2020 was a horrible year, just the absolute worst. A global pandemic, months of lockdown, financial instability, Andrew Cuomo’s nipples, it was an all-time stinker. But despite all the turmoil and horror I managed to play some damn good games while confined to my house, here are my top 10 of the year.
10 – Afterparty
Back in 2016 Night School Studio released Oxenfree, a very clever little adventure game which not only told a compelling ghost story but also handled some rather touching subject matter capably and sensitively, and had a flowing and realistic conversation mechanic that, for me, hasn’t been matched any any other game. The followup to that title, Afterparty, builds on those mechanics but tells a very different sort of story, and one which eschews the serious tones to tell an outright comedy.
Best friends Milo and Lola find themselves in Hell following a car crash, but far from the horror of Dante Alighieri’s 9 circles of torment, the Hell of Afterparty is a bureaucratic nightmare full of unionised jobsworth demons who only care about getting to the end of the working day and shuffling off to one of the many bars that scatter the districts of the underworld. After failing to be assigned their eternal punishment thanks to admin clocking off for the day, Milo and Lola wander the streets of Hell and discover that they can possibly escape if they can get into Satan’s nightly house party and beat him in a drinking contest.
What follows is a hilarious, brilliantly written and performed adventure game, full of engaging characters, subversive storytelling, and some genuinely laugh out loud moments. A thoroughly enjoyable game from start to finish, I can’t wait to see what Night School Studio have in store for us next.
9 – Hitman 2
Back in 2016, I named Hitman my game of the year, an ingenious stealth game that built on the foundations of the excellent Hitman: Blood Money and improved the formula in every way, bringing the franchise back to the top after the disappointing Hitman: Absolution. I played dozens and dozens of hours of that game, as did many of us that year thanks to the ingenious tactic of releasing the levels periodically every couple of months, peppering the gaps with limited time elusive targets, which kept the game in the foreground of discussions for the entirety of the year.
Hitman 2 came out on 2018, and by all accounts it was a solid followup, albeit one that abandoned the episodic model for a more traditional release. One thing and another got between me and picking it up, but I finally took the plunge in 2020, and boy had I been missing out. Hitman 2 has some of the most memorable levels in the series, most notably the first proper level after the tutorial in which Agent 47 must infiltrate a car race in Miami and eliminate one of the drivers and her father. Another takes you to a meeting of masked and robed members of a secret society on a remote Scottish island, another to a sleepy American suburb (reminiscent of the A New Life level from Hitman: Blood Money), and one takes you to a New York bank to break into the vault and carry out a heist.
The new mechanics introduced are subtle and improve rather than revolutionise the gameplay, but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and the ability to import all the levels from 2016 into Hitman 2 to play with the new mechanics is a great idea. A solid followup to Hitman 2016 that doesn’t have quite the same impact but kept me entertained for a long time, I look forward to playing Hitman 3 in the not-too-distant future.
8 – Observation
The rampant or corrupt AI on a space station trope has been mined for decades in films, TV, literature and video games. In video games particularly the formula is pretty rote – you are alone on a space station where something has happened and the AI in control of the station directs you, but you’re never sure of their true intentions. But what if you played as the AI and you had to direct the lone astronaut? That is the the premise that Observation delivers so well.
It’s difficult to talk about the plot without dropping significant spoilers so I’ll do my best, but basically you are the AI in control of an international space station that, following some unknown event, has drifted severely off course and you must manipulate the station systems to guide Dr. Fisher, seemingly the only remaining crew member, through the station to ascertain what has happened and try to get back home. What unfolds is a gripping story, tinged with claustrophobia, hints of horror and mystery, and with a finale that left me thinking about the game long after that credits had rolled.
7 – Fall Guys
The Battle Royale genre has exploded in the last few years, off the back of the success of PUBG and Fortnite and has found its way into most big shooter franchises, and although there have been innovations between titles, they are all pretty similar. But what if you took the idea of the genre, added in Gang Beasts style physics and set it in some sort of Takeshi’s Castle style game show? Well you get Fall Guys.
