Kat, Mat, and Eric’s Top 10 Games of 2020

Another year has come and gone in the gaming world, bringing a deal of new releases and just as many delays. The COVID-19 pandemic had a sizable impact on the year, but despite all of it, there were still games we played that gave us forums for safe socializing, comfort, or just a good story to get lost in.

This is also the last bout of personal Top 10 lists for USgamer, and so with that in mind, we’ve opted to put all the lists of the remaining USG staff in one place. Editor-in-Chief Kat Bailey, Reporter Mathew Olson, and News Editor Eric Van Allen each had 10 games to shout-out that got them through a tumultuous 2020. Here are our lists:

Hades feels like a revolution for roguelites. | Supergiant Games

Kat Bailey’s Top 10 Games of 2020

  1. Hades
  2. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
  3. Yakuza: Like a Dragon
  4. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
  5. Star Wars: Squadrons
  6. Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  7. Microsoft Flight Simulator
  8. The Last of Us Part 2
  9. Final Fantasy 7 Remake
  10. Among Us

It always warms my heart when I find an unexpected game at the top of my best of the year list. This year my top pick is Hades, a game that was barely even on my radar a year ago, mainly because I’m not actually that much of a fan of Greek mythology, and even less of a roguelite fan. Hades hit differently, though. It was wonderful on almost every level, with art, music, and storytelling that came together to create a really incredible video game experience. Even now I’m kind of pining for another run through Tartarus and Elysium, despite having made that same run at least 35 times before. That to me is a mark of a special game.

While Hades is my favorite game of the year, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the one that I played the most by far. I’ve put more than 500 hours into building up my island, and I plan to carry on right into 2021. My island has become my happy place—a little interactive garden that I can go to relax when I’m feeling stressed out or sad. The pictures on my Switch are almost all from Animal Crossing, forming a little alternative yearbook that I frequently look back on with fondness.

As for the rest of my list, I never expected Star Wars Squadrons to even exist, let alone be good. Playing it has been a dream come true. Likewise, I never expected to include The Last of Us Part 2 or Spider-Man: Miles Morales—two big-budget releases from a genre I tend to dislike—but both ultimately won me over with their craftmanship and bold ideas. Microsoft Flight Simulator is the game I wish I could play more, but I’m afraid it might literally set my processor on fire; I can’t wait until it’s out on Xbox Series X. Among Us helped me reconnect with my closest friends in 2020’s darkest days.

God knows 2020 wasn’t what I expected—it wasn’t what anyone expected—but I’m grateful to these games for helping me get through. Hopefully 2021 will be better for everyone, even if USgamer itself won’t be around anymore. One way or another, we’ll keep going.

The new Half-Life arrived in VR, and it was pretty astounding. | Valve

Mat Olson’s Top 10 Games of 2020

  1. Half-Life: Alyx
  2. Kentucky Route Zero
  3. Among Us
  4. Umurangi Generation
  5. Mixolumia
  6. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
  7. Spelunky 2
  8. Star Wars: Squadrons
  9. FUSER
  10. Hades

I’ve said more than enough about Half-Life: Alyx on this site, so I’ll just let my review do the talking for my number one. That said, as I predicted with my Top 10 last year, if I had played Outer Wilds then it would have absolutely wrecked my ranking. Take the awe and catharsis of Alyx’s ending (satisfying a thirteen year wait), amplify that tenfold, and you end up with how I feel about finishing Outer Wilds. That’s my retroactive 2019 winner, and it would be on top of this list, too, if a certain 2020 phenomenon didn’t stab it in the back for the “old game of the year” spot. Go read Jake Green’s excellent review of it right after this.

Kentucky Route Zero, man—part of me wants to kick myself for waiting to play it, but I’m also glad I got to see the entire thing at my own pace. This game literally put me to sleep a couple times, and that’s a compliment. “Dreamlike” hardly begins to capture it; the rich, multilayered world always puts me into a trance with poetic dialogue and unforgettable scenery before snapping me out of it with some bleak observation about what it means to live and die in America. An all-timer.

Umurangi Generation (yes, I know I’m skipping an entry here) works a similar spell, albeit one with more demands on player observation. After Eric kept insisting that I play it, I finished the journey through Tauranga Aotearoa in two sittings. I don’t think I took many great pictures, but the level design, art, and storytelling touches all combine to make this the greatest game about photography that I’ve ever played. It joins the past decade’s short list of no-combat first-person games that absolutely everyone should play.

