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The best games of 2020 so far

With the release of titles like Death Stranding, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Resident Evil 2, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Control, and The Outer Worlds, 2019 was a great year for gaming. Despite this impressive lineup, 2020 is shaping up to outshine its predecessor. A ridiculous number of consoles are expected to hit the market this year alongside a slew of incredible games

On top of this, the world has had to respond to a an unprecedented development in recent months: the COVID-19 crisis. As more and more people are forced to stay home, they are reaching for their gaming consoles and devices. With social distancing become the norm, an increasing number of people are turning to gaming for entertainment and as a method of escape. According to Verizon, video game usage has increased by 75% in the U.S. since quarantine policies went into effect.

Fortunately, 2020 has plenty of high quality worlds for you to escape to. These are the best games of the year so far.

Half-Life: Alyx

Half-Life is back, and it is breathtaking in all its VR glory. Set five years before the events of Half-Life 2, Half-Life: Alyx features many familiar locations like City 17 and Combine facilities, as well as the ghastly alien creatures threatening humanity. All of this is beautifully rendered in VR, offering levels of immersion that push the boundaries of the medium. 

You play not as the ubiquitous Gordon Freeman, but his collaborator, Alyx Vance. Alyx and her father, Eli, are founding members of the human resistance pushing back against the Combine collective following the Black Mesa incident.

Half-Life: Alyx is VR only, and, despite one of two gameplay hiccups, the physics and environment detail are stunning. This is no blocky, jerky virtual reality game where you struggle with the interface. In Alyx, you can see the dirt under the protagonist's fingernails, and when you sweep your hand over a table, everything topples to the ground. It's small elements like this that make this game a benchmark for the future of virtual reality.

Despite the glowing reviews and critical acclaim, some gamers have reported playing Half-Life: Alyx makes them physically ill. Motion sickness is a problem that 40 to 70 percent of VR users reportedly face, so bear this in mind before loading into this hyper-realistic world.

Doom Eternal

Another iconic game sees a stunning new avatar in Doom Eternal, which incorporates some fresh RPG and storytelling elements into the frenzied shooter action you know and expect from the Doom franchise. You play as the Doom Slayer, and your single-minded pursuit of the terrifying creatures from Hell is unchanged. Your base is the Fortress of Doom, from where you launch into various missions and campaigns and face some unspeakably horrible monsters.

Apart from the heart-pounding action, you now get a sweet mix of strategy that enhances the game's replay value. Plus, there are weapon upgrades, skill mastery, passive bonuses, a new progression system, a fresh soundtrack, new and classic demons to slay, and new environments to keep you occupied. All and all, it's a worthy successor to the 2016 reboot of Doom. The single-player campaign of Doom Eternal is relatively short — about 15 hours — but there is also a Battlemode multiplayer version for you to "raze Hell" in.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

A game about escaping to a deserted island and setting up a personal paradise is particularly apt in these times of social distancing. The bright colors and cartoon figures of Animal Crossing: New Horizons also add a child-like simplicity to this incredibly addictive and utterly delightful game, creating just the right kind of foil for these troubled times. This is also the first full Animal Crossing game in HD, and it is a visual treat.

The basic gameplay centered on setting up a home in the wilderness remains the same, but New Horizons takes place on a deserted island. Otherwise, the low-pressure, open-ended, exploration-based gaming is familiar. Tom Nook, the ambitious tanuki, is there to welcome you, plus an entire cast of anthropomorphic animals that eventually form your community. 

The playable character is a customizable human who fills their days settling into the island, exploring, and making friends. From selling creepy-crawlies to pay for your house, to planting trees and decorating your living space with bugs and shells, there's plenty to keep you occupied. New Horizons also introduces a new DIY crafting system packed with recipes for wearables, housewares, and tools, making this one of the franchise's best installments.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

The new Ori game deserves to be on any best of 2020 list for it's beautiful artwork alone. This adventure platformer is a sequel to Ori and the Blind Forest, and continues Ori's search for their true destiny. And, just like its predecessor, the follow-up has been showered with critical acclaim.

