowable, with the player stepping into the role of the new director of a government organization devoted to classifying and controlling unexplained phenomena. It’s an enigmatic and unpredictable quest not just into a nondescript office building that grows increasingly contorted and abstract, but into the heart of a conspiracy that spans the paranormal and the prosaic, and one that ultimately seems to have little use or concern for either the player or their character. In its depiction of humanity grasping for relevance and understanding in an indifferent and impossible to understand universe we see a clear reflection of our own existence. It’s a game of uncommon wisdom and depth, and one that needs to be played.—Garrett Martin

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