USG’s Top 20 Games of 2020

2020 was an unprecedented year for gaming… and for literally every other part of human society. The COVID-19 pandemic turned our lives upside down, wiping out our daily routines and forcing us to stay in our homes, with video games being one of the few sources of solace. What was originally supposed to be a triumphant console launch became a chaotic scramble as production was disrupted, events were canceled, and games were delayed.

But the release schedule marches on. Thousands of video games were released in 2020, some of which were amazing, many of which were unjustly overlooked. A few revived long-lost genres, and others redefined them entirely. It was the culmination of a console generation, with The Last of Us Part 2, Call of Duty: Warzone, and Hades all building on ideas that gained traction during the PS4 and Xbox One era.

As always, we chose 20 of our favorites—the games that moved us, inspired us, and helped grow the medium we love. They are the experiences we’ll remember most in a year that we’ll never forget.

20. Paper Mario: The Origami King

Always crease your Koopa cleanly. | Nintendo

Paper Mario’s been a troubled series since Sticker Star came out in 2012. The game was light on story—an extremely unpopular design choice for fans of the rich storytelling in Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door on GameCube.

Paper Mario’s never returned to its pure RPG roots, which some fans don’t appreciate. And, like its modern forebears, The Origami King is really more of an action game than an RPG. But It’s not all bad news for hardcore The Thousand Year Door stans: The Origami King has a sweet story and hilarious characterization, and I really enjoyed my time with this unique title. I also prefer The Origami King’s wider, more open world to The Thousand Year Door’s chapter-based progress. Also, The Origami King’s end game is the best of any Paper Mario game, period.

I really hope the rumors about GameCube games coming to the Switch proves true. I want to play The Thousand Year Door again, and I want others to play it, too. I hope when we refresh our memories, we realize The Thousand Year Door is indeed an all-time classic, but new entries like The Origami King are every bit as enjoyable—even if the team isn’t allowed to make their own character designs anymore. Yes, that’s a stupid, sucky decision on Nintendo’s part, but the team for The Origami King deserves that much more praise for making such a lively world out of “plain” Toads, Goombas, Koopas, etc. —Nadia Oxford

19. Star Wars: Squadrons

Just another reason for this year’s HOTAS shortages. | EA Motive/Electronic Arts

Look, I couldn’t not put Star War Squadrons on this list. I spent a solid 20 years waiting for a game like this to come out, and when it finally did, it was almost everything I could have wanted. It had player-controlled X-wings and TIE Fighters dueling around Star Destroyers! It had an interactive hangar! It had some really nifty VR support! Sure, it was fundamentally busted in some ways, but what it got right it got so right.

In many ways it’s the biggest surprise of the year. I never in a million years expected EA to make a game like this. But somehow this wild passion project got greenlit, and we’re all richer for it. The capper—and the biggest reason that this game is on our list—is the quick (and free) post-launch additions of the TIE Defender and B-Wing, which show that EA has enough confidence in this game to make it more than a fire and forget release.

Certainly, there’s more work to be done to make its multiplayer viable over the long-term, but I can’t think of another game that has made my heart sing as much as Star Wars Squadrons. I don’t say this very often, but good work, EA. —Kat Bailey

18. Ghost of Tsushima

No time to stop and smell the flowers. | Sucker Punch Productions/Sony

I wasn’t sure whether Ghost of Tsushima should be on this list. It’s undoubtedly gorgeous, but otherwise its story, combat, and exploration are middling at best. It’s old-school Assassin’s Creed with a new-school shine, and while that will be compelling to plenty of people, I don’t know that it’s necessarily worth celebrating as one of the best games of the year. But holy cow, did I mention it’s gorgeous? It’s worth playing on PlayStation 5 just to admire its brilliant colors as they rush past in 60fps.

Not only that, Ghost of Tsushima has had some exemplary post-launch support. Ghost of Tsushima: Legends is an incredible achievement, a piece of free DLC that is somehow vastly superior to big-budget competitors like Marvel’s Avengers. It may not be that bold or interesting in the long run, but I appreciate the care and polish exemplified by Legends. In my opinion, that’s enough to earn Ghost of Tsushima a spot on this list. —Kat Bailey

17. Fuser

Is Harmonix’s Fuser a “proper” game? Its thin campaign and the diminished focus on score certainly have the feel of something more experimental, but just as Harmonix said with its reveal, Fuser is no beginner’s DJ toolset. Instead, like Rock Band and Guitar Hero before it, Fuser’s a special and captivating game thanks to its intimate grasp on the playfulness inherent in musical performance.

