Coming up with top ten lists, especially only looking over games of the last twelve months, has been tough for me the last few years as my time and budget to keep up with all the things I’d like to becomes less available to do so. 2020 has seen a turn of events that might have afforded me the time to try out more things but certainly not the budget to do so. Looking over the activity in my Steam, PC Game Pass and various other launcher accounts this year I would be struggling to make a top 10 of 2020 games because I can only find evidence that I played a total of 15 games from this year (and that counts games I might have owned in early access for an age too). I have had some great standout moments this year from playing games and, with the need to escape the outside world that little bit more than usual this year, I am all the more thankful for them. All following award titles are arbitrary ways for me to cover some of the excellent and less excellent times I’ve had while hiding from the global hellscape outside. It’s quite long, apologies.
Game I was enjoying the most before it started feeling tonally off in March 2020 – Division 2
Honourable Mention – Plague Inc.
When the Warlords DLC came out I thought I would finally give Division 2 a go. It had been a game I’d wanted to get into after getting a great deal of fun out of the first one. I got about a third of the way through the main campaign as the seriousness of the spread of COVID was starting to take hold. As I sat there with my headphones on, immersed in the ruins of D.C. each audio log and piece of environmental storytelling started to hit that little bit harder. Sadly, this wasn’t a result of excellent world building and the quality of Ubisoft’s narrative skills but just the creeping feeling that the world was slowly catching up to the game, except our version had more onus on toilet rolls. Very quickly I just lost all motivation to get back in the game despite my enjoyment of the gameplay loop itself. As I have gotten older the appeal of first-person real-world war games for me has ebbed away as coverage of actual wars became a 24/7 broadcast channel. I now fear that the Division franchise might be a bit unpalatable for me for quite some time now. And even with the ‘fight the pandemic’ mode added to Plague Inc., I can’t see myself reinstalling that in the foreseeable future.
My favourite game world to escape to – theHunter: Call of the Wild
Honourable Mentions - Euro Truck Simulator, Stranded Deep
Games that provide the ability to escape the outside world in the most zen-like manner were a high demand in this household this year. Many came and went, like mini daytrip’s to other worlds, but a few stuck with me time and time again. As all travel plans dried up with each passing month, taking the time to drive to some the places me and my partner had hoped to travel to and visit people in were achievable via the medium of the digital motorway logistics of Euro Truck Simulator 2. Never has driving through central Europe in the rain felt so exhilarating.
For days when the weather here was all too British, I would just drop into a bit of Stranded Deep and sit about on my desert island. Much like the winner of this award, I played the game all wrong. Rather than explore, taking the risks to get more items from the other islands to return to civilisation, I just got self sufficient on my one little island. My little shack, tiny garden and regular crab visitors kept me alive for a whole month before my avatar capitulated to suntan issues after a particularly long staring out to sea session.
However, this year my ultimate place to holiday were the varied parks of theHunter: Call of the Wild. I would rarely take a shot at anything unless it stumbled across my path, tried to eat me or charged at me with the intention to make me into paste. Instead, I would pop a waypoint on some distant corner of the map and just start walking and use my trusty binoculars to see any wildlife before my clomping feet, or occasional quad bike, scared them all away. In all seriousness, I think this is one of the best-looking games my PC can run and the only one apart from RDR2 that my partner will look up at and say “ooooo, that pretty” to. The fantastic variety of locations to take a walk in meant I played way more of this than I ever thought I would this year. I had savannah, snow capped mountains, Spanish farmland and many more places at my fingertips. I might never get into the hunting aspect fully, but the wandering has been more than enough for 2020.
The game the GB team made me want to pick up again – Minecraft
Honourable Mentions - Wreckfest, Kerbal Space Program
I am one of those people that is very easily reminded of the fun I’ve had with a game by watching other people play it. This year, the semi-imposed high level of watching GB videos old and new has meant a lot of reinstalling on my now mostly full hard drives. A re-watch of the KSP series very quickly set me back to wanting to get back to voyaging the planets. Soon I was making a poorly built but surprisingly useful rocket to cash land on Duna, leaving another “this-is-your-home-now” pilot in a far-flung place in my now years old science career save.
The ever-fantastic Matt Rorie ran a couple of Wreckfest streams and although the time-difference meant I missed them as they happened it did make me get back to the track. There were a few months this year where I’d while away several hours on a no rules server, doing terribly, having a ball and watching the better players lose their minds in the game chat. The ultimate driving game for the person who genuinely has little interest in finishing place over just making to the end. And, really well supported this year – good seasons, a rare thing these days.
