It’s certainly been an usual year, and not only because of the unprecedented goings on across the world, but because of what gaming meant to us in 2020. It might have been harder to deal with the unique situation we’ve all been in this year were it not for our own little corner of escapism, where you can become an expert sharpshooter, traverse a few platforms to save a fantasy realm from darkness, or just be really good at crafting furniture out of one of three types of wood.
Hopefully you’ve all found games which have helped pull you through 2020, but which was your favourite? Which was the most surprising or unexpected? Let us know in the comments. In the meantime, on to our top picks.
New Horizons' charming wholesomeness was a bastion of serenity for many people this year.
Sam | The Last of Us Part II
Like James, my “Game of the Mid-Year” wasn’t dethroned during the last six months. Since I summed up my feelings on TLoU2 back then, however, rather than repeat myself I’ll immediately derail the conversation by discussing something else entirely…
Although Demon’s Souls (my favourite console launch game) and Resident Evil 3 are the runners up this year, I’m surprised to say that Final Fantasy VII Remake is hot on their heels. As someone that has no prior experience with the series and little to no patience for JRPGs with anime trappings, that’s damn impressive.
After playing the demo out of a feeling of obligation, I walked away having really enjoyed the combat if nothing else. That was enough for me to give the full game a try, and, to my surprise, I warmed to its world and characters over the nearly 40 hours it took to finish all of the quests.
In time, what were unbearably tropey caricatures with cheesy dialogue became more endearing than annoying. As someone that typically cringes at this stuff and can’t bear to be around it for any significant length of time, what the game achieved was nothing short of miraculous.
I’m actually looking forward to the second part of Final Fantasy VII Remake, which is something I never thought I’d say. Credit where it’s due, the team at Square Enix did an excellent job with what could’ve been a disastrous project accounting for the game’s illustrious history.
You know it's been a messed up year when Sam's praising a JRPG.
Liam | Star Wars Squadrons
I've spoken before about my enthusiasm for the Rogue Squadron series, and flying games in general, so it’s no surprise that Star Wars Squadrons, the perfect amalgamation of the two, gets my pick for game of the year.
My winner could very easily have been Call of Duty: Warzone, which continues to provide me and my friends with hours of entertainment (for free!), or Animal Crossing: New Horizons – a title I’ve sunk dozens of hours into, and even tipped it to be my top pick earlier in the year – but I simply couldn’t ignore the brilliance of Squadrons.
While I’ll always have a soft spot for Rogue Squadron’s arcade gameplay, there’s just something very satisfying about Star Wars Squadrons’ more technical take on combat, whether it’s diverting power to weapon systems for an attack run on a Rebel flagship or shifting power to your X-wing’s forward shields to swat away the TIE interceptor that’s foolishly decided to joust you head-on.
The sim-focussed gameplay might feel a little daunting at first but stick with it and you’ll be rewarded with a properly immersive experience (both in multiplayer and in the surprisingly decent campaign) that lets you live out your ultimate Star Wars fantasies as a Rebel or Imperial ace.
The Force is strong with this one.
What was your game of the year? Let us know below.
With an absence of big industry events this year, it fell to The Game Awards – increasingly a platform for announcements rather than celebrating the best games of the previous year – to pick up the slack, and as well as notable appearances from familiar faces outside the gaming world, there were also just a few upcoming games featured.
The early days of the new console generation for both PlayStation and Xbox means the platforms are brimming with potential, and both console-makers were eager to make a big splash, but which caught our attention? Read on for our top picks from the show.
Welcome back, Agent Dark.
Sam | The Callisto Protocol
Seeing Laura Bailey win best performance for her portrayal of Abby in The Last of Us Part II was my awards highlight. Mostly because it’s well-deserved, but also because of the unnecessary fan controversy that surrounded the character and role. Things finally came full circle and Bailey’s warm, emotional acceptance speech was perfect.
Unlike other awards shows, whether you love it or hate it, The Game Awards places its largest focus on new game reveals. Of the night’s several exciting announcements, Striking Distance Studios’ The Callisto Protocol was my favorite of the bunch.
Led by Glen Schofield, best known for co-founding Call of Duty developer Sledgehammer Games, the team’s debut project is a next-gen survival horror title aiming to be the scariest to date. That alone is exciting, though Schofield is also the original creator of Dead Space and The Callisto Protocol looks to be somewhat of a spiritual successor.
