I will spare you the “2020 was a tough year” preamble. We all know the monumental changes in our lives over the past year. COVID-19 also changed the games I played. I sought social games over story heavy experiences. If I can’t see my friends, then games bring us together over Discord. It won’t replace face-to-face communication, but it gives me a place to escape and forget about masks or keeping my distance.
Battle royales dominated my social games alongside reigniting passion in older ones. When I wrote my quarantine games list in the summer, I never expected a growing list. I expected us to return to normal. Instead, I delve deeper into multiplayer games with friends while I wait for, well, things to feel normal again. My 2020 Game of the Year list gathers a weird mix of games, but they all stood out during a weird year.
Most Disappointing Game: Cyberpunk 2077
I didn’t expect to enjoy Cyberpunk 2077. Enormous open-world RPGs bore me. List of quests and objectives overwhelm and feel like endless chores. Cyberpunk 2077, I hoped, would at least build a dystopian, dirty and futuristic world, even if playing was boring. But instead, I discovered a world full of glitches.
Some players ran into game breaking bugs, yet I found a constant flow of smaller bugs. During my sessions, characters stopped speaking, soundtracks sputtered repeatedly, and character abilities broke. Some bugs I tried to overlook and just enjoy the content. Though when I noticed bugs forced me to alter my choices and playstyle, it ruined my immersion in the world.
The last mission I played involved killing a bartender of a club. I chose the stealth option and went to the roof to hack the defence systems inside. When I tried to hack, V unfurled his arm wire jack, but it kicked me out each attempt. Then the sound sputtered as I circled the building for an alternate route. Forced to approach with violence, high-level bandits killed me in seconds. I thought reloading my latest save could fix the issue, but the bug persisted.
Sometime in 2021, CD Projekt Red will release an update solving major bugs while adding quality of life fixes. By the summer projections, many games will release, and many games will fight to occupy my time. People waited years for Cyberpunk 2077, yet it feels like it will disappear much faster than its marred development.
Best Battle Royale: Apex Legends
Apex Legends and Call of Duty: Warzone occupied a lot of my time this year. They brought me and my friends together for multiple hours throughout the week. I divided my time between both games, often comparing them as large updates released. Yet no matter how many skins, weapons and maps each developer put out, I deferred to Apex Legends.
Respawn Entertainment introduced smart changes to the Apex Legends loot table in 2020. Early firefight winners are rewarded with upgraded shields through the Evo Shield system. Based on damage dealt, your shields upgrade in capacity, allowing you to absorb more damage. Those who prefer to avoid fights early can loot high-capacity shields and other rare items through exploration. No matter your preferences, Apex allows for all playstyles.
Warzone funnels players into a specific playstyle, which creates a frustrating experience filled with distant snipers and quick deaths. One-shot kills, concentrated fire, and its blazing pace can wipe your team in seconds. Loadouts centred around close quarters can work, but if the map finishes in an open field, you stand no chance. Warzone brings all the exciting moments of a BR, but there is definitely a wrong way to play it.
In Apex, the firefights range from short to medium, with heavy emphasis on teamwork and character abilities. Unlike the one-sided rain of sniper fire in Warzone, most fights in Apex present an option. You can either engage in the gunfight or use abilities to protect yourself. Not to say any sniper knockdowns in Warzone guarantees a death, though the outcome feels more finite.
Through the year I’ll play Apex Legends and Warzone, though I play both with a preference. Unfortunately, while I queue alone, my friends continue to fill squads ready for Warzone. And if an empty spot in a Warzone party needs filling, I rather play with friends than a play alone.
The 5 Best Games From 2020
Game of the Year: The Last of Us Part 2
During my entire playthrough of The Last of Us Part 2, I waited for the awful, unforgivable moments to ruin the game. They never came. Internet outrage, Twitter misinformation and secondhand rumours formed my opinion of the game before I even played it. All the discussion didn’t make sense to me – I love Naughty Dog’s games. Once I completed the 20-hour single player, frustration boiled over. None of what I heard or read happened. The Last of Us Part 2 instead crushes any poor reception and baseless rumours and delivers a satisfying, gut wrenching sequel.
Alongside Ellie, TLOU2 also follows Abby, a tough, ruthless survivor motivated to exact a lifelong revenge. Before release, rumours swirled claiming Abby was a transgender woman. She is not. It’s an insignificant detail that, if true, doesn’t change anything about the story. My issue stems from expectation – the ongoing belief that during every scene the big “reveal” was imminent. I struggled to focus on the story with Abby’s gender and other rumours sitting in the back of my mind. Instead, I learned Abby is tough a woman driven by blinding rage to exact revenge.
TLOU2 puts you in Ellie’s shoes for the first half with a mid-point reset and swap to Abby. Their stories, although separate, work towards a similar goal. Their similarities, however, grow repetitive as the endless scavenging and sleuthing requires endless patience. Some encounters I broke stealth, entered a shootout, and died. Upon reloading the save, I reapproached with more mistakes and less patience. After 15 hours of methodical maneuvering around guards and bandits, I struggled to maintain the same pace.
Naughty Dog should have released two games – one game as Ellie and the second with Abby. While it’s weird to complain about too much content, the separation between both releases allows for player breaks and for the story to breathe. Naughty Dog burdens you with the lives you take. The gruesome, photorealistic violence turns your kills into dead people with names, not faceless, computer-controlled enemies. TLOU2 demands focus, attention and emotional investment. It’s a perfect game to cap off the PlayStation 4’s lifecycle as Sony shifts to the PlayStation 5. And while the stories of employee burnout and grueling hours tarnishes its development, I can’t deny The Last of Us Part 2 as the best game of 2020.
