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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.