It’s been a relatively quiet year for PC gaming, but that in no way means it’s been a bad year.
In the absence of the usual big-budget RPG sprawls and major franchise regurgitations, more experimental games have stepped into the spotlight.
So here’s to the weird and the alternative ones that have brightened up 2019. In an industry that can often feel relentlessly industrial and commercial, it’s refreshing to have a year in which the weird and inventive games have been allowed to flourish.
We've also listed the best PC games ever if you fancy playing older titles as well.
1. Disco Elysium
Old-school style RPG Disco Elysium creeps up out of nowhere to take our top spot. It’s an RPG in the purest sense of the word, with each of your actions feeling consequential, and a robust levelling system that lets you immerse yourself in the role of good cop, bad cop, or some kind of maverick in between.
You play a troubled detective working in a fictional city district overrun by vice. While investigating a dark conspiracy stemming from a murder, you’ll face tough choices that will affect your character’s mental state and future dialogue options - it’s even possible to drive him utterly mad!
There’s minimal combat, but a great sense of gravitas to every player decision, making for one of the most weighty and oppressive RPGs ever made.
2. Resident Evil 2 REmake
Is this the greatest videogame remake ever made? Quite possibly. With Resident Evil2 REmake, Capcom wisely stayed true to the beats of the original story, which sees dual protagonists with divergent stories Leon and Claire try to escape the zombie-infested Raccoon City.
Beyond that, this remake reimagines everything else perfectly. Resources are scarce, basic zombies become a constant bullet-absorbent threat that can burst through doors between areas, and Mr X is a systemic menace, unstoppably stomping after you for half the game.
There’s even something of that Souls-like level design as you steadily open up shortcuts to offer some respite from the horror.
3. Outer Wilds
Gamers have a fair amount of space exploration games to choose from today, but something that many of them lack is personality – a sense that the places you discover have their own cultures, architecture and people, places that are homes rather than just resource repositories to exploit.
Outer Wilds addresses that, treating us to a warm, welcoming adventure filled with cosmic mystery and puzzles.
It’s a game for those who want to take their time, to explore every corner and learn about the diversity of planets they visit. You’ll die and be reborn many times, but it’s presented so elegantly that you’ll be smiling all the way instead of biting your controller in frustration (see: Sekiro).
4. Total War: Three Kingdoms
The Total War series has always been one of the finest exclusives on PC, but since its stabs at the Warhammer canon it’s reached new heights in terms of integrating great storytelling into its campaigns.
With Three Kingdoms, diplomacy, quests and campaigns all feel rich and engaging, while the more immediate matter of the battles themselves continues to be unrivalled.
Ancient China is a resplendent setting for the Total War formula, and fans of the Three Kingdoms saga will be delighted to lead great generals like Lu Bu, Cao Cao and Guan Yu into battle to the chimes of a beautiful musical score. From the sight of elegant Chinese forts burning in a night siege to the epic turn-based campaign, this is a spectacle worthy of its epic source material.
5. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
When Sekiro was announced, the assumption was that it would be ‘Dark Souls in feudal Japan’. Instead, it took the brave step of leaving behind much of the intricate Souls formula in favour of a flashier, more stylised and more linear Samurai adventure that owes more to the Ninja Gaiden series.
One crucial thing that Sekiro retains from Dark Souls is the head-pounding difficulty and subsequent satisfaction of mastering those precise parries, or of finally overcoming a gruelling boss who ground you to dust about 20 times.
Once again, From Software reassert themselves as masters of unforgiving gameplay that rewards the most headstrong of players.
From the nightmare sequences in Max Payne to the time-twisting Quantum Break, Finnish developer Remedy has always had a penchant for the paranormal.
These brilliant ideas weren’t always matched by compelling mechanics, but with Control the developer seems to have finally found the right balance.
A big part of Control’s appeal is its open design. The game’s setting, a Brutalist security complex called the Oldest House, is a fascinating environment, where you try to make sense of the shifting surroundings and reanimated bodies possessed by some kind of dark forces of physics. The flowing gravity-free combat is excellent too.
7. Untitled Goose Game
Some games are just made to make you smile, and few in recent years have been as effective at doing that as Untitled Goose Game. The irreverent sort-of stealth game casts you as the titular waterfowl causing chaos in a quaint English village.
You steal vegetables, create diversions while committing mischief, and terrorise locals with your honking as you trot around the pastelly and pleasing environs of the village.
It doesn’t last long, but it’s a couple of the cheeriest hours you’ll spend with a game all year.
8. Metro Exodus
The Metro series has always flown just under the mainstream radar, while offering some of the best linear FPS storytelling since Half-life 2. Exodus moves away from its predecessors’ murky subway settings into the overworld of post-apocalyptic Russia. This means a greater range of environs, and vast open levels that offer freedom of approach.
Despite the trademark bleak ambience, it maintains a well-paced sense of adventure as you take a train across the Russian wasteland. It’s atmospheric and gritty, effortlessly flowing between survival-horror and impressive insights into civilisation on the surface.
9. The Outer Worlds
Obsidian are masters of storytelling, so when their latest RPG The Outer Worlds was announced there was a sense that it would be the spiritual successor to the beloved Fallout: New Vegas. And in some ways it is, as you bounce between space colonies, explore strange locales, and engage with a vibrant world that has distinctly Fallouty future-50s stylings.
Choose which factions to side with, make decisions that will affect the colony’s fate, and run around diverse worlds scavenging resources to improve your character. It’s not as content-packed or meaty as the biggest RPGs of recent years, but its colourfully consumerist world is a joy to explore for dozens of hours.
Medieval first-person fighting games can often feel shambolic; a whirlwind of iffy animations, even iffier ragdolls and unthinkably high bunnyhops that would be impossible in a 100lb suit of armour.
Mordhau polishes off many of those rough edges, sharpening the combat to make it feel brutal and crunchy and immediate. Limbs fly, weapons have impact, and its physics-based play means you can do things like block a throwing knife with a shield you grabbed off the ground, then stick it between your enemy’s ribs.
Never has the expression ‘rough and ready’ felt more apt.
- Check out the best multiplayer PC games
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Robert Zak is a freelance writer for Official Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer, TechRadar and more. He writes in print and digital publishing, specialising in video games. He has previous experience as editor and writer for tech sites/publications including AndroidPIT and ComputerActive! Magazine.