What a year 2020 has been.
It’s hard to talk about this year without the virus-shaped cloud hanging over absolutely everything, and how much it’s affected our daily lives. It’s been a year where film releases, concerts and conventions all saw cancellations or moved online. What didn’t seem all that affected was video games, which saw a surge in activity as people trapped in their houses looked out for new entertainment beyond binge watching Netflix. Again.
It’s also been a strange year for video games. AAA releases have been rarer than usual, allowing the indie scene to dominate much of the year, and for those eschew indie releases (what’s wrong with you?) it’s potentially appeared quiet. Arguably the most anticipated release got endlessly pushed back along the course of the year (and ended up with a bit of a disaster at launch), while a new generation of consoles launched to the delight of bot-deploying resellers everywhere.
But with this bizarre mixture of games going on, what stood out? Today I’ll be repeating what I’ve done in previous years and laying out 50 of the year’s most notable releases, factoring in review scores, discussion online and if the games brought anything new and unusual to the table. I’ll also be calling on the rest of the Geeky Brummie team to offer up their opinions on games they’ve played this year.
The games were picked using a pseudo-scientific method combining Metacritic scores, how much the game was trending amongst the gaming community, along with considerations for how interesting the game is to talk about. There’s also a little personal bias based on some excellent games I’ve played that may have slipped your attention. You may disagree with a few of the choices here, but I think this is a good, representative spread of what 2020 had to offer.
But before we get to the main 50 games of the year, let’s start with a special honourable mention.
Honourable Mention: Among Us
(InnerSloth / PC via Steam/itch.io, Switch, iOS, Android)
Among Us is, without a doubt, one of the year’s most notable games and I knew I had to cover it here today. It is also less clear if it’s even eligible for this list because while it exploded in popularity this year, it did not release this year, hence why I’ve chosen to mention it while seating it outside the main 50.
Among Us released in 2018 to silence and languished in partial obscurity, enjoyed by a small crowd of Koreans and Brazilians until streamer Sodapoppin played it on Twitch in July. Suddenly everyone followed suit and it became impossible to go on the internet without encountering a million streams of the game. We even played it!
And it’s easy to see why the game is such a success. It’s a simple game with a simple premise, but the social deduction aspects generated entertainment as friends argued amongst each other over who was sus. It’s Werewolf in video game form, except I enjoyed playing it.
Among Us is a delight, and deserves all its newfound attention. It’s a great game to rally some friends around, and in a time where everyone needed some good online games to stay in touch with friends, it was perfect.
(Devolver Digital, Phobia Game Studio / PC via Steam/GoG/MS Store, Switch, Xbox One)
(Available for Xbox Game Pass for PC and console)
Ever wanted a horror game where you play as the monster? Ever fancied stalking along, looking for the right moment to strike? Wanted to destroy the lab of questionable science from the inside?
Carrion is the answer. You play as a mysterious mass of alien tissue, all mouths and tentacles and terror. You slop around this Metroidvania in all your slithery glory, eating humans for sustenance and expansion. As you progress through the game, you mutate and gain even more horrific abilities, like being able to fire webs at your victims to allow them to struggle helplessly before you murder them, or ramming capabilities to hurl your vast mass at anyone who gets in your way.
Carrion is grim yet oddly satisfying and easily one of my favourite games of the year. I’ve never normally had much desire to trash a lab of scientists and feast on their entrails, but Carrion makes it so much fun. It’s full of great puzzles and deliriously fun carnage.
49. Tell Me Why
(Xbox Game Studios, Dontnod / PC via Steam/MS Store, Xbox One)
(Available for Xbox Game Pass for PC and console)
Tell Me Why is not the Backstreet Boys management sim we’ve all been crying out for and is actually, in all but name, Life is Strange 3. A sensitive type discovers they have powers and discover something about themselves while they deal with their demons, internal and external.
Tell Me Why is set in Alaska and focuses on the Ronan twins, Alyson and Tyler, who have been separated after the death of their mother ten years prior. Tyler has been at a youth centre after he was deemed responsible for her death after she apparently threatened him for coming out as trans, while Alyson has been struggling with the incident for the intervening years and making desperate plans to escape to Juneau.
The reunion of the twins involves them clearing out the old family home for sale, and in the process they discover their mother’s secrets and find they are able to project their memories around them like ghosts of the past. In typical Dontnod fashion, the story is full of twists and turns while our leads are forced to confront the reality of what’s been happening around them.
It’s a great story too. Not quite as good as Life is Strange, as Dontnod haven’t quite lived up to that title since its release, but there’s still a lot to like here. Alyson and Tyler are great, complex leads, and the trans representation has been handled expertly (as in, they brought in actual experts instead of guessing how to write it). There’s also a lot of the relatable teen/twenty-something angst Dontnod love on show here.
You won’t like this if you’re not a fan of these types of games, but it’s definitely worth a look otherwise.
48. Paradise Killer
(Fellow Traveller, Kaizen Game Works / PC via Steam, Switch)
One of the weirder titles of the year, Paradise Killer presented a detective story wrapped in a neon-drenched vaporwave aesthetic, presenting a world so divorced from our own its hard to know how it all fits together. From the outset, the game makes an argument for it being set in heaven/hell, the interior of a computer or someone’s endless acid trip, all at the same time. Character names like Lady Love Dies set the tone, while the central mystery, a locked room conundrum where an entire council got murdered after they willed an island into existence, raises more questions than it normally would.
The thing that really makes Paradise Killer stand out, however, is that it dares to do what other mystery games refuse to do. There’s no clear answer to its mysteries. Instead, every character is a potential suspect, and all you have to do is build a compelling case against your suspect. You can fail if your case falls apart, but if your evidence is strong, you can accuse anyone you encounter.
Paradise Killer is an utterly bizarre game that shows that games really can do anything they feel like, and if a Lynchian murder mystery set inside a techno-infused celestial drug trip is your thing, this might be worth investigating.
47. If Found…
(Annapurna Interactive, DREAMFEEL / PC via Steam, Switch, iOS)
If Found… is a visual novel combining a tale about the end of the world crossed with a simple tale about growing up in a place you don’t feel welcome. It’s about a young trans woman named Kasio, living in 1990s Ireland, clashing with her family over who she is, trying to find a group who accepts her, and learning to figure herself out.
The game’s entire interaction is through erasure. Told through Kazio’s journal entries, the player must gradually erase each page. Sometimes this is easy, as you push away from painful interactions with family or the breakdowns of friendships, and other times it’s hard, as you erase memories of euphoric music concerts, breakfast with friends and memorable first dates.
If Found… is one of those small scale story-driven games that usually passes by without much wider notice. But here, the game released to vast amounts of critical acclaim, and has snuck its way onto a handful of game of the year lists. It is by no means a game for everyone, but it is an LGBT story told well, and the number of players who can see themselves in its narrative is enough to make this a standout game from this year.
46. The Pathless
(Annapurna Interactive, Giant Squid / PC via Epic Games Store, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, iOS)
(Available on Apple Arcade)
The latest title from Abzu developers Giant Squid, The Pathless is a game that lives up to its name. An open world game with minimal quest markers and bloat, The Pathless encourages exploration and momentum above all else.
Movement is the focus here, with your hunter protagonist using her eagle to search the landscape and her bow to shoot targets that litter the landscape for boosts of speed making her journey an exhilarating blast across rolling hills and valleys. The Pathless is for you if you’re the kind of person who loves to lose themselves in vast landscapes with an Austin Wintory soundtrack guiding you along (if you liked Journey then?).
It’s also a gorgeous game to look at. Its open world clearly takes some cues from Breath of the Wild, and the art style follows suit, adopting a bold, painted style with distinct character designs. The protagonist’s visual design stands out, with the contrast between her red colour scheme and the predominant greens of the world contributing to this eye-catching design.
The Pathless was the indie darling that launched alongside the PS5, and it held its own standing alongside the likes of Spider-Man and Demon’s Souls, and that alone makes it a standout of the year.
(The Game Bakers / PC via Steam/GoG/MS Store, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
(Available for Xbox Game Pass for PC and console)
Sneaking in at the last minute, Haven is a game all about exploring an alien planet for resources to fix your spaceship and survive.
But that’s not the POINT of Haven. Instead, the heart of the game lies in its protagonists, Yu and Kay, a young couple who’ve fled to this world from their home planet. It’s not immediately obvious why they’ve fled, but this mystery lies under all their decisions as the game progresses. And their relationship marks the game’s purpose – it’s a game about love.
