2019 was another fantastic year for gaming, with everything from triumphant returns from long-standing franchises to brilliant original games and indie knockouts. A lot of games made their share of noise last year but what were the standout gaming moments of 2019? We asked some of our writers what were their favorite gaming moments of the year, and this is what they came up with.
The Ashtray Maze, Control
If you arrive at Control’s Ashtray Maze before you’re properly equipped, it will continually open its architectural jaws and stubbornly spit you back out in an endless, and pointless, loop of confusion. It’s such a tantalizing tease at this stage, because the cosy aesthetic charm implores you to try and unravel its knotted corridors of mystery, but there is no unravelling, no matter how many times you try. Its eventual solution really doesn’t require any brainpower at all to solve – you merely need Ahti the janitor’s Walkman, which he has very kindly loaded up with some magical progressive hair metal.
Once you return to the maze quite literally ready to rock and roll, the game’s best set piece kicks into life with a cacophony of guitar shredding and scenery flipping. All the powers and skills that protagonist Jesse has acquired throughout her time in the Oldest House are required to take on this M. C. Escher painting come to life. It’s a thrilling piece of gratification to apply telekinesis and levitation to this twisted piece of cubism by way of some seriously 360-degree violence. Walls become floors, doors become ceilings, and enemies will pop out of each and every nook and cranny to keep you on your toes, or not as the case may be.
So much of Control’s world-building and setting is to be applauded – and the vast majority of the Oldest House is a lot more reserved and less bombastic than the Ashtray Maze – but it feels like such a suitably weird crescendo that it stands out in the memory more than anything else in the game. Most tellingly, it’s a far more enjoyable part of the campaign than the final onslaught of enemy waves in the Hedron Chamber. Subtlety be damned, then; just give me the videogame version of Inception played out to a heavy metal soundtrack and I’m very, very happy. (Alex Aldridge)
Tear Down the Wall, Life is Strange 2
There has been a strong call from certain elements of the gaming community over the last few years to keep politics out of gaming. While some companies and studio reps have notably cowed to these angry sects, others have embraced their artistic privilege, using their voices at a time when some minorities and groups have never been more afraid for their safety.
Life is Strange 2, by its very concept and characters is a game destined to challenge the ideas being presented and debated in the United States congress and senate at this place in time. Love it or hate it, the border wall has certainly been one of the more divisive political ideas of the last 4 years, and the fact that the Diaz brothers’ journey of escape to Mexico sees them put up against this very symbol of the hate, judgment and derision they’ve experienced over the course of Life is Strange 2 is a natural conclusion for their tale.
However, the real standout gaming moment of their journey comes when Daniel Diaz uses his power to tear a hole in the border wall and secure their freedom. If you’re for, or ambivalent to the wall, then it’s just a cool moment where you get to see how strong Daniel’s power has gotten over the course of his journey. On the other hand, if the idea of the wall is something that has caused you fear, distress or heart ache since 2016, this culmination of the Diaz brothers’ journey is a moment of hopeful catharsis, and easily one of the most emotional sequences in the last year of gaming. (Mike Worby)
Enter Mr. X, Resident Evil 2
Resident Evil 2 (2019) has made Mr. X infamous, and it’s not hard to see why. While he was certainly an intimidating presence in the original Resident Evil 2, he was relegated to the game’s “B” plots– unlockable alternate scenarios. Only after clearing the game once would players find themselves hunted by the Tyrant. Intimidating as he may have been, however, the technical limitations of the original PlayStation meant Mr. X couldn’t actually follow players. All of his appearances were scripted and amounted to little more than jump scares in the grand scheme of things. Memorable, but not really scary.
Then comes the remake. It isn’t enough that Mr. X now has Nemesis-esque qualities, properly stalking players through the R.P.D. No, now players don’t even have the luxury of an “A” plot to familiarize themselves with the level design. Playing on common knowledge surrounding the Tyrant, Mr. X now ambushes players halfway through their first playthrough. Lifting a downed helicopter out of his way, Mr. X’s first appearance in the remake defies all expectations.
There’s a chill unlike any other that runs down your spine when he first makes his presence clear. He shouldn’t be here, but he is and he’s actually dangerous this time. Getting past this first encounter is simple enough and veterans might even feel confident getting away, but the real horror sets in when Mr. X casually strolls through the R.P.D.’s lobby, what was otherwise the game’s central hub. Nowhere is safe. Lumbering towards you with only murder on his mind, Mr. X is survival horror at its finest. (Renan Fontes)
The Ape Returns, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
The Guardian Ape blocks access to an important quest item in Sekiro, and so, must be destroyed in order to obtain it. He has no qualms about fighting dirty either, hurling poop and even farting out toxic gas amidst other, more standard, smash and grab maneuvers. However, where the ape crap really hits the fan is after Wolf performs the killing blow that has ended every boss fight up until now. Seizing on the massive sword sticking out of the Guardian Ape’s neck, Wolf yanks down, decapitating the creature and presumably ending the battle.
In a mind-blowing moment, though, the ape stands back up as Wolf leaves the arena, picking up its severed head and the sword, before coming back for another round. Shocked players were forced to seize back onto their controllers and see if they could beat the beast a second time, especially now that he had several new moves at his disposal.
The sheer surprise and thrill of the moment left it unmatched as the coolest boss fight of 2019, and that’s saying something. (Mike Worby)
Clementine Survives, The Walking Dead: The Final Season
The Walking Dead series came to an end in 2019 and with it came the end of Telltale’s legacy. Their collapse left the fate of the series that catapulted them to success hanging in the balance. Thankfully, the series was completed thanks to the involvement of Skybound Games. The ending provides the right amount of closure, making it one of the better gaming moments in 2019 gaming.
Beloved protagonist Clementine seems to be going the same way as her protector Lee as the game comes to its conclusion. She has been bitten by a walker and — in a segment that closely resembles the ending of the first TWD series –we see AJ following through on Clementine’s lessons in survival. Now able to fend for himself, we see AJ tearfully swing his axe as Clementine says goodbye. The player then takes control of AJ. There is a painful emotional element to this gameplay for AJ, as we assume that Clem is gone forever. However, once AJ returns to the boarding school we see that Clementine is in fact alive and well, albeit missing a leg. The relief I remember feeling in this moment was astronomical. It may not have made a great deal of sense for her to survive if you think too much about it but in that moment I really didn’t care. All that mattered was that this character that I had protected, watched grow and gone through the horrors of the zombie apocalypse with since 2012 was still breathing and had finally earned her happy ending.
Telltale created a character so beloved by gamers that we fought for her survival over and over again (and in more ways than one when it comes to the cancellation following the studio closure). This moment is not only hugely emotional and an incredibly satisfying ending to the story, it is also a testament to strength of Clementine as a character and her impact on the gaming world. Clementine’s return and her happy ending makes for one of best and most positive gaming moments in 2019. (Antonia Haynes)