2020 has been more of a hellish year than a hell of one. Next-gen arrived, but you’d be forgiven for not shaking with excitement for the new consoles in light of the shadow cast by this global pandemic that is still going on, nearly a full year later.
We’ve all had to spend a lot of time inside and away from others. It’s weird, because when I was a kid, I used to want to do nothing but stay inside all day and play video games. Now, I long for the days where I can do even the simplest things, like go to a friend’s house, or grab a drink at the bar.
Video-games have always played a huge role in my life, but more than ever in 2020. With my newfound free time, I platinumed Death Stranding and Persona 5 Royal, played through the Bioshock series for the first time, and finally made some headway on my backlog. I filled the gaps in my schedule that would normally be reserved for social time by squadding up with friends in games of Halo 3, Apex Legends, and Among Us. It’s not quite the same as actually being with people, but those multiplayer sessions sure did help me get through one rough year.
If there’s one word I could use to describe 2020 in gaming, it’s “surprising.” I was surprised that I loved games like Persona 5 Royal and Final Fantasy VII Remake as much as I did. I was surprised when the PlayStation 5 reveal kicked off with Ratchet and Clank and Spider-Man: Miles Morales. And I was surprised at how Cyberpunk 2077 not only released this year, but had a arguably the most disastrous launch in recent memory.
But above all else, I was shocked by the high amount of quality games put out by studios in this horrible, no-good year. Narrowing my list down to just 10 games was no easy task, so believe me when I say that I believe the games on this list are the best of the best. I’ve rambled long enough. Let’s get right into it; here are my top 10 games of 2020:
10. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 (PS4, Xbox)
In this tumultuous hell-year, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 was exactly what I needed: a brainless, healthy dose of fun that didn’t call for me to pay attention to complex in-game systems, morally ambiguous characters, or look at my in-game choices under a microscope. Here, it’s all about making that high score get even higher while listening to some rockin’, nostalgic tunes. It’s a pretty simple game, but it’s also simply a great time.
9. Spider-Man: Miles Morales (PS5, PS4)
Miles Morales is the perfect candidate to be featured in a follow-up to 2018’s Spider-Man simply because he can do everything Peter Parker can, and then some. Miles’ new powers make combat and stealth so much more dynamic than what its predecessor had to offer. The refined web-slinging is perhaps the best featured in a Spider-Man game so far, and when combined with Miles’ unique animations and midair tricks, it’s easy to sink time into just swinging around the city appreciating how great this game plays.
The story doesn’t quite hit the same highs that 2018’s Spider-Man did, but it left me wanting to see more of Miles in the future. I hope Insomniac’s inevitable Spider-Man 2 continues to let us play as Miles; I like how different he feels from Peter, and it’s honestly refreshing to get Spider-Man stories showing that anyone can wear the mask.
8. Demon’s Souls (PS5)
Demon’s Souls struck a chord with me thanks how greatly it valued player choice. Recent souls-likes, like Bloodborne and Sekiro generally encouraged faster, more offensive styles of play. But in Demon’s Souls, I felt like I was in total control of how I wanted to play. If I wanted to be a brute who wields a giant sword, I could be that. Or I could be a mage who uses Soul Arrow to melt targets with ease; maybe even an archer who chips away HP from a distance.
The online elements are also fantastic. I really appreciated how they allowed me to see firsthand how other players built their characters and what tactics they use. Seeing them in action and thinking “that looks interesting” actively encouraged me to try new character builds that I wouldn’t have thought to try before.
It’s worth noting every piece of praise above could be lauded towards the original Demon’s Souls, but this game also succeeds as a remake. For starters, its updated visuals look great, and each weapon has brand new finishing animations that look amazing. Character creation is deeper than ever before, and fractured mode lets Souls veterans tackle this classic title from a whole other angle. Whether you’re a newcomer or know this game like the back of your hand, there’s a lot to like here.
7. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout (PS4, PC)
Fall Guys took the world by storm. So many people thought a bunch of innocuous, clumsy jelly-bean-people tripping over obstacles (and each other) in a race to the finish was such an attractive premise that the game’s servers were busted at launch because they were overloaded. Even if I wasn’t reviewing the game, I still would’ve been one of these people.
Beyond its charming aesthetics, what really makes Fall Guys shine is how everything you do in the game is only ever either cool or hilarious — never disappointing. Just barely cleared a jump? Cool! Fall off the seesaw because too many players weighed down one side? Sure, it sucks to start over, but watching these oddly shaped-and-dressed characters fall together is kind of hilarious. Get smacked by a windmill at an obtuse angle, accidentally getting launched over an obstacle? Cool, and hilarious.
With Mediatonic taking Fall Guys into its third season, I can’t wait to see how Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout evolves in 2021.
6. Persona 5 Royal (PS4)
I thought Persona 5 was fine. The characters and story were nice, but over the course of 90 hours, its shine faded. I thought combat was repetitive, Mementos was boring, and increasing confidant ranks became more tedious the more cast members were introduced.
Persona 5 Royal quells nearly every concern I had about Persona 5. Disaster Shadows and Showtime attacks add variety to combat, and Mementos has a lot more going on, systems wise; it’s an achievement for a game to hold my attention for nearly 100 hours, and Royal did just that. The quality-of-life updates alone make Royal a game worth playing, even if you’ve already played the original, but the cherry on top is the third semester. Featuring possibly the best antagonist in the whole series, it asks complex moral questions whose answers aren’t as black and white as the rest of the issues presented in the game. It’s a truly wonderful experience that Persona fans and newcomers alike should check out.
5. The Last of Us Part II (PS4)
The long-awaited The Last of Us Part II is a solid continuation to the original 2013 game. It expands on the previous entry’s themes and core ideas, while exploring new characters and locations that genuinely sparked my interest in seeing more of this universe, something I’m hoping the upcoming HBO series does. Despite being marketed as a game that isn’t necessarily supposed to be fun to play, it is; stealth segments made me feel like I was playing a new Metal Gear Solid title, while the combat is a heart-pounding, frenetic experience that made me feel as if I barely scraped by throughout every encounter.
Even when faced with faults such as mishandled themes or dry pacing, The Last of Us Part II is still one of the best games to have been released this year, and might be one of the best Naughty Dog has made so far.
4. Carrion (Multiplatform)
‘Carrion’ refers to the decomposing flesh of dead animals. Fittingly enough, Carrion is certainly one disgusting game, and I love it. Being a reverse-horror game, you are the monster, but that hardly relieves the tension. Watching this malleable mass of meat that is our protagonist hurl its fleshy form across a room, bloodying whatever surface it touches as it goes is unsettling as hell.
After a few hours playing Carrion, I learned why the movie monsters rarely go for a full-frontal assault — because they aren’t dumb. Systematically dispatching my foes felt sinisterly satisfying, and I liked how many different abilities I had at my disposal. Its run-time is a little short, but I’ll take quality over quantity any day of the week, and Carrion certainly is one quality game.
3. Hades (PC, Switch)
After years in early access, Hades finally launched this year, and it’s yet another win for Supergiant Games. On a gameplay level, it’s probably the most I’ve ever mixed up my playstyle in a roguelike. Every weapon feels so satisfying to use that it’s hard to choose one. But playthroughs are so short that it won’t be long before you get the opportunity to try out a different one. Ripping and tearing through hell is an exhilarating time, whether it’s your first run, or your one-hundredth.
What really impressed me about Hades was its approach to storytelling. I was already hooked by its fun-factor, but watching Zagreus’ story unfold gave me even more reason to play run-after-run. The colorful, charismatic cast of Greek Gods are each brought to life by beautifully drawn character designs and effervescent voice-acting that make them a joy to interact with; half of the fun of collecting a boon is seeing what power-up you’ll get, while the other half is hearing what kind of lines these eccentric characters will greet you with. Similar to how Zagreus defies his father, Hades defies the nature of its setting — Hell — to deliver a divine experience.
