Hello Giant Bomb Community. I’m Dante. It’s been a minute. I’m going to talk about video games. I would usually preface this with some words about the year in general. I don’t have those words this year. I’m sorry.
I feel like I’ve been yelling online about everything for the past eight months, so apologies for not being as eloquent now. Here is a link to a document I prepared earlier this year of national bail and mutual aid funds for bailing out protesters and supporting communities in their fights for justice. Consider donating to one, or one in your area, if you can.
Here is my list of good games from this year, some might even say the goodest games of this year. This year was very bad, so hopefully this is a change of pace.
10. Persona 5 Royal
Last year when I did this list I put Persona 5 (Not Royal) in the tenth slot because it didn’t actually come out that year. This made sense because, you know, Games of the Year list, but since (spoilers) I have a LOT of non-2020 games in this year’s list, P5R is back here for another reason. And that reason is simple: It’s very dumb that this version of this game got a full release.
Don’t get me wrong! It’s a great game! I really love it! It is, without a doubt, the definitive way to play Persona 5, which as I think should be clear from last year, I think is the best Persona game by a country mile. But it’s absolutely ridiculous that this was a full release and not like, a free DLC upgrade for people who already owned Non-Royal Persona 5. It is a level of blatant misleading that feels almost like a scam.
Anyway, this game is good. It’s Persona 5 But More. Mementos is actually worth going to now. There’s three new months of game content. All that stuff kicks ass. The fact you can get suckered into buying a markedly worse version of this game that’s being sold for less money, that does not kick as much ass.
So it’s being "punished" with slot 10. Sorry Persona 5: Royal. I did cry at the end though.
Did you know this game has, like, a really good main character? Bayek kicks ass. I don’t play many Big Modern AAA games anymore, so picking up this one was basically a choice made on a whim (I have a fair amount of affection for the previous Assassin’s Creedses, so I figured why not), but wow I was really blown away by the care and writing given to Bayek and Aya. Really lovely adventure of a game.
Too long, though! It’s still a AAA game. Coulda been a tight 30, Bayek. Coulda been a tight 30.
8. The Halo Franchise Up To But Not Including Halo 4
I fell down a very, very big rabbit hole early in this year after I picked up Doom Eternal and found it a major disappointment (more about that later). One of the series that I decided to get WAY too into after that was Bungie’s stretch of Halo games.
These games kick ass. Halos 1, 2, 3, ODST, and Reach (now conveniently all available through the Master Chief Collection) are masterworks of modern FPS design. I felt legitimately emotionally invested in a guy called “The Master Chief” and his quest to save the universe and also his blue robot wife. He does this with truly epic action movie shit and shotguns. 10/10 games.
7. Quiplash 3
I thought about putting the entire Jackbox series here, but honestly? Honestly?? It’s just Quiplash. Like, yes, there are other games in Jackbox, even some legitimately decent ones, but the alpha and the omega is Quiplash 3.
It’s basically identical to Quiplash 2, except that the one part of Quiplash 2 that sucked (the final round) has been replaced with a final round that doesn’t suck. I don’t even know what I would do to this game to make it any better (other than scrap a few unfunny prompts). Quiplash is the party game, as far as I’m concerned. Picture related.
I have been a fan of Turnfollow’s games since Little Party way back in 2015. Wide Ocean Big Jacket feels like the realization of so much of their design ethos. It’s heartfelt, gorgeous, snappy, well-written, and perfectly paced. It’s a story about being young and exploring and being old and learning. It’s beautiful.
So much of this year sucked so fucking much and this is a game that looks directly at the camera and says: Hey! Things can be good! They have been good before! They will be good again!
You should play Wide Ocean Big Jacket.
5. Doom 64
So I got Doom Eternal early this year, hoping that I would be just as enthralled and blown away by it as I was by 2016’s Doom, and I left… less than enthusiastic. It was simply too bloated, too fiddly, the combat balance felt off, the removal of the pistol meant that the shotgun felt much weaker, I could go on. But I won’t! You get the idea.
But I still wanted to play some fucking Doom. I thought about reinstalling the 2016 Doom, but I’ve already beaten that twice. But you know what I hadn’t beaten?
Doom 64. Which comes FREE with Doom Eternal! And the good news is: It’s really good!
So I beat Doom 64, and now that I was fully Doom-brainpilled, I ended up crashing through OG Doom, Doom 2, a fair bit of Blood, Turok 1 (very bad), Turok 2 (better but still not great) Quake 1 and 2, all the Bungie Halo games (noted above), the Cacoward-winning Eviternity mod (that’s where the image above is from), and that new indie Prodeus (incredible, by the way, even in early access).
All of this is to say: Doom? Pretty fucking good. I don’t know if anyone’s ever talked about that before. Cool little “overlooked gem” from the '90s. Check it out!
I spent most of this year indoors as, I imagine, many did. I did not feel like I lived in this city, I did not feel like I lived anywhere at all. I lived in my small apartment. The world got steadily more terrifying, and I felt like I couldn’t do anything. I will carry this with me forever, in the weird way that all traumas are carried in the body or the brain, a pathway of frustration and anger and fury at the powers-that-be. It is a sort of fury that you can’t explain properly.
