Gaming brings people together. It’s one of the purest aspects of the medium: The persistent invitation to others to come in, step inside the magic circle, and get silly. (Or serious. Or serious-silly. Play is many things to many folks.) Even when we’re addressing single-player games—ostensibly solitary experiences, with their stereotypical player locked away in a room, scrubbing icons off an open-world map like a geographic Roomba—the desire to process the hobby that we love, to discuss the games that have happily colonized our times and minds, persists. We can acknowledge the perils and the pitfalls of the “gaming discourse”—wrestle with issues of employee rights, toxic masculinity, and unfocused and wild-firing social media rage—while still acknowledging that there are few pleasures in this world more sublime than digging in with another person about a piece of digital art that made you feel something deep and profound. (Or even just goofy and fun. Again: Play is play.)
Which is why, as we do every year, The A.V. Club’s games crew is handing off the reins to our readers for a bit. Because while we love talking about The Games We Liked in both halves of 2020—from big-budget prestige releases all the way down to mobile entertainments—we’re just as excited to hear about the games you liked in this wild, play-demanding year. So here they are: Culled from the Keyboard Geniuses who chimed in on last week’s favorite games of the year feature, The Games You Liked in 2020.
First up: Here’s AmaltheaElanor, talking about the inclusiveness of Final Fantasy VII Remake:
I mentioned this back at the half-year point, but I liked Final Fantasy VII Remake because it made itself accessible for newbies like me. The original game is so venerated within gaming culture, and I pretty well missed the boat on playing first time around. Going in with next to no knowledge (I knew Sephiroth kills Aeris, and that’s about it) I was glad to find that, though there were a number of references happening around me (that I was too oblivious to see), it didn’t in any way hinder my enjoyment of the game. Quite the opposite: It has stellar production values, and a really great combat system (something I’ve generally liked less and less in JRPGs). And though I don’t have the same 20+ year attachment to the characters, I still found myself taken with them, thanks to great writing and performances. What’s more, it’s kind of fun to be in the know; for the first time in forever, I finally get to be one of the fans who “gets it” when it comes to Final Fantasy VII.
Ditto erakbgg, who also put in a nod to Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout:
I loved Final Fantasy VII: Remake for changing my mind on real-time combat in an FF game. I usually don’t like combat in a 3D environment, but FFVII:R’s mix of real-time fighting and pausing for some good old fashioned FF menus was beautifully implemented. I enjoyed it so much I doubled back and played FFXII for the first time.
I love Fall Guys because it’s so quick and gloriously stupid, you can’t stay mad at it for long. I don’t have the attention span to play games for hours on end. Ironically, Fall Guys’ quick minigames and “just-one-more” attitude has resulted in some 4+ hour sessions for me. Thank god my wife likes the soundtrack or else she’d have gone mad by now.
Several users agreed with our pick of Hades as one of the year’s best, including Evan Waters:
Damn is Hades terrific. It’s just the best feedback loop I’ve ever seen: You go out and smash things, you eventually die, you get rewarded with cool story stuff and interactions with neat characters and also tangible improvements to your abilities and new options. A bad run will still yield some results at home, but the good runs feel really nice, and you just keep getting a bit better.
Meanwhile, Liebkartoffel praised the game’s highly customizable difficulty:
Hades’ God Mode was a lifesaver for someone with dum-dum fingers like me, and it was the first roguelite/like I’ve played that I didn’t feel completely frustrated and bored by after the first couple of hours. I really appreciated being able to experience the gameplay and story and aesthetics like everyone else, but at my skill level, and in such a way that I never felt like I was cheating. Beating Hades—and then subsequently beating Hades—was such a rewarding experience, even if I could only do so at ~40% damage reduction.
And needle.hacksaw talked up its narrative focus:
As somebody who both has liked Supergiant since Bastion and finds rogue-likes a near-perfect genre if you’re looking for short, focused sessions that do feel meaningful whenever you get to it, it’s no wonder that Hades is my game of the year. I stopped playing once I had beaten the overworld boss for the first time. There are other rogue-likes that I have played more—sometimes even up to the point where I got frustrated with the fact that my will was not strong enough to put it aside. I think that the focus on narrative in Hades gave me a feeling of satisfaction by reaching an “ending” that was actually very welcome. It’s really a culmination of everything Supergiant does well.
