Lots of games came out this year & only three of them made it onto this list. Can’t say this was my favorite year for gaming! Never the less, I played an exceptional amount of older games this year — as I’m sure many of our broke asses did during quarantine. Old is not always gold, despite what many like to believe. That being said, I’ve included 7 great ones that I enjoyed playing for the first time this year.
Moving forward, here are the games that at my time of writing, I would comfortably call my favorites played during 2020.
A Short Hike was the perfect little adventure game in my opinion. Lots of people to meet, challenges to overcome, items to collect and by the end of the game, you’ll have the whole island memorized; perfect for completionists who want to find everything the game has to offer after they’ve rolled the credits!
Doom Eternal really is pioneering an evolution of singleplayer FPS. The game is tough as nails compared to Doom 2016 and even the original games but this is on purpose. Mastery of resource utilization is a must because late game and higher difficulties expect you to navigate battles more like an action puzzler.
The Jiggies of Time is a personal favorite of mine. It’s a romhack for Banjo-Kazooie with every level being a throwback to Ocarina of Time. This isn’t just a level-pack, however. Each area is packed with puzzles utilizing existing Banjo mechanics in a brand new way and loads of easter eggs for fans of Nintendo, Rare, retro gaming and tons more! I hear it’s got great music, too 😉
Finally, shouts to Fizzi for introducing rollback netcode to Super Smash Bros. Melee. My fighting game of choice now has better netcode than most AAA fighters. Thanks to emulation tricks, the game runs flawlessly with only 0.5f of extra lag compared to CRT — 0f if you’re playing on a low latency, 144Hz monitor. What a perfect gift to the Melee community during the pandemic!
10. Die Young
Much of what makes this game enjoyable for me is the intrinsic reward of exploring an island built for lots of first-person platforming. The main character needs to build momentum before she’s at a full-on sprint and maintaining this speed while leaping from cliff to cliff feels as challenging and uplifting as a game like Mirror’s Edge. She also has a couple hooks that let her claw up the side of mountains. Most structures are built to be climbed, featuring plenty of ledges, boards and crates to use. The platforming does follow linear progression so climbing mountains feels more like Celeste than Breath of the Wild.
That paragraph above: That’s how I think this game should have sold itself. Instead, much of the advertising for this game frontloads a lot of content proving it’s an open-world survival-lite game instead of showcasing what I’m sure drove many fans like myself to it. Yes, you have to manage your food and water meter but spamming the ‘eat’ command when running by the abundant berry bushes scattered around the game world nullifies much of the need to manage both. Skinning animals & finding resources lets you craft better gear similar to the Far Cry games. The small amount of crafting you can do is probably the best thing to come out of the ‘survival elements’.
Late in the game, there are a couple quests that are ‘puzzle-box’-esque. Think: a tiny Zelda dungeon or a longer Uncharted puzzle. The first tasks the player with breaking into a manufacturing plant to steal a gas can. Mostly everything you need to complete the puzzle is present in the environment but answers are obscured to engage critical thinking. The second has you exploring an ancient ruin that asks you to discover an escape path. Unfortunately, its not a very long process to explore the ruins but it still felt so mystical to discover.
I get the feeling that every piece of the environment was made by hand. Lots of open-world feel like they’re carved out of a 20km x 20km chunk of land using modular tiles but Die Young’s island feel the passion project of a group of designers that modelled as they went. I Love it! I hope they make a sequel to this. Come on, IndieGala! You’ve already tapped into the niche genre of 3D adventure-survival-platformer. Give the people more, we’ll the base game what ever DLC you’re feeling!
9. Dread X Collection 2
Preface: I haven’t played 1 or 3, though I hope to very soon!
When I was a server at a high-tipping hibachi restaurant, I’d walk out each night with a doom wad of cash. In the afternoons before my shift, I loved to blow half of it on old, janky games I knew nothing about. After my shift, I’d hit a liquor store, buy a 6-pack of something cheap then go home and boot up my PS1/2. Whether the games I bought that day were hidden gems, trash fire or painfully mediocre, I loved the gambit of playing each title in the days where 40-minute YouTube lectures on every game didn’t exist.