Fans of sci-fi horror already know that’s something special, but the added Alien vibes elevate it into dream game territory. Not much is known and it isn’t due out until sometime in 2022, but The Callisto Protocol has already shot right up my most anticipated games list.
For horror fans this is excellent, for the rest of us, just more nightmare fuel.
James | Dragon Age
Outside the news that Vin Diesel is now officially a game developer, serving as President of Creative Convergence for Ark 2 developers Studio Wildcard, what had me most excited was the return of Dragon Age.
BioWare hasn’t had the best time since Dragon Age: Inquisition came out, and the seasoned developer could use a win. While there is, of course, a twinkle or excitement in the form of the next Mass Effect, let’s see a little more of that before we get too carried away, lest it end up like last time...
So, what do we know? It’s probably just called Dragon Age, which seems fine, and if the voiceover is anything to go by then longtime companion Varrick the rogue is back once again. The beats of the trailer hints at a deeper level of personalisation to the experience this time, which can, hopefully, only make exploring this particular fantasy world more engaging.
There’s plenty of competition for our attention in that space however, so while it may have pedigree (one incredible game, one slightly disappointing game and one pretty good game), it will take more to win over a gaming community with high standards than ever before. Fortunately, the absence of detailed peeks at the game so far in this case is keeping expectations well-managed, so we don’t end up with another Anthem on our hands.
James might not be boarding the hype train just yet, but we've all been there.
What was your highlight of the show? Let us know below.
On the eve of the biggest gaming day of the year, Cyberpunk 2077 launch day, it’s got us thinking about how hype and anticipation plays into gaming, and entertainment as a whole. Whether that’s the tiniest pre-teaser trailer giving crumbs of info about the latest superhero film or the return of a bunch of aging rock legends for one last killer album, building up hype for a launch – and how well it executes on its promise – can be critical to success, or failure.
In gaming, sometimes games are in development hell for years before coming out, while others drop out of the blue and are a pleasant surprise. Enter Cyberpunk’s rocky road to release. Besides numerous delays, the game has seen various publicity snafus since it was first teased back at E3 2013, and yet it is, by far, still the most hyped game of the year.
We’ve picked on a trio of releases which had us swept up in the euphoria, and how it ultimately turned out.
Modern Warfare 2 even had a snow level, it was that good.
Sam | Gears of War 2
These days I’m not often one to get swept up in launch hype, and tend to maintain a pretty even keel in general. The impending launch of Cyberpunk 2077 makes me feel absolutely nothing, for example. Back in the day, however, just a screenshot in a magazine was enough for me to lose sleep!
As a youngster the annual WWE games were always a personal highlight. At the launch of the Xbox 360, I fawned over screenshots from Oblivion, Saint’s Row and Dead Rising for what must’ve been months. Though those are good examples, the collective excitement that me and my friends shared for Gears of War 2 makes it stand out more.
Before the original Modern Warfare stole us away, me and my school pals would spend most evenings playing Gears of War. For hours at a time we owned objectives in Annex mode and spilled gallons of blood, usually on Gridlock (my favourite multiplayer map).
I always preferred Gears to Call of Duty - and to a lesser extent Halo 3, our other game of choice - so I was especially excited to rejoin Marcus and his band of burly bros. The sequel also introduced the cooperative Horde mode, which as a concept is played out now, but at the time was revolutionary.
Gears of War 2 also featured a new-look Gridlock (sans all the blood spilled by Sam and co).
James | Mass Effect 3
No game sucked me into its story more than Mass Effect 2. While the first game established a world and a franchise, I wasn’t on Xbox until the second game came around to pull me into its against-all-odds suicide mission.
By the time the sequel came around, I’d never been more invested in an RPG franchise, I’d never been behind characters as strongly and I lapped up every morsel of pre-release information about the game.
Then, there was a demo. What was that about?! Multiplayer, in context, had its place in Mass Effect 3, but the demo didn’t showcase that especially well. Nonetheless, I was still excited, and proudly took a picture of the title screen before finally jumping in.
The experience of the game gave me everything I was hoping for, despite some (understandably) raised eyebrows from the community at the ending, and the legacy of the series is strong enough to warrant an upcoming re-release with the remastered ‘Legendary’ edition next year. Will it be enough to tempt me back? A good question, for another time.
Which game had you boarding the hype train? Let us know below.