Player Research’s Games of the Year 2020
18th December 2020
2020, what a year! Definitely one for the history books in more ways than one, but it’s coming to an end (thankfully!), and I’m sure we’ll all collectively hope 2021 will bring brighter and better things with it.
Something we can probably all agree on, is that video game lovers were among the best prepared to cope with the increase in indoor activities in lockdowns! And more than ever this year we were able to benefit from the joy and escapism that games are so brilliant at providing.
Personally, I found it heart-warming and incredible to see the strength of games for bringing people together this year as well, Among Us and Animal Crossing New Horizons being two particular stand-out examples. A game like AC:NH literally couldn’t have come at a better time, to create this alternate world we could escape to and for some fleeting amount of time forget about the bad stuff going on in our real world.
As always, I ask our team at Player Research to gather some thoughts on their personal bests for the year and what they loved about them. So, read on below to find out what everyone’s picks are – spoiler alert, there’s a little less variety in this year’s list than there usually is! Can you guess the game that gets the most shout-outs?
(Warning: Mild to moderate spoiler alerts for some of the content below – if you haven’t played a game, best bet is to skip over it if it’s mentioned!)
Immortals Fenyx Rising
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was a fantastic game, with a vibrant world, vibrant characters and vibrant storytelling. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was, let’s say, not so vibrant. But it turns out Ubisoft did make a colourful successor to Odyssey, in Immortals Fenyx Rising.
Like a kleptomaniac in a candy store, Immortals… borrows liberally from Breath of the Wild. Which isn’t a bad thing. There are lots of puzzle filled “not-shrines”, there are bigger “not-divine beasts”, you’ll save four “not-champions”, and you’ll travel around the beautiful open world by scaling cliffs only to jump off and glide around with your wings (not a glider!). But it isn’t all BotW. One of the cleverest things about the game is how the story is told. Your journey is narrated by Zeus and Prometheus, who don’t always agree on how the story goes, leading to much of the humour that’s at the heart of the game. Overall Immortals is playful, fun and quirky, and just the thing to round out 2020.
Mario 3D All-Stars
As a big fan of the Counter Strike series and Overwatch, I was very excited, to say the least, with the release of Valorant. A team-based tactical hero shooter, with a selection of agents with different abilities to choose from, seemed like my cup of tea and let me tell you that it didn’t disappoint.
The brilliantly designed hero cast and its outstanding gun-play provide a gaming experience unlike anything I have seen before. Whether you are an aggressive duelist who likes to run into the action, or prefer a sneakier approach and stealthy kills, Valorant provides you with agents to complement your preferred style of combat perfectly.
The visuals, although minimalistic, provide a stellar comprehension of the action going on around you. It could be very easy to get lost with all of the ability’s players are utilizing, while trying to aim at the head of players peaking you, but Riot does an excellent job by using sound cues alongside the intuitive visuals, to provide you with a perfect description of what is happening.
There is a quite a steep learning curve, but once you fully understand each agent and find your rhythm, you will find yourself exploring endless strategies and plays to dupe the enemy team and go for glory!
Overall, if you love nail biting, action packed, ‘‘Big Brain’’ gameplay that tailors to your play style, then Valorant is the game for you!
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
Honestly, it’s cruel that after waiting so many years, only the VR-owning gaming elite are able to experience the brand-new addition to the sorely neglected Half Life series. I myself was only able to play it curtesy of hardware I borrowed from the office (cheers Seb!). But you simply couldn’t take this game and play it on a traditional setup without losing everything that makes HL:A so very special. Right now, HL:A is the crème de la crème a la VR.
Valve has been deeply invested in VR R&D for years, and what you see in HL:A – the choices it makes in interaction design, environment design, sound design, etc. – it really feels like the summation of years of work and refinement.
The most stand out moments for me were the firefights. The sense of presence makes you feel genuinely vulnerable with all these bullets whizzing around, and the way you can interact 1:1 with your environment in a completely logical way leads to some exhilarating moments – like ducking underneath a window pane, then reaching up and smashing the fragments of glass out of the way with the butt of your gun, and resting your hand against the pane to return fire – it feels so natural, and so bad ass!
