Game of the Year 2020

Shea Hates Everything Game of the Year 2020

Game of the Year

And here it is, the list you’ve been waiting for. These are the 10 best games I played in 2020, with a few honorable mentions because every game I really enjoyed deserves a shoutout.

Similar to previous years, there ended up being a few games at the top of the list that I hemmed and hawed over for a while. This year, I could make a strong argument for any of my top three games to take the top spot. Thankfully, the list is now published so I’m not tempted to go back and tweak it… Enjoy!

Honorable Mentions

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
I haven’t enjoyed a Call of Duty campaign in many years, but Black Ops Cold War is a great balance between bombastic, cinematic moments and head-scratching, tongue in cheek weirdness.

The Last of Us: Part II
Proof that “most disappointing” doesn’t mean “bad.” The Last of Us Part II is an exceptionally competent game with very high highs. But it’s the lows that keep it outside of my Top 10.

10. Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 - Top 10 Video Games 2020

I kind of wish there was another game I felt strongly about so that I could knock Cyberpunk 2077 off of my top 10. That’s how frustrating the launch of this game was. And even when I was able to eventually play it (after several patches and a console upgrade), I still had unacceptable issues with framerate, pop-in, dialogue bugs, and crashes.

But it speaks to the strengths of Cyberpunk 2077 that had this game launched in a solid state, it would almost certainly have been my Game of the Year. It has my favorite story, some of my favorite characters, and a colossally improved combat system compared to The Witcher III. The build craft options are insane, and many of the game’s side stories and moments still float around in my head. I stayed up all night to marathon the final thrust of the story because once I got to the point of no return, I couldn’t put it down. Here’s hoping CD Projekt Red nails the launch of the sequel. Please, please, please nail the launch of the sequel.

9. Untitled Goose Game

Untitled Goose Game - Top 10 Video Games 2020

I feel like there’s always a game in my top 10 that gets short-shrifted in the categorical awards because it isn’t necessarily a standout in any of the more traditional ways. But as a shoutout to Giant Bomb’s old Game of the Year categories, Untitled Goose Game would have been a tough competitor in a Best Styyyyyyyyyle category.

The puzzles are simple without being boring, the personality is cute and weird without inducing cringe, and most importantly, the game doesn’t overstay its welcome. I thought going in that Untitled Goose Game might elicit a few laughs while feeling mostly like a kid’s game, but that isn’t the case! It’s a fun puzzler with excellent honking.

8. The Pedestrian

The Pedestrian - Top 10 Video Games 2020

Compared to Untitled Goose Game, I do think The Pedestrian does overstay its welcome just a little bit. That isn’t to say that the puzzle systems get re-used too many times or that it runs out of new systems. It’s actually the opposite. At a certain point, there are so many puzzle types added on top of one another that I started to feel a little overwhelmed. But your mileage may vary!

The game also has a cool, unexpected sense of style. Using real-world surfaces as the backdrops for the platforming and puzzles is neat and there’s a definite sense of momentum as you move throughout the city towards an uncertain goal. The Pedestrian earns my honorary “indie game that came out of nowhere and blew me away” award that I seem to hand out every year.

7. DOOM Eternal

DOOM Eternal - Top 10 Video Games 2020

I’ve hit on this a few times throughout the various categories, but DOOM Eternal is smart in its construction. The gameplay feels familiar with smart upgrades to the weapon and enemy variety, as well as new, diverse locales in which to kill demons. 

The story didn’t hit me as hard the second time around with its more self-serious attitude, but the over-the-top violence, sense of speed, and aggressive background music elevate everything else. I’m not sure I’d be excited to do all of this again in a third game, but I bet I’d still have plenty of bloody fun with it.

6. Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Animal Crossing: New Horizons - Top 10 Video Games 2020

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is another game that was a near-miss for many of my categorical awards, with cheery (if familiar) music, a hugely customizable setting, and a diverse set of characters that can feel like a crap shoot at times. But hey, at least you can convince the ones you don’t like to leave! I wish my neighborhood worked that way.

