For those of you unfamiliar with my GOTY series I pick a list of games that I have played in 2020 that stood out for me. Sometimes the list is ordered, other times it is not. A game is eligible as long as I played 1 hour of that game since my last GOTY post. It's more of a reflection of what caught my attention in 2020 rather than what the industry produced as many places already cover that content. It's designed as a personal reflection and should give you some insight into things that interest me outside of tech.
There isn't much point in lamenting about the year that's just passed. It's been rough for everyone and that's been a very common thread for us all. As usual the year has both flown by (it's New Years arleady?!) but also been a slog. I look at games on my list for this year and feel like I played them decades ago, it's an odd feeling for sure.
What I expected would be a big year for me for games was actually quite underwhelming. In a year where I expected games to be a form of escapism I quickly found other outlets. With a shift to working from home the idea of spending all my free time in front of a screen, in the same room no less, became unappealing and I found exercise a coping mechanism in the early parts of the year when collective uncertainty was at its highest.
I've found that games feature most prominently in my life when I'm lacking other avenues for self advancement and dedication. That's fine and as I grow I have better apprecation for why games might feature in my life in any given year more than another. It also takes the pressure off for me to feel like I have to be playing everything. With that said what did I get around to playing this year?
The Games I Played
The following list is ordered alphabetically of games that I played (and largely finished), while some were standouts others I fell off really close to the 1 hour mark but put here for posterity because they at least interested me enough to pick them up and give a go.
- Animal Crossing: New Horizons
- Astro Bot Rescue Mission
- Beat Saber
- God of War
- Golf Peaks
- Horizon: Zero Dawn
- Super Mario 3D Allstars
- Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2
- Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
- Untitled Goose Game
* Ok this one might not technically be a game, but it's definitely a gamified platform so it's going on my list...
What interested me is that a large number of games I played, especially the big AAA titles came out in 2018. Not only was that a blockbuster year for games they were all so good they've been on my radar for almost two years to make sure I got around to playing them. I'm glad to have a mix of newer and older games it made my hobby cheaper, picking up most of the 2018 as Playstation Hits games but also keeping current with what others are playing.
Despite my troubled relationship with single player (and open world) games I am happy with their representation. Though of all the games on the list some of those were the ones I bounced off of the fastest.
This year I have decided to order my list for something different. There were some clear stand outs for me and I wanted to let the games that deserve it get their credit.
1. God Of War
I begrudgingly started God of War when I put down Horizon: Zero Dawn. Going from one large game to another I was feeling like I would have two unfinished games sitting in my cupboard and that maybe my PS4 purchase was going to start feeling a bit wasteful.
Having now finished the story of God of War I am extremely glad I decided to put in the effort to pick up this game and see it through. It is hard for me not to draw parallels to Horizon: Zero Dawn given that I played these next to each-other but I find many of the rough edges that annoyed me in Horizon had been polished or omitted in God of War.
Despite a story revolving around God’s the narrative is one that is largely personal, has fantastic pacing and properly services the quiet moments of character development. The game being one long singular shot is a nice touch and adds to a feeling of cohesion between the cut scenes and player action in a way I haven’t experienced before.
The combat is satisfying, visceral and there are plenty of moments for exploration and puzzle solving if that is your thing. Initially some of the movement frustrated me, like not being able to freely jump across gaps. But never accidentally falling and having to restart some pointless platforming section ended up being one of the small quality-of-life changes I missed when I went back to Horizon: Zero Dawn.
For a time poor player the story making up approximately 30% of the overall achievements (for me anyway) meant that I could “finish” this game in a reasonable time but still had a plethora of content to go and explore if I felt like it. Normally as soon as I hit game credits I put a game down to try and keep moving forward and have new experiences. God of War has been the only long game I have played lately where I genuinely thought about seeing some more content before moving on. Ultimately the terrifying size of my backlog prevailed but this game is one of those “game of the generation” type competitors.
2. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2
Despite my love of games I didn't have a lot of access to them when I was younger. Owning only a Sega Master System and Sega Mega Drive for brief periods of time going to friends houses who owned either a PlayStation or Nintendo was an amazing experience.
Of all the games I had access to at the houses of friends the Tony Hawk series was one I was always drawn too. Frustratingly with little access I was always bad at the game though it had a certain idyllic appeal to me, if mastered.
