One of my 2020 silver linings is that after my travel schedule got wiped from the calendar, I had a lot more time to play some digi-tapes.
Below is a list of games (in no order save the last one) that left a lasting impression on me this year. Please enjoy.
PUBG was my first foray into the battle royale genre, and I played around 200 hours of it since its launch (which for me is a ton). Despite having dumped so many hours into it, I never really did come to grips with the shooting. I never felt like I could consistently kill people I had the drop on. I appreciate the depth that the ballistics modeling brings to this game, but at the end of the day the community’s skill level left me behind, and at some point, I stopped trying to catch up.
As time rolled forward, I tried most new BRs out, and while I liked a lot of them, none grabbed me the way PUBG did. When Warzone launched, I knew quickly that it was going to be exactly what I was looking for: A BR for casuals that prefer military-style shooters to fantasy ones. Also: The Gulag. I still remember the first time I was thrown into the Gulag, having no idea what was happening, I was smiling ear to ear despite getting domed within the first 5 seconds. Warzone is not the first BR to have a second-chance mechanic, but for my money it’s got the best one.
I am playing this on the PC and liking it a lot. I am not sure what I was expecting, but it’s basically Deus Ex in an open world (which in hindsight, is exactly what I should have been expecting). I am playing as a stealth-hacker that avoids conflict at all costs, and as of now (about 25 hours in) I have only run into a handful of situations that required me to get my gun out and start firing, so in that regard it’s giving me exactly the game I want. It’s impossible to be unaware of the drama surrounding this game’s launch, and I’m not here to tell you how to feel about any aspect of that, but I am here to tell you I’m having a blast.
I was in on the Kickstarter for this game, but never played it until now. Turns out, I should have played this right away as it's right in my wheelhouse. The RPG-systems are reminiscent of the old Black Isle games, I’m a sucker for a good detective story, and the cyberpunk-infused world of Shadowrun is familiar but still cool. The writing is generally solid, which is good because man is there a lot of it. The characters and the missions all slowly unfurl a murder-mystery that got its hooks in me, and I when I sit down to play the game, I end up getting sucked into it for longer than planned.
I stated playing this in 2019, but finally finished its campaign in 2020. It shares a lot of the same structure as the modern XCOM games. You have a base of operations you upgrade to unlock new and better stuff for your lance of Mechs, you fly off to hotspots and engage in demanding turn-based combat, and it’s got an “ironman” mode for those that want to flirt with permadeath. It’s important to understand this isn’t XCOM, though. It’s definitely on a more streamlined budget, and that shows in its production quality, but if you can look past that this game has it where it counts: the combat and mech variety. I played this game for tens of hours just grinding side missions so I could see and try out all the different mechs it has to offer. I eventually settled on dual Marauders being the backbone of my Lance, as the Marauder have a unique piece of gear in them that raises its chance of a headshot to 30%. This is beneficial because if you can destroy the head, you kill the pilot with doing very little damage to the mech itself, thus maximizing your salvage. Once I figured this out, I played the next thirty hours big-game hunting 100-ton mechs to build out my armada as quickly as possible. After around 100 hours I had finished the campaign, and with Career Mode and Multiplayer there’s still so much more to do. I will be playing this game for years to come.
I started with this series on CK2. Originally, I bought it in hopes of playing it during flights (remember those?), but it ran too poorly on my MacBook for this to end up being a thing. During that time, though, I did come to understand what people enjoy about the series. The possibility space for the player is infinitely large. The goals for each game are largely player-directed, and there are many strategies one could employ to achieve their goals, so it’s hard to imagine how anyone that likes this game could ever get bored with it. It’s also one of my favorite games to stream, as it’s so complicated having chat to answer questions for you is a fantastic way to speed up the learning curve. Also, there’s no story per se, and therefore no spoilers to speak of, so there’s really no downside to diving into any discussion surrounding the game and figuring out what’s going on in this dense, dense game. I’m not always in the mood for CK3, but when I am it never disappoints.
This game saved my Extra Life stream this year. Doing a 24-hour stream isn’t hard, exactly, but they are filled with moments where one’s eyelids get heavy (for me this usually is around 3am-6am timeframe). I threw on Fall Guys when that feeling hit me, and it got me through the dark hours in grand fashion. There’s still a bunch of maps I don’t particularly care for, but once I started to think about Fall Guys as a social hangout space or a pastime, it all finally clicked for me, and I was just enjoying the game for what it is, not wanting it to be something different. I imagine this will be part of my stream rotation for 2021.
I picked this up on a recommendation from some people at work, and I want to caveat this a bit: It’s in early access, and I only played it for a few hours (enough to know I liked it) before putting it down until its full release at some point in the future. That being said, this game is super fun. It’s a four-player co-op FPS rouge-like with Borderlands-style weapons. The shooting feels great, and the world design is fun and top-notch. Above and beyond the quality of the game, it is just great to be reminded that we live in a world where games like this can still come out of nowhere and surprise you.
I got back into this because of my son, who got into because it showed up on Game Pass. He played it non-stop for about a week straight before recruiting me to join him. Previously, the game never clicked with me, but as I’m still in the running for Dad of the Year I gave it a go. I’m still pretty early in, but I’m already a lot more into it than I was when it launched. I had heard about the work the team at Hello Games have been doing on this title for the past few years, and I’m here to confirm the reports: if you bounced off this game when it launched, dust it off and try it again.
Surprising absolutely no one, Spelunky 2 is very good! You should play it! I should play it more!
It has become something of a tradition on my Extra Life stream to play through the entirety of the latest Supermassive game. It started a few years ago with Until Dawn (aka the Monkening), then last year with Man of Medan, and the timing worked out well for me this year as Little Hope dropped mere days before my 2020 stream. I’ve still never played through any of these in co-op, which feels bad because the games definitely try to push you into those modes, but I’m personally more interested in rolling through at my own pace and experiencing the entirety of the game for myself. Bottom line here is if you like Supermassive’s take on this camp-horror genre, then you’ll likely love Little Hope as well. The ending left me scratching my head, but this wasn’t enough to undo all the enjoyment the previous six hours granted me.
My Game of the Year: Hades
I played a few hours of Hades during my Extra Life 2019 stream, enough to know I liked it, but not much more than that. I didn’t pick it up again until after the game’s official release and was floored by its quality. And when I say “quality,” I mean something very specific: I’m not saying it’s the best-in-class at a laundry list of qualitative assessments one can make about a game, I’m saying Supergiant’s execution never suffered because of their ambitions. I can’t think of anything else I’ve played, that, in some way big or small, avoided flying too close to the sun at some point and remind me I’m playing something crafted by normal humans, with deadlines and a budget. I have yet to encounter something that pulls me out of the experience while playing Hades, let alone a bug. The job Supergiant did is staggering, and it’s proof to every developer in the world that the perfect video game can be made.