The open-world exploration of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, set to a fine new musical score, takes you through some breath-taking 2D landscapes ranging from grim marshlands and verdant forests bursting with life to psychedelic underground worlds and alpine forests topped with snow-covered peaks. As part of the bargain, you cross paths with dangerous enemies and some annoying pests (dive-bombing mosquitoes and poison-belching slugs, anyone?), but also make new friends and allies that show you their wonderful worlds.

Exploration gets more intense as the game progresses and Ori develops more skills and powers, and the puzzle-solving element of the game further ramps up the challenge. A full playthrough will likely take little more than 12 or so hours, but you will come away enthralled.

Dreams

Is it a game? Is it a collaborative platform? Is it an animation or music studio? Is it a development tool? Dreams is an outrageous and inspired piece of software that IGN's Simon Cardy likened to a "Mary Poppinsesque bottomless bag of creativity." Essentially, this title is one step up from the possibilities developer Media Molecule presented in its previous PlayStation game, LittleBigPlanet, which allowed players to design and share new adventures. 

Dreams expands on this concept, letting you create to your heart's content — not just games, but music, art, films, or anything in between. You can then share your creations with the Dreamiverse community. Alternatively, you can choose to play one of the the hundreds of player-created games of every conceivable genre.

Could Dreams usher in a new era of gaming? Thanks to Media Molecule, anyone can be a game developer without investing in expensive equipment or training. With new games releasing on to the Dreamiverse every day, at the very least, Dreams offers a whole new gaming experience. So far, both players and critics are loving it.

Nioh 2

If there is one thing all the best games of the year have in common so far, it has to be the environments, offering settings that are a feast for the eyes, irrespective of the art style. Team Ninja's PlayStation 4 title, Nioh 2, is no exception. 

What sets this action RPG title apart is the sheer amount of customization. Players take on the role of Hide, a half-human, half-yokai. Apart from deciding what Hide looks like, there is an incredible amount of tinkering you can do with just about anything character related, including stats, weapons, skills, magic, equipment, and even home decor. It is, as IGN's Mitchell Saltzman put it, "as deep as an ocean."

Story-wise, Nioh 2 starts off as prequel to Nioh, though the plot eventually winds around the events in the previous game and ends after it. Expect to work hard to beat Nioh 2, and maybe make peace with dying a few dozen (or hundred) times. Though the combat is challenging, there are many ways to tweak enemy strengths to your advantage. Using the sub-missions to pick up perks to help in battle is useful, but the sub-missions themselves can be inhuman at times. Either way, expect a rip-roaring ride.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake

That Final Fantasy 7 still holds a place in the hearts of gamers over two decades after release is a testament to its masterful storytelling. While the essential elements of the plot remain the same, the remake is a breathtaking blend of narrative prowess and modern gaming technology. Exploring details of characters and locations in ways that were not previously possible, Final Fantasy 7 Remake offers a fresh look and experience

Don't expect an easy stroll though Midgar, as the combat is fairly challenging. The cinematic cutscenes are stunning, and Square Enix has reimagined many familiar environments. You'll also discover never-before-seen side missions, new characters that add color and depth to the tale, plus a deeper look at the personal stories of some of the main cast. Whether you were a fan of the original game or not, Final Fantasy 7 Remake stands on its own as a superlative title.

Legends of Runeterra

Cam Shea of IGN called Riot's Legends of Runeterra the "new gold standard for digital collectible card games," a sentiment echoed by players and critics alike. The free-to-play title is based in the same universe as the award-winning online battle arena, League of Legends. Thus, old fans have encountered some familiar faces alongside brand new selections. 

At the same time, Legends of Runeterra doesn't leave newcomers to flounder. Even without knowledge of the universe, building a deck with a wide variety of strategies, skill sets, and styles feels intuitive. Impressive artwork, extravagant effects, and unique mechanics make the gameplay dynamic and challenging.

