2020 Games of the Year
The ultimate celebration of 2020’s best video games
Reflecting on 2020 has, in some sense, become redundant. The last year was objectively horrific for millions of people around the world. Many — far, far too many — lost loved ones to COVID-19. Millions of other souls faced their own challenges: loss of work, loss of purpose…loss of self. Very few people were immune to the maelstrom of pain, and the completely arbitrary switch to a new calendar hasn’t materially changed anything for most folks. The coming year will be, for many, just as tough. But the world will gradually pry itself from COVID-19’s fierce and seemingly unrelenting death roll (thanks principally to the power of science to produce safe vaccines in record time). And let’s not forget the millions of brave healthcare workers and all the other people who make our modern lives possible.
If you are a SUPERJUMP regular, you will have seen scores of features over the last year that might look almost identical on the surface — these are the pieces that discuss the games that gave us comfort during a period of unimaginable stress. We will continue to publish these pieces throughout 2021, and really, for as long as they are required.
There are two reasons why.
First, the act of writing can itself be a form of therapy — this is especially true when readers comment on your story and share their own reflections. You’re reminded that you aren’t alone. And secondly, as horrific as 2020 has been, it has also forced many of us to consider what is truly important. Any perception that video games are trivial noise-makers has surely been comprehensively smashed in the last year.
As you read this feature, which was lovingly crafted by 25 contributors from around the world, you’ll see one common thread: gratitude. We are grateful that there are human beings around us who pour their hearts and souls into crafting digital worlds that we can visit without leaving home. Put simply, these worlds have been lifesavers for many. Video game developers are arguably no longer simply producing entertainment or even art; their work has become a vital tool to reduce the suffering of countless people.
2020 GAMES OF THE YEAR
We have very deliberately titled this feature 2020 Games of the Year. The plural matters. As per our tradition, SUPERJUMP does not award an overall “Game of the Year” trophy to any single game.
Rather, each contributor can select up to three of their favourite games of 2020 to discuss. Naturally, some games have more contributions than others (so, if you like, you could deduce a “winner” on that basis).
In order for a game to be considered for this piece, it must have been released in 2020. The only exceptions we have allowed are:
- Games as a service experiences that have seen substantial updates in 2020 (e.g. World of Warcraft: Shadowlands expansion).
- Games that released in a previous year but saw massive content updates this year that radically changed or improved the experience.
This year, for the very first time, we have invited several special guests to join us. These are folks who we greatly respect and admire, and we’re delighted they have come on the journey with us.
Andrew Dickinson is the author of Dreamcast Year One and the upcoming Dreamcast Year Two. He is also the creator of Dreamcast Years. Andrew is a team member of The Cross Players and The Dreamcast Junkyard.
Chris Brandrick is the creator of Switch Weekly, the internet’s premiere Nintendo Switch newsletter. Chris is also the Editorial Director at Cooperpress.
Gemma Driscoll is a co-host of ABC TV’s Good Game: Spawn Point and is a regular presence on ABC Radio. Gemma is also an independent content creator on YouTube.
Fergus Halliday is the former Editor of PC World and Good Gear Guide. Fergus is also a prolific freelance writer, having contributed to publications as wide-ranging as Press Start, Gameranx, Screen Rant, and our very own SUPERJUMP.
James O’Connor is the Narrative Designer of Mighty Kingdom, co-host of Pods in the Key of Springfield, and co-founder of Point & Clickbait. James is also a prominent video game journalist, having contributed to most of the industry’s largest publications including Edge, GameSpot, Kotaku, and many others. James’ words have also graced SUPERJUMP.
And last — but by no means least — is Edmond Tran, the former Australian Editor and Senior Video Producer at GameSpot. Edmond has an extensive career as Video Producer for CBS Interactive, having contributed to brands such as CNET, ZDNet, and TV.com.
Thanks to our special guests for generously taking the time to contribute to this feature. And of course, we are grateful for our incredible SUPERJUMP team — this year you’ll see a combination of folks who have been with us since the beginning as well as some new faces.
Apex Legends Season 7
I’ve had Apex Legends on my Games of the Year list for two years running now. And to some extent, I’m still surprised. As I said last year, I’ve never really been a competitive shooter fan. And yet it’s no exaggeration to say that Apex Legends is probably my most-played game of 2020. And in its Season 7 iteration, it’s better than ever.
As of Season 7, Apex Legends has only three maps. But each of these must have been painstakingly and lovingly crafted over long periods of time. Not only are they all massive, but each has a distinct personality and a wide range of “biomes” that seamlessly flow and dovetail into one another.
Olympus — the latest map — is absolutely the pinnacle of Apex Legends’ design. And I’d argue it’s one of the most beautifully-crafted maps I’ve ever played in anygame. The utopian floating city — complete with futuristic housing, skyscrapers, engineering and farming zones, and even a busted particle accelerator that you can play with — is a sight to behold. More than any other map in the game’s history, too, it offers seemingly unlimited variety in terms of gameplay scenarios and tactical options. It is a great playground on which to put all of your heroes through their paces.
Speaking of heroes, the new addition — Horizon — is truly wonderful. Her peppy Scottishness is delightful (I love it when she excitedly thanks her inanimate jump jets after boosting into the air), and her new abilities (Gravity Lift and Black Hole) add yet another strategic layer to an already diverse roster that is likely to suit just about any play style. Look, if you haven’t yet checked out Apex Legends, give Season 7 a go. It’s free to play, and it’s utterly brilliant.
For me, Apex Legends is far and away the most compelling multiplayer shooter on the market, and Season 7 brought with it the largest update yet, introducing a brand new map called Olympus, a new character with a very unique levitating mechanic, and vehicles that enable players to nip around very quickly.
All of these new additions have been brilliant. The new map flows perfectly, and feels like Respawn have learned from many of the design issues with their previous map, World’s Edge. While recent changes from previous seasons like the fact that everyone can easily acquire an evolving shield, help level the playing field and ensure that success isn’t as dependent on the loot you find on the ground.
All in all, Season 7 shows how Respawn are continuously pushing Apex in the right direction, and represents precisely why I’ll be playing the game consistently going into 2021. Roll on Season 8!
Among Us may have come out in 2018, but its sudden rise in popularity in 2020 is well deserved. This sleeper title hits harder in a world threatened invisibly by a virus that could be hosted by anyone. On top of its disquieting aptness, Among Usmeans that we get to communicate with our friends in a fun way — even when we’re screaming that they vented in front of us and NO GUYS I SWEAR IT’S BLUE I SWEAR I SAW HIM KILL CYAN.
I love playing Among Us with a big group of friends chatting in-game and in a Discord chat (muted between meetings, of course). These are the same people I played Town of Salem with, and I’m enjoying pulling the occasional headshot on them as the Imposter as much as I enjoyed running the townies out of their minds when I was a serial killer back then. Among Us takes ToS one further by adding fun minigames to play between meetings with the tasks. That said, if I had a dollar for every time someone screamed at their screen when trying to do a maze task, I’d be rich (it’s still fun, at least for everyone else listening).
As a bonus, the game’s customization options are extremely fun! There are plenty of hats and outfits available for free, and, if you are willing to pay the extra two or three dollars, there are even really fun pets! Just, don’t think too hard about what happens when you've been found out and they get left behind in the airlock…
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Living in Europe; waiting for the GameCube version of Animal Crossing to finally arrive was agonising. So much so, that as an impatient teenager I took to importing the U.S version along with a Freeloader required to get it running. Once it did turn up I was captivated by the game, its then-fresh real-time premise, and generally warm appeal. This felt like something new.
On reflection, its lack of a definitive ending was something that clearly resonated with me. I’m not an avid completionist by any means, something which a teenage me foolishly thought was a mark on my gamer credentials (like that’s a thing….) — so to have a game with such open-ended design felt markedly refreshing, and oddly freeing.
With that said, I was obviously excited to see what the 2020 version offered. For many, it provided welcome escapism at just the right time. For me, it was a vacation of sorts back to the days of 2002. Returning to Animal Crossing is always a break from the norm — a casual, and leisurely experience — a contrast that’s clear when pitted against more typical gaming fare. This latest entry is no different in that regard.
Yes, New Horizons offers the series staple of living out another life, but such a prospect remains a compelling one. With such polish, detail, and warm, calming island vibes, I found Nintendo’s latest entry in this now two-decades-long series to truly be a splendid one.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons came into the world like a hug when we needed it the most. Like its predecessors, it promised a relaxing experience and a safe space to explore, converse, and move at their own pace. For many of us, it will be remembered as the game that got us through 2020. When so many were looking for ways to connect with friends and family with something more personal than video chat, AC:NH was there with a solution.
I could invite friends over to my island, and for a moment it felt normal — like I was hosting a get together at my house. We could joke and hang out, or go explore together. And if it ever got to be too much, I could close my gates and spend some time chilling in my own personal space.
It felt like I had a quiet place where I could relax and forget the worries of the world. Whatever anxieties or fears were troubling me were always left at the door when I turned the game on. It felt like a mini-vacation that I could take with me anywhere.
AC:NH approaches fun in one of the most simple ways: give the player the freedom to do what they want, and reward them for it. It’s refreshing to have a game that doesn’t pressure me into doing everything and to instead move at my own pace. If I want to spend all my time watching my villagers sing in the town square, the game gave me a thumbs up. If I wanted to try and recreate The Last Supper using lawn furniture and counterfeit paintings, the game is there to offer me encouragement.
It’s the game that keeps giving, and one that I will continue to come back to, pandemic or no. AC:NH engages the player on a personal level, offering quiet moments and freedom in a world that is anything but relaxing. And that more than makes it one of the best things to come out of 2020.
It’s the line you’ve heard a thousand times ‘New Horizons came out just when we needed it’ and you know what? I’ll say it again because it’s so undeniably true. Animal Crossing: New Horizons was the perfect escape from an otherwise inescapable situation. But that’s not why I value it so highly, it’s just an added bonus.
New Horizons is as much a creative tool as it is a game, allowing players to customise and create their own little home away from home exactly to their liking, always pushing us to make bigger and better things without ever overstepping that very fine line between helpful guidance and overbearing hand-holding.
Using that guidance I chiseled out my own little slice of paradise called ‘Illium’. The shores are lined with apple trees, I built a combined cafe and outdoor theatre overlooking the water and the pavements in my community garden are expertly placed to spell out ‘GET OUT, CHOPS!’ (the name of a villager I fiercely despise). It’s beautiful! And it’s entirely mine, to share with whomever I wish depending on my social battery and how willing I am to let my friends see the hidden piles of junk I had stashed around the WIP parts of the island.
Not only did AC:HN become an escape but it also became a shared bonding experience, even between complete strangers halfway across the world. We all sat in eager wait as our island shores piled up with specimens, counting down for the day the museum would be built. We shared our theories on the possible criminal history of Tom Nook and I don’t think I’ve ever been so invested in finances the way I was when the topic of the Stalk Market came up between friends.
Yes it came exactly when we needed it, but Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ charm, lightheartedness and total absence of ego (aside from Chops, seriously he’s the worst) is what keeps me coming back.
Those that were fortunate enough to pick up Animal Crossing: New Horizonsupon release may recall a moment in the year that didn’t feel so awful. There are many reasons as to why New Horizons was a Game of the Year nominee, but the reality is that the game provided simplicity and brightness in a year of complications and darkness. The masterful sound design accompanied by soft, pleasing aesthetics makes it easy and even relaxing for first-time players of the series to get started on their island. For series veterans, New Horizons is like finding an old sweater filled with memories.
Like its predecessors, New Horizons draws its players in with the reward of increasingly better items in exchange for putting hours into island maintenance. Unlike its previous installments, however, the true reward of New Horizons is showing off a decorated island to others on the internet. Never before have I felt like I was a part of such a large, global community whose members are dedicated to executing their personal visions through video games. New Horizons, a virtual vision board in the shape of an island, made that experience possible.