New Horizons came out at a perfect time for many of us in the early days of COVID. My daughter had just turned one and there was a lot of fear in the world, and this game was a perfect distraction for me and my wife. She likes to watch me play some games but doesn’t play many herself, and even she created a little town so that she could catch fish and bonk her neighbors on the head. I’ll always be grateful to New Horizons for helping us get through 2020.

5. Astro’s Playroom

Astro's Playroom - Top 10 Video Games 2020

Even more joy! This time tinted with rose-colored glasses. I wouldn’t say that Astro’s Playroom is an exceptional platformer on its own merits, but it’s definitely one of the best nostalgia-bait games I’ve played in recent memory. 

The level of detail is actually pretty insane. The backgrounds, interactable elements, platforms, and character costumes all harken back to days of PlayStations past. And that doesn’t even mention the 3D models of various PlayStation hardware, which have all been lovingly rendered. For normal gamers, Astro’s Playroom is a competent and fun (if standard) platformer. But for those of us that grew up in the Sony ecosystem, it’s a welcome trip down memory lane.

4. Final Fantasy VII Remake

Final Fantasy VII Remake - Top 10 Video Games 2020

Final Fantasy VII is among my favorite Final Fantasy games, but I don’t have the sense of reverence for it that some others do. So when a remake was announced, I was curious if not overly hyped. I was mostly just shocked that Square Enix had the courage to do it. And I ended up being blown away by the level of effort put forth to re-imagine most elements of the original experience, while keeping the main thrust of the story and characters the same.

First of all, the combat system rules. It’s a great balance between real-time and more traditional turn-based fighting, with tons of special moves and combos across the small roster of playable characters. I personally enjoyed controlling Tifa the most, but each character has a specific use case where they shine. There isn’t as much weirdness to the vibe as my memory of the original, but there’s enough in there (as well as teasers for sequels) to satisfy the hardcore fans. This is a worthy remake that actually earns the “remake” moniker. 

3. Spider-Man: Miles Morales

Spider-Man: Miles Morales - Top 10 Video Games 2020

Spider-Man: Miles Morales straddles the line between a sequel and a DLC, and I think that works to its benefit in many ways. It’s smaller in scale, with a more focused story and “open world” to explore, but that allows the new combat options to shine, like Miles’ venom powers. They add even more options to the combat sandbox that really allows you to play around with different combos, gadgets, and finishers. Everything gels really well together and creates an over-the-top, acrobatic flow state during the many combat encounters.

The story and characters also benefit from the smaller scope, despite the lackluster main villain. I didn’t even miss Peter because Miles and Phin’s story was so engrossing. I was just waiting for the inevitable shoe to drop. The reveal was pretty telegraphed but Phin’s motives were actually compelling. Miles also brings an element of naivety that balanced Peter well in the first game and creates some big character growth opportunities in this one.

I think 2018’s Spider-Man is the better game overall, with stronger villains, boss fights, and more well-realized world, but the combat and stealth inarguably take a step up with Miles Morales. I’m even more excited for the next main game, now. 

2. Spiritfarer

Spiritfarer - Top 10 Video Games 2020

As I mentioned in Best Music, just listening to the Spiritfarer soundtrack is enough to get my emotions going. I wasn’t at all expecting the game to touch me this much, despite the heavy recommendation from fellow dad, Vinny Caravella on the Giant Bomb podcast. Plenty of Spiritfarer had a smile plastered on my face, but saying goodbye to so many friends created that bittersweet, empty feeling that only heals with time.

And there are so many great friends to say goodbye to. Outside of fantastic conversations aboard your ship, many of the characters also have mini games to help you earn the resources that you need to upgrade your ship. They all serve as fun distractions during your various voyages across the sea, and there are almost always secrets to find on the islands and floating cargo containers scattered throughout the map. 