Years ago, a reviewer called League of Legends more than just a game, but "a cutthroat competitive digital sport where the winners roar in victory and the losers whimper in defeat." Riot Games has managed to bring the same energy to Legends of Runeterra's turn-based card-combat, which requires players to use both strategy and skill before playing their hand. Unlike a lot of freemium models, Legends is not weighted in favor of those who pay real money for purchases — the currency unlocked through play goes quite a long way as well.

League of Legends, Teamfight Tactics, and now Legends of Runeterra — Riot Games has done it again.

Huntdown

Huntdown is that throwback to the old-timey arcade shooter you didn't know you wanted. Non-stop mayhem, breathless motion, and level after level of bad guys to shoot down — all of these elements combine to make this side-scroller a delight. The setting is a cyberpunk-themed 16-bit landscape that brings just the right dash of retro, with an original soundtrack to set the mood. Huntdown was the first title to be published by the Swedish developer-turned-publisher Coffee Stain Studios.

The gameplay is not rocket science for anyone used to 2D shooters. Playing as one of three different characters, you are tasked with cleansing the streets of an '80s-style gangster-run city. There are lots of baddies to shoot, plenty of weapons to be acquired, unlimited ammo, and some bosses to take down. It's not easy and it gets progressively more difficult, but after some time, your character picks up some neat skills and more weapons, too.

The key to survival is to keep moving, running, jumping, and taking cover as you plow through your enemies. And there's even more to it than that, like secret stashes and Easter eggs to find, and a co-op mode to team up with friends.

For these reasons and more, Huntdown definitely earns a spot on this list.

The Last of Us Part 2

The Last of Us Part 2 is one of those games that people either love or hate, and this is best evidenced by the glaring difference in the ratings left by critics versus the ratings left by gamers. But a game set in a post-pandemic dystopia was bound to raise extreme reactions, right? The Last of Us Part 2 released as the world dealt with COVID-19. Perhaps that aspect of it hit a little too close to home.

TLOU2 is set five years after the events of its predecessor, and this time around, you control Ellie. The story is mainly one of revenge, set in what remains of Seattle after the pandemic turned humans into weird, zombie-like creatures. The world building and design are superlative, the gameplay is solid, and the experience is topped off with a complex, layered, and dark storyline.

As a reviewer for GamesRadar put it, "The Last of Us Part 2 is exceptional, and quite possibly the best game I've played this generation." There's little doubt that, for many, this is one of the best games of 2020.

Streets of Rage 4

You could call Streets of Rage 4 a tribute, or you could call it — as IGN did — "a faithful revival of the classic arcade beat-'em-ups." Either way, it's about time, as more than a quarter of a century has passed since Sega's iconic beat-em-up trilogy last graced our gaming screens. Developed by Dotemi, Guard Crush Games, and Lizardcube, old-timers will be delighted to see Blaze and Axel back, but with some new moves, a few new friends and foes, updated game mechanics, brand new cityscapes, and the familiar '90s EDM soundtrack.

The basic storyline of Street of Rage 4 involves keeping the city from falling into the evil clutches of the Y twins. There are multiple modes, such as Story, Arcade, Boss Rush, and more. And you can play by yourself or with friends — up to four players locally or two online.

Overall, Streets of Rage 4 is a visual treat, a rush of nostalgia, and loads of fun. If you're in the mood for something a little more old-school, it appears 2020 now has something that'll scratch that itch.

Desperados 3

Your success in the tactical stealth title Desperados 3 depends on how well you deal with failure. That's because you'll be failing a lot. In fact, as USgamer puts it, "Desperados 3 finds its foundation in failure." You're expected to screw up, but that doesn't make the game any less fun to play.

Touted as the true successor to Mimimi Games' real-time tactical stealth title, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, Desperados 3 is actually a prequel to the original Desperados game, making this a great place to get started with the series. Set in the Wild West, your band of five playable characters each come with their own special skills. On top of that, you can use a variety of in-game objects to plan and execute your moves.

Patience is key in Desperados 3. Running around in its detailed and expansive world is "is more rousing than a whiskey chaser," according to IGN. If this isn't one of the best stealth titles ever released, it's at least one of the best games of 2020.

