Jeff Green is a former game journalist and current Partner & Business Development Lead at Min/Max Consulting. In 2020, he launched and hosted the Branching Narratives podcast on US Gamer. He's @greenspeak on Twitter.
As a Professional Videogame Consultant, it is my job--nay, my calling--to assess a situation and provide analysis. So here is my professional opinion of 2020: It fucking sucked balls. Not that you need me or my expertise to tell you that. But what was also true about 2020 was that for introverted, antisocial dorks like me, who are far happier alone in front of a game than sitting with a forced smile at a party or dinner gathering or anything involving “having conversations,” there was a silver lining. Being stuck at home gave us the perfect opportunity to indulge in our hobbies to our hearts’ content, guilt free. For once we were told to stay inside, that it was better to isolate. We were doing our civic duty by playing Destiny for eight hours in a row!
That said, despite all the extra time on our hands, I have to say that I still didn’t play everything I meant to play. And some I skipped on purpose. The Last of Us Part II is not on here, just to name one, because I read about it and decided it was too grim for me. I believe all the people who say it’s great, and you probably should too. I wouldn’t know. I also avoided Cyberpunk 2077, for now at least, for reasons that don’t need enumerating. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla I just simply haven’t gotten to yet, despite loving the franchise. And Demon’s Souls is sitting here until I feel like streaming again. So my list here is less about the “10 best games” than “10 games I played and had the most fun with.” I make no claim at being comprehensive.
Finally, a disclosure: Because I make my living as a Professional Videogame Consultant, I see a lot of games all year and sometimes get paid to do it. There are two games on this list that I was paid to look at. They’re on this list because I loved them. (I can’t tell you which two they are because of signed NDAs.) But there are way more games that I also got paid for this year that are not on this list, and wouldn’t be even if I expanded it to my Top 50. So it is up to you whether this invalidates my list or not. I still love y’all anyway.
A late, last-minute addition to the list that is getting on here almost as a placeholder, because I have not yet finished it. But what I have played is way, way better than I was expecting from a game with a name that sounds like it was spit out of a random-game-name generator, and with a look that shamelessly borrows from Breath of the Wild. But having made it through the first couple worlds, I'm finding this to be a surprisingly strong open-world game, with satisfying combat mechanics and a series of puzzle-based dungeons that honestly I am finding to be more fun to solve than in Breath of the Wild. This is, oddly enough, not the only big 2020 game featuring characters out of Greek mythology, and maybe sometime in the future a smart writer will figure out why this kept showing up in 2020 of all years. Meanwhile, I’m glad I got my grubby paws on it as the year’s clock wound down, because it’s turning into a super entertaining way to usher this shit year out the fucking door, forever.
Is it cheating to put what is essentially a tech demo on this list? Well, whatever. Maybe it is, but the truth is that this was, quite unexpectedly, my favorite platformer of the year and a sheer delight from start to finish. Loaded for free on the PS5, it is meant to show off the capabilities of the console’s excellent controller, and in fact it does just that, but with a bright, colorful, and clever series of worlds that are a joy to explore. As you complete the levels, find the hidden objects, and assemble the puzzle pieces, you’ll also be treated to a fun history of the PlayStation itself, making this essentially one long commercial, but there is a Nintendo-like aspect of whimsy and joy at play here that makes it all okay.
A game about death and dying is not something I thought I would enjoy in this year of all years, but Spiritfarer is an oddly affecting and soothing game, and one I’m glad I got to before the end of the year. You play as Stella, who, along with her cat, has been assigned to replace the Charon of Greek mythology (he had to leave to go play a big part in Supergiant’s Hades) in accompanying the spirits of recently deceased along the River Styx to their final resting place. There is a lot of management, construction and resource gathering in the game, ala Animal Crossing, as your boat gets bigger and your passengers get more demanding, and for a long time this is basically all you do. But stick with it and the heart and soul of Spiritfarer reveals itself as you begin to learn more about your passengers’ backstories, and what they have left behind and lost. It’s a game with a big heart and lots of compassion, and therefore a vital one in a year as cruel and difficult as this one.
Ahhh, Desperados III. A game for geezers like me. The kind of game that virtually no one plays or remembers anymore, and that scratched an itch for me this year that I didn’t realize I still had. A hardcore stealth tactics game set in the Old West, highly reminiscent of the old Commandos series of the late '90s/early 2000s, Desperados III is a brutal, painstaking exercise in planning and execution as you make your way through the game’s increasingly tough scenarios, where literally every mouse click is the difference between life and death. As old school as it is, the developers brought some welcome modern sensibilities to the new game, such as an on-screen reminder of the last time you quicksaved, the ability to plot and chain actions together before executing them, and instant reloads that encourage experimentation even as you keep failing. My favorite strategy game of the year.
