What was inarguably a difficult year for many, the illustrious medium of video games offered an exceptional window of escapism and solace from the harsh realities of modern tribulations. 2020 acted as a grand finale to one of the strongest console generations, offering an exceptional array of brilliantly crafted swan songs that stand meteorically high amongst the impressive competition. From ambitiously ground-breaking sequels to genre defining intricacies, 2020 was one of the most exquisitely diverse and profoundly controversial years in the history of the medium. The gaming scene had its fair share of complications; from festering toxicity within the belligerent community to questionable marketing practices from a previously well-respected developer, 2020’s particular moments of blistering quality and unfortunate revelation reached a relative equilibrium. Marvel’s Avengers was a disjointed mess that failed to live up to its property’s legacy. Resident Evil 3 was far more restrictive and scripted than its predecessor. Cyberpunk2077 will go down as one of the most disastrous launches in gaming history and its blasphemous corporate response was ironically asinine. Despite these notable disappointments, 2020 housed some astronomically astounding gems that outweighed any disappointing notion. The below 10 entries are the best of the best that 2020 had to offer, resulting in some of the most memorable and poignantly captivating moments I have experienced in any medium. I am also extremely proud that I reviewed almost every single entry on this list. Each mesmerizing piece exemplified a level of escapism and solace that helped me cope with the ensuing struggles of this difficult year.
10. Nioh 2
As an amalgamation of multiple functioning facets, Nioh 2 is an exceptionally satisfying action RPG that embraces its identity of borrowed elements due to its encompassing nature. The mechanically diverse and intricate combat found in illustrious hack n’ slash titles is imbued into Nioh 2’s expansive DNA. Its encompassing sense of adaptive challenge and arduous difficulty mirrors the iconic formula established in FromSoftware’s repertoire. Lastly its equipment and gear based system separates itself from the standard conventions of the Soulsborne genre, catering to the established systems found in The Witcher 3 or the Elder Scrolls series. Nioh 2’s half measure implementation, notable lack in difficulty, and absence of memorable boss encounters rightfully leave it at the bottom of the list. However, through the introduction of new mechanics such as the satisfying counter system, new visceral Yokai abilities, and the exhilarating Yokai Shift transformations, Nioh 2 is a rich gameplay experience with unprecedented levels of preferential choice and player engagement.
9. Ghost of Tsushima
While I do not understand the unadulterated and unabashed love for Sucker Punch’s PS4 swan song – as many note this as their undisputed game of the year – Ghost of Tsushima is still an exquisite gem that rings out the exclusivity of the PlayStation 4 with an absolute bang. As an unapologetic Assassin’s Creed game set in Japan, Ghost of Tsushima’s integral systems appear relatively shallow and underwhelming from the surface, but through each layered implementation and developed construct, its fundamental intricacies are slowly unravelled, exemplifying intricate combat, satisfying stealth mechanics, and a breathtakingly novel sense of organic exploration. Boasting some of the most impressive graphical lighting and lavish environments to grace this generation, Ghost of Tsushima is an exceptionally gorgeous work of art and arguably one of the best looking open world games of all-time. Jin’s moral struggle with his samurai code and his riveting transformation into the Ghost is undoubtedly one of the most captivating and fulfilling moments of the year. While its awkward facial animations and stiff character interactions occasionally break the immersion and its general lack of character growth and complexity outside of Jin is notably disappointing, Ghost of Tsushima is a breathtaking marvel that is equally riveting to play as it is to look at. It is undeniably Sucker Punch’s best game to date and one of the best games of the year.
8. DOOM Eternal
Doom Eternal is the definitive DOOM experience – it lacks the monumental strides of its 2016 predecessor but is undeniably a more refined and polished gameplay experience. Its labyrinth-like level design is intricately crafted, catering to the explorative cadence of 3D platformers and the sense of discovery emanated through collect-a-thons. On top of these newly faceted conventions, Doom Eternal is also a remarkably intricate action frenzy, in similar vein to the chaotic input required in typical action titles such as Devil May Cry or Bayonetta. The frantic juggle and desperate use of every tool in your arsenal creates a semblance of hectic flow that is established within each intense encounter. From using the illustrious chainsaw to eviscerate enemies in exchange for ammunition to the grotesque glory kills which reward you with a bountiful supply of health pick ups upon brutal execution, you are strongly encouraged and rewarded for cycling through and utilizing each available tool of destruction to slightly improve your rate of survivability. Doom Eternal strikes a surprisingly balanced chord of equilibrium when juggling between exploration, platforming, and action; it may lack a central form of innovation but its overall sense of quality, responsive mechanics, and unadulterated fun are simply unmatched. At its best, Doom Eternal is a melodic dance of destruction – it is fast, frantic, and a hell of a blast.