Deep Rock Galactic

A quartet of space dwarves on the rampage, unending hordes of alien monsters to blow up, and a suitably grubby hangout with plenty of beer — what's not to love? Deep Rock Galactic is a co-op shooter that some are calling the best on the market. Superlatives apart, it straddles the gritty and grimy along with the cheesy and hilarious with great aplomb.

Deep Rock Galactic, according to IGN, puts you to work for a dubious space mining company in the subterranean tunnels of the planet Hoxxas. However, the gameplay is not all hacking and slashing rocks and enemies. You must solve tactical puzzles, mine some rare ores, and steal an artifact or two. Each dwarf protagonist has their own special strengths, and there is plenty of scope for development.

As PC Gamer puts it, "Deep Rock Galactic is as much a game about learning the hard way and reaping the rewards as it is about dislodging alien terra firma," and that's true whether you're playing alone or with friends. If you're looking to be regaled with humor, action, atmosphere, and explosions, Deep Rock Galactic is something worth checking out in 2020.

Resident Evil 3 Remake

Tight storytelling is almost always an asset, but in the case of the survival horror remake of Resident Evil 3, the trade-off is a very short game — roughly five hours. It's a pity, because Capcom's reimagining of its 1999 title Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is "fun while it lasts," according to The Verge. The story is more or less the same — Jill Valentine is on the run from zombie-infested Raccoon City with the horrific Nemesis on her trail. But the remake shaves off many of the side stories of the original, including the different endings that gave it replay value.

The game does an excellent job of recreating the horror- and tension-filled atmosphere of the original, with updated graphics and mechanics. As Eurogamer wrote, "There is an incredible level of detail throughout the game." There is a single-player campaign as well as a 4 vs. 1 multiplayer. And even though there is limited replay value because of the short duration, it's "still a well thought-out and nicely executed modern refresh of a survival horror classic," according to The Guardian.

If scary games are your thing, 2020 has provided a worth entry in the remake of Resident Evil 3.

F1 2020

Despite appearances, much of what goes into building a successful racing career happens behind the scenes. F1 2020, the official game of the Formula One World Championship, appears to be the most accurate and comprehensive representation of the complex processes behind building a champion.

As PC Gamer reports, the new My Team mode allows you to take on the role of driver–manager, create your team, and craft your racing empire from the ground up. You can choose a sponsor, select a logo and team colors, pick an engine supplier, hire staff and teammates, build your own facilities, and more. F1 2020 allows you to micro-manage just about every aspect of your career. Or not. There's always the Career mode for those more interested in the guts and glory, where you have 10 years to reach the pinnacle of the sport.

On top of all that, Codemasters added new difficulty levels and playing modes, and there is something for everyone, whether you're a veteran on the virtual F1 circuit or a newbie taking your first wobbles. The game includes all the official teams and drivers from the 2020 F1 championship, as well as content from the 2019 F2. In addition, players have access to 16 classic cars, two new circuits (Hanoi and Zandvoort), and novel mechanics to make driving more realistic. There is an online multiplayer mode, and split-screen racing makes a comeback after almost 15 years.

There is plenty to cheer about for F1 2020, according to reviews. If you're a racing fan, that makes it a 2020 title worth checking out.

Ghost of Tsushima

In Ghost of Tsushimathe setting is 13th-century Japan. You are the last surviving samurai, waging a lone, unconventional war to take back your homeland — a war in which everything you live by is called into question. The game features an incredible open world for samurai Jin Sakai to roam in. You can "enter each building, climb rooftops, and explore without fatigue," according to Digital Trends. But it's not all mindless exploration — the sword gameplay is challenging, as are the moral and philosophical questions Jin is faced with.

Despite the incredible landscape found in Ghost of Tsushima, you shouldn't expect the action-adventure staple of realism. Instead, developer Sucker Punch has opted for a more visual sort of storytelling. What this means is you no longer have the tedium of adventure housekeeping, like picking up loot and performing other mundane in-game actions. This lets you concentrate on being part of an immersive and impressive story. As an added bonus, Ghost of Tsuhima offers a Kurosawa mode — a nod to the legendary Japanese filmmaker — which renders the world in black and white like classic samurai movies of old.

