Whatever else you can say about 2020, it gave us a lot of time at home. As such, one of the few joys of this difficult year was finally sinking some time into our favorite video games — especially games that we’ve been putting off for a while, or only recently discovered. A ton of great games came out in 2020, be they the best games of the year, or games you may have missed, but we wanted to take a moment to highlight some gems from our personal backlogs.
These games, which came out in 2019 and earlier, all deserve a look, whether you’re in the market for a streamer-friendly deception game, a classic shooter, a demanding platformer or even a way to get in shape. If you’re still stuck inside for the foreseeable future, why not fill the time with an older game? If nothing else, it’ll probably be cheap.
It’s a bit strange for a game that was released two years ago to suddenly become one of the biggest games of 2020, yet here we are. Among Us was surely one of the things that brought all of us together this year. Popularized in 2020 by YouTubers and Twitch streamers, the gameplay in this multiplayer hit will be somewhat familiar to anyone who’s played the popular party game Mafia (or Werewolf; whichever you’re used to).
The premise revolves around a spaceship crew that must identify an impostor disguised as one of them. The impostor’s mission is a bit more challenging: They need to kill off the crew members one by one without getting caught. Obviously, there’s a catch. Crewmates are not allowed to talk unless a team meeting has been called, and even then, it’s surprisingly difficult to convince someone that you’re innocent. Among Us is addictively fun, and even as we approach the new year, it shows no signs of going away anytime soon. — Denise Primbet
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
I played through the main story in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey back when I reviewed it in 2018. That alone took 55 hours, and I couldn’t help but feel a little overwhelmed by the rest of the enormous world and multitude of side quests. However, I wound up spending a lot of time at home in 2020, and found that Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was the perfect companion for long lazy afternoons or weekends. The base game lets you explore the Greek archipelago, and the side quests cover everything from competing in the Olympic games to hunting legendary bears and lions.
The game really shines in its lengthy Season Pass, however. Odyssey’s DLC includes six new episodes that build on the story, three mythological locations, a bevy of equippable gear and even remastered versions of Assassin’s Creed III and Assassin’s Creed Liberation. It’s a ton of worthwhile content for a reasonable amount of money. — Marshall Honorof
The Federal Bureau of Control is located in a very weird building, and the frequently morphing brutalist design isn’t its most peculiar aspect. That would be The Hiss, a gang of possessed spirits that you (as Jesse Faden, a woman trying to answer questions about a childhood trauma) will need to stop. Fortunately, you get powers, and you get them quickly. These include a gun that you can modify for optimal Hiss hunting, and psychokinetic abilities that enable you to throw nearly anything at villains, even chunks of walls you break off. 2019’s Control is the action-adventure X-Files game we never got, and one of my favorite games of the year. It took me so long to play it because our Control review was rather negative, and I’ve since learned that the reviewer’s opinion did not match mine. — Henry T. Casey
Dead by Daylight
If you’ve ever thought that you survive longer than the main characters in classic horror movies, Dead by Daylight will give you the chance to be proven wrong. The gist is simple: Playing as a Survivor, your job is to team up with three other players to repair five generators that power the exit gates to escape. Alternatively, you can play as the Killer, whose job it is to prevent that from happening, while attempting to kill the survivors along the way. Since it was released in 2016, the developers have consistently added new playable characters for both killers and survivors as DLC. You may recognize more than a few faces in the current lineup, including characters from Stranger Things, and horror icons like Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Leatherface and Ghost Face.
Personally, my favorite thing about Dead by Daylight is its ranking system. In most ranked multiplayer games, you can play well, but if you lose, you still run the risk of losing rank. Here, however, even if you end up losing a round through no fault of your own, you can still be awarded for your efforts. As is the case with most multiplayer games, Dead by Daylight doesn’t come without its occasional toxic moments of rage, but I’m not lying when I say that this game is what got me through most of 2020. — Denise Primbet
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition
Gears of War is one of those series I’ve been meaning to check out for years, and I finally took the plunge just a few weeks ago. Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is available via Xbox Game Pass, along with the rest of the series, and it’s well worth the 12 hours it takes to beat the story campaign. This beloved third-person shooter casts you as Marcus Fenix: a grizzled soldier in a futuristic war against the antagonistic alien Locusts and, well, that’s about as much as you’re going to get out of the story. You’re really here for the incredibly tight shooting, creative set pieces and varied level design.
