The 2020 Game of the Year
Well, it's come down to that time, when we choose our game of the year. What is the one game that we think you should play this year over everything else? What is the game that defined 2020?
Our list, how we picked it, and the year at large
There are a lot of titles that aren't making the list this year and you might be wondering why. Doom Eternal and Ghost of Tsushima are nowhere to be found even though they are big releases you probably remember. Similarly, no fighting games made the list despite this year being pretty amazing for new fighting game content, nor have we seen games like Legends of Runeterra which is one of the highest-reviewed collectible trading card games of all time, or Crusader Kings III, which is the same for the grand strategy game. What criteria are we basing this on?
Well, quite frankly there were a lot of games to choose from this year. Despite how awful the year was in many ways, it was a very good year for gaming, with scores, in general, being higher than most other years. There were offerings in all sorts of genres for all sorts of gamers, and if you prefer one genre over another you probably will disagree with this list completely, and that’s fine.
For us, we wanted to consider games as more than just “things we enjoy.” So this isn’t just a list of the games we had the most fun with or the games that we racked up the most hours on. We also wanted to consider what the gaming world thought of these games as a whole, so we considered their critic and user rating on Metacritic.
Beyond that, we also wanted the games of the year to be somehow socially relevant, so we considered how much each of these game releases got us talking about important aspects of our industry and community and how long that discussion lasted. Finally, we looked at how innovative these titles are, how much they did something new for gaming, and let us tell you, there were a lot of “firsts” this year to choose from.
So without further ado, let's get to the list.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Yakuza: Like a Dragon was an amazing RPG, and it sits with a 90+ rating on Metacritic in the top 15 games of the year. It also had a lot of interesting things to say, from humanizing the homeless, questioning the credibility of the police, and focusing on how those in less fortunate circumstances may never be able to begin their life’s journey until well after forty, and it did it all while keeping the light goofy crime thriller tone that Yakuza has always had.
In our opinion, it deserves a slot in the game of the year running, but frankly, people just didn't take notice, and when people don’t take notice, games can’t make a big impact. Unfortunately, GOTY is, at least partially, a popularity contest, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon just wasn’t popular enough.
Cyberpunk 2077 on the other hand was popular enough but didn't get on our official list of runners-up because it frankly came out too late. There’s a lot to like here, from its unbelievably open-ended story that creates genuinely new paths through the games based on choices you make, to its stellar graphics that make even the most powerful GPUs cry.
There's also a lot of controversies that have sparked discussions of trans representation in games and the role of the cyberpunk genre in the modern world. However, it just didn’t have a chance to make a big impact in 2020 because it didn’t have a lot of 2020 to make an impact on. We will look back on it again in 2021.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake
Final Fantasy 7 Remake was an incredibly important game, bringing back one of the most beloved RPGs of all time, selling beyond Square Enix’s expectation, and sparking conversations about what the duty of a remake is. It also gave you a look into the minds of frustrated game developers that strive to create new things but feel shoved in a box by the expectations of their audiences. It’s also the game that I, personally, had the most fun with this year. However, it’s really not as well-reviewed as you might think. It doesn’t even break the top 30 of Metacritic’s games of the year, making it a fan darling that is still somewhat mixed in the critical world.
Microsoft Flight Simulator
Why the heck is Microsoft Flight Simulator on this list? Well, believe it or not, it was the 9th highest-rated game of the year when all reviews are aggregated together (eighth if you consider that Hades is on the list twice.) It took up a good portion of the middle of 2020, with people flying planes over their hometown, looking at some of the wonders of the world from high up, modding in their favorite aircraft, and much more. It was important to a lot of people, and the only reason why it didn’t get onto our official list was that the genre was so niche, and the PC requirements to get into it, along with the peripheral requirements to really get immersed, created a huge barrier of entry to the common gamer.
Another odd choice. Give us a chance to explain. Astro’s Playroom is not only the highest-rated game on Metacritic, by user score, but it’s also the ONLY next-gen only game on this list. It is the sole representative of the next generation of consoles which, frankly, just doesn’t feel like it’s here yet. Maybe it’s because all of the major games of 2020 were either last-gen or cross-gen or maybe it’s because scalpers have prevented anyone from actually obtaining a PS5 of Xbox Series X. Either way, this was a damn good game, and it’s a game that could only exist explicitly on a next-gen console and we think that at least deserves an honorable mention.
