While 2020 could have gone much better, here we stand. And on a lighter note, we’re already at another end of the year list, and we had more time to play games than ever before, as we were stuck at home all year. Despite everything going on in the world, when it came time to sit down and escape with a controller or keyboard in hand, 2020 turned out to be another banner year for high-quality video games.
2020 allowed us to not only catch up on our backlogs, (many games in which we got to write about in a positivity focused list of old and new games this fall) but it also gave us innovative online party games and ultimate battle royales to socialize with. We were gifted extensive and vast worlds to explore, dense RPGs brimming with personality and hours upon hours of content, complex stories to sink our teeth into, and the best remakes we’ve seen in years.
And even though nobody in our writing staff has yet to play it, we ACTUALLY, really, honest to god, got a Half-Life 3! How about that?! Of course, there were plenty more games that are great this year we didn’t even get a chance to play. Let us know which you loved in the comments below.
This is, by way of our internal votes and opinions, the ten best video games of 2020. – Evan Griffin, TYF Games Editor
(But First Some) Honorable Mentions:
Yakuza Like a Dragon
To prove Yakuza: Like A Dragon is worthy of at least a mention, a story: After Miles gave me access to his Steam library, I became so obsessed with Yakuza that I was desperate to play more—only to be locked out by Steam’s bizarre library share system and his obsession with Total War II. Driven by an insatiable desire, I tried to dredge up the money to buy a copy, to the point of spending Amazon credit on a GameStop gift card to use, only to then buy a Steam card from that horrible retailer (which they won’t let you do). I bought a PS4 copy the next day, instead. That is how much I desperately wanted to play this game after only the first couple of hours into, essentially, a demo. – Travis Hymas
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
The original Hyrule Warriors was one of those Nintendo experiments that became beloved, only to fade forever, so the surprise sequel is welcome even if this year wasn’t the weakest in terms of the volume of Switch releases. What’s even more surprising is Age of Calamity’s particular uniqueness. Where the original was very much Warriors wearing a Zelda hat, Age of Calamity strives to separate itself from its previous titles while retaining the heart of them—the same way Breath of the Wild does for the mainline Zeldas, and for the most part, it works. – Travis Hymas
Call of Duty Warzone
So it’s official; the battle royale craze is over. Fortnite hosted a Travis Scott concert, Overwatch had loot boxes on packages of Pop-Tarts, and worst of all, Call of Duty got involved. Activision’s interactive militia simulator doesn’t bring a lot of new things to the table (despite having plenty of gigabytes to flood our hard drives), but it gets the job done in having tight gunplay and a variety of powerful weapons. Players can also fight in groups of four, three, two, or simply go in every man for himself with loot boxes packed with airstrikes and other military tech. While the combat and customization are bare-bones, the secret weapon of Warzone is the Gulag scenario where killed players get one last chance to drop back in the game in one-on-one close-quarters fights. It’s not fresh, but it can be very fulfilling. – Jon Winkler
The Top Ten
10. Fall Guys Ultimate Knockout
The jelly bean hell, most colorful battle royale has bounced its way to the 10th spot of our Best of 2020 list. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout captured the fun persevering vibe of an elimination-style video game with the crazy antics of living beans in campy costumes. The appeal of Fall Guys can best be explained from our Finding Positivity Through Gaming In 2020 article published earlier this fall:
For a time, this was THE battle royale game to play. No guns, no traps, no tricks, just colorful characters running through bright obstacle courses and playing mini-games in the hopes of being the last one left to grab the crown. Oh, and there’s a lot of falling. Lots… and lots… of falling. Fall Guys swept through Twitch and the streaming community while everyone was trying to win and collect many coveted crowns. Gaming audiences were in the high digits, both as players and as viewers. Fall Guys had an all-time gaming moment when it launched to widescale success. It was the exuberant, happy-go-lucky, family-friendly game we all needed.
