2020 Game of the Year – Counting Down the Year’s Five Best Games
For a year that never ended, it’s crazy that 2020 is nearly over. If you played video games this year, then you probably have mixed feelings about this year’s releases. Some of our most anticipated titles let us down. Some surprises brought us hours of entertainment. Like the year itself, choosing the 2020 Game of the Year felt uncomfortable and disorienting. I played a lot of older games this year to help keep some familiarity in my life. Many of the things I played this year that released in 2020 didn’t stick with me. These five games, however, are the exception. I think to truly celebrate this year in gaming, we need to recognize how diverse the best games were. As you’ll see in my top 5 games of 2020, I’m happy to say this year’s best efforts brought us a little bit of everything.
2020 Game of the Year #5: Ghosts of Tsushima
Image Credit: Sucker Punch Studios and Sony
To truly celebrate Ghosts of Tsushima, one need not spend much time with the title. If you experienced this game at all in 2020, then you know what I’m about to say. The world, both graphically and in gameplay, is truly mesmerizing. For all the talk about next-gen graphics, Ghosts of Tsushima will likely be the best-looking game we play in the next few years. The team at Sucker Punch nailed every element of feudal Japan. They also created a game worth following its story and characters to the very end.
Some action titles like Ghosts of Tsushima leave me wanting to sort of speed things up and finish the game already. Every minute with a title like Assassin’s Creed past the 20-hour mark, for me, starts to feel tedious. I didn’t get that feeling with Ghosts of Tsushima. Honestly, if Sucker Punch released a game like this every three years, then I’d be overjoyed and first in line every time. Overall, the captivating world, addictive gameplay, and wonderful presentation and graphics made this one of the best titles in recent years.
Image Credit: Thunder Lotus
I can honestly say that Spiritfarer is the only game on this year’s list to make me cry. The cathartic arrival of this game in a year shadowed by such devastating loss for many of us is both overwhelming and much-needed. If you haven’t played Spiritfarer, then please find a way to do so. You travel as Stella accompanying spirits to the Everdoor, aka, eternal rest. A gorgeous art style and simplistic gameplay help keep this game focused on what it truly is about: experiencing the emotions attached to death and loss.
Overall, Spiritfarer hits you with great moments of storytelling from the get-go. I think for a game to capture so much of what we fear about death while also offering comforting anecdotes about the process is quite a feat to accomplish. For a lot of us, we lost someone or know something that won’t be the same after 2020. While it might sound like a sad game, Spiritfarer feels like a celebration of life. I’m honestly getting choked up thinking about how great this game was; truly, this game was a joy in every sense of the word.
#3: The Last of Us Part II
Image Credit: Naughty Dog
Well, we go from the comfort of Spiritfarer to the utter chaos and hopelessness of The Last of Us Part II. Easily the best-told story in this year’s 2020 Game of the Year entries for me, Naughty Dog once again outdoes itself. For all of the drama surrounding the game, playing this game is like watching a tragedy play out. Every element of the game, including its softer moments, are brash, violent, and very much in keeping with the distrust, we feel towards each other as a society right now.
The ending of The Last of Us Part II, to me, is glorious. The game builds up multiple times towards a great climax and absolutely nails the ending in keeping with a tone it works so hard to establish throughout the game. I loved every second of The Last of Us Part II and with the incredible gameplay available in this one, I can see myself revisiting it often.
#2: Doom Eternal
Image Credit: Bethesda
Anytime I needed to blow off steam from stress in 2020, I’d hop into Doom Eternal. Holy hell; literally. This game is an adrenaline shot to the heart and a kick in the face at the same time. Doom (2016) was a triumph for first-person shooters and a game series decades old at this point. If you wondered how the game could improve, then you need not look further than Doom Eternal‘s great grasp on balanced difficulty and learning moments within confined spaces that still feel limitless.
Improvements to platforming, enemy strategy, and graphics make this game a blast to play. While I know the best way to handle stress isn’t to play something stressful, I found myself unable to think of the troubles of 2020 while playing this game. That, my friends, is a huge blessing given the mess we experienced this year.
2020 Game of the Year #1: Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Image Credit: Nintendo
Funnily enough, my two favorite 2020 game of the year entries released on the same day: Doom Eternal and Animal Crossing. There’s no denying that the simplicity and relatively repetitive gameplay of Animal Crossing isn’t for everyone. That said, every day since March 20, 2020, I’ve played New Horizons. If you remember, March 20 was right around the time we all started hearing things like “stay at home orders” and “social distancing,” and unfortunately, the grim reality of the COVID-19 virus’s impact on the world. Since March, we’ve battled personal struggles and collective undoings. I won’t dive into the personal elements of my 2020, but I will say this: Animal Crossing: New Horizons proved to be a saving grace for me and many others.
I have over 450 hours in this game already, and I won’t stop playing any time soon. The gentle nature of this game mixed with plenty of room to make a new world all your own provides escape in the best way possible. Even without a pandemic (which is a timeline we’d all surely choose), I would have played this game. I pre-ordered it the second it was announced. My experience, however, is completely different because of how hopeless and helpless we felt at times this year.
We’re seeing the end drawing nearer, but plenty of challenges lie ahead. In the utter shitstorm that was 2020, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was the reliable refuge I could take when I needed a moment to breathe, smile, relax, and simply exist. If you have your own countdown for 2020 Game of the Year, then share it with us in the comments!
Featured Image Credit: Bethesda
Taylor loves to play video games in his spare time. He has two degrees in Political Communication and wrote his thesis on Marxism and the exploitation of college athletes. In his spare time, he loves spending time with his wife and two Toy Australian Shepherds. He’s always got headphones in, and he’s a diehard Cubs fan.