Yes, Rock Band was and still is a great rhythm game for those who want to chase scores, but it became a bigger phenomenon because it could make people feel like they were in a band while letting their personalities shine through. Likewise, Fuser is built to enable and reward an attentive ear by doing all the hard work of stitching tracks together, but you’ve got to really lean into that freedom to get the most out of it. You’ve got to act like a DJ.

Were it not for the dismal state we’re in with streaming and the DMCA, Fuser would probably be a bigger hit than it’s been so far. It’d be much weirder to have a Fuser event at a bar than a Rock Band night, but that’s because it is a smidge closer to real performance than it is to karaoke (and DJs, no offense, do tend to just stand there). Fuser is best for the people who really want to put on a show, the ones who strummed their Red Octane SGs with some real attitude back in the day. Combine a streamer with the right energy and an audience that’s down to vibe, and Fuser can evoke the real live music experience in a way that few games have before it. —Mathew Olson

16. Call of Duty: Warzone

See you in the gulag. | Infinity Ward/Raven Software/Activision

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019) was already a solid base game in its own right when it came to multiplayer. It felt like a return to the specific brand of running and gunning that grabbed me with the original Modern Warfare. Warzone, however, was a massive surprise.

The battle royale genre seemed completely settled in place by the time Warzone launched in March, and Call of Duty’s previous attempt at the game type in Black Ops 4 failed to hook me in. Warzone was, in so many ways, the refinement of the Call of Duty royale formula. Its use of loadouts and killstreaks, driveable vehicles, and maps from the multiplayer side effortlessly click together.

Besides its use of different multiplayer maps and the handful of in-game events its had (which are good, though still struggle to match Fortnite’s epic concerts), there is one element that I think put Warzone above the rest: the Gulag. The second-chance fight-to-the-death, to earn a return to the field in gladiatorial combat, is brilliant and remains a lasting testament to Warzone’s impact. The battle royale has become a key part of Call of Duty moving forward, even outlasting its base game in the yearly CoD churn. But more importantly, it got Call of Duty royale right, while keeping it a Call of Duty game. —Eric Van Allen

15. Blaseball

Show some love for the Canada Moist Talkers, won’t you? | The Game Band

I’m pretty susceptible to all the individual components that make up Blaseball: sparse text games and betting on CPU battles. Those elements alone are not what make Blaseball so incredible, and so right for this year, though.

Blaseball’s achievements are in the way that The Game Band has weaved the community’s tendency to poke, prod, and break every facet of the simulation into narrative beats. Theorycrafters find a loophole to vote for an incinerated player in the popularity leaderboards, and scheme to get them into the 14th spot, which would then force the player onto whichever team is the beneficiary of a certain bid. The Game Band sees it, calls the bluff, and matches it by resurrecting Jaylen Hotdogfingers as an undead pitcher, whose pitches cause batters to incinerate. A toll must be paid, after all.

Blaseball was designed as an answer to sports in the age of COVID-19, back when it seemed like sports leagues might abstain from playing. What followed were several seasons of rule-breaking antics, as the developers and community members seemingly collaborated in evolving Blaseball into something beyond just a simple sports sim. Y’all, we fought God. Well, a god, one that was a giant peanut, and our squid friend ate him after the souls of Blaseball’s greats rose from the beyond in what can only be described as Field of Dreams meets the True Ending of Undertale. Blaseball was what we needed this year. —Eric Van Allen

14. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2

Same as it ever was. | Vicarious Visions/Activision

If this year’s take on Final Fantasy 7 is a great reimagining of a classic, then 2020’s Tony Hawk comeback is a near-perfect remake in the plainest sense of the term. Nostalgia’s an easy thing to rest on and even easier to spoil, but against all odds, Vicarious Visions somehow found a way to make something this old feel new again.

After the buggy, unpleasant mess that was Pro Skater 5, it became clear that the task of “making another good Tony Hawk game” was easier said than done. All respect due to the Neversoft crew who made the first two Pro Skater games, of course; 2020’s release wouldn’t be half the joy and value it represents if it didn’t faithfully drag the very bones (and Bonelesses) of the originals into a modern context. Luckily, we got all that and so much more out of this remake.