A combination of one of my favourite series this year and an amazing server set up by members of this community meant returning to Minecraft was just one of the highlights of the year for me. Playing on the community server was my first ever online experience in Minecraft, and I’ve bought 5 different platform versions over the years (because I’m a mug). It was amazing – a really fabulous, organic thing. For me I went to the server to do a bit of my own build and have a nose around some of the other things popping up all over the map but I would just vicariously watch these amazing things unfold on the server via the more active members. Having the text commentary of a group of people venturing into nether while calmly picking the right wood for my arches was never tiring. Such were the hooks that the game had sunk into me I installed the bedrock version on my PC too so that I could easily just play with a game pad when my keyboard claw hand got a bit much. I will always be thankful for the GB community for that server and how it helped my sanity this year.
The game I really meant to come back but still haven’t got back to yet – Hardspace: Shipbreaker
Honourable Mentions - Main Assembly, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
Those times where I boot up a game and immediately think, “this is amazing, and I don’t want to play it at all right now,” is more frequent than I’d like it to be. Partly down to my life and living space, playing games can sometimes come with no sound, a need to be able to pause without fear of in-game death and other general distractions. This means games where I know how good any aspect of the sound is, or a narrative I want to focus on sometimes have to take a seat on the bench until I can given them the attention they deserve.
I live in London but have seen very little of the city outside of the little area I live in. I’m not the biggest fan of wandering about the tourist filled spots but I was missing the sense of living in a city, especially in the summer. So why not have a go at playing AC Syndicate in grimy Victorian London to relieve the itch? Why not, apart from the fact that I started to really enjoy all the story gubbins which I just couldn’t always keep up with at the time. Sadly, it is waiting in the game inbox until I can get a better window of time to give it undivided attention.
Main Assembly got shelved and unfortunately gathered a bit of dust down to a mix of thinking that I’ll wait for a bit more content before committing to this, then not being able to have the mental capacity to get through an entire set of tutorial instructions without realising I’m no longer listening. How I will improve my attention span? I don’t know, but I need to before I’ll feel I can give the game the time it deserves.
I know I will love Hardspace: Shipbreaker. I have a fondness for mechanical job simulators, grimy sci-fi and the overused ‘space-cowboy’ ‘space-trucker’ tropes so this seems right up my alley. I started playing it, sound muted, and had a bit of fun working through the first mission. Having the opportunity to pop my headphones on I very quickly realised how much of the world building and immersive qualities I was missing playing it without the sound on. And now I keep forgetting to come back to it during any time I could dedicate to it, which is frustrating as I can only blame my own brain for that.
Hardest Drop Off – Trackmania Nations
Honourable Mentions - Destiny 2, Fall Guys, Animal Crossing: New Horizon
The games in the previous category never really got a good start, these are games that went from “this is all I am doing right now” to “I don’t need to see this again for a long while” in an instant. The downfall of having so many games at my disposal thanks to GamePass, Humble subs and previous Steam Sale idiocy is that should one not tickle the right brain bits it is so much easier to drop it and move on. The days of playing Dynamite Dux on the Master System for days, weeks and months as it was the only new game I had are long gone. This year there were maybe a few more instances of a hard stop on a game than I would normally do, but then I was at home a lot and the opportunity to sample more of the perpetual backlog was like those restaurant conveyor belts, temping me with treats as it scrolled along.
This year I fell foul to the JoyCon drift. Too expensive to replace, couldn’t get them sent off for repair so my Switch essentially put itself into retirement as of May/June. One day I’ll get back to my nice little island but not until I can stop my little islander from wanting to chuck themselves off the western coast at every opportunity.
Destiny is a game I start knowing full well I will fall of it very shortly afterwards so it is only deserving of an honourable mention. It is a game with so much I love in it but more than anything I’ve played has a feeling of emptiness so quickly. Once, where Diablo 3 could just keep those feel-good hormones flowing just with the prospect of the next bit of loot, Destiny just doesn’t. I genuinely can’t place the exact reasons why but each time I go back to it the same thing happens. One day I might stop going back but probably not just yet.
When I first played Fall Guys I was completely blinded by the fact that I was actually playing a Takeshi’s Castle game. The Craig Charles dub of Takeshi Kitano’s game show was surprisingly popular in the UK and its influence is stamped all over Fall Guys. I had a great time playing much better versions of the mini games I would try and build, badly, over and over in Little Big Planet. It was fun, the jellybean people are a hoot and (when it worked) the online was a great quick thing to dip in and out of. But the combination of the loads-of-hackers effect that steps up once an online game gets popular and eventually getting completely worn out by some of the events/races meant Fall Guys very soon became a “I need space, I’ll delete that” game.