It's not every day that a game is declared a hit even before its release. Ghost of Tsushima, however, won over critics before most gamers got to play it. Once they did, the accolades still kept coming.

Microsoft Flight Simulator

There aren't a lot of games like Microsoft Flight Simulator. It might sound cliched, but it's probably a bit more apt to call it an "experience." This is a game that allows you to take to the skies in a variety of aircrafts, flying over any spot on a remarkably modeled planet Earth. VG247 says it is "obsessed with authenticity, but also embraces accessibility." It's a game that is so close to the real thing that there are more than a few stories out there of people flying actual planes after only training in this game.

Microsoft Flight Simulator boasts "37 thousand airports, 2 million cities, 1.5 billion buildings" and what seems to be a totally authentic model of the world to explore. You could fly over the grand canyon, then take a pleasure trip over Singapore. Visit the Pyramids, then the fjords of Scandinavia. It allows almost unprecedented freedom, and allows you to do it all yourself or let the AI do most of the flying while you sit back and take in the sights.

Microsoft has promised years of updates to Microsoft Flight Simulator, and it's available through Xbox Game Pass. Yes, please.

Panzer Corps 2

If historical strategy games are your jam, then you've got to check out Panzer Corps 2. It's a strategy game of the highest order, putting you in control of a campaign during World War 2 and letting you try to outstrategize your foes. It's essentially a hex-based strategy board game that looks super pretty and lets you customize things enough to keep the challenge going for several playthroughs.

This is truly a game for the strategy-obsessed, rewarding players who know the ins and outs of every unit and mechanic and love diving into historical elements of strategy games. If you're looking for something casual, this might not be your speed. As PC Gamer warns, "If you do not care to learn your Sturmgeschütz from your Panzerkampfwagen do not panic, but instead turn and move quickly in the opposite direction."

It might not be the most innovative game around, but Panzer Corps 2 has perfected the formula and looks really good doing so. If you want to channel your inner General Patton and test your mettle with some real world scenarios, look no further.

Monster Train

The very concept of Monster Train is inherently silly and awesome. You are in control of a train full of, you guessed it, monsters, hurtling through Hell and fending off attacks from a variety of heavenly beings. Rather than a beat-'em-up style action game, Monster Train borrows heavily from titles like Slay the Spire. As you progress and win battles, you add cards to your deck, hopefully building a synergistic masterpiece that smashes enemies with ease. If not, well, there's always another run waiting.

There are tons of ways to play and build viable decks, with multiple clans that each draw from different card pools, dozens of artifacts, and a variety of routes to move your train down as it hurtles through enemies. Few games manage to capture the "one more round" aspect that has made Civilization an icon of PC gaming, but Monster Train and its deckbuilder, roguelite brethren may have toppled even that series in the world of "oops, I accidentally stayed up all night" genre.

If Found

Most people think of the "best" modern games as having photorealistic graphics, seamless online play and giant, open worlds to explore. However, indie games often flaunt those stereotypes, shooting for unique, often nostalgic art styles and telling strange or intimate stories. If Found is one such game: it looks like notebook doodles come to life, and it tells a very human story about finding yourself as a cosmic event threatens the whole of reality.

If Found is classified as a visual novel, but gameplay is much more interactive than a standard "click on text to make things go" game in this genre is. You'll really want to grab it on a tablet if you can, as the mechanic of erasing things with your finger helps to bring things to life. It features two storylines focused on different parts of a single character's life, and it wraps up perfectly after taking up just a few hours of your time. It's got an absolutely perfect soundtrack, as well.

Don't let the art style or short runtime throw you off –- if you're looking for a good story in a game, you won't find much better than If Found.

Lair of the Clockwork God

Self-referential humor can be a tricky beast — it's very easy to get too cute and fall into the realm of cringe. That goes tenfold for video games, where repeating a section might mean repeating a joke, and that rarely gets a second laugh. That said, genuinely funny games are a wonderful thing, and Lair of the Clockwork God is exactly that. On top of that, it's also a pretty fun genre mashup.