Also notable to mention is Nintendo’s commitment to consistently providing quality of life updates, such as the addition of swimming in July. Nintendo caring about player satisfaction for their second-best selling Switch game speaks volumes to players who know that free updates aren’t to be taken for granted. Engaging this way actually excites players and has them looking forward to whatever next thing could happen, even after they feel their island is complete.
A game where you can do as much or as little as you wish is not a new concept, but I’ve never seen it put to work better than in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. From the furniture to the villagers to the very weeds that appear on the island, everything is beautifully modeled. The central question is not “Can you make your island pretty?” but instead “How much can your island tell me about you?” That is the ‘lightning-in-a-bottle’ Nintendo managed to capture.
Countless articles have been written about New Horizons, and countless more will be written in the years to come, as gamers continue to be fascinated by this title’s unique place in gaming history. Nintendo’s developers could never have predicted how the context of New Horizon’s release window would forever elevate it in the minds of many. Plenty of games, books, movies, plays — all forms of media, really — are born from an idea that reflects the world around them as development begins. Few, if any, can claim to have been shaped by a landscape that came into being at the end of the development process. After all, how could you possibly plan for that? The only way to pull that off would be to stumble into success by the sheer luck of your development window.
This, of course, is exactly what happened to Nintendo, and it transformed an already incredible game into something truly unique — a game that will be remembered by gamers and non-gamers alike as a breath of fresh island air in an otherwise stale, stuffy 2020 lifestyle. So New Horizons gets my GOTY vote for being a friend, confidant, and counsellor to countless people throughout the year. And also, for being very, very lucky.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out at exactly the right time. When the whole world was forced to stay inside, far away from our friends and family, unable to do most of the things we loved, AC:NH offered us a very real retreat through its virtual retreat. A sunny island populated by cute animals that is 100% customizable and allows you to have parties and hang out with your friends without putting them in danger? Yes, please!
My island is a lovely sunny little place full of apples where I get to have the cute English cottage with a rose garden out front that I’ve always wanted. I’ve spent countless hours enjoying collecting all the fruits, filling my museum (because I’ve sorely missed visiting real museums), and picking Gullivar up off the sand whenever he shows up (roughly once a week, the poor thing).
Chock full of events, unlockables, and goals that are easily achievable without being boring to go after, AC:NH is an excellent, no-pressure game to enjoy when you just don’t want to think.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
It’s been a while since I’ve so thoroughly enjoyed an Assassin’s Creed game, and even longer since one has been able to change my feelings on it so dramatically over the course of my playtime. Valhalla was a slow burn to be sure but I am so glad I stuck it out because there is so much to love if you give it the time: its vastness, its compelling story, its rich lore and hidden secrets- take your pick!
Though the fact remains that you should never ever take your history lessons purely from the AC franchise, the melding of fictional and reality does make for some entertaining encounters that extend further than ‘hey look it’s a famous person from history’. Even the real world story arc that up until now I’d been pretty disinterested in, comes together nicely and there’s enough tidbits of connecting information from previous games to have fans frothing at the mouth making connections.
It’s also just a downright gorgeous looking game! From the face models to the environments, my in game camera was getting a workout like you wouldn’t believe. Aside from a few graphical issues and Eivor’s persistent inability to climb down instead of throwing herself off things, everything ran incredibly smoothly. Combat both in and out of stealth felt as tight and flowed nicely between attack and defence and once I’d gotten over some teething issues I was even willing to abandon my die hard love of stealth in favour of throwing down the gauntlet right out in the open. Mainly because of those killer (pun definitely intended) finishing moves.
What caught and held my attention though was the character themselves and their relationships to each other which as the story unfolded, kept me glued to my screen till the credits rolled. My Eivor was a woman I both feared and admired, someone I wanted to hug me but also crush the life from my body, not necessarily in any particular order. She loved her brother Sigurd and though she didn’t always agree with him, she knew he was the only family she had left. It’s a simple character motivation to guide us through a 50+ hour campaign, but the fantastic voice acting by Cecilie Stenspil really elevated the experience for me.
While far from perfect, Valhalla is one game I cannot recommend enough!
I have to admit that I’m a sucker for the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Ever since the original in 2007, I can’t wait for the next release — I did skip some releases, though, e.g., Unity. When Ubisoft announced Valhalla earlier in 2020, I was immediately sold even before watching or reading a single preview or review. This game is somehow tailored to me. I ended up pre-ordering AC: Valhalla with the PlayStation 5.
Now, let me be honest. Even though I immediately loved the settings’ idea, I was skeptical that England and Norway’s settings were the right choices. Compared to older AC games, these locations did not have what I would call “architectural masterpieces” in that era. For a game that is centered around parkour, it must have been tricky.
However, Ubisoft delivered a great game, and they knew exactly what to do to overcome the lack of parkour-ing in the game. For the first time in an Assassin’s Creed game, Ubisoft introduced raid and settlement mechanics. Also, in a similar style as in Shadow of Mordor, Valhalla included an assassination list for the players to pursue.
The story setting in Valhalla feels like four stories running in parallel within one game. If you focused on the main story, you can still enjoy it and finish the game. However, the other three stories are also part of the campaign. Every time you finish a new part, new information relevant to the ending is revealed.
My problem with Valhalla is the direction of the game Ubisoft chose. I loved the game, and Valhalla is most probably my second favorite AC game after Black Flag. However, I did not like the dialogue mechanics. For one, I noticed that the game would give me multiple options for a conversation. After I chose one, a cut scene would start, and the characters would automatically discuss all the presented options. Basically, my choice just changed the order of the conversation and made the game slower.
Also, in Assassin’s Creed, we are playing a simulation of old events, and we see these events from the protagonist’s perspective. The game choices sometimes felt like the player is changing history, which does not fit with an Animus simulation.
Nevertheless, Valhalla is a solid gaming experience with a beautiful story and amazing environments. A “must play,” in my opinion.
This is a game that, by all accounts, has no business being as good as it is. The era of the pack-in game was long since past when Sony decided to create what is essentially a tech demo for the DualSense controller. As such, there were almost zero expectations for the game, and the console manufacturer’s agonizingly slow drip of information ahead of the PS5’s release did nothing to change that. But once the press finally went hands-on with their pre-release consoles, it was all anyone could talk about.
Sony has seemingly been trying to get back into the “console mascot” market for a while now, so making this game an extension of the very popular Astrobot Rescue Mission VR title was a stroke of genius. Even with that, they could have put minimal effort into this game, one level to show off the various capabilities of the DualSense, and called it a day. But what they actually delivered is one of the best platformers of the last few years, combined with one heck of a nostalgia trip for any PlayStation fan.
The game delivers solid platforming with multiple unique mechanics, modes of transportation, and varied enemies that won’t necessarily challenge your skills but will occasionally surprise you. The art direction is stellar, with graphical touches that show off just a hint of the PS5’s power while giving players a lot to look at and jump on. Add in all those wonderful nostalgic collectibles and you have quite the package. But you play the game for the controller, first and foremost, and that is where Astro shines brightest.
The DualSense controller is just as advertised, with some surprisingly great capabilities that add more to games than most people imagined it could. While a few of the controller-centric mechanics fall a tad flat (blowing into the controller is spotty at best), the vast majority of what Astro has to show us is simply mind-boggling. I could write a thousand words about it and it wouldn’t be enough, this is one of those things you just can’t understand until you’ve experienced it. If you have a PS5 and have yet to fire up Astro, stop reading and go do it, right now. You’ll be glad you did.
I’m so happy Astro’s Playroom was the first game I played on my PlayStation 5. Honestly, it’s the kind of game I would want the console to immediately boot to as a way to introduce the new DualSense controller. I’ve played both Demon’s Souls and Spider-Man: Miles Morales, but both these games fail to utilize the full capabilities of the PS5. Meanwhile, Astro’s Playroom does it effortlessly.
Platformers, for the most part, have dwindled over time. Sure — we’ve got Super Mario Odyssey, but gone are the days of titles such as Banjo-Kazooie, Sly Cooper, and other platformers of old. Astro’s Playroom is, in a way, a callback to platformers such as this. Beaming with charm and color, Astro’s Playroom is a celebration of all things PlayStation. From its consoles to exclusive titles, the history of PlayStation can be found in every corner of Astro’s Playroom. It would be better to call Astro’s Playroom an Easter Egg hunt rather than a video game if the gameplay itself had no substance, but that simply isn’t the case.
Simple platforming makes the game fun to speed through, but the different suits that can be equipped all throughout fully take advantage of the DualSense controller. Whether you’re bouncing up a CPU themed waterfall in a spring suit or climbing a jungle wall as a monkey in GPU ancient ruins, you’ll feel it in your controller. Each and every interaction, footstep, and ability utilizes the haptic feedback of the controller to immerse you into the game.
If there’s one thing I want to see in this generation, it’s more Astro. An experience like Astro’s Playroom being free is wonderful, but I’d love seeing the studio behind it develop something I could give them money for. Plus, Astro is adorable. Make him the new mascot of PlayStation!
Command & Conquer Remastered
The makers of this remastered collection, Petroglyph Games, were actually in a tricky spot when bringing these games into the 21st century. As the origin point for one of the most beloved franchises of all time, and a progenitor for the entire real-time strategy (RTS) genre, Command & Conquer has a fanbase like none other. And the key requirement for a remaster is satisfying the original fans while bringing new ones to the table. Petroglyph is comprised of many of the same designers who brought the original game to life at Westwood Studios all those years ago. No one knows the source material better, but there were still a lot of expectations to live up to.
With Remastered, they exceeded every one of them.
This is, without any hesitation, what a great remaster should be. Preserve the spirit and content of the game, those things that made it great in the first place, while giving it the benefit of 25 years worth of design advances. 4K graphics that you can flip back to the original in real-time. A complete remaster of the iconic soundtrack, believed by many to be one of the greatest of all time, done by the original composer. Enhanced graphics for the “so-bad-they’re-actually-good” original FMV cinematics. Hours worth of extras and bonus goodies for the hard-core fans. Quality of life improvements to the controls and UI. You name it, they included it.
This collection pulls off the trickiest of all accomplishments for modern remasters: it plays how you remember it playing, not how it actually played.
It may sound simple, but it’s a distinction that has tripped up many remastered games over the past several years. If you leave the game exactly as it was, you run the risk of alienating players who have gotten used to some of the control refinements of recent times. But should the game change too much, the studio will be accused of gutting the spirit of the original game. Walking the middle line can be sweaty stuff, but the rewards are lucrative, and this collection pulls it off with considerable aplomb.
If you loved it then, you’ll love it even more now. What more can you ask for these days?
I know I’m asking for trouble with such a divisive pick. Every positive opinion of this game comes with a disclaimer about its current state, be it for bugs or quality of life improvement demands. It’s reasonable to say that Cyberpunk 2077 didn’t fulfill the promise that I held on to for the past 8 years. But it did give me a self-aware handgun that hums Rihanna’s Disturbia as it voluntarily interrupts quests with a shower of autonomous lead.
When CD Projekt Red’s ambitious vision is at its best, I bore witness to flashes of the lightning storm that The Witcher 3 was. Powerful narrative moments were carried by compelling characters with remarkable ease, both inside and outside of the main story. And while the game’s lifepaths were little more than flavor text, its expansive combat options let you spec V into a katana-toting brawler, a frail but deadly netrunner, and everything in between. Contrary to popular belief, your choices during side quests do have an impact on how your tale unfolds. Johnny Silverhand is as much of a protagonist as V is. His irreplaceable charm permeated through the game’s grim tones of existential dread and identity crises coated in a heap of chrome. Alas, this storm is seldom at its peak.