Playing the Dread X collection felt just like getting a handful of random, very short indie titles, and beating them one after the other only to either enjoy or regret having spent the short time playing them. Experiencing this with my partner definitely made the whole thing significantly more fun because we could laugh or complain at the terrible ones and talk about what we loved with the great ones!
Since the Dread X series is basically a game jam, I feel no pain saying that I never wish to play some of these titles ever again. However, there’s still nothing like the juxtaposition of playing something that deserves a full release and then booting up a game so terribly you just gotta find out what other games that devs made! I hope that doesn’t discourage anyone from taking a chance with design! I’m genuinely thankful for each entry in this collection. <3
8. Echo Night 2: The Lord of Nightmares
Some old games are fun because of their age. Echo Night 2 is fun because it’s an extremely well made horror classic that’s really only held back by the PS1’s hardware specs. I played this with my partner hot off the back of Echo Night 1 & presuming there wasn’t going to be a leap in quality since EN2 never left Japan. Since the game doesn’t have native English support, we relied on the work of a fan made English translation patch for read dialogue and menus. Another restraint to getting the show on the road was the main character’s painfully slow movement speed. To compensate, we set the emulator speed to 2X and BOOM! We were rolling smooth.
Only an hour into playing, I realized I had fallen in love with the game. The improved visuals, the new setting, the strong paranormal atmosphere, the puzzles, the dialogue, the set pieces — everything just clicked for me. Before we ever rolled the credits, I was confident that Echo Night 2 was not just my favorite horror-title on the PS1 but also my favorite horror game in this genre.
Gameplay is doesn’t feature any combat; only puzzle solving. Since you never leave the first-person perspective (and we had the privilege of rendering the game in a much higher resolution), meandering from room to room lets you really soak up everything from set dressing to clues you might need to return to for a future puzzle. Since this is a Fromsoft title, environmental story telling is present with every environment this game offers though NPC spirits are a little more on-the-nose with the actions of the past that let to the situations you’ll be encountering. Regardless, much of the game’s set design is very subtle and still offers the player much room to consider what had all happened to lead up to their discoveries in the present.
The first game was set almost entirely on a boat so much of the environment started to blend together early on. To address this problem, Echo Night 2 is largely set in a mansion but after a bit of exploring, you’ll discover how to lead the interior and explore the grounds where the mansion is located. This is where the game starts to take on much more mysterious aspects so I’ll wrap up it up here. If anyone is interested in playing this game but has a hard time getting into slow, older titles: Atleast play up until you leave the mansion. It doesn’t take long to make this happen and I promise a lot of shifts in tone start occurring that really had me pushing for more and more discoveries. Let me remind you again… this is a Fromsoft game through and through.
7. Far Cry New Dawn
If you can’t tell by now, I’m a sucker for adventure-rich, open-world action games (which is why Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t on this list 😉 Nobody pulls this off quite like Ubisoft with their Far Cry franchise. That’s why seeing this game on the Epic Games store for only $6 at the beginning of the year was a no-brainer scoop for my partner and I! We plowed through the whole thing in about 20 hours, completing majority of the quests.
Much of what makes the older Far Cry games enjoyable is present here, such as clearing out enemy camps, hunting exotic animals and discovering hidden treasure. These are gameplay loops that satisfy me on their own so being able to share them with my partner made this neon-soaked trek through the fallout of Hope Country something really, really special.
Since much of the game revolves around dynamic gameplay elements, bugs were plentiful but never game breaking. We had a great time laughing about when an overpowered boar killed us both out of no where while driving to the next mission… and then I’d crash the vehicle and we’d talk about that for awhile.
If you’ve got a buddy you enjoy shooting the shit with and want a solid co-op game to play together, Far Cry New Dawn is a really great pick.
6. Borderlands 3
Woah, another open-world FPS! The catch this time is that I didn’t play Borderlands 3 in co-op! Well, mostly not in co-op, anyways. After the first 15-hours of playing, my partner ran into a problem where her local save file got overwritten by an old cloud save or something, thus losing a significant chunk of progress… so I finished the game on my own in the days to come!
I really dug Borderlands 1. Played a little bit of the second but was never hooked. I only played the third because I got a couple copies of the 3rd game free with some AMD hardware I bought. Shockingly, all it took was a couple really well paced gun fights in the opening hour for this game to sink its teeth in me! Weapons were immediately bonkers but also super viable to use; two melding qualities I felt the first two games were severely lacking. My play style rotated with basically every new pickup, trusting that if a gun had a better rank than my old weapon, I should switch to it immediately and figure out how what strategies would make this new weapon most effective.
