DualShockers’ Game of the Year 2019 Awards — Judgment Overrules the Competition

DualShockers presents their Game of the Year Awards for 2019, with Judgment winning Staff Choice and Death Stranding nabbing Readers' Choice.

December 23, 2019

With the decade quickly coming to a wrap, it is time for DualShockers’ annual Game of the Year awards selection. In all my time with this publication, this game of the year has been the most contentious — a fact that speaks to the many fantastic titles that came out this year. But whether you stan Fire Emblem: Three HousesDeath Stranding, or Apex Legends, most notable games got their fair share of recognition in 2019.

Before we jump into the Game of the Year 2019 awards, I wanted to throw a quick shout out to the DualShockers community at large — this was the first year we’ve added a way for readers to jump into our site-wide vote. We had a terrific turnout that changed the tides of selections. Meanwhile, both Readers’ Choice for Game of the Year 2019 and Most Anticipated of 2020 got record turnouts, with some of the most diverse picks in any poll we’ve run.

In short, thank you all for being here and being part of the process. With an eye on 2020, we are looking to bring more to you readers across the board: whether that means live streams, news coverage, or ways to participate in these kinds of awards.

Now, without further ado, here are the DualShockers’ Game of the Year Awards for 2019:

DualShockers Game of the Year 2019: Judgment

Yeah, you read that right — Judgment is our Game of the Year winner. Like every game we discussed during DualShockers’ Game of the Year deliberations, Judgment made gaming in 2019 very special. But the reason why Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s Yakuza spinoff received so much praise from our staff is that every facet of that game is done exceptionally well. From its familiar open-world of Kamurocho to its wild narrative, it was such a treat to experience Takayuki Yagami’s first adventure.

Much of the argument for Judgment as Game of the Year was due to its variety in both story and gameplay. Its central narrative thread involves a series of mysterious murders in Kamurocho; it’s essentially a melodramatic crime drama that is very intense and very serious. At the same time, you may find yourself in a side job where you are trying to stop a pervy dude named the “Panty Professor” from stealing some random girl’s underwear. It’s super goofy and ridiculous.

It is such a change of pace from one another, but Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio managed to fit all that diverse gameplay into one game without it feeling detached.

To address the elephant in the room, Judgment hardly got the same high score from us at release that other major players on the list did — including two 10 out of 10 titles (Apex Legends and Astral Chain). But some games age like fine wine–in the first week or two of review, it is hard to determine which titles will get their roots in you. And like our 2016 and 2017 choices (Final Fantasy XV and Persona 5, respectively), our picks aren’t always the best-reviewed game of the year.

We also congratulate Judgment on winning a few other awards in the process, including Best PS4 GameBest Narrative, and Best Open World.

So yes — a lot of our Game of the Year discussions fell on the innovation and polish of games like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the ambition behind Fire Emblem: Three Houses, or the raw boundary-pushing of Resident Evil 2 and Death Stranding. But when the battle lines were drawn, there was one thing we all agreed on: Judgement was unanimously some of the most fun we’ve had in gaming in 2019. And in the end, isn’t that the most important metric for Game of the Year?

Game of the Year 2019 (Readers’ Choice): Death Stranding

Despite adding the community’s choice to the site-wide vote, this is the first time in three years the staff and DualShockers community have differed on Game of the Year. However, it did go to the other most-notable PS4 exclusive on the market: Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding.

Closely followed by both Resident Evil 2 (3rd place) and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, there’s a lot of hype and payoff to Death Stranding. The game managed to win both Best Art Direction, Best Audio Design, and Best Graphics as it genuinely pushed the industry forward and set new benchmarks that will (hopefully) be followed up on next generation.

For as many jokes floating around about Death Stranding creating the first game in the “Strand Genre,” Hideo Kojima should be proud of the massive accomplishment, and his studio undoubtedly has a bright life ahead of it.

