Zack Zwiezen’s Top 10 Games Of 2020

Zack Zwiezen’s Top 10 Games Of 2020
Image: Valve / Kotaku

When I first sat down to put together this list, I wrote down two titles and then sat and thought for a while about what else I played. I think this year has thrown my whole mind into a strange funk, because I couldn’t even name 10 games I had played, let alone loved.

But looking through my previous posts on Kotaku and my various achievements on Xbox and PlayStation, I was able to put together this list of great games that 2020 made me forget about. And once I remembered them I was like “Oh yeah… that game was rad!” I might even reinstall some of these games and play them again!

As usual, this list is in no particular order until the very end, where I’ll list my game of the year.

Screenshot: Id / Bethesda Screenshot: Id / Bethesda

Doom Eternal

It feels like Doom Eternal landed with a big splash and then quickly faded into the background. Part of the problem facing Eternal is that Doom 2016 was surprisingly good and felt like the perfect way to bring back the classic shooter-series. So how do you follow that up? Eternal just adds a ton more to the formula. But maybe… too much? It’s a fair complaint that Eternal feels more arcadey and bloated than 2016’s lean, mean, demon-killing machine. But it was still one of the best games of 2020 and something I can’t wait to replay in the future.

Screenshot: Ubisoft / Kotaku Screenshot: Ubisoft / Kotaku

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

As I write this list, I just recently cracked the 110-hour mark in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. And I’m still enjoying it. That’s not something a lot of games can pull off. Valhalla just clicked in a way that made it a perfect game for me to boot up and sink a few hours into every night. I reviewed this game and I’m still playing it, which is not often the case. Usually, I move on to other stuff or feel so done with a game after reviewing it that I don’t return. But with Valhalla, I can’t seem to get enough. Bring on the DLC. I want more viking action.

Screenshot: Square Enix Screenshot: Square Enix

Final Fantasy VII Remake

If you know me, you know how strange it is that I’m putting a Final Fantasy game on this list. And yet, here it is. Wasn’t expecting this at all. I’ve played a few Final Fantasy games, but usually only for like a few hours and then I just lose interest and move on. But the combat, story and look of FF7 Remake was able to hook me, unlike any other Final Fantasy game. So not only is FF7 Remake one of my top games of 2020, it’s the first Final Fantasy game I’ve finished in my life.

Screenshot: Activision Screenshot: Activision

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2

Playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 earlier this year was the closest thing I’ve experienced to time travel. In my mind, the original games just looked and played like this. I know that’s not the case, but because that’s how I remember things, playing this new remake collection felt like hurling myself back to the late 90s. Also, after years of bad and mediocre Tony Hawk titles, this most recent remake felt like a miracle too. I now need them to release a THPS3 expansion ASAP.

Screenshot: Sucker Punch / Kotaku Screenshot: Sucker Punch / Kotaku

Ghost of Tsushima

I still haven’t finished this yet, because I got pulled away by at least a dozen other games. But recently, I played Ghost of Tsushima on my PS5, and folks, let me tell you something. This game running at 60fps makes it feel 10x better, which is impressive because it already felt great to play on PS4. So I can’t wait to find some time to finally go back and finish this game. But even after only playing half of it, I’m willing to pop it on my 2020 GOTY list.

Screenshot: Insomniac / Marvel Screenshot: Insomniac / Marvel

Spider-Man: Miles Morales

This was the first game I ever played on my PS5 and what a way to kick off the next generation. Miles Morales boasts one of my favourite Spider-Man narratives since Into The Spider-Verse. But it also looks and feels incredible on PS5. The way the triggers tense up as you swing around the snow-covered streets of NYC feels next-gen. And with a recent update, you can now play the game at 60fps with ray tracing on, which is making me feel like it’s time to start up a new game+ soon.

Screenshot: Microsoft / The Coalition Screenshot: Microsoft / The Coalition

Gears Tactics

Here’s the thing about Gears Tactics: You don’t have to enjoy or care about Gears of War at all to like it. If you do care about stuff like the Locust, the COG, the Pendulum Wars, and other lore stuff, you’ll love all the references and callbacks. But what makes Gears Tactics work so well is that at its core is a simple, but challenging turn-based strategy game that should appeal to folks who, like me, never finish Xcom games because they just get too frustrating

Screenshot: Ubisoft / Kotaku Screenshot: Ubisoft / Kotaku

Immortals Fenyx Rising

Dumb name, good game. Taking the Assassin’s Creed formula and infusing it with more puzzles and jokes, while simplifying exploration and combat, was an interesting choice. And yes, this is very much Ubisoft’s take on a Breath of the Wild-like open-world game, but y’know what, it works. And it’s different enough to warrant its own existence. Plus I don’t care about Zelda lore at all, but I do enjoy some Greek mythology.

Screenshot: Sony Screenshot: Sony

Astro’s Playroom

Astro’s Playroom is possibly the wildest entry on this whole list, with it being a free pack-in game for the PS5. But look, we don’t get a lot of big-budget 3D platformers. And rarely are they as creative and charming as Astro’s Playroom. Sure, it’s short and not super hard. But it’s just a joy to play, especially with the new PS5 controller and its fancy triggers and haptic feedback features. I smiled from ear to ear while playing and watching this game. It’s wonderful. Don’t buy a PS5 to play this game. BUT if you do buy a PS5, take a few hours to play one of the best games of 2020.

