During this terrible year, a little escapism went a long way. Whether you were falling into your ninth rewatch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, sat for your third Game of Thrones binge of the year, or clocking in your 300th hour on Call of Duty: Warzone, it was all about finding something to help you forget about the awfulness going on right outside your door.
When it came to games, there was so much to sink your teeth into in 2020. Not all of it was of the feel-good variety and some of it was full on intimidating *cough* Demon’s Souls Remastered *cough*. But no matter what you were putting into your console of choice, it is impossible to argue about just how good a year it has been for gamers. Narrowing down to a top five was difficult – not Demon’s Souls difficult, but pretty bad – but here goes.
A top five games, of the games I played this year, in the spaces in between me playing Hitman 2 and refreshing the GAME website hoping to get a PlayStation 5.
5. Resident Evil 3 Remake (Capcom)
Last year’s Resident Evil 2 Remake set the bar painfully high for this year’s instalment. In addition, Capcom didn’t do themselves any favours by tacking on an asymmetric multiplayer mode (REsistance) and giving that far more of their attention than the remake they were supposed to be selling.
That said, the opportunity to revisit the exploits of Jill Valentine and Carlos Oliveira using the beautiful RE Engine was one worth digging into for a few hours, over and over again. Fan favourite bad guy Nemesis has been given a retooling and is just as scary as the first time you played against him back in 1999. And whilst they don’t hit the butt-puckering highs of Mr X’s encounters in RE2, his sequences are still wonderfully crafted and tense enough to have you holding your breath at times.
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Poor audience reception be damned. Unfounded complaints of it being too short – a standard run would take more or less the same amount of time as it did back in ’99 – and slightly more acceptable complaints of portions of the game missing don’t take away from an infinitely replayable horror action game that has led audiences to fantasising about remakes of Resi 4 or Code Veronica next.
Capcom could do far worse. And you could do far worse in these virus filled times than to play one of the best virus based games reborn in this superb number.
4. The Shady Part of Me (Douze Dixiemes)
Coming completely out of nowhere at this year’s Game Awards, The Shady Part of Me, a indie monochrome puzzle platformer, was surprise-dropped across all consoles and PC the same night everyone saw the first ever trailer for it.
Endearing itself to players straight away via similarities to titles like Little Nightmares and Contrast, Shady tapped into a painfully forgotten niche. And with its monochrome, hand-drawn art style and fun – if not particularly challenging – puzzles, it is a game that almost everyone can appreciate and enjoy.
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Its unique selling point? Not only are you playing as a young girl trying to escape the dark and depressing world she is living in across a series of linear puzzle based levels, you are also separately controlling her shadow. Since one can’t walk in the light and one can’t walk in the shade, you must smartly work together to traverse the world safely.
With a beautifully melancholic world and a deliciously moody soundtrack, this short but wonderful tale of a young girl trying to overcome her poor mental health is an emotional must-play for everyone.
3. Doom Eternal (id Software)
Continuing on from the success of 2016’s DOOM re-sequel, Eternal picked up the ball laid down four years ago and ran with it.
Taking place not quite a year after the credits rolled on DOOM, Eternal sees the triumphant Doom Slayer return to earth with the intent of defeating three all-powerful hell priests that are co-ordinating an almost apocalyptic demonic attack. Running the whole thing from his own personal satellite/space station, the Slayer is going to come up against a myriad of new enemies and brutal new environments in his seemingly never-ending struggle against the forces of Hell.
As a rule, you know what you’re getting with a Doom game – we’ll forget about Doom 3, yeah? – and you know if these games are for you on release day. But while Doom: Eternal could have coasted on the success of its 2016 entry, the guys and girls at id refused to rest on their laurels and brought in a whole host of new features for this year’s entry. For better, and sometimes worse, the game is different enough from its predecessor to stand on its own and find a worthy spot in the top three games played this year.
Crazy levels of platforming, gorgeous expansive new levels, and fresh enemy types (that divided audiences), Doom: Eternal has solidified its place in the hallowed halls of fame as one of the best first-person-shooters ever made, taking battles from simple rooms full of bad guys to waste to near rhythm-action levels of carnage. With a killer heavy metal soundtrack, it would almost be appropriate to play the game with a Guitar Hero plastic instrument.
2. Streets of Rage 4 (Lizardcube)
This year needed so much. It needed a functional, rational selection of leaders; it needed a vaccine against mass stupidity, it needed better internet on Xbox pre-order day; it needed far more toilet paper and pasta than anyone ever thought would be required. But what we didn’t know we needed, right up until the point it arrived, was a fourth entry into the Streets of Rage franchise.
Ten years after the defeat of Mr X, his evil sons, The Y Twins, are back with an elaborate and dastardly plan to hypnotise their city via brainwashing music. Enter old favourites Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding, along with some new faces to back them up in this four-player co-op experience.
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But the daft story plays second fiddle to the near perfect gameplay and fun-as-all-hell minute-to-minute action that Streets of Rage‘s three-decade long legacy was made on. Scrolling across a dozen levels, as well as a few secret retro levels that have you fight the bosses from Streets of Rage 2, the game feels instantly familiar to seasoned veterans of the series while still being easily accessible for newcomers. A delicate balance that not every game can pull off.
Infinitely replayable and yet another killer soundtrack for the year, Streets of Rage 4 is a joy to play and if you haven’t played it yet, it’s time to rectify that.
1. The Last of Us Part II (Naughty Dog)
In a world where games like Heavy Rain exist and game directors like David Cage try to model themselves as auteurs, the sequel to 2013’s apocalyptic masterpiece manages to put writer/director Neil Druckmann above them all.
Back in 2013, The Last of Us was a game which dared to show us that not all of our heroes are actually heroes. Much like Spec Ops: The Line the year before, players were forced to join characters on their brutal, mentally draining and deeply nightmarish journeys. These games played us as much as we played them and toyed with our expectations and emotions masterfully. We did awful things in the name of our entertainment and our protagonist’s personal safety and own selfish needs, and bollocks to the ramifications.
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The Last of Us Part II made us deal with those ramifications, in the most horrible and emotionally destructive way. And then forced us on not one, but two hate-filled quests for revenge and redemption. Turning everything we had to do in the name of survival from the first entry up to eleven, and improving on the already beautifully evolved stealth and combat mechanics from the first entry’s Left Behind DLC, the second part of this epic story took players into the darkest pits of two competing, revenge fuelled souls and forced players to choose a side. A choice that, much like revenge itself, inevitably meant nothing.
The Last of Us Part II wasn’t just the first time I’d ever audibly begged a game to please stop what it was doing, it did so twice as I held my breath in fear of what was coming. It left players, myself included, a blubbering mess by the closing credits and, with its title card changing to look like something much more serene and less bleak compared to how your game started, it almost dares you to come back and try to change your fate.
Where The Last of Us closed out the PlayStation 3 generation perfectly, The Last of Us Part II did exactly the same for the PlayStation 4 this year. A perfect game that pulled players from their comfort zones and beat them about the head over and over again with their expectations of heroism.
And there we have it. Whether you agree or not with the entries and placement of this list, it’s hard to argue the quality of game we’ve had this year. Here’s to more in 2021.
Now. If you’ll excuse me. Hitman 2 is calling me.