In a weird way, it's arguable that a game doesn't begin on a main menu. It starts months or years before, when it's revealed at an E3 or when it picks up a publisher and pushes out its debut trailer, and the audience, across forums and comments sections and social media, collectively gasps about what this Shiny New Thing could be. That, in the weird way I'm aiming at, is when a video game actually begins. When the developer holds out their baby they've been building for countless months and/or years, and has you behold it for the first time. It's just a glimpse. You don't get to play the game yet. But what that game is or could be has already entered into a space where your mind interacts with it.
Sure, you can debate that "most anticipated" lists reward PR and marketing more than developers and final gameplay. That's true. But, going back to my original argument, a video game begins merely with anticipation. No, you can't judge a book by its cover, but a book's cover is where your critical assessment of what the book can be certainly does begin on the cover. Likewise, you can't judge a game by its trailer, but that first blush, that debut, is, in a sense, where the video game begins for you, before you ever get to push the start button.
So, in the spirit of "a game begins the first time you see it," these are my 5 Most Anticipated Games of 2019.
#1 Cyberpunk 2077 - Back in my pen-and-pad days of role-playing games, a quiet rivalry took place in my head between Shadowrun and Cyberpunk. For years I've seen Shadowrun, with its magical fantasy take on cyberpunk (the genre) win in the video game space, despite the fact that I've never liked the intermingling of elves and technology. But finally, Cyberpunk 2077's Blade Runner realism will settle the score. Maybe. Developer CD Projekt says 2018 is the earliest possible launch window, and it's not afraid to push that date later and later in order to get it right.
#2 Iron Harvest - This real-time strategy game emphasizes clever gameplay and tactics over speed and click-spamming. But let's be honest, it's the post-World War I diesel-powered mechs fighting over English, Polish, and Russian farmlands and factories that really get their hooks into my cheek. Anytime you strap tank guns to dopey-looking water towers with spider legs, I'm there with a bowl of popcorn.
#3 Rebel Galaxy Outlaw - Jump back, Chris Roberts, it looks like Rebel Galaxy is making the true spiritual successor to Wing Commander: Privateer. Except Outlaw is doing it with a broken-down blue collar vibe and an art style that makes it look like a fancified intro to Mystery Science Theater 3000. And that's absolutely not a complaint. After the simulation-heavy Elite Dangerous and the experience-heavy No Man's Sky, I'm ready for a plain and simple space trucker shoot 'em up in a galaxy that isn't trying to take any one thing too seriously.
#4 Sable - Here's a poignant example of that "video games begin the first time you see them" argument. All I've seen of Sable is a bright, pastel wasteland, a soaring Japanese Breakfast soundtrack, and a line style reminding me of Erik Larsen's SuperPatriot comics. Yet I'm completely on board for this sand dune-sliding, spaceship wreck-salvaging good time. Or solemn time. Sable looks solemn. All that, combined with a coming-of-age narrative, already has me drawing parallels between Sable and Rey, the little salvager that could, of Star Wars fame. How Sable makes sagebrush and dust storms feel like a fairyland is beyond me, but I'm willing to find out.
#5 Skull & Bones - My search for the perfect Age of Sail video game continues. I know that Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag had to do some land-based piracy, but the idea of playing a Black Flag without all the parkour and alien ancestry nonsense sounds like my cup of East Indies tea. Speaking of which, I'm excited to see this rarely explored (in video games, at least) portion of the globe. If Skull & Bones can take my ridiculously fantastical frigate from Sumatra to the Philippines, then I'll be in an Indonesian heaven that will take me back to my Navy days.