Few games can promise the photorealistic immersion and well-realized vertical design of neon-dripping Night City. And fewer still can live on in one’s mind long after the end credits roll. It’s a convincing illusion, despite being marred by shallow systems, lifeless pedestrians, and bizarre cops. Brutalist architecture and ray-traced puddles began to stand out whenever I went out for a run in real life. The game’s riot of a soundtrack, rich in anti-corporate critique, still gives me mixed feelings about my job at a corporate firm. While incomplete, Night City has incredible potential with updates and improvements, it remains a cautionary tale for AAA developers. In an industry where big-budget games check off as many boxes as they can, I am surprised that CD Projekt Red left some unfilled.
I like Cyberpunk 2077. But I wanted to love it.
Doom Eternal is a game that I did not expect to love as much as I did going into it. While I’m an FPS fan, I’ve never gotten into many of the big AAA franchises; even though Doom (2016) was a favorite of mine, it wasn’t on the top of my list that year.
What Doom Eternal does may seem controversial among hardcore fans: The changes to weapon design, a greater focus on glory kills, and the marauder and enemy redesigns, but it made me fall in love with it. This is very much a “thinking man’s shooter” and manages to avoid the repetition that has plagued many franchises over the last decade. This is not a game where you can approach every encounter the same way or repeat the tactic. The agility of the Doom Guy combined with the level design really made each encounter feel different.
This is the truest example of a game designed around sprints of action, and there were times I felt exhausted after only a few minutes of dodging, jumping, and shooting the game’s many enemies. In my opinion, the glory kill system — or just being able to regenerate resources during play — should become more widely used among design to keep the player always engaged with the core gameplay loop.
At this time I haven’t played the DLC chapter (waiting on a sale on the year one edition), but I will certainly be jumping back in for another spin with the Doom Guy. And as a last point for the reader, if you’re looking for what could be the successor of Doom Eternal, definitely check out UltraKill that may end up being in this very same spot one year from now.
“Rip and tear…until it is done.” These words became the fuel for the hype-train I had been conducting ever since I first laid eyes on the gameplay reveal of Doom Eternal during E3 in 2018. Doom Eternal is the sequel to the excellent Doom (2016), and as such, Eternal had a lot to prove. So did this sequel live up to the massive hype-train? It derailed it, glory killed it, and spilled its guts everywhere for the world to see. The game is that good.
Described by the interminable Ice-T as “virtual cardio,” if there are demons on screen, you do not get a breather. Constant strafing, running, gunning, jumping, meleeing, chainsawing for ammo, OH MY GOD HOW IS THERE ANOTHER HELL KNIGHT, make Doom Eternal an experience as endearing as it is challenging. SUPERJUMP’s own Joe Hubbard describes it best: Doom Eternal is chess on steroids. Every move you make while engaged feels like it has an appropriate response from the game. The AI may not be groundbreaking, but the variation in enemy types and the breakneck speed at which the game is played forces you to think critically and make split-second decisions. On top of this, I found myself learning the arenas in which I was fighting very quickly, finding the best routes (or so I thought) to get enough distance between the warriors of Hell and myself to actually do some damage. One wrong step, however, and I’d find myself staring at a wall of Hellspawn ready to tear me limb from limb, which they did. Often.
Doom Eternal’s combat is incredibly risk/reward, invoking the feel of old arena-style shooters like Quake and Unreal Tournament while keeping the tight controls of modern FPS masterpieces. The combat in Eternal is the perfect combination of speed, violence, blood, gore, and adrenaline, with every conquered engagement feeling like a mountain climbed while concurrently invoking the sense of a baby step taken. Id software know how to do gunplay, and it shines brightly with Eternal.
This is Doom we’re talking about, so the story was never going to be center stage. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised with how engaged I was with learning more about the titular Doom Guy and the rules that make up this fantastic and terrible world he inhabits. Understanding the motivations behind why the Doom Guy needs to rip and tear doesn’t really make much of a difference, but Eternal does a good job of adding depth to the character without taking away too much of the “I am the badass Doom Guy” experience the previous games were known for. Id Software tried to delve more into the story with the much chagrined Doom 3, but their attempts are much better appreciated this time around.
The soundtrack is easily, in my opinion, one of the best in gaming. I regularly listen to it on my own time as Mick Gordan knows how to build tension in his music. When BFG 10,000 or The Only Thing They Fear Is You kicks in, you want to see the screen run red with crimson demon gore, and boy does it deliver. Doom Eternal is gorgeous in that gross, sticky, slimy kind of way, with squelchy bits of demon viscera covering the screen any chance it gets. Doom Eternal is violent, fast, fun, unadulterated, unabashed videogame joy, and it’s really, really hard not to love.
I didn’t expect many games to earn my approval this year, and since the Cyberpunk 2077 fiasco, I’ve lost the remaining hope I have for AAA games. However, there was one game that I waited for this year. One game that made a difference within me. One game that made me feel like I was a giddy little kid again who wants pure devastation against the enemies of man and the destruction of everything that’s in front of me. That game is Doom Eternal.
Doom Eternal is such a crisp and well-polished game. Every mechanic — from the movement of the character to the fluid motion of swapping weapons — nothing ever pulls you away from its purpose of pure utter carnage. It makes you feel like you’re an unstoppable force of nature hellbent on destroying everything in front of you, but because of the difficulty levels, it requires you to have enough finesse and skill so that it won’t be too boring.
On the day of its release and up to this very day, I have never deleted Doom Eternal from my library. That’s because there is always something to go back to, another run to accomplish, another challenge to overcome. And always more demons to slay.
With everyone talking about Hades this year (and for good reason, because it’s amazing), I wanted to go in a different direction for one of my picks and celebrate the release of one of the most amazing indie games. There is nothing really like Factorio, in fact, the games that have come out since its development use it as a genre qualifier.
The game is essentially all about optimization, while your goal is to build the means to escape an alien world, your real goal is to build the ultimate assembly line. Everything about Factorio is set at your own pace. Starting from having to manually mine resources and provide coal to machines, you’ll soon unlock electricity and generators. Every new upgrade becomes a test of your knowledge to get it as quickly as possible, and then integrate that into your factory.
The developers really understand how effective pacing is in terms of progression. At the start, things will be slow.
Where things truly elevate Factorio is with the emergent gameplay in how the game was designed from the ground up. Every part and piece of your factory can be combined with others to create solutions or Rube-Goldberg-esque assembly lines. Advanced play becomes a puzzle where you’re trying to create your own solution given the pieces you have available. As with the very best city builders, there is just something relaxing about designing a complex solution made out of multiple simple parts.
Factorio is a design much like Dwarf Fortress that it’s very hit or miss in terms of its fans. This is a game that you will either bounce off of it, or it will become your obsession for some time.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
I wasn’t going to include this one on my list, seeing I already chose it as my game of the generation and I thought I wouldn’t have anything left to say about it, but honestly, I just didn’t have it in me to leave it out.
For some people, this might just be a “good game.” For others, it could even be a great game. But for a lot of us out there, this is a game we’ve been waiting for for over 20 years. That’s almost a lifetime.
Every time I play Final Fantasy VII Remake (and there have already been quite a few replays!), I have to stop to look at my surroundings. My brain does this sort of comparison on what I’m seeing in Remake vs. what I was looking at in the original. Like, what part of the map am I on? Was this screen in the original or is it brand new? That sort of thing.
To see these characters come to life, to hear those classic tracks by Nobuo Uematsu and to play this story in next-gen, stunning visuals, is — to quote Keanu Reeves — breathtaking. And considering the quality of the first part of this project, I can’t even imagine what’s in store for us with the next game(s).
FFXVI may be something new and exciting for the franchise, it may even be a better game altogether, but it won’t have the special relationship with the fans that VII has established in the last two decades. And to be frank, I don’t think it ever will.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is more than an update to an old game. It’s a love letter to everyone that grew up with it, and a victory lap for Square Enix. It’s a way to show appreciation to the generations of gamers influenced by the original. A lot of care and effort went into this remake, and it shows in every moment.
For me, FFVIIR stands out for its sheer dedication to pull one of the most iconic games ever into the modern era. I have fond memories of the original and seeing it all play out in new ways felt like coming home. From the moment the opening song played, I was teleported right back to my childhood. Rarely do we get to experience something so close to us again for the first time, but in FFVIIR, I was able to do exactly that.
The game takes care to preserve the spirit of the original while putting in the effort to bring it into the modern age. It embraces every part of its predecessor, even when things manage to get a bit goofy. Whether it’s fighting a giant house, or learning to dance in a stark change of gameplay, FFVIIR embraces the spectacle. And I enjoyed every single moment of it.
FFVIIR is on my list of top games for 2020 because of how daring it is. It took the gold-standard of RPGs and tried to breathe some new life into it. I appreciated every moment of it because I could feel all the love that went into making it. In that, it managed to reawaken the love I have for it as well.
Every now and then there’s a game that comes along and completely changes your idea of what gaming is. A couple of years ago it was God of War. This year for many people it was The Last of Us Part II. For me, though, it was Final Fantasy VII Remake. This was a game that completely surprised me and ended up being one of my favorite games of all time, despite not originally having any intention of even playing it.
You see, I’m one of the few people who hadn’t played the original Final Fantasy VII prior to this year. It’s a game that I, of course, knew all about since it’s one of those timeless classics that has characters who’ve shown up in various other games in the two decades since it was released in 1997. Yet I had never actually played the game. Well, I started it once about 10 years ago, but I never finished it. In fact, I had never actually finished a single Final Fantasy game before playing FFVIIR. With that lens in mind, you can see how I wasn’t very excited about the game’s release.
Despite my initial indifference, once I actually watched someone play through a few levels of this gorgeous-looking game, I knew I needed to try it out for myself. From the literal first moment I booted the game up, I was hooked. The music. The visuals. The voice acting. The character development. Everything about it absolutely captivated me and drew me in deeper every moment I played.
Given that I wasn’t an FFVII diehard, all the changes (“plot ghosts,” story differences, flashbacks, etc.) actually served to enthrall me even more. The prospect that a certain death may not happen down the line, or at least could happen in a different way is fascinating. I’m a huge sucker for multiple timelines or anything along those lines, so the possibility of anything like this happening in future entries to this series has me incredibly excited.
For me, FFVIIR was one of those games that reminds me of why I fell in love with gaming. The wonder and spectacle of this world is something that I’ll never forget and I absolutely can’t wait to see what’s in store for future instalments.
Perhaps the most defining game in the JRPG genre makes its triumphant return as the first instalment in the multiple-part Final Fantasy VII remake series. And it landed with a resounding success. The game’s updated hybrid action-RPG combat system has plenty of depth while looking cinematic and stylish in motion, making every fight feel interesting and rising above Square Enix’s previous less-than-successful attempts at similar combat. Cutscenes are voiced with excellent direction and are, for the most part, lovingly animated with some of the best character models seen to date. Although it only tells the first act of Final Fantasy VII’s story, it feels complete and well-paced. Despite this game altering a smattering of plot points from the original (some inconsequential, others much more widely sweeping) it perfectly captures Final Fantasy VII’s spirit of adventure, drama, and even fun. All this and more makes this the most joyous new gaming experience I had in 2020.
Fortnite Season 2: Chapter 5
What can I say about Fortnite that hasn’t already been said a thousand times over? Everyone knows what this game is — it’s a phenomenon of epic proportions (see what I did there?). It’s original Save The World mode was swiftly sidelined in late 2017 for its now infamous Battle Royale mode, in an attempt to capture the popularity of the genre made famous by PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. It quickly exceeded that game’s grip on the market, and in 2019 it saw revenues of close to $2 billion.