What really grabbed me about Gears of War, though, is while it starts off as just another silly action game, it does just enough to draw you into its story, characters and setting. Are the Locusts bloodthirsty monsters, or simply trying to defend their home? Are the titular Gears humanity’s last hope, or a nascent fascist military? And does Marcus himself have any depth beyond simply being a competent squad leader? The subsequent games address these issues, and arguably do a pretty interesting job. — Marshall Honorof
I picked Hollow Knight for my Nintendo Switch on a bit of a whim as I had Nintendo eShop credits to use up. Little did I know it would become one of my favorite games. Describing Hollow Knight as Metroidvania-meets-Dark-Souls is both accurate and also doing Hollow Knight a disservice. Yes, it has an interconnected world that tells a story through environmental details. When you die, you lose all your in-game currency until you fight your way back to your spirit. But Hollow Knight is still very much its own game.
The environments drip with character, as do the semi-sentient bugs you need to fight. The combat has a surprising amount of depth for a platformer, and the platforming itself is as satisfying as it is tricky. The accompanying soundtrack is utterly fantastic, beautifully punctuating new areas and making tough boss fights that much more epic. Just writing these words makes me want to grab my Switch and start a whole new playthrough. Speaking of which, the ability to play this rather tough game in bursts of getting from one save point to another makes it a perfect Switch game. It’s suited to quick bouts of exploration, or hours of boss battling. — Roland Moore-Colyer
Horizon Zero Dawn
This one is cheating a bit, as Horizon Zero Dawn is, for my money, the best console game of the last generation. Yet I was shamefully slow to pick up Horizon Zero Dawn’s 2020 re-release on PC. This was an especially dumb move, as the PC release helped an already-beautiful game look its sharp, striking best.
Yes, the PC port has had issues, needing more patches than a Victorian quilt, but it’s been running fine for me overall. And what a game to dive back into! I love the mystery-heavy story, I love the kinetic-but-just-cerebral-enough combat and I love protagonist Aloy. She’s fiercely competent, but never arrogant or sharp-witted; just empathetic. Bring on Horizon Forbidden West, on whatever platform it wants. — James Archer
Jurassic World: Evolution
Jurassic Park has been around since 1994, and in almost 30 years, there have been a total of two video games that actually put you in charge of the park. I missed out on 2003’s Operation Genesis, but this year I finally got round to playing Jurassic World: Evolution, made by Planet Coaster developers Frontier.
I went in expecting something akin to Zoo Tycoon: Dinosaur Digs, which I played a lot of as a kid, and I was not disappointed. You’re thrown into a failing Jurassic World venue, and charged with building it up, using the attractions to boost the InGen corporation’s profit margins. Progression is hampered by the sheer cost of facilities you build and the research required to unlock new dinosaurs and exhibits, but never in a frustrating way. In fact, it’s very easy to unlock things while running through the campaign mode.
Done right, Jurassic World: Evolution is a very calming experience. Even when the systems inevitably go wrong and the velociraptors eat a group of guests, it was easy to sit back and suddenly realize that five hours had gone by. In a year like 2020, with everything that’s been going on, I’m very glad I finally got around to playing this one. Plus, Jeff Goldblum is in it, and we can all agree that he’s something that video games need a lot more of. — Tom Pritchard
The Last of Us: Remastered
While the Last of Us Part II may be our game of the year, I haven’t gotten around to playing it. In the run-up to its release, I bought The Last of Us: Remastered. Thanks to 2020 being a dumpster fire, I’ve finally played the game, and particularly enjoyed the Left Behind DLC. I’ve basically ended up playing a remastered game from 2013 on my PS5, and I have zero regrets. Not only is TLOU an exemplary game that’s still deeply engrossing and evocative more than seven years after it’s release, but it also still looks fantastic.
