The Golden Barrel Awards are a way for us to shine a spotlight on some titles that we feel you should not sleep on. The last year has been full of interesting, unique titles and the ones listed below make up some of our favourites. However, the list could have also included games like Mortal Kombat 11, Cadence of Hyrule, Concrete Genie, Borderlands 3, Apex Legends, Dead Cells, Days Gone, Darksiders Genesis, Devil May Cry 5 and F1 2019.
Winners were decided by a vote, with each member of staff being asked to list their five favourite games. Then, the results were collated with appropriate weightings based on the position of the staff member’s preference (first choice was five points, second choice was four, etc.). Once the list of games was put together, we ended up with 20 different titles.
That being said, here is the final list of Team BRB’s favourite games from 2019:
10. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (Rik)
I don’t think I’ve ever loved and hated a game as much as Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Incorporating elements of FromSoftware’s Dark Souls series and mixing it with the foundations of Tenchu, the brutal difficulty of its combat and the frustration I felt when losing to a boss for the nth time (which drove me almost to the point of tears on a couple of occasions) is consistently offset by the feeling of relief and accomplishment I felt when I finally bested my foe. Each failed attempt brought me one step closer to victory as I learned my nemesis’ attack pattern and weak points. It is as punishing as it is rewarding.
Exploration and traversal of Sekiro‘s world are a joy to experience, with its vast and varied environments and set pieces that are often as deadly as the combat itself. Sekiro forces you to play the way it wants you to play, which doesn’t sound fun now that I’m writing it down, but once the mechanics click and everything makes sense it’s like switch gets flicked in your brain. It’s a game based purely around player skill. There are a few upgrades, sure, but you can’t grind levels and brute force your way through difficult encounters like you can in Dark Souls. If you get stuck against a boss here you have to keep trying until you win, and when you do you’ll come out with barely a scratch.
The mix of stealth and action are blended together perfectly, and the drip fed plot and environmental story telling that FromSoftware are known for create a beautiful and intriguing world to discover. Add to those elements the difficult but fair combat that makes you the player improve with each encounter, and you have a game that I couldn’t quit no matter how much it pushed me.
09. John Wick Hex (Diarmuid)
To be honest, when I heard that the job of creating a John Wick-centered video game had been entrusted to Mike Bithell, I was excited. I enjoyed Volume and Thomas Was Alone. However, part of me feared this project could turn out to be a disaster as the task of making a game centered on this franchise seemed daunting.
I need not have worried. Bithell Games delivers a tight, strategic action game that manages to not only place you in the shoes of the Baba Yaga but also make those shoes comfortable. Each decision feels important and when you manage to complete a level and see the replay of your exploits, you feel like a bad-ass.
08. Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Diarmuid)
The latest tactical role-playing game in the Fire Emblem franchise released this year for the Nintendo Switch, but due to the litany of other games that were available, it almost passed me by. Thankfully, I picked it up late and am now happily ensconced in Garreg Mach Monastery, teaching the leaders of the future.
Whilst I have not completed the game, I know already that I need to see it to completion as the story and characters have my full attention. The game’s turn-based combat took some getting used to but it makes me feel like a tactical genius at times, which is a feat in itself.
07. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (Tim)
Fallen Order was one of my most anticipated games of 2019. I am a massive Star Wars fan (still considered a “Jedi” as I stated that as my religion on the last UK census) and I was a huge fan of Titanfall – and particularly the single-player campaign portion of Titanfall 2. So, I had faith that Respawn Studios would deliver a quality experience and initially I was not at all disappointed.
There were moments in the middle of the game that did not live up to my expectations and gaming sessions where I came away frustrated – mainly due to the platforming sections and particularly some of the areas of Kashyyyk. The sliding mechanic seemed entirely too imprecise for the very precise movements that it was requiring of the player – and to me, this seemed like a really out of place addition to the Star Wars universe – but perhaps Disney is planning a Wookie-themed water park in the future! That mild annoyance aside there were some outstanding gaming moments throughout the game – the battles with AT-ST and some of the lightsaber duels, particularly those on Dathomir, were phenomenal. I also really liked the way bounty hunters were integrated into the game.
However, the factor that really delivered was the story. Well told with interesting characters, it could very easily have fallen into the tired trope traps of older games and some of the major story beats seem like they might have ventured down this dark path – and yet they managed to avoid these pitfalls. The ending of the game really stuck the landing from a story and mechanic perspective and helped leave a lasting good impression that makes me even more keen to see where the series goes in the future – just hoping it does not continue on a downward slide.
06. Resident Evil 2 Remake (Coleman)
What happens when your atmospheric survival horror franchise turns into a bombastic third-person action stinker (less said about lewd Giraffe logos, the better)? Why make your next game a first-person title that lists from classic horror films of course! But when that doesn’t sell as well as you hoped, you go back to the well and remake one of your more popular titles.
