One of the very, very few silver linings of the coronavirus pandemic was that it gave me more time to play video games in 2020 than I’d had in recent years. Coincidentally, the eighth console generation dropped quite a few stellar swan songs before the launch of the ninth, cementing this year as the best in gaming that I can remember. Not one, not two, but three long-awaited releases managed to land themselves among my top ten games of all time, which means the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X have an extremely tough act to follow. Without further ado, here are my favorite video games of 2020:
Honorable Mention 1: Animal Crossing: New Horizons
I had never played any Animal Crossing games before, but a handful of events that took place last summer created the “perfect” storm I needed to try and enjoy the most recent iteration, New Horizons. This simple, charming title served as a wonderful way to temporarily escape from all the noise and bad news of 2020, and it also turned out to be an instrumental tool in my recovery from my first playthrough of The Last of Us Part II (which you’ll hear more about later). I often found myself in an ultra relaxed, zen-like state while engaging in Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ activities like gathering supplies, fishing, or decorating my avatar’s home. Even though there’s an in-game clock, I ended up losing track of time while working on these tasks quite often. There’s always something to do, build, catch, or find, but you never feel overwhelmed or confused, and that blissful combination is exactly what I – and a lot of other people – needed this year.
Honorable Mention 2: To the Moon (Switch)
Yes, a Switch port of a nine year-old game is one of my honorable mentions, so sue me. Honestly, To the Moon is so good that if it wasn’t an honorable mention it’d be in my top four of the year, and it might be one of my all time top ten as well. This beautiful interactive story title features one of the most engaging and powerful narratives I’ve come across in years, tons of charm, solid humor, and a wonderful cast of interesting, lovable characters. To the Moon is set in a world that has technology capable of rewriting memories, and puts you into the shoes of two quirky memory specialists with the goal of helping a dying man named Johnny achieve his wish of going to the moon before he passes on. In doing so, you get to see Johnny’s biggest triumphs, most painful losses, and virtually every crucial milestone in his life. It’s a beautiful, poignant journey that made me shed tears of sadness and joy multiple times throughout the four-hour adventure. To the Moon is a perfect example of how important video games are as a storytelling medium and how effective they can be.
Number 10: Marvel’s Avengers
Even though Marvel’s Avengers had a pretty rough start (almost every games as a service title launches with a few hiccups) it’s a genuinely good game that definitely delivers on what matters most: making you feel like an Avenger. It does an awesome job getting you acquainted with the titular team along with teaching you their varied playstyles and roles in its brisk, yet incredibly entertaining campaign. After you beat the story there’s the… Endgame content (heh). There are cooperative missions to run through, daily challenges to complete, factions to rank up, and loot to earn and upgrade. Some people have compared the loot system and mechanics to Destiny’s as if it’s a bad thing, which I don’t think is fair. If you don’t want to farm for better and better gear, than just stop with the campaign. However, to me, someone who loves superheroes and spent years playing Destiny and Destiny 2, Avengers was mostly what I was hoping for. Plus, all upcoming heroes and add-ons are going to be free. Good on ya, Square Enix!
Number 9: Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
I’m not a fan of most battle royale games. Trying to outlast or kill around 50 other players in a free-for-all gun battle – either with a cartoony aesthetic like Fortnite or a gritty one like Call of Duty: Warzone – just isn’t for me. But an elimination game in the vein of the TV show Wipeout, filled with all kinds of bizarre races and other game types stuffed with hilarious mechanics and obstacles? That is definitely my jam, and also exactly what Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is. The rounds are usually between one to three minutes long, so losing never feels frustrating (aside from the occasional moments of bullshit) and watching those odd little avatars get knocked around – be it yours or someone else’s – is never not funny. Like 2015’s Rocket League, Fall Guys became extremely popular on the Playstation 4 because it was free for the month it was released, and has easy to learn, difficult to master gameplay that’s surprisingly addictive. Without a doubt, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout was my most enjoyable competitive multiplayer experience of 2020.
