This was a strange year but being thanks to the lockdown also fruitful for gaming experience. We have moved house in January and afterwards, played many last PS4 hits which escaped me previously. I finally got around to playing RDR2 and was blown away by how much detail developers put into a PS4 game, played Death Stranding, a game I had no clue about what it was about until mid/late game and realized how the walking and delivering can be addictive, the latest God of War to which I was resisting for a while but the its discounted price became irresistible, absolutely surprisingly excellent Hades (I do not usually play these kind of games) which made me buy its predecessor, Transistor, Persona 4 Golden which I almost finished for the 4th time (still need to see the new true ending), brain twister Baba is You which I played on Switch (enjoyed solving the difficult puzzles anywhere), the mystic space explorer Outer Wilds whose story is captivating, also finally got around to playing Dead Space series (spoiler: 1 is superior in every way) and finishing on Untitled Goose Game, a short but charming experience which I can recommend to try. These are the best games I have played in 2020 but did not necessarily came out this year:
1. Red Dead Redemption 2
This one was no surprise to me. I knew I was getting into loads of hours of playtime and started playing it around this time last year. Rockstar did not disappoint. It truly baffles me how some players can consider this boring. I agree that some parts are a bit dragged out, especially the tutorial, but once it gets going and you get to know the characters, it transforms into something more. There´s a huge game world, filled with astounding amount of detail. I have played RDR1 prior to this and while that one was more concise gaming experience, I still think that RDR2 improves this formula even further. I loved the gang and listening to their stories by bonfire at night, observing Dutch´s slow decent into madness (or perhaps his true character), things got worse, better, then worse again and we are there along for this amazing horse ride. RDR2 is a must play experience and I never had any doubts placing it as no.1 on this list. I can only hope that Rockstar is already working on RDR3 with a young Dutch and Josea which I would love to see (prequel to the prequel? :D).
2. Death Stranding
I watched Kojima play this at EGX London but still was not wiser on what actually this game is trying to do. The story is cryptic but that is what is great about it, you slowly unravel the threads as you go along while trying to avoid the deadly zombie ghosts floating around you, as you wade through rivers, mud and tall grass to get to the next distribution facility. You are and aren´t alone in your quest – once a location is connected to the system, you start seeing bridges and ladders from other players which can significantly improve the trips between the facilities which need deliveries.
The base mechanic of the game is relatively simple – walk with a package to a remote area and deliver the goods in decent condition. Do it enough times, people will start to trust you and reward you with useful items which you can´t be 3D printed on mass. The simple mechanic of walking and shifting weight feels really good here, every step counts and being a delivering courier feels super satisfying when you get a good rating. Sound design is superb too and all those strange noises the game makes will make sense. And it also features some nice chill music from Low Roar and CHVRCHES, perfect when you are walking through desolate mountains.
3. God of War (2019)
This was a surprise to me. From the screenshots, videos and interviews it did look good, though, and since it was on a sale, it was hard to justify not buying it and I was super glad I did. I have played previous GOW games (1 and 2) and while they were decent and often brutal fun, they lacked the polish and depth of the combat from DMC games. Kratos is back again and he has grown up a lot since we last saw him. Taking place in the realm of Midgard, Kratos is now living with his son in a secluded forest. It won´t take long before the Norse gods find him, though, and this is the beginning of a new journey for Kratos. Seing him struggle to be a father to Atreus and their interactions in general was entertaining. Not to mention the super fun axe combat which I was not sure if it will work but it does. The different realms and the hub lake area all look amazing and as you slowly progress through the story, the lake changes, uncovering more and more secrets. Christopher Judge shines as Kratos and the dialogue between him and Atreus evolves throughout the game, it was wonderful to watch them interact. Play this even if you missed out on the previous GOW games, though, you will miss a few references.
4. Uncharted 4
I have played all Uncharted games in a succession but none of them got me as much as this one. It feels like everything is just right here, enough action but not too much (no more constant shooting arenas like in the first 3 games, but especially the first one, less so in the sequels) and finally more puzzles to solve and plenty of traversing. This is definitely one of my favourite action games, beating any of the modern Tomb Raider games easily. I love the characters and the funny dialogue (in comparison to the insufferable Lara in SOTR). This is what the series should have been from the start but to get all the easter eggs it is pretty much given that you would have to play the first three before this one. Fully recommended!
