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PlayStation 2019 year in review: A quieter but enjoyable precursor to the era of PS5

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(Image credit: Insomniac)

PS5 specs – what's inside the next-generation PlayStation console?

Well, 2019 happened. There’s always a year between console generations that takes the hit, and in many ways the year that’s passed has been the one to bear the brunt. Sony’s first-party releases were limited to Days Gone and some underdog indies (if you take Hideo Kojima at his word, anyway). 

Bit harsh? Perhaps. But 2019 didn’t have its God Of War moment. There was no single game that galvanised opinion, and to be honest, I loved the year more for it. Freed from the usual blockbuster mentality, we collectively rubbed our eyes, shrugged off our preconceptions and discovered there’s more to PS4 than yet another iteration of a familiar franchise.

It meant I ended the year cherishing the new weird of Control, loving that the story of a boy and his rats broke the mould in A Plague Tale: Innocence, and pinching myself that micromanaging Norman Reedus' bowel movements could be enjoyable.

State of the nation

(Image credit: PixelOpus)

Nothing sums up 2019, or EA's fortunes, as succinctly as the the double-header of Anthem and Apex Legends. One was a triple-A juggernaut, in development for years by an acclaimed studio, that ticked all the live service boxes that middle management could ask for. The other was Apex Legends. Stealth released by Titanfall 2 developer Respawn in February, it undercut any idea that we needed Anthem in the first place. Like a Vegas magician, EA made us forget about the messy failure of BioWare’s jet-suited loot-’em-up with the sublime shootery of another free-to-play battle royale.

In fact, 2019 appears to be the year the live service experience died, or at least fell into a food coma after having its cake and eating it. As Bungie began the year divorcing from Activision to try and shock its confused series back into our consciousness, The Division 2 released to a growing sense of apathy. Having loved the original game, I could have spent the year playing The Division 2. I could also have spent the year dawdling around my local grocery store's meal-for-one isle.

The saving grace meant there was more time for genuinely amazing games like Resident Evil 2 and Crash Team Racing Nitro Fuelled, albeit amazing games from the days of sub-100 polygon counts. Don’t judge me, but replaying these PS1 classics on PS4 felt fresher than it should have. These are the prawn cocktail of video games; flavours from another era reheated for a modern audience, but still as tasty as they’ve ever been.  

(Image credit: Media Molecule)

The other retro revival of sorts was Mortal Kombat 11. I played this at a posh launch event in London surrounded by excitable streamers and professional cosplayers and, rather fittingly, had dental surgery the day before, occasionally dripping blood as I played; the purest of cosplay. The game itself was solid if uninspired, and only really notable for recognising Johnny Cage as video games' biggest douche. I like to see MK11 as a public apology from NetherRealm for all the little Johnnies that have come before.

The year was also one where Sony reduced its release schedule; 2019 was another year The Last Of Us Part 2 wasn’t going to be on our PS4s. Sony also chose to pull out of E3 2019. What will a year hold without Sony dictating the agenda? If we thought it would be quiet, we were very wrong. 

Sony’s new State Of Play live stream launched in March to a muted response; there was news on Days Gone, Iron Man VR grabbed headlines for being Iron Man in VR, and Concrete Genie showed there was more to Sony first-party games than violence and suffering. It wouldn’t be the last State Of Play for 2019, either, and each would get better as Sony proved happy to steal other publishers’ thunder. 

(Image credit: Camouflaj / Sony / Marvel)

Dreams’ early access release took over my life in 2019. I never thought I’d be able to remake Psycho Pigs UXB on a PS4, or that I’d want to, but in 2019 I did just that. It barely worked, but other Dreams users would go on to prove the real power of Media Molecule’s platform as incredible creations demonstrated the future of community-based development. Of course, Dreams was also the place to find more Mario clones than a Chinese arcade but its likely these will be deleted following the game's full launch in 2020. 

What’s also coming in 2020 is PS5. That’s the official name, don’t you know? Sony spent much of the year teasing and leaking news of its next-gen console from a bunker somewhere in America. Beginning in April, this slow drip feed of info was PS5 lead architect Mark Cerny's way of inching us towards hard facts about the console. 

Everyone suddenly became an expert on ray tracing and the ins-and-outs of SSDs and data streaming. A giant V-shaped dev kit leaked to the internet. Looking a cross between a ‘50s cadillac and a jukebox, this thing of beauty divided everyone – but still it looks better than a boring old PC-in-a-box that’s too big to fit under anyone’s TVs.   

(Image credit: Sony)

What we really discovered, and this is the big take, is that Marvel’s Spider-Man will run faster than a spider-can on PS5. And anything that can make Insomniac’s web-slinging super-sim play even better is good news. That and maybe, just maybe, Knack 3 is happening.

Deacon of hope

Now, this next bit you’re going to either really love or really hate. Days Gone arrived in the first half of 2019 and divided the gaming world. Some (me) relished Bend Studio’s epic road trip across Oregon fighting hordes of not-zombie-zombies, and Crazy Taxi-ing survivors to safety. Others didn’t, and they were all wrong. Ultimately it won PlayStation Game Of The Year at the Golden Joysticks, so that should really be the end of that.

This great divide in the gamer hive mind carried into the latter half of the year and, just as it died down, everyone agreed to disagree once again when Death Stranding arrived. “I had nothing around me,” Kojima, told an eager Tokyo Game Show audience a few months before his game's release, “but a dream and a passion to create.” Somehow, he managed to make Death Stranding.

(Image credit: Kojima Productions)

The game was achingly cool. My cool ached. Co-starring every famous person Kojima could wave a mocap camera at, Death Stranding tasked us with rebuilding America, one UPS parcel at a time. 

We ‘Liked’ each others’ structures, constructed to make navigating the world easier, and looked on glassy-eyed as Kojima’s notoriously laboured and confusing cinematics played out. It was a game about building human connections, demonstrating how we can communicate and collaborate to make the world a better place. It also let us throw piss bombs at ghosts and gurn into a mirror.

What Death Stranding really taught me is that our imaginations are often greater than those of the creators we idolise. Death Stranding, the game, is actually very simple. Death Stranding, the social project, the one fans played online for years as they dissected every tweet and trailer for clues to what the game might be, was altogether weirder. Death Stranding wasn’t Silent Hills. 

(Image credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment)

"2019 can be seen as the year none of us could decide on a clear winner."

It wasn’t MGS6, or a meta multiplayer, or any number of wild theories and mental cul-de-sacs fans would charge down. It was a game about walking, and delivering parcels to internet personalities. That some of us have spent over 100 hours watching Norman Reedus scramble awkwardly up a hill also shows sometimes simple ideas are just okay.

On reflection, 2019 can be seen as the year none of us could decide on a clear winner. From Days Gone to Death Stranding and even the year’s swansong, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, we all failed to agree. But I take a positive from this, as a lull in a precious few blockbusters stealing the headlines meant we could diverge and find our own paths. Maybe that’s what Death Stranding was about, after all. 

For more, check out more upcoming PS4 games for 2019 and beyond, or watch our latest episode of Dialogue Options below.