Game of the Year 2020
Happy New Year! As 2020 draws to a close, we have voted on our favourite games of the year. Let us count you down through the gems that we played and made it into our Top 20.
20 Othercide PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Usually I’m not a massive fan of games like Othercide but I got pulled in by the Lovecraftian theme and strange but oddly attractive art design. The premise is to finish missions using your three starting characters (Daughters) and gain points (Vitae) to be able to create additional Daughters and eventually create a strong enough squad to take on the boss of that Era (level). Lightbulb Crew have done a great job at letting players tackle problems in whatever way suits them, I don’t believe there is a wrong way to play because if you mess up you just start again from level one with additional power ups and the knowledge of whatever you did before, don’t do it again. Othercide forces players to make hard decisions and this creates tense and frustrating levels when one of your best Daughters dies because of a decision you made, Othercide is as hard as nails, but it keeps you coming back for more!
19 Battletoads PC, Xbox One
This is a weird one, admittedly! I expect there to be a few groans when I explain myself, and that is completely fair. You see, any fan of Battletoads is not unlike a fan of the Friday the 13th franchise. It is less about being a fan of one exceptional entry in its respective series, and more about appreciating elements across the whole of it. It’s just something you resign to. As such, the latest game in the franchise kinda fits right in.
There is nothing remarkable about it, but its writing is genuinely funny in a SatAm kind of way, its cutscenes and designs feel inspired and fun, and the roller deck approach to its gameplay vignettes keep any one mode of play from too much scrutiny. Some of it drags, with a speeder bike section that seems to go on forever, but you know what? I’d say it’s still worth it. Grab a couple of friends and goof your way through it, it is actually a small uncomplicated delight.
It’s just not- uh… very good.
18 Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[cl-r] PC, PS4, Switch
UNIST is one of my favourite fighting games and cl-r is a welcomed addition. Adding a new character, new moves, and balance changes, I was so excited for cl-r… Then came Covid-19. Unfortunately, 2020 was not my year for fighting games because for 90% of it I had terrible internet. Fortunately, this didn’t stop me from enjoying every minute I played at locals before we all got locked inside. The new moves made the game feel fresh and there is no better feeling than going in blind to a new fighting game and trying out all the cool new stuff with friends. I love Under Night because it isn’t like your typical anime fighting game with air dashes, assists and about a billion different mechanics I’m never going to learn. Instead, it reminds me way more of Street Fighter with a pinch of anime craziness.
17 Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout PC, PS4
Fall Guys exploded in popularity via Twitch and may thus be widely regarded as a short lived fad, but I reckon it was never made to be a game you return to day after day. It’s more like an activity you partake in when you get some friends together, sorta like go-karting or paintball. As such, as a thing you let wash over you and let yourself, uh, stumble over repeatedly and hilariously, it is wonderfully charming and chaotic. The sort of frantic crowdsourced completion of various challenges makes joy bubble up inside you, and even in the throes of somebody sabotaging your approach to the finish line, it kinda makes you believe in the inherent good, happiness and creativity of mankind. Yes- after all.
16 Zombie Army 4: Dead War PC, PS4, Xbox One
Being the fourth game in the series, I expected way less of this title. None of the others were anywhere near as robust as this one, with its insane upgrades system that would take hundreds of hours to fill out, the character abilities, such as playing as a friendly zombie who can’t heal, and the intense survival maps. And all that is merely scratching the surface of improvements and additions – this one is truly a huge leap from the original trilogy in every way but still retains the same old flavourful zombie-massacring madness that screams to be played cooperatively with a couple of friends. Now with more terrifying dolls, zombie sharks, and incredibly ambient set pieces than ever.
15 Spelunky 2 PC, PS4, Switch
The sequel to one of my favourite games of all time and in my opinion a pretty perfect one. Derek Yu did it again taking his sadistic ideas and turning them into one of the hardest games I’ve ever had the pleasure of beating. Mossmouth created a true successor to the first by keeping everything people loved about the original and expanding on it. If you still prefer the first, I encourage you to keep playing Spelunky 2 and getting better as there are a huge number of secrets to be found and the game plays much smoother than the original. I didn’t have loads of time this year to beat the true ending to Spelunky 2 and that’s probably why it isn’t further up my list, however I can’t wait to jump back in and play more!