Hades was a sleeper hit for me. I was vaguely aware about it and when it finally came out of Early Access after two years, it got so many positives reviews that even I had to look at it. It has all the elements of what I do not like in games – procedurally generated dungeons, top down view (I can mostly accept this only in Zelda and Blood Omen) and death, meaning starting from the beginning every time. However, Hades has something others don´t. You can actually keep the most items you collected except coins (usable only within the dungeon and lost upon restart) so next time you try to escape the Underworld, you are stronger. You can also permanently upgrade your weapons and did I mention you get to chat to Greek gods while they send their blessings upon you? This game is super addicting even to me, who do not usually play this genre of rogue-like games. Add an absolutely amazing soundtrack from Darren Korb into the mix and you won´t regret this.
6. Persona 4 Golden
I have finished the original Persona 4 several times before playing this version, so was keen to see all the new additions akin only to the Golden edition (previously released on PS Vita). Atlus surprised me by releasing this on Steam and even for full price, it is a steal. You get 100h+ of a jrpg but instead of battling through most of those hours, you´ll spend half of that at a school. I know, does not sound too fun, right? However, it is there where you will meet your friends who help you in battle and by hanging out with them you can solve the mystery of a killer lurking in a small town if Inaba. This release also brings in adjustable difficulty setting so if you want less or more challenge, money, experience, you can tailor it to yourself right from the start (on Vita you had to complete the game once to unlock this). If you love jrpg, this is one of the best.
7. Baba is you
I spent way too many hours (over 60) in this and rightfully so! This is a unique puzzle game where you get to make the rules by creating statements. Baba is You makes it that you can push other squares with words on them and make new statements such as WALL IS PUSH which means now the wall will not stop you and you can push it aside. In some cases you can even become the wall itself and move around, it all hinges on your imagination and trying new things in order to overcome all the obstacles in the level. Sometimes I got stuck for days or weeks but coming back later, I usually found the solution (there´s still some I have no idea how to solve). Some levels are much harder than others so the game will keep you entertained for a long time.
8. Dead Space
I have tried this previously, but gave up after 30 mins last time (pc version has some issues with controls). With a fan patch added, this was an excellent horror experience. I can´t remember how many times I have jumped from my chair when a necromorph appeared out of nowhere. The sounds are unnerving and the setting of a derelict space station is just perfect. I was a lot less impressed with Dead Space 2, though. Excellent atmosphere and well done backtracking make this game a must for any horror fan.
9. Outer Wilds
The less you know about Outer Wilds, the better. Most I can say is that you explore a small solar system and try to to learn about its past while you only have 22 minutes at one time. It is a super intriguing concept but it is well implemented. You can only keep the knowledge of your discoveries but that is all you need. Thus you can also only play this truly once but it is well worth it.
10. Untitled Goose Game
This tiny little gem is unlike anything else on this list. Only about 3-4 hours to finish first time but what it lacks in length it makes up with its fun mechanics. Being a naughty goose was never more fun! Even after you complete it, it has a new game plus where you get new objectives and some time based tasks as well. Did I mention you can play this in co-op? Double the geese, double the trouble!
It is really hard to judge this game. When it came out for PS3, it was boasting with realistic graphics and an emotional story. However, having played it now, it was hard to take it so seriously. The absolutely terrible control scheme (using R2 to walk forward with left stick to steer yourself) and wooden character expressions made it super hilarious instead. We were passing controllers between each other. The coolest parts was playing as the FBI agent, Norman. The rest was mostly button press fest. It is one of those games which are so bad that they are good and it was fun (shower and bathroom scenes, ninjas). It felt more like a prototype overall, with many cool ideas but not fully realized which I hope were fixed by Quantic Dream´s latest game, Detroit: Becoming Human (that is on the list to play this year).
This is a nice relaxing game and while I usually do not play management sims, I love fish tanks and this game delivers in this department. You start with marine fish and slowly get more and more varieties and it even has freshwater expansion with even more requirements to check which is great as the base game can get a bit easy after a while.
Custom TR level special mention:
One of the best levels ever in the TR2 category. Super faithful and with custom animations/Lara blinking! Worth playing if you like the original Tomb Raider games. This one has Lara go to the Wreck of Maria Doria after finding the treasure in the first part.