It’s hard to talk about 2020 without acknowledging just how shit it’s been. The pandemic has knocked us, collectively, for six, and has revealed a side to our nature that no one wanted to admit existed. And yet, and yet, it’s not been all bad. We’ve seen tyrants toppled and medical barriers broken, we’ve seen communities come together even when it felt like the governments in charge had lost the plot, and we’ve seen an outpouring of human emotion, good and bad, like we’ve never seen before. And through it all, one thing has sustained so many of us: games. Simply, games. As film industries struggle under unprecedented restrictions, gaming has become even more of an escape than it was before, and 2020 has been a stupendous year for new releases, not just because of the advent of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.
Rather, it’s because we’ve needed games more this year – and they haven’t let us down. I could have made a list of fifty incredible titles, maybe more, but alas that’s not the way it works. So instead, along with a handful of honourable mentions, here is my list of the ten best games of 2020.
Ghostrunner: I went back and forth a lot while playing Ghostrunner, but not ever becasue of the quality of the game itself. Rather, I just found it harder than a tin of titanium bastards. I’ve since watched people speedrun it in half an hour when it took me 14, which is humbling. But I love it. It’s gorgeous, fast, impeccably designed, and doesn’t throw false challenge at you with forced rogue-like mechanics.
Star Wars: Squadrons: It has been a fairly good year for Star Wars, all things considered. The second season of The Mandalorian has done incredibly well, and a few strong VR offerings have reminded us how fun this universe can be to play games in. But Squadrons is different – for one, it’s a combat flight sim, and a damn good one at that. It tells a solid story, but also happens to be an incredibly playable and well-made game. And the VR contingent is absolutely fantastic.
Crusader Kings III: Most people I know probably won’t have even played Crusader Kings III. It’s certainly niche, and one exclusively for the thinkers and planners, the methodical ones. Which makes it even stranger that I clicked with it so quickly. I’m anything but armchair smart, and I have the patience of a hyperactive budgie in a grain silo, but I fell in love with the scheming and skullduggery of Crusader Kings III.
Wasteland 3: This one almost, almost made the top ten. Wasteland 3 is an astoundingly good game, with an incredible sense of humour, deep mechanics and a world that begs to be explored. Mixing RPG and turn-based strategy to maximum effect, it’s one of the year’s big surprises for me.
Nioh 2: Team Ninja’s sequel takes the deep combat systems of its predecessor and adds a strong loot game and some fantastic RPG elements – but more than that, it tells a coherent, sometimes touching story at the same time. An utterly mesmerising action game.
I wasn’t expecting a lot from Gears Tactics, I’ll be honest. The franchise isn’t particularly well known for its deep strategy, often asking for little more than the calculations required to chainsaw an enemy clean in half. And yet The Coalition pulled a blinder with Gears Tactics. In a year filled to the brim with tactical turn-based strategy games (seriously, count the damn things), it presented what amounts to a full on Gears of War game from a top-down perspective. It’s so fast-paced the turn system barely bothers you, and it captures every ounce of atmosphere from the aesthetic to the music to the balls-out action of it all. Deep customisation, interesting skill trees for each class, and varied, meaty missions come together to produce one of the year’s most enjoyable shooters.
Desperados III is just excellent. I could leave it at that, to be honest, a succinct enough explanation as to why I love MiMiMi’s tactical western shooter. Almost unique (there a few similar titles, such as the developer’s own Shadow Tactics and Commandos, and the recent Partisans 1941), it presents each mission as a puzzle with multiple solutions. It features an array of colourful, interesting characters, each with abilties so unique to themselves that they genuinely change the way you look at each mission, and a selection of vast, intricate sandboxes in which to wreak mayhem as John Cooper and his band of vigilantes. There are few more satisfying tactical games, and the inclusion of the replay cam at the end of each level that shows all your deaths, kills, pick-ups, saves and loads is a masterstroke. As challenging or as easy going as you want it to be, Desperados III deserves to be played by any fan of tactical shooters, the Old West or solving problems with your six-shooters.
Ubisoft have had one of their best and worst years in 2020. Beset by accusations that have seen their organisation shaken to the highest levels, they have a long road to walk before they can fully win back the public trust – if it’s possible at all. And yet, they’ve also managed to put out some of the year’s most enjoyable games – a feat that should be credited to the development teams, rather than the suits who run the show. And you can’t disparage a lot of the work they’ve done with titles like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Further evidence, if indeed it was required, that the old Creed is dead, Valhalla follows the open-world RPG route of Origins and Odyssey, but changes the way it handles fundemental elements like the loot system and the side-quests. Yes, it’s still a busy checklist of a map, but it’s filled with points of interest now, places you’ll want to explore, secrets you’ll want to find. It has its share of Ubisoft Jank, but it’s also charming, gorgeous and, crucially, compelling.
After a long stint in early access, Hades finally celebrated its full release this year on PC and, surprisingly, Nintendo Switch – and the world fell in love. Many had played it on PC (including myself), and watched it grow and evolve, but it found favour with the newcomers who had never dipped a toe in its glorious waters thanks to the percieved dangers of early access. A rogue-like that feels challenging but not punishing, Hades is the story of Zagreus, son of the titular Lord of the Underworld, who dreams of escaping Hell and joining his family on Mount Olympus. But Hades’ greatest strengths may not even lie in its stellar combat, but rather in the way it weaves its story even through your many failed runs, opening new conversations and dialogue options, revealing new secrets with every death that make you feel rewarded simply for playing, whether you succeed or not. This coupled with the perfectly paced character progression and, yes, that stellar combat I mentioned, make it one of the best games of 2020, and one of the Switch’s absolute must-plays.