From little touches like renaming certain tricks to bigger changes like increasing the diversity of the skater roster and expanding the soundtrack, Pro Skater 1 + 2 builds a bridge between 20 years ago and today. The result is an irresistibly fun package that’s as much a testament to the staying power of Tony Hawk and Goldfinger as it is to the excellence of Lizzie Armanto and Baker Boy. Hopefully, further remakes or sequels can continue to grow the best aspects of Pro Skater 1 + 2, because together they underline the fact that got folks of all stripes into the series in the first place: skateboarding is just fucking cool, and you don’t have to be able to get on a board to celebrate that. —Mathew Olson

13. If Found

The simple acting of peeling away layers is the core of If Found, a dreamlike narrative game from developer Dreamfeel and Annapurna Interactive. Its art style is eye-grabbing, as every screen looks like its torn from the journal pages of the story’s lead Kasio, as she destroys her diary.

What follows is a quiet, introspective, emotional journey through a summer in the life of Kasio. In the span of one month in her hometown of Achill Island, Kasio deals with a lot: questions of where her life is headed, what she aims to do, and coming out to her parents as a trans woman. It’s a story of love and the aching pain that comes with it.

But If Found isn’t just a misery story. Despite the fact that you’re constantly erasing pieces of Kasio’s life, wiping away leads to deeper understanding. As Hirun Cryer wrote earlier this year, “Dreamfeel’s game teaches us that although some heart-wrenching experiences are a part of human life, it’s how we deal with and overcome these experiences that’s truly unique to human nature.” We will hurt, but we will move on, and those earned scars can never be erased. —Eric Van Allen

12. Final Fantasy 7 Remake

We’re just wild about Jessie. | Square Enix

Out of all the games being celebrated on this list, Final Fantasy 7 Remake feels like the most awkward guest. We branded the game with a 3.5 out of 5 in our review, but we’re still enamored with Cloud Strife’s clumsy, earnest return to the spotlight. For all its faults, Final Fantasy 7 Remake is just really…loveable.

One of Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s biggest problems is that we have no idea how it plans to tell the entirety of its story, and I don’t think Square Enix has a solid plan, either. Once complete, the remake will consist of several parts (how many? It’s a secret, I guess!). Part one takes the gang out of the city of Midgar while Shinra snaps at their heels. Remake’s story is already bonkers, and it promises to make less sense as it goes.

Thing is, I’m helpless to do anything except sit and listen because Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s characters are rendered so perfectly. Cloud is a trauma-stricken soldier whose facade fools no-one. Barret and Tifa are also great (take the stairs when you get to Shinra tower, that should go without saying), but the members of AVALANCHE—Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie—are the real stars. The trio of rebels shared about five minutes of screentime between them in the original game, but they’re full of life in Remake. They bring out the best in the main cast, too. Cloud’s deadpan but heartfelt apology to Wedge—”Really sorry about your ass“—is my favorite video game dialogue exchange of 2020.

But Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s biggest surprise is its hybrid menu-based and action-based battle system. Early footage of the game had some of us worried that Cloud would mindlessly hack-and-slash his way through Midgar, a la Final Fantasy 15. That’s not the case; Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s battle system is innovative and surprisingly elegant. I do hope we see a similarly successful breeding of battle systems in the upcoming Final Fantasy 16.

I don’t know what that nutty kid Cloud is up to, but I know this much: I’m invested, and I want to see where he winds up in part 2 of Final Fantasy 7 Remake. I already think the whole narrative’s going to collapse into an incomprehensible orangutan orgy, but whatever. I don’t care. Bring it on. —Nadia Oxford

11. The Last of Us Part 2

A long way from snowball fights in Colorado. | Naughty Dog/Sony

The Last of Us Part 2 raises a lot of complicated emotions. Certainly there’s much to praise about it: its fine-tuned combat, its bold structure, its exquisite post-apocalyptic cityscapes. But reports of crunch at Naughty Dog, Sony’s bare-knuckled approach to reviews, and controversial storytelling decisions have made it a lightning rod for criticism. It’s undoubtedly one of the best games of the year, but it also represents much of what ails the games industry.

Still, what’s good about The Last of Us Part 2 is so good. It’s the logical bookend to The Last of Us Part 2, shifting the perspective to Ellie as it explores her rather fraught relationship with Joel and the decisions he made in the first game. It effortlessly shifts between quiet and emotional to dark and horrific, expertly deploying the Infected in ways that ratchet up the overall tension. I didn’t much care for The Last of Us, which I found to be rather conventional, but I was frequently enthralled by The Last of Us Part 2.