I started playing Fortnite at the tail end of 2019, with the launch of its second ‘chapter’. Epic relaunched the entire game after a world-ending cataclysmic event saw players unable to login for an unprecedented two days. Upon its return there was an entirely new map, and many improvements to the core formula. This brave reboot of an already popular title was enough to draw myself and some friends in. We were curious to give it a try, having previously written the game off for being a service title mainly aimed at kids.
How wrong we were. Five seasons later and the game has well and truly left its mark on me. I skipped a couple of seasons that felt like missteps (such as Season 2, which introduced a spy theme with way too many new features which distracted from the joy of the core experience), but it has been somewhat of a lifeline to me at various points throughout 2020. This is a game that has swallowed over 150 hours of my time, and most of that has been in a squad with friends as we spent some vital social time together that had otherwise been lost during various lockdowns and tier restrictions.
Fortnite Season 2: Chapter 5 began on December 2nd 2020, introducing a bounty hunter theme, including skins such as The Mandalorian, Kratos from God of Warand Master Chief from Halo, while changing up map locations again to keep things interesting. I’m not sure I’ll ever tire of its brand of third-person competitive shooting, especially when Epic seem to have perfected the art of keeping a long-running online title fresh and engaging. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to jump back on the Battle Bus!
It’d be a mistake to write Genshin Impact off as a mere imitation of Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Where it counts most, miHoYo’s open-world action RPG builds on that formula in ways that distinguish it from its most-identifiable inspiration. For better and worse, it’s more of a numbers game than a sandbox.
Nevertheless, the sting of any departure from the template left by BOTW is numbed by one critical detail: Genshin Impact is free-to-play. Yes, it’s gacha-styled microtransactions merit plenty of justified scrutinies but, in terms of the story, the gameplay and just plain seeing what the lands of Teyvat have to offer, they’re far from necessary.
There’s no shortage of things to see and do and the systems involved do a great job of making it easy to trick yourself into sticking with the game and seeing what lies around the corner. The fact that you can jump in and clear a few map markers on the go via smartphone or via a larger-screen device like a tablet or PC just makes things even stickier.
Genshin Impact has realigned my expectations for what mobile gaming can look like. In a very real way, it’s raised the stakes for fidelity, depth, and fun. While I’m excited to see what new content comes to the game in 2021, I’m equally invested in seeing the long-term effects of this broad escalation within the free-to-play space play out.
If you told me a free-to-play “games as a service” gacha title would be one of my favorite games of the year, I would have called you crazy. Yet, even now I’m pulling myself away from the addicting game just now to write this (commissions have become part of my daily routine, more so than writing).
The fact that this game is free is its greatest virtue, but also a damning weakness. On one hand, you get an abundance of content for nothing more than a few gigabytes of bandwidth required to download the title. On the other, you have characters locked behind virtual slot machines. I look past the latter (and I rarely do so, for gambling in games is exceptionally egregious) because of Genshin Impact’s profound open-world gameplay.
There is something so enigmatically addicting about traversing the fantasy world of Teyvat. Whether it be enemy encampments, hidden challenges, chests, collectibles, dungeons, or upgrade materials, Genshin Impact has a lot to offer for those that scour through every nook and cranny. Even if you explore everything, new content like the Chalk Prince and The Dragon event adds more areas to explore for the competitive price of zero dollars.
Not only that, but the story here is genuinely interesting. miHoYo, the developers of Genshin Impact, do a great job of maintaining solid world-building while creating likable characters who have much more to them than they might seem. The world itself takes inspiration from varying cultures, such as the Liyue region having a strong Chinese influence. If you bundle this with the surprisingly beautiful original soundtrack, Genshin Impact is an awesome addition to 2020’s roster of games.
Some may look at it as a wolf in sheep’s clothing for the microtransactions that are offered, but in truth, I rarely found myself hungering to drop money for rolls. I spent a total of $15 on Genshin Impact, which includes $10 for the well-worth battle pass and $5 for a monthly subscription that grants 90 primogems (premium currency) a day. I believe these are fair offerings for a game I’ve sunken almost a hundred hours into.
Ghost of Tsushima
It’s 1274 and the Mongols have landed on the shores of Tsushima. Dead litter the coast and the hills echo with the horrors of war. In Ghost of Tsushima, you play as Jin Sakai, a samurai who will face impossible odds to reclaim and defend his homeland. It’s a home worth defending. Not only is it the gateway to mainland Japan, but it’s also a beautiful island alive with magic and mystery.
You can truly capture that beauty either on the top of a shrine, giving you a bird’s-eye view of the island, and in reflective haikus. Not once is the environment spoiled by markers, developers choosing to use the direction of the wind and golden birds as a guide. Tsushima is a game where you can lose yourself exploring the island. With the game’s well-crafted photo mode, players and even Sakai’s VA, Daisuke Tsuji, have spent hours taking pictures of the island’s landscape.
War, though, is inescapable and on full display. Each shrine’s bridges set aflame, villages sitting in ruins, corpses discarded on the road will fuel Sakai. He has to save his home, no matter what. But saving his home means turning away from the samurai values instilled by his late father and uncle.
This is where Ghost of Tsushima really shines story-wise: the constant tension between walking the line of “honor” and effective action. Honor is facing your opponent on the field and fighting fairly. Moving quietly through camps, assassinating foes, and using other creative means to tackle enemies is dishonorable in the samurai culture. However, stealth saves lives and prevents incredible bloodshed.
The first time Sakai kills an enemy in the shadows, it’s messy and traumatic. He’s thrown back into a memory of his childhood, reminded of the importance of upholding the values of the samurai. With most samurais dead thanks to the Mongol’s attack, do the gravity of his actions grow.
Even the island will respond to Sakai’s actions. If Sakai selects a stealth approach (going Ghost), the weather will transform to gray skies and rainstorms. Sometimes it would rain for hours and I’d desperately try to fight everyone in the open, hoping maybe that would appease the island. But I couldn’t help but reflect on my growing body count and roadside carnage. This way doesn’t work, either.
This conflict with values and how it affects his relationships with others is one reason this story is one you can’t turn away from.
Ghost of Tsushima is a game with a strong environmental design that rewards players who choose to explore every part of the island. Its story and Jin struggling to uphold the identity of samurai and save his homeland is a struggle we see masterfully carried out throughout the story. So will you bring Jin back to the path of the samurai, or will you let him fully become the Ghost of Tsushima? Only you can decide.
In a year full of magnificent games that make choosing any single one of them a daunting task, Sucker Punch’s action-adventure title was truly a sight to behold. It wasn’t just the incredible visuals that made you believe you were watching one of the many acclaimed movies directed by well-known Japanese film-maker Akira Kurosawa, but also the grim story, based on real events, that never shied away from depicting the true horrors of war.
In Ghost of Tsushima, there are no great towns to explore, no happy people to welcome you into new settlements bursting with life, no cheerful breaks from the bleak reality that awaits you. Only fire and ruins everywhere you turn that serve as a constant reminder that this is a tale about casting everything aside and doing what is necessary in order to survive.
But despite how dark it may appear, this game manages to shine through not just its stunning visuals, but also the great work of its cast of actors that provide incredibly convincing performances which at times bring tears to the eyes of players. Also, we have a villain who we love to hate in the face of Khotun Khan, a manipulative man who knows his opponents all too well and exploits their weaknesses.
All in all, Ghost of Tsushima is not just one of the best games to come out this year, but any year and is definitely not one you should miss out on!
The aptest way I can describe Ghost of Tsushima is this: take the excellent open-world atmosphere of Breath of the Wild, add a beautifully written story about becoming a samurai legend, and top it off with visceral and satisfying combat. Ghost of Tsushima dropped on PlayStation 4 late in the console’s lifecycle, pushing the hardware to its limits to bring a truly breathtaking and immersive experience. Despite treading familiar open-world RPG territory, Ghost of Tsushima is quite unlike anything I’ve ever played before.
The graphics are absolutely stunning. From the beautiful coastal region of Izuhara, through the stifling swamps and lush farmland of Toyotama, all the way to the frigid wastes of Kamiagata, every area within the game has its own quirks and personality. Sucker Punch did an excellent job of making the environments feel like a samurai legend, with the colors and topography being just exaggerated enough to feel surreal while simultaneously being grounded enough to never pull you out of the immersion. It is truly a difficult line to tow, but Ghost of Tsushima tows it with ease.
The combat in Ghost of Tsushima is a little tricky to master at first. Initially, the lack of a lock-on system in a post-Dark Souls world is a bit strange. After some time with it, however, you really do get a feel of flow and lethality as you carve your way through the Mongol hordes. There are four styles of combat to choose from, and you will be required to switch through them depending on which enemy type you’re currently engaged with. Once you realize how to switch your stances on the fly, the blood will flow in droves as massive Mongol forces fall to the deadly edge of your katana or the piercing force of your bow.
My favorite thing about the combat system in Ghost of Tsushima is the allowance of choice: if you want to be the Ghost, sneaking through enemy encampments, slicing throats, and striking fear in the hearts of those who stand between you and your goal, you are absolutely able to do that. If you want to roll up like death incarnate and bloody the battlefield with the entrails of your enemies, by all means, go ahead. The freedom of approach to each encounter makes them that much more satisfying.
This speaks nothing of the story, which I will leave intentionally vague for those of you yet to experience it. Long story short, it’s really good, and if you own a PlayStation 4 or 5, I highly recommend you jump into this game.
Oh, and the multiplayer is pretty kick-ass too.
Hades provides you the best that gaming can provide: addicting gameplay, stellar writing, and the ability to rebel against your father by using his money to purchase a seductive portrait of Dionysius. What more can you ask for?
I selected Hades as one of my picks for GOTY thanks to the masterful way it uses death to further the plot. Zagreus, the son of Lord Hades, fights tooth and nail to crawl out of the Underworld to reach the surface. The Olympian gods act as our allies, encouraging us to rebel.
It’s easy to believe this is a simple story of a demigod trying to jailbreak his way out of the Underworld.
However, Hades is not a simple story. It’s a story with heart (one I explore further here) and will stay with you even after you’re finished.
Each time you die, Zagreus’ world reacts and changes with him. New dialogue, opportunities to further relationships and help allies resolve issues, and more, become available. If you have “God Mode” activated, Zagreus actually moves closer to divinity after each death.
It’s why I’m never sore about losing.
I enjoy rushing to pet Cerberus. Or peeking at the balcony to see if Thanatos appeared, so Zagreus could apologize for some butthead comment he made a while back.
Escaping the Underworld starts off as this scream of defiance and morphs into a desire to reunite a family. As Zagreus’ goal becomes one worth fighting for, we also witness his character growth.
Death, however, doesn’t affect only Zagreus. Each passing death slowly reveals the true colors of those around Zagreus.
The Chthonic entities that occupy the Underworld show they’ve always cared for Zagreus. Watching him strengthen his relationship with them and weather the storm together left me with the warm fuzzies. Even his relationship with his father gradually improves in a way that is awkward and rough but feels real.
Meanwhile, the Olympian gods begin to no longer dress themselves up as the warm, functional family on Mount Olympus. As they grow comfortable with Zagreus, their pettiness becomes more apparent. They become the gods you’ve read in myths: vain, wrathful, and demanding.
With each death promising more lore, interactions, and another tragedy brewing on the horizon, running through the Underworld all over again is a simple choice to make.
Supergiant’s hellish roguelike is an experience where every gameplay mechanic and design choice feels conducive towards making the central experience of playing it more effective.
Taking the role of Zagreus, son of Hades, you will attempt to escape the land of the dead as many times as it takes to escape to the surface and out of your father’s reach. The brilliantly voice acted characters are fresh takes on familiar Greek mythological figures, and from the gods of Olympus to the souls of the damned in Hades, all of them are a pleasure to talk to. The game’s seemingly endless dialogue ensures that each escape attempt feels like further chapters in the game’s ongoing story. The graphics have a loving hand-drawn quality to them while still properly communicating necessary information during the game’s isometric action combat sequences.