Exploding onto the scene in the summer of 2020, thanks to the game being free on PS+ as well as a PC release and huge support amongst the streamer community, Fall Guys was just the tonic needed during the misery of summer lockdown. What starts as 60 players, eventually gets whittled down to one winner over a series of stages that include obstacle courses, giant games of tag, memory puzzles, and one epic race to the finish. No Battle Royale game has been able to create such a feeling of elation in me when you finally get that win.
6 – Wreckfest
Finnish studio Bugbear Entertainment, creators of the excellent FlatOut series (and the not so great Ridge Racer Unbounded) released the demolition derby racer Wreckfest on PC in 2018 and on console on 2019, and in the midst of lockdown me and members of the LGR and Last Save Loaded communities picked it up for something to play together during the long months of isolation. What it gave us was some of the most memorable and side splittingly funny multiplayer sessions I had ever had. Every Saturday for a few months we would trash bangers over a series of mud and tarmac tracks, crash combine harvesters together in demolition arenas, ride loop-the-loops in sofa cars, and cry with laughter as we knocked seven shades out each other with school buses.
At the heart of Wreckfest is a really solid, serious arcade racer with an excellent soft physics engine that allows for huge crashes and deformation of vehicles, but it also allows you to race and crash bumper cars, cars made out of wooden outhouses, and Mad Max style trucks across a series of courses that range from the realistic (tarmac circuits and fields) to the utterly insane (Thunderdome style monstrosities with rings of fire and banked cages). A popular activity amongst some of our little crew was to pick the biggest vehicle they had access to and drive the wrong way around a circuit to cause even more mayhem. We have recently returned to playing this game regularly, and with the wealth of post-release content, both free and paid, there should be many more nights of hilarity ahead of us.
5 – Space Crew
I loved 2017’s Bomber Crew from Brighton-based two-person studio Runner Duck. Taking gameplay elements from FTL and transposing them onto a real-time WW2 bomber game with cutesy graphics belying an intense tactical game where disaster is never far away. In 2020 we got a followup in Space Crew which was everything I hoped a sequel would be – deeper mechanics, more chaotic gameplay, and a sci-fi setting.
You control the crew of a frigate, part of a Star Trek futuristic space force, travelling through the solar system on missions to rescue space station crew members, deliver supplies, or clear out enemy forces, all the while dogged by aliens in flying saucers, fending off boarding parties, and trying to keep your crew alive and your ship in one piece. All you do in the game, at its core, is select crew members, tell them where to go, and what to do, which sounds simple enough but when you’re instructing your captain to take evasive manoeuvres while ordering your engineer onto the outside of the ship to repair an engine, sending your security officer to fend off some aliens who have boarded your ship, and coaxing one of your gunners to the med bay before they bleed out and die, the game can get completely frantic in the best possible way.
4 – What Remains of Edith Finch
There have been plenty of “walking simulators’ in the past few years, some of which (Gone Home for example) have really made an impact on me. But none have affected me in quite the way that Giant Sparrow’s What Remains of Edith Finch have. There isn’t much I can say about this game without ruining it for people who haven’t played it, but you play as Edith Finch, a young woman returning to her family home to uncover what happened to them, and what caused the “Finch family curse”. As you explore each room in the house you discover the final moments of each deceased member of the family, going back generations, each one presented through different gameplay styles as what happened is filtered through the creative imagination of each person. Each story is touching, one in particular involved one of the most memorable gameplay sequences I have played in a very long time, and at the end of the game I was left feeling… a lot.
Visual media has a wonderful way of conveying emotions onto the viewer that sometimes, at least for me, literature doesn’t quite manage. Video games are more capable of this when executed correctly because you are actively involved in what is happening. Games have made me laugh, made me cry, scared the pants off me, but none have made me feel profoundly sad like What Remains of Edith Finch have. And I don’t want to give the impression that is a bad thing, it really isn’t. This is truly a remarkable game that rightfully deserves all the plaudits it received.
3 – F1 2020
I’ve always loved motorsport. I grew up watching Formula 1, Touring Cars and the World rally Championship. And for as long as I can remember I have loved racing games. From the days of Ridge Racer and Gran Turismo on the original PlayStation, through to Forza Horizon and Driveclub in the last few years. But in recent years I had drifted (pun not intended) away from the slightly more serious sim racers and only really played arcade racers.