Number 8: Resident Evil 3
This year’s Resident Evil 3 is yet another great Capcom remake that honors a landmark of survival horror while improving its visual fidelity and updating its gameplay mechanics. It has far more action elements than 2019’s Resident Evil 2 remake, but that doesn’t mean R3make isn’t scary when it wants to be. Being armed to the teeth like John Matrix doesn’t alleviate much of the anxiety or tension when the enemy placement and level layout are often ideal for surprise, close-quarter attacks. Also, the game’s biggest baddie, Nemesis is a genuinely intimidating threat anytime he’s nearby. The hulking brute of a bioweapon is a force to be reckoned with. Each Nemesis encounter – whether you’re woefully underprepared and should probably run, or are forced to engage him during some truly intense and fun boss battles – is a memorable one. Throw in lots of secrets to find, a few unique monsters in addition to the zombie horde, self-aware humor, and you’ve another strong entry in the iconic franchise.
Number 7: Godfall
Godfall exemplifies the phrase “style over substance.” The short story is barebones at best, but the high fantasy setting catches your eye immediately. The leveling and skill system is pretty simple, yet my co-op partner and I didn’t mind because it meant we spent less time away from the outstanding melee combat, which is easily the game’s most layered aspect, its biggest strength, and was more than enough to keep us busy through the Playstation 5’s launch weekend and beyond. There are quite a few methods for laying waste to your enemies in Godfall thanks to the different weapon types and Valorplates (sets of armor which all look insanely badass) you can unlock. Using the right gear allows you to prioritize whichever method of destruction you like the most; adding to your raw damage output by burning or poisoning enemies, stunning them to create opportunities for hard-hitting takedowns, or my personal favorite, building up their soul shatter meter which allows you to remove massive chunks of health all at once. The hack and slash gameplay is all Godfall has going for it, but holy crap it is absolutely magnificent.
Number 6: Zombie Army 4: Dead War
I don’t think that Zombie Army 4: Dead War will be remembered by many/any as one of the all-time greats in video game history, but I (and the people I know who have played it) thought that the surprisingly lengthy cooperative campaign was a total blast of zombie-killing fun from start to finish. It embraces the cheesy, shlocky, B-movie camp you’d expect from a title about a group of elite soldiers fighting against a plague of nazi zombies, and offers up a decent selection of playable characters with interesting perks, fun weapons, and a large amount of crazy skills to unlock that cater to different playstyles. There’s a sizable amount of collectibles and upgrades hidden within the game’s levels too. As the gaming industry seems to be putting more and more focus on either single-player stories, games as a service titles, or huge battle royale modes, a co-op game that’s both simple to play yet has enough content to encourage multiple playthroughs like Zombie Army 4: Dead War should be applauded.
Number 5: Spider-Man: Miles Morales
Just like 2018’s Spider-Man game, Spider-Man: Miles Morales blends huge, chaotic superhero battles and intensely high stakes with the more relatable struggles of its protagonist’s everyday life. That’s not to say developer Insomniac rested upon their laurels by giving us more of the same though, because Miles Morales manages to highlight what makes the titular teen webslinger different from Peter Parker while still showing you exactly why the he’s more than worthy of the heroic mantle. Miles’ venom shock and cloaking abilities change up the gameplay from Peter’s considerably (except for the web-swinging, because that was perfect already) and Miles’ ethnic background is a huge part of who he is. They are not the same Spider-Man, but they both follow that “great power means great responsibility” code that ends up creating so much drama and strife in their lives while cementing them as true heroes. With all said and done, Insomniac has delivered yet another spectacular Spider-Man game with incredible gameplay and a story that is almost guaranteed to please any and all fans of either webhead.
Number 4: Ghost of Tsushima
I rarely keep track of the exact number of hours I put into individual video games, but I’m pretty sure that this epic samurai/ronin saga is one of the titles that I spent the most time playing this year. While I usually tend to move on from open world games after burning through the campaign, I found myself completely enveloped in Suckerpunch’s wonderfully realized late 13th century Japanese setting. I enjoyed exploring the island of Tsushima as much as any other open world gaming environment from this console generation. Upgrading my gear, petting adorable foxes at their shrines, and finding the various ways to improve my lethality seldom felt like a chore. Ghost of Tsushima also offers the most balanced and gratifying action and stealth gameplay I’ve seen in the genre. Countless video games have advertised that you can go into an enemy fortress with guns (or swords) blazing, or strike from the shadows with carefully planned assassinations, but Ghost of Tsushima is the first where I thought both styles were equally efficient, and more importantly, fun to use. Lastly, it has a great co-op mode, and the photo mode is the best that I’ve seen in any game by a ludicrously huge margin.