- Super Mega Baseball 3
The third entry in the Super Mega Baseball franchise again proves why it trumps any modern sports game. Despite the lack of an MLB license, Super Mega Baseball 3 delivers the best on field experience. Simplistic, yet tricky hitting and pitching mechanics enables anyone to play. The outcomes of games swings with advanced baserunning, rearranged fielders and complimentary pitches. A perfect blend of complexity and simplicity pushes you to play just one more game after a string of close matches.
Super Mega Baseball 3 adds a new franchise mode to the series with a focus on team building. Salary limitations, aging players and roster needs, requires close attention throughout the season. Without the MLB license, the team you select becomes your team. The attachment to a team sticks even through multiplayer.
Pennant Race is Super Mega Baseball’s best mode. The week-to-week standings wipes, then recalibrates your skill level for placement in a division of similarly skilled players. Some weeks I destroyed my opponents, but the following week I faced tough competition. With cross-play enabled in Pennant Race, you face all kinds of players. The wider pool keeps the multiplayer populated, which gives the best sports game on the market the longest legs possible.
- Astro’s Playroom
Astro’s Playroom, although a free demo-like game for the PlayStation 5, brings all the creativity and charm of Nintendo games. Mario Odyssey and Astro’s Playroom share many common threads involving world design. Besides reaching the end of each level, they also encourage exploration of surrounding areas. Hidden collectibles rewarded your curiosity, as well as celebrate Sony’s history.
Each world hides artifacts of past PlayStation consoles while also paying homage to the extensive Sony library. Astrobot versions of Kratos from God of War, Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn and even Snake from Metal Gear pop up all over. These homages won’t change the game, but they pull you into this world celebrating PlayStation history.
The new PlayStation 5 DualSense controller will also etch its foothold in history thanks to the amazing Astro introduction. Through precise haptic rumble, the controller reacts to your actions. If you launch a rocket, trigger resistance eases after the engines ignite. As cars zoom across the screen, the controller vibration follows. Astro’s Playroom provides visceral feedback throughout your journey full of PlayStation history and charming worlds.
- Half-Life: Alyx
It’s not Half-Life 3, but Half-Life: Alyx brings you back to a world left unexplored since 2007. The story takes places five years before Half-Life 2 – a game from 2004. It’s hard to remember all the story nuances as you set up your virtual reality headset and powerful gaming PC to accompany it. When you climb all the hurdles, Half-Life: Alyx establishes the baseline as the best feeling VR shooter.
Accessibility and feel makes Half-Life: Alyx a full-fledged Half-Life game built around the unique gestures that VR enables. For those with motion sickness, you can select teleportation options instead of smooth analog stick movements. And instead of fumbling with buttons, natural motions replace typical actions on a controller. To reload, you release the magazine, reach over your shoulder for a fresh one, slide it in the weapon, and pull back the chamber. It works as expected in real life, giving simple actions a realistic and natural feel.
The gravity gun returns in Half-Life: Alyx, but in the form of convenient gravity gloves. The prototype device lets you to pull distant objects by pointing your hand, as if you discovered telekinesis. Throughout your exploration or during firefights, your gloves help you collect unreachable objects. You can even pull in live grenades and throw them back at the Combine. Simple gestures transform simple actions into satisfying, repeatable tasks. It’s not Half-Life 3, but Half-Life: Alyx is a worthy game in Valve’s return to single player.
Supergiant Games, despite their indie label, develops complete games matching the quality from the largest studios. They excel in music, art and story, but their gameplay, although refined, lacked the same depth. Hades bucks the trend and delivers a complete game from beginning to end. The music, art and gameplay, all work in perfect unison to follow the story of a dysfunctional family in hell.
Since you’re in hell, it makes sense that dying sends you back to its fiery depths. Each run in Hades pushes you to climb through four areas built to prevent anyone from escaping. That’s your goal – get out of hell. It takes a while to sharpen your skills, upgrade your abilities and learn the weapons. Without the deaths you learn nothing. Failure helps.
Just as you learn from newer enemies and weapons, Supergiant Games learned from its players during the Early Access release. Subsequent updates added content, end game goals and difficulty modifiers to extend the life of the game. I waited for the full Hades release to see the complete package, but I applaud the fans who provided feedback during Early Access. Hades reached one million copies sold shortly after launch.
Things Worth Noting
- If Moss released this year, it would top my Game of the Year list. It demonstrates the best use of VR without using first-person perspective. The interaction between you, the face in the sky, and Quill, the mouse pattering below, makes a single player game feel cooperative. It was a pleasant surprise, and I can’t wait for Moss Book 2.
- DOOM (2016) and DOOM Eternal feel like different games. You still find the same weapons and power ups, but the different approach to level design changed gameplay. DOOM (2016) emphasized exploration and puzzles, whereas DOOM Eternal focused on prolonged gun fights in an arena setting. The exploration and puzzles still exist, but more as a side dish to the hectic fights.
- The sequel to Gears Tactics will blow us away in the future. Gears Tactics laid a solid foundation Microsoft can build upon and then surpass similar games like XCOM. Smart changes like a custom overwatch range and additional turns on executions adds even more strategy to a methodical game.
- Sony’s work on the PS5 DualSense Controller is the future of controller design. The haptic feedback, if executed right, adds so much more immersion to games. Your actions carry impact and vehicles drag weight with the changes to rumble. Seriously, you won’t understand until you hold the controller in your hands.
- Xbox Game Pass is changing how I play and purchase games. With so many regular additions of amazing games, I find it more and more difficult to justify purchasing any. I always have something to play and no longer feel compelled to finish a game I don’t enjoy.