For a quick rundown from the votes, check the infographic below:

Most Anticipated Game of 2020: Cyberpunk 2077

CD Projekt Red’s latest project is around the corner, and it is hard to be anything but excited. It might be nuts to think that the team can follow up to the immensely successful The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, but with such a talented group of developers and bold source material, the ball is in CDPR’s court. And based on the trailers and gameplay we’ve seen, the team is going to pulling out all the stops and will undoubtedly impress.

Most Anticipated Game of 2020 (Readers’ Choice): Final Fantasy VII Remake

No surprises here — while the site-wide and Readers’ Choice poll diverged again on this vote, it was close on either. Specifically, DualShockers Community has its eye on both The Last of Us: Part II (18%) and Cyberpunk 2077 (20%).

With that said, we can’t downplay the hype for Final Fantasy VII Remake. The game–which garnered a standing ovation during its initial 2014 E3 appearance–is finally set to release in 2020. Arguably the best RPG ever created, gameplay demos seamlessly bridge the gap between innovation and nostalgia. The first part of this remake has been in the oven for a long time, but we will see the final project soon enough.

For a quick rundown from the votes, check the infographic below:

Hardware of the Year: Nintendo Switch Lite

Nintendo manages to grab top slot for Hardware of the Year with the Nintendo Switch Lite. While it isn’t the technical marvel or truly out of the box thinking, Nintendo Switch Lite does something arguably more important — fill the gap in the market for a dedicated handheld console.

Sure, the mainline Nintendo Switch is a hybrid that can be a handheld system. But for those gamers who are looking for a straight-up successor to the legacies of the Nintendo 3DS or PlayStation Vita, the Nintendo Switch Lite is a form-first love letter to handheld gaming.

And who knows — this may be the starting note in a more feature-rich line of new Nintendo Switch hardware. I can dream, right?

Best Developer: Capcom

If we are talking about which group of development teams had a banger year, it’s impossible to overlook the team at Capcom. With two major tentpole releases under their belt, Capcom took 2019 by storm and mostly took hold of the gaming scene for the beginning half of the year.

For one, Resident Evil 2 helped create a new standard in how remakes should be done. Meanwhile, Devil May Cry 5 did everything but disappoint, offering a fantastic installment in an already noteworthy series. Hell, even Matt Walker — Capcom USA’s CEO — isn’t shy about saying it: “Capcom is back.

Best Publisher: Nintendo

While the dedicated Nintendo EAD development teams seem to be biding their time and energy, there is no shortage of terrific titles published from Nintendo. This includes a swath of Third-Party games that you may not have known were created out of the House of Mario: Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Next Level Games), Astral Chain (Platinum Games), and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Grezzo).

However, there is something to be said about being a blockbuster collaborative force in the industry. Nintendo is continually making smart choices in which projects to back, and it is paying off for them with a fantastic library on Nintendo Switch.

Best First Party Game: Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Speaking of Nintendo, let’s talk about Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Specifically, the game is our Best First Party Game of 2020. While we are years past the Fire Emblem renaissance on the Nintendo 3DS, a few people had doubts about the future of the series — especially with so little known about the title going into 2019. However, developer Intelligent Systems isn’t known to disappoint.

While previous blockbuster Fire Emblem games acted as a return to form, Three Houses was a refinement: a gripping story, understandable battle mechanics, and the depth needed to satisfy hardcore fans of the series. It should be no surprise that the title also managed to land Best Nintendo Switch GameBest RPG, and Best Strategy Game in the process.

Best Indie Game: Disco Elysium

The indie darling of 2019, Disco Elysium takes the top billing for Best PC Game of the year. Perhaps one of the more overlooked titles by the gaming scene at large (until it started picking up awards at The Game Awards 2019), developer ZA/UM brought one of the most ambitious titles in 2019.

Though rough around the edges at launch, the game features an exciting world and story that is nearly unmatched in 2019. Even better, the shift away from focusing on turn-based combat to the dialogue and commentary between those beats is truly rewarding — albeit, likely not for every gamer.

