The Best (and Worst) New Games of 2020

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2020 was a fantastic year for video games. There were phenomenal new entries from iconic franchises, killer indie titles, and the best VR game of all time (so far). 

But not everything can be a success. From frustrating remakes to big games littered with microtransactions, there were plenty of titles that simply didn’t hit the mark. 

What were the best new games of 2020?

Production and distribution delays. Forced upgrades. New consoles. A lot conspired in 2020 to make the year’s slate of releases feel like an uphill battle, but the great games this year were fantastic. 

Start with the following: 

Hades (Supergiant Games; Trailer) - released September 17th, Available on Nintendo Switch, Windows, macOS 

Hades is simple. Zagreus is the son of Hades, and he wants to escape the underworld. His dad will do anything to stop him. Zagreus is a god - to him, death is an annoyance, not an obstacle. So he tries, over and over again. From that premise, Supergiant created something incredible. Hades builds on previous successes - the music of Bastion, the combat of Transistor, Pyre’s atmospheric storytelling - while blowing all three of those games away. Combat is responsive and satisfying, dying feels like a chance to learn instead of a loss. The story is among the finest in the medium. Hades is more than one of the best games of 2020. It’s simply one of the greatest ever made. 

Half Life: Alyx (Valve; Trailer), Available on Windows, Linux - released March 23 

Virtual reality needed a killer app. Valve made one. Half-Life Alyx is a full on triple-A FPS designed exclusively for VR. It’s one thing to shoot at a zombie with a controller. It’s another entirely to aim at him, miss because of your shaky hand and physically lunge backwards to dodge an attack. And that’s before you need to unjam and reload your pistol. Alyx succeeds as a demonstration of VR’s potential and as an incredible game in its own right. That it’s the first Half-Life title since 2007 doesn’t hurt, either. 

Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Nintendo; Trailer), Available on Nintendo Switch - released March 20th 

Animal Crossing is a series about comfort and escape. Go to a new place, create your own town, melt into it. New Horizons expanded the game’s scope - you’ve got your own island now - but the gameplay, and the fun, is the same. Meet and curate your villagers. Design a gorgeous town square. Catch the fish that only appear in August. Play for hours a day or just a few minutes. In a time where most people were stuck inside, New Horizons gave us somewhere to go. 

The Last of Us Part II (Sony; Trailer), Available on Playstation 4 - released June 19th 

Publisher Naughty Dog wants to evoke emotion with games crafted to immerse the player in a story while making sure they don’t stray too far from a narrative path. When this approach works, it’s absolutely captivating, as is the case for the most part in The Last of Us Part II. Ellie’s story of loss and revenge is told through incredible digital animation and voice over performances. Fighting fungal zombies and hostile humans is an exercise in slow brutality. The whole game is committed to the tone of the story, to a degree that’s rare in a big budget game. For that alone, it’s well worth playing. 

What were the worst new games of 2020?

Nothing in 2020 could be called one of the worst games of all time - WWE 2K20 and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) can fight over that title in the landfill E.T. was buried in. 

Even the worst titles have their own contingent of contrarian supporters, morbidly curious rubberneckers, and masochistic speed runners. 

Here’s our list for those of you who fit in those categories: 

The Last of Us Part II (Sony; Trailer), Available on Playstation 4 - released June 19th 

This isn’t deja vu - just an admission of the hotly anticipated follow-ups polarizing nature. The Last of Us Part II, listed above in the “best of” section, is also one of the worst games of the year. Unrelentingly grim and cynical, with characters constantly suffering and making awful decisions. One faction has tracker dogs, who cry in distress when their owners are killed. This is a game that exists to make you feel bad, and it absolutely succeeds. The level of commitment to tone and story may be impressive, but when the thing being committed to is this nihilistic, why make the game at all? 

The Elder Scrolls: Blades (Bethesda Softworks; Trailer), Available on iOS, Android, Nintendo Switch - released May 12th 

Blades is supposed to be a full Elder Scrolls experience on phones. Logically, it should have a huge open world, varied environments, deep character customization, and freedom. It has none of those things. Instead, Blades is a grindy, shallow mobile RPG full of expensive microtransactions. It’s not worth a second look. 

Warcraft III: Reforged (Blizzard Entertainment; Trailer), Available on Windows, macOS - released January 28th 

In 2017, Blizzard released StarCraft: Remastered, to great success. With that in mind, it’s baffling that Warcraft III: Reforged is as bad as it is. Graphical improvements are there, but inconsistent. The UI is huge and obtrusive. At launch, the game was laden with bugs. It got so bad that Blizzard offered every single player a refund with no strings attached, The core of the game is still great, but this is not a remaster worth paying for. 

NBA 2K21 (2K Sports; Trailer), Available on Windows, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4 and 5, Xbox One and Series X/S, Stadia - released September 4th 

NBA 2K21 costs $60. When you boot it up, it starts to cost more. It costs money to boost a custom player’s stats. It costs money to give a custom player a haircut or new shoes. This is just in the single player mode, where the actual basketball is weaker than previous entries. It’s hard to have fun in a game that’s constantly asking for your credit card. 

Those aside, 2020 was full of incredible games. With titles like Halo: Infinite and God of War on the horizon, 2021 looks like it could be even better. 


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