The world sucked in 2020. We all collectively would’ve swiped left on it if we could. But it wasn’t all trash. Movies, TV shows and video games provided a much needed refuge from the outside world. It was impossible to shut out and ignore all of the bullshit but these five games helped me forget about it all even if just for a little while.
(This article is part of our Best of 2020 series.)
5. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time
Crash Bandicoot is very much like Sonic the Hedgehog in that they were the first platformers to successfully challenge Mario and that every entry in their respected franchises post the third one is terrible. They were system sellers in that gamers would buy either a Genesis or a PlayStation in order to play these games. For a small window of time, they were equals to the king but as strong as their reign was, it would ultimately be short-lived. Both franchises were only great for a handful of years and after that, it all turned to shit. Sonic never successfully made the jump to 3D and Crash never recovered from Naughty Dog (the original developers of the game) ditching it in favor of Jak and Daxter. They never became irrelevant like a lot of other platformer mascots (like Bubsy, Gex and Croc for example) but their glory days seemed to die in the 90s. It would take another three decades for both of them to get another great sequel. Sonic’s came first in the form of Sonic Mania and Crash would get his in the appropriately titled: It’s About Time.
Taking a page out of the Halloween (2018) playbook, It’s About Time erases everything that came after 3 and just pretends they don’t exist. This game picks up right after the events of the third one (which was released 20 years ago. Damn I’m old) but you don’t have to be well versed in Bandicoot lore to figure out what’s happening. The bad guys who were exiled in the previous game are now back and want revenge on Crash and his friends. The plot is paper thin but no one plays a platformer for the story. You play it for the jumping and I gotta tell ya, there’s a bunch of jumping in this game. All you do in this is jump and collect shit and if either of those things appeal to you, this is heaven. There’s about 30 levels, plus bonus mini levels and challenges and there’s even alternate versions of levels complete with unique graphics and everything. In addition to the plethora of things to collect and unlock, there’s also multiple masks you’ll acquire throughout the game that give you different abilities (some slow down time, others allow you to phase through barriers, etc.) that help shake up the gameplay and four other playable characters that add a bit of variety to the game. It’s not as good as the original PS1 trilogy but it does a damn good job of getting the series back on track.
4. Ghost of Tsushima
It’s very rare that I’ll pick up an open world game. Even if I think I’ll like it, I’ll most likely skip it due to time constraints and my own personal anxiety when it comes to multiple missions. I tend to get overwhelmed when every village or town has five NPCs running up to me asking me to do them some bullshit favor. Especially if the game’s narrative has a ticking clock to it. I’m one of those weirdos that didn’t want to do the mini games in FF7 because there’s a goddamn meteor about to crash into Midgar. Ghost of Tsushima removes the pressure of a doomsday clock and thankfully spreads the side quests around so that I’m not constantly thinking about the end of the world or feel pressured into helping every single person I see. With that burden lifted, I’m free to explore the vast island (there’s three in total and I’m still on the first one) at my leisure and tackle the side quests as I come across them without them ever being stacked. It grants me the freedom to just do what I want and since the game is absolutely gorgeous (this might be the best looking game of the last generation), what I want to do is usually just walk around and look at shit.
The black and white Kurosawa mode is a great addition but to really get your money’s worth out of this game, you really need to play it on the best available TV. The graphics just pop. They are easily enough to recommend this game (that and the adorable as fuck ghost foxes) but there’s also the tight gameplay. Taking a page from the Arkham games, the combat is all about dodges, parries and quick reflexes. Every fight feels cinematic because once you master the move set, you feel like Toshiro Mifune. Although I’m only 25 hours into this game (which I’m guessing is less than a quarter of the way through), I knew it was going to make the cut over games I liked and beat like Doom Eternal, Resident Evil 3 and Final Fantasy 7 Remake because even at that 5 hours mark, I knew I was obsessed and at no point in any of those games did I struggle to put the controller down.
3. Fall Guys
At the beginning of the year, everyone and their brother was obsessed with Animal Crossing: New Horizons and by year’s end, everyone ditched it in favor of Among Us. Even though they’re radically different games, it’s easy to see why everyone would make such a drastic leap in experiences and the answer is simple: covid. Since we were all quarantined right around the time Animal Crossing was released, the game proved to be the perfect way to escape our situations. You’re on an island filled with stuff you get to design and customize in any way you see fit and there’s also cute as hell animal inhabits just walking around. It’s a feel good game that helped us distract each other from the world around us. Among Us on the other hand, became popular at the exact right moment because by that time in quarantine, we all just wanted to murder each other. Playing like a cutesy version of The Thing, Among Us is designed to make you suspicious of everyone around you because you know that at least two of teammates are murderous imposters. It’s terrific premise executed brilliantly. More than any other two games, they are what define 2020 but for a brief window of time, it almost was Fall Guys.