The winner is a game I am very sad to give the award to. I loved the new Trackmania overall, it had its questionable design choices, but it was great to think there might be a more unified community around the game. After a few weeks though I was in the usual state where any of the communities still active were way above my skill level and there just wasn’t the crazy number of new servers to discover for new tracks. I will get back to this, but right now I just don’t need a continued feeling of inadequacy this wonderful, wonderful game gives me. Coincidently, one of the skins I made of a Giant Bomb show was shown on the Quick Look which made my bloody year.
Multiple run games I ran the most multiple runs on – Streets of Rogue
Honourable Mentions -Too many to mention
I do like a run and re-run affair. They can be rogue-likes, rogue-lites or those of games that get called rogue-types but in doing so seems to upset some groups of people but whatever they actually are they frequently fall into my regularly played pile. Going over my recently played list Rogue Legacy, Dead Cells, Spelunky, Ape Out and Enter the Gungeon, among many others, all got a short reprise this year. More than any of them though, I got thoroughly into Streets of Rogue.
Most of the multi run games I’d been playing had enough of an emphasis on skill that my aging abilities would often have me cursing myself after all too many short runs brought on by being a bit slow to react. Streets of Rogue, with its interactive mini city on each level, lends the player a much slower paced, if sometimes a bit chaotic, playground. From chloroforming half the population as the pacifist doctor to laying waste to everyone as a poison toting bartender it was great to build a run around the level of ability I felt I had that day. I’m still not very good (but then that can be said for most games these days) but it’s always more fun to be able to blame an uncontrollable riot for my character’s death rather than a mistimed dodgeroll. I also had a great deal of fun recreating the GB team as tiny Streets of Rogue dudes which is always a bonus to any game.
The 10(ish) Games That Saved My Sanity (in no particular order after Rocket League)
Cook Serve Delicious 3?!
Assemble with Care
Doremon: A Story of Seasons
Red Dead Redemption 2
They didn’t all come out this year, some aren’t finished, some are really short, some are very long but they were all games that kept me completely captivated from start to finish. Each has its own little reason for being there, and RDR2 aside, were very generous with the warm fuzzy feelings inside. RDR2 creates so many conflicting feelings for me on its enjoyability as a game – some real immersion breaking moments – but as a European who is a fan of Western movies (so a little removed from the culture around the mythos of the Western, more a fan of the aesthetics) it is hard to not be blown over by its scope, attention to detail and the sheer lushness of the world it builds. It’s easy to overlook the flaws when the highs are so high.
When I look over the other games in the list there are clear schisms in those that take me elsewhere (narratively or virtually) and those that require my focus and concentration or my brain to be zoned in. Hmmm, 2020 the year that made all my mental faculties want to escape. Carto was my Spiritfarer (which I liked but didn’t really think as much of as others seemed to) of the year and finally getting around to Slime Rancher was a colourful hoot! Assemble with Care had a well-constructed narrative and simple puzzle structure lovingly presented while the ambient chimes of Mini Metro were the theme tune to many evening in our house as me and my partner would sit trying to out commute each other on separate devices.
Hydroneer gave me a huge piece of land to pillage the resources from, which I did creating a huge dragon-like hoard which would give me no end of pride (and CPU slowdown) – it made me look forward to further updates to it. I had preceded this game with a stint on some farming RPGs, with lofty plans to digest many more of these games it was not long before I realised my eyes were bigger than my belly and after four back-to-back FRPGs I needed to increase the variety to my diet. The charm and general loveliness of both Littlewood and Doraemon: Story of Seasons stick out as being two of my farming and gaming highlights. Having loved Cook, Serve Delicious the third game repeated that hard to achieve feeling of being both racked with anxiety and in a zen-like trance. And the food still looks so good.
Most of all this year Rocket League became my favourite place to just keep coming back to. It’s hard to believe a game I have played so much of these last 5 years is something I am still just okay at but the high player count means I usually play with people of a similar level so matches stay fun and competitive. The transition to free-to-play has raised the numbers of quitters but then the community has in general been a joy, a rare thing these days. When my two teammates quit after going 2-0 down 30 seconds in on a competitive game on of the other team joined me and we played 2-v-2. People can be really good at times.
If you got this far, thank you. It has been cathartic to write this, not really done one before, hence the slightly rambling journey. I hope you all feel safe over the festive period and wherever you may be I wish that 2021 brings a bit more normal to you. Gosh, do you remember normal? What I would give for a dose of normal right now.
Big thank you to the GB team, front and back of house, and all you guys on here, reddit and other places about the Giant Bomb world – it has been a big part of keeping me going through 2020.