Far more than just an addition to 2018’s incredible Marvel’s Spider-Man, the more compact and focused Miles Morales tells a great story of its own while giving its new lead time to shine ahead of the full-blooded sequel we know is on the cards. Miles himself is an endearing and lovable main character, and while the small cast of villains is hardly the strongest ever assembled, it once again changes up the story to surprise fans of both the comic universe and the MCU to produce something that feels like its own entity. And the power of the PS5 delivers some gorgeous visuals, with some of the finest detail I’ve seen in a game world. Absolutely wonderful.
There was a moment early on when playing Final Fantasy VII Remake that I had to stop and just appreciate the fact that I was finally experiencing it – that I was finally going to return to Midgar, to the oversized boots and silly hair of Cloud Strife, the star of perhaps my favourite game of all time. My love for FFVII is such that I won’t even replay it: I don’t want my natural aversion to retro games to sour my strongest gaming memories – which was what I was afraid of when playing the Remake. That somehow Square Enix would mess it up, pour murky pondwater over my rose-tinted glasses and somehow lessen my love for the original with all their swanky new features, but if anything it made me appreciate those memories more.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is an exceptionally good video game, one that consistently surprised and moved me even though I was always sure I knew where the story was going. It takes a great deal from its source of course, but adds enough to it that not only does the original remain reverent and unsullied, but the Remake feels like its own entity. If there’s a complaint, it’s that some of story and the side content feels a little like filler – but that’s a minor gripe next to the improved writing, character development, dizzying combat and staggering visuals. An absolute treat for fans and newcomers alike.
Arguably 2020’s most controversial game, Cyberpunk 2077 is nevertheless the game I’ve had the most overall fun with this year. Lucky enough to be able to play on a decent PC, I haven’t experienced many of the more game-breaking bugs others have seen. Beyond occasional visual glitches and texture pop, I’ve had a mostly untarnished experience – and as such, I became utterly, completely immersed in Night City.
I found a game that let me play how I wanted to play, that gave me multiple options to tackle objectives how I saw fit, and introduced me to a stunningly beautiful yet knowingly grim vision of the future. The writing repeatedly impressed me, and the main characters felt real to me, the detail in the environments and the character work making me care about the world and its people – and the way it handles the story and side quests, weaving them in and out of one another, is fantastic. And as for Keanu Reeves’ turn as the hard-worn Johnny Silverhand, former rock star turned cyber ghost trapped in your protagonist’s head – well, I loved every minute of my time with him.
Wow. That was the first thing I said as the Demon’s Souls remake began. It was the first game I played on the day my PlayStation 5 arrived, and what a way to welcome in the new generation. Bluepoint Games have done an incredible job, recapturing everything – everything – that made the original a cult classic, but making it feel more accessible, more playable, and more hauntingly beautiful than ever before. The use of light and sound to tell stories through the environment is possibly unmatched, its grim world dripping with an atmosphere that feels hopeless, dangerous, insurmountable – and still managing, somehow, to issue a challenge it’s impossible to ignore.
There were moments while playing through it that I was transported back to the 2009 original, remembering how I felt trying to get through it then, before the “Soulslike” was even a thing, before there were speedruns and boss guides all over the internet, when it was entirely unknown and simply pushing through it was reward enough. Never has there been a remake so complete and yet so respectful of what made the original so beloved.
If you had told me last year that this game was going to make my GOTY list, I’d have laughed you out of the room. For what it’s worth, I don’t dislike the title – it’s no more generic than Gods & Monsters would have been, and in fact is more indicative of what this game is. Because it’s the story of Fenyx, a lovable protagonist helping Greece’s ancient Pantheon regain their power in a world that borrows heavily from Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. And when I say “borrows heavily from” I mean outright copies at times.
There are elements that are almost brazen, but at the same time Fenyx brings quality of life improvements to the formula made possible by the benefit of hindsight. And it tells what feels like a more cohesive story, filled with genuine humour as well as high advenure. And my god, it’s the first Ubisoft game I’ve played in years that feels not just polished but impeccably free of the usual jank that plagues their games. Immortals Fenyx Rising is a beautiful, charming epic.
To say I’ve been captivated by Ghost of Tsushima would be a gross understatement. I’ve been enthralled by it for months. Even having to walk away from it to review so many other titles since its summer release, I’ve always returned to its staggering world. Jin Sakai may not be the most compelling protagonist of the year, but his journey from loyal, honour-bound Samurai to hard-bitten guerilla warrior is an incredible tale. At times I simply got lost in the world, and the truth is that the story takes just a little too long to grip – but when it does, it doesn’t let up. By the final hours, everything I had done, everyone I had helped, every life I had saved, came together to produce a thrilling final third that had me close to tears as the credits rolled.
But more than this, Ghost of Tsushima takes risks that shouldn’t pay off but do. The lack of a lock-on button in combat forces you to be aware of the enemies encircling you, and spreading so may collectibles across its map leads you to see every inch of it, and soak up its breathtaking splendour. An immersive, deep and rich open world combine with the year’s best combat system and some of the most consistently polished gameplay I’ve seen to produce the best game of 2020. Well done, Sucker Punch, you deserve it.