It’s a tightly constructed experience that can be played in short bursts or in long marathon sessions, and truly a game that I can recommend to anyone.
2020 was the equivalent of looking both ways before crossing the street, only to get skewered by a stray spear. But sweeping changes are proof that you don’t have to stick to the old normal. As someone who wouldn’t touch roguelikes with a 10-foot trident, Hades has grown on me in ways I never thought possible.
With a childhood of absorbing obscure Greek myths, I bristled at the thought of creative reimaginations of the pantheon. With no time for caution, Supergiant Games swept me off my feet. A kinetic ballet with sharp ornaments against remarkable foes to a roaring soundtrack is just what Apollo ordered. A fashionable band of merry immortals tossing in the occasional boon ensured that no two encounters played out the same. The best part? Death was now a comfort.
Hades somehow turned my darkest rogue-like fear into an unexpected addition to its core gameplay loop. Death wasn’t just a setback, it was now a component of the narrative, sparking well-written conversations with friends and frenemies. At a time when even the best efforts against systemic flaws and unprecedented disasters seem to fall flat, Hades is a symbol of hope. The emotional, physical, and financial disarray we find ourselves in cannot be understated. But Hades taught me that one can rebuild. And that family, however estranged, is something worth fighting for.
I wanted to like Hades. I ended up loving it.
I spent 2020 working as a news reporter for GameSpot. It was the perfect job for the pandemic year, but in 2021, I’m doing something new — I’m going to be working as a narrative designer for a local developer. In each of my interviews for this new role, I cited Hades as a major influence on my decision to apply.
Hades, from former GameSpot editor Greg Kasavin’s studio Supergiant Games, is wondrous as a piece of craft. It’s the studio’s fourth game, and it feels like something they must have been trying for all this time. That’s not to say that Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre weren’t all special in their own ways (I’ve actually yet to play Pyre, but it certainly has its fans), but Hades is, like one of Zeus’ boons, a bolt of lightning in a bottle. Playing it is like watching Usain Bolt run the 100m: every bit of game-making muscle the team has built up is working in tandem here. Every step it takes is the right one.
I’m a fan of roguelikes in general, but I’ve never played one as good as Hades. It feels like the genre was created so that, eventually, Hades could exist. And at the same time, it’s not a game that I feel a great need to write about. It’s a game that explains itself so well, that hits so hard and feels so good, that putting it into words that don’t sound hyperbolic is difficult, while at the same time actually properly capturing what makes it good is all-but impossible. Please, play Hades.
In what has been a theme for me this year, Hades was another game that crept up on me out of nowhere and ended up being one of my favorite games in recent memory. I actually knew about the game well before the v1.0 release that put it on everyone’s radar as one of my favorite streamers had been playing the beta for months. I still hadn’t made the jump to play it myself, though, since there were other games occupying my attention. But with COVID changing how we live, I had no reason not to try it out once it made it to full release.
From the second I booted it up, I was immediately sucked in. I knew the game was called Hades, but for some reason, my brain didn’t register that the game would all be about Greek mythology. I absolutely love Greek mythology, so this was right up my alley. Not to mention the fact that I have a soft spot for the entire roguelike genre. Marrying the two into this amazing package was a recipe for addiction.
Over the next few weeks, I played the game as much as I could, trying out all the different weapons and abilities as I battled my way out of Hades over and over. There was just something about the combat in Hades that’s just so damn satisfying. Every weapon feels distinct and unique, allowing for varying playstyles during every run. Pair that with the different ability upgrades you can pick up from the entirety of the Greek Pantheon and no two runs will ever truly feel the same.
Everything I’ve mentioned so far makes up the formula for an incredibly fun and entertaining game. But Hades takes it one step further by throwing in an addicting story that unfolds step by step with each run. You’re not only motivated by the “just one more” addiction of the runs themselves but knowing that every run will also unlock a new tidbit about the lore just further fuels that fire and keeps you playing for hours on end.
I won’t spoil anything here, but trust me when I say that the story alone is motivation enough to keep on playing, even beyond your first full clear. The need to know more about Zagreus and his relationship with Hades and the rest of the characters forced me to boot up run after run until I had a better idea of the picture. Speaking of which, I think it’s time to start up yet another run. If you’ll excuse me…
Hades is is basically a perfect game, and I love seeing Supergiant Games succeed in such a big way. Hades magically succeeds at being a heart-wrenching character-driven narrative, a zippy yet strategic action game, and an addictive rogue-lite with a gluttonous amount of depth.
What has impressed me most is the way that Hades marries its story and gameplay. I’ve never seen a game so perfectly explain and combine the reasons my character is engaging with the gameplay with the reasons my character is interacting with the story. It’s so smooth that returning to other games can feel disjointed. We’re conditioned to accept that narrative and gameplay are meant to butt heads, and often they have to if every game wants to be action-packed and story-driven.
Somehow, through the immense talent at Supergiant, Hades is perfectly in sync. A game in the rogue genre has never gotten me to hop directly into a new run out of anger at a character. Hades will make you sob, it will make your heart pound, and it will — eventually — make you scream in victory. All this without even mentioning the perfect timing of its narrative with the pandemic, or the Undertale-ian level of love its characters inspire. If you haven’t played Hades yet, I sincerely think it has something to offer anyone. This is the game we will still be talking about in 2030.
I was honestly pleasantly surprised by Supergiant Games this year. I had bought their amazing 2015 Bastion during a sale earlier this year, and fell in love with the art style, charming characters, and fun gameplay. Regardless, it took me until the end of the year to beat, and I decided to purchase Hades right after the credits had rolled for Bastion. Once I started the game up and the main character Zagreus dropped down onto the screen, some confusion settled in as I thought, “Holy crap, is this just Greek Bastion?”
Boy, was I wrong.
I know that Hades will be on this list over and over again, and there’s a very good reason for that. The game is simply incredible. Hades is a roguelite set against a backdrop of Greek mythology, as the main character Zagreus (voiced by Darren Korb), who is subsequently the son of Hades (voiced by Logan Cunningham), attempts to escape the Underworld to be united with his family on Olympus. This is strictly forbidden, as no one is allowed to leave the Underworld, so Hades attempts to use his forces to keep Zagreus confined within the walls of his domain. The premise is so delectably simple and so conservative with the information initially presented you have no choice but to get sucked in.
Every attempt to escape the Underworld results in a little more story being drip-fed to you, and every time a character has an exclamation point over their head you get excited to learn more about the goings-on of the Gods. The voice acting is absolutely phenomenal — on par with Supergiant’s other games — and the charm and wit of the characters make them instantly distinguishable and memorable. Hades is grumpy and cantankerous, while Zeus is boisterous and braggadocious. There’s just enough amount of over-the-top as to remain interesting without sliding into campy. The voice direction and dialogue are handled superbly.
Full disclosure, I don’t really like roguelites. There’s nothing wrong with the formula, but I typically only have a few hours or less a day to devote to games, so making such incremental progress can be very frustrating for me. That being said, I never feel frustrated playing Hades. The variation in the combat makes every run a little bit different and allows you to try different weapons and techniques without feeling like you’re wasting your time. Death doesn’t just become a mechanic to get you to try again, instead acting as both a teacher for next time and a progression system for the story itself. Not to mention every run is literally different, as mini-bosses change and tactics switch depending on how far you make it. If you like amazing art design, interesting story, varied and engaging combat, and all-around fun and frantic experience, by the gods, pick up Hades.
I’m gonna be honest with you: I was originally going to write about Hades. Then I took a look at SUPERJUMP’s document of contributors and the games they nominated and, well, Hades came up a lot. For all the right reasons, it’s the best game that everybody played. So I figured, “Okay. I’ll write about the best game nobody played.”
Half-Life: Alyx deserves to stay on your radar until you get the chance to spend about 15 hours with a capable VR headset. Some people will tell you that it doesn’t do anything particularly new for the medium, and look, it doesn’t. Not really. But all those cool VR mechanics you might have heard about? Half-Life: Alyx encapsulates the absolute best possible iteration of them, and combines them with great scenarios, fantastic character work, top-notch art direction, and a plot that make it downright absorbing.
Manual firearm operation and the survival-thriller tone of the game make even a 2-on-1 enemy encounter a tense affair. The unassuming writing and performances of Alyx and handler Russell (Rhys Darby of Flight of the Conchords) make them wonderful to be with. The environment and art design retains the deliciously ominous atmosphere of the series, naturally amplified by an increased level of minute interaction and immersion.
Key to the experience are the Gravity Gloves — Alyx’s vital contribution to the puzzle of how to solve VR interaction. Here’s how it works: Look around and find an object in the distance. Point to it, and imagine an invisible string attached to the tip of your finger and object. Flick your wrist toward you, and imagine catching that object as it nears, landing with a satisfying thud in your palm. Now imagine it’s an urgent gun magazine, a bottle you’re going to use as a distraction, a live grenade flying through the air. That’s how it feels to play Half-Life: Alyx,and it never gets old.
But the best thing I can say is that Alyx features a scene that stuck with me psychologically throughout the year, even as 2020 pushed video games far from the front of my mind. That whole encounter, as well as the little moments within it, would not have had the same impact without VR, and I feel lucky to have experienced it — even if I now get a sharp pang of anxiety whenever something rolls off a table in real life. Thanks, Half-Life: Alyx.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection (PC)
Animal Crossing got my vote for being the game that many people needed at that exact moment of 2020, but Halo gets my vote for being my own personal savior. The Master Chief Collection on PC was released gradually, one game at a time, over the course of 2020 (and fine okay, a little bit of 2019 too). Sometimes it felt like, just as things were starting to look difficult again, Halo was knocking at the door with a fresh batch of nostalgia.
They were spaced out with just enough time to give each game the space to breathe and be appreciated on its own merits. Halo Reach’s grimy, grey tale of inevitable loss gave way for Halo: CE’s epic tale, seasoned with a sharp sense of dangerous adventure. A few months were passed in the colorful, Michael Bay-esque worlds of Halo 2 and 3, before being dropped into the slick saxophone noir of Halo: ODST’s quasi-survival horror. Each entry tickling my nostalgia receptacles in all the right places, but also reminding me of just how versatile Halo’s world could be.
This goes for the multiplayer, too. In a move that is as genius as it is frustrating, 343 Industries has put all the Halo’s best novelty game modes on rotation. Each week, a different playlist is available. On more than one occasion I’ve dropped into MCC intending to play a quick deathmatch or two and- oh my god is that Rocket Race. That’s Rocket Race!
Aaand cue four hours of me sending Spartans into the stratosphere with a rocket launcher strapped to the back of a mongoose.
Immortals: Fenyx Rising
Two themes ran through my two other GOTY nominations this year: games sneaking up on me and Greek mythology. Those intersected perfectly and allowed me to fall backwards into the greatness that is Immortals Fenyx Rising in the last couple of weeks of the year. I honestly had no idea this game existed or anything at all about it prior to opening up Ubisoft Connect in an attempt to start Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. I fully intended to try out the latest installment in the long-running franchise when Immortals caught my eye on the home screen of the app.
After looking through the information on the game, I just knew I needed to give this one a shot. An open world in the same vein as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild set in the backdrop of Greek mythology? It had my name written all over it and I’m so glad that I stumbled on it as it turned out to be one of my best experiences of the year.
Featuring another original character, Immortals follows the story of Fenyx as he battles his way across the game’s open-world to defeat Typhon and rescue the residents of the Golden Isle who have all been turned to stone. While the game certainly shares many similarities with Breath of the Wild, it manages to carve out its own path with some welcomed changes to the formula. Traversal is incredibly fun. The combat is incredibly fun and varied through the use of various abilities and upgrades to all your gear.