14 The Last of Us Part II PS4
My vote for this game comes with caveats, but not because of any pathetic controversies you have heard about on the internet. The Last of Us Part 2 commits to a couple of character arcs fully, and it is in that commitment coupled with the realities of playing a video game for 30 hours, that complications arise. But instead of dwelling on those I will motivate my vote for its placement in this list. TLOU2 is such a massive endeavour and gets up to such a mind-blowing number of things, big and small, that even though it is easy to be completely absorbed and distracted by the turning gears of its story, it is doing a remarkable amount of stuff so damn right as an action, exploration and adventure game that the mechanics of it completely blend into the weave of the experience.
After Uncharted 4 it is the second game Naughty Dog have made that is nigh-on perfectly crafted but somehow also made to inevitably be underrated because the immediate basis for reflection and commentary is almost exclusively its prominent narrative. The Last of Us Part 2 is (secretly?) a true achievement as a video game, and that deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated whether the most surface level aspects of it totally come together or not.
This is a tricky one. The story telling and world building is, for the most part, as brilliant as one would expect after playing the original but being almost double the length only hurt it as the ceaseless combat and climbing sections became chores by the end. Story-wise, there’s a lot of debate about the path Neil Druckmann took in his follow up to what was praised as one of the best games of the last decade, but personally, I enjoyed how jarring it was, even if it did hurt me to see the lives of the characters we became so attached to unfold in such a way. It still doesn’t even feel real; it was so illusion-shattering, like a peek behind the curtain at what happens after the happy ending of a movie. I think in that sense it was a massive success – it broke hearts and caused chaos across the entire gaming landscape to teach us that nothing ever really ends and that there are always consequences for our actions, especially the bad ones. Unfortunately the gameplay just wasn’t deep enough to keep me invested on that side and I often felt pulled out of the experience to shoot some more heads.
13 Deep Rock Galactic PC, Xbox One
Rock and stone brother!
Rock and stone to the bone!
The developers behind Deep Rock knew exactly what they were doing when they put in the ability to share a beer and cheer, pickaxe in hand, with your team. These seemingly tiny additions have somehow cultivated the friendliest, chillest community in online gaming. I’ve had nothing but fantastic co-operative fun both with my friends and with the folks online. The missions themselves are simple and often repetitive but the teamwork necessary to overcome them, especially the riskier ones, forces every player to instantly integrate themselves into any group they fall into and the unique classes only further that by making everyone useful to the party in their own way. The whimsical grumbling dwarves are something to share a laugh over and the gameplay, that flits between relaxing, simple mining to running for your lives, is just more fuel for the fires of friendship that Deep Rock inspires. It’s the perfect game to play with a couple of friends over voice chat on a lazy Sunday, or even, perhaps, to find some new online buddies.
12 Superhot: Mind Control Delete PC, PS4, Xbox One, Linux, Mac
SUPERHOT is the only game I have given a 10 in an official DarkZero capacity. In certain ways, SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE is even better than its predecessor, though its structure makes for some not entirely successful trade-offs. But like I mentioned in my review– the new abilities not only slot in beautifully; there’s a sense that they bring out more of what is inherently part of the design. It is yet another pick among my nominations for this year that is a masterclass in what video games can do by realising they can do anything. A fleeting sense of repetition does set in from time to time because of the approach to the maps you play on, but whenever you are in the thick of it, the extra flourishes added to the SUPERHOT fundamentals make up for it and then some.
11 Ori and the Will of the Wisps PC, Xbox One, Switch
I remember really enjoying the first Ori game but thinking that the story was completely lacklustre. Well, part two addressed that all too well as I was nearly in tears as it closed out. Not only has the gameplay around the platforming challenges and combat been taken to the next level, but the world and characters are so much more developed in Will of the Wisps. It feels like you’re actually accomplishing something and not just filling in a map. I went back for every hidden item and completed every side mission, having a crazy amount of fun doing so. The movement is so fluid and swift that it somehow makes the usually boring part of metroidvanias (retracing your steps) actually interesting; the combat is more engaging; and the sincere, original story was the cherry on top.