Number 3: DOOM Eternal
The original DOOM was a pioneer among first-person shooters back in the 90’s, DOOM 2016 helped the series reclaim its crown as an FPS staple, and, in my opinion, DOOM Eternal is the greatest game the genre has ever seen. This bombastic, blood-soaked sequel gives you, as the unstoppable force that is the Doom Slayer, new, powerful weapons, more ways to quickly move around the map, and tweaks the mechanics of certain instruments of death like giving the super shotgun a grappling meat hook. All of this is done to make you an even more efficient destroyer of all things demonic and add a welcome layer of strategy to the firefights. The game’s minimalist story rarely shares anything more than what it needs to in order to keep you moving – outside of bits of lore hidden throughout the levels – ensuring you’re never very far from the next gory, glorious battle, and that’s the way I like it! The combat is bloody, brutal perfection that makes you feel like an absolute badass, and when combined with the insane visual fidelity and Mick Gordon’s hardcore soundtrack that gets you hyped beyond all reason, the result is my favorite first-person shooter of all time. I don’t see how the next DOOM could top this one, but that’s what I thought about the 2016 reboot before I played DOOM Eternal.
You can read my full review of DOOM Eternal here.
Number 2: Final Fantasy VII Remake
Final Fantasy VII Remake enhances nearly everything I love about the 1997 gaming landmark, or at least the first section, as this is only part one. I’m still not quite sure what it does best though, because it absolutely nails so many different things, especially the parts that it needed to. FFVIIR’s battle system is equally fun, challenging, and unique. The mix of mechanics from what you would see in today’s action games and old-school, turn-based JRPG’s is something fresh, yet familiar to Final Fantasy fans. The phenomenal soundtrack builds upon that of the original’s with remasters and remixes of iconic themes, and even throws in some new, memorable tracks of its own. The visuals are stunning, and bring a whole new level of beauty to one of my favorite worlds in all of gaming. FFVIIR also further fleshes out protagonist Cloud, his allies, and a whole host of supporting characters, making me care about them even more than I did before. There were many, many times where I stopped moving around just to admire the view or listen to the music playing, and almost every battle was an absolute delight to engage in. Final Fantasy VII Remake had so much to live up to, probably more than any other video game remake to date, and in my opinion, it is an astonishing success. Here’s hoping the next chapters can reach the same dizzying heights that part one did.
You can read my full review of Final Fantasy VII Remake here.
Number 1: The Last of Us Part II
The Last of Us Part II tells an even darker, more harrowing story than Part I, and surpasses its iconic predecessor in overall quality. The weakest element of the first game, the gameplay, has been vastly improved, with faster and more fierce combat that pits you against smarter and deadlier enemies. However, it’s clear that director Neil Drukmann’s focus was on the narrative yet again, and he certainly made the right call. Part II is a tale of grief, anger, vengeance, and unflinching violence that often angered or horrified me, made me question “my” actions, and left me emotionally drained even days after finishing the campaign. The characters and story beats are given real weight by the brilliant writing from Druckmann and Hailey Gross, Gustavo Santaolalla’s melancholic music, and the heartfelt, deeply human performances from Ashley Johnson, Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, and the rest of the outstanding motion performance and vocal cast. No other game has made me reflect on the choices of its protagonist and the consequences of those choices to this degree, or presented them with such uncomfortable sincerity and depth. Developer Naughty Dog produced a follow-up to a beloved game that many believed didn’t need one, and it ended up being just as impactful and important to the gaming community as the original. The Last of Us Part II is peak video game storytelling, my favorite game of the year, of the previous console generation, and very nearly the all-time best.
You can read the co-review Lauren and I wrote for The Last of Us Part II here, and listen to us discuss it even further with Zac on a bonus episode of Middle of the Row: The Podcast here.
And those are my favorite video games of 2020! If you liked what you read, check out my favorite TV shows of 2020, follow me on Twitter or Letterboxd, and bookmark my author page. And until next time, remember: the best seats are in the Middle of the Row!