I made a video this year touching on how poorly romance is represented in video games, with Uncharted 4 being one of the few games featuring a realistic portrayal of a serious relationship in all its ups and downs. Haven can now join it, as Yu and Kay are immediately believable as a couple. Reminiscing, cuddling, and sharing meals all sit alongside playful fights, serious discussions about how they plan to survive long term, and occasional conflict. And your ability to play as both characters allows you to view both perspectives of the couple, allowing them to thrive as an equal team in the player’s eyes.
It’s not too intense a game, but there’s something satisfying about swooping around with your jet boots while holding hands and occasionally battling corrupted creatures, even if it won’t feel too taxing. Even the survival aspects are relaxed, as you just need to eat at least once a day with abundant ingredients, but the experience is still a relaxed one that’s worth your time.
And if nothing else, we now have another example of an attempt to show a real relationship in a video game, and for that it must be applauded.
(Humble Games, Happy Ray Games / PC vis Steam/MS Store, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One)
(Available for Xbox Game Pass for PC and console)
It’s hard not to talk about this excellent tale of an LGBT-friendly witch school without bringing up a certain other magic school that began to feel a little less LGBT-friendly based on the recent statements of its creator. And indeed, for fans of that other magic school who’ve felt ostracised, I do highly recommend they give Ikenfell a try, as I’m sure they’ll find a welcome home here.
Ikenfell is a somewhat underrated title, but one that I included on this list as a personal recommendation. It’s a Japanese style RPG (albeit one made in Canada) about a girl named Maritte. She starts the game trying to find Ikenfell, the magic school attended by her sister, Safina. Safina has gone quiet, and Maritte is worried.
As she reaches the school, Maritte suddenly develops magic powers of her own, while it becomes increasingly obvious that something is Very Wrong at the school. Gathering up a whole bunch of new pals and powers, Maritte embarks on an adventure to solve the school’s mysteries and rebuild her relationship with her sister.
Ikenfell is an awkward game, and that’s a compliment. It’s awkward in the way that we’ve all felt at some point in our lives, where every personal drama is the end of the world while we desperately try and figure out what we’re about. It’s awkward in that clumsy, confused way that all teens are, and while there are plenty of conflicts in the story that might feel trivial to an adult player, they are clearly the most important thing that ever happened to the characters. The writing can feel clumsy but there’s a sincerity to it at the same time, drawing comparisons to the likes of Undertale and its bizarre charm.
On the gameplay front, Ikenfell does a lot right with its battle system, combining the grid-based system of Mega Man Battle Network with the timed hits of Paper Mario. The result is a system that prioritises positioning and making the best use of party abilities that can sometimes frustrate but is generally a lot of fun to work with. Oh, and the save points are cats.
I enjoyed Ikenfell a lot, and if you want awkward teenage drama in a magic school, this should serve you well.
(United Label, Polygon Treehouse / PC via Steam/GoG, Switch)
When it comes to a lot of year-end accolades, I am eternally baffled that Röki has escaped much attention, because it’s certainly one of my favourites.
A point and click adventure that is set in Scandinavian folklore but is really about family, Röki casts you as Tove, a young girl living in the mountains with her depressed father and excitable little brother, Lars. When Lars is taken by a monster, she sets out into the magical forests to embark on a quest to rescue him, awakening the forest giants in the process.
And it’s a lovely experience. The visuals are beautiful, with a cartoony aesthetic that betrays a sense of mild horror bubbling under the surface. Tove is a likeable protagonist whose lines are written with all the snappiness of a classic LucasArts title, and her love for her family is believable and sweet. And the puzzles are often smart and make full use of their bizarre Norwegian setting.
But at the heart of all this there is a story about family – how we treat them, what it means to be family, and what tests the bonds between relatives. It’s a story that makes you sympathise with the villain while also decrying their actions. And it’s a story that by the end I had shed a tear or two at its sweet, gentle beauty.
Röki has been unfairly overlooked this year, and I recommend you all head out and rectify that immediately.
42. Journey to the Savage Planet
(505 Games, Typhoon Games / PC via Epic, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One)
This is a game that’s likely to have been forgotten by most journalists in year-end accolades for the simple fact it released in January, a time that feels so far away by the time these end-of-year lists are written everyone forgets the games that released here. But I prepared for this list since January, keeping a running tally of everything that’s been going on, and so I will be the one to acknowledge Journey to the Savage Planet’s existence, a game that received a lot of praise on release.
It’s a survival game, one where your job is to explore a strange untamed land and mine it for resources so you can continue surviving. But what sets this apart from its contemporaries is a playfulness that runs through its veins at every turn.
You see, you play as a faceless corporate drone, one that can be cloned and 3D printed if you die out in the wilderness. The company you work for wants you to study this new world and determine if it’s fit for human habitation and/or corporate exploitation. And to illustrate this, the game is built heavily on satire. From the game being filled with fictional ads on every surface to your guide being exactly the kind of spineless middle manager type you can imagine, this is a game that wants you to know that corporatism is bad and working for the man is a slog.
But the game doesn’t revel in its own storytelling and forget to be a good game, as there is still a solid survival game here, one that often surrounds you with adorable critters that you’re then encouraged to murder, directly or indirectly, for your own benefit.
In a year where many people lost jobs or income due to the pandemic, while high-level corporate CEOs made bank, a game like Journey to the Savage Planet is exactly the kind of catharsis many might need.
41. Desperados III
(THQ Nordic, Mimimi Games / PC via Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One)
Desperados III is a cowboy tactics game that’s been ranked as one of the best out there at the moment (tactics games at large, at least, as a cowboy tactics game it’s in a very small group).
A prequel to past Desperados titles, this one has been handed over to new developers Mimimi, previously known for Shadow Tactics, and from all accounts, everything that made that game great has been adapted for the Wild West.
What follows is a highly inventive tactics game with a team of unique Ol West characters, including a voodoo witch that slightly bends the title’s push for realism. But each character’s unique abilities help to create a game that’s addictive and brings several creative ways to take out foes. Chaining these abilities together is satisfying and exciting, and the quicksave function will become your best friend until you’re moving your team like a well-oiled machine.
Desperados III isn’t one of the biggest games of the year, but for a fan of tactics games, it’s certainly one of the best.
40. Immortals: Fenyx Rising
(Ubisoft / PC via Epic/Ubisoft, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
Ubisoft’s open world formula is well-known to gamers everywhere at this point, and it’s about time they did something about it to differentiate it. Enter Immortals, a game that builds on the Ubisoft open world formula by…stealing much of Breath of the Wild’s open world formula instead.
Immortals is a late entry onto this list, and I debated its inclusion quite a bit, but there’s something intriguing about this one. It’s a Ubisoft game that does more to make its world more interesting, and dares to have a sense of humour about everything it’s doing. A bold, cartoony art style helps it stand out against the Watch Dogses and Assassin’s Creeds of the world too, with Ancient Greece lighting up with colour and flourish at every turn.
It’s still not super original, but as far as Ubisoft games go, it’s great to see them branching out a little bit and playing with their formula a bit more.
39. Astro’s Playroom
(Sony Interactive Entertainment / PlayStation 5)
(Bundled free with the PS5)
It’s not often that a game is built specifically to show off a new console’s capabilities and also presents itself as a fine game worth playing. The last major example many think of is Wii Sports, a game that demonstrated the motion control capabilities of the Wii, and the waggling tennis inspired many to buy the console and make it one of the most successful in history.
Astro’s Playroom is the equivalent of that for the newly released PS5, built entirely around the features of the DualSense controller, bundled with the console as a tech demo of the system’s capabilities.
For a game designed to be a tech demo, it has no business also being a solid 3D platformer, and yet here it is, a game so full of charm and love that you’d have to have a heart of stone to be incapable of finding something to love here. You play as Astro, the little robot mascot Sony have been playing around with lately, as he ventures into the different components of the PS5 to discover the magical worlds inside.
It’s also a grand celebration of PlayStation history, with each of the four worlds drawing heavy inspiration from a PlayStation generation gone by. Expect to find robot buddies acting out Sony first-party titles as well as notable third parties, whether this is a tiny boat with a bearded Kratos robot and his BOY, or a robot in Lara Croft’s iconic short shorts and braid jumping repeatedly across a gap. Or you can collect artifacts of PlayStation history including the consoles themselves, game discs and the PS2 network adapter (someone’s got to be nostalgic for that, right?). And then you reach the end of a level only for the sky to light up with the visuals of the PS2 startup screen.