10 Yakuza: Like a Dragon PC, PS4, Xbox One
Yakuza: Like a Dragon had some big shoes to fill. Not only did it replace the brilliant Kazuma Kiryu with a new main character, Ichiban Kasuga, but is also changed the series from its staple action-adventure gameplay to a full-blown RPG. The development team at Ryu Ga Gotoku were not scared to perform this switch up, and have even embedded it into its main character, Ichiban, as a lover of Dragon Quest and wanting to be his own hero, which is something that fits perfectly into the confines of an RPG. This game is self-aware and is more than happy to fully embrace this transition, and while it goes all in with its goofiness and parodies, it still manages to delivery a positively good and serious tale between the times it is being silly.
As a big fan of the Kazuma Kiryu games, I would never have thought a Yakuza game would be in any of my favourite RPG lists, but Sega have done a fantastic job here bringing all those RPG elements into the world of Yakuza – entertainingly solid turn based combat with mechanics brought into the theme of a modern world, classes, skills, gear, bestiaries, relationship building, grinding, yet with all this, it still keeps the essence of Yakuza; its great character, brilliant world building, those fun mini-games and outrageous side quests. As I write this and think about it, all those are actually key to a good RPG. If you can make a title with a great story, brilliantly written characters and solid gameplay mechanics, you have an RPG hit. Yakuza: Like a Dragon is crafted in a way that feels as though the studio has been making RPGs for years, and this is their first attempt in which it could have easily gone wrong.
9 Streets of Rage 4 PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Linux, Mac
There have been so many ill-conceived attempts to revive old properties and we’ve seen basically every kind of approach to doing so. From soulless modern graphics overhauls with a pseudo-faithful version of classic gameplay in the likes of Turtles in Time and Flashback, to more ambitious but woefully misguided re-imaginings like Golden Axe Beast Rider. That track record, combined with playing the excellent Sonic Mania so recently, the bland reveal trailer for SoR4 made it seem like it was a game falling into all the most familiar traps.
Though trailers were looking up nearer to release, it was quite overwhelming to play the final game and have it hit on every conceivable level. It looks stunning, the music gets you totally pumped to punch thugs, and the gameplay quirks of each character are so much fun to experiment with. Beyond its spacing game, cross-ups, follow-up attacks and the new wall bounces, the possibilities for deeply satisfying juggles and crowd control are mind boggling. Hook up with a second or third player and it is pure blinding insanity. My fingers start twitching just writing about it. Heaps of difficulty options stand at the ready for when you think you know what you are doing. Streets of Rage 4 is brawler euphoria and frankly the best money can buy.
8 Half-Life: Alyx PC
If Doom Eternal was mastering what can be done with the first-person shooter in a traditional way, Half-Life: Alyx is what the future holds to push the genre forward. You could say Valve was bold (or ridiculous) to make a sequel to one of their biggest hits purely a VR title, but if there was one company that could promote why VR is great, then it is them. Half-Life: Alyx is what opened the doorway into VR for me and at the same time keeps the Half-Life series following its ability to deliver quality experiences and refreshing ideas.
Keeping within the same concepts as before, Half-Life: Alyx takes the shooting and environmental puzzles the series is known for but gets the player closer to the action with the use of VR. The atmosphere that comes across from being in the shoes of Alyx is truly remarkable. A lot of work has been done to make sure things are packed with detail, since VR makes the imperfections stand out more, Valve had to make sure that the things inside the environment were given enough detail to seem real enough when interacting with them. Being able to get close and personal with most things, using them as weapons, such as a chair to defend against headcrabs, or ducking behind tables to protect from enemy fire, the VR mobility gives off the sense that you are fighting for your life, ducking, peeking out of corners and firing the gun in a natural way.
The detail is not just in the environment, but also the characters of City 17, seeing their wonderful animation adds much to the belief you are in this world. Half-Life: Alyx manages to have it all, great gunfights, brilliant puzzles, genuinely tense moments, good storytelling done through the traditional none cinematic Half-Life way that makes sense in VR. I was surprised at how good it all worked with the Index and controllers. Truth be told, since Valve doesn’t like to make third entries in their games, I’d be happy to see a Half-Life: Alyx 2 as their next game.