7. Final Fantasy VII Remake
2020’s remake of the beloved and undisputed classic, Final Fantasy VII, is one of the best modern reinventions that defies any preconceived notion and inevitable expectation. While its fractured length and limited stature is undeniably disappointing, and its filler content and side mission implementation is egregiously bad, Final Fantasy VII Remake excels at flexible storytelling and personifying characters in such an empathetic manner. Tranquil character interactions are exquisitely sublime and add a tangible weight to their personality and motivation. The remarkably layered overhaul to character development is arguably Final Fantasy VII Remake’s strongest asset, resulting in a profound sense of maturity and emotional nuance that was seldom found in the 1997 original. On top of its creative restructure of the original narrative and its newfound emphasis in character development, Final Fantasy VII Remake also boasts vibrantly detailed visuals, gorgeously rendered art design, an electrifying musical score that absolutely slaps, and a robust action-based combat system that revitalizes its core foundation. Combat is a welcomed harmonization of visceral tactical action, paying homage to the original’s turn based system while embracing its own novel idiosyncrasies. It is a wonderfully magical entry into a much larger experience that is undeniably bursting with tantalizing potential and I absolutely cannot wait to see where narrative takes us next.
6. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
As a late adopter to the Animal Crossing series – since New Leaf never resonated with me – New Horizons was the perfect piece of escapism that helped me cope with the confinements of quarantine. Dedicating over a hundred hours towards cleaning up my island, financing a home, taking part in some elaborate landscaping, filling Blathers’ museum with many a critter, crafting new recipes, setting up décor, or virtually socializing, New Horizons was the perfect game for a not so perfect time. In a similarly addictive fashion to Stardew Valley, Animal Crossing: New Horizons violently sunk its hooks into me and I was glued to my Nintendo Switch for the ensuing months. The game became a delightful routine, I would hop in habitually to claim my consecutive Nook miles, check out the daily outfits and items for sale, plant a money tree, and on Sundays I would purchase turnips. It may appear to be formulaic on the surface, but my developed schedule and relationship with game was delightfully structured, bringing a semblance of order and relaxation into my routine. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a remarkably tranquil and therapeutic experience that gradually became more fulfilling the more time I dedicated to it.
5. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
While Insomniac’s iteration of Miles Morales lacks a pristine sense of novelty and independence that their inaugural entry encapsulated so immaculately, its impeccably poignant and emotionally riveting narrative and layered examples of character development reach the meteoric heights established by its illustrious predecessor, arguably surpassing it in the process. With one of the most poignant and emotionally riveting Spider-Man stories to grace the medium to its unparalleled sense of fluidity and mobility, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is the definitive Spider-Man experience. Given its tighter and more focused structure, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales boasts impeccable pacing that rarely misses a beat. Through the removal of banal Mary Jane sequences and disruptive puzzle segments, the core flow of the established experience is equally as seamless and fluid as the gameplay that accompanies it. From its encompassing themes of community, growth, and acceptance, Spider-Man: Miles Morales has an inspiringly poignant level of heart and levity that separates itself from the established conventions of the superhero genre. Its free-flowing sense of mobility and cinematically orchestrated combat remains a gratifying spectacle that continuously instills a euphoric sensation of awe and wonder. As a front-running title ushering in a new generation, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a technical marvel, exemplifying the technical prowess of the PlayStation 5.
4. Demon’s Souls
What is inarguably the best PlayStation 5 launch title in terms of unadulterated quality and a remarkable gem that fostered a subgenre of its own, Bluepoint’s pristine remake of FromSoftware’s Demon’s Souls is an immaculate testament to remarkable game design and a timeless environmental model. Each layer of its brilliantly designed labyrinth exemplifies a perpetual sense of discovery, satiating the player’s urge of curiosity. Each masterfully crafted element of Demon’s Souls serves a resounding purpose; its intricately designed level architecture is profoundly deliberate, while consistently introducing adaptive components to alleviate any semblance of repetition or recycled familiarity. Combat is expectedly slow and methodical but is accompanied by the innovative feedback from the DualSense controller, crafting a sense of reverberation that transcends preconceived notions in immersive gameplay. From the adaptative challenges bestowed upon the World Tendency’s complex structure to the added layer of risk and reward through the body and soul form, each element of unpredictability proves to be more formidable and challenging than the predictable nature of the boss encounters. Demon’s Souls is an exceptionally riveting experience that caters to a prolific sense of exploration, offering a healthy dose of risk and reward around every malicious corner. It is quite the technical feat, boasting a rocksteady frame rate and gorgeously detailed visuals, two notable elements seldom found in FromSoft’s repertoire.
