What an incredible year to literally be stuck, with nowhere to go and nothing to do. I jumped on the baking band wagon, thanks to the Great British Baking Show. I jumped on the owning of big cats and doing meth, thanks to Tiger King. I worked out, briefly. And like every year, pandemic or not, played some video games. Despite the ever present global pandemic, shut downs, remote work and various challenges that go along with it all. They shipped out some great games this year, but also a few forgettable ones and a handful of buggy messes. But this isn’t the ‘Nicks worst of 2020’, you didn’t come here to read about Avengers or Animal Crossing, did you? I mean if you did I’m sure some other MegaDads with lower standards will have you covered.
My games played list was all over the place. It ranged from smaller Indie titles like John Wick Hex and Lonely Mountains, to sprawling JRPGS like Persona 5 Royal. Remasters like FF7 or RE3 and Dreams, that weird game creator thing. Nothing was off the table this year for me, even going back to some old tried and true games like Overwatch or Witcher 3. While any other year for me can be speckled with some card game or puzzler, 2020 was not only about finding comfort in the familiar but also branching out and trying a few games I would normally pass on and I’m so glad I did.
Speaking of branching out. I’ve been really harsh on what EA has been able to do with the Star Wars license since it acquired it in 2013. Fallen Order aside, the games have been pretty lack luster money grabs. So when it was revealed that it’s fourth Star Wars game was going to be another online multiplayer game I quickly let out a long exasperated sigh and moved on with my day. But thanks to some very excitable Star Wars nerds, I slowly started to pay attention. For starters it wasn’t going to be developed by Dice but secondly and most important it was going to be in VR. I picked up PSVR during a Black Friday sale in 2019 and mostly have had really good experiences on it but 2020 really didnt give much in terms of VR. Iron Man VR left me feeling sick after a few minutes of play and Vader Immortal left me longing for something a bit longer. The fact that I could play 10 hours of Squadrons for five bucks thanks to EA Play before fully commiting was a nice boon for the game itself on top of being a budget title. What I found was more bit more than the arcade style play from the ship combat in Battlefront. Each ship available felt and controlled just different enough to make it fun. The customization was deep enough to make it feel like I was slowly carving out my own reputation as a fiersome pilot. Most importantly sitting in the cockpit of my Tie Fighter looked and felt very cool in VR and gave me zero fits of motion sickness and it made me start looking at afforable flight sticks for my PS4. My only complaint with it how fast epople seemed to fall off the game which is a shame because if I can still find a match in under 5 minutes for Battlefront 2 I sure as hell should find a match in the far superior game just as quickly. Hopefully Motive is given more Star Wars titles and a little more free reign by EA before the liscense expires in two more years.
I don’t think I have ever kept it a secret that I love the Sony brand. It has been my prefered platform since the original PS1. No other launch game ever, I think, has encapsulated so much nostalgia while also keeping a firm eye on the future. Astro’s Playroom was built to showcase the incredible new dual sense controller and does so in spades. Every other game I have played on the PS5 has been a let down comparativley on how it uses the controllers many functions. More than a glorified tech demo It walks you through the illustrious past that Sony has. Each level is dedicated to a generation of the Playstation, unlocking consoles and accesories for each to let you talk a virtual walk down memory “card” lane. The game is also littered with memories of software experiences. The first few hours on my brand new console were spent capturing images of little bots recreating some of my favorite video game characters. Kratos and Dante are there as well as Cloud and Aloy. I was like that meme of Leonardo Dicaprio pointing at shit in recognition come to life, while my kids sat and watched just happy to have a cute little platformer to play not caring about some video game reference from before they were born. Team Asobi did a fantastic job making me feel the Sony love and I can’t wait to see what they are able to due on their next full fledged game.
GAME OF THE YEAR – THIRD PLACE
Since January 1st, 2020 I was sure that the Last of Us Part 2 was going to be my number one GoTY. The first is one of my favorite games of all time. The story is something that hit just at the right point in my life and stayed with me ever since. So here we are January 1st, 2021 and the game is number three on my list. This isnt to say the Last of Us part 2 was a let down by any means. After rolling credits I immediatley began my new game plus run and again was so sure that nothing was going to top my time with the game for the rest of 2020. Simply put Naughty Dog is the industry standard for what video games can be.