7 Final Fantasy VII Remake PS4
Final Fantasy VII Remake is a game that could have played it safe, could have easily decided to be a replica of a 23 year old game, yet Square Enix subverted expectations to move away from being a bare minimum remake into its own game. Actually, scratch that, this is a reimagining of Final Fantasy VII, no matter if the publisher stuck Remake in its title, this is a different game. Of course it still has the characters we all know, now improved with the current generation visuals and redone musical score, but the revised combat, extra character development and the changing story turns out to be one of the best decisions the developers could have done.
I am excited to see where the sequel to this game goes, because anything can happen due to the alterations to the game. For the people who were not happy with the changes, there is still the classic game to play and adore, but for me, it was like rediscovering my love for Final Fantasy VII again, but now I am thoroughly excited for the future because I do not know where the game is going.
The remake everyone was curious about; even people that don’t really like Final Fantasy VII or FF in general were wondering how this game was going to turn out. Overall, I enjoyed my experience with Final Fantasy VII Remake. The combat was without a doubt the highlight of this game (when you aren’t playing as Barret) mixing turn based strategy with fast paced combat was genius and allowed for some insane combos to be made. I truly hope other FF games take ideas from this combat system and expand upon it in the newer games. However, I believe everything new they added to this game was boring, it slows down the pace of the game to a ridiculous degree which is a shame because everything that was in the original game and expanded upon was incredible. If Square Enix didn’t want to milk FF7 for everything it’s worth and just copied the original story I believe this would have been one of my favourite games ever, sitting right alongside the original. I think Dunkey sums up this game perfectly (HUGE SPOILERS).
6 Cyberpunk 2077 PC
Let me get two thing clear about this. Firstly, this is for the PC version. There is no chance I could recommend the base PS4/Xbox One versions of this game. Secondly, there is no way this game could live up to the hype it had garnered over the years. Even so, what CD Projekt Red has delivered is a great RPG experience with many fantastic moments throughout the 60+ hours I spent with it.
The initial response to playing the game is just how beautiful Cyberpunk 2077 is. It is pushing all the current tech trends to deliver an exceptional looking title that captivates that future feeling. This is one of the best worlds to explore, and while not everything is interactive, just being in the city and enjoying what is happening around is a wonder to behold. It feels alive, it feels it has its own identity and is one you could happily explore to see what is hidden within its persona. Some typical open world glitches spoil the overall presentation, but these were nothing I have not seen in many other open world titles. Combat, a key component in RPGs, is some of the better feeling shooting for the genre, and it gives the player a multitude of ways to approach danger through its cybernetics, stealth and hacking mechanics, or you can just go gun blazing with a talking pistol, whichever suits your play style, it gives you the power to do it.
It is a bummer that the launch of this game was tarnished with the console release, because Cyberpunk 2077 is genuinely a great game with a interesting story, fascinating setting and magnificently written characters. There are moments here that I felt touched with the on screen personalities – Judy and Evelyn to give an example, their struggles and how I truly felt for the outcome of that sub story.
Overall, this is one of the better first-person RPGs to play. A positive from the disastrous launch on console is that this can only become better as the developers sort out the glitches that have plagued users of the game.
Not unlike The Last of Us 2 further down the list, it is easy to let certain individual aspects of Cyberpunk 2077 inform my overall feelings surrounding this game in a way that is not entirely fair. The high-fidelity ray traced graphics and first-person perspective alone does a tremendous amount of heavy lifting in bringing the game and its characters to palpable life, and it is actually difficult to separate the virtues of this game from that seemingly simple choice of putting the player’s two feet on the streets of Night City and having its inhabitants look you in the eye when they share their life stories with you.
But even beyond that there are things to admire. The way Night City truly exists as a believable constant, as a seamless world, makes a real difference. As you engage in a combat scenario inside a building you may briefly find yourself next to a window, and when you look out, that is the actual world in which this building exists, in which this room exists, in which you exist. That seamlessness makes Night City and by extension the world and universe of Cyberpunk 2077 seem connected, seem like it would suffer the consequences of actions in it. There is a mission where you drive to a place in the outskirts of the city to place a bomb among a series of huge masts. I actually felt apprehension, I felt like there was a daunting gravity to it. Not in an authored, mechanical branching story way, but because the game had convinced me at that point that Night City is a place, a place that genuinely exists with or without you. It made me feel like I may have no right to do what I was about to. It is as thematically appropriate to this particular game as it is exciting as a video game experience.