Hades is the best rogue-lite I have ever played. Its innovative approach to storytelling and how the encompassing narrative is intricately weaved into its rogue-lite stature is brilliantly executed, harmoniously melding its gameplay and narrative structure into a blissful equilibrium. Its evolving sense of progression and everchanging labyrinth design create an engrossing gameplay experience that inherently feels meaningful and alleviates any semblance of familiarity or repetition. Combat is viscerally satisfying and while its core systems function in a similar manner between the many variants, each weapon of destruction – and their respective aspects – feel unique to one another, further cementing the notion that each escape attempt is truly inimitable. From a combination of different Infernal Arms, a selection of idiosyncratic Boons bestowed by the Olympic Gods, the semblance of choice when advancing to the next chamber, to the customizable difficulty established by the Pact of Punishment, Hades is a remarkably expansive and layered gameplay experience that consistently evolves and adapts based on your input and selections. Its encompassing sense of growth and adaptive quality is evident with its non-linear storytelling, with narrative fragments being attained throughout each subsequent escape attempt. On top of its branching narrative and procedural structure, Hades’ idiosyncratic cast of characters are impeccably written and masterfully personified by their respective voice talent. Hades is an undisputed masterpiece and is undeniably the new gold standard for the rogue-lite genre.
2. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Moon Studios’ sophomore creation is a breath-taking work of art that beautifully harmonizes poignant storytelling and engaging gameplay. As the sequel to my favourite game of 2015 and my new favourite Xbox/Microsoft title, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is an immaculate improvement over its predecessor in every conceivable way. From a completely revamped combat system, notable quality of life improvements, a welcomed level of gameplay customization, invigorating boss encounters, and a diverse set of gorgeous locales to explore, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is an impeccably polished experience that exudes a pristine sense of heartwarming poignancy. The harmonious balances of its poignant narrative, melancholic melodies, and gorgeously rendered visuals of pathetic fallacy, cultivate into a profound experience of unparalleled proportions – a touching and moving ensemble that is seldom found in the platforming genre. Its orchestral score is purely sublime, reaching a state of auditory bliss and euphoric nirvana. Its harmonized junction of visual and auditory intricacy is immaculately crafted, resulting in an unparalleled scope in beauty and tranquility. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is an emotional escapade that rivals the visual and spiritual beauty displayed in the poignant work of Pixar and Studio Ghibli. Its set pieces are still jaw-droppingly bombastic, complimenting its established identity of exhilarating spectacle. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a masterfully melodic experience that transcends the conventions of the metroidvania and platforming genre.
1. The Last of Us Part II
Equally ambitious as it is controversial, Naughty Dog’s latest bombastic powerhouse was met with a juxtaposed sense of critical praise and relentless criticism. The Last of Us Part II is a brilliantly constructed masterpiece that transcends the series’ established conventions and the conceivable expectations of the player. Its unparalleled level of provocation and environmental storytelling raises the narrative quality to unprecedented heights, and its ability to evoke tangible emotion and conflicted perspective highlights its true eloquence and virtuosity. The Last of Us Part II is a self-reflective piece on perspective, requiring the player to evoke a semblance of empathy in notably uncomfortable or detestable scenarios. Its profound ability to twist conventional values and project character actions and justifications onto ourselves is a provocative storytelling device that relies heavily on the player’s ability to self-reflect and empathize for its conditional success. The Last of Us Part II indiscriminately holds a mirror up to your face and requires you to empathize with these characters. Topped off with Naughty Dog’s technical wizardry and character performances that will define the generation, The Last of Us Part II is a presentational marvel that further cements Naughty Dog’s stance as the best in the business. Its restructured combat encounters result in a far more immersive and visceral gameplay experience that exudes a prominent sense of player agency and flexibility. Its brutal gameplay and use of violence are intentionally gruesome, complimenting the ominous world and desolate aspect of the narrative. Upon completion, The Last of Us Part II lived rent-free in my head for the ensuing months, haunting me at every passing moment. Its evocative sense of player expectation and perspective was a controversial creative decision for many, but it’s the same deliberate and creative stance that allowed The Last of Us Part II to transcend the modern conventions of this industry and toxic community. The Last of Us Part II is a generation defining masterpiece and easily the best game of 2020.
So those are my favourite games of 2020! What were some of your favourites? Please let me know in the comments below! Happy New Year everyone!