To think I haven’t even talked much about the gameplay in this post! Spiritfarer combines some survival elements like food and resources gathering/crafting, as well as base building mechanics that allow you to personalize the look and layout of your ship. I don’t think any of it is world-shattering, but as someone that bounces off most of those games because of the open-ended nature, Spiritfarer’s characters and story were the perfect addition to meld these genres into a game of the year contender.

1. Ghost of Tsushima

Ghost of Tsushima - Top 10 Video Games 2020

It’s not often that I play a game and immediately know that it’s going to be my Game of the Year, but such was the case with Ghost of Tsushima. Ironically, I played Spiritfarer right after finishing this game and then hemmed and hawed a little bit between the two. But as a video game, I can’t put anything above this masterpiece of combat, story, and open world design.

All you need to do is look at screenshots to know this is one of the most beautiful games ever made, from the sense of scale, to the variety of environments, to the use of color, to the particle effects. Holy crap, the particle effects. Back in 2014, I sung the praises of Infamous: Second Son’s particles as being a great graphical showpiece for the PS4. Ghost of Tsushima blows that out of the water.

The world is also so smartly designed, with side quests and activities scattered throughout the map without it devolving into a map icon chase. There are in-universe markers that lead you to cool stuff that, if you choose to ignore, won’t clutter your mini map or make you feel like you’re missing out. But you are missing out! The haikus, pillars of honor, shrines, hot springs, 1v1 battles, and more all give you more insight into Jin’s character (or at least give you a cool sword skin or armor dye). 

My favorites were the Mythic Tales, which put you on a multi-stage, unguided path towards a unique set of armor or weapon. Most of them put you up against a legendary boss as well, complete with extra dope music or environments. But even the more traditional side quests are told in a serialized format, structured into chapters so that you can take them at your own pace. It’s really smart narrative design that keeps you invested in all of the side characters at once rather than shunting some off to the side after their story is done.

Ghost of Tsushima - Top 10 Video Games 2020 (pic 2)

Ghost of Tsushima strikes the right balance in combat design for me, as well. It isn’t Dark Souls, where you’re plodding along against one or two enemies at a time, but it also isn’t the arcadey deluge of something like Spider-Man: Miles Morales. There isn’t a good or bad in any of these comparisons, but I like Ghost of Tsushima’s balance. There’s enough at your disposal from a combo and special ability perspective to experiment, but there’s also a “right” way to approach specific encounters using the different stances.

Or you can just stealth your way through most things, with a huge variety of armor perks and gadgets that make that play style easily accessible if you so choose. I liked to mix and match depending on the encounter, just to keep things fresh.

And I haven’t even mentioned the multiplayer, which was added for free! It’s a surprisingly fun mode that I admittedly didn’t sink as much time into as I wish I had. But any multiplayer that prioritizes co-op rather than competitive is a win in my book. 

Ghost of Tsushima - Top 10 Video Games 2020 (pic 3)

Ghost of Tsushima is a phenomenally well-made game that truly nails most of what it sets out to do. It has an incredibly immersive, gorgeous world with tons of activities to find (and that actually feel like you’re finding them rather than checking them off a list). The characters have true depth and conflict that bring up moral gray questions for Jin and for the player. The narrative is well-paced and not overly long, with plenty of big set piece moments and cutscenes to break up any monotony that exploration can bring. And its combat is a great match between crowd control insanity and 1v1 patience, with stealth options as a fun bonus. This game rules in every category, and that’s why it’s my 2020 Game of the Year.

Ghost of Tsushima - Top 10 Video Games 2020 (pic 4)

And there you have it, all of my favorite games (and favorite aspects of my favorite games) from 2020! While it’s impossible to play everything — and having kids makes that even more true — I feel great about these categories and how they represent what I want to celebrate about this hobby.

So, what were your favorite gaming experiences of 2020? Can you even remember? Let me know in the comments below, and check out my other game of the year posts

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