Fall Guys helped to let out our inner frustrations and race to the finish line. If you also happened to troll the other players by grabbing them or off-balancing the platforms, then so be it (you do you with your strategy!). After all, yeeting people off the stage to get ahead is considered a viable strategy as far as the official Fall Guys Twitter is concerned. It’s a cute game with an easy premise to pick-up, and it’s one that families can easily play together with its bright and colorful family-friendly tone. And you can’t deny the power of the Slime Climb. That level alone brings out all the competition and fury in gamers to outlive everyone. – Justin Carreiro
9. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
The developers at Moon Studios wanted their sequel to the successful Ori and the Blind Forrest to be their equal to Super Mario Bros. 3, and what they ended up with was one of the best Metroidvania indie games of the last several years (perhaps it would have been a tall order to compare it to Super Metroid, but that’s basically what they’ve pulled of). Ori and the Will of the Wisps expand upon the elements of the first game by refining them: stunning painterly art direction, character design, stunning light casting, environment art, and responsive, nicely flowing movement control. It takes those things and perfectly bundles them around a classic genre with its own brimming personality that remind many players of classic Pixar films. It has a sense of discovery, organic map design, boss fights, and the all-encompassing ability upgrades that steadily make you feel more powerful the longer you play and the better you learn the map. It is an exhilaratingly sweet, kind game that feels familiar and pleasant, but still gives you that wondrous experience of discovering the corners of a world unknown to you. Any players out there with a subscription to Xbox Game Pass owes it to themselves to give this game a try. – Evan Griffin
8. Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1+2
When you think about classic video games, you’ll most likely think about a Tony Hawk game regardless of if you played it. Whether you were a kid who loved skating, or a kid who couldn’t skate but loved the idea of it (me), these games were addictive, endless entertainment. This year, Vicarious Visions gifted us Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 + 2, a ground-up remastered version of the first two classic games in the series. The original games came out on the PS1 and the N64, so needless to say the updated visuals were jarringly gorgeous when I saw them on my PS4 Pro. The scabbed over, pavement burning, early ’00s punk nostalgia this game will make you feel is something that many remasters strive for, but few actually attain. You feel like you’re right back there in the late 90’s playing the original games, only now the environments are so detailed and beautiful, they feel like how you remember them always looking. The gameplay and controls are mostly unchanged and remain easy and fun to learn new tricks. While the Pro Skater games didn’t have a story mode, the challenges in each level were just difficult enough to make this game rewarding to get good at again. Because this game is technically a two-in-one package there is way more to accomplish. With all of the new games and sequels being released, it was a breath of fresh air to have this game remind gamers of the old days of good skating games. – Tyler Carlsen
7. Star Wars Squadrons
Star Wars: Squadrons is an anomaly, even by 2020 standards. A single-purchase multiplayer game out of EA is bizarre enough on its own, but it also has the most stripped-down and thus clean Star Wars experience since the first episode of The Mandalorian. Squadrons’ planned lower pricing and scale created constraints that put its campaign in line with something like a war movie your dad would watch on a lazy Sunday, and the multiplayer isn’t a robust market of rotating content. This at first sounds like a disadvantage, but honestly, it’s one of the more invigorating things for both the franchise and games as a whole. In an age of prestige indies, AAA blowouts, and live services, Squadrons is just a game. And it’s extremely refreshing. The pared-down setup also prevents the Squadrons campaign from treating itself as a massive requirement to understand whatever is going on in other Star Wars material—a huge departure from other entries, games included. Even with the cameos that do appear, Squadrons is much more restrained and focused on telling a single one-off story that doesn’t drag its feet. For its own part, multiplayer is a blast, especially if you can get together with a group. The gameplay is tight and polished and while you’re not getting a steady flow of content updates, that just means the game itself has been stacked from the start. It’s hard to come away from Squadrons not asking why games stopped being like this. – Travis Hymas
6. Final Fantasy VII Remake
The video game equivalent of a high wire trick, Final Fantasy VII Remake dares us to ask what the games we love the most might look like after we’re gone. Gaming is still much younger than the other mediums we do top ten lists for, and so we’ve not yet had to deal with a lot of the cultural cycles those mediums have gone through. Eventually, though, there will only be fans of games that weren’t around when Final Fantasy VII was the biggest thing on Earth, much less lived through the decade where people spent their time clamoring for this remake. What will they make of these titles? Could they see things differently? Would creatives feel the desire to revisit and even radically change what they mean?