If you are into slower burns with multiple playthrough potential, don’t ignore Disco Elysium. Additionally, Disco Elysium wins Best PC Game of 2019.

Best PS4 Game: Judgment

Best Xbox One Game: Gears 5

Surprise surprise! The game that came in first for our Xbox One Definitives list of must-play Xbox games won the top honor.

While it’s likely no surprise, Gears 5 has a lot going for it — specifically, it is both a technical marvel that improves on the original series in every way imaginable. If this is what The Coalition and Xbox Games Studios has up their sleeve for their next generation of titles, they are coming out swinging in 2020 with the Xbox Series X.

Best Nintendo Switch Game: Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Best PC Game: Disco Elysium

Best Mobile Game: Sayonara Wild Hearts

Abstract. Weird. Beautiful. Charming. A visual and musical treat. There is a lot to love about Sayonara Wild Hearts, and it is a lot more accessible to all gamers — including those who only play on mobile devices.

Touching on combating your inner demons and growing as a person, this is a game that’s surprisingly deep while being easily approachable. And while veteran Swedish developers Simogo have a long history of critically acclaimed games, there is no doubt that Sayonara Wild Hearts tops that list.

Best Action-Adventure Game: Devil May Cry 5

We mentioned a bit earlier that Devil May Cry 5 is perhaps the strongest showing in the long-running series. But when we are thinking about what wins Best Action-Adventure Game, a lot of the decision-making goes into pure gameplay.

Thankfully, Devil May Cry 5 has some of the best — and the most variation — of the year. Stylish and nearly perfect, the action in Devil May Cry 5 rewards those who are patient enough to perfect it. Even better, being able to play as multiple characters is not only immensely rewarding but gives you the exact amount of depth you want. Perfect one, or master them all.

This isn’t to say that Devil May Cry 5 is solely a powerhouse in gameplay–the title also manages to win Best Soundtrack of 2019 for obvious reasons:

This year was a banger for Action Adventure-dedicated gamers, but Devil May Cry 5 is one on everyone’s shortlist.

Best Battle Royale Game: Apex Legends

With some significant competition from Tetris 99, this year’s top prize for Best Battle Royale is Apex Legends. With titans like Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds battling it out for dominance of the genre, it would be tough for any game to break into the market. Yet, with a reasonably low-key launch with minimal PR buzz, that is precisely what Apex Legends managed to do with their hero-based shooter.

But why? What resonated to let the game break into one of the most competitive genres in the 2010s? Apex Legends has a lot of things going for it thanks to the smart positioning from developer Respawn Entertainment. Every moment of the game feels action-packed, thanks to the intelligent design of the map, quality of life changes to the genre (which were quickly incorporated into Fortnite), or even the notion of a “Jumpmaster” to random matchmakers to work closer together.

These reasons are why Apex Legends won some other major categories this year, notably Best Competitive Game, Best Multiplayer Game, and Best Shooter. Respawn Entertainment continues to evolve most genres they touch, and we can’t wait to see what their next projects (and future developments in Apex Legends) hold.

Best Competitive Game: Apex Legends

Best Cooperative Game: Luigi’s Mansion 3

The Luigi’s Mansion series holds a special place in the hearts of most Nintendo fans, and Luigi’s Mansion 3 is on the shortlist for best Nintendo Switch titles of the year. However, it is most certainly the best title to play Cooperatively with friends with the inclusion of Gooigi.

This was explicitly our favorite new addition to Luigi’s Mansion 3:

the aptly-named clone of Luigi that is, yes, made out of goo. While Gooigi was first introduced in the 3DS remake of the original Luigi’s Mansion, in Luigi’s Mansion 3 he takes on a more vital role as Luigi’s companion, especially when it comes to puzzle solving. By clicking the right analog stick (or giving another player a Joy-Con in co-op), Luigi can summon Gooigi from the Poltergust to act as a second set of hands, which gives the player a whole new set of environmental choices to consider.