Lair of the Clockwork God is made by the same indie team that created Ben There, Dan That and Time Gentlemen, Please. It features two characters who are stuck in opposite genres — one a point-and-click adventure, and the other a platformer. You can switch between the characters and will have to make use of both their skill sets in order to succeed.

It's a lot, and it would fall flat on its face if it weren't so funny and clever. It references many other titles, repeatedly breaks the fourth wall, and will make you laugh out loud more than you thought a video game could. It's ridiculous in all the best ways, and definitely one to check out.

Crusader Kings 3

Paradox has always gone big with their strategy games, and you'd be forgiven if you looked at Crusader Kings 3 and thought, "Oh, it's just Civilization." On the surface, CK3 is about conquering, diplomacy, and reshaping the world in your image. On the next level, this is a game about trying to seduce a witch to cure your gout so you can have a child before you die of gout and the game ends.

Rather than a traditional 4X game, Crusader Kings 3 is a sandbox dynasty simulator. You don't control the English or the Chinese — you control a royal house trying to carve out their piece of the pie. You play as generations of the same family, accumulating titles, heirs, secrets, and grudges, all of which can be used as weapons in your quest for power.

The previous title in the series was released back in 2012 and had grown a bit unwieldy with all the expansions that had been tacked on. CK3 is still tough, but it's much more user-friendly and approachable. If you've always fancied trying your hand at a Game of Thrones simulator, here's your chance.

Spiritfarer

If you want to go a bit more relaxing and introspective than most modern games, Spiritfarer may be a bit more your speed. This beautiful indie title sees you take over for the mythological figure Charon as the new "spiritfarer." Your job: to transport the souls of the recently deceased to the afterlife.

Of course, most of these spirits are adorable animals that you get to know and form friendships with. This makes it pretty tough to let some of them go when you reach the Everdoor. It can be tough to let your friends go, but you've got a job to do. A big part of that job is, apparently, building a giant shantytown of a boat and talking to all your new friends with your pet cat.

Equal parts charming life sim and quiet meditation on death and loss, Spiritfarer has its wonderful art style and soundtrack bolstered by its thoughtful writing. For a game all about death, Spiritfarer does a pretty good job of making you feel warm and safe.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2

A lot of video games try to tickle our nostalgia bones with coy references and throwbacks to our favorites of yesteryear. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 is not that subtle. This is a full-blown nostalgia bomb, rebuilding the most beloved titles in a long-running series from the ground up and dropping it on us all.

What works so well about THPS 1 + 2 is that it is equal parts throwback and modernization. If you grew up listening to ska and drinking Mountain Dew in the late 1990s, you'll be able to slide back into these games without a second thought. The control scheme is similar enough to the originals to not throw you off, but it adds a few modern twists to keep things interesting. For the new audience, the joys of perfecting your combos and linking tricks is as exciting as it ever was. You can feel yourself making progress and improving incrementally, and it's wonderful.

THPS 1 + 2 is a game you set out to play for half an hour, then you glance at the clock and realize it's three hours later. Whether you're an old pro or a total newbie, it should be in your library.

Risk of Rain 2

The original Risk of Rain is a beloved 2-D platformer that ticked a lot of indie boxes: retro graphics, procedurally generated roguelite, tough as nails. You'd think a sequel would look at least moderately similar. In the case of Risk of Rain 2, you'd be wrong ... at first.

Looking at screenshots of the two games, you'd be hard-pressed to identify them as in the same series. Risk of Rain 2 is a 3-D, third-person shooter with a much more realistic (well, alien planets, laser swords, and massive firepower aside) aesthetic and "modern" look. However, after playing the two of them, it isn't hard to identify why this was the direction Hopoo Games took the sequel.

It's still a procedurally generated roguelite, tasking you to max out your weapons and damage as you battle insane odds and huge bosses. It's still about adapting your strategy when things get hairy, and it's still about, occasionally, dying before you even have time to process what happened. It's still Risk of Rain. And that means it's still a really great game. It's also one of those games where you'll have no idea where the time went when you decide to eventually set it down.