Astro’s Playroom is a bold statement of intent from Sony, one that celebrates its 25-year history in video games and shows off its future, while still being a fun and charming platformer to boot.
38. Kentucky Route Zero
(Annapurna, Cardboard Computer / PC via Steam/GoG/itch.io, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One)
Kentucky Route Zero is a game that I find kind of fascinating. It’s been around since 2013, albeit in slowly-releasing episodes, with the final of these episodes landing in January alongside the full package for consoles, so it could be argued it shouldn’t be here. But everyone else is including it on their year-end lists, so here it is now.
I don’t really know what this is about, and the more I hear the stranger I find it. What I do know is it’s a point and click adventure about a trucker who gets lost along a strange route known only as “Route Zero” where strange things are known to happen.
It sounds exactly like the sort of game that would be up my alley, a game set in a world where nothing is as it seems, and characters are just thrown into the weirdness (just look at what I said was my favourite game of 2019). But at the same time, it’s why I also don’t want to read too much about it so I don’t get spoiled. Just know that it’s been getting rave reviews across the board, with some critics even calling it “the next great American novel in video game form” whatever that means in this context.
So there we go. Kentucky Route Zero is one of the game’s most notable games, and I’m not entirely sure why.
(505 Games, One More Level / PC via Steam/Epic/GoG, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One)
The OTHER cyberpunk game from this autumn, Ghostrunner is Mirror’s Edge crossed with Katana Zero, and is an excellent game.
This is a game about throwing parkour moves around a dystopian cityscape, slicing up enemies with a katana. But the catch is, your titular ghostrunner can only take one hit, meaning you have to use your movement to your advantage. Stay on the move, use your midair slowmo dashes and dodge and weave through your enemies’ shots.
It’s bastard hard, but in the best way. Your initial runs of each area will be a clumsy, confused panic as you figure out where the hell your enemies are, but with each failure, you’ll eventually end up as a swooping master of the blade, ducking into cover and back out again with fearsome precision. I’ve only played the demo, but my annoyance at seeing the demo’s end screen says all you need to know.
It’s an exhilarating experience, and one that needs more attention.
36. Star Wars Squadrons
(EA, Motive Games / PC via Steam/Epic/Origin, PlayStation 4, Xbox One)
After years of squandering the Star Wars license on two Battlefront games that lacked content and then attracted unwanted attention from lawmakers, EA have now spent a second year in a row putting out a Star Wars game that’s more along the lines of what Star Wars is and why people love it. Like Jedi Fallen Order last year focused on a narrative about Jedi in a galaxy far, far away, Squadrons lets players live out their dreams of flying the franchise’s iconic ships.
But of course, I’m not a huge Star Wars fan, and it’s difficult for me to do this justice as a result. But Ryan certainly can. Here’s what he had to say about it:
For what has been billed by EA as a “budget” Star Wars game, Squadrons certainly had a lot of time dedicated to it. It feels like a direct descendant to those superb LucasArts X-Wing games of the 90s. It’s got a short single player, but it shines in multiplayer. Full of fast paced shootouts, where your ship choice and loadout are as essential to your success as your flying skill, it’s a great game which fulfils the old adage of “easy to play, hard to master”. – Ryan Parish
35. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
(Nintendo, Koei Tecmo / Switch)
Breath of the Wild was widely considered to be one of the greatest games of 2017, and a stellar launch title for the Switch. A sequel has been announced, although we haven’t heard much since the initial announcement. So it came as a surprise when Nintendo announced that not only was that sequel in development, but here’s a prequel, detailing the days of the Calamity.
It’s also one of them Warriors games from Koei Tecmo. If you’ve played the original Hyrule Warriors, or indeed any of the Warriors titles from this studio, you should know what to expect. But this one is tied deeply to the lore of Breath of the Wild, presenting a brand new (and canon!) story as a companion to the main game.
And it’s pretty excellent. A wide range of characters with differing abilities, and an arsenal of moves to choose from as you cut down hordes of Moblins in defence of Hyrule. I’ve only played the demo of this, but I had a lot of fun in just a handful of levels that bodes well for the full title. It’s certainly not the classic Zelda or vast open world you might be hoping for, but there’s still a ton of fun to be had here. A title worth playing to fill the gap while you wait for that sequel? Absolutely.
(Young Horses / PC via Epic Games Store, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5)
(Currently available for free with PlayStation Plus for PS5 until 4th January)
A delightfully weird game that has unashamedly tied itself to the launch of the PlayStation 5, Bugsnax became a meme from the moment it was announced in a Sony reveal event. A game about Pokémon-style creatures that the protagonist and friends capture and eat to turn their body parts into food items, soundtracked by a cutesy pop song, the game looked like an easily discardable joke.
And then it released and was…good…actually? While goofy as hell in every way its concept could possibly be, there was also a hidden darkness to it all. You’ll start the game chuckling at the concept of walking strawberries that say their own names before being swallowed whole by rejected Muppets. And then the game pulls the rug out from under you as one of those Muppets discusses the breakdown of his relationship while another shows clear signs of depression. The fact these characters are voiced by some of the best in the industry, such as Sam Riegel and Cassandra Morris, sells these weirdos even more as well-rounded characters, and you realise that there’s something uniquely great about Bugsnax.
It may not be the best game of the year, but it’s a bizarre game that dared to do something out of the norm of everything else in the industry, and it got people talking. Everyone’s talkin’ ‘bout Bugsnax, indeed.
(Tripwire Entertainment / PC via Epic, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S)
Maneater is an idea so obvious I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before. Just like Untitled Goose Game last year, which went “what if you were a goose?” and made a game out of that, Maneater went “what if you were a shark?” and made a game out of that.
What’s more, this is a complex revenge story about a shark whose mother was killed and now you must power yourself up and accelerate your evolution into a megalodon in order to eat the shark hunter that committed the crime against you. It’s deliriously silly, and even plays it up by telling its story through vignettes on a cheap reality TV show about shark hunters.
The gameplay is a vast underwater open world where you complete objectives, cause havoc against humans, do battle with undersea threats and generally go about your sharky business. And yes, there is a level up system that leads you to becoming a megalodon, science be damned.
It’s not one of the year’s more polished experiences, but it’s the only one that let you be a shark, and that on its own is enough to warrant its presence on this list.
32. Spelunky 2
(Mossmouth, Blitworks / PC via Steam, PlayStation 4)
Spelunky is a beloved entry to the roguelike genre, with its popularity still high since its release way back in 2008. Spelunky 2 is the long-awaited sequel, developed after director Derek Yu reflected on it while working a book about its development.
Basically, if you loved Spelunky, you’ll love this too. It doesn’t change up too much, and everything that made the original a success is present here. But this time around there’s much more focus on story, with a narrative centred around the daughter of the first game’s protagonist, and the relationship between them is central to everything that’s going on.
But ultimately, it’s more Spelunky, a game that’s often been considered “the perfect game” so more of that feels like a good time.
31. World of Horror
(Ysbryd Games, panstasz / PC via Steam/GoG/MS Store/itch.io – Early Access)
(Available for Xbox Game Pass for PC)
You won’t hear a lot about World of Horror in end-of-year lists because it’s an Early Access title, but the enjoyment I’ve had out of it this year says that I can’t leave it out. It’s the unholy demon spawn of the Call of Cthulhu RPG system and the works of legendary Japanese horror artist Junji Ito, and for this it’s one of my favourite games of the year.
World of Horror is a text adventure crossed with a tabletop RPG, where you play as a young investigator figuring out the bizarre happenings in their small Japanese town. This takes the form of a series of small investigations, where random encounters decide what happens along the way. Sometimes you’ll get lost in the woods and lose time, or you will lose some sanity when you see a strange figure outside a window. Or maybe there will be a beneficial effect, like saving a dog from a bear trap and gaining its help, or helping a friend move some boxes to regain some sanity. You will never know what encounters you’ll get in a single run, but that adds to the game’s oppressive atmosphere.
Much of the game involves you piecing together the clues and solving each mystery to gain keys to the lighthouse at the edge of town, where you must head at the end of the game to defeat the encroaching elder god. As you progress, you’ll try to balance your character’s limited health and sanity while trying not to run out of time in the process. It’s a frantic time that you will frequently fail at, but that’s its appeal.
