2020 was a crap year all things considered. COVID is still wreaking havoc around the world today and continues to disrupt the lives of so many people. The only bright spot in such a dark year for me was the birth of my third (and final!) baby boy. Oh yeah and the games. Of course the games. While everything else was falling apart around me, I did manage to get in some pretty damn good playtime. And what a smorgasbord of games it was. Almost every month had something and I most certainly got my fill.
With that said, it took me a little longer this time to feel good about putting together a list but at long last, the list has arrived. Here are my Top 10 Games of 2020!
10. Resident Evil 3
The Resident Evil 3 remake marked the first time I’d played anything RE3 related. I picked up the original PlayStation later in its lifecycle and never got around to the series until the first RE Remake on the Gamecube. After experiencing Resident Evil 2 for the first time via its remake a year prior, I had some pretty high expectations for this one. While it admittedly didn’t live up to its predecessor, Resident Evil 3 was a fun romp with satisfying action, good character performances and gorgeous visuals. The Nemesis was a foreboding presence that definitely had me on my guard at times. It took me around 7 hours to finish, so while it was on the short end, I had no frame of reference to compare it to and enjoyed what I played.
9. Demon’s Souls
I admit: I tried the original Demon’s Souls way back when. I tried it for about an hour. I tried to like it for about an hour. For some reason, it just never clicked. Looking back, it was perhaps due to my state of mind or interests. In 2009, I was very much into shooters, action-adventures, and Western RPGs like The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Mass Effect and Dragon Age that the dedication and patience required for a Fromsoft game was too much for me fit in. I didn’t care to learn its mechanics or design methodologies.
Fast forward 11 years and there I was, having experienced the bliss that was Bloodborne years before, falling in love with Bluepoint’s Demon’s Souls remake. It’s exquisite. From its absolutely jaw dropping presentation to sound design, level design and most importantly, combat. It’s one of the purest forms of game design I’ve experienced. I haven’t fully finished yet, though I’ve already put in dozens of hours and gotten quite deep, but it’s enough to cement it on my list.
If there’s one genre I’m fairly confident isn’t my cup of tea generally speaking, it’s roguelikes. The idea of playing and repeating dungeon runs over and over again to advance is something that never strikes me as ‘fun’, and I’ve tried a few to be sure. But Hades is a bit of a different beast. While the core design of going through dungeons, dying, and repeating them is there, it’s everything else that legitimately sucked me right in. There’s a genuinely deep narrative arc to follow with all manner of Greek gods and figures to chat up. I’m interested to learn more about Zagreus’ past and that of his father Hades. I want to know what Nyx’s place is in all of it.
I want to know what happened to Zag’s mother and if there’s a thing between him and Megaera. The script and voice acting are fantastic and the combat is fast, punchy, fluid and simple to master. Art direction is drop dead gorgeous, the music is sublime and there are tons of ways to spec out Zagreus for the next run. It’s the combination of narrative and gameplay that’s got me hooked. Like Demon’s Souls, I can’t say I’ve completed the game yet. I’ve put in roughly 45 hours at this point and continue to make a lot of progress. Still, I feel very comfortable placing it right here.
7. Astro’s Playroom
I never imagined a technical PS5 demo to be on here…but goddamn did the team at Asobi knock it out of the park with Astro’s Playroom. What I originally envisioned would be a short and sweet demonstration of the DualSense’s features ended up being a full fledged platformer with some of the most innovative and technically astounding mechanics I’ve ever played. I don’t even know where to start. From the feel of rain drops pelting your hands, the coarseness of sand in your palms or the cutting of ice via ice-skating, every sensation truly came alive and I swear I had a massive grin across my face the entire time – I just couldn’t believe what I was playing.
Astrobot himself is a spry little fellow with fittingly responsive controls. The music is simultaneously catchy, charming and upbeat. The environments and levels are clever and inventive in their design and sense of flow. Even though the experience is relatively short at around 3 hours (or longer if you’re a completionist), it’s bundled free with every PS5 and easily earns its spot on here for me. I’d absolutely kill for a larger, feature length Astro game.
6. Final Fantasy VII Remake
Don’t kill me, but I’ve never played Final Fantasy VII – that is, until this remake. I’m a FF7 newbie, having only tacitly been aware of the basics: Cloud is the hero, there’s Tifa, Barret and an evil dude with the longest sword I’ve ever seen called Sephiroth. And that’s about it. I went into it completely fresh, and as someone who generally tends to skew much more towards WRPGs, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the game’s end. Conclusion: I really friggin’ enjoyed that!
Yes, there was definitely some monotony going on level wise, repeating passageways and a few dreadfully dull environments, but those were the exception rather than the rule. I don’t usually like JRPG combat systems. Final Fantasy XV’s was generally a chore to play through the more real-time, input based mechanics here worked. Bosses were fantastic to fight and pulling off some of the more powerful attack moves was pretty gratifying. In the past, I’ve tended to avoid Final Fantasy games because my experience mostly consisted of apathy and confusion. I had no idea what was happening in FFXIII and usually lost in FFXV. But the more grounded plot and conflict in FFVII was more easily digestible, at least for the first 75% of it. I connected with Cloud, Tifa, Aerith and Barret. I came to understand the full game is much bigger than what we got, and I can’t wait to continue their journey.
5. DOOM: Eternal
DOOM. The word is synonymous with two things: RIP. And. TEAR. And that’s exactly what you do in Eternal the whole damn time. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I adored id’s 2016 reboot. It brought the franchise back in such a confident and compelling way that I knew right away the studio would continue to build upon. It took the fluidity, responsiveness, platforming, destruction, and visual identity of DOOM 2016 and amplified it tenfold. Environments are much more varied, utilizing more of the color spectrum this time around. Guns are still super punchy, enemies super crunchy.