2. Astro’s Playroom (PS5)
In a year where it’s becoming clear games are going to cost $70 a pop going forward, leave it to Astro’s Playroom, the free pack-in title included with every PS5, to be one of the best games of the year. This seemingly small title wears many hats, and somehow fits them all just right.
On one hand, it’s a technical marvel that showcases the power of the Dualsense and its advanced haptics. It’s also a very mechanically sound platformer that boasts some fluid movement options, fun powerups, and well-crafted levels. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it’s a love letter to anything and everything that is, and ever was PlayStation. Levels are filled with PlayStation memorabilia to collect, and scattered about are allusions to PlayStation-centric franchises such as The Last of Us, Bloodborne, and Metal Gear Solid.
Astro’s Playroom is a great game in its own right, and gave me a sneak peak at what the future of gaming could look like on the PS5. At the same time, it let me take a walk down memory lane and remember some of the titles that made me fall in love with gaming to begin with. It’s a truly special experience that everyone with a PS5 should check out ASAP.
1. Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4)
Over the past few years, we’ve seen several different takes on remakes of classic games. Demon’s Souls is a nearly 1:1 recreation of the original game, albeit with some extras. Resident Evil 2 & 3 adopt different gameplay styles than their progenitors, but maintain the same core atmosphere and narrative. Where Final Fantasy VII Remake differs from Demon’s Souls or Resident Evil is that it’s not trying to be an updated version of the 1996 game, but rather answer one question: What if Final Fantasy VII was made in 2020?
For starters, it probably wouldn’t be turn-based. I adore the more action-oriented combat that has just the right level of tactics to make me feel smart when I deal loads of damage to an enemy. It would probably have more side-content too. I deeply enjoyed its side-quests and how much depth they added to Midgar and the characters who inhabit it. What really hit me was the game’s story, which subverted my expectations every step of the way.
And when it comes to story, it would expand on things in ways it couldn’t back in 1996. Seeing relatively minor characters from the original game get larger roles was a delight. Biggs, Jessie, and Wedge are all barely characters in the original game; they’re only around for the first few hours. But here, I got to spend nearly 15 hours with these characters, and grew to really care about them. Without getting into spoilers, I also love the direction this game’s story takes. It’s bold, subversive, and kept me on my toes, despite already knowing how the original game’s story goes.
I could talk about this game forever. From seeing Cloud Strife in HD, to toying with the combat, to having my jaw drop at the game’s outlandish ending, I was grinning from ear-to-ear the whole time. Final Fantasy VII Remake is the best game I’ve played this year, and I cannot wait for part 2.
I want to give a special shoutout to a few other games — A Short Hike, which saw its release on Switch this past year, as well as Crash Bandicoot 4, Bloodroots, Clubhouse Games, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon. None of these made the list, but consider them my honorable mentions. They all provided me with lots of hours worth of entertainment, and are very much worth your time.
Going into 2021, I’m interested in seeing how services like Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Now evolve. As someone who just got an Xbox One this year, I want to kick myself for not getting one sooner; Game Pass is that good of a deal. I guess I’m also interested to see if Nintendo has any plans for Metroid or Zelda’s 35th anniversaries, which are in 2021. One can hope we’ll get collections akin to the one offered for Mario’s 35th anniversary, but you never know with Nintendo.
Above all else, I’m looking forward to seeing what the next generation brings us. I’m hoping to see next-gen upgrades for some of the games listed here, as well new titles like Halo: Infinite, Hitman III, and Deathloop, which was actually my most anticipated game this year before it was delayed. I think there’s a lot of stuff on the horizon in 2021, and I can’t wait to see how it all pans out. Thanks for reading, see you next year.