As an adult I now possess the controller skills to enjoy this game to its fullest. Despite my limited time with the game it plays as I remember and overall was a fun package that I enjoyed every minute of playing. Despite being two Sick Scores away from 100%ing both games (the last level of each game actually) I feel like I got my money's worth with this game. This feels like a faithful remaster and a game I am sure to come back to if I have some spare time and just want to mess around for some classic arcade-y fun gameplay.
3. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
While my wife enjoys participating in games with me she's largely been a passive supporter of my hobby and not an active player.
As with all things there are exceptions to every rule and there have been a few games that she has either actively played without my participation or waited impatiently for me to sit down and have another session with.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons was one of those games. We loved playing together and advancing our island. There was something each of us enjoyed which allowed us to play the parts of the game that fulfilled us both while leaving the rest to the other player. It allowed us to be creative and have fun but not force us into hours of grinding just to have fun or make money.
The game was so fun we even signed up for Nintendo Online which exposed us to a community of players that were welcoming, friendly and ready to share help and resources. I even have an alt Twitter account purely for trading fruits and selling turnips!
While we both play this less now, and the spell has worn off to some degree it was such a great way to spend the early parts of the year. While this is our first proper introduction to the series I can see what long time fans love both the genre and the Animal Crossing franchise in particular.
4. Astro Bot Rescue Mission
I am very fortunate in my line of work to have had regular access to both play and develop on a wide variety of VR devices including the Vive, Oculus and PSVR. As a result, I have had tried several different VR experiences and games.
Astro Bot stands out as a polished and fun experience that shows the capability of the PSVR in all it's glory. It sits 4th on my list because unfortunately I still suffer from VR induced motion sickness and couldn't finish this game.
Despite that though I played through nausea and cold sweats to see as much content as this game could offer before I had to put it down. It's so clever in it's simple use of VR mechanics such as having to look over or around obstacles. Having to move your head to avoid projectiles and taking advantage of vertical space.
I'm fortunate to have a very generous family who purchased the PSVR for me as a gift. If you're in the financial position to afford one, or you're lucky enough to get gifted one then this game should be at the top of your list as it's going to show you some of the best features the PSVR has to offer.
It might seem odd for me to put a gamified platform rather than a tradition game on my GOTY list but I've spent more time on the Zwift platform this year than I have on traditional games in 2020. For those of you unfamiliar with Zwift it is a gamified platform for training, specifically cycling and running.
In the middle of 2019 I picked up cycling as a means to commute to work that was healthy, cheaper than public transport and gave me time to start focusing on my physical and mental health. What became a convenient mode of transport has quite rapidly exploded into an all out obsession. While I already had plans to buy an indoor trainer for the winter months my move to working from home sped up this process and became a crutch for not only my mental health but also my physical health as our bleak rainy winter days set in.
Now I was riding purely for recreation and enjoyment. Zwift offered me challenges like Zwift Academy, route badges and general achievements. Group rides also made me feel like I was actually part of the cycling community. It taught me more technical concepts about riding such as Functional Threshold Power (FTP) and cadence.
It showed me that I could climb a mountain for 3 hours, that I was stubborn, determined, and most of all fit.
The game has its oddities. For example my heart rate monitor will just flat out not work half the time and I've learned to just let it be. Getting angry because of Bluetooth not syncing instead of getting in a work out is a waste of my time and energy. The UI is clunky and the overall user experience is in need of work. All of these things are in the pipeline as Zwift had to deal with massive growth as a result of such wide scale global lockdown.
I'm already excited for Tour De Zwift 2021 and seeing what I can achieve on a bike. If you're an athlete who also likes tech then platforms like Zwift really feel like the future of personal indoor training and let me both get fit and geek out at the same time.
I have mixed feelings about some of the games on my list. Some were great but maybe not "GOTY worthy". Others I know are highly regarded but just didn't work well for me. Regardless I wrote some thoughts down about all the games I played and I wanted some of them here so they don't go to waste.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
I am honestly not sure how to quantify my experience with Horizon: Zero Dawn. I have too many juxtaposing experiences. I can’t say this with absolute certainty (because I do not time my game play sessions) but Horizon would have to be the longest time I have spent with a single player story-based game ever (excluding sandbox games like Minecraft). I wanted to spend time in that world, and I wanted to learn about the story.
