This is it. The end of the year. It’s been a very strange year, but the games industry kept rolling o. Before we wave 2020 goodbye and look into what 2021 could bring, it’s time to look back and see what this year had to offer. Before I get into these games, though, I should first get into the rules.
This should go without saying, but I haven’t played every release this year. Also, this is a personal list, not an objective statement saying which games are objectively better. The game must have a release date of this year (January 1st - December 31st, 2020), and it must have released on at least one major platform (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Switch). I don’t count games entering early access, but I do count games leaving it even if I played the game before this year, and I only consider the game’s earliest 1.0 release date. I do not count remasters as 2020 releases, but remakes are fair game. Finally, I put the platform I played the game on next to the title because one game (cough, cough, Cyberpunk) made the platform I played each game on important to this list. I know it’s a lot of rules, but I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to what is considered a “2020” game, so I personally feel they are necessary for defining what a 2020 release is. With all of that said, let’s get into the list.
Top Ten Games
10. Cyberpunk 2077 (PC)
Ah, Cyberpunk 2077. Based on the hype, this was supposed to be the game of the century, and yet here it is crawling into the tenth position fighting off Fall Guys and Destroy All Humans! remake. There are elements of this game beyond technical issues that needed a lot more time in the oven (something I will hopefully dive into in the near future), but I also cannot deny the highs of this game. Cyberpunk is a glimpse into the next generation of games, and the moments of high quality gameplay and story-telling that shine through here-and-there shows what this game truly could’ve been. Unfortunately, there are elements of this game that simply can’t be patched away, but there is a diamond in the rough here, and it’s that reason this game is at the number ten spot.
9. Doom Eternal (PC)
Normally, a sequel whose purpose is to build off of the original game’s gameplay is supposed to be better than the original, but that isn’t always the case. Doom Eternal, while a great game, is sadly an example of this. In this age of increasing complexity in games, 2016’s Doom was special for taking a step back to a simpler time. Doom Eternal didn’t quite realize that, however, as this game takes everything a bit too far. The story is needlessly complex, the combat is slowed down because of too many mechanics, and the humor feels a bit too campy compared to the almost-invisible levels of humor in the original reboot. Underneath all of this extra weight, however, is the Doom experience I know and love, and it’s that reason this game is at the number nine spot on this list.
8. In Other Waters (Switch)
Not a lot of people have heard of this title, which is a shame because I think In Other Waters is a really unique experience. Whenever I think about an exploration game, I think of a visual experience, which this game isn’t. This game is from the perspective of an A.I. looking at a radar, which means the whole thing is experienced as dots on a map. Despite this minimalism, the game still manages to present a fascinating underwater planet teeming with life and tell an engaging tale about why this planet was ignored by everyone else. It’s a relaxing yet engaging game and is one of the more unique experiences I’ve had this year in video games, which is why I put it in the number eight spot.
7. Superhot: Mind Control Delete (PC)
My history with the Superhot franchise dates back to playing a Game Jam prototype online many years ago, and it’s been a love for the time-bending FPS ever since. I’ve owned Mind Control Delete since day one back in 2017, and its 1.0 release this year finally means I can consider it for a top ten list. During those few years of development, I’ve only really checked in on the game to see its updates, but one thing always remained the same: the franchise’s signature puzzle FPS gameplay. This game changes the level structure to a rogue-lite experience and tacks on some new new enemies, abilities, and items, but none of it makes a big enough change for me to feel any better or worse about this game compared to the original. That lack of change is fine, however, because Superhot is a fantastic game, and it’s that reason this game is number seven on my list.
6. Mafia: Definitive Edition (PC)
Whenever I think of organized crime in the United States, I think of well-dressed men with Chicago Typewriters running booze around Prohibition-Era city streets. While I am a fan of Mafia 2 and Mafia 3, they aren’t the Prohibition-era tales I’m looking for. The remake of the first Mafia game, however, finally allowed me to live the life of a Capone-era gangster. The stories of the Mafia trilogy are great, and this game is no exception, but I think Mafia: Definitive Edition nails the gameplay better than the other two games by stripping out the junk and focusing on the open world, which looks fantastic. Mafia: Definitive Edition feels like all of the lessons learned from the previous games being applied to a new title, and that plus an incredible open world and fun setting puts this game at the number six spot.
5. Trackmania (PC)
Up to this year, I have only ever known Trackmania by name, seeing it pop up here-and-there while browsing Steam or the Uplay store. This year’s game, however, made some ripples with its pricing structure. One of the benefits of this pricing structure is a way to test the waters for free, so that I did, and I only wish I knew about this game sooner. Unlike other racing games, Trackmania is about racing against yourself, and it’s through this self challenge that I fell in love with this game. The investment I put into learning the tracks and what I could do with my vehicle gave big payoffs, and it’s through this investment that I got attached to this racing title more than any others. Plus, the self-challenging nature of this game closely relates to the reasons why I love the other hobby in my life: rock climbing. Trackmania is a racing game unlike others, and challenging myself and seeing what I am capable of doing is why this game is at the number five spot on this list.
4. Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Switch)
Most of the first-party titles releasing on the Switch are new games from older franchises. I’m not complaining though, as it allows me to experience a lot of Nintendo IP that I haven’t had to chance to experience yet. Animal Crossing is one of those properties, though I was less enthused about jumping into this game because I’m not the biggest of life/building simulators. Fortunately, I proved myself wrong, because I fell in love with this game. What started as an island building simulator soon turned into a habitual checkup on villagers and a slow-but-sure building of my dream island. I unfortunately have dropped off the game, but the time I did have with Tom Nook and others was a blast, which is why this game is in the number four position.
3. Ghost of Tsushima (PS4)
When I think about the games I have been anticipating the most over the past few years, the big ones like anything Bethesda or Cyberpunk aren’t the first to come to mind. Instead, I think back to E3 2018, watching the gameplay reveal for Ghost of Tsushima. Fortunately, I think the game lived up to my hype and then some. At a time when my last melee action game was Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, having this combat was refreshing and fun. The open world is a beauty where every step I took felt hand-crafted and could be framed as a painting. While the structure and some of the activities of the open world are a bit uninspired, I found a lot of the activities and side quests to be leagues better than other similar open-world games. Ghost of Tsushima isn’t new, but it takes the checkbox open-world formula and polishes it to perfection in a way that got me excited about open-world games again, and it’s that reason this game in the number three spot.
2. Half-Life: Alyx (PC)
If I were to go back in time and tell a younger me that a VR game would be a top-ten game one year, let alone a number two game, I would’ve called me crazy. As it turns out, all it took for me to fall in love with VR again was one high quality title, and leave it to Valve to set that bar even higher with Half-Life: Alyx. Not only is this game fantastic for its engaging puzzles, fun combat, gravity gloves, and the level simply titled “Jeff,” it also got me excited about VR again. It transported me back to the time when I tried out VR for the first time at a Microsoft store and was filled with wonder and excitement for what I just experienced and what this tech could bring in the future. Unfortunately, we have yet to see if this game is the defibrillator to the lifeless body that is virtual reality, but even the possibility of a revitalized interest in VR was exciting for me considering my otherwise dour perspective of the headset technology. Even if nothing is to come of it, Half-Life: Alyx is the best VR game to-date, and the number two game on my list.
1. Hades (PC)
In the year of a new Half-Life game, Cyberpunk 2077, a new Doom game, and so on, an indie rogue-lite is my number one game of 2020. Over the past few years, a lot of indie games have gone down the well-beaten paths of either being a metroidvania or a rogue-lite, but none have nailed it like Supergiant’s latest gem. Everything special about this game seems so simple at first glance, but compared to other rogue-lites is masterfully executed. There is a story that is not only great, but actually works well with the run-based nature of the game, and it still manages to feed new lines to characters dozens of hours in. Each and every weapon available is a blast to use, and the abilities picked up can create unique builds unlike any other rogue-lite. Even when I beat the game, I had an incentive to dive right back in because I knew there was still so much to do in terms of experiencing the story and getting more upgrades. This game feels like talented developers sat down and solved the puzzle that is making a high quality rogue-lite with good combat and a meaningful story, and they did it with ease. Hades shows that if you have the right ideas and the right talent, you don’t need to make a triple-A big budget title with a big publisher to make something great. So long as you focus on the quality of the content, you can stand tall among much larger studios and IP, and even go beyond. Supergiant Games may be indie, but they made a game that puts their studio’s name to use, and for these reasons and more I crown Hades as my game of the year 2020.
I didn’t just play ten games this year, though. There were many great games I played this year that didn’t make the list either because they are (as of writing this) early access, did release this year but didn’t quite make the cut, or didn’t release this year. I think to mention these ten games without mentioning the highlights that couldn’t make this list wouldn’t be right, so here are some honorable mentions.
My first two honorable mentions are games I played this year that have a special place in my heart but didn’t qualify because they released last year. Back in September, I played Outer Wilds, and that game is really something else. If I had played this game last year when it was qualified for my GOTY 2019 list, I think it would’ve taken the number one spot. That game is truly one the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had, and I think it at the very least deserves to be mentioned here. The other game I couldn’t not mention this year is Hunt: Showdown. I’ve been on-and-off with the game since its alpha, but I decided to go all-in this year. I went from (I think) 60-ish total hours played at the beginning of the year to a little under 500 hours at the end, and I don’t plan on stopping. 2020 was a big year for the game in terms of events and updates, and I can’t wait to see what the new year brings to this horror cowboy multiplayer shooter.