The evolving landscape of viable shooting options kept me so addicted. It was like I was playing Doom 2016 with its orthogonal design only now, I’m using those tactics in an ultra-colorful world filled with all sorts of interesting people, genuinely funny dialogue and missions worth exploring. Every quest felt like it’s own unique short story with humor that felt fitting; maybe even timeless. Story missions were elaborate, too! Gone is battering your way through a linear fortress just to collect an arbitrary key item. This time around, everything was a world changing heist that either inflated your value or the stakes.
I know a lot of people still say Borderlands 2 is their favorite and that’s fine. With my time here, I just want to stress that it’s the improved gunplay, appealing humor and truly bombastic natural of the 3rd game that did it for me. Whether you’re playing solo or co-op, I promise you’re going to get an incredible amount of bang for your buck picking up a copy of Borderlands 3.
5. Journey to the Savage Planet
Alright, so the best way I think I can sell Journey to the Savage Planet to you is this: It’s like Metroid Prime but more colorful and significantly less vicious. The humor is like Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job set on an alien planet. Moving through the world, you’ll learn lots of about the species that inhabit the planet using your scan visor. Lots of quests will net you lots of upgrades & post-game is basically a big, non-essential collectation!… oh, and there’s co-op if you want.
I think I’m still surprised how much I enjoyed seeing everything this game had to offer. It touched on so many elements of games I loved to play as a kid though I wouldn’t call this a kids game. Sort of like how animated sitcoms might look like a kids show… okay fine, this could easily be considered a kids game.
But collecting everything as you go will give your brain work out! Don’t use a guide, eventually the game will review everything that’s a secret. Figuring out the secrets the world had to offer was so much of the fun here! Eventually you’ll be given a series of optional objectives that just ask you to set up situations and figure out to make them happen. It was like how Crackdown had achievements like, ‘get over 15 seconds of hangtime in a vehicle’ which was really saying ‘drive your car at full speed off the tallest mountain or find a crazy way in co-op to make it happen.
I could talk a lot more about this game but much of its charm comes from discovery. I hope I’ve said enough to inform you on whether you wanna play this one or not because I’m already afraid I gave away some of the game’s allure just by describing it! Anyways, if you’re a fan of 3D platformers and/or FPS puzzle games, you’d be doing yourself a disserves to not play this title.
4. Dark Soul 2: Scholar of the First Sin Co-op
Lots of people roast this game for being of lesser quality than the first and third games of the series. I think it’s just misrepresented. This whole time, we’ve been trying to play it singleplayer like but — hear me out — Dark Souls 2 feels distinctly designed to be experienced in co-op! Come on, let’s talk.
What’s one thing people hate most about this game? Gank squads. Well guess what: You can’t get ganked when you come equipped! I’m talking about the hordes getting ratio’d by two hombres ready to backstab at a moments notice. There’s also no friendly fire so literally — go nuts. Swing away when they gang up on your partner and unless their AI decides to change targets, you’re just gonna stack free damage.
Seriously, this game is significantly easier with atleast two people playing. I played with my partner who hadn’t played a true souls-like game before. The biggest difficulty was actually coaching her into mustering the courage to venture forth, gathers enough souls to afford the Name-Engraved ring from Sweet Shalquoir (who she loved, btw) so we could connect painlessly.
We took turns being in each others world, defeating bosses in both and accrued plenty of souls. Co-op leveling up is significantly faster. We got pretty used to avoiding death in fear of losing souls or running out of Human Effigies — which did happen briefly while trying to defeat the Fume Knight twice. Since a phantom keeps all their souls gained if they die, our trick was to have my partner always start as the phantom in new areas so if we got overwhelmed, atleast she wouldn’t be overwhelmed by losing all her progress. Our system helping her learn how to play at a significantly quicker pace than if she jumped right in through singleplayer.