If you’re looking for an unnerving horror experience that doesn’t follow the shooter or stalker tropes the genre is known for, World of Horror is rad a strong recommendation.
(Thunder Lotus / PC via Steam/MS Store, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One, Stadia)
(Available for Xbox Game Pass for PC and console)
Spiritfarer is one of those indie titles that just sort of emerged out of nowhere and immediately gained a bunch of unexpected critical reception. Its presence on many end-of-year “best games” lists is somewhat surprising but well-deserved.
Spiritfarer is all about Stella, a ferrymaster to the dead. She travels in a vast boat that hosts many guests moving on into the afterlife, and it’s her job to make them feel as comfortable and relaxed on their journey. This results in a cosy little management game, where the player must figure out how to meet passenger requests through crafting, fishing, cooking and crafting, ultimately piecing together a comfortable place for their final journeys.
The game has garnered praise from all corners, with some even saying this is the game they wished Animal Crossing was. With a heartfelt story, beautiful hand drawn animation and relaxed atmosphere, this is a game you need to have on your radar.
29. Wasteland 3
(Deep Silver, InXile / PC via Steam/GoG/MS Store, PlayStation 4, Xbox One)
(Available for Xbox Game Pass for PC and console)
The third entry in a series I personally know very little about, Wasteland 3 is getting praise for being one of the year’s greatest classic PC-style RPGs.
An overhaul of everything Wasteland stood for, this game changes the setting from desert to snowy Colorado, creating a story where the past game’s desert rangers are in over their head in the cold climate. The gameplay systems have been refined for quality-of-life purposes, while retaining their complexity. And there’s a bunch of story scenes told through close-up cameras with mo-cap, bringing the story closer to the player than the typical isometric view could ever hope to do.
As someone who’s never touched a Wasteland game, I can’t comment much on its quality, but I do know it’s been creeping onto best RPG categories in year-end accolades and has a slew of great reviews, so if you’re a fan of the genre, and especially the series, it seems to be worth a look.
28. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2
(Activision, Vicarious Visions / PC via Epic, PlayStation 4, Xbox One)
If you are roughly the same age as me, then a good chunk of your teenage years was likely spent on a virtual skateboard, ollieing a magic bum and rocking out to Anthrax reworking a Public Enemy classic. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is a stone-cold classic, one that inspires nostalgia for its crazy level design, tight skateboarding controls and early 2000s rock soundtrack.
The last time we saw Tony Hawk in a video game, it was the woeful Pro Skater 5, a game rushed out to beat an encroaching deadline where licensing rights were set to run out. So it’s perhaps fitting that the only way to undo the damage caused by that is to go back to where it all started, with a 20-year anniversary remake of the first two games in the franchise that is undeniably the king of extreme sports titles.
This could have been a lazy rush job too, but it absolutely is not. And rather than just being a 20-year-old game with a bit of HD polish, this is a fresh new game built on what the original did, bringing in mechanics from later titles that allowed for bigger and more glorious combos. It connects the two games seamlessly into one, and does its best to not just bring back the 2000s but to represent what’s new in the skating world.
And so we have a roster that resembles the original, with that original cast now visibly in their 40s and 50s, but expands on it too with new names, hand picked by Hawk himself, who went out of his way to ensure a wide representative spread instead of just a bunch more white guys. The soundtrack does the same, reviving every track the licensing team could conceivably bring back from those two games, while adding new tracks to give a boost to more recent acts.
The result is an unexpected celebration melding the best of the old and the new, and a delightful return for the world’s favourite skater. No idea if it’ll help people recognise him in the street better now though…
27. Paper Mario: The Origami King
(Nintendo, Intelligent Systems / Switch)
Paper Mario’s surprise return this year has seen the series pick up great review scores again after the poor reception to Sticker Star and Colour Splash, with the series eager to return to its charming roots.
It’s not quite returned to its full RPG roots, however, with a more puzzle-based combat system and some open-world exploration. But it’s won people over with its commitment to making origami creepy and making exploration rewarding at all times.
It’s not quite the return to the heights of Thousand-Year Door fans are desperate for, but it’s still an excellent experience that’s worth playing.
26. Genshin Impact
(MiHoYo / PC via mihoyo.com, PlayStation 4, iOS, Android)
(Free to play)
Yet another game that cribs from Breath of the Wild, to the point where some angry Zelda fans waged protests, including a guy who smashed his PS4 for Sony daring to make a “clone” (despite it being from a Chinese developer and not being exclusive to a Sony platform). That didn’t stop the game going on to have the greatest worldwide launch of any Chinese-made title and becoming one of the standouts of the year.
And yes, those Breath of the Wild comparisons are fair (compare this screenshot to the one for Hyrule Warriors higher up), but some publications have praised it and expressed notable differences. A friend of mine who’s been into the game since release has found the world much more compelling than Zelda’s (which they felt was too empty). Plus, with its mixture of characters with different abilities and combat styles, Genshin Impact brings plenty of its own ideas to the table.
It’s also a vast world with a lot to do. Fully traversable environments, excellent puzzle design and some interesting world design choices, based on real-world nations and tied to a specific element, elevate this action RPG to feel much more than, well, a Chinese-made mobile game. The fast switching of characters actively encourages experimentation with different move-sets, and different challenges require a mixture of skills across the board. An engaging and ongoing story complete the package.
It’s also a free-to-play gacha game that doesn’t get manipulative with its microtransactions, so there’s that going for it too.
Genshin Impact is one of the more surprising success stories of the year. A solid action RPG that does take quite a bit from Nintendo’s work, but still stands out on its merits.
25. Spider-Man: Miles Morales
(Sony Interactive Entertainment, Insomniac / PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5)
Sony’s continuation of the Insomniac Spider-Man game from 2018 isn’t a full-blown sequel. It needs to be considered much like Uncharted: The Lost Legacy or Infamous: First Light, where it was designed as an add-on and blew up into a full game, albeit one not quite as big as the game that spawned it.
But despite shrieks online about how Sony only have glorified DLC as a PS5 launch title, in the real world, Miles Morales is an excellent game. It’s the already beloved title from two years ago, but it also changes up the formula by placing you in the shoes of the titular Miles, whose perspective as a black teen in NYC offers something different to Peter Parker. And in a year where the Black Lives Matter movement has seen a huge surge in awareness, a AAA console launch title with a black lead is a big deal. Obviously, the protests this summer didn’t lead to this release, but the game certainly landed at the right time.
Also helped that it was a great game. Because it is essentially an expansion of Insomniac’s Spider-Man, one of the most lauded titles of 2018, it stands to reason this new look into the Marvel version of New York ends up being one of the most lauded of 2020. It’s not the launch title that heralds a fresh new generation, but it’s a damn good one all the same.
(Supergiant Games / PC via Steam/Epic, Switch)
When Hades launched in Early Access on Steam last year (a year after its original Epic Early Access release a year prior), I glanced at it, shrugged it off as a standard roguelike and gave it the most basic of mentions in the Roundup (I literally just said it was out and moved on).
And now, the full release in September this year led to it becoming Game of the Year for a vast number of people. And this blindsided me completely, to the point that I didn’t even mention its full release at the time because I figured I’d covered it already. And now I look silly.
Admittedly, as a staunch roguelike hater, Hades has never been on my radar, but the praise has been universal and hard to avoid. People love Hades, with every fibre of their being. And while I’m continually reluctant to jump in myself, it’s impossible to ignore this critical darling.
It’s a game that’s been described as the roguelike for people who don’t like roguelikes, due to its emphasis on plot and characters over a repetitive gameplay loop. It’s a claim I’d like to test, but for now I’m happy to watch from afar as people sing the praises of this game over and over again.
You are the son of Hades, and you’re trying to escape from the underworld. The underworld is fighting back, and it will not be an easy task. And so this is where the roguelike aspect comes into play – you will frequently find yourself dying and sent back to the start, where you have to repeat your run using whatever equipment the game throws at you this time.
Praise ranges from the sharp characterisation to the satisfying weapon combinations you find yourself wielding. The art style is sharp and confident. And it constantly encourages to try…just…one…more…run.
I have never seen an indie game get this breathlessly described as Game of the Year by my entire Twitter timeline, but Hades is clearly doing something very special.