All in all, it sucks that this game is off-limits to so many. But it’s a truly exemplary VR game that I think will set the bar for many other narrative VR experiences to come!
The Last of Us Part II
The Last of Us Part II is my game of the year, but it really was a difficult choice between that and Half-Life: Alyx.
TLoU2 felt like a game where all game dev crafts were at their peak – sound, art, level design, graphics, narrative. Perhaps most impressively, they all work in harmony with each other.
I was consistently amazed at how well everything fit into place to make an unparalleled experience. I spent ages marvelling at the design of each area, the waves on a grassy field, the crunch of a bone, the flicker of a light.
The story was brave and unconcerned with pressures stemming from the first game’s success. The characters were interesting and plausible, which made their circumstances and actions, all the more tense and terrifying. A friend told me they even developed a stress-rash from playing it, which I personally didn’t experience, but I can certainly sympathise!
Despite the emotional toll of playing it, I fully intend to revisit the game on PS5. I just hope they do a full upgrade!
Final Fantasy VII Remake
The Last of Us Part II
I was excited for TLou2 for a few years since the original, and I was truly captivated by this sequel. It was my instant GOTY, with the story but not only in the two main interconnected storylines, but also the symmetry throughout the main narrative and the environment. The passage of time felt perfect and heart-wrenching. The beautiful world returning to nature only added further to this superb experience.
The Last of Us 2 made me cringe, cry and hold my breath. The story felt like watching a train crash I knew was going to happen – and everything about it, the train, the environment, and the crash itself was gorgeous – I couldn’t take my eyes away.
Frostpunk: The Last Autumn
Before We Leave
The Last of Us Part II
There’s nothing I love more in media than being deeply moved and affected in some way. TLoU Part II did that in abundance, and I applaud it greatly for being a game that had such a profound impact on me – there were times I felt physical disgust twisting in my stomach, and other times it had me weeping.
The rare moments of joy I experienced were a result of its ground-breaking (for AAA games) queer representation. It was so beautiful to see Ellie happy and in love, and to be part of a significant, unavoidable, authored WLW love story was just magical and made me feel seen, which isn’t a feeling I often get to experience in video games.
The course the story took was not without its wider controversies, but I appreciate the bravery of the devs to go down the route they did, and in my personal experience it paid off. They took me on a whiplash journey of emotions and character-attachment that I honestly did not think was possible midway through the game, but by the end I was blown away by what they achieved – and I ended up feeling strong love and care for characters who I initially despised.
What could be more powerful than that? For a game to assuredly grip your heart and direct it to feel one thing, and then have the ability to expand it and change what you thought was actually possible for you to feel. I just think that’s so incredible and so powerful, and absolutely Game of the Year material.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Paper Mario: The Origami King
The Last of Us Part II
The Last of Us Part 2 is hands-down the best 2020 game I played this year. It’s emotional, brutal and technically impeccable. Players follow Ellie’s revenge journey through stunning and incredibly detailed landscapes where environmental storytelling shows the decadence of Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic world in each of its corners. I spent hours and hours checking each building just to learn the story of the people who lived there and how they (most of the time unsuccessfully) tried to survive in this harsh world.
Violence is everywhere and the game makes sure players experience it. Every time Ellie kills someone, contextual kill animations are played and the camera doesn’t lose this chance to zoom in on the lethal strike to better show the brutality of this act.
But TLOU2 is also a journey about perspective-taking and empathy. We often tend to evaluate people as “evil” or “bad” when they pursue negative behaviours, but is this true? TLOU2 uses this perception to create dissonant feelings in players and forces them to reflect about the complexity of human emotions and behaviours.
Visuals, music, characters and gameplay design all dance together to create a unique, tough and provocative experience. TLOU2 also sets the bar for accessibility options and makes this game a must-play for literally everyone.