VII Remake is a look at that world. I’ve personally spilled plenty of digital ink about the game’s ending, but there’s an entire game before it that is just as special. From the very first nostalgic note of the remastered but modified score, Remake is full of contradictions between the familiar and uncomfortable that threaten to bring down the entire operation; and for some people it does. But, as gaming as a medium looks inward on itself to create more self-aware and meta-focused games, Remake strives to be both a tribute to the legacy of FFVII, and a statement on that game all at once. Plenty of other games have strived for this, but never to this degree, and it’s difficult to say that they accomplished the former, but the team definitely achieved the latter. – Travis Hymas
5. Doom Eternal
With so much time this year spent trapped indoors and unable to feel the rushes of live concerts or big parties, some might feel like there’s no energy to do anything in the year of coronavirus. Maybe it was a good thing Bethesda moved the release date for Doom Eternal from 2019 to 2020, so it could serve as the ultimate stimulant in this slow droll of a year.
It’s a wonder what anyone expected from a sequel to the 2016 Doom reboot considering how it captured every possible essence Doom could ever inspire. The newest innovation Doom 2016 brought to the table was turning its maze-like environments into platforming, so it makes sense that Doom Eternal would expand on that. With Hell literally breaking into Earth, Doomguy now has to jump between destroyed buildings and the towering outposts set up by demons (who were all architecture majors in college, apparently). Yes, the art design in Doom Eternal is another well-expanded element with some gorgeous level design and a spaceship hub world that’s the heavy metal equivalent to the Observatory in Super Mario Galaxy. There’s also Doomguy’s grappling hook, the multiple instances of climbing, and the greater emphasis on jumping to avoid the onslaught of enemies. This results in the high-quality gunplay of 2016 evolving its scenarios into a puzzle to be solved, and the levels are brimming with secrets to be found. Nintendo may never give Mario an automatic weapon, but it’s hard not to hear his classic jump sound in your head as you hop between health packs and ammo reloads… or maybe that’s just you making those sounds as your eyes dilate into a tunnel-vision of focus, and ID Software overloads your brain with everything you need to do in a minute’s worth of combat.
All of that is cleverly attached to the same intense, in-your-face action Doom 2016 excelled at. The pummeling industrial rock and crunchy sound design of every explosion and demon punch remain intact. Every level has such a relentless pace of monsters upon monsters charging at the player who is so focused on shooting like Rambo they forget to ration their ammo—but that’s what your chainsaw is for. Doom Eternal is so consistent in its combat and expansive in its design that it’s both heart racing and breathtaking: a perfect antithesis to the sluggish energy of 2020. Surviving demons with lasers, rockets, and snarling teeth as Dollar Store Deftones plays in the background is a helluva motivator to put on gloves and a mask to go to the grocery store. – Jon Winkler
Hades didn’t have to be as good as it was. The exciting combat and fluid gameplay were enough to keep us addicted on its own, as was the fantastic art, the incredible story, and the expressive characters. Luckily for us, Supergiant Games managed to bring all of that and more to the table, and it resulted in one of the most satisfying and captivating games in recent memory. Focusing on Zagreus, Prince of the Underworld, repeatedly attempting to escape his father’s domain, Hades is a shining example of how to make a fantastic roguelike by rewarding players for dying instead of punishing them. Characters from various reaches of Greek mythology are brought in, each one with extensive dialogue and a distinct personality and sound design. They show up to offer encouragement and help during Zagreus’ repeated attempts—or, they do so to try to kill him. The characters are the lifeblood of Hades, and even after dozens of hours, their dialogue is consistently fresh and entertaining. None of this would be as good without fantastic gameplay, but this is another area where Hades stands out. The many abilities Zagreus can use, the procedural regeneration of the Underworld on each attempt, and the tight, quick combat keep each run feeling unique and satisfying even after dozens of escape attempts. All this is complemented by some of the best art direction on our list, with a game that looks and sounds just as good as it feels. Hades easily slides into fourth place on our list and slides just as easily into our hearts as one of the best games we’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. – Sam Carpenter
3. The Last of Us Part II
Naughty Dog seems nearly infallible as a developer, releasing critical hit after critical hit, and The Last of Us Part II is no exception. It is a game not without its fair share of controversy; whether it be fans exhaustingly arguing the strengths or weaknesses of its core story; or highly recognizable members of game industry media reporting on the massive company-wide crunch efforts that were deployed to get this game out in time for its third official release date. The game itself shined through that muck and stood on its own as a masterpiece in its own right. Regardless of how one feels about narrative choices, one cannot argue the quality of achievement from the art, design, visual fidelity, motion capture performance of the entire cast, and the unprecedented level of accessibility options this game brings to the forefront. Every aspect is done with explicit attention to detail and every second I spent playing expressed that to me.