Among Us is that rare game everyone’s talking about that turns out to be just as good as people say. I immediately had fun with it the first time I played, but it also gets so much better as you learn the maps and pick up the habits of the people you play with. Emergency meeting: Allow me to hijack this paragraph of Innersloth praise to shout out Dave Hoffman’s Mixolumia, a puzzle game that takes all the right music and visual lessons from Tetris Effect and applies them to a killer spin on the Match-3 formula. I really hope the delayed success of Among Us inspires more small indies to stick with ideas they believe in, and I’d love to see more devs document their work like Hoffman did with Mixolumia on Twitter.

The rest of my list basically amounts to a selection of games I need more time with. I hope to settle back into a rhythm with Animal Crossing: New Horizons at some point, and I’ve still got unfinished business with Spelunky 2’s frustrating hidden boss. Star Wars: Squadrons, a game I’ve only played in VR, is a solid side-story experience that the franchise needs more of. Like other Harmonix games before it, fooling around in FUSER promises to only get better over time with more DLC. For the past few months, I’ve tentatively kept a spot open for Hades in this list and, while I’ve only cleared it twice, I already know this one will keep me busy for weeks if not months to come. Call it number ten for now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I feel compelled a year from now to sing its praises like I did with Outer Wilds.

Umurangi Generation is both a DSLR simulator and an incredible narrative experiment. | Veselekov

Eric Van Allen’s Top 10 Games of 2020

  1. Hades
  2. Umurangi Generation
  3. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
  4. Yakuza: Like a Dragon
  5. Blaseball
  6. Final Fantasy 7 Remake
  7. If Found
  8. Astro’s Playroom
  9. Spiritfarer
  10. FUSER

This was one of the harder years to determine a top choice, even more so than last year. What was great was how easy it was to fill this list this year; I had several games I really enjoyed that didn’t make the cut, and a few sitting on my backlog (including Kentucky Route Zero) that might have broken onto this list if I’d found the time.

Hades is the winner for me, by a narrow margin. It’s the culmination of everything Supergiant and also so much more. I’m a lifelong lover of Greek myth, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a good take on the bickering beautiful gods of Olympus. Umurangi Generation, meanwhile, is one of the best indies of the year and quite possibly the most important game you have to play, embodying all the abject letdowns of 2020 in a single photography sim. It is brilliant, and deserves widespread recognition.

I dug Odin Sphere, but Vanillaware found a winner by leaving the beat ’em up behind and focusing on narrative in 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. It’s one of the most intricately crafted narratives I’ve seen in recent memory, and it tells its story so well. Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a fresh and wonderful kickoff for a new generation of Yakuza games, with the best hero of 2020 as its lead.

How could I not talk about Blaseball? It was made for the kind of year we’ve had, and in the longest hours that stretched into days and weeks, it provided the regularity, drama, and escape that sports can provide, while finding new ways to bring the excitement of sports to those who don’t usually go for them. Any narrative experiment that ends in killing a god is good in my book.

Speaking of, Final Fantasy 7 Remake! I didn’t have a lot of nostalgia for the original, but this remake was a highlight of the year largely for how incredible its redesign of Midgar is. Characters like Tifa, Aerith, and Jessie were given new life with the new look. If Found was just a beautifully told story; it’s my Florence for 2020, and folks at home should take an afternoon to scrub through it.

Closing out the bottom of my list is Astro’s Playroom, the biggest surprise of 2020 for me. Who knew a tech demo could warm the heart so much? Spiritfarer was another beautiful escape; I spent a full weekend playing it, lost in the sea of the afterlife, tending to people’s needs and farming. And FUSER was another surprise. I thought the Dropmix technology was neat, but having digital access to it, alongside a bunch of DJ tools, makes the experience incredible. It’ll be dependent on future tracks to keep things fresh, but for now, it’s a cool new experiment into what rhythm games can do.

There was so much else this year that was still so good (I cannot wait for the full launch of Baldur’s Gate 3), but these are, what I feel right now, my favorite 10. If I have one last takeaway, it’s that 2020 did turn out to be a good year for games after all; they became a place for both escape and for recreating the social forums we lost due to a pandemic, and most of my memories of 2020 will be inextricably linked to the games I played this year. Now go play Umurangi Generation!

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