With this in mind, it is no wonder it takes up both the spot for Best Cooperative Game and Best Family Game for 2019.

Best DLC or Expansion: Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn can’t be stopped — it was one of the first games on the PS4, and it is closing out the generation with some of the strongest showings yet. Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers has placed the massive online game into the best place it’s ever been, with new lore, content, and a promise of future rollouts to keep the active fanbase entertained for time to come.

But the best part of Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers? The fact that this expansion feels so great because developer Square Enix has listened to the community and addressed concerns, criticisms, and feedback along the way. With that in mind, the title at large also takes home our Best Ongoing Game award for 2019.

Best Family Game: Luigi’s Mansion 3

Best Fighting Game: Mortal Kombat 11

Despite a very, very bumpy launch, Mortal Kombat 11 has managed to shine this year as the Best Fighting Game of 2019 (despite a crowded group of exceptionally great fighting games). It seems commonplace that Mortal Kombat 11 win this top honor. Still, NeatherRealm worked for this slot by introducing customization options and a much more in-depth tutorial that will push middling players into the more nuanced gameplay needed for expert players.

Mortal Kombat 11 is a visual treat with a thrilling story, but that is expected of NeatherRealm in 2019.

Best Horror Game: Resident Evil 2

Not mincing words, Resident Evil 2 is probably the best remake we’ve ever seen. Capcom knows they hit a slam dunk, with everyone on the internet fighting to post their best video of Mr. X chasing them across the game and clamoring to survive Racoon City all over again.

With the Resident Evil series firmly re-embracing survival horror, the game straddles the line between having just the right amount of fear and action to keep you on edge. Between this and Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, we are undoubtedly in a renaissance for the series, and we can expect more greatness in the year to come.

As no surprise, Resident Evil 2 also takes home the award for Best Remake or Remaster of 2019.

Best Interactive Story Game: Life is Strange 2

With the shuttering of Telltale Games, the Interactive Story Game genre has hit a weird rough patch in 2019. But the down notes hasn’t managed to hamper Dontnod Entertainment’s Life is Strange 2 — a continually remarkable emotional journey with a terrific narrative.

Best Metroidvania: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Koji Igarashi has returned with a force! The creator of the Castlevania series has expanded his horizons with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, widely delivering on some of his most ambitious promises laid out in the game’s Kickstarter.

Not everything is perfect — a few mechanics like crafting can be left by the wayside, and the grind (like many later Castlevania games) feels very real. However, the Metroidvania elements and soundtrack are superb, thanks in part to fun shard collecting and smart puzzle design.

Best Multiplayer Game: Apex Legends

Best Platformer: Super Mario Maker 2

It seems like the trick for any good Platformer in 2019 is being able to create your own maps. And… well… that’s most of what Super Mario Maker 2 is! In all seriousness, the game enhances a chunk of the original with new functionality, a fairly dedicated story mode, and better filtering options to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Your gameplay experience will likely depend on RNG with the online community. Still, there are a ton of creative people who stretch the mechanics of Super Mario to its limits.

Best Puzzle Game: Tetris 99

The most popular puzzle game in history met the most popular sub-genre this generation, and the result is flat out addictive. Tetris 99 is fast-paced, smart, and questions everything you think you know about the game. With the bonus of fueling a “one more game” mentality, Tetris 99 is a tour de force for the Battle Royale genre that opens up the possibility of where those tenets can flourish outside of dropping from airships.

Best Racing Game: Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled

Racing back with the nostalgia that fueled it, Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled is a fun remake that checks all the right boxes for a great racing game. Bright, colorful, and remastered for the current generation, it’s hard not to appreciate the love and polish that developer Beenox poured into this classic.

Sure, some of it is old-timey and reminiscent of the original PlayStation era… but isn’t that the fun of it? If we were playing one racing game this year, we’d prefer it be one that gives us a Nitro-Fueled blast from the past.

