At some point in your life time becomes meaningless. When I started compiling this list I thought about how it’s been almost six years since the PlayStation 4 came out. Six years used to mean something. Six years is the gap between the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Super NES. Six years is how long it took to get from the first Star Wars movie to Return of the Jedi. Six years is the whole run of The Bob Newhart Show, an entire stint at elementary school, and the time between 9/11 and Barack Obama’s first presidential debate. Six years is a solid chunk of anybody’s life span, and yet it just feels like yesterday that I was cracking into that PlayStation 4 for the very first time. (The first thing I did on it? Watch Barney Miller.)
The PlayStation 4 is six years old and staring down retirement. It’s already been updated a few times (the one I played these games on is my third, I believe—a PlayStation 4 Pro) and at some point in the next year or two the PlayStation 5 (or whatever Sony decides to call it) will come to knock it off its perch. That doesn’t mean the PlayStation 4 is less entertaining or fulfilling in 2019 than it was earlier in its life; it’s still a machine that will bring you a great deal of entertainment if you let it. These 10 games are proof. They’re not necessarily exclusive to the PlayStation 4, but they’ve all been released for Sony’s graying system this year, and are all worth playing. Whether you’re a dedicated games master excited to blissfully suffer through From’s latest game Sekiro, or an aspiring archaeologist and adventure game fan ready to dive into Heaven’s Vault, you’ll find something to enjoy on this list.
Here are Paste’s picks for the 10 best PlayStation 4 games of 2019 so far.
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.
For now, though, Mortal Kombat 11 blows up so much of the mystery around fighting games. I’ve been playing Mortal Kombat games for almost 30 years, but this is the first time I’ve really played one the way fighting games are meant to be played these days.—Garrett Martin
Apex Legends burst out of the gate with a ferocity that the battle royale genre hasn’t seen in a long time. This wasn’t the pioneering-but-clunky first attempts at the genre like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, nor was it the slow-but-unceasing dominance of Fortnite: Battle Royale, Apex is something different. Apex Legends feels like a game from ten years in the future, where our understandings of the battle royale genre have moved beyond the petty bugs and design foibles of today.
Instead, Apex Legends oozes polish. It’s fast, it’s relatively bug-free, it looks and sounds incredible, it has a game-changingly good contextual communication system, and perhaps most interestingly it’s managed to graft a character-focused roster onto a battle royale design more elegantly and effectively than its closest genre competitor in Call Of Duty’s Blackout mode or representation-discourse-regular Overwatch.—Dante Douglas
Devil May Cry 5 never wants the player to feel any less than like they’re the coolest person on earth. While the game isn’t overly easy, health and upgrades are plentiful, every character has multiple options to handle any situation thrown at them, and the checkpointing system is gracious. Before every boss fight you are given a chance to upgrade and heal back up. In boss fights, if you go down you can use basic red orbs or special gold orbs to get right back into the fight. And this game is constantly tripping over itself to give you all the orbs you’ll ever need. Devil May Cry wants you to be the ultimate badass, and it’s going to give you every opportunity and tool it can.—Dia Lacina
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
“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
Pathologic 2 isn’t a game that wants you to die. In fact, it explicitly cautions you against dying too much (trust me—don’t listen, the payoff is amazing). But it absolutely is a game that wants to kill you. Thirst, exhaustion, hunger, infection: These will all kill you.
You can also just straight up get killed.
And you will be killed.
All of these things will kill you, at least a couple of times.
Death fractures the reality of the game, leading to some truly marvelous writing and revelations about the nature of the world. Death will happen, yours, and that of townsfolk. Characters will die, major ones, quests will go incomplete, you won’t reach a patient in time (or you’ll botch their treatment). Time will march on, and the game will continue. But, oh, there will be consequences.—Dia Lacina
Sea of Solitude is about trauma. The sticky, mud-like kind that cakes and cracks and stings because of the thousands of cuts and abrasions we’ve accumulated. The kind that builds up while we push it down and ignore the blood seeping from our knees and elbows as we try to carry on—distracting ourselves from how it crusts on us like barnacles, loading us down until we no longer recognize ourselves or our loved ones.
Kay—ashen, red-eyed, and monstrous—is our protagonist. She has about as many answers as we do. What we learn, she learns. Answers are given and taken away, and then recapitulate and recontextualize themselves. In this way, it mimics my own experience with trauma and recovery. This is a game about mental illness, even if it eludes that distinction. As grounded as it is, Kay’s journey is far more interested in a grounded metaphorization than clinical realities.—DIa Lacnia
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
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
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