Honestly, 2020 has been a real shit show for many of us, and I don’t want to bang on about the fucking virus or any of the other shortcomings of the year. I just want to start this list by saying a big thank you to every one of you who has helped me get through it. Whether you gave me a simple comment about liking one of my reviews, to the donations you made after my house was burgled, it has meant so much to me. To everyone at God is a Geek, you guys mean the world to me, and if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be sitting here typing about the games that gave me a much-needed escape during such a difficult year. If I’ve learned anything in the last 12 months, it’s that there is plenty of good in the world.
It’s been a great year for video games, too, but I don’t need to tell you that. It’s hard to believe we’re at the end of another #GIAGGOTY podcast. It’s one of the many things I love about being part of this website, and even though we might not all agree, there’s nobody else I’d rather do it with than the fine folks at GiaG. Back to the games, though. Everything in the list below has been exceptional, and even though there are so many other games I loved playing this year, these have to be the best of 2020. Whatever has transpired this year, the video games have been absolutely fantastic.
Cyberpunk 2077: There are far too many bugs to even consider putting this into my top ten, but they didn’t stop me from playing. I was obsessed with the neo-futuristic setting, the engrossing story, and Keanu Reeves, obviously. I can’t help but think how things would be different if CD Projekt Red had approached its release differently. Instead of putting out a finished game, they released a broken, glitch-ridden open-world RPG, but I still sank fifty hours into it.
Tony Hawks Pro Skater 1 + 2: I felt like I’d been transported back twenty years when I booted this up. Everything about it felt exactly the same, but it reminded me just how fucking fantastic it was. One of my favourite levels from the original two games was the school from THPS2, and as I listened to Blood Brothers by Papa Roach whilst breaking into the gym, I couldn’t help but fall in love with it all over again.
Final Fantasy VII Remake: By the end of the year, I thought this was going to be sitting right at the top of my list. It’s as faithful as it could be yet it throws in so much more. The only reason it sits in the honourable mentions is that there were so many other great games. I adored the combat, the visuals, the story, and the amazing work Square Enix has done to bring this all-time classic into the present day. Sure, it took some risks, but I believe they paid off in the end.
Fuser: I’ll never forget how refreshing it felt to play Fuser for the first time. For starters, the tracklist is banging. DMX, Ace of Base, Evanescence, and 50 Cent are only a fraction of the music featured, but sliding in different tracks from each song to make one cohesive mix is something I’ll never forget. It’s colourful and inviting, and has a great sense of community to it.
Hades: I’ve been toying with the idea to slip this in at number ten, but thanks to a last-minute obsession with Gears Tactics, it has just missed out. The addictive nature of Hades is one of the reasons I adore this game. You can play it for ages, or just a small pocket of your time thanks to the accessible nature of the roguelike elements to it. Zagreus is such a cool protagonist, and the gameplay is so much fun. Visually, it’s one of the best this year and I’m so glad I got to play it before the year is out.
10. Gears Tactics
I’ve only started playing this in the last few weeks, but I’m glad I did. Gears of War is one of my favourite series of all time, never failing to give me chills whenever I step foot in the shoes of Marcus or Kait. Gears Tactics feels very much like a Gears game, except it takes the form of a turn-based strategy. I’m a big fan of Gabe Diaz, and although the story isn’t as revolutionary as those featured in the main series, it’s still interesting. The gameplay is superb, always offering you plenty of options on the battlefield to take out the Locust hordes. It’s simple to grasp and there are a lot of moving parts that help to make the action feel exciting and explosive. There’s plenty to love if you’re a fan of what The Coalition does, but it also feels very much like a traditional Gears game.
I was fortunate to play plenty of Valhalla before release thanks to a couple of preview events. It was clear after a few hours that this was going to be something I thoroughly enjoyed. Assassin’s Creed has always been a franchise close to my heart. Sure, they’ve had a few missteps, but on the whole, the core games have been incredible. Whilst grubby ninth-century England might not match the bushy and bright environments of Origins and Odyssey, it’s still a dense world filled with so much to do. Eivor is a superb protagonist, becoming someone I genuinely cared about. The portrayal of Vikings is exceptional, the score is authentic and moving, and the combat is the best the series has seen so far. All in all, Valhalla is a wonderful step into an unfamiliar age that Ubisoft managed to nail in every way.
The Mega Drive was my entire childhood. I played so much of that console when it was in its prime – more so than any other, and Streets of Rage was my game of choice. Its sequel was just as good, but the third was a massive disappointment. Playing Streets of Rage 4 for the first time was like stepping into a time machine. Whilst it felt very similar to the original, the combat had been drastically built upon, offering new moves and specials to make the action one of the finest elements of it. The co-op is silky smooth, and although it doesn’t take long to blast through the story, there’s plenty of replayability thanks to the various characters to play as, all the unlockable stuff to chase, and the satisfying gameplay.