And finally, my favourite game of the year…

Screenshot: Valve Screenshot: Valve

Half-Life: Alyx

I fully understand that for many, Half-Life: Alyx fills them with anger and frustration. It’s a VR only game that requires a decent PC and a separate VR headset. It’s not cheap to play. I was lucky enough to borrow a Vive headset from a friend to play it. And I’m so thankful I got to play it. It’s fantastic.

Half-Life: Alyx has incredible writing and creative action and puzzles. It also truly feels like a next-gen VR game. The way you use your gravity gloves to force pull things towards you feels so natural that after playing it all week, I found myself trying to yank things to me in the real world. It also released right as I and others in the United States started staying indoors due to covid-19. Sure, the post-alien-invasion world of Alyx is hellish, but it was still nice to escape my covid-19 filled world as things got bad.

Half-Life: Alyx is something that will be emulated and studied by developers working on VR games for years to come, not unlike how developers emulated Half-Life 1 in the years following its release. And as VR becomes cheaper and the specs to run Alyx become less intimidating, I’m hopeful more folks get a chance to play the best game of 2020.

My Top 10 Games Of 2019

Comments

  • HL: Alyx was amazing. I would caution people about going into it / VR with the wrong expectations though – it’s the only VR game I consider worth playing and if you fall into a similar camp there might not be anything else you’ll use VR for.

    Aside from maybe BeatSaber (which is far too expensive) every other title I’ve tried feels like a tech demo. The sort of meaty, fleshed out narrative driven experience of Alyx just doesn’t exist in other titles on the platform. Other popular titles I’ll never be able to try because continuous motion makes me feel sick, and a lot of other games only provide continuous motion – another major problem VR in general has.

    All told I love Alyx, but VR has a lot of problems that need to be solved by more games with higher budgets if VR will ever come close to having the mainstream appeal that otherwise I think Alyx deserves.

    • Thats one of the problems with VR so far. Everything feels like a tech demo, rather than a reason to use VR. HL: Alyx could be the exception that drives VR, but like Avatar and 3D movies there just doesnt seem to be any followups to really reinforce the tech.

      So even with a game as good as HL: Alyx seems to be, so far it seems it’ll still remain a gimmick.

      • I guess my angle is that VR isn’t a gimmick at all when it’s used well – but there’s only one game that has, to my tastes, done so, and no other studio seems to have the budget or impetus to match the ambitions of Alyx in a VR setting.

        I find it really uncomfortable that I love Alyx, but warn against buying VR. I’ve played it 3 times through and I’m slowly going through a 4th playthrough with the commentary mode on and it never gets old, but the rest of VR is little more than small indie titles with AAA price tags or tech demos that are interesting for about 10 minutes and I would warn anyone away from the platform because of it. I think if Sony made a PSVR 2 for the PS5 that supported full 6 degrees of motion and room scale movement (and Alyx was ported to it) I think VR would almost instantly be mainstream, but I don’t think Sony would want to do that until the price to do so is as low as it was to produce the 1st iteration of the PSVR.

        What even the 1st gen hardware is capable of is more than just a gimmick, but there isn’t enough money in the scene to compel any studious to make a major VR exclusive that only works in VR in the way Valve did with Alyx, so I get why people see it that way.

    • Agree that Beat Saber is way overpriced, and now that Facebook owns it I fear it’ll never go on special for more than 20% off.
      The list of really good VR things is pretty short, but there’s some clear winners in various categories:
      There’s a few long narrative VR games now. Asgard’s Wrath, Lone Echo
      Elite Dangerous is fantastic in VR, and Star Wars: Squadrons isn’t bad either.
      There’s a couple of CS-like round based shooters like Pavlov and one or two others which escape me right now.
      To The Top is a fun/terrifying climber through use of simple colours largely avoids motion sickness for what should be a very nauseating experience. There’s other climbers out there too.
      Hotdogs, Horseshoes and Handgrenades is early access, but has had weekly updates for years and regularly features new modes and holiday specials.
      Sword & Sorcery looks pretty great, and Boneworks, but haven’t tried them yet.

      • I would add Wilson’s Heart to that list.

        Like a lot of other VR games, it’s a standing still simulator, but has an excellent pace and story.

        I still find VR largely a gimmick that works best for games where your character is sitting down – flight/space sims for example.

  • I do want to try Lone Echo and its sequel, they do look pretty good (if a bit pricey once again) and Moss looked interesting as well as a different take on VR. But still I feel the platform just doesn’t have enough to really justify the purchase.

    I probably sound spoilt, but I think Alyx should be the baseline for VR going forwards – both in fidelity and in accessibility. As much of a bummer as this is I think VR works best with the amount of detail Valve put into Alyx combined with the depth of interactions they put in – I love indie titles, but VR really benefits massively from a higher budget and what I love about indie titles isn’t really enhanced by VR for me. I’ve always been pretty picky with games – if I’m going to spend x amount of time and money with a title I want it to be more worthwhile than just replaying another game I already love, and the hurdles a lot of VR games offer (continuous movement mostly) aren’t worth the possibility of a few experiences that look interesting when I can much more easily, and cheaply, access a massive catalogue of great experiences in ‘flatscreen’ games.

    I see the promise of the platform, but I don’t think there are enough studios willing to put in the work to deliver on it in the way I think they need to to justify the price of entry for most people.

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