Total War Saga: Troy
Ghost of Tsushima
Hades is a roguelike action role-playing video game developed and published by Supergiant Games. It’s the story of Hades’ son, Zagreus, that wants to leave Hell to live with the other gods on Mount Olympus. To do so, he needs to go through different levels (Tartare being the first one) containing randomised rooms with enemies and rewards. During a run, the character chooses upgrades and abilities gifted by the gods to become stronger. However, even if he loses the upgrades and abilities when he dies, he keeps the rewards which allow him to upgrade his own characteristics.
I liked how they integrated a specific place where he can interact with other characters and it’s how the story is delivered (and each time it takes into account what happened in the dungeon!). I like that there are two paths to progress on: on the long term with upgrading basic characteristics and unlocking new weapons in Hades’ house; and on the short term during a run with the abilities and upgrades given in the dungeon.
The onboarding of the game was very smooth and well-integrated in the gameplay, as it put me directly into my first run and let me learn by experimenting the different controls in real combat. The different weapons available open the game to 6 different gameplays which makes the game not repetitive at all. And the art design and sound design are just awesome! Very beautiful, fun and refreshing game.
The Last of Us Part II
It rarely feels pleasant to play. The horror on display is a big part of it, but another is that nothing good ever happens in its story. Every fan’s dreams about a sequel get crushed to bits by the tragedy in its opening hours. Ellie becomes traumatised by the event, and from then on, every elusive moment of happiness you watch seems a bittersweet echo of a distant past, retold only so you can wallow in her depression.
No player would ever choose her choices in Part II. She foregoes a peaceful life to seek out revenge, murdering everyone in her path, be they innocent or guilty. Her actions are desperate and reckless, triggering a spiral of destruction that consumes friend and foe alike. She’s a millennial Captain Ahab, driven by a monomaniacal thirst for vengeance that nothing — not guilt, not love, nor redemption — can allay.
Part II tells us that violence begets violence. It is a virus that feeds on everything. Even love can sustain it, as it does for Ellie. The point it is trying to make is simple, maybe even trite. But to communicate it in a way that makes you feel it — that lets you touch that visceral Horror that Kurtz saw and that drove him mad… that is nigh unheard of in the medium. It is an experience that none can walk out of as they were before. Not Ellie… not me… and surely not you.
(Editor’s note: Seb broke the rules by choosing 3 games, but I’ll allow it!)
What a year. Like so many people around the world, I’ve retreated to the sanctuary of video games to escape the realities of this pandemic. DOTA2, Hearthstone, Call of Duty Multiplayer, and other evergreen favourites have been cathartic and familiar in our unfamiliar times.
Hades feels like an old friend too, despite being released in September this year. Snappy, witty and oozing cool self-assured vibes; it stands on the shoulders of giants, yet still plays fresh.
Half-Life: Alyx also feels like the culmination of its predecessors, and a glimpse into the still-untapped potential of VR. It delivers both incredible flexibility in interaction design – particularly in locomotion – with flawless set pieces and environment design. Exceptional.
And for so many reasons: The Last Of Us: Part II. What hasn’t already been said. A remarkable creative achievement in so many domains, but not least its raising of the bar for inclusion and accessibility. I enjoyed every moment.
The Last of Us Part II
(Big spoiler alert for story content!)
My choice this year is pretty much in line with a choice of a lot of other people, seeing how many truly well-deserved rewards The Last of Us 2 got in various categories.
I appreciate how the game creators did go against the tide bravely with many of their decisions about the game. It felt socially involved, perfectly fitted into current times. A little highlight of not-so-bright 2020. And, it’s the first game of this type I played with my partner, Michał! It makes it even more special as we lived the story together.
I appreciate the game for 4 things in particular: accessibility features, diverse characters, the art & atmosphere, and, last but not least, Laura Bailey as Abby!
The most memorable moment? (Spoilers here…) The flashback scene with Ellie and Joel in the Wyoming Museum of Science and History. It was exceptionally beautiful in terms of scenery and light, and very emotional. What moved me the most was the contrast between Ellie’s, so passionate about her revenge, current life, and her past life, to which, despite of zombies all-around, Joel somehow brought warmness and normality. I couldn’t fully empathise with Ellie till that scene which made me realise what the loss of Joel meant for her: losing her only family and her last bastion of normality.
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
Written by Chloe Snell