So: Carrion. It means a tremendous amount to me that this weird little game exists.
A creature caged, chained, trapped in a place it doesn’t know and never wanted to be in anyway, breaks free to spend a few glorious hours enacting a righteous fury of blood and violence onto the world in retribution. A carnival of carnage and consumption, a caterwaul of calamity: Carrion! Carrion! Carry on! Carry on!
I didn’t expect to be quite as taken by this one as I ended up. Like, sure, the art is gorgeous, and the base conceit of “time-displaced teenagers are caught up in a mysterious path toward a world-threatening Mecha vs Kaiju battle” was basically candy to me, but… would it stick the landing? Would the plot’s many twists end somewhere that felt meaningful, interesting, evocative?
13 Sentinels is a powerful work of optimism, sacrifice, love, longing, and Teenage Mecha Feelings that thoroughly impressed me far more often than I expected. The gauzy, beautiful landscapes and incredible character art don’t disappoint, and all of its thirteen main characters are distinct and memorable.
The game gets Teen Mecha Drama so deftly, weaving the mundane and the fantastical together effortlessly, making me care just as much about the world’s labyrinthine, layered narrative as much as seeing if Hijiyama will ever confess his feelings to [Spoiler Character].
At its core (without spoilers), this is a story about fear of an approaching calamity, and what you would do in the face of it. Doomed generations, knowing their end is coming, sacrificing all they have in the hope of a possibility that others in the future will survive. A hope that requires magnification, even in the face of apocalypse. Even if you know exactly what the apocalypse will look like. Even if you’ve already seen the fields of dead, the bodies of your loved ones in the wreckage.
Desperate, horrible experiments. Giant, monstrous robots. Bodies made into vessels, people made into machines. Cycles of terror and abuse and pain embedded into the very fabric of the universe being torn from the arc of possibility with blood and pain and brutal, brain-melting mechanized combat.
13 Sentinels is a masterwork.
A long time ago, back before I wrote anything online that anyone would read, I read this piece by Cara Ellison (who is wonderful) about how she used Kentucky Route Zero like a buoy, something to hold onto when things feel at their worst. It stuck with me. She, of course, bases her essay on the line “the unsteady steadying the unsteady”, taken from the game’s fourth Act (released in the faraway year of 2016, when we were all bright-eyed and not yet traumatized by the next four years).
It’s a fitting line to choose to talk about. I’m not sure I have much more to say about Kentucky Route Zero that I, or others, have not written already. It is the Great American Game in every way it needs to be. The game’s final act came out this year, in January, before the lockdowns and with only a sense of creeping dread to accompany it instead of the brain-numbing horror of the months to come.
At the time of release, I think I felt… complicated about the game’s ending. It certainly exists to end the story neatly, which it does, and I think at the time that was a weird thing to contemplate, like how odd it is that something that I lived in anticipation of for so many years could even end that neatly.
Now, though, it means something to me. It means something to me that the story ends small and neat, which feels like an impossible fantasy. But sometimes we need a place to rest. Perhaps America needs to be small, and restful, and built on the bones of the horrors that it went through.
But what beats at the heart of Kentucky Route Zero is care. It’s listening. It’s the steadfast belief that we can be better if we try to, that even if we have spent our entire lives caught in the web of horrible systems, we are not bound to those systems. We can be better than that. It is a game of a rugged hope.
I have been playing Hades for about two years now, but it fully released this year, so now I am unchaining myself to talk about it, and this was also the year I reached credits on Hades, and, well… it’s Hades. It’s the game of the year.
It’s Supergiant working at maximum power. Incredible writing, voice acting, stunningly gorgeous art. So much narrative. So much. I keep finding new quips or jokes or conversations. And I’ve been playing, on and off, for years now. It does something that I previously did not think was possible, which is grafting an emotional narrative onto a roguelike structure that works.
Hades evolves as you play it, picking up new threads and conversations slowly, until the House of Hades is full of characters, popping in and out, feeling alive and real and populated. The gods of Olympus, with their bickering and capricious nature, offering the young son of Hades the gifts of godly boons to break through the four levels of Hades to the cold air of Greece. The denizens of the House taking turns flirting, fighting, offering wise advice. The beings of each level of Hades saying hello briefly on your way through their lands.
And, of course, all of this lays on top of just… a really, really good action roguelike. So much of this year was spent in feverish discussions on Discord, hashing out our favorite builds, theorizing new ones. Everyone I know has a completely different ranking of best weapons and worst weapons. Everyone I know has tried “weird builds”, trying to see if a Poseidon-only run will work, or if you can really use the combination Demeter-Artemis cast ability (a crystal firing a laser) to win a run (you can, I know from experience).
There is something very special about a single-player game that garners this much conversation. Whether that’s about who is the most kissable character (I have my opinions. Perhaps one day I will divulge them) or if the Spear is better than the Bow. The ending made me tear up multiple times.
It’s 2020. The game of the year is about battling out of hell, over and over and over and over, until you realize that you’re stuck here. And if you’re stuck here, maybe that’s not the worst place to be. Maybe hell isn’t so bad, sometimes. Or, at the least, hell can be bearable when you’ve got the right people by your side.