Granted, it’s not flush with high-end textures, but Naughty Dog’s art design is wonderfully captivating. Each area is littered with details that quietly tell the tale of the rapid decline of human society, ravaged by a zombie apocalypse brought on by fungi, with nature reclaiming urban sprawls. Then there’s the combat, which doesn’t shy away from being almost uncomfortably weighty and gruesome, making the game feel like an HBO series rather than just another third-person shooter. In short, TLOU is as essential to play today as is its predecessor. — Roland Moore-Colyer
Night in the Woods
Having sat near the top of my “to play” list since its launch in 2017, I finally reached the credits of Night in the Woods, a kooky adventure game, earlier this year. On its surface, it’s a game about exploring a midwestern U.S. town (which happens to be inhabited by anthropomorphic animals) as college dropout Mae, trying to figure out the source of some recent weird happenings. But what really spoke to me is just how well the game captures the feeling of being a directionless young adult, returning home to a place that’s not quite the same as you remember it.
The conversations between Mae and her friends, both idle flights of fancy and emotional confessions, are utterly believable despite the cartoony aesthetic. While this game really excels in its story, the underlying game is a fun point-and-click experience that sees you exploring the town from top to bottom to meet more unique characters and help them out, which leads you back to more excellent narrative writing. — Richard Priday
Ring Fit Adventure
I didn’t think a game could entertain me and keep my back problems at bay, but 2019’s Ring Fit Adventure is that damn good. In this game, you find yourself in a magical land besieged by a fitness-obsessed dragon, who’s got more goons than Soulcycle has instructors. The only way to save the world is by using workouts to deal damage to these monsters. Incredibly goofy and pun-obsessed, Ring Fit Adventure is how I find a way to break a sweat nearly every morning without risking my health by going to a gym or running on the chaotic streets of NYC. — Henry T. Casey
Super Mario 3D All-Stars
While technically this package of the first three 3D Super Mario games is a 2020 product, in reality, it’s a trio of games I’ve been meaning to play for years, rolled onto one convenient game card.
I don’t think you can blame me for not having played these earlier, given that I was a tender three years old when Super Mario 64 launched. The only Nintendo console I’ve owned is the Nintendo Switch, which launched long after the final game in the collection, 2007’s Super Mario Galaxy. However, whether you’re a newcomer like me or someone more experienced in Mario-style platforming, it’s definitely worth trying out the revamped editions of these classic games.
Nintendo’s platforming mechanics remain extremely refined, even when you’re limited to 8-directional movement in Super Mario 64. However, playing Super Mario Sunshine in 16:9 instead of the pokey original 4:3, along with the addition of touchscreen controls to Super Mario Galaxy, also show some that worthwhile effort has gone into modernizing these titles for the Switch. The inclusion of all three games’ soundtracks is a nice touch, too, although the limited window for buying this game is a pretty shameful marketing tactic. — Richard Priday
Like Among Us without the outrageous popularity, Worms W.M.D could almost have been built specifically for lockdown life. Not in terms of the mechanics of the game itself; at its core, Worms W.M.D. is almost functionally identical to the old PS1 Worms games. But it seems tailor-made for 2020 in how it can bring together a group of friends, physical distancing be damned, and present scenarios in which their misfortune is the funniest thing that’s ever happened.
Friends slugged into the sea by baseball bats; friends detonated by explosive livestock; friends misjudging a grenade throw so badly it lands at their own feet, blasting them into another friend, who gets pushed onto a landmine. Worms W.M.D is comedy gold, and while it’s a little too luck-based to be truly competitive, it’s a much more entertaining way to stay in touch than yet another Zoom call. — James Archer