I don’t know that The Last of Us Part 2 will ever stop being controversial, but it certainly is one of the boldest games of 2020, and one of the most defining as well. —Kat Bailey

10. Astro’s Playroom

Hmm… could use more ducks. | Asobi Team/Asobi Team

They really did it, those geniuses. Asobi Team made me care about controller rumble!

To say Astro’s Playroom is a delight would be a harsh understatement. Crisp, charming, and perfectly conceived to eke the most out of the motors in the DualSense controller, its haptics are so good that they put the uses in the PS5’s other launch titles to shame. Yeah, you can feel a rush of air in Demon Souls or the tension on Spider-Man’s webs, but one of 2020’s most revelatory moments in gaming is the second when Astro’s little feet step off of the metal PlayStation logo onto the plastic next to it.

Playroom’s Sony branding overload will appeal to some more than others, but that collect-a-thon is just a sideshow to a masterful 3D platformer that’s elevated by its haptics. I don’t think these DualSense features should or will get flexed in every title, but I know that I’ll miss that tactile experience if there’s not something like it in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart or even the next Mario title. It took a controller redesign to find a new, invigorating way to immerse players in a platformer, but there’s no going back now. Every PS5 developer should think about how they can use the DualSense’s haptics, because Asobi proved it’s worth it. —Mathew Olson

9. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales

Say “FOH” with a fistful of lightning. | Insomniac Games/Sony

If next-gen hardware isn’t going to revolutionize the way open-world games are designed (at least not anytime soon), then more games should look to the way Insomniac approached Spider-Man: Miles Morales. It’s a much shorter game than the 2018 original before it, but that’s far from the only reason it stands as a huge improvement on what came before.

Miles Morales doesn’t just have a shorter, more condensed plot. It’s tightly paced and packs a heady emotional punch. Peter’s adventure was full of familiar characters (including Miles himself) and villains, which was as nice for devoted fans as it could be exhausting for others. As open world games have grown in number and largely converged in design, it was a testament to Spider-Man, i.e. the series created by Lee and Ditko, that Peter’s overstuffed game dragged slightly less thanks to its strong performances and grounding in New York. Those MJ and Miles stealth missions though… yeesh.

In Miles’s game, there are no hang ups like that. Despite reusing the same map, Manhattan feels more alive than ever (especially with denser crowds on PS5) and the winter-time makeover grants additional layers of detail and authenticity to the city. Those sidewalk slush trenches look absolutely treacherous, but they’re no matter to Miles as he skillfully swings overhead, off to help another member of his newfound Harlem community. Playing with the Venom powers and invisibility also opens up just enough variety in combat to make Miles feel like a more formidable, dynamic Spider-Man than Peter. Perhaps in the next game, the plain-clothes sneaking can be left to Mr. Parker. —Mathew Olson

8. Microsoft Flight Simulator

If you’re judging on sheer technical prowess, Microsoft Flight Simulator probably deserves to be at the top of this list. The latest entry in Microsoft’s long-running series feels like a glimpse into the future—a world where advanced technology can turn the whole world into a virtual playground. It’s awe-inspiring to be able to look down on your hometown through the window of a Dreamliner and say, “I definitely know this place. That’s home.”

Its impact has been sharpened by the global pandemic, which has dramatically curtailed global travel. Just the ability to visit France or Hawaii—to be a tourist again—feels almost overwhelming in this time of quarantine. And for those who never had the resources to travel in the first place, it’s a glimpse of all the diversity and splendor our planet has to offer.

Its one drawback is that it might be too advanced, making it all about inaccessible to anyone outside of the handful of elite hobbyists who can afford a top-end rig. I look forward to its arrival on Xbox Series X next year, when we will all be able to experience this truly remarkable technical accomplishment for ourselves. —Kat Bailey

7. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim

Rainy days and giant robots. | Vanillaware/Atlus

Vanillaware is well-known for its 2D action games, incredible art, and some of the most delectable portrayals of food in games; story, not so much. With 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, director and writer George Kamitani has constructed something unlike anything else Vanillaware has created, and certainly one of the most outstanding narratives of the year.

On its surface, 13 Sentinels can seem like bog-standard anime fare: a group of high-school students are hopping into giant robots to stop the invasion of an alien robot horde. Within a few sections of the game’s fractured spider web of story, however, it becomes much more. It’s a story of time travel, love and betrayal, constant twists and turns, and what future humanity can leave to its descendents.