Despite all the greatness of both the story and combat in this game, though, the thing that really kept me going in this one was the pure wonder of the open world. Not since Breath of the Wild have I truly had this much fun just exploring the map and unlocking new wonders. Being able to turn off my brain, run around, climb mountains, complete challenges, and do anything else in this beautiful world was one of the most relaxing things I’ve done all year.
Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition
It’s weird to think that this game came out in January. After nearly a decade-long development cycle, the final chapter of Kentucky Route Zero released alongside its ports to home consoles. The world was an entirely different place back then.
I didn’t know much about Kentucky Route Zero when I bought it, only that it was a point-and-click style narrative game that seemed to promise some level of strangeness. When I dove in, I was confused at first — What’s this giant bird doing here? Why do people live in a museum? Why are these two androids here? — and after doing some research, I discovered my new favorite genre: magical realism.
I’d never heard the term before, but strangely enough, I had read Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane shortly before playing Kentucky Route Zero. It was a book that left me feeling depressed for days after, and I could never pinpoint quite why. Kentucky Route Zero affected me similarly. Its story was strange and many elements were unexplained, but thematically and tonally it provided something special and unique. It was like getting a glimpse into someone’s dream. “This World is Not My Home” became a strangely relevant song to me as the lockdown this year forced me to confront a lot about myself.
Beyond being a beautiful, bizarre game, Kentucky Route Zero opened my eyes to a genre of books I wasn’t aware of, and I began reading One Hundred Years of Solitude and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle shortly after, each of which left their own impact on me. It’s not often a game can fundamentally influence my life, but I’m happy to say that Kentucky Route Zero did.
Legends of Runeterra
I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t expect this Legends of Runeterra to be this good. And yet, it’s good. Really good.
I’ve been a player of League of Legends since day one. I love every aspect of the game and pretty much grew up playing it. So when I saw the Runeterra trailer a year ago, I didn’t think much of it. “Just a Hearthstone clone…” Oh, how wrong was I back then.
I got into the Beta and tried it out. It felt good. Way too good for its own good because I started thinking that this could easily pull me out of the dark pits of LoL hell and bring me back to solid ground. The animations were crisp, the balancing was just right, and the monetization? Good enough. The game could certainly hold its own.
When it got released in April this year, I was one of the people who got into the expansions and tried out every champion. I thought that eventually, it’ll die out — that the gameplay will tire me out, but unlike Hearthstone in where everyone plays the same deck, and the power creep is too unreal, Runeterra’s power creep’s felt just right. I never had the need to buy the new expansions, and the mechanics play very well on top of each other.
Each expansion also had something new to bring to the table, but never anything that was too overpowered. I never got to the point that I played against the same deck over and over again. I was expecting that, but I didn’t. Old aggro decks that I ran with way back in the Beta are still viable even now. Control decks can certainly be annoying, but with enough patience and foresight, I could still win. Sure, the “Go Hard” decks are the worse right now, but I’ve won against it way too many times to count.
In short, there is a lot of thought placed into making this game, despite what other salty players might think. It has good production, good updates, and good expansions. All of these things make me excited for more things to come.
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
The only reason I bought this game was that it was a PlayStation 5 launch title. I didn’t play the original PlayStation 4 game. Nevertheless, I immediately fell in love.
The game skips over the regular tutorial phase and you’ve already got a slate of powers and abilities at your disposal. Not only that, but the first encounter is a boss fight — a challenging boss fight, to be exact.
The game mechanics are very fluid. Swinging, jumping, running, and climbing feels natural and on point. I never used the in-game fast travel option because swinging was more fun. Miles can also perform stunts while swinging between the skyscrapers, which gave me the challenge to outperform my last swinging stunts.
The same thing can be said about the combat mechanics. Movement and abilities are astonishing and easy to use. I truly felt like Spider-Man.
The campaign is short, I finished the main story, side quests, and I got all Spider-Man suits in less than 10 hours. Each suit has a special ability that can affect your playstyle. At the end of the game, I had my beloved Spider-Cat in my backpack — he is so cute.
The game does a good job of telling you what you require to unlock the next suit or ability. It is also easy to find all the collectibles with the help of Miles’ Spider-sense. The developers did not hide anything from the players that are hard to find.
My favorite hobby in the game was climbing tall skyscrapers and jumping off to perform stunts combos. This was especially of Avenger’s tower.
Now back to swinging. While you are on route for the next mission or quest, a call or a podcast will play on your in-game smartphone. These podcasts gave you, the player, a nice insight into backstories and the rest of the game’s universe.
Okay, I have to be biased here — ever since I watched Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Miles Morales became one of my favorite superheroes. And Spider-Man: Miles Morales amazingly explains his character and background, including a variety of Spider-Man’s villains. Without a doubt, this game is a must-play for every Spider-Man fan.
Slay the Spire was my breakout hit of 2019, so it should not come as a surprise when a game that is very much its successor makes the list this year. Designed with help from the original STS designer, Monster Train manages to not be just a direct competitor but instead provides a different take on the gameplay.
It’s easy to look at the two games as being similar, but Monster Train’s focus on the deckbuilding side helps differentiate it from STS and other competitors. This is a great example of how much even just a little bit of randomization and procedural generation in the right places can elevate a game. Having your strategy for a run be defined by two different factions offers a lot of flexibility and opens things up for a variety of potential strategies.
As with STS, the fun of Monster Train is figuring out what strategy to go towards depending on the cards and events that the game throws at you. This is further emphasized by the fact that every faction has a unique mechanic that defines them.
What I love most about Monster Train is that none of the depth or challenge is sacrificed by the streamlined approach the developers took. An STS run can take about 45 minutes to over an hour to complete; it’s rare for a Monster Train run to go over 40 minutes thanks to how speedy each fight is. And if you want more challenge, Monster Train’s Covenant Mode, or progressive difficulty, joins Hadesas an excellent example of providing players with more options. It’s not the modifiers that improve enemy stats that will throw you for a loop, but the ones that force you to change your strategy going forward.
Monster Train is currently the best follow up to STS’s formula that I’ve seen, but I’m sure as you’re reading this that there are going to be other solid examples coming in 2021.
It’s the infectious confidence of Paradise Killer that really gets to me. If you’re a veteran of the Zero Escape and Danganronpa games, the overall pitch — open-world investigation visual novel — here will sound familiar. Likewise, if you regularly trawl places like Itch.io, the game’s supersaturated vaporwave aesthetic probably won’t hit as hard.
But the gusto and know-how necessary to tie those things together? That kind of swagger is usually rare but can be found in abundance amidst the empty high-rises and brutalist architecture of Paradise. Unraveling a conspiracy-laden locked-room mystery has never felt so laced with optimism and energy. Kaizen Game Works have done an incredible job bringing to life a stylish and fresh setting that’s more than bold enough to stand out. What’s more, they’ve populated it with a colorful and complicated cast of characters that ensures the plot continues to thicken all the way through.
Paradise Killer is a distinguished debut for a new studio and a stellar example of how fans of a genre can find fresh and unique ways to play with the formula.
Paradise Killer feels like the disruptive and beloved fourth book in a 7-book fantasy series, the one that kills a bunch of characters and reveals a lot of information that you assumed was being saved for the finale. It’s a game about solving a mass-murder, and to do so you’ll need to comb a huge, abandoned island — a paradise constructed as part of a ritual designed to revive the gods, which will soon be purged to make way for the next island cycle.
Perfect 24 and its residents (all potential suspects) feel so fully formed that it’s hard to believe that everything in the game was created, wholesale, for the game. The main character, Love Lady Dies, has seemingly sprung to life out of the art pages of a 90s grunge zine. One character is an immortal skeleton whose flesh melted away and whose bones turned red as he confessed his love to his eternal paramour on a battlefield, thousands of years earlier. How do you sum up a game like this? How do you make something like this?
Paradise Killer left me thinking a lot about the nature of justice and the real truth behind all the evidence I uncovered, and it has the best coda I experienced in any game this year after the trial wraps up. There’s nothing to spoil here, but I held off on rolling the credits for as long as I could, even after I’d exhausted every secret the island had. I can see myself revisiting Paradise every now and then, not in the hope of finding new mysteries to solve, but because I miss the island itself.
Paradise Killer is one of the most confidently singular games I’ve ever played. There is nothing else like it, and it absolutely, unabashedly rules.
Persona 5 Royal
I know what someone might think. “This game already came out in 2017. It had its turn!” And although that may be true, the new additions (and the way it handles them) alone warrant its inclusion here.
Persona 5 Royal features two brand new characters: Kasumi Yoshizawa, a bright new first-year student who is training to become a world champion in gymnastics, and Dr. Takuto Maruki, a school counselor at Shujin Academy. Their interactions with the main character, Joker, end up creating a whole new scenario that goes well beyond what was shown in the original game. This new story, based on the psychological difficulties that both Kasumi and Dr. Maruki are forced to contend with, ties in nicely, without ever disrupting the events of the original Persona 5.
But beyond that, this time around the game gives you more time for your daily interactions and activities that simply wasn’t enough in the original and it feels like having room to breathe. You can actually organize what you want to do as Joker without the main story events or deadlines for calling cards jumping down your throat.
Persona 5 Royal takes what already was an excellent game and elevates it even higher, with its smart game mechanics, but most importantly, its expanded story with a heavy emphasis on psychological trauma makes this one worth playing again.
The ultimate descriptor for Persona 5 Royal is “an experience you won’t find anywhere else” because that’s exactly what this masterpiece is. After witnessing all of the exciting hype surrounding Persona 5 Royal, the bar was set high, but Atlus didn’t disappoint, for this title ultimately demanded its rightful position as my favorite game of all time.
From the introduction to Persona 5 Royal up until the very last scene, I was on a gripping coaster fueled by pure narrative excellency, a perfected turn-based combat system, and a beautiful blending of action-based gameplay and social simulation.
It has been months since I played this and the experience still makes its way into my thoughts at least once a day.
Despite Persona 5 Royal being an enhanced upgrade of the original Persona 5 bundled with new content, what’s delivered is enough to warrant an entirely new game. Royal isn’t DLC, but rather, a retelling of an already excellent story. The new third semester spins a remarkable arc that poses thought-provoking questions. This plot-point was heightened by the newly introduced characters of Persona 5 Royal. These characters, the remarkable but disconsolate Kasumi Yoshizawa and the considerate Takuto Maruki, are cleverly weaved into the original story of Persona 5, so their introduction hardly feels alien.
Atlus dipped a quill into a batch of different pigments to paint a paramount and meaningful story on a metaphysical canvas of rebellion. So many aspects of this game spoke to me on different levels; psychology being one of them. By borrowing Jungian psychology and different aspects of it, such as the collective human unconscious, Atlus manages to synthesize a world that utilizes distinctive real-world concepts. This effortlessly creates a bridge between fiction and reality, making it that much easier to relate to and understand the struggles characters in Persona go through.
Persona 5 Royal is varnished with a unique user-interface that consolidates the thematic elements represented in the story accompanied by one of the best soundtracks to ever grace a video game. My only complaint with this title is a concern of how Atlus will ever craft anything as spectacular as it. There’s no true way for me to write Persona 5 Royal into your heart — instead, play the game and let the Phantom Thieves steal it for themselves — it’s what they do best.
Persona 5 was my perfect game — its loads of content, iconic art direction, polished gameplay, great story, and stunning soundtrack made it one of the defining gaming experiences of my life.
Then, by some work of divinity, Persona 5 Royal came along and made it better. Royal’s improved combat, additional Personas to collect and use, brand new characters, and entirely new semester to play through are factors in making it a simple objective improvement over the original.
Though I wouldn’t call it my Game of the Year due to being more of an enhanced rerelease than a new experience, it’s likely the game I consider to be the best designed of 2020.