23. Resident Evil 3 Remake
(Capcom / PC via Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One)
Resident Evil 3 is an incredibly accurate remake of the original PS1 game, and by that I mean I like it less than the game that preceded it. Just like RE3 on the PS1 took the formula of RE2 and added a slightly obnoxious super enemy that chased you around and popped out unexpectedly at all the worst moments, RE3 from this year is an actionised version of the RE2 remake from last year where those action sequences tend to get in the way a bit.
But it’s on this list, meaning it’s obviously not all bad. Much of what made the RE2 remake so excellent is still present here. When the game focuses on exploration it shines, maintaining that classic Resident Evil formula that still holds up even with all the modern trappings added to it. Nemesis is honestly less obnoxious this time around, with his presence mostly restricted to scripted segments, many of which are genuinely exciting (the chase through a burning construction site is a highlight). And Raccoon City has been given so much love and attention that it stands out as a place I’d like to see more of before it got infected with zombies. There’s a shop called Toy Uncle and that’s just great.
I had issues with RE3 remake, but on the whole, I still found it to be an excellent game worth a playthrough. Its shorter length and limited replayability may put off some, but if you’re a horror fan it’s definitely still worth checking out.
22. Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord
(TaleWorlds / PC via Steam)
When I heard about this game and placed it on my release list to discuss in the roundup, I considered it to be just another PC-based strategy title of some kind, and wrote it off as something minor with maybe a few fans.
And then it crashed Steam on its launch in Early Access, and I sat there dumbfounded, now aware of a massive fanbase for a franchise I’d never even considered the popularity of. And for that alone, it makes this list. But my prior ignorance means it’s probably not suitable for me to discuss it all that much, so here’s Ryan to say why this is a game you should be paying attention to:
Butterlords of the worlds unite! A game that was slightly longer in development than Cyberpunk, it was heavily anticipated. It’s still not 100% there, and there’s still the occasional bug or bit of jankiness, but there’s no other feeling than a truly open world RPG where you can establish your own kingdom or hoard all the worlds butter. The power is yours. – Ryan Parish
(Riot Games / PC via playvalorant.com)
(Free to play)
Games-as-a-service have been having quite a year. And by that I mean it’s been atrocious for pretty much every single one that’s launched. Anthem is still limping along without players, while the likes of The Culling 2, Spellbreak, Hyper Scape and other games you haven’t heard of popped up to huge fanfare, only for everything to go quiet about them days later.
Most egregious of all were Marvel’s Avengers, a game that Square Enix is still losing money on despite it being a game with the Marvel license attached to it, and Amazon’s Crucible, a game that launched, removed two of its three modes within weeks, went back into closed beta and then was quietly killed off-screen. It was Amazon thought all they needed to do to make Fortnite money was to release a game and wait for the money to roll in (which it didn’t).
Which makes Valorant even more impressive, and a contrast to the many examples of how not to release this type of game. Possibly helps that this came from Riot, a company who are intensely aware of how to make a competitive game like this successful thanks to 11 years of experience with League of Legends.
It’s a different game to LoL though, as this is closer to Counter-Strike or Overwatch in its execution. And from all accounts it’s a superb shooter, with a focus on tight mechanics that feel good and keep the player’s skill at the forefront, but perhaps sacrificing a little personality and originality in the process.
Not that it’s stopped Valorant’s success. It’s certainly not on the level of games like Fortnite or Overwatch, but a dedicated community has been building for it. Plus, you won’t believe how high this ranked on my trending stats, once again showing me how massive the esports scene is and why I’ve got Mat covering my blindspot in that area every week in the regular roundups.
I’m the worst person to talk about Valorant, as it simply isn’t my scene. But I do recognise that in a year of examples of how not to make a long-term service game, Valorant stands tall as the opposite of that, and it deserves recognition for it.
20. Nioh 2
(Koei Tecmo / PlayStation 4)
Nioh 2 didn’t bring much new to the table this year, to be fair. Indeed, Nioh as a concept is just demon samurai Dark Souls to begin with, so a sequel that does little to deviate from the formula isn’t necessarily one of the most original titles this year. But it is, according to reviewers, a pretty damn good one.
A few things have changed this time around. For a start, you play as a player-created character rather than an established guy like in the first game, while elsewhere mechanics have been tweaked and refined, with new counter moves at the heart of the changes. I can’t speak to how good the game is personally, but the reviews speak for themselves, I feel.
Sometimes a game doesn’t need to be revolutionary to become one of the games of the year. And Nioh 2 does just that.
(Kinetic Games / PC via Steam)
While Among Us is clearly the king of streamed games this year, there was another multiplayer title that got a lot of attention around Halloween this year. Phasmophobia is an Early Access title that got people to once again gather virtually, this time to work together to find some ghosts. Think co-op Most Haunted and you’ve got an idea of where this is coming from.
I’ve not played it myself, but Mat has, so I’ll let him take over from here:
In essence it’s a detective game. The overall goal is to identify the type of entity that is at play at the location which are a varied array of 12 spirits and demons from popular culture and superstition from around the world. Each spirit exhibits its own behaviour, for example, an Oni is more active and will throw objects when players are grouped together or a Wraith who can see and walk through doors, closets and lockers while hunting players.
Part of the fear in the game is through communication. Players can communicate on a team channel and a public channel, the difference being the public channel can be used to speak to the ghosts to incite reactions or help them find you. When a player moves too far away from the group so does their voice, and when they die, they can no longer communicate with other team members. Nothing invokes fear more than hearing a friend scream abruptly cut into nothing, Blair Witch style while you hide in a corner of a dark attic, praying you’re not next.
Each player can only hold a finite amount of equipment which will need to be dropped if you want to swap it out. This adds another layer to the game with players needing to be coordinated to avoid missing activity or scrabbling around in the dark for their friend’s corpse. Each scenario is procedurally generated so you could be running around an asylum or a bungalow, and surprisingly the quality in the experience doesn’t dip – in fact, one of my most terrifying moments was in a 4-room bungalow!
Ultimately, the game is equal parts thrilling and hilarious with the variety of mechanics, ghost AI and player reaction. It’s sure to get your pulse racing and your heart pounding while making you feel immersed in this fantastical world of ghost hunting. – Mat Lovell
18. Streets of Rage 4
(Sega, Dotemu, Lizardcube, Guard Crush / PC via Steam/MS Store, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One)
(Available for Xbox Game Pass for PC and console)
Streets of Rage is a classic series for a reason. Sega’s brawler trilogy from the Mega Drive era has endured in the minds of its players for almost 30 years, with the second title being a particular highlight thanks to its tight mechanics and Shamen-aping techno soundtrack.
This year, a fourth game joined the series, made by a team of indie development studios based in France with Sega staying largely hands-off, outside of some soundtrack contributions by original composer Yuzo Koshiro. The result is another Sonic Mania, a game where Sega handed their legacy over to the fans and let them make one of the best goddamn games in the series.
But while Sonic Mania relied heavily on nostalgia and throwback, Streets of Rage 4 is only interested in dragging the beat ‘em up classic kicking and screaming into the 21st century. The basic formula is here, but there are hidden complexities under its surface that elevate it. Its risk-reward special moves system makes combat feel less like you’re tapping one button over and over, as you balance those specials with your ability to position yourself and juggle those combos.
And it feels so goddamn good to play. I expected to play this and get a bit of knockabout fun I’d probably fail at and then move on. Instead, I was utterly determined to git gud and master this refined combat because doing so was just so much fun. The game is fluid and responsive, with every punch and kick feeling satisfying. Meanwhile, the game’s challenge is perfect, never feeling unfair or unbalanced.
Visually there’s a lot to love too. Certainly not a graphical powerhouse in the way the originals likely were on the Mega Drive, but the updated animations are expressive and punchy, and the cast have never looked better. The big, bold outlines around everything make the experience feel like a living comic book in a way that Sega stablemate Comix Zone could only dream of.
Streets of Rage 4 does nothing new, but it revives a classic in the best way possible and deserves your attention if you were even remotely interested in the old Mega Drive titles.
(Sony Interactive Entertainment, Media Molecule / PlayStation 4)
This was a Game of the Week last year when it launched in Early Access, but this year saw Media Molecule’s quirky creation tool gain its full release, launching it to a wider audience and exploding its community support with a more refined experience.