What makes 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim incredible is how it weaves these threads together, through the viewpoint of 13 different protagonists and the battles they fight, told out of order and across timelines. Part of the fun is trying to piece together your own assumptions, and watch them either proven right or crumble in front of new revelations. By story’s end, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a heartwarming tale of overcoming ourselves, and an absolute achievement of narrative structure and storytelling.Eric Van Allen

6. Yakuza: Like a Dragon

We agree, Ichiban. | Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio/Sega

Over the decades, JRPGs have offered innumerable tributes and references to Dragon Quest, the most important JRPG ever released. Yakuza: Like a Dragon goes incredibly hard on its tribute to Dragon Quest, and that’s an odd thing to say about an RPG that involves fighting gang corruption with a passel of hungry homeless folks at your side.

I don’t know how many established Yakuza fans feel displeased over the series’ switch to turn-based RPG mechanics, but I’m a big believer. The system drives a JRPG that’s wonderfully traditional, yet unlike anything RPG fans have played to date. Like so many heroes before him, Ichibian is an orphan (raised in a seedy soap house instead of a typical town) whose charisma draws in allies from all walks of life. Ichiban has questions about his family and his origins—there are those cliche RPG parallels again—and to get what he needs, he must battle against the corrupt gangs that torment the innocent business people of Japan. There’s even a job system to toy with, something that comes in handy when Ichiban needs to whip his allies into fighting shape.

Like a Dragon is wrapped up in very dark humor, and I don’t think everyone will see mirth in gathering a party of 40-something homeless, jobless washouts and drunks. Speaking only for myself here, I feel Like a Dragon delivers very important commentary on Japan’s growing population of “forgotten” people who live on the streets. I believe it’s a doubly important message for Westerners, as we tend to think of Japan as a utopia where social problems like homelessnes don’t exist. Like a Dragon reminds us the problems are very real, and we all need to do something about them. Admittedly, cosplaying as a homeless “druid” and flinging pigeons at corporate schmucks may not be the answer—but who says you can’t have a bit of fun while navigating through endless examples of society’s failings? —Nadia Oxford

5. Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Admit it, you don’t *really* hate the humble sea bass. | Nintendo

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the most influential game of 2020 this side of Cyberpunk 2077. It defined gaming in the early part of the pandemic, when the world was adjusting to the new normal of masks and quarantines. It caused Switch shortages, spurred discourse around turnip prices, and even gave rise to a popular talk show.

The Animal Crossing craze has since faded, but in my more stressful moments I still like to wander my island, marveling at the 500 hours (!) worth of work I put into making it beautiful. Recently, I was paging through all the photos I had taken over the course of 2020, smiling at the dates and holiday events, remembering villagers long since departed, and enjoying all the subtle ways that my island has changed since March. In doing so, it occurred to me that I had created a sort of alternate yearbook for myself—one free of the cares of the election, the pandemic, and everything else.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons bills itself as a fun, wholesome alternate life, but over the course of quarantine, it became intertwined with my real life to the point of being distinguishable. Even now there’s a pixel-based portrait of my cat sitting next to a small shrine on the western part of my island, who I lost over the summer. In that Animal Crossing isn’t just a perfect social game, but a mirror that reflects the soul of whoever plays it. It’s no wonder that it has struck such a chord in a year in which people are desperate for connections, not just with others, but within themselves. —Kat Bailey

4. Half-Life: Alyx

To convey Half-Life: Alyx’s importance to those without access to VR, it’s natural to focus on how it’s an excellent example of Valve’s single-player prowess. Without a doubt, it is exactly that: by carrying forward and building upon the stellar level design, pacing, and storytelling techniques that previously saw their heights in Half-Life 2: Episode Two and the Portal games, Alyx is arguably the best campaign Valve’s ever built.

It manages to preserve Half-Life’s nearly uninterrupted Die Hard-esque structure while only making minor concessions to some still-awkward traits of VR. It’s full of so many refined design touches that it’d be hard to not arrive at a similar appreciation just while watching a video playthrough. To make the case for it really being the pinnacle of Valve’s single-player campaigns, though, you do have to give credit to its unique VR successes.

The variety of polished VR interactions in Alyx is overwhelming. Valve imbues even the most familiar actions found in other VR games and shooters—reloading, lining up shots, hucking grenades—with astounding physicality. In Half-Life 2’s opening, there’s a joke about how Gordon Freeman basically exists to push buttons and throw switches. As Alyx, players can do a lot more with gravity gloves and a hacking tool than Gordon ever could, but it’s hard to overstate how even a simple button press in VR feels so much more alive than hitting “E” on a keyboard. Combine that novelty-turned-necessity with Valve’s single-player design expertise and you have an instant classic. —Mathew Olson

3. Umurangi Generation

A moment of calm in a future with struggle to spare. | Veselekov/Playism

The year 2020 has felt like several years, thanks to so many simmering problems coming to a head. Social issues boiled over amid a pandemic, and even when change arrived, it seemed to carry a reworked set of the same old frustrations.