Games coverage mainstay Merve served up some great indie picks:
I liked Timelie because it surprised me with its cleverness. At first blush, Timelie looks like a fairly rote stealth-puzzle game. But as it adds mechanics and complexity, it reveals hidden depths. And then it pulls a twist so jaw-droppingly clever that I still can’t get it out of my head. It completely recontextualizes the game’s earlier puzzles. I don’t want to spoil it, but it’s on par with discovering the “portal paint” in Portal 2. Timelie is Urnique Studio’s debut game, and now they have my attention for anything they put out in the future.
I liked Golf With Your Friends because it allowed me to golf with my friends. That sounds silly, but it’s true. GWYF is a janky experience that’s marginally more polished than Cyberpunk 2077, but when you’re playing with your friends, it’s sublime. It turns into a goofy-as-hell party game that bends and breaks the laws of physics. And who hasn’t ever wanted to punch physics in its stupid, ugly face?
I liked Necrobarista because it demystified death by making it more mysterious. That sounds like a contradiction in terms, so let me explain. Necrobarista is about a magical realist coffee shop where the dead go before passing on to the other side. Baristas act as psychopomps, providing words of wisdom and a warm cup of coffee before shepherding the deceased into the afterlife. What awaits them there? The game doesn’t have answers. But by embracing the fact that death is ultimately unknowable, Necrobarista helps us untangle our complex emotions about it.
While Robottowa stumped hard for a game that was an easy inclusion on our mid-year list:
The game that most defined my year was The Last Of Us Part II. The original Last Of Us is one of my favorite games of all time and was something of a swansong for my relationship with videogames—it was the last AAA game I played before my life just got too busy to play games. When I heard a sequel was being made, I was incredibly skeptical: The ending to the first Last Of Us is perfect, and I thought that a sequel would be excessive. But it wasn’t. Part II is a masterpiece. Sure, in its sprawling nature its storytelling hits a few more snags than its predecessor, but the game’s ambition pays off more often than it doesn’t. Even aspects of the game I eventually didn’t like—the mid-game twist—grew on me immensely. Every character in the game is endearing, complex, and understandable. So much of the game is spent hoping that people make the right choice. It earns its final dramatic showdown, mining relationships built up over the course of both games to create a catharsis that genuinely left me sobbing. It’s also just incredible as a game; graphically, I cannot think of anything that rivals it, and all of its systems work wonderfully in putting you in the shoes of its protagonists. It also has so many memorable locations and set pieces: the broadcast station, the first time you meet Scars, the hospital (both times you go there), the sniper, the skybridge, the village. There is so much I love about this game—not even the shallow and butthurt discourse surrounding it has spoiled me on it.
Finally, Hank_Dolworth gave in impassioned defense for free-to-play phenomenon Genshin Impact:
Am I the first person to put Genshin Impact on this list? I’ve played my fair share of f2p games over the years. GI still has a rotating “banner” of limited-time characters, but they end up plugged into the same Zelda-clone as all the other characters. Importantly, leveling these characters requires the same amount of grinding out boss battles and collectibles as any other character; there is no ability to optimize your character via in-app purchases beyond the banner / draw mechanic itself. Honestly, GI feels more like a “real game” than the Avengers game I paid $30 for which has microtransactions baked into so many aspects of the game’s service model. I have yet to put any actual money into the title… but I feel as though I should to support a game that allegedly managed to turn a profit in its first few weeks of operation. This is the game I play on PS5 while I wait for most of the “real” 2020 games to get their next-gen coats of paint
While Perfolas dipped back into the backlog for some great games from past years that got their day in the sun in 2020:
Watch Dogs 2. Yes, I cheat. It’s not London, it’s San Francisco. London is still too expensive. But Watch Dogs 2 is really great. It ditches the grim vigilante thriller tone of the original for a more nonsensical fun hipster adventure comedy, and an all-over-the-place stupid plot where self-righteous pseudo-ethical hackers fight the evil corporations that try to do the same exact things as them. But so much fun. Powerful escapism, cutting through a city by the means of parkour and omnipotent magical hacking. A sense of lightness and freedom, in an ordinary, conventional everyday setting. With a touch of real-life tourism, and a genuine love for San Francisco’s history, culture and landmarks. I’m quite convinced that the 2020 Watch Dogs is just as good (although I imagine London as a more boring city), but it’s not the one I played in 2020.
If you want to read more of our readers’ thoughts on the best games of 2020—and you really should, because there’s plenty more gold we can’t include here without ballooning this feature out all the way to 2021—you can check out the comments section of our official list. (And sound off down here, if you like!) Happy gaming, folks, and have a great 2021.