Royal doesn’t feel new. Royal doesn’t feel old. Royal feels perfect. Why? One word: Freedom. Beginning with the small changes to combat and overworld play, Royal is constructed in a way that gives me far more options as to how I spend my time. Returning players like myself are aware of what the destination is, which allows a fresh journey with new decisions.
In battle, bringing in Baton Pass early makes every fight more smooth, while new enemies still pose the threat of being unknown. Spotting an enemy seen in another SMT title that wasn’t in base Persona 5 challenges veteran players to remember old strategies. While there is a sense of nostalgia in seeing old foes, the game doesn’t seem desperate to capitalize on it. In fact, there’s a new sense of freedom in combat to try new things and develop a new fighting style. Should I go for a Showtime, an All-Out-Attack, or both? Do I want to blow all my ammo on one enemy? The game doesn’t punish you for how you decide to fight, which creates more ways to do it.
The two most impressive “fixes” that Royal brought about were probably the pacing and the complete overhaul of Mementos. The additional amount of time made all the difference in being able to establish a better relationship with late-game characters. Giving the floors of Mementos new music and its own barter system made it feel more like a place I wanted to be instead of a place I had to be.
Although I enjoy picking apart how the gameplay mechanics improved in Royal, I would be remiss to not mention the brand-new features. As fellow SUPERJUMP writer Paul Lombardo mentions, new characters Maruki and Kasumi introduce stories that not only feel natural to the plot, but integral to it. By the end of the journey, they truly seem like people you have known for a whole year. Other highlights include the beautiful new Kichijoji location with features I didn’t even know I wanted, and Lyn Inaizumi’s powerful vocalizations on new tracks “Take Over” and “Colors Flying High.”
I’ve played many base JRPGs, and I’ve played many enhanced JRPGs. After taking into account all the restricting and unnecessary things Royal has removed or improved on, I daresay it might be the best enhanced version of a video game, ever.
There’s a theme among my nominations, apparently. Phasmophobia again lets you hang out with your friends doing something fun, but this time, you get to panic together while hunting for something spooky. Phasmo’s easy-to-learn-hard-to-master mechanics make it fun to play for any level of gaming experience, and even better if you’ve got veteran players playing with newbies (mostly because that means tricking the newbies into hilarious scares).
I’ll admit, I’m not good at this game. I freak out easily at jumpscares and scary noises. So me, holding a flashlight, alone in a dark, haunted house? I’ve annoyed my family with squeals of terror more than once. Still, I have to admit, the game is doing its job fabulously. I’m a big fan of ghost hunting shows, and getting to play through the experience myself is seriously satisfying for the scaredy-cat adventurer in me.
The proximity chat and dark, brooding atmosphere really lend themselves well to making this game equal parts fun skill-based hunting game and terrifying supernaturally-hunted thriller. It’s also intensely fun to watch for the more squeamishly inclined of us.
Resident Evil 3
This is a title that is unlikely to show up in many Game of the Year lists, and I completely understand why. It follows the absolutely essential remake of Resident Evil 2 from 2019 and feels like a lesser experience in comparison. Resident Evil 3is a shorter, more linear, and heavily action-focused game… but then so was the version released at the turn of the millennium.
For me, the Resident Evil 3 remake was an experience I couldn’t put down until I completed it, and even then I was tempted to go back and start it all over again. It isn’t as meaty as its remake sibling, but as an expansion to its story, it is faultless. It may drop locations and dumb-down Nemesis compared to the original RE3, but it succeeds in capturing the same feeling, some 20 years later. This is, and has always been, the Aliens compared to RE2s Alien.
The creeping dread and pants-soiling terror are somewhat muted here, thanks to the skill of S.T.A.R.S. member and, by this point, professional zombie slayer Jill Valentine. She has a skill set that allows for more agility in her taking down of the undead, while her compatriot Carlos Olivera uses brute force to make short work of the zombies which felt so difficult to tackle in the last game. What you have instead is a game that proceeds at a great clip, with likable characters and blockbuster action sequences aplenty.
Those who overlook this entry for not quite living up to the dizzying heights of its sibling should perhaps see it as the side-story it was originally intended to be, charting the last escape from Raccoon City of perhaps its most kick-ass resident. There’s a huge amount of fun to be had, even if the Nemesis has (for the most part) been down-graded to a recurring boss character.
RimWorld — Royalty
There’s really nothing quite like RimWorld. The final 1.0 version released in 2018 to bittersweet cheers. The game’s niche community rejoiced over the completion of such an impressive game while lamenting the presumed loss of continual updates. A loss that never really came true. Since fully releasing RimWorld, Ludeon Studios has been hard at work improving and providing more free content. Until 2020, when they unexpectedly announced a DLC that was scheduled to come out — at the end of the announcement! One of the best surprises of the year was getting to enjoy a sudden fresh stream of new content in a game that is already never-ending.
Royalty adds psychic powers, an interesting new faction, and quest implementation that completely changes the game. It is an entirely unexpected new piece of the RimWorld lore that stays true to the feeling of the game while being original in its own right. Even after a whole year with it, I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what it provides.
However, the main reason I wanted to talk about Royalty here was to shine a light on Ludeon Studios dedication. RimWorld is a finished product with more content than nearly any AAA game, and they keep supporting it! I feel spoiled to be a part of their fanbase. In a year of questionable corporate decisions across the industry, they’ve been a brilliant example of a company doing right by their customers and employees.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure
Sackboy’s Big Adventure is the perfect co-operative platformer that I’ve always wanted on PlayStation platforms. This is the Super Mario 3D Land of PlayStation’s hardware and an utterly beautiful game. Playing it with my partner over the holiday period was a wonderful experience, with each of Sumo Digitals hand-stitched worlds being a delight to the senses. The beautifully crafted 3D levels are complemented by a well-chosen soundtrack that includes an array of carefully selected popular tracks.
The level design really plays into the strengths of its crafted world too, with levels that are packed with objects that are grabbable, pullable, swingable, and poppable. Sackboy’s world is just so satisfying to interact with thanks to its constant feedback and the DualSense comes in to enhance this, bringing an additional tactile dimension to an already rich experience.
Every year, I pick up a game in Steam Early Access that I absolutely devour and sink dozens of hours into against my better judgment. Darkest Dungeon. Hades. And now, Spin Rhythm.
Spin Rhythm captures the magic I felt when I played Guitar Hero for the first time. The first time I played the drums in Rock Band. The first time I scratched the deck in DJ Hero. The feeling of a perfect marriage between your interface device and the audiovisual feedback that made you feel like you were actually making music.
Spin Rhythm manages to do this with your mouse. Your computer mouse.
Controlling a segmented ring that alternates between two colors, the core mechanic sees you taking hold of and turning said ring to activate notes, which alternate between the same two colors on a familiar highway format. Some will require a well-timed tap to activate, others let you simply ‘catch’ them by lining up the section of the ring that corresponds to the color. Some notes need you to trace a pre-assigned path back and forth.
But then, there’s the spin. Oh man, the SPIN. At key points in each song, the highway will require you to grab the ring and flick your mouse in a corresponding direction to spin it, and the feeling of doing so during the game’s mostly uptempo electronica tracks is sublime. It’s the drop, it’s the big flourish. It’s whirling a DJ deck as hard as you can. You’ll enthusiastically lift your mouse off the table as you flick it like a maestro would a baton and then, vitally, click to catch the frantically revolving wheel to continue hitting the myriad notes that follow.
And lemme tell you, nailing that spin and catch never stops feeling fantastic.
That’s not all, of course — the soundtrack of original music perfectly suited to the mechanic. The futuristic visual design is top-notch. Spin Rhythm also incorporates the best feature of the sadly-decommissioned Guitar Hero: Live — a radio-station-style online mode where you can hop in with others to just jam out and compete to whatever happens to be playing at that moment.
It’s a rare example of an analog rhythm game — instead of hitting perfectly-tuned piano keys, you’re controlling the slide on a trombone, and this lack of perfect precision demands your full attention, even on relatively simple note charts, and I think that’s a brilliant design. Spin Rhythm for life.
Every once in a while, a game comes along that cements itself in my brain to the point that it becomes the benchmark for which I judge all other games. No game this year was quite as influential for me as Spiritfarer. It feels tailor-made for me, as it touches on everything I find important in a video game. It’s about compassion, growth, meeting new people, and reuniting with familiar faces.
From the outset, Spiritfarer tackles the complex discussion of death and the afterlife with grace and dignity. From the art to the music to the characters, every aspect of the game touches on this topic. It is both solemn and whimsical, playing on themes that would feel conflicting in any other setting. Here, though, they’re blended into something wonderful. It blends the freedom of the open sea with the dour responsibility of guiding souls to the afterlife. All the while, it reminds us that not all endings are a bad thing.
I found something liberating in this game. It gave me a way to process the deaths I have experienced in my own life. In a quiet, contemplative space. It didn’t push or proselytize, rather giving me a gentle nudge to come to my own conclusions.
It’s rare for a game to make me sit back and think about fundamental aspects of human life, while still being a fun experience. Spiritfarer manages both with expert precision. It changed the way I look at my life, and I’m a better person for it. It’s an experience that will stick with me for years to come, and something I will always carry with me. Not only is Spiritfarer my top game for 2020, but it’s also one of my top games of all time.
This game broke me. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory in this roundup, but just know that beneath the beautiful, cartoonish animations and the friendly, wholesome atmosphere, is a game that tackles some serious themes and subject matter that hit a lot closer to home than its initial trailer would let on.
I saw the game announced alongside Hades and a litany of other fantastic indies at a Nintendo showcase, and I was captivated by the game’s art style and premise. If it’s not obvious from my writing, I love indie games. I think, generally, I get more out of them than I do large AAA titles. Spiritfarer was no exception. I became emotionally invested in many of the game’s characters, and it hurt to watch them go.
Spiritfarer is a beautiful exploration of loneliness, grief, and moving on. Beyond that, it’s simply a well-made game with great mechanics that will keep you hooked into its gameplay loop, but even if it were just a mediocre game, it’s so well written that it can’t not stick with you. Farewell, Stanley, you sweet mushroom child.
The Last of Us Part II
If The Last of Us is a sacred cow, before which millions have pledged their unwavering fielty, then Part II is a piping-hot beef stew, served up with a cheeky Druckmann grin.
It’s not just that Naughty Dog took the golden goose and wrung its neck in front of us. It is, rather, that they had the confidence to take The Last of Us to its logical conclusion. I won’t retread “the discourse” here, except to say that if you think Part II took a wild and unreasonable u-turn out of the blue just to provoke controversy and titillation, then — with respect — you’re completely wrong.
One of the beautiful things about The Last of Us Part II is that it isn’t strictly lecturing players that “violence is bad”, nor is it blaming the player for partaking in — and enjoying — said violence. Rather, it underscores the point that people are complex. Many of us go into any work of fiction intuitively expecting heroes and villains. Identifying who to love and who to hate speaks to our base instincts, our evolved in-group/out-group biology. The Last of Us Part II expertly paddles us in the shallow end for a little while; we are then deftly and almost blindly guided into the murky deep where we have to swim on our own. Where there is nobody to pull us back to the surface. And, most importantly, where there are no heroes and villains. There are only people navigating extraordinary circumstances.
That is The Last of Us Part II’s high art. That is the mark of a truly transformative media.
For me, nothing else compared in 2020. While many enjoyed the togetherness afforded by Animal Crossing: New Horizons (if you could stomach the atrocious online implementation), I instead preferred to sink deeply back into the world that Naughty Dog began in 2013, with their seminal PS3 title The Last of Us.