This is the environment Umurangi Generation was made in, and reflects on, in the course of its short runtime. Armed with only a camera, you’re tasked with capturing various photographic bounties in the diorama picturebox world around you, a “shitty future” succumbing to problems that feel all too relevant. Through this lens, you get to choose how the story is told, and what will be remembered.

Umurangi Generation is about the theoretical final generation, or rather, the idea that there will be a generation left with nothing to hold but the tab for everyone that came before them. It might sound depressing, and it is; but there’s hope to be found there. Developer Veselekov finds ways to still center the human connections that prop each other up, even through world-ending catastrophe. The journey your group of friends share through the game’s levels doesn’t include any dialogue, but it didn’t need to. The pictures are what tell the story.

The pictures are, ultimately, all that’s left at the end of Umurangi Generation; a record of what happened, and who was there when it did. It’s haunting, beautiful, and maybe can inspire some hope for change in our own world. It certainly feels like the greatest representation of this year. It’s amazing how much Umurangi Generation can accomplish by simply placing a camera in the player’s hands and asking them to tell the story around themselves. —Eric Van Allen

2. Kentucky Route Zero

Hard times, stirring tunes, and an unforgettable journey. | Cardboard Computer/Annapurna

Cardboard Computer’s timing with the completion of Kentucky Route Zero was impeccable. In a country where millions live in a perpetual state of asphyxiation thanks to their debt, gasping for relief while the well-to-do simply go on breathing, its arrival would’ve been apt in any year. Still, in horrifyingly real terms, the past nine months have visited financial and mortal suffering upon Americans in ways that might be too unflinchingly cruel to imagine being overseen by Kentucky Route Zero’s Consolidated Power Company.

There’s a point near the end of the game where players guide a poem to its completion, picking lines that open each new stanza. Before that, in an exquisitely realized moment from Act 3, similar choices are presented during a musical performance. Really, these are both just heightened examples of Kentucky Route Zero’s core point-and-click gameplay—it does not really ask players to create its text, as it never strays into unauthored or generative territory, but it always invites players to ever so slightly adjust its shape. In most games, dialogue options and narrative choices have straightforward interpretations or are a means to an end. Here, they’re more like footprints left on a dirt road: Even when they all point the same way, if you look closely you’ll see telling signs of whoever left that trail.

If you have lived any kind of life in America and have stopped to consider those who came before—the people this land was stolen from and those who’ve been exploited to extract from it since—then something in Kentucky Route Zero will surely latch on and stay with you. It brings bone-deep truths about this country to the surface by way of surreal sights, folk songs, airy synths, and an ever-present sense of irreversible loss.

And yet, Kentucky Route Zero possesses a touching optimism. Stories might survive even if the people in them do not; hardy communities can fight attempts to snuff them out; labor that goes unfinished today may be completed tomorrow for a purpose higher than a paycheck. While none of that excuses or makes right any of this country’s wrongs, it all makes it possible to keep on living anyway. —Mathew Olson

1. Hades

Be seeing you, pops. | Supergiant Games

It’s appropriate that 2020 has made us obsessed with a game that’s all about clawing your way out of hell. Of course, Hades deserves every scrap of praise that’s been foisted upon it since it exited early access last September: It’s one of the best roguelites that’s ever been released.

Taken by itself outside its genre, Hades is still an incredible action game with unparalleled production values. It feels good to play; one of the things I appreciate most about it is how there are six weapons and innumerable character builds to choose from, but you never feel like you’re playing the game “wrong.” Every weapon can be molded to fit your playstyle. Hades’ smooth gameplay flow makes you feel like a champ—even when you inevitably fall at the hands of some hell-beast and are booted back to start.

But failure is strangely welcome in Hades, because it’s how you grow stronger—and it’s how you absorb the game’s enthralling story and character roster. (With the aid of top-tier voice acting, by the way.) Hades’ depiction of the Greek Pantheon is unmatched, even outside of video games. It’s an easy pick for my number-one game in 2020, and as someone who believed Supergiant had something special as far back as Bastion’s release ten years ago, I couldn’t be happier. —Nadia Oxford

For more on why Hades is USG’s Game of the Year, check out our GOTY essay.

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