Best Remake or Remaster: Resident Evil 2

Best Role-Playing Game: Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Best Shooter: Apex Legends

Best Sports Game: Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020

There are a ton of technically great, polished sports games that came out in 2019 that push the limits of Baseball or Hockey titles. And then there is Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. Maybe what makes this title so endearing is the fact that it isn’t overly technical and can be enjoyed by everyone.

Even better, the game is a substantial improvement of this (somehow) pervasive series. With a ton of surprising polish, some Tokyo history, and pure fun, this might be the first time the series is recommendable to every owner of a Nintendo console. Seriously, consider picking it up if you are a minigame fan.

Best Strategy Game: Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Best Virtual Reality Game: Beat Saber

Let nobody tell you that the virtual reality scene is slowing down. The rhythm, light-saber based title Beat Saber has deservedly taken the medium by storm. Introducing an entirely new way to enjoy rhythm games and VR alike, this title alone has added a ton of people to the still-nascent medium and is a must-own for everyone with a headset that can handle it.

Best Art Direction: Death Stranding

Best Audio Design: Death Stranding

Best Character: Mr. X (Resident Evil 2)

Mr. X is perfect. We’ve written an entire editorial on why we love him. With that said, he is the secret sauce to Resident Evil 2 — both what makes the game so horrifying and magical. And also, what makes the game so meme-worthy in 2019 with a ton of mods. Nothing screams evil like having either Thomas the Tank Engine or Dio Brando chasing you down the hall.

More than any character (including protagonists), Mr. X added the most to his respective game and cemented Resident Evil 2 as a must-play in 2019.

Best Graphics: Death Stranding

Best Narrative: Judgment

Best Open World: Judgment

Best Ongoing Game: Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Best Performance: Mads Mikkelson as Cliff (Death Stranding)

While Death Stranding‘s narrative may be divisive in execution, there is unanimous approval for Mads Mikkelson’s role as Cliff. Delivering (arguably) the strongest arc of the game, Mikkelson needs to get his props for driving home Death Stranding in a meaningful way. How? Well, I’m not going to spoil anything — but you most certainly should be picking up this game in 2020.

Biggest Shocker of 2019: Half-Life is Reborn Again in Alyx

In 2019 we have witnessed the death of Half-Life 3 meme. After a thirteen-year hiatus, we finally see a new Half-Life game in Half-Life: Alyx. And this one is going to be in VR. Oh yeah, and it is coming in just a few months.

Seriously, this announcement was a barnstormer and is a shot to the hip for Final Fantasy VIINioH 2DOOM Eternal, and Cyberpunk 2077. This is either a significant show of confidence or a massive miscalculation by Valve. Either way, we are here for it.

Worst Moment in the Gaming Industry: Hearthstone: Blitzchung Suspended as Blizzard Backs China

Blizzard has been on a roll for the last few years — this time creating an international PR disaster that sparked a broader discussion into Esport censorship, China’s encroachment into gaming Politik, and commentation from the US Government.

For those who missed it, Hong Kong-based Hearthstone Esports player Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung– upon winning the Grandmasters — used his time to advocate support for the Hong Kong protests. Blizzard responded swiftly by banning Blitzchung for a year and rescinding his prize winnings from the tournament, immediately calling into question Chinese influence within Blizzard’s policy.

On the one hand, Blizzard released a statement on the situation claiming that their relation to China does not influence their policy (and partially rescinding some of their announced punishments). However, it’s hard to imagine that without such a broad international backlash, Blizzard would have made any change or statement.

Here’s hoping that 2020 will show a new embrace of democratic ideals instead of whatever helps the bottom line.

Best In-Game Moment of 2019: Resident Evil 2: Getting Chased by Mr. X in the Police Station

And that’s a wrap! We have a long year of gaming ahead of us, so let us know how we did in the comments and give us a glimpse of what your personal favorites were for each category!

Lou Contaldi

Lou Contaldi specializes in both reviews and the business behind gaming. He began writing about tech and video games while getting his Juris Doctor at Hofstra University School of Law. He is maybe the only gaming journo based in Nashville, TN.

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