For exactly one month, everyone was in love with this game and while they all hopped off for a two year old game (how the hell was Among Us nominated for shit if it was made in 2018??), I stuck around. My month lasted about 90 days and while I don’t play as much as I did in that first month, I’ve still managed to rack up over 300 hours into this damn game. And the reason is simple, it’s the only multiplayer game released in a long time I’m actually good at. I can’t remember the last time I’ve won this many games against other people. Fall Guys is a competitive multiplayer game that functions like a battle royale in that each round eliminates players until there’s only one left. Comprised of twenty mini games that are randomly generated, each game is no more than five rounds long and each mini game takes about three minutes to complete. There’s races and obstacle courses and games where you have to tag other players or collect the most eggs or just be the last person standing. It’s a silly time suck that’s probably the worst game on this list but since I put more time into it than every other game combined, I had to put it in the middle.
02. Kentucky Route Zero
Conway, a truck driver, is hired to make the final delivery for the antique company for which he works, but on the way to his destination, he eventually gets lost and is forced to take Route Zero, a long stretch of underground road found in the backwoods of Kentucky, in order to make up for lost time. Kentucky Route Zero is an episodic, point and click adventure game designed around player choice, but unlike other narrative-driven games, KRZ isn’t concerned about multiple branching paths leading to different endings but creating decisions based around the player’s emotions. Take for example this dialogue choice in the role playing game Planescape: Torment: a) [Truth] I love you or b) [Lie] I love you.
Neither choice effects the outcome of the story but the decision to either lie or tell the truth is meant to impact the player, not create an alternate ending. Almost every interaction in KRZ is designed with this philosophy in mind. About two hours in, I quickly realized that this was going to be one of those “the journey is more important than the destination” your experiences and after accepting that I was never going to deliver that package and that it ultimately didn’t matter anyways, I let the game work its magic on me. It’s not for everyone but if you tune into its frequency, you’ll find something truly special. Completely devoid of puzzles and action of any kind but heavy on atmosphere and memorable characters, KRZ is a compelling adventure game I won’t soon forget.
01. The Last of Us Part 2
Since I have no interest in Minecraft or Fortnite and I never got into the massive open world RPGs that everyone loves like Skyrim or The Witcher 3, The Last of Us has remained the greatest game I’ve played since its release in 2014. There have been game changers released before and after but TLOU is the first game to give me an emotional reaction outside of rage. I have never connected to two video game characters as strongly or as deeply as Joel and Ellie. Their trek through a post apocalyptic New York remains one of my favorite stories in any medium. You’ve seen this dichotomy before: he’s a cantankerous grouch and she’s a sassy firebrand that will eventually thaw his cold heart but since the writing and performances are so good, it never feels clichéd. They never feel anything less than authentic and real and their chemistry is *chef’s kiss* so good. They, along with the game itself, is everything I want games to be. I don’t need an expansive open world to explore (which is admittedly fun), I don’t need a sandbox in which to create shit endlessly and I don’t need a multiplayer component. All I need are good characters and good writing and TLOU has that in spades. So believe me when I say, I haven’t been this excited for a sequel since The Dark Knight and the anticipation for that movie consumed my life for like eight months. Did it live up to the hype? Yes and no.
Before I get into what I didn’t like about the game, I’m going to highlight the positives. Everything outside of the story, is a vast improvement over the last one. The combat and stealth are much more refined, the semi open world structure gives you far more to explore, the character AI is actually helpful instead of being beyond useless like the first one, the graphics are among the best of last generation, the set pieces are incredibly dense and the universe feels more fleshed out. There’s also a mode that makes the colors all muted to either easily locate collectibles or to help the color blind navigate the levels. I have no idea what its purpose is but the fact that it’s included is a testament to the amount of polish Naughty Dog put into this. Whether you like the story or not, it’s impossible to deny the effort that was put into this game. In a world of micro transactions or whatever bullshit developers put into their games to milk the player’s wallet, it’s refreshing to see a game actually provide an experience worthy of its price tag. That’s all the stuff I love, which as you can tell, is a lot. I love about 90% of this game unreservedly. It’s the other 10% I have an issue with and it’s actually not what you’re thinking. I actually have no problem with the incident that everyone hates nor do I care about the mid game twist that most don’t care for. My problem with the game is a minute one but it is something I’ll immediately think of when I think about this game: it’s too goddamn long. The game keeps feeding me chocolate cake and while the cake is good, at a certain point, I just want to leave the party. The last eight hours of this game drag ass to such a degree, that the epilogue feels like a truncated TLOU 3. I’m not joking, from when I thought the game was ending to when it actually ended was like an additional five hours. The ending of this game goes on forever. I know it’s a ridiculous thing to complain about but there’s a reason editors exist. More isn’t always better. But again, it’s a minor problem I have with a truly exceptional game. It’s nowhere near as good as the first but few things are.
What games did you enjoy last year?