Since every new area the, ‘Explore a bit, take on some big threats, fight a boss, rinse repeat’ formula, I found the more linear pacing of the world to be suitable and refreshing. Going from one environment to the next is actually kind of relaxing you know you don’t have to search everywhere. It also made hitting a dead-end feel something like a congratulations from the game. A bookmark in our progress that we could celebrate by returning to Majula and striking up a new path.
It probably helps that we’re both pre-acclimated to check wikis for plotting growth in a game world. We both ended up using our initial builds until they were maxed out so we had plenty of resources to dump into new tools to shake things up in the DLC areas. It took us about 60 hours to complete everything — and please note, that’s 60 hours of pure adrenaline packed fun, not complaining about gank squads or broken mechanics.
3. Remnant: From the Ashes
From the Ashes is the first subtitle in what I hope is many more Remnant sequels to come. Gunfire Games, the developers of this exquisite title, started from pseudo-humble beginnings. The group was founded by David Adams shortly before his old team, Crytek USA, was bought by THQ and dissolved in their bankruptcy sometime in July 2014. For the first several years, they were taking sponsored gigs with Oculus and Samsung to make VR games. Later, they worked with Nordic Games to develop the 3rd Darksiders (an IP that many of Gunfire Game’s employees former worked on.)
The reason I share all this is because through many smaller contracts that grew their team in size, Gunfire finally reached a stable point where they could work on their own, original IP! What might that be, you ask? None other than Remnant: From the Ashes.
Remnant is such a humble game that tries it’s hardest to compete with bigger titles in similar genres in all the most important ways and succeeds so well. It’s got a truly fantastic 3rd person shoot-and-move system similar to games like Warhammer 40K Space Marine and even the Soulsborne genres. In fact, dodge rolling is an absolute critical gameplay mechanic. Melee attacks can also be performed with various weapons from hammers, hatches, swords and axe too. Though most of your damage is going to be dealt through an assortment of firearm. Optimizing your build against different enemy matchups is how Remnant shows its conscious of soulsborne gameplay in ways more meaningful than having crystals where bonfires would be an Dragon Hearts instead of an Estus Flask.
Best part of this whole thing is that setting up co-op works right out of the gate. From the very first level, my partner and I were playing in the same world, leaving more time to speculate what the game’s going to be like than trying to figure out why we can’t connect.
We plowed through the campaign once in about fifteen hours. Literally the same night that we beat the game, we rerolled another campaign and started playing through everything again. Since the worlds are procedurally generated and there’s a couple different bosses you might fight for each encounter (multiple bosses for the same story junction, sick right?) we played this second campaign… and then a third on a harder difficulty to prepare us for the DLC. Each time we tried out different builds and talked a lot about how we wanted to optimize our playthrough.
All in all, I don’t think we’ve had a multiplayer experience as long lasting as this since Left 4 Dead 2 last year. (Shoutouts to Back 4 Blood!!!!)
2. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
I feel like a weenie for saying in 2019, ‘this game is poorly balanced’ and just not playing Sekiro until a year later. You know what changed between now and then? Two things: 1) I developed a stronger backbone, and 2) I realized you could spam block to hit the parry window, rofllll
Forreal though, goddamn do I love this game! Fromsoft just has such a fantastic idea of how to take fun, easy to understand but brutal to master gameplay loops and craft entire games around them. In a way, Sekiro could almost be played with only two buttons and a control stick. I’m serious! All you do is attack and defend in this game! Of course, attacks have to be well timed and sometimes you have a very small window to block… and some moves are unblockable so you need a jump too… and of course you need to collect and use items so a few more buttons but you know what? Sekiro is seriously just an entire game about attacking and defending with incredible intent. And if the game were just a series of boss fights, I’d still love it!
Now of course I love it a whole lot more because outside of combat, Sekiro has a huge world to explore that will take you to an incredible array of locales. Palaces, forests, swamps, snowy cliffs, ect… Each new zone has its own enemies to fight with unique moves and some even unique mechanics. Along the way, there are plenty of optional mini-boss fights you can test your skills at. Should you manage to take then down, you’re often rewarded with upgrade material for the protagonist. Some upgrades will drastically alter how fights go down. In fact, I don’t think I had half the upgrades unlocked when I completed the game the first time, tempting me with another playthrough very soon…
Making use of the grapple tool is great. Not only will it offer sneaky traversal, but the sites you see from newly obtained vantage points are often breathtaking! Make sure you make these moments last because just below you might be a boss ready to knock the wind out of you. Let me tell you what, as a veteran soulsborne player, encounters with Sekiro bosses feel basically impossible until the moment you beat them because of how often times you’re not trying to beat a health bar but a regenerating stamina bar know as Posture. Once you do figure out the secret to each fight, their presence will appear as beautiful as the stream, landscape or architecture you were admiring on your journey to them.
