So, 2020 is over. What a weird year. The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the globe, impacting everyone in different ways. While some claim it’s a hoax, others have cut off all human contact. Personally, I’ve been in a fortunate position and it’s not been too bad, and I’ve managed to keep playing games, including taking in some good new titles and the launch of the new console generation. It seems like lately the only posts I actually get round to are these “best of” ones! As with previous years, these are only titles I’ve personally played, and only covers Xbox, with a couple of non-demanding PC games thrown in for good measure. Also, personal opinion only of course, happy to hear what others have enjoyed via the comments below.
In a strange development, it seems like there haven’t been that many big releases in 2020. This may be that I’ve been playing a shitload of Destiny 2, or just haven’t really been looking for new games, but it does feel like there’s been a bit of a drought leading into the new console generation. In fact, my list includes a number of excellent remasters, something I’ve generally avoided in the past. I have a blog post in the works on this topic so might not go into too much detail here.
So, since my personal gaming thoughts are the most important thing on the Internet, here are my top games of 2020, in no particular order.
XCOM is epic. Gears of War is epic (LOL, totally unintentional pun). Put them together into a turn-based Gears of War strategy game? You’d better believe it’s epic. While the Gears (as it’s now known) series is commonly thought of as big, dumb, gory, macho blasting, this has always been a façade covering an intelligent cover-based shooter. Especially on higher difficulties, enemies are brutal, aggressively flanking your position and demanding you and your small squad to use cover well and manoeuvre effectively. Slowed right down, this translates brilliantly to turn-based strategy.
Gears Tactics does away with the XCOM base building and research, focusing instead on the missions. New gear comes from loot crates, of which I’m not generally a fan, but works well here. For story purposes, you have a selection of heroes, who have to take part in certain missions and must be kept alive at all costs. The roster is then padded out by additional red shirts who come along after every mission. I have to say I never really got attached to them (unlike XCOM), but it doesn’t detract from the game.
The mission gameplay is pure XCOM and it works so well with Gears. The variety in enemies present in the Gears world brings great variety and challenge as there are always certain countermeasures you can deploy. Overall a really superb re-imagining of Gears into something new.
If there were a benchmark, a shining example for how remasters should be done, this would be it. The original games were some of the best titles available on the original Playstation (I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise). The “just one more go” gameplay, amazing level design and unbeatable soundtrack made these games so much fun to play, and I have incredibly fond memories of working through THPS2 to 100% with my flatmates at uni, collaboratively maxing out all of the characters, hitting all the gaps (we printed a list of the gaps and painstakingly scored them out, one by one), and getting full scores in all the competitions.
While a remaster was attempted a few years ago, the controls didn’t feel right on the newer consoles and it was a greatest hits style selection of levels, rather than a full compendium. This latest effort is absolutely pitch perfect, and both games are as infuriatingly addictive as ever. The developers understood the need to keep the originals intact while modernising and making sure the controls work on modern pads. While I haven’t played the PS version, on the Xbox this is done to great success (and is even better on the Series X’s improved D-pad).
I could go on about this title for ages, and I might write another post just to do so, but for now, one of the best remasters available is absolutely up there as one of my favourite games of the year.
You knew it would be on here, right? Destiny 2’s annual updates have a habit of revitalising the game, and Beyond Light is no different. While Bungie have controversially stripped a load of content from the game (destinations, campaigns, sunset weapons), what remains and has been added is excellent. There’s now a huge variety of things to do which keeps a relatively casual player like myself entertained for ages.
Europa is a stunning new destination, and the Beyond Light campaign and endgame adds so much delicious detail to Destiny lore that ties the story of the 2014 original game into Beyond Light. Some unique new weapons (Lament!), the ability to wield the darkness and an incredible new raid have brought an infusion of life back into Destiny 2.
I used to pick up Assassin’s Creed with every release and play it to death. Somewhere around the time of Assassin’s Creed Unity I fell away from it, struggling for time and just finding the size of the worlds a bit daunting. I still haven’t finished Origins or Odyssey. But when I got the Xbox Series X I wanted to try a game that really showed off what it could do and Valhalla didn’t disappoint.
While Valhalla follows the usual formula, it feels like a major step in the evolution of the series. The Norse setting is stunning and rich, especially once hitting England and establishing a settlement, and there’s a huge amount of exploration to do. Fortunately the ability to sail around the map via the interconnecting river system makes transit pretty easy and fairly quick. Combat is more nuanced than its predecessors and the character progression seems fair and achievable.
Overall though, Valhalla just feels that bit more enjoyable than the last few entries in the series, and it works incredibly well.
Yep, it’s another remaster. But what a remaster it is. If Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 is the definitive remaster, this is the previous champ. Both the original Command & Conquer as well as the wonderful Red Alert, packaged with all their expansions (remember when they were called expansions rather than DLC?), and all of the original bugs! This is basically an HD update of both games that keeps the originals intact but makes them work seamlessly on modern PCs.
I spent an inordinate amount of time on Red Alert back in the mid-nineties, so this release provided a nostalgia hit for me, but is still incredible in terms of gameplay, even by today’s standards. The actors hamming it up in the Full Motion Video (FMV) cutscenes are as fantastic as ever (especially in Red Alert’s alternate World War II timeline), and the whole package is a real-time strategy masterclass.
Another remaster?! Yuuup. Day of the Tentacle is straight from the primetime of point-and-click adventure gaming in the late eighties and early nineties. LucasArts were at the top of their game, and Tim Schafer was at the forefront of that charge. The Monkey Island remasters a few years back were superb, and this follows in the same vein. Same content, new graphics and improved input.
While it won’t win any awards for originality or technical achievement, the heart and soul of the original is still present and Day of the Tentacle is just as much goofy, silly fun as it was nearly 30 years ago!
As I mentioned above, I don’t feel like there were a lot of compelling releases this year. A couple below that I intend to play at some point, but I may have missed some. It seems like it was a looooong year!
As well as the 2020 releases, I’ve been playing a few other titles over the past year or so. Some of the standouts are mentioned below:
So, here we go for another year. Hopefully we get vaccine rollouts and the world resumes some form of normality. It would be nice if we all gain a greater appreciation and compassion for our fellow people, but maybe it’s more realistic to aim for Halo Infinite finally releasing in 2021.
What did you play through 2020? What were your favourites? Let me know in the comments below. There are no wrong answers!