5 Monster Train PC
Monster Train blew me away earlier this year. I thought it was going to be a long time before I picked up another deck builder after Slay the Spire, let alone actually prefer it. Mixing deck building with tower defence creates a unique experience with a ridiculous amount of replayability because of all the unlockables and the mixing of the clans. Shiny Shoe have also released a free update that gave me everything I asked for in my review earlier this year, and on top of that, it’s completely free! Recently announced is a paid DLC that is rumoured to be even bigger than the first. Following the creators on Twitter will show you just how much they care about this game and its fans, providing us with weekly updates and streams.
It’s no secret that I love card games and, simply put, this is the best digital deck-builder to date. By fusing together deck-building and tower defence mechanics (who would have thought?!), it somehow completely toppled last year’s Slay the Spire in terms of attractive design, replayability, and outrageous combos. Monster Train takes advantage that it’s a video game with insane effects that allow the player to build up ludicrous multipliers whilst still somehow remaining a damn serious challenge. This is one I can either put everything into and get completely lost for hours, or open in a small window to play around with when chatting with friends or watching some videos, and it handles both perfectly.
4 Ghost of Tsushima PS4
Recently I’ve started turning my nose up at open world games because they’re all too similar and once you’ve played one, you feel like I’ve played them all. However, I picked up Ghost of Tsushima because I love Sucker Punch and it was a gift for my birthday! Ghost does a great job of making a familiar game feel different, using wind to guide you on your journey instead of way points allows the game to immerse you fully and make it feel as though you’re discovering parts of the world on your own instead of just following a marker. The world is stunning; it’s one of the best-looking games out there on what was the current gen consoles. I had such a blast following Jin on his journey and even though the story was very basic for the most part, there were portions of the game that were handled superbly.
The core gameplay loop of this one is nothing new, or even particularly breathtaking. Yes, it has solid combat (that truly shines in the 1-on-1 duels), but what stands out is how each of the main characters are built out over the side-narratives, as well as the protagonist’s progression over the main story. The gameplay itself is of course satisfying and frequently challenging but more than anything it serves the plot incredibly well. To learn more about these people – their motives and mistakes – and to become closer to them through both touching harmonic moments and despair, is something that most open world games are missing. By having these huge, sprawling landscapes that contain hundreds of busy-work marker points to clear, the characters are all too frequently overlooked, but not here. And every one of these deep affairs is punctuated with scenery that is nothing short of jaw-dropping. The duel on the beach in the rain. Writing a Haiku on a snowy mountaintop. The final scene that uses the heavy juxtaposition of gently falling leaves in the light of the setting sun. That imagery will stay with me for a long time.
3 Ghostrunner PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Besides some weird ‘hacking’ story sections, Ghostrunner is a game that puts fun above all else. The instant retries mean there’s no downtime to lose focus and the constant tweaks to the level mechanics and enemy types keeps engagement high throughout the entire 6-hour experience. I got through this in a single sitting and was completely absorbed by the entrancing gameplay that is somehow both rhythmic and completely down to the player to tackle how they choose. The music, the dystopian neon city, and the flashy gameplay based on navigational freedom and one-hit kills work together perfectly to deliver a fantastic blend of Mirror’s Edge and Katana Zero, that I have now been left desperately awaiting more of.
Every year I play a game with the same idea as Ghostrunner and I can never get enough of them! You have an area where you must kill everyone and make it out without dying like Hotline Miami or Katana Zero, however, this time it’s in 3D! Ghostrunner did a great job at making the game feel fresh all the way to the end. It’s around six hours long and for that entire time I was on the edge of my seat. Adding parkour to the genre makes for much more intense gameplay allowing you to dodge beams, bullets, holes, and traps while slicing your way through an area. The story immersed you in a world that you don’t even get to witness as it’s all told through voice lines, yet you still hate the characters all because a voice in your head is telling you to.