Runner- up: Persona 5 Royal
Yeah, Persona 5 is on our GOTY list, again. Why? Well despite this being a re-release, despite it being a re-release on the same console it was originally released on, despite it basically just being an expansion pack to the original that we have to pay full price for AND have to buy all the DLC again for… Persona 5 Royal is, by the numbers, the highest-rated game of the year. You know, we can’t even deny that. We invested another 200 hours into Persona 5 Royal this year despite 100-percenting the first one. It’s quite honestly the definitive edition of one of the best RPGs we have ever seen and one of the only reasons we didn’t consider it for our winner slot, is because its appeal as a re-release is limited. There are so many gamers out there that will never experience Royal because they “already played Persona 5.”
Runner- up: Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing: New Horizons had a lot of flaws, but it is still one of the most influential games of 2020. In a year where we were completely isolated from each other, being able to hop on an imaginary plane and visit your friends’ unique islands was just the sort of fantasy escapism we needed. Celebrities showcased their islands. President-elect Joe Biden used his island during his campaign. We all traded memes and watch streamers and tried to catch tarantulas only to fail miserably. It was a shared experience that we all loved, more than enough to grant it an honorable mention.
Runner- up: Hades
Hades is a very important game because, well, it’s an indie game. OK, maybe you’d consider it a AA game, or even an A game, a game from a well-known studio that operates with small teams and budgets. Still, I’d say this has all the trappings of indie publishing, and if you accept that it’s an indie game you’d also have to accept that it’s one of the highest-rated indie games of all time by both critics and users alike.
It’s also one of the only games in modern times to achieve game-of-the-year nominee status after navigating the minefield that is early access. Most early access games just sort of peter out, or have a small release to their dedicated fanbases, but Hades somehow took the world by storm with its fantastic art and it’s a weirdly depressing and horny representation of Greek myth. In fact, one of the things keeping it from the GOTY slot is that it has existed for so long. It doesn’t really feel like a “game of 2020” when it’s been in early access for years before.
Runner- up: Half-Life Alyx
Half-Life: Alyx is important for so many reasons. It’s the first major Half-Life release since Half-Life 2. It’s the first major VR title to reach GOTY nominee status, ending up 4th on Metacritic’s 2020 list. It successfully marketed VR to a more mainstream audience. It’s one of the only games that has received near-universal praise by both critics and users, who are usually fiercely divided. Once again it’s a fine contender for GOTY, but since it’s limited to VR platforms and those platforms haven’t been adopted by a majority of gamers yet, its impacts are limited in scope
Winner: The Last of Us: Part II
There are a lot of technical reasons why The Last of Us: Part II is on this list. It's the second highest-rated game of the year by critics. It caused a lot of important discussion on trans representation in gaming, the role of torture and violence in gaming, and whether or not we should empathize with the people we play in games. It was easily one of Sony’s best-selling titles of the year. Its graphics were phenomenal. Its actors did a fantastic job portraying their characters. Its system evolved on the original in meaningful ways. It even had the most complete suite of accessibility options any AAA game had this year, to the point where you could flat out customize your gameplay to the point that you could essentially remove stealth or gunplay from the game completely if that just wasn’t your jam.
But here's why it really won Game of the Year. Frankly, I cannot think of another game that says 2020 mood than The Last of Us: Part II. This game hurts. This game put you in the position of having everything you love taken away from you and still finding a reason to go on. This game put you in an apocalypse where a plague has claimed the lives of most of humanity and posits that it’s not the plague, it's humanity that’s the problem. This game forced us to humanize people we hated, and yet still continue onward, knowing that they had their own valid reasons for doing what they did, and inflict pain on them anyway.
And yes, that all sounds heavy in an already heavy year, but if there’s anything that 2020 has shown us, shown me personally, it’s the incredible depths of cruelly and heights of kindness humanity can fall and rise to respectively, and The Last of Us: Part II portrays that all in one package. It’s a game that has something to say and says it effectively, even if you never played the original. Naughty Dog thought of everything, from mechanics to theme to graphics to options. They even went out of the way to name every single NPC that you kill.
Even if you didn’t like the story, you have to at least applaud Naughty Dog for the incredible strides they made in storytelling, accessibility, motion capture technology, and more. Complain about Abby all you want, this is still one of the most influential and important games this year, and if developers take notice I guarantee you that the design decisions made here will influence gaming for years to come.
Congratulations to The Last of Us: Part 2 for winning Game of the Year for 2020.