Well, that was shit wasn’t it? 2020 flew by in a haze, considering we’ve spent a large portion of it confined to our houses and eating biscuits. It was a year where ordinary people were hailed as heroes because they were forced to do their jobs under extremely difficult circumstances, risking their own health to save others. In the UK, people clapped for them while the government voted against giving them more money. It was a year where our heroes didn’t get what they deserved.
I’d like to take a few moments to celebrate some other unsung heroes of the year. While they’re not saving lives, video game creators have contributed to keeping many people’s brains healthy in 2020. They’ve created countless worlds and stories for us to get lost in – places where the worries of the real world fade away. And they’ve done it under their own difficult circumstances, many games shifting to remote working part way through development.
In no particular order, here are the ten games that meant the most to me in this hell year.
The Last of Us Part 2
A game about hate and how two sides of a conflict can both feel justified, The Last of Us Part 2 managed to split player opinion right down the middle too. On one side, you have people like me, who thought it was a brave and touching story about grief and vengeance. To others, it was a crime against humanity. The mouth-frothing, unbearable discourse around the game was a huge injustice – especially to the brilliant performers and developers who had to endure abuse just for creating the thing. The reason so many people felt so strongly about the game – either positively or negatively – was because it succeeded at its mission. It took a beloved character and twisted them up, made them the antagonist, and made us empathise with someone who we initially hated. It might be a violent game set in a dark world, but really that’s what it was about: empathy. And that’s something we all need more of right now.
Hades is the perfect game for a year where we all found ourselves repeating the same day over and over. Zagreus just wants to reunite with his mum, all while making celestial Zoom calls with his other long lost relatives. He fights, knowing the outcome will be the same. But he battles on anyway just to hold onto those connections, to stay in touch with the people he loves. It also feels good to hit things with a big sword, and the music is brilliant, I guess.
Cyberpunk 2077 (on PC) is one of the best RPGs I’ve played in a long time. It’s stuffed full of memorable characters and moments, has some of the most satisfying gunplay in any RPG, and you can almost smell the world. If you accept it for what it is – a Fallout-style role-playing game and not the second coming of our saviour – it’s the kind of game that takes over your life for a week. It’s a shame it will be remembered for its console launch issues and hype cycle, rather than the touching human stories contained within.
Demon’s Souls PS5
Demon’s Souls for PS5 is the perfect remake – up there with Resident Evil 2 Remake. The original is the game where FromSoftware unintentionally spawned an entire genre. Previously, you could only play it at sub-30 fps and with a PS3-era piss filter applied, but now it’s the smoothest Souls game you can buy and every frame is a painting. Bluepoint Games should be handed the keys to every beloved franchise.
Half-Life: Alyx is a game not many people are lucky enough to be able to play. The price of entry is frankly absurd if you want the best experience in this VR game, but it’s also the first VR game I’ve played that actually feels like a fully-fledged game and not a demo for the tech. Being able to interact with the world with your hands and fingers brings another layer to the experience, and the sense of scale is unlike anything else – seeing a strider clamber up the side of a building is one of the most awe-inducing things I’ve experienced in VR. The ending sent shivers down my spine, and the journey to that ending felt like one I’d physically walked.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
This is a turn-based RPG where you play as a homeless guy with an unflinching sense of justice. There’s a minigame where you ride around on a bicycle and collect plastic bottles to recycle for cash. You can reach under vending machines for spare coins. You save a lobster from being eaten and afterward, you can summon it into battle, raining down lobsters on your enemies. Yakuza has always been a bizarre series, but Like a Dragon kicks it up 100 notches. It’s ridiculous, yet it somehow manages to be more touching than most prestige games. Its contemporary setting and how it contrasts the mundane with the surreal give it a chance to explore themes other games rarely touch. It’s something everyone should play.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake
I’m not usually keen on nostalgia bait, but I’ll make an exception for a game that can make me tear up approximately three seconds into one of its musical tracks (Aerith’s theme, by the way). The music, the characters, the world – playing Final Fantasy 7 Remake felt like Square Enix had just pulled my childhood dreams out of my head and put them on a disc. I remember thinking as a kid that one day games would look like Final Fantasy 7’s cutscenes, and here we are in 2020 enjoying what’s essentially playable Advent Children. Kids these days don’t even know they’re born. When was the last time Fortnite made you cry with a bit of music? Exactly. Morons.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
From one bit of wish fulfillment to another, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was the first game to finally let me visit my hometown of Lincoln. It’s as much of a shithole as it is in real life. Almost brings a tear to my eye. Valhalla is kind of messy, the combat is a bit basic, and it’s a little bloated, but playing it felt like taking a holiday inside a Windows screensaver with added decapitations. It’s the best the series has been since Black Flag and it will last you well over 100 hours. The way it handles sidequests is genuinely refreshing, and just when you think you’ve seen everything it has to offer, suddenly you’re trick or treating around a sleepy English village during a pagan festival. It’s the most varied AC game ever made and a joy to get lost in.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales
Miles Morales is a blockbuster movie. It doesn’t do anything particularly innovative and is best enjoyed with a mouthful of popcorn, but it’s one of life’s simple joys. Miles makes for one of the most likeable protagonists in recent memory, and just swinging around New York could be the entire game and I’d still have fun. Insomniac nailed the movement in Marvel’s Spider-Man, and this sequel feels like a studio flexing its muscles – the way Miles’ character transforms into his movements is astounding. I rarely grab every collectible in open-world games, but it’s irresistible here because of the grace in which you can navigate the world.
Deep Rock Galactic
I’ve been clamouring for a good co-op game for a while – one that requires actual teamwork and isn’t Sea of Thieves, which is also brilliant – and Deep Rock Galactic delivered. It’s a game where you and your pals play as gobshite space dwarves who mine for ore to get better equipment so they can mine for more ore. You head down into procedurally generated caves and complete various mission types, but it never plays out the same way twice. While completing missions, you’re assaulted by insectoid aliens that come in waves – usually at the most awkward moment possible. You have to plonk down turrets, dig out tunnels, hold beasts back with grenade launchers, flamethrowers, and shotguns, all while trying to grab as much loot as you can. It’s like Alien, Space Hulk, and Minecraft had a baby.
Honourable Mention: Game Pass
Yes, yes, Game Pass isn’t a game. And yet, without it I wouldn’t have discovered Deep Rock Galactic at all. In a year where families can’t afford to buy lots of games, Game Pass is another unsung hero.
Next: The Biggest PS4 And PS5 Games To Look Forward To In 2021
- TheGamer Originals
- Cyberpunk 2077
- Xbox One
- Xbox Series X
- Demon's Souls
- Assassin's Creed Valhalla
- Spider-Man: Miles Morales
- Deep Rock Galactic
Kirk is the Editor-in-Chief at The Gamer. He likes Arkane games a little too much.
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