The right game for the right moment, Animal Crossing was released just as we all realized our lives were about to drastically change, and provided the kind of comfort and control that we needed. Customizing our homes and islands provided a welcome relief, and Nintendo made it more fun than ever to do so, with some great new tools to play with. Really, you were only limited by your own imagination, and a quick google search will show just how creative some folks got with this game. One fella named Gary Whitta even managed to make his own talk show with the game that somehow, in this insane year, was drawing mainstream comparisons to Fallon, Kimmel, and Colbert. I’m not half that clever or ambitious, so my island is still kinda pathetic even eight months later, but it’s still a place I continually visit when the madness of the real world gets to be too much. I’ll take working off my indentured servitude to Tom Nook over doomscrolling about the end of democracy any old day.
Destiny 2 has been my “main” game for a few years now, which, ironically, sometimes makes it easy to forget when compiling lists like these. Indeed, prior to this release, I had fallen a bit off the wagon, dabbling with The Division 2 instead for my online shooter fix. But with Beyond Light I am back and all-in again, as it both streamlines and expands gameplay in a way that breathes new life into the franchise. Gone are some of the planets that we have all grown sick of or weren’t that great to start with (see ya never, Mercury!), and in its place is Europa, a striking new play space that looks particularly great on a PS5. The new stasis powers represent the biggest change to core gameplay since the base game launched--are so far proving to be a blast. Destiny 2 may not garner as many headlines as it did at launch, but it is still hanging tough as an exceptionally fun shooter, and Beyond Light proves that Bungie can still bring it, and that Destiny 2 is still the looter shooter to beat.
The more I played this, the further it went up on this list. With Yakuza: Like A Dragon, Sega’s 15-year-old, multigame franchise goes full ludicrous, with fantastic results. Placing the series in a new setting, with a new protagonist, and switching from being a “beat-'em-up” to a more classic RPG all signify a change in direction, but for my money the best development was just how ridiculous the whole thing was while still having a heart. Because it wasn’t just, for example, that a side quest about getting some baby formula for a crying infant instead leads you to a room of yakuza diaper fetishists, it’s that those fetishists then begin dispelling compassionate words of wisdom to Ichiban about being a good father. The game is constantly alternating between mawkish gangster melodrama to unabashed silliness, like a side quest about catching a guy who keeps peeing in the local river. The turn-based RPG mechanics work well, and I enjoyed the grind, but this makes the list strictly because it was most I laughed playing a game all year.
The most fun I’ve had playing a licensed superhero game since Batman: Arkham Asylum 11 years ago. Miles Morales is a wonderful protagonist, bringing a warmth and humanity to the game that is refreshing and heartfelt. I spent far more time getting high-fives from the grateful denizens of NYC than I needed to, because it felt like Miles deserved it. Gameplay-wise, the controls are just dead-on perfect. Webslinging has never felt so dizzyingly fast and free, combat has a satisfying oomph to it, and the game’s numerous unlocks give players increasingly more powerful and creative ways to approach every situation. It helped, too, to play this on a PS5, which only further showed off the most beautiful rendering of New York City I’ve ever seen in a game.
The only other game that I seriously considered for the number one spot, Ghost of Tsushima is the samurai game I have always wanted to play, but better and more beautiful than anything I could have imagined. Everything in Ghost is praiseworthy--I could write 10,000 words on the breathtaking art direction alone--but what I remember most fondly now, months after finishing it, was just how real all the characters felt, right down to the most minor and incidental, and the unpredictable consequences that resulted from helping them out. Never has an open-world game felt less grindy to me. I wanted to do it all, and I did. And then I was sorry it was over.
Every game that Supergiant Games has made so far has been a winner, but nothing they had done before prepared me for the greatness of Hades. Here is the masterpiece they were working towards. Here is the perfect symbiosis of writing, art direction, sound, gameplay innovation, and moment-to-moment excitement that we all hope for every time we purchase a new game. Best of all is the game’s generosity and accessibility, with the most ingenious God Mode I’ve ever seen, which makes failure part of the process and rewards you for it without making you feel like you’re cheating. It is also the most fun you’ll ever have while actually learning something about Greek mythology. More than any other game, Hades reminds me, in its impact and addictiveness, of Diablo, another game that was practically perfect in every way and that remains utterly addictive decades later. I suspect we’ll be saying the same thing about Hades in 2030. If there is a 2030.