MoonlightMoth

For your consideration: Monstress by Marjorie Liu, it's pretty amazing.

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Game of the Year 2020

Not quite the bumper year for me in terms of great games but here are my favourties from what little I played from 2020. Much love for everyone who has suffered during the pandemic and here's to a hopefully, eventually, brighter 2021.

List items

  • It’s just joy, 100% unfiltered and unmixed fucking joy. Long ago Network Q Rally planted the seed of my love for screeching sojourns through the wilderness and Art of Rally is that love in full bloom; a glorious kaleidoscope of colour and magic. I love how it looks, how it sounds, how it plays. The addictive tension of being on the edge of control is always present and the nods to the sport’s past just complete the all conquering delight. In a year where every game I played seemed to have some obvious issue or flaw, Art of Rally was about as close to perfect as a game can be. Against all others it stands apart as my game of 2020, imperious and unmatched.

  • The problems with Cyberpunk are legion to be sure, but for as risible as its world is, for as offensive or as stupid as it can be, I found something special that lay beneath it all, a place where some of its inhabitants rise above the pervasive odour of infantile nonsense that characterises much of the world presented. I cannot recall a game that so beautifully captures what it is to be vulnerable and flawed. For all the posturing and aggression on show, there was almost always something fragile and heart-breaking behind it. From V herself to those closest to her, stories unfold of terrible sadness and desperation, tales for which there is no way out, no chance at correcting or making up for one’s mistakes, just feelings of failure and barely masked despair. If Cyberpunk 2077 was about anything, it was about finding some small measure of humanity in world overrun with nihilism and every stripe of human evil. It was about finding moments of love and tenderness in the face of knowing that such precious moments will soon turn to ash in our mouths.

  • If I have any interest in Formula 1, it’s because of the games. F1 2019 was the catalyst, but 2020’s iteration is no less fun to play. Being able to create your own team, design your own car, telling the race engineer to shut up, it has everything I could really want from an F1 game. The presentation is perfect, the options extensive, it really is what a big budget licenced game should be. That is also managed to get me to play a whole bunch of multiplayer is to the game’s credit, even if the turn 1 pile up invariable wrecks any chance of a podium finish. So if you don’t find real Formula 1 all that exciting, but wish that it was, F1 2020 has got you covered.

  • It may be advertised as a grand strategy game, but the reality is a touch more complex. Crusader Kings 3 is a unique mix of strategy game, Role-player and Choose Your Own Adventure. Having spent far too many hours overcoming its dizzying number of complex systems, I can now finally marvel at their elegance and intricacy. But be warned; it isn’t a game that is forthcoming with what makes it fun or engaging. For while it is gorgeous to look at and listen to, the greater your understanding of its vast and intricate inner workings, the greater the options for engaging with it, and crucially, extracting what you want from it. It offers unprecedented freedom, so it really does fall to you to choose what to do with it.

  • A Castlevania game in Souls like garb? Don’t mind if I do! In truth, Vigil has very little Castle-based action and is souls like in appearances only but was nonetheless a great time all round. I found it surprisingly easy, but still extremely pleasant to play with its moody atmosphere and responsive combat. It had secrets, hidden endings, quests, loot etc. so whilst there wasn’t anything truly remarkable about it mechanically I found it consistently engaging and well designed, which is sometimes enough.

  • Coming top of this year's Ubisoft Frankenstein monsters, Watch Dogs Legion was my first run in with the series proper and so likely a reason for its high position here. Being set in London also helps, as does the stealth focus which makes the moment to moment gameplay more tense overall and with everything so packed together there's very little down time between getting into the action. Some nice, topical, if quite predictable story beats help carry things along and the degree of cosmetic customisation is always going to score points with me.

  • With those slimy F word C words at EA now in possession of Codemasters its fair to assume the future of the WRC games is somewhat darker (not that Codies were above being grubby S words), but the current developers have done a truly admirable job in improving the licenced series over the last few years, turning a janky b-tier game into something of a real competitor to Dirt Rally’s crown. The presentation remains somewhat bland but WRC 9 has it where it counts in the gameplay with a great mix of stages, weather, terrain types and that essential danger of being one moment away from cliff diving or tree smashing. The expansion of the real WRC events is welcome in allowing for new rallies, and the graphics have had another lift on last year. So even if it is farewell to this series of games, you finally made a believer out of me Kylotonn.

  • As bored as I am with the whole Fallout retro future post apocalyptic Americana, Wasteland 3 ended with me punching a tank to death with my bear hands, whilst on fire (both me and the tank). The absurdity that arises along with the charming writing helps overcome the lacklustre visuals. Gameplay is absolutely rock solid and possessed of all the kinds of RPG chops that appear all too rare in the current climate. Some great songs too.

  • Female Eivor deserved better; better loot, better pacing, and certainly better than the sleazy practices of her creator's masters. But boy oh boy she was great, and credit also to the fairly engaging story beats that help give this bloated adventure some actual heart. That it's theme park England is utter gorgeousness is something of a given at this point in the series, but the combat is also solid and if given a decent editing, the whole thing could have been quite the adventure. As it is, what love has been lavished on Valhalla struggles for space against all the worst inclinations of the industry, and but for Eivor and her world, would certainly not feature in this list.

  • It speaks to how impactful the game was for it to feature here when its core mechanics are usually complete anathema to me. I've never had any love for the Stardew Valleys and Harvest Moons of this world and Spiritfarer did little to change this with much too much emphasis on repetitive crafting. But it has such soul, and far too many moments of intimate emotional power to ignore or leave off this list. The animations, the music, there are so many little touches of magic that make the experience so memorable, so whilst the gameplay may get on my nerves, the payoff was so very worth it in the end.