The other category of noteworthy games that couldn’t make the list are early access titles. Maximum Action is a fun retro shooter that puts Max Payne’s bullet time and the kung-fu of 80s action flicks into a first-person shooter. A bit later on, Gunfire Reborn came out of the blue as a surprisingly cheap FPS rogue-lite with Risk of Rain and Borderlands influences. And just when I thought that game was cool, I stumbled upon Roboquest, which is essentially Gunfire Reborn but with faster movement, tighter controls, better weapons and environments, and a better power leveling system. While they may not make the list this year, they certainly have the potential to make it whenever they fully release.
Top Seven Movies
While video games more-or-less kept their role during this year, the movie industry wasn’t so lucky. Since the movie releases slowed down to a crawl this year, I decided to throw my movie ranking list into here instead of it being a separate blog. I am going to include both 2020 releases and 2019 releases I watched in 2020, though that list is still rather small. I am also not including The Platform and Jumanji: The Next Level because I don’t really have anything to say about those films. With that said, here are the seven films of 2020 (and 2019) I did manage to watch this year, ranked.
7. The Gentlemen
The Gentlemen is Guy Ritchie’s latest film about a marijuana tycoon trying to sell off his business and retire, though nothing is ever as easy at it seems. While many know Guy Ritchie as the director of the Robert Downey Junior Sherlock Holmes films, his true tour de force is a film called Snatch, and this film was supposed to be his triumphant return to that style of film. Unfortunately, this wasn’t quite it, and while it was fun at times, it often felt like the soulless husk of an early Guy Ritchie film more than anything. Hopefully he can manage to make a film in the future that captures his old magic in a bottle, but this film isn’t it.
6. Jojo Rabbit
Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit is about a kid in Hitler’s army struggling with what to do after finding a Jewish girl hiding in his house. A lot of people really liked this film, but Jojo Rabbit wasn’t for me. I applaud the film’s creativity and uniqueness in an era of cookie cutter movies and brand loyalty, and I always enjoy a good performance by Sam Rockwell, but the humor never stuck with me and there were too many eye-rolling moments for me to take any of its serious moments or messaging seriously. I appreciate the film for being different, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I will instantly like it, and Jojo Rabbit didn’t quite cut it.
Tread is a documentary that tells the story of Marvin Heemeyer, a muffler repair shop owner in a small Colorado town who modified a bulldozer and destroyed numerous properties in the town after escalating feuds with the local government. I’ve heard of this story before, but this documentary offers a lot more detail and complexity to the story by presenting both sides of this story fairly. It’s a fascinating story to dive into of the lengths one man can go if pushed around too much.
4. Ford v Ferrari
The 24 Hours of Le Mans race was dominated by Ferrari in the early 1960s, but Ford v Ferrari tells the story of Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles as they try to build a winning racecar for Ford Motor Company for the 1966 Le Mans race. Once in a great while, I like to sit down and watch a fun but high quality popcorn flick, and this film managed to be just that. The acting is great, the story is fun, and I found Le Mans to be super interesting. Ford v Ferrari is a fun movie with solid actors and a celebration of racing worth checking out.
Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite follows a poor family as they slowly worm their way into various caretaker positions of a rich family. To say this film is a bit weird is an understatement, but it’s weird in all of the right ways. Parasite is one of the most interesting movies I’ve ever seen both in its structure and its story, and watching its plot unfold while dancing around wildly different genres was incredible to watch. Just like Jojo Rabbit, it’s a film that didn’t quite stick with me compared to others, but I still very much applaud this film’s creativity and I am much more favorable towards this film overall. Parasite is a great film that manages to balance a complex plot, multiple genres, and themes in a masterful way, and the act of doing that alone is worth a watch.
2. Uncut Gems
Adam Sandler goes into debt as a jeweler in Uncut Gems, the latest film by the Safdie brothers. I’m not a big fan of Adam Sandler, but comedy actors going into the realm of drama tends to work out well, and this film is certainly no exception. What I love about this film is that it sets out to achieve something (I won’t say what), and it nails it. I would much rather have a film shorten its scope to nail a certain feel than try to be a little bit of everything, and that is what this film is. Plus, I think Sandler does a good job at playing a down-and-out jeweler. Uncut Gems as a title implies something that is incomplete or rough, which I don’t think accurately describes this film, as it feels refined and focused in a way few other films feel, and I enjoyed every bit of it.
1917 is a World War 1 film by Sam Mendes about two soldiers who are ordered to deliver a message to call off an attack that would lead 1,600 men into a death trap. As a fan of the World War 1 setting, I was interested in seeing this film going in, and this is one of the few cases where the film surpassed my high levels of hype. I believe 1917 is one of the best film releases of the past ten years, as it blends the epic scale of war with the personal scale of one-shot cinematography in a way that made the stakes high and my investment into the film even higher. No movie scene has ever left me in such awe as the night window scene, and no movie or movie experience has quite hit the highs of watching 1917 in theaters, which is why it is my number one film on this list.
That is going to wrap up this year in video games (and movies). I am Ben Guthrie a.k.a. Black Red Gaming, thank you for reading this list as well as any other content I put out this year, and let’s hope the next year brings another heap of great releases.