If you’re unaware of Dreams, it is a game creation tool, taking the level editor of LittleBigPlanet and expanding it to an absurd degree. It’s also surprisingly deep, with the toolset being kind of overwhelming at first glance, but once you get the hang of it, you can essentially make anything. Like me, with my inability to craft or code, have made a slightly malformed stick figure who can throw the world’s least convincing punch. Okay, it’s not much, but I made something.
But the real joy of this comes from the sheer range of community creations, right down someone recreating P.T. entirely within Dreams. It’s a neat little creation tool and it’s allowed imaginations to run wild within its community, and for that it deserves to be noted.
16. Cyberpunk 2077
(CD Projekt Red / PC via Steam/GoG, PlayStation 4, Xbox One)
Your mileage may hugely vary on this one. From the outset I will acknowledge that if you’re playing this on console it does not deserve to be on this list. A buggy, broken mess that Sony ended up pulling from their store and Microsoft are unquestioningly handing out refunds for, it’s clear that not a lot of love and attention was given to the PS4 or Xbox versions.
If you’re playing on PC, however, we have a different story entirely. Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the biggest games of the year, widely hyped up prior to release and still central to the discourse now that it’s out (although not always for good reasons). This is a big, bold RPG designed to throw you into a future dystopia where rules are optional and genitals are (kind of) customisable.
I don’t really need to explain this one all that much, do I? It’s got Keanu, it’s got Night City, it’s got 80s-inspired neon lighting and a seedy underbelly. Certainly a last minute addition to this list, but considering how much it’s dominated the gaming landscape in some way throughout 2020, it seems wrong not to include it.
But don’t ask me, here’s Ryan’s opinion on it:
What can I say about Cyberpunk? Is it a bit of a mess? Almost certainly. Is it bug ridden? Definitely! Am I enjoying every moment of playing it? Yes!
The world, the characters (excluding the NPCs) are enrapturing and it’s a gorgeous experience on PC. I find myself diverted by side missions every step of the way and there’s always things to do, builds to try, cyberware to jack in and hilarious outfits to wear. It’s not everyone’s game of the year, but it most certainly mine. – Ryan Parish
15. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time
(Activision, Toys for Bob / PlayStation 4, Xbox One)
I haven’t been excited for a new Crash Bandicoot for 20 years. This year I was excited for a new Crash Bandicoot game. And by all accounts, it lived up to expectations.
Jettisoning 20 years of bad Crash games was a good start. It’s quite a statement to ignore every single game released since 1999 and state that no, this is the fourth game, what even is a Twinsanity. Part of this is down to the N. Sane Trilogy, which essentially rebooted the whole franchise, but it’s also a strong recognition that those games were poorly received and if Crash is to succeed again, it needs to focus on what made the original trilogy so beloved, even to this day.
And woah, they nailed it. Every aspect of Crash Bandicoot 4 is a wacky Saturday morning cartoon made interactive, with a tricky difficulty curve and tight platforming. While Toys for Bob have not entirely stuck to the basics, every addition has been in the spirit of the original games and, despite the title, there’s still a few nods to the “lesser” Crash titles here and there, albeit executed much better this time around.
It’s a good year for returning franchises, and Crash 4 bringing the orange marsupial back to his glory days is a more than welcome addition.
14. Microsoft Flight Simulator
(Xbox Game Studios, Asobo Studio / PC via Steam/MS Store)
(Available for Xbox Game Pass for PC)
In a year where air travel diminished, there’s perhaps a little nostalgia for flying to exotic locations this year, which the latest edition of Microsoft Flight Simulator has been more than willing to satiate.
There’s not much to Flight Simulator, to be honest. It’s a game where you fly planes around the world, and that’s basically it. But for a game that’s attempted to lovingly recreate our world to perfect scale, it’s a great technical achievement.
It’s not perfect, and there’s been a lot of hilarity to be found in Buckingham Palace being apparently renovated into an office block or an impossibly tall and thin building in Australia, but for what it’s achieved in its ambitions, it must be applauded.
So if you’re missing travel, Flight Simulator may be an excellent way to make up for that in some small way.
13. Crusader Kings III
(Paradox Interactive / PC via Steam/MS Store/Paradox Plaza)
(Available for Xbox Game Pass for PC)
I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing in Crusader Kings 3 and I love it.
I could leave the entry at that, but I feel you might want a bit more. Okay, how about this? During one of my runs, I started the game by accidentally marrying two women in simultaneous ceremonies, mere moments after my coronation. I then proceeded to have a sex-fuelled reign until I died of old age and was replaced by my son…who then died ten days later from a murder plot and was replaced by a female relative who messed up the line of succession, causing me to desperately kick off a feminist revolution from the throne 10 centuries early. And almost all of the children born during these reigns were gamblers straight out of the womb.
Crusader Kings 3 is nonsense. The game is set on a map of layers of kingdoms and realms and other overlapping political denominations that I frequently am told I have right to and then suddenly no longer have right to, while a complex tutorial left me more confused than when I started. It’s Age of Empires if all that resource management nonsense got jettisoned for storylines ripped from Real Housewives of the Petty Kingdom of Munster. I have no idea what’s going on most of the time, and it’s glorious.
Hardcore strategy players have been raving about Crusader Kings and its nonsense for years, but I only discovered its joys this year through the Surprise Me button on Xbox Game Pass for PC, and I’m converted. It’s systems layered on systems layered on systems, and all to facilitate the ability to be a medieval king or queen who creates a scene at a party or to tell my deceased husband that while I may not have loved him I will miss him all the same.
Crusader Kings 3 is one of the highest-rated PC games of the year, and one that keeps sneaking onto end of year lists as a bit of a sleeper hit. It’s also one of my personal favourites after I played it through Game Pass, and I’m sad that I didn’t know the joy of this series until now.
12. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
(Ubisoft / PC via Epic/Ubisoft, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Stadia)
There’s always a feeling that Assassin’s Creed is on the verge of running out of steam. For some, that moment may have already happened. And yet, here in 2020, 13 years after the series first started, Valhalla is still winning people over with parkour and murder in assorted time periods. Also something something precursors and to be honest, I don’t think Ubisoft much care for the modern world story anymore at this point either.
It’s not doing much that’s fundamentally new, and if you’re tired of the Ubisoft open world design then this is unlikely to win you over, but from all accounts this is a game that knows its formula and plays to its strengths more often than not. Ubisoft have not quite redeemed themselves for their actions in protecting sexual predators within their management teams, but their developers seem to have refined their craft.
Plus, who doesn’t love the idea of being a Viking?
11. Demon’s Souls
(Sony Interactive Entertainment, Bluepoint / PlayStation 5)
Dark Souls is a massive game, one that has become the benchmark for difficult games. This does lead to the tedious “Dark Souls of X” comparisons showing up in media outlets, even when they make little sense (no, Crash Bandicoot is not the Dark Souls of platformers, stop that).
But FromSoft’s iconic action RPG style didn’t begin with Dark Souls, it began with the PS3 exclusive Demon’s Souls. It wasn’t widely recognised at the time since the genre had yet to explode, and the PS3 was still recovering from its disastrous launch. So it seems appropriate that now Soulslikes have blossomed, Sony have decided to revisit the game that kicked it all off as a launch title for the PS5.
And it’s a project handed over to Bluepoint, who released the excellent Shadow of the Colossus remake in 2018. So naturally, the Demon’s Souls project is of the same quality, preserving the feel of the original PS3 game while also upgrading the visuals and making a few tweaks here and there to reflect improvements in gaming in the past 11 years.
And for a launch title it’s impressive, bringing a fresh take on a beloved action RPG that now has a potential audience it missed out on the first time around.
10. Yakuza: Like a Dragon
(Sega / PC via Steam/MS Store, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
I may have mentioned my love for the Yakuza series around here once or twice. Like a Dragon is a fresh new entry in the series, adding a layer of JRPG silliness on top of everything else Yakuza is always praised for.
Stoic protagonist Kiryu has been retired and a new face, Kasuga Ichiban, has taken the reins. And unlike Kiryu, the world’s ultimate straight man in a world full of fools, Ichiban is one of the fools. He’s a deeply unprofessional manchild so obsessed with Dragon Quest that he sees the series’ signature street brawls as turn-based battles.
Which is the other big change – the game’s shift into full JRPG territory. No longer a 3D Streets of Rage with bicycles, Like a Dragon features turn-based battles more akin to Sega stablemate Persona, with more than a few visual nods to that game’s UI (although nowhere near as impressive). And this shift to unrealistic turn-based fights means the silliness ramps up considerably.