2 Hades PC, Switch, Mac
Supergiant Games have a history of great titles touting solid core gameplay, incredible art/sound design, and heartfelt tales of sorrow and wonder. Hades is their magnum opus. It is the culmination of all of their efforts and past works, lovingly crafted into a single tour de force that both rises above all the others and honours them. It stands on the shoulders of (Super)giants, if you will. By fusing simple yet greatly satisfying and masterable hack-and-slash combat with a story that revolves around the constant and consistent death count roguelites are famous for, something fantastic happens – dying is no longer just another loss. Instead, the overarching story and gameplay serve each other in perfect harmony, delivering the player to and fro seamlessly. And, just like how Undertale similarly captured the hearts and minds of its players with a first-class cast of profound and relatable characters, I’m sure Hades, too, will live on forever in fandom.
Supergiant Games have done it again! In the normal Supergiant way, they’ve brought out a game unlike anything they’ve made before and already mastered the genre…Ok maybe not mastered, but it’s damn close! Hades has a little bit for everyone combining great storytelling, intense action-packed combat, lovable characters, amazing art design and extremely talented voice actors.
1 Doom Eternal PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
I still cannot fathom how Doom Eternal managed to top Doom (2016) so flawlessly. There’s somehow ever more fast-paced, chainsawing, gut-wrenching, shotgun-blasting, blood-splattering, ripping and tearing action than before! Plus, there’s more content, more upgrades, more weapons, more enemies, more everything. Doom Eternal cannot be held down – it is a veritable funhouse of visceral entertainment and challenges, wrapped in layers of lore I didn’t even know I cared about until I found myself in the dark, wee hours of the morning scouring through wiki pages documenting the relationship between the Maykrs and the Night Sentinels. If you’re not sure this one’s for you, just ask yourself – do you like fun?
You pick up extra lives in Doom Eternal. They are little floating helmets with the text “1up” above them. The significance of that may have faded in the two decades since original Doom came out – the idea of putting an element with such strong console or arcade connotations in a PC first-person shooter, let alone Doom, less outlandish a proposition in 2020 than 1994 – but it speaks clearly to what Doom Eternal wants to be. An amalgamation not just of classic and contemporary shooter design, but of design across all schools of video games.
It is as if in re-examining what Doom 2016 should be, and in that abandoning of their Call of Duty with demons prototype, id Software found their own inter-dimensional portal of sorts, to a world with creative carte blanche. The very things that make for such a truly spectacular video game loop in Doom Eternal have no rooting in reality, no semblance of conventional logic, and would be the first causalities of fitting into the mainstream idea of a first person shooter.
Doom Eternal has at least one upgrade tree too many, demands that you play it its way until you can make that your way, and had me binding every weapon to a separate key/button within immediate reach. It is very possible that the game is absurdly overwhelming for a significant portion of players, but when it works, it sings. It does not sing like a “Doom clone” as it were, it sings like Bayonetta. Except about Mars instead of the moon presumably.
Doom (2016) felt like it was made for the old school fans that wanted some fast, uncomplicated action, pick up some big guns, act out some badass space marine fantasy and blow away some demons. That was great rebirth for a series that had been dormant for over 10 years, but for the sequel id Software wanted to take this up to 11 in all directions and solve some tiny issues with the first game. This gave way to Doom Eternal.
Doom Eternal pushes the series in a new direction in which the action becomes an infused mixture of first-person shooting and elements not too far from character action games like Bayonetta or Devil May Cry. Combat is given more depth and style through Doom Slayer’s new tools to swing, air dash and hook for added mobility around fantastic multi-layered level design that moves away from the grounded approach of Doom (2016) to open it up for more experimental combat encounters.
No longer is Doom all about the double barrel shotgun, but about how you can manage your resources across a variety of weapons and their strengths against enemy types to let each weapon shine. Resource management in Doom? Yes, and it works wonders to keep people on their toes and embodies the game’s key importance of switching weapons and keeping on top of ammo, armour, ability cool downs and situational awareness. When combat encounters are in full swing and all the demon types are in battle, there is this breathtaking, hyperactive dance performed that the game wants you to do to keep the resources flowing and yourself alive by manipulating Doom Eternal’s combat mechanics to figure out the most efficient way and when it is the right time earn these resources back by using specific kill types. This gives Doom Eternal a unique feeling and is unlike any other first-person shooter I know.
Congratulations to Doom Eternal for taking the top-spot, our runner-up Hades and the other entries too. Some truly memorable games were released in 2020.
Happy New Year and best wishes from everyone at DarkZero for 2021!