I’m on my second playthrough of Miles Morales, and that’s after getting 100% on my first. I thought it would be fairly similar to Marvel’s Spider-Man, and whilst that’s slightly true, the Venom moves add a new layer to the gameplay. With even more abilities at your disposal, the union of combat and movement is the best I’ve ever seen. Playing on PS4 is great, but the power of the PS5 improves the visuals dramatically, and the haptic feedback improved my enjoyment no end. Although it’s a comparatively short offering, I feel like Insomniac Games are building towards something great. Combining Peter Parker and Miles Morales for the next game seems like the logical step forward, especially if the post-credits scene is anything to go by.
Harnessing the power of the PlayStation 5, Astro’s Playroom managed to not only give us a fun platformer, it reminded me exactly why I fell in love with the PlayStation in the first place. From countless references to many of the great PlayStation games (God of War, Ghost of Tsushima, Tekken, and Death Stranding), it is also a celebration of each console Sony has released since the original. Levels are built around each of the four consoles, with a final boss fight that has to be one of the coolest I’ve ever seen. Collecting relics and unlocking parts of the murals is still keeping me playing. I’ll never forget the way my kids faces lit up when they held the controller and walked through the sandstorm bit in Cooling Springs. They couldn’t believe it. This is how I felt back in 1996, and it’s how I feel now. What a game, what a console.
I’ve been playing Yakuza games in one form or another for almost fifteen years. Their ability to blend drama with humour is unparalleled, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon is no different. I worried that after Kiryu I might feel differently, but Ryu Ga Gotoku have once again outdone themselves. I kind of wish the entire series had included turn-based combat because it is so much better than the combat of old. Harnessing the magnificence of the Dragon’s Quest series did Like a Dragon a huge favour. I’d love to see Ichiban’s next adventure to continue with the JRPG elements as some of the moves are mind-blowing, and the Jobs system is unlike anything else I’ve seen before. The story is also fantastic as it manages to blend some genuine moments of emotion with the bizarre.
I had high hopes for this even when it was still called Gods and Monsters. It looked like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild set in Greek mythology, but I never expected it to be quite as good as it is. Yes, it borrows a ton from BotW, but it also manages to do a lot of things differently. For starters, the voice-acting is exceptional. It pokes fun at itself and has plenty of funny dialogue, but at its core is a story about someone destined for greatness, trying to step out of their brother’s shadow. Then there’s the combat. My God, the combat. As you start to unlock Godly Powers, the game opens up, giving you the freedom to fight in a multitude of ways. Whether you are using your massive hammer or your bow to dispatch enemies, there are so many options at your disposal. The puzzles in the world and deep down in the Vaults feel fresh every time, and when you finish off one of the bigger ones, there’s no feeling quite like it. You earn your progress in Immortals Fenyx Rising, and when you step up to fight Typhon at the end, it feels like the momentous encounter it was meant to be.
Ghost of Tsushima tells a deeply personal story about its protagonist Jin Sakai. Although it starts off slowly, things eventually start to pick up, and the history behind the Sakai clan takes centre stage. Although the main story is great to play through, there’s a lot to do outside of that. Side quests see you uncover more about the supporting characters, and the Mythic Quests are superb. It oozes style, whether it’s the gorgeous world itself or the way the cutscenes unfold in a variety of ways. It has a deep Skill Tree that covers everything from your skills to your weapons and armour, and the way you go about upgrading everything never stops from being exciting. I’ve recently gone back to it to sweep up all the collectibles and fully upgrade Jin, as well as play the phenomenal Legends mode. It may not be the best PlayStation exclusive of the year, but it’s still a phenomenal piece of work.
Reflecting on Animal Crossing: New Horizons gives me such a warm and comforting feeling. No game has ever made me feel such happiness, and as we celebrate the Christmas season, I’ve been doing so with my islanders. As you know, my Nintendo Switch was stolen this year, and with it went my island. Whitehaven was gone forever, and I would never ever see it again. The prospect of putting another 200 hours into a game seemed off the table, but when I finally got one back, that’s exactly what I did. I may never see my Drago or Clay again, but I’ve managed to find solace in my new island. It manages to make you feel wanted, always offering you a smile and a place to go when things get tough in the real world. Enjoying the daily grind of collecting fossils or shaking trees to get my items never gets old, and having a place so positive to escape to for a few hours is the perfect kind of therapy. I have a lot to thank Nintendo for in my life, but Animal Crossing: New Horizons is at the top of the list.
I feel like there’s nothing left to say about The Last of Us Part II that I haven’t already said. When a game comes out and affects you in such a dramatic way, it’s hard not to spend every hour thinking about it. Thinking about the choices you made, thinking about the deeply emotional story, thinking about the faces you’re never going to see again. When Joel died, it felt like a piece of me did as well. I related to him more than most characters, especially as I saw a lot of his personality and the choices he made in me, especially during the first game. I was a new father back in 2013, and I understood why he did what he did, and why he would do anything to save Ellie, even if it was at the cost of so many other lives. Having to then watch the girl he raised become a monster – a shell of everything she was before – was crushing. It’s a masterpiece in storytelling and game design that should be used in every single argument someone makes about the relevancy of single-player games in today’s market. Whether you liked it or not, everything about The Last of Us Part II showcases a gifted team of developers, musicians, and actors, and it will stand out as the greatest game of not only 2020, but the entire generation.