Perhaps because of the time I spent in that world I also got burned out and had to put this down and play something else before I came back to finish it. With fresh eyes the game had lost some of its sheen and I had to drop it down to Story Mode just to slog through the last few story missions to get the game done.
But here’s the rub. I didn’t have to finish this game, I desperately wanted to come back and see the final credits and see how the story unfolded. Perhaps a big open world game with difficult combat (I played most of the game on easy and found the game hard) isn’t for me. I’ve bounced off similar games before. The fact that despite this genre not being something I love but being a game that I had to finish speaks volumes to the story and the character progression of Aloy.
I think this is a must play but if you find the combat to be not engaging there is little to redeem the experience for you long term and you are better off finding a supercut of all the cut scenes on YouTube for the story.
Super Mario 3D Allstars
The thin veneer around Super Mario 3D Allstars is both a blessing and a curse for this product. Playing the games as they were designed is great for nostalgia, and perhaps a time piece, but don't necessarily make for good gameplay.
Super Mario 64 has aged poorly as 3D has evolved and mechanics made tighter. That's not to say it wasn't revolutionary for it's time but it doesn't necessarily make it fun to play now, rather a curiosity enjoyed but ultimately not finished (at least for me).
Moving directly to Super Mario Galaxy, which I have a vague recollection of playing of the Wii, however could have put this game on my GOTY list had I spent more time with it. I am in love with the Galaxy concept which allowed the designers to throw in all sorts of whacky designs and mechanics to keep the game fresh and exciting.
The gravity physics still hold up well and the comet system which modifies levels is also compelling me to go back and re-run old levels. I've played mostly in handheld. As the game actuvely encourages motion controls, which are facilitated by touch in handheld mode means I need to touch the screen a lot, which can sometimes be tedious. So far that tedium has been worth paying that price to see the content, though I might be a bit over collecting star bits by the end of the game.
I stumbled across Golf Peaks by accident on the Switch eShop while waiting for another game to download. The Switch eShop is getting a little dicey now because it looks like it might be going to way of the Wii and being the mobile shovelware platform of choice.
However, Golf Peaks looked different. I felt like I’d enjoy this game but because it looked primarily like a mobile title, I decided to pick it up there (at a higher price than the Nintendo eShop price).
My plan for Golf Peaks was to play it casually in the background while I worked on other larger titles. That plan went out the window 48 hours later when I had finished the whole game 100%. This is a game designed for mobile with a simple mechanic, albeit with a few iterations. But it highlights the strengths of the platform and does well to command its slightly more expensive price tag. It is difficult finding premium mobile games that do not also include Ads or In App Purchases so to get that experience in Golf Peaks was a really refreshing change.
As some reviews on the store have mentioned if they were to do a second version of the game, I would appreciate a hints system. Particularly because some of the puzzles seemed much more obtuse to me than others and there was no help system. I was able to bash my head against all but two that I had to look up, and with hindsight being 20-20, they were easy but not without some prompting.
If you like gaming on mobiles and you like puzzles this is a cheap way to spend a few hours, pick this game up!
Ok, this keeps making my list but this games continues to be fresh. Partly because of the Chapter 2 reboot, but mostly now a new squad to play with. As with all multiplayer games the emergent experiences range from thrilling or fun to just plain frustrating.
The group I play with now has carried me to wins but doesn't expect them. We have a lot of fun together and the current meta seems balanced in a way I haven't always experienced in previous experiences with the game. It might be easy to pick flaws at, or dislike, a game as big as Fortnite but they are capitalizing on their income by funelling it into a game that continues to provide new content each season and thus it will probably keep me coming back until they decide to stop doing that.
There are still some games I have not completed that haunt me like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order that I would love to go back to. Having completely disconnected my gaming PC and now running only on laptop there are a few games I wish I had on console now and not Steam. I might pick them up if they are cheap second hand.
I plan on buying a PS5 but have no rush, my PS4 Pro is only 2 or 3 years old and there's still a plethora of titles I can play on that (and cheaply I might add) before I upgrade but I am keen to see how I enjoy the PS5.
What was your year in games like for 2020? Were there any standouts that I missed and simply have to play? Let me know on Twitter!