Video games, like movies, used to spend the first couple months of the year lying dormant, recovering from the holiday rush. No longer. The first couple months of 2019 have been absolutely stuffed with new releases of all stripes. Weird narrative PC games, white-knuckle flight simulators, and top-tier horror nightmares have gotten 2019 off to an eclectic start. Below are some of the best games to debut so far this year.
Resident Evil 2 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
A top-to-bottom remake of a foundational horror classic, Resident Evil 2 takes the 1998 video game and completely rebuilds it. Presented with the claustrophobic, over-the-shoulder view the series adopted in 2005’s Resident Evil 4, remixing plot events, and displaying the rock-solid command of atmosphere that made 2017’s phenomenal Resident Evil 7 a frightening masterpiece, Resident Evil 2 easily rises above cheap nostalgia to stand on its own. But it also serves as reminder of how fundamentally sound the 1998 classic was. The remake, then, is a sublime way to get reacquainted with the joy of survival horror: the tension between exploring a space, and the fear of what your curiosity might cost you.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
The Ace Combat series is one of the biggest open secrets in video games. A cursory glance would lead you to believe that these games are arcade-style dogfight simulators for fans of aviation, big-ass missiles, and g-force — and that’s not wrong. But the Ace Combat games are also a long-running soap opera that huffs melodrama and jet fuel in equal measure, chronicling the struggle of fictional kingdoms and governments in the world of Strangereal (say it out loud) and the pilots and politicians that hold lives in the balance. In Ace Combat 7, you’re a pilot framed for the murder of a politician and are forced to join a penal colony’s suicide squad of fighter pilots and, maybe, fly your way to redemption.
Kingdom Hearts 3 (Playstation 4, Xbox One)
The closing chapter in what may still be the most unlikely crossover in entertainment, Kingdom Hearts 3 has been eagerly awaited for well over a decade. A moment of catharsis for long-time fans and a potentially inscrutable work to anyone else, Kingdom Hearts 3 has a notoriously complex backstory and zero qualms about wallowing around in it. This might turn off newcomers, but Kingdom Hearts 3 is quite happy to explain what’s going on. It still may not make sense, but teen hero Sora’s journey to reunite with his friends and stop an existential threat facing a host of Disney-themed worlds (well, all worlds, but the Disney worlds are the ones that matter) is a sight to behold, and one that’s not likely to ever be repeated again.
Sunless Skies (PC/Mac)
In Sunless Skies, you collect stories. As a captain of a flying locomotive in a world in which a fantasy London has broken free of gravity and floats among the stars, you must eke out a living flying through strange and dangerous environs, making port and meeting people, vampires, and devils alike, making your way back home to sell your accounts of the strange world beyond and whatever bizarre artifacts might lie in your hold. Full of wit and irony, Sunless Skies feels like a collection of sharp novellas delivered bit by bit, pulling you forward by presenting you with delicious questions. What happened to the sun? Is it true that time can be mined and sold? And what of the manor in the icy asteroid field where a deviless traffics in the business of improving souls? Questions lead to stories and stories lead to more questions, and maybe your captain will survive long enough to get a few answers and tell a story of their own. If not, there’s always another one to pick up where they left off.
Apex Legends (Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC)
The surprise hit of 2019 so far, Apex Legends is the first game to exhibit potential to rival the Fortnite phenomenon. A surprise free release, Apex Legends refines and combines a number of modern shooter trends into an irresistible battle royale package. Pick a hero, drop onto an island with a squad of three, work with them (or not) to be the last ones standing, and enjoy the rock-solid shooter controls you’d expect from the makers of Titanfall 2. (One of the best modern shooters in recent memory.) Thoughtfully designed to consider the ways people play shooters and battle royale games, Apex Legends feels tight and considered, designed to remove as much friction as possible from the familiar battle royale process, and as a result, it’s won over a lot of skeptics.
Wargroove (Nintendo Switch, PC)
Charming in a way that belies its challenging difficulty, Wargroove is a strategy game throwback inspired by the dormant fan-favorite Advance Wars series of games. An approachable fairy tale about a young princess who must lead her kingdom to war after the assassination of her father, Wargroove mixes endearing animation that’ll make you smile with brainy strategy that’ll have you agonizing over a misspent turn. Add to that a suite of other ways to play — including a multiplayer mode and map editor — and you can’t ask for a better homage to a classic.
Tetris 99 (Nintendo Switch)
Tetris 99 — free to Nintendo Switch owners who subscribe to the console’s online service—is the second surprise release on this list to offer a twist on the battle royale formula. While “Tetris battle royale” sounds like a joke generated by a Twitter bot, in practice it’s another addictive layer to one of the most compelling and familiar games in the world. Tetris 99 challenges you to play Tetris alongside 98 others who are actively trying to screw you over. The game has no tutorial, so look up how to play before you jump in, but once you do, you’ll find it hard to stop, trying to last a little bit longer each time.