Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
As both its title and its intro copy proudly proclaim, What Are You Playing This Weekend? isn’t really about our takes on the video games that take up so much of the downtime of our day-to-day lives. No, this feature is fundamentally about you, the wonderfully loyal readers who chime in every week to answer the all-important question we pose in this space every Thursday night. So when we released our annual list of the games that The A.V. Club liked in 2019 last week, we put out the usual call for our readers to chime in with their own favorites from the year gone by. Here, in the final installation of WAYPTW? of 2019, we’d like to highlight a few of these choices, reminding us of the sheer breadth of games that came out this year, and also the madness inherent in trying to keep track of every single one of them while trying to live our various and hectic lives.
So, A.V. Club readers: What were you playing this year?
First up, we’ve got a strong defense of Sam Barlow’s Telling Lies—the even-more-complex follow-up to Barlow’s 2015 award-winner Her Story—offered up by commenting mainstay Shinigami Apple Merchant:
I liked Telling Lies because it made the horrors of contemporary duplicity utterly palpable and chilling. If the 2019 HBO mini-series Chernobyl extensively depicts the global scale of a nation choosing to ignore facts it finds contrary to its grand narrative, even to the point of throwing its best and brightest onto an effigy pyre to maintain that facade, Telling Lies goes all in on the elucidation of the personal stakes of deception—much smaller in scope but equally devastating.
Here in this FMV gem, you can examine, Citizen Kane-style, the depths and nuance of one man’s continually perpetuated delusions of white-knight “greatness.” This is his Zelda world and he’s Link and he’s doing whatever he thinks is right, every single time he wills to do so. No matter how much his boss, his wife, his friends; ANYONE and everyone tells him he’s wrong and/or he needs to stop yesterday. He never stops gaslighting, course correcting his narrative, and preceding with a new set of lies to paint himself anew from victim to hero once more. Again and again and again. And the ripples of disgusting damage he causes is only eclipsed by the sheer pointlessness of it all.
Baba Is You has to be one of the most unique, not to mention mind melting, gaming experiences I’ve ever had. I’m gonna have to give that quiet, unassuming little indie puzzle game my GOTY pick.
As for more narrative experiences, we’ve got Merve speaking up on behalf of Manifold Garden and Heaven’s Vault:
I liked Manifold Garden because it proved that mind-bending puzzles didn’t have to be excruciatingly difficult. Once you get the hang of the game’s gravity- and factal-based mechanics, it’s pretty smooth sailing. This is a game that rewards thinking through a puzzle rather than brute force, but each puzzle is perfectly tuned so that tinkering gives you a hint about what to do. Couple that with a gorgeous aesthetic and butter-smooth animations, and you’ve got one of the best first-person puzzlers in years.
I liked Heaven’s Vault because it actually made me feel like I was uncovering a mystery. Heaven’s Vault is a difficult game to describe. It’s part linguistics simulator, part Telltale clone. It also features something akin to stop-motion animation but where characters leave trails of slowly-fading palimpsests behind. And it’s all wrapped up in a unique aesthetic I’d describe as “post-post-apocalyptic fantasy Arab-futurist.” The prose is stunning, and the story brims with historical intrigue. It’s not a game I’d recommend to everyone, but it’s definitely a game for people who like experiences such as these.
Finally, we’ve got sodas-and-fries serving up the best match of text formatting and game choice imaginable:
Thanks for reading, folks. We’ll be back here next year, as we continue to dig into this weird, engaging, wonderful, and sometimes-fowl hobby.