So many good things could be said about Sekiro that I encourage everyone reading this to go learn about the game more! Even if it’s not one you feel like you could tackle, I recommend you watch someone play it atleast, if only to spectate the marvel of a world Fromsoft has given us with this gift to gaming.
1. Warzone + CoD Multiplayer
This year, I believe I’ve found the game (or atleast genre) that pulled from the culmination of all my hard world learning various FPS games. Not only does Warzone pull from my shooter knowledge to my Melee roots too! I honestly didn’t believe I’d have as much fun playing until I finally sat down and cracked open a match just to see what all the fuss was about. Let me explain:
Initially, I purchased Modern Warfare 2019 just to try and relive some of the magic I had playing Black Ops in 2010 and the subsequent CoD titles up to Ghost in 2013 where I kind of fell off with the series. I think I only put about 25 hours into the multiplayer before Warzone dropped it’s kind of a grindfest. When everyone went on lockdown in early March, I didn’t have any games to play online with homies because we were always meeting up in person for local multiplayer. My cousin Alex and I realized we could play together through cross-platform lobbies and started doing just that! At first, CoD’s Battle Royale (which launched a few weeks prior) was second to Multiplayer. A week or so into playing, we give Warzone a shot. Something happened to us and we soon found ourselves playing that mode 6 out of 7 nights a week, grinding for a win that we thought would never happen.
After a couple months, we started finding ourselves in Top 10 atleast once a night. Then it happened. We were playing duos, Alex dies with about 15 people left in the lobby and the 5th circle is starting to close in. I presume I’m basically dead too, without a partner, and had no idea what to do. To avoid approaching gas, I sprinted towards the school pictured below in Northeast Verdansk and camped the second floor, shooting out the window at anyone I saw. Little to say I was terrified and instinct — not muscle memory — had kicked it.
Luckily, the circle’s next iteration closed in with the portion of the school I was camping in the safe zone. I think I downed and thirsted maybe a few people but it felt like I wiped a whole army. I had never felt so in control of a stressful moment as I had in this instance so I tried to just play safe. The circle can’t close anymore — only move — and it’s pushing to a location that’s just ouside the school! I had to move but I had no idea how. I hop out a broken window but get caught on the playground’s fence. I find an exit but I’m coughing with barely any health left.
Above, a helicopter was hovering above everyone. Only four people remain including me.
I look up and firing at the chopper, disabling it right away. I shoot one guy out of the sky but the other lands in some trees. Without thinking, I sprint up the rocks just trying to position myself better inside the circle. Someone starts firing and — idk how I did it — I whip around and get the kill. ONLY ONE GUY IS LEFT! I go prone and plate up. The circle starts to move backwards on me, I have no idea what to do so I walk backwards, staring at the only parts of the ground not shrouded by gas. Slowly, the gas presses onwards then suddenly BAM, a figure starts to walk around one huge rock directly in front of me. I start to fire before he fires at me. We’re trading bullets and somehow… I down him.
Alex & I take home our first victory in Verdansk.
I knew this win was little more than a fluke. I didn’t want to be a one-hit wonder so from there I started watching tons of Warzone specialist YouTubers like JGOD, Icemanisaac, Iron, shadedstep and other channels like them if they prioritized getting the win over getting a high kill feed. I had no idea at the time that this one win would jumpstart my continues research in the game. These days, I’m still extremely interested in learning what the actions of a top-level professional are like in the realm of Call of Duty.
Of course, Alex and I still do this day put atleast a couple days a week into multiplayer and Warzone, though I play a lot more independently now. My current ambition is to start playing with people I meet in higher skill Discords though I haven’t gotten as far as I wish with my personal growth to start this side of things yet.
If you want to get some games in with me on CoD or SSBM Slippi, just message me about it on Twitter, @sheeshfr. Thanks for taking the time to reading my list!