In fact, the release of Part II spurred me on to finally finish the first game and its excellent DLC. I’m glad that I did because jumping straight back into that world felt instantly special with the story fresh in my mind. Like any sophomore effort, there was a sense of trepidation in revisiting the world of The Last of Us — what if it didn’t live up to the original? I needn’t have been worried, however, as the spectacular visuals along with the tried and true gameplay formula that Naughty Dog has honed over the past decade instantly dropped my guard. And just like the best sequels, Part II built on what made the original so beloved, while dialing it all up to 11. The Santa Monica team should also be praised for their exceptional commitment to LGBTQ+ representation, which is a huge step forward in this field.
The interplay of exploration and intense action is better than it has ever been here, and additions such as the wonderful weapon upgrade benches and underutilized rope physics are very welcome. What stands out the most, and is also the biggest leap forward for the game (arguably on par with the stellar graphics engine) is the game’s no-holds-barred approach to emotion and the complexity of the human condition. The sharp tonal shift that occurs midway through the game is especially striking, giving players an insight that changes perceptions so brutally compounded by its first half.
The Last of Us Part II is not afraid to muddy the waters in order to create an experience that, while by no means perfect, ultimately lifts the humble video game into the pantheon of artistic masterpieces unlike any that have come before it. To some, this might sound hyperbolic, but for those of us still reeling from our time with the game, it is anything but.
Now I’m not a glutton for punishment. I get aboloustley no joy out of being tortured emotionally and yet here I am still feeling the sting of it so keenly months after the damage was dealt, ready to start up my second playthrough of The Last of Us Part II (something, something, the definition of insanity).
Few games have stuck in my mind the way this has and not just because of the aforementioned emotional pain. To me this is the perfect sequel. The foundations left behind by its predecessor have been built upon both in storytelling and gameplay, expanding not only our scope of this tragic post apocalyptic world but improving how we move about it. The level of realism on display had my blood pumping before, during and after every encounter. From the way glass and rotten wood cracked and creaked underfoot as I snuck up on an enemy, the impact of a solid punch on contact, the shifting of gravity when struck by a bullet and the heavy, gasping breaths as I ran for the hills. Let me tell you no drawer, locker or hidden room was left unexplored in the desperate hope of finding just one more roll of duct tape or box of bullets.
And it was that palpable sense of dread that made the brief moments of calm that much more valuable. I would just walk around and stare in awe at the beauty of the world around me, so often put to the back of my mind as I fought for my life. The world felt so alive but so empty at the same time. There was a story to uncover in nearly every abandoned home, shop or business I explored, notes and items left behind by people I would never get to meet.
While its core message about the cyclic nature of revenge and the human condition aren’t particularly subtle, the tonal shift around the midway mark still had me experiencing wave after wave of conflicting emotions as I tried to marry those concepts with my own beliefs as the ‘hero’ of the story. But there are no heroes are there? There’s only people. People and extremely scary attack dogs.
The discussion around The Last of Us Part II has been complicated. I don’t want to relitigate it, at this point: if you know you know, and if you know, you’re likely either sick of it or set into an opinion that has spent six months solidifying. But I’ll say this much: for me, The Last of Us Part II is undeniable. The plot is sophisticated, the technology behind it is bonkers, the gameplay loop is compelling. I have said my piece about it already on SUPERJUMP already, with both a review and a follow-up about the onslaught of discourse. My feelings have not changed since then, and it’s been fascinating watching how the game has been received and discussed.
Don’t believe anyone who says the game is designed to be miserable — The Last of Us Part II is, in fact, extremely entertaining. Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series has been praised for its ability to translate the thrill of a well-crafted cinematic set-piece into games, and this game contains many such moments. One that has really stuck in my head involves luring a bunch of zombie-folks into a trap and being haunted afterward by the one that refused to die, dragging themselves legglessly along the ground, screaming until I stomped on them.
The game is masterful at making you feel like you’re in total control while guiding you expertly through its action; narrative prompts made it clear throughout that I was doing exactly what the developers wanted of me, but it always felt like my own decision to turn left rather than right, to try and sprint through this hostile territory, to take my time exploring areas that ended up triggering story-essential cutscenes. Many players are wary of the moment choice is revealed to be a delusion, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s good design.
The Last of Us Part II is one of the PS4’s absolute top-tier exclusives, and the best game released on the system in 2020.
Though there are a lot of just complaints levied at The Last of Us Part II, I know that in five years it would be among the most memorable games of 2020. At a technical level, there’s no denying that this game is a masterpiece that the rest of the industry will have to catch up to. The ways characters move throughout the world and interact with the environment is so intelligent and natural. I was sucked in every time I played, seeing the NPCs live like they really inhabited these environments. The realism of movement heightens the rest of the game too. When you can make the player believe in the reality of a virtual space, the violence they commit there becomes heavy in a way I’ve seen no other game pull off. I did find what the game had to say about violence to be a little shallow, but at the level of visceral reaction and feeling Naughty Dog pulled off something incredible.
Beyond that, I didn’t expect to see a story this complex and adult in a AAA game. Maybe I was too pessimistic in what I expected, the first Last of Us certainly told an adult story. The Last of Us Part II is more fearless in its storytelling than any game I’ve ever seen before. I don’t want to delve into specifics for fear of spoiling the game, but I will say that the range of experiences and topics on display in this game impressed me.
I adored the first game, but I had a mixed reaction to some elements in this one. When I finally beat it, I knew that what I had experienced would take time to digest. I felt numb, tired, and confused. It took time to realize I loved that. No other game has left me with so much to consider, and I’ve never seen a sequel be so relentlessly bold in its decisions. When it didn’t need to risk anything, The Last of Us Part II gained my respect by risking it all.
The Last of Us Part II was my most anticipated game ever, with the original being my favorite gaming experience of all time. And it absolutely delivered.
The game was a departure from the original in tone and storyline, to be sure, and it didn’t land for everyone. The combat was improved, the stealth was much better than in the first game, even the game’s environments felt like a much wider world than what we had seen before. But more than anything, the sequel made me feel, mourn, and celebrate all at once. This is the key factor that I believe was responsible for much of the vitriol hurled at the game, with gamers not being used to the emotional demands this game created.
While storytelling is better, collectively than at any other time in gaming history, rare are the titles that make you feel varied emotions. FPS games typically point you at the enemy and tell you to kill, without much thinking involved. Hack-and-slash games typically suborn story to action in the process of development. RPGs are where much of the storytelling happens these days, but the nature of the genre begets a somewhat different story experience for all who play it. The Last of Us Part II gave no such illusion of choice, eliciting both joy and rage among the gaming populace.
If you managed to avoid the spoilers, you were treated to a complex story that upended much of what we knew from the first game. I hated the deterioration of the relationship between Joel and Ellie in my heart but saw similarities with the challenges of raising my own teenage son. I empathized with Abby even more than Ellie but understood what drove both of them to the desperation they displayed through the 30+ hours of the game. By the game’s conclusion, I was mentally and emotionally exhausted, but so glad I took the journey that the game’s creators wanted to send me on. I encourage you to do the same, even if just to feel something again.
Most of the writing around The Last of Us Part II centers around its story, but for me, it’s Naughty Dog’s gameplay that always has me hooked. Combat in The Last of Us Part II feels slow, methodological, and strategic. Playing on the harder difficulties always felt like I was running with just enough resources to get through each encounter, which makes every gameplay decision an interesting and tactical one. Encounters were usually scrappy, with my stealth efforts being occasionally interrupted by blazes of gunfire as I frantically scramble to get Ellie through in one piece.
New enemy types and improved enemy AI make the game even more interesting, dogs track your position forcing Ellie to keep moving, and enemies communicate with one another and react if you kill one of their allies. When stealth does break down, enemies communicate to track and kill you, forcing you to think carefully if you want to take the fight or attempt to reposition for an advantage. When taken together, these systems mean that The Last of Us Part II has a dynamic that continuously shifts from tense and cautious, to frantic and panicked.
Pitched to me as a Pokemon Snap-style photography game in neon-soaked cyberpunk environments, Umurangi Generation is an intriguing concept on its face alone. You wander through small, dense environments littered with interesting details, armed with a checklist of photo objectives, a fully-featured SLR camera, and a growing collection of different lenses to play with.
As Umurangi encourages you to look through your camera and capture the small details of its environments (considering them even further in the post-processing edit immediately after each shot) you begin to get the sense that things perhaps aren’t as chill and cool as the vibe and aesthetic initially lead you to believe. Between all the wonderful photos of sunsets, cool graffiti, and your best friends striking cool poses in near future Aotearoa, you’ll eventually (hopefully) do a Rear Window-style double-take and start to suspect there’s something more sinister going on.
Surprise! It’s the insidious omnipresence of fascist oppression.
Some of the clues are obvious, others are more subtle and only click a while later. The clever thing is, they’re all right there in front of you from the very get-go. With its thematically-apt photography mechanic, Umurangi encourages you to take a closer look at the world around you to try and identify the telltale signs of a fucked up world — both in-game and hopefully in real life too. After all, identifying fascism as it exists today often isn’t as simple as spotting the swastika.
Umurangi doubles-down in its expansion content pack, entitled, Macro, which released in late 2020 after, well, a bunch of 2020 shit went down. If the nuance of the base game’s themes didn’t manage to get the message across, Macro makes sure it leaves you with it, especially when it comes to its exemplary, impactful final stage.
Umurangi Generation is the quintessential 2020 video game. The photography is great, and the message is vital. You must play it.
I’ll be upfront with you. I hate Fallout 4. I also hate Fallout 76. I basically hate anything with the word Fallout right now because the franchise has been massacred and disemboweled beyond relief. That’s why I resorted to Wasteland, and thank goodness I did because Fallout’s DNA is all throughout this game.
Wasteland 3 makes you feel like you’re in the apocalypse. It has a lot of guns, radiation, and a ton of vibrant and batshit crazy characters. It also gives you meaningful choices that drastically change the game’s plot. There are a couple of factions in the game, and you can sell out each one of them whenever you feel like it. There are so many choices to make, depending on your build, that not a single run feels the same. And speech feels balanced enough that you can’t depend on it every time you have to disarm a situation. All the skills in the game add a new layer in the way you can play it, and each interaction doesn’t feel superficial.
Wasteland 3 is an open-world extravaganza. It’s the Fallout game we Fallout fans have been waiting for.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
I’m going to make an embarrassing admission: Yakuza: Like a Dragon is my firstYakuza game. Yep, hi, I’m super late to the party I know…
I won’t delve into my non-history with the Yakuza games in general. What I will say is that Like a Dragon is so much more than I expected. We’ve all seen the videos with the man-babies club, right? Or the killer seafood? Or maybe you’ve seen a woman in a business suit smacking down Yokohama’s undesirables with her black briefcase? I won’t lie: the sheer weirdness of Like a Dragon was part of the reason I wanted to give it a shot. I was also looking for something new on my Xbox Series X. And I was very intrigued by the turn-based combat. So, the stars aligned.
It turns out — and I’m sure this will be no surprise to series veterans — that Like a Dragon knows exactly where to reign in its outlandish humour and tug on your heartstrings instead. It’s not just that there’s a deeply personal story of loyalty at its heart (which, to be fair, I’d expect from any gangster story worth its salt); it’s also that the neon-soaked slapstick is a veneer that, once cracked, reveals a shockingly mundane series of human relationships underneath. That mundanity is a compliment here. Ichiban Kasuga — the protagonist — experiences a whiplash-inducing rise-fall-rise. But the events are given sharp definition thanks to the wide array of people — friends — Ichiban meets along the way. He — and we, the players — become utterly invested in their lives in a way that I think is notable for challenging a wide range of prejudices (from attitudes toward sex work through to how we view the homeless).
The story here — buttressed by its utterly outstanding, flawed characters — is something very special. All of these weighty story components happen to rest upon a rock-solid gameplay foundation, which acts as the fulcrum for the entire experience. Yakuza: Like a Dragon came out of nowhere for me, and ended up being one of the best games I played in 2020.
MADE WITH ❤
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