Now, to me at least, that includes the narrative journey Director Neil Druckmann and Halley Gross put the player on. I felt every emotion that I was designed to feel. As Ellie, that meant anger, resentment, rage, fear, grief, and love. For Abby, it was the same, and that is no mistake. The moments used to allow each character—and by-proxy me as the player—to process these emotions is delicately and brilliantly handled. The bait-and-switch that leads to playing as Abby was admittedly a little frustrating, but accepting that moment and moving on to see where her journey took her was every bit as stunning, jaw-dropping, and emotionally resonant as Ellie’s was in the first half and as Joel’s was in the first game. I also give special points to a developer that can beat Capcom at its own Resident Evil game with the design and mechanics of The Rat King. To put what I am trying to say simply: no modern developer has been able to make me sit on my couch, sobbing, with my jaw dropped as I carefully contemplate what I just experienced like Naughty Dog has. They desperately need to fix their issues with crunch and forced overtime work practices, and I will critique them on that point until they are fixed, but I will also anticipate their next title with reverence. – Grant Jonsson
2. Ghost of Tsushima
Two hours in, I wasn’t entirely sold on Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima. The lush forests and astounding views were quite impressive for an open-world setting, but the overarching narrative felt a bit bland. Eighty hours later, Ghost of Tsushima made its way from a game that I would forget in two months to my second favorite game of 2020.
Set in the late 13th century, Ghost of Tsushima follows Jin Sakai, a samurai fighting to protect Tsushima Island from Mongol invaders. The game is rich with Japanese mythology and history, making even the most mundane tasks enjoyable. You will want to find every headband and pet every damn fox you see to get a sense of its cultural significance in that period.
Ghost of Tsushima isn’t reinventing the wheel, but its release in this garbage fire of a year sparks some much-needed hope in its players. If we band together, we too can take on the bad guys (and get drunk on sake while doing it). – Yasmin Kleinbart
1. Animal Crossing New Horizons
Who knew that Nintendo delaying one of their most anticipated games for the Nintendo Switch into spring of 2020 would be accidentally the best thing that could have happened for it? Animal Crossing had a massive install base before, but in a year where everyone was stuck in the house together and the Nintendo Switch was selling better than any other console—breaking records in unit sales—Animal Crossing has become the new format for socializing. It was true to Animal Crossings of years past with added features: item crafting, map customization, refined online multiplayer, things that gave people a gameplay experience that was a cross somewhere between the typical villager life and the creative control allowed in Minecraft.
While some of these new features have caused burnout with even the most dedicated fans, Nintendo has consistently been adding new holiday events and features throughout the game. People would check back in during the summer to go diving in the ocean, to collect pumpkins and costumes and makeup around Halloween, and to wrap and deliver gifts on Christmas Eve (aka Toy Day) Despite the clear burnout, the undoubtable energy was electric through the AC community around the launch and left a permanent positive impact on players. It was a sight to behold when you got to trade materials, help friends reach personal goals, and see where players’ individual creativity brought them to assemble their island. It was a truly special moment, and it was absolutely the game that we all needed the most this year. – Evan Griffin