Bizarre jobs like the musician or the idol, moves that let your party members call on pigeons to attack, and the ability to summon an army of lobsters like they’re a Moogle in Final Fantasy, Like a Dragon leans into the series’ penchant for goofiness with full abandon.
And that’s before we get to the side stuff, which now includes a Mario Kart style racing game and a bizarre cinema mini-game where Ichiban must fend off sleep demons that look like horrifying rams. It may look incomprehensible, but this is standard stuff for this franchise, and it’s excellent.
It’s also reviewing consistently excellently and showing up on year-end lists everywhere. This looks like the biggest boost to the series since Yakuza 0, thanks to its fresh start and multi-platform release, and anything that gets Yakuza in more people’s hands is fine by me.
9. Fall Guys
(Devolver Digital, Mediatonic / PC via Steam, PlayStation 4)
Phasmophobia isn’t the only game to take great inspiration from trashy British TV this year. Fall Guys also embraced this too, drawing inspiration from classic slapstick game shows such as It’s a Knockout and Total Wipeout, as well as their even more bizarre Japanese equivalents Takeshi’s Castle and Hole in the Wall. Think big plushy obstacle courses full of characters being knocked around like ragdolls, and also every contestant has the physique of Mr Blobby, and you’re in the right place.
It’s also one of the big hits of the year, with the game launching as a free title on PlayStation Plus and immediately becoming the most downloaded game from the service. And it’s easy to see why because the game is chaotic fun. Inspired by the ludicrous costumes of It’s a Knockout, the contestants are all floppy jellybeans who fall over at the slightest nudge. This is not a high tech esport, this is kids rushing the bouncy castle and falling over in the ball pit.
Which is why it’s done so well. In a year where so many battle royales and live service games launched to a shrug, it’s hilarious that one that really broke through was the indie upstart about floppy beans that get smacked with hammers. It stands out, with an adorable art style and a community management presence that consistently brings a smile to the face.
Fall Guys is the kind of multiplayer game we need more of. Just pure joy and chaos wrapped in a smartly designed package.
8. Half-Life: Alyx
(Valve / PC via Steam)
Half-Life 3 has been a meme for some time, with the cliffhanger ending of Half-Life 2: Episode Two leaving many fans eager for more, while Valve put more focus into Steam seasonal sales. In recent years, fans had become resigned to the idea that perhaps Valve are never going to make a new Half-Life and they should just move on with their lives.
And this year, a new Half-Life came out. It’s not quite Half-Life 3, as it’s a prequel starring beloved sidekick Alyx Vance, but a new Half-Life game is good news all the same. Oh, and it’s also a VR game, so that does provide a barrier to entry for quite a few people.
That said, it’s a massive step forward for VR, which has been struggling to convince a general audience to jump on board. But rather than a glorified tech demo like many VR games tend to be, Half-Life Alyx is easily a standout game with scale and scope of other major titles. It’s the same length as Half-Life 2 and connects its story deeply with the events of that world.
Reviews also state that it is very much a Half-Life game worthy of the franchise up to this point, which is high praise indeed considering how beloved the second game is. And while it’s probably going to continue to put off VR sceptics (or people like me who get physically sick using it), it may be the game that wins over those on the fence.
7. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
(Xbox Game Studios, Moon Studios / PC via Steam/MS Store, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
(Available for Xbox Game Pass for PC and console)
I’ve had a hard time pinning down my personal Game of the Year in 2020. I think last year I got spoiled by Control instantly grabbing me and infecting me with its hypnotic resonance, as this year no game quite had that effect on me. In fact, more often than not, I was quick to spot glaring flaws in almost everything I played.
And then I look at Ori and the Will of the Wisps, a game that may not have had the grip Control had on me, but then I realise that if I had to pick a serious contender for a game that kept me entertained from start to finish, moved me with its world and its story and felt incredibly satisfying to play throughout, Ori is that game. And I have a hard time thinking of any glaring flaws that I had with it.
Blind Forest was an excellent game in 2014, but Will of the Wisps feels like a vast improvement over everything that game set out to do. The platforming just FEELS better. It’s smoother to control, with a more versatile moveset to play with, and an even wider world to explore. The soundtrack swells in all the right ways and tugs on exactly the heart strings it needs to at any given moment. The presence of new friends in the woods enhances the story, making the world feel more alive and therefore motivating you even more to save it. And once again, the animation and the visuals look they emerged from some award-winning animated movie, with Ori managing to be a charming protagonist without ever saying a word.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a game that reminds me why I love games. It doesn’t do much that’s revolutionary, and is really an expansion on what Moon Studios did with Blind Forest, but everything about it made me smile, or cry, or both at the same time. I love this game so much.
6. Doom Eternal
(Bethesda, id Software / PC via Steam/Bethesda.net/MS Store, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One, Stadia)
(Available for Xbox Game Pass for PC and console)
I’m going to preface this entry by admitting that I didn’t like Doom Eternal all that much. It’s a snarl of conflicting systems and an insistence on specific strategies for each enemy, along with platforming elements that never really felt all that essential to the experience. I gave up on this game, round about the time a recurring enemy (the Marauder) seemingly wandered in from a Dark Souls title.
However, it’s had staying power, and while I found it a frustrating mess of a game, others loved its chaotic tangle of systems and deemed it one of the best games of the year. It’s one of the best-selling games in a series that’s been essential to games as a medium, while also picking up accolades and award nominations across the board. So clearly, I’m an outlier in my dislike of it, and here it is as one of the most notable games of the year.
5. Persona 5 Royal
(Atlus / PlayStation 4)
If Yakuza isn’t enough to offer you an absurdly huge JRPG experience set in modern Japan, then Persona 5 Royal should also cover your needs.
It is, if we’re being frank here, little more than a re-release of Persona 5 with some extra content, but when that base game was the greatest JRPG ever made, you can’t really complain about that.
If you’re unaware of the original Persona 5, it’s about a teenager who’s exiled to a family friend in Tokyo after he hit a man who was assaulting a woman in the street. Soon after, he discovers he has mysterious powers and the ability to shift into the Metaverse, a parallel dimension formed out of the thoughts and fears of the general populace. With his new-found friends, all of whom are outcasts and misfits to some degree, and a magical talking cat who can turn into a bus, he adopts the persona (heh) of a phantom thief, stealing the hearts of society’s villains.
It won Western critics and players over in 2017, with its hyper-stylised anime visuals, complex story and fun, streamlined take on turn-based combat. I include myself in that group, labelling it my favourite game of the 2010s.
What Royal specifically brings to the table is a bunch of new story content, a new playable party member named Kasumi, new social contacts to build up a relationship with and a bunch of new power-granting Personas. It’s not just content that could have been added via a DLC update as it weaves through the whole game, shifting the gameplay balance and expanding on the story details in every way possible.
In other words, the best JRPG just got even better, and if you’ve not experienced the joy that is Persona 5, you need to play Royal.
4. The Last of Us Part 2
(Sony Interactive Entertainment, Naughty Dog / PlayStation 4)
The Last of Us Part 2 is quite possibly the most divisive game of the year. As the sequel to a massive game, a critical darling beloved by many, it was already under intense pressure to deliver an experience that lived up to the original.
Naughty Dog were bold enough to make something that wasn’t necessarily going to be a crowd pleaser. They decided to tell a story that was going to cause upset, that was going to generate controversy, and was not going to go the way people expected. And I admire the decision to do that. It couldn’t have been easy, but they had a story they wanted to tell and they went for it.
But it’s been divisive. There are people singing the praises of this game and calling it their personal Game of the Year. There are others who despise it and think everything it did made a mockery of the original game. Me? Well…that divisiveness exists within my head too, as I both love and hate it in equal measure.
On one hand, it’s a technical marvel, makes a lot of bold choices that show Naughty Dog’s deft skill at crafting narratives, and has quite a few moments that shine like the first game, particularly between Ellie and her new girlfriend Dina. The improvements to stealth gameplay are also consistently excellent. Except for the dogs. God I hated dealing with dogs.
But I also felt no emotional investment in the story and while I respect what they were doing, it simply didn’t land with me. The game is a cavalcade of misery that goes out of its way to make the player feel uncomfortable, and while this is by design, it made me feel negatively towards the overall experience. It lacked a lot of the heart that I loved in the first game, and that was disappointing.
I covered a lot of the mixed feelings it gave me in a video earlier this year.