Enemies are far more relentless, oftentimes unforgiving (looking at you Marauders). Levels are more open ended with increased verticality and points of interest. All the while the creators at id actually took some time to really flesh out the lore behind the series – as surprising as that sounds, and honestly…it kept me motivated to see it through. Battles were pure adrenaline morphed into digital form and I had such a fun time shooting, punching, exploding and dying over and over again that I’m already down for id’s next one. Bring it.
4. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
I couldn’t envision Insomniac topping 2018’s Spider-Man, but holy crap did they ever. While admittedly a much shorter experience, it makes up for it with heart and soul. Miles grew on me so much over the course of its 15 hours, along with all of the game’s supporting cast. The holiday spirit of New York was heartwarming, charming, and there was this…deeper sense of community and coming together that I was actively cheering on for the city’s betterment. Miles’ combat move-set was an absolute blast with electric powers crackling and zapping everything in their path.
Slow-mo special attacks and a much looser albeit jovial web swing gave Miles his own Spidey persona that I couldn’t help but love. The story itself actually touched me deeper than anything in Spider-Man 2018. And talk about the visuals? Good lord is this game stunning on PS5. I would have moved it farther up the list if it weren’t for the maliciously repeating crashes I experienced, some within minutes of each other. Suffice it to say regardless of any technical issues, Miles Morales as a video game was an unforgettable ride.
3. Cyberpunk 2077
I’ll get the bad out of the way: Yes. This game is buggy. Quite buggy. From disappearing cars and pedestrians to geometry clipping, items floating and so on, there was almost no end to some kind of bug occurrence onscreen at any one time. And that’s the shame of it, because underneath it all was, to me, a fantastic role-playing experience. One rife with some fascinating characters, tense quest lines, dark scenarios and fairly satisfying gunplay. I had my set of issues in terms of substance. The police system is extremely lacking for one while the AI was at time practically non-existent. Yet over the course of my 90 hour playtime, it was the good times that I remember most.
It was scoping out Arasaka headquarters and downing some cheap pizza with Takemura and having the time of my life as V with the outgoing and charismatic Panam. It was getting embroiled in some sinister political conspiracy against a mayor and tagging along with a dude who thought he was Jesus incarnate. By the same token, while the experience still undoubtedly requires heavy fixes on most consoles, the game performs fairly solid on an Xbox Series X, which was my platform of choice. The visuals are striking, even though it’s running the Xbox One X version in backwards compatibility. The music was incredible and character performances just as memorable. It’s really a shame then that at the end of the day, it’s seemingly the game’s issues that many think of any time it’s mentioned, and with unfortunately good reason. CD Projekt RED is still one of the most talented studios in the business as far as I’m concerned, and I still loved what I played overall. I’m excited to see where CDPR takes it in the future.
2. Ghost of Tsushima
Sucker Punch delivered and then some with this one. It felt like an eternity since Infamous: Second Son, but the wait ended up being worth it. Ghost of Tsushima was enthralling and captivating in its portrayal of Feudal Japan and its inhabitants. I won’t pretend to be a samurai expert, but I felt very convinced by the manner and way in which they were depicted onscreen. Jin, its main character, felt a little stiff and distant in the beginning but quickly grew on me as I delved deeper into the game’s story and his relationship with others around him. He tries to do good by others, but sometimes the world just doesn’t work that way. Watching his journey from upholding the samurai code with all his vigor to its abandonment towards the game’s end had me glued to the TV.
Combat was fast, fluid and methodical all at the same time. Changing stances on the fly eventually felt second nature and after several hours getting used to its systems, I felt right at home taking on a whole squad of the Mongol horde. Visually, the game felt like a painting in motion. The bright yellows of the Golden Forest were a mesmerizing sight to behold, as was almost every inch of Tsushima’s map. If there’s one little complaint I had, it was some repetition in its mission structure. I truly hope to see Sucker Punch continue the IP moving forward as I feel there’s an exceptionally strong foundation to build upon. Give me that sequel!
1. The Last of Us: Part II
You knew this was coming lol. The sequel to one of my favorite games of all time had a lot to live up to. A LOT. And in most ways, it most certainly did. The development of both Ellie and Abby’s character arcs across the dozens of hours I spent playing was something I won’t forget anytime soon. After the first couple of hours, I despised Abby. I can’t deny it.
Yet she ended up being one of my favorite protagonists in recent memory by the time the credits rolled. The world of The Last of Us is unforgiving and gives no quarter, and seeing the depths that world goes to to sap the humanity from its denizens was often times stomach churning. It was a journey in which I felt no one side was right about, at least in terms of Ellie and Abby. Rather, I understood why and how each one reached their respective points in life after Joel set things in motion the way he did from the first game. It’s rare that any game makes me feel something like The Last of Us does, but Part II digs in deep and doesn’t let go. It’s hard to describe without getting into spoiler territory, but there are moments that truly touched me as a father and as a person.
In terms of sheer technical accomplishment, The Last of Us: Part II is nothing short of astonishing. That its geometric detail, lighting, particle effects, animation, character detail and so on and so forth was done on a base PlayStation 4 boggles the mind. Music was just as gut wrenching as the first game, combat was overhauled to take advantage of level design and AI was built to rise to those challenges. There’s so much I can say to heap praise on the game that I could go on all night but suffice to say, it lived up to my expectations and sealed the deal for me:
The Last of Us: Part II is my Game of the Year for 2020.