The story picks up a few years after the ending of the original, Joel and Ellie are living as part of a community and while have a some what strained relationship at this point, continue to mean a whole lot to each other. The Last of Us ratchets up everything from the original including the emotional opening act that sets the rest of the story into motion. The story is somehow darker than the original though as we discover the cost and toll a path of revenge takes even after achieving it. If you’ve ever seen a tweet by SunhiLegend, you know that the combat got a massive upgrade and is incredibly deep. I really loved everything about this game, like it’s predecessor its story and themes are ones that stick with me and I find myself analyzing what i would do in those situations. The little touches to detail to make everything a bit more grounded and real. Like when a character with acrphobia is up high, the camera perspective shifts to a more overhead position and gets shaky. Touches like that go a long way with me.
Immediatley after rolling credits on The Last of Us 2, I started up NG+ which is rare a rare feat for me to want to jump back in. The game failed in zero areas. To say the game is tense would be an understatement. I found my time spent in the world broken in up into smaller chunks. I needed more time away from the game to cope with dealing with the game. That isn’t a knock on the game at all just my personal hang ups playing a game about a nightmare pandemic spun out of control and the bleak monsters we all turn into was not the escapism I needed in 2020 but thankful for it and loved it all the same as it did give me the best cover of Take on Me to date.
GAME OF THE YEAR – RUNNER UP
Who would’ve thought the best Assassins Creed game of the last few years would be a Sony exclusive?
I’m being facetious, but only a litle bit. I was so honestly worried about this game based on some early reviews calling it mediocre to “one of the worst games they played this year.” Which is a bold title to give a game. Long story short, this game came out a week after I completed TLOU2 and was debating even getting it. Ghosts ended up being the pallete cleanser I needed and such a fun, polished journey to boot. Lets start with how I compared it to AC. It’s AC in the sense that you go around unlocking regions, have side quests and spots to find on a story for stealthy revenge. But where in a AC game those things seem like random fillers at best, in Ghosts they seem very deliberate and purposeful. The design drives the plot and necessity for these things and provide a quiet break between showdowns. It wasnt a burden to find a hot spring or a stack of bamboo.
The combat was satisfying and for the most part I loved taking the upfront approach. The story was beautiful at it’s height if not a little bit predictable at it’s crescendo, but sometimes when you have a strong vision and style, strong gameplay, you can coast a bit on story. The game ran smooth and looked fantastic. I think total I had just under 80 photos taken in photomode and 8-10 video grabs that I wanted to save just because. Ghosts was an Akira Kurosawa film that you could play. Ghosts of Tsushima ended up being one of the most fun experiences I’ve had beginning to end and was my only platinum for 2020 and It doesnt even cover the free massive new multiplayer component that released after it’s launch. Seriously if you even remotley liked Valhalla or skipped it, this is the better experience.
GAME OF THE YEAR
In general I find that I don’t like anything in the “Rogue” genre of games. To me, playing enough to finally luck out to get good stats or equipment or cards or whatever is just trying to stretch a bare bones game into something larger. Difficulty and luck are not replacements for full on game design. That being said the tremendous pedigree of Superiant Games had me midly interested but the pantheon of praise surrounded Hades finally pushed me over the edge.
First off, the team behind Supergiant Games excel in two main areas, characters and music. Both are present in Hades and I would argue they makeup for a large swath of what makes the game so charming and replayable. In most Rogue games, you soldier on in repeated runs with very little in terms of story or motivation. In Hades the story is interwoven between your failed attempts to escape Hell. The more you die the more story and character interactions you are rewarded with. Which if you luck out or are really good and clear the game in a few runs, you’re going to be missing out on the best part of the game. The gameplay is really tight, a benefit to being in early access for awhile. During your runs you earn currency to purchase permanent upgrades and different weapons. You’re even able to spruce up the ol’ Hell palace with the currency you earn. There are six different weapons to purchase each with its own play style. It takes some trial and error to find what works best for you but once you have a good feel for the weapon you like it’s all in the Gods hands after that.
Hades is my number one game of the year because it took a genre I had no interst in and made it fun and interesting. Even on truly bad runs I was still having a blast and had the salve of great characters and story to heal my hurt pride when I was inevitably sent back to the underworld time and time again. The feeling of accomplishment when you finally clear a level is immeasurable and eclipses any moments of frustration that may pop up. I may never play a “Rogue” game again but I will keep coming back if Supergiant is on behind it. Supergiant Games as proven to be a top tier developer once again.