However, Mat loved it, and considers it to be his Game of the Year. So, to truly celebrate what this game does well and why it deserves to be here, I’ll let Mat share his opinion:
I won’t go to heavily into reviewing the game because there are literally thousands of those on the internet. What I will say is on the whole I did enjoy my time with the game; from more refined stealth and combat mechanics, more fluid transitions between combat/action which reduced the “combat arena” feel of previous ND titles; and improved AI and some truly remarkable environments, the game was very much a worthy sequel. The game isn’t perfect, but what I really want to talk about is the storytelling.
Storytelling in video games is a complex one as it comes down to a myriad of factors such as game design, art style, setting, budgets, resources and the like. However, as my professor said to me at Uni, storytelling is about showing and not telling. My time with LOU 2 made me revisit this advice.
Character-wise it was a bit of a mixed bag, and while I understand this is a hopeless world, it sometimes felt a bit too forced towards drama to the point where it meant certain characters, Ellie being the main culprit, had to sacrifice a lot of the wit and charm of her character that made her so likeable in LOU 1. For me however, the real pleasure of ND’s story telling doesn’t come from the main narrative, but from the environments, collectables and ensemble of minor characters. ND did a phenomenal job creating a world that ended in a rush.
First let’s talk environments. Trawling through apartments and shops in a flooded Seattle brought back fond memories of the University dorm rooms in TLoU1. You look on the walls and you see movie and band posters; you look at the table and you see a TV with a PS4 or PC with dual screens. You find cans of half-eaten food strewn across a table or an unmade bed covered in clothes from a quick escape over a decade ago. Houses would give you a clear idea of the age, gender and personality of its previous occupant. The more places you explore, the more familiar some of the band names on the posters become, or the brands of the food people ate. I would say ND built a living, breathing, believable world from the environments alone.
That’s where the collectable notes and literature comes in. These collectibles give the player insight into other characters and other lives that we never get to see during the game. Some are contained in a single document while others span a portion of the main adventure, making you feel as if you’re retracing their expedition or joining them in their daring escape. I daresay some of these characters we find in only notes have more of a character arc then those we spend hours of game time with.
One moment particularly stuck with me during the second half of the game when you jump off the freeway onto an apartment balcony. Through documents you discover the occupants are communicating with their neighbours, discussing an evacuation, their loved ones and finally a plan to escape. Once you leave the apartment you glance at the neighbour and find their door overgrown with ivy speculating on what happened to them. It’s moments like this that I truly enjoyed with the game, more so than anything in the main narrative.
Of course, all of these things were present in the first game, like the dorms from earlier, but I feel it was done bigger and better than the first game, and this to me is what the Last of Us is all about. It shows that the drama the characters are experiencing is just one small element of a larger, unforgiving world. It gives the impression that people far removed from the location of the characters are experiencing their own dramas and their own struggles. It’s this element I hope more game developers take stock of and is the reason why I enjoyed my return to the Last of Us. – Mat Lovell
3. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
(Nintendo / Switch)
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the most important game of the year.
There are no doubt people who will take issue with that statement, but in my opinion, nothing sums up Animal Crossing’s presence in gaming in 2020 more than that single sentence.
In February and March, the world began to suffer the effects of a global pandemic, one that continues to plague society, and exacerbated by certain governments refusing to help their people and breaking their own rules. It’s been a frustrating and often scary time, one that has caused many to turn to video games to escape this mess of a reality.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons also happened in March, launching on the Switch as much of the West began to lock down. At a time when people needed an escape, Animal Crossing was that escape. A chance to disappear to your own island paradise, inviting friends over to hang out in a way that we could no longer do in real life, Animal Crossing was the perfect antidote to the chaos of 2020.
A relaxed game about living on an island with your animal friends, building the island to your own specifications and wearing ridiculous clothes (creating what is apparently my new superhero identity, KING DETECTIVE). You won’t find a lot of fast-paced action or challenge here, but its gentle joy is one that’s kept many sane in tough times. Crafting, terraforming and regular updated events all made this Animal Crossing one of the most interesting of the series too, as previous titles failed to capture my attention, while this one has kept me entertained since its release.
I even made a video on it, expressing just why it’s so rad.
And here’s Ryan to express some similar sentiments:
“At the start of lockdown this felt like a balm on the world. It felt like the ultimate distraction, a world where tulip growing and fishing were the most important aspects, and everything was on your own personal timescale. I’ve not played it for a few months, but it’s a place I’d be happy to revisit.” – Ryan Parish
2. Ghost of Tsushima
(Sony Interactive Entertainment, Sucker Punch / PlayStation 4)
While The Last of Us Part 2 has been dominating the conversation for much of this year, another big Sony exclusive arguably got greater critical consensus, and has done so largely in the background.
Which is kind of appropriate, since it’s a game that features stealth as one of its core mechanics, offering players the chance to fight honourably as a samurai, or dishonourably as “the ghost” using stealth tactics and assassination. It’s a game that suggests both of these methods are valid, even if “dishonourable” implies a negative, but blame the bushido for that one.
It’s also just a stylish, expertly made game. Evoking the style and techniques of Akira Kurosawa’s catalogue, with nods to the likes of Rashomon and The Seven Samurai, Ghost of Tsushima goes to great lengths to make the player feel like they’re immersed in feudal Japan. There are no mission markers, instead you’re guided by the wind. Side quests are marked by the presence of wildlife. And the player is encouraged at all times to use the world around them to figure out the right way to go.
It’s the Japanese Assassin’s Creed people have been crying out for, and it’s even more stylish to boot.
1. Final Fantasy VII Remake
(Square Enix / PlayStation 4)
When constructing this list, I expected The Last of Us Part 2 or Animal Crossing to hit the top spot, but based on all the data I gathered, it turned out the game that won over more people, got more people talking and was generally the star of 2020 in gaming, it was Final Fantasy VII Remake.
One of the most anticipated games of the year, a remake of the JRPG classic has been demanded for years, and Square Enix finally caved with a revisit to Midgar with Cloud, Barret, Tifa and Aerith, allowing fans of the original to take down the Shinra Corporation and Sephiroth all over again, this time without having to pretend some Playmobil figures are actually people.
But Square Enix are not known for their clear and concise ways of doing things. They made Kingdom Hearts, a series with titles like “Final Chapter Prologue: A Fragmentary Passage”. So anyone expecting a one for one update of the 1997 classic will be sorely disappointed with this remake. For one, it only remakes a relatively small portion of the first disc, expanding roughly ten hours in the original into a forty-hour epic by itself. And two, Tetsuya Nomura apparently took the word “remake” literally and decided to change a bunch of the story in a fascinatingly bizarre way.
Without spoiling too much, Final Fantasy VII Remake asks questions about what it means to remake a classic work, with characters themselves getting in on the act of remaking their own story, while some new characters do their best to push the story into the direction it’s “supposed” to go. It’s a bold choice that no doubt angered many, and yet it was handled much better than it could have been, to the point that I’m now curious what the next chapter holds and how much has truly been “remade”.
Outside of these bold choices, there’s a lot to love about FF7R. The battle system is a refined real time experience that is much more intuitive than it first appeared in trailers, and becomes a blast in big boss fights as you balance characters and abilities as much as possible. A lot of the story expansion refines what came before, giving us more insight into the likes of Biggs, Wedge and Jessie, or giving us a clearer window into Aerith’s relationship with her mother. And the Wall Market section has been suitably camped up, turning a dated joke, one about men dressed as women being a bit weird and gross, into a fabulous celebration of gender nonconformity.
And, of course, it looks gorgeous. Every character is obscenely beautiful to the point there’s no wonder everyone appears to be horny for each other. Midgar feels like a more realised city now, with the grime of the slums standing in stark contrast to the upper plate regions, while being able to look outwards and see the wider world in the distance is a huge improvement on how often the original felt cramped and tiny for a megapolis.
Final Fantasy VII Remake isn’t perfect, as it does dip into some pointless filler at times, but putting that aside, it’s one of my personal favourite games of the year, and the fact it ended up right at the top of this list suggests I’m not alone in this.
And with that, we reach the end of this roundup, and the end of the Gaming Roundup as a whole for 2020. Thank you for joining me and Mat for gaming news and releases this year, and I’d love to know which games on this list were your favourites, and which you felt I left out.
The Roundup will resume on 8th January, so until then, I’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Here’s hoping for a better 2021 for all!