Resident Evil 2 Remake takes the premise and story of its 1998 Zombie-Daddy, adds the control scheme of Resident Evil 6 and throws a whole host of improvements into the mix. Gone are the days of poor line deliveries, fixed camera position and loading screen doors – now instead, we’re stuck in a feeling of being lost in familiar settings.
From the second you set foot into the Racoon City Police Department, you notice that sounds are crisper, visuals are crisper, nothing you remember is quite as it seems and everything is as visually gorgeous as it can be during a Zombie outbreak.
If you’ve played Resident Evil 2 before, there is so much more for you to discover and enjoy here and if you haven’t? Well then, you’ve got a great new horror title to be getting on with!
Showing other studios just how you should remaster a classic, it’s no wonder why Capcom is hoping that lightning strikes twice with Resident Evil 3 Remake this year.
Now, if Capcom could just put this level of care and detail into a Dino Crisis remake…
05. Death Stranding (Diarmuid)
I’m not sure what I expected Death Stranding to be, in terms of game-play or characters or plot, but having enjoyed so many of Hideo Kojima’s games in the past, I hoped that whatever he delivered, it would be unique, challenging and fun. Despite its divisive reception, it is everything I hoped for.
It is reductive to describe Death Stranding as a ‘walking simulator’ but those moments where you are slowly navigating the terrain, with a stack of boxes on your back and a Low Roar song playing are some of my favourites from this year.
04. Gears 5 (PacManPolarBear)
Gears 5 has a great single-player campaign – an achievement few shooters seem capable of managing these days. Kait finally gets her time to shine. Her story arc is powerful, sad and compelling. The game also manages to give the series its first major lore shake-up in a long time. The open-world elements could have been better implemented but they were fun and a nice change of pace despite their simplicity. It’s something I hope is expanded on in future games.
Gears has always had some of the best set-piece battles around and Gears 5 has some truly spectacular ones. Just like Gears 4 did, the game does end with many of its most pressing questions unanswered. The fallout from the death of a major character will no doubt have a ripple effect down the line even if, for me, the choice attached to that moment was an easy one to make. Usually, I hate when games and films end on cliffhangers that expect the audience to wait for the next instalment but Gears 5 left me satisfied enough, and interested enough, to gladly wait for Gears 6.
Multiplayer offers lots of content and provides the same satisfying lancer buzzing mayhem previous instalments have. Micro-transactions and some messy multiplayer decisions may not sit well with every fan but there is no denying that Gears 5 offers tremendous bang for your buck.
03. Disco Elysium (Sikander)
A sleeper indie hit of 2019, Disco Elysium provides an original take on the traditional tabletop mechanic with an incredibly deep RPG. Playing as a detective, you can not only mould your character with a vast range of cosmetics and skill sets, the mould of the characters psyche and personality have entire skill trees and progression systems too, making for a unique experience when combined with the stellar story and stunning visual style.
There is also the added bonus of the game coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this year so if you haven’t got a PC, this is definitely one to keep in mind.
02. Control (Diarmuid)
I didn’t know I needed Control until I saw the first trailer for it. The promise of a Remedy action game, with gorgeous brutalist aesthetics and a tone, ripped straight out of Twin Peaks seemed like a match made in heaven. Outside of a few technical hiccups, the adventures of the new Director of the Federal Bureau of Control, Jesse Faden, had me riveted from beginning to end.
I could mention the spine-chilling Hiss you are tasked with defeating, the spectacularly fun powers you gain as you progress through the Oldest House and the enigmatic but captivating cast of characters you encounter, but the best gaming moment of the year belongs to Control – the Ashtray Maze – and you owe it to yourself to experience it.
01. The Outer Worlds (Coleman)
When the folks at Obsidian revealed their brand new first-person RPG set in space, I immediately thought it looked like a Fallout knock off and a dated one at that too. However, as the game progressed in development, the more trailers released and positive reactions began to circle around The Outer Worlds… my cynicism quickly turned to excitement.
Being in the less-than-original trope of awakening from cryosleep, thanks to being thawed by a mad scientist and sent on your merry way to explore the universe. Along the way, you’ll find yourself become the Captain of your very own spaceship and even a misfit crew to aid you in your journeys.
From there on out it’s a similar affair to that seen in the works of Bethesda; with branching paths, dialogue choices and open worlds to explore. Where things differ is the quality of the writing in introducing new characters, exploring their backstories and even the world around you make for an experience that’s hooked me in more than Fallout‘s later offerings have in the past.
If you’re looking for something to fill the void whilst you wait for a new Bethesda title, have Xbox Game Pass or are just looking to experience one of the greatest titles that 2019 had to offer… Then you should definitely look into playing The Outer Worlds for yourself.
Do you agree with our list? Of course not, that’s not how this works! Let us know in the comments what you would pick.
Tags: Apex Legends, Borderlands 3, Cadence of Hyrule, Concrete Genie, Control, Darksiders Genesis, Days Gone, Dead Cells, Death Stranding, Devil May Cry 5, Disco Elysium, F1 2019, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Gears 5, John Wick Hex, Mortal Kombat 11, Resident Evil 2: Remake, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order, The Outer Worlds