That changed this year, when fellow LGR team member Nick said he’d picked up F1 2020 and suggested I do the same thing. I hadn’t played an F1 game in a long time and had heard that the series hadn’t really iterated much between titles, but F1 2020 brought in an interesting new gameplay mode in which you could form your own team and manage it while also being one of the drivers. As a fan of the Motorsport Manager games I was instantly intrigued so I picked it up, closely followed by LGR team member Chazzee, and we got ourselves involved in the Codec Moments league, meeting up once a week for a race and a good natter about motorsport.
F1 2020 is itself a solid entry in the series, the introduction of the Formula 2 series a welcome addition, and the aforementioned My Team mode is a solid management sim folded into the existing gameplay loop. But more important is what F1 2020 did for me – re-invigorate my love of motorsport. After a few years of not caring as much about Formula 1 as I had in the past (thanks to the boring dominance of Lewis Hamilton), I got back into the sport in a big way. Moreover, it got me back into sim racing, I started competing again in online races in Gran Turismo Sport, I picked up Project Cars 2 on sale and started organising regular race nights, I even dipped my toes into the hardcore sim racing world of Assetto Corsa Competizione. All in all, F1 2020 was a watershed moment for me in in 2020 and I am eternally grateful for it.
2 – Destiny 2: Beyond Light
Oh boy, Mark is about to talk about Destiny again. Well, yes, and for good reason. Destiny has had a life of ups and downs – the initial excitement of the vanilla game gave way to a lacklustre end game and two disappointing expansions before Forsaken reinvigorated the game and brought some much needed quality of life changes. The following year Shadowkeep brought more quality content but didn’t make much of an impact on how you played the game.
With Beyond Light Bungie finally expanded on the existing gameplay with a whole new subclass to play with, a stunning all-new environment in the frozen moon of Europa, dragged the storyline kicking and screaming back into the overarching plotlines that had only really been hinted at in the year since the launch of the original game, and added one of the best (if not the most challenging) raids the game had seen in years. We are only part way through the year of post-release content for the expansion so it’s hard to judge it in its entirety but Beyond Light has breathed life back into Destiny 2 and has shown what Bungie are capable of without the hand of Activision on their shoulder.
1 – Ghost of Tsushima
Back in the infancy of the PS4, Sucker Punch Productions gave us Infamous: Second Son, a beautiful and engaging, if slightly thin open world adventure. It was the first time any of us had seen what the PS4 was capable of graphically. And in 2020 they gave us the last great hurrah of the console – the beautiful and engaging, if slightly thin, open world adventure of Ghost of Tsushima.
But while the lack of meaningful side content associated with open world games was a negative for Infamous: Second Son, it was a welcome relief in Ghost of Tsushima. The last proper open world game I had played before this was Red Dead Redemption 2, which towards the end completely wore me down with the weight of content and side activities, and the sheer devotion to “realism”. Ghost does away with most of this to concentrate on telling a compelling samurai epic in the vein of Akira Kurosawa, with a campaign that doesn’t outstay its welcome and enough side quests to entertain but not overwhelm. There are no towers to climb to uncover the map like in Ubisoft open worlds, there are precious little collectibles to hunt and find, there isn’t even an on-screen map or waypoint marker, choosing instead to point you in the direction of your next objective using only the direction of the wind.
It does this in a world that is the most graphically and artistically stunning open world since The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, with sweeping vistas full of swaying grass and streams of cherry blossom. The exploration is a visual treat, the combat mechanics are as solid as anything outside of FromSoftware games, and although the story never quite reaches the heights of the Kurosawa films the developers clearly wanted to ape, I thoroughly enjoyed my journey through the island of Tsushima.
A post-release expansion brought 2-player story missions wrapped in the guise of Japanese folklore legends, a 4-player horde mode, and a raid, with different character classes, levelling and loot. A huge addition to the game, and completely free. No game in 2020 had me quite as enthralled as Ghost of Tsushima, I never wanted to leave that beautiful island, in fact I played through it start to finish twice, grabbed the platinum trophy, and I will return to replay it again soon.