Game of the Year is something of a coveted term during 2020, amid a worldwide pandemic which increased the impact of every release. It’s a miracle that studios continued to release a wide variety of games over the months, refreshing a backlog which has caught up to many gamers at home. As players connected (and re-connected) with their favourite characters. Many included Ellie/Joel, Jill Valentine, Doom Slayer, Tom Nook, Cloud Strife and Alyx Vance; each given a new life ahead of another generation of consoles. Of course, they’ve also become champions of our past times and a greeter for escapism. These characters were also crucial in pushing the boundaries of video games. Helping along the development of gameplay are the characters themselves. Through deeper narratives, game heroes are thrown into situations a tad too grounded in the real world. For players, these stories only do more to create an unforgettable campaign and in-game memories. Here comes the real trick; adopting what made classic games fun and still managing to throw players into the world of tomorrow. 2020’s games continued to deliver on such a lasting impact, becoming a Game of the Year in our own eyes.
For some, the idea of having a fresh start on an island was a perfect getaway. A familiar face would constantly heckle players for bells, but it didn’t stop them from creating a utopia with a daily grind. For the gamers at home, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was a remedy with an unlikely importance. As reviewer and managing editor Jordan Biordi puts, “Animal Crossing felt like a world I could belong in. One where I was in control; one where I could have friends, write them letters and they would write back.” Players were given an unprecedented level of freedom to lead a perfect life in a game which washed the noise of reality away with soothing shores. The game was even self-sufficient enough to become a platform, giving the world ways to connect for change (and virtual dinner dates surrounded by peaches). Without reservations, CGM awarded it with a rare 10 out of 10 alongside Hades, Half-Life Alyx and Demon’s Souls.
2020 was also an unexpected time when one of gaming’s most-coveted series returned from the dead. Millions of cries for Half-Life 3 were suddenly heard, with Valve resurfacing to deliver a glimpse of it in VR. But the platform somehow did the impossible by surrounding players in a fully-realized nightmare. City 17 bloomed with more believable visuals in a modern age of games, combined with life-sized versions of headcrabs which are indescribably the scariest things in VR . But Half-Life: Alyx managed to win the hearts of skeptics and fans from its delivery. VR completed Valve’s original vision for a fun, scary and ever-engrossing world players were forced to survive in. For VR gamers at home, Half-Life: Alyx would give them the title they’ve waited for while scratching a vacation itch (if they can endure life-sized headcrabs on their face).
Fans of Ellie and Joel from The Last of Us were finally given a sequel this year. Though its narrative divided fans, an improved gameplay system would throw newcomers and veterans into an even deadlier wasteland. Nature overtook human civilization with a believable level of detail, giving exploration an even bigger depth than the original. Ironically, it was a relevant title which connected in scope, human dialogue and context to make Ellie’s story grounded. But The Last of Us: Part II would also take extreme narrative lengths, drawing a line between the believable and pure disappointment. Its level of conversation from fans, scrutiny and its equal acclaim became one of 2020’s biggest subjects in gaming as Cyberpunk 2077 loomed around the corner. Despite its fair judgment from players, Naughty Dog’s story-driven adventure would be a testament to the PlayStation 4’s knact of delivering unique narratives and gave console exclusive fans a resolve to pre-order the next big thing.
These factors stuck with our strongly held favourite games this year. The choice also came from a sharing of ideas over a year’s worth of discussion in op-eds, editorials, insightful interviews and hours of Pixels & Ink banter. We didn’t let Cyberpunk 2077‘s anticipation loom over the surprisingly wide slate of eligible games either. As hyped as the release of CD Projekt Red’s RPG was across eight years, we continued to hold the studio accountable for its turnout as a project anchored in crunch and miscommunication. Like every year, this didn’t stop CGM’s teams from experiencing the same games together and cement a GOTY with bigger satisfaction. In sharing and understanding each writer’s interests across a long year, CGM’s 2020 Game of the Year came without hesitation.
Of course, CGM’s decision comes from a collection of creative minds, all having experienced their own adventures from this year’s games. Every emotional roller coaster, sweaty controller moment and smile go into a vote. Writers, interns and fan favourite contributors are given the choice to pick a list of titles they identify the most as their Game of the Year. As much as this rings true for every game publication, CGM’s team has made a more personal pick this time around. Our decisions were also impacted by a bigger anticipation for certain titles which give us sentimental value (or disappointments) together. This makes every shared vote count towards a game which has withstood; addictive gameplay, technical quality at launch, passion from studios and narrative heft. Most importantly: a game which made our quality of life a bit better in the worst of times.
We thank CGM’s readers for continuing to support us through the good and bad, while sharing in our discussions for our long-awaited decision for Game of the Year 2020. Apart from the winner, CGM’s team also took the time to share the runner-ups and what made these 2020 releases so significant.
Game of the Year 2020: Hades
Hades is a game centred on failure. No other game, in both the rogue-lite genre and outside it, makes failure the means by which its story progresses. As Zagreus attempts to escape his father’s realm time and time again, each failure gives him and the cast of characters he meets on his quest the chance to grow. Tens of thousands of dialogue options that are rarely, if ever, repeated, ensure that every player experiences their own unique journey.
And what a journey it is. Supergiant Games has built a cracking action game that rewards players who experiment with the massive amount of combinations between their weapons and godly boons. They recontextualized Greek myths to create unique and inventive takes on its gods and heroes, bringing them to life with gorgeous art. And this combination of style, narrative, and gameplay results in an experience that is worth playing again and again until dozens of hours have passed you buy.
No game can ever be considered truly perfect, but Hades comes awfully close. It is easily CGM’s Game of the Year of 2020, and we hope that developers around the world take note of what Supergiant has accomplished in the years ahead.
Runner-up #1 – Final Fantasy VII Remake
Despite how often we see remakes and reboots, they are surprisingly hard to pull off correctly. Square Enix was clearly aware of the pressure when they set about remaking (not remastering) their biggest success, and the end result shows the care and love that went into their labour.
Final Fantasy VII Remake takes the first segment of the PlayStation classic and turns it into its own fully developed world. The iconic setting of Midgar is recreated and expanded in sweeping yet natural ways—where the original told you about the world’s inequalities, the remake shows you in emotional detail. Characters are explored in greater depth, brought to life by compelling performances. Throughout, Nobuo Uematsu’s timeless soundtrack is not only revitalized but expanded with a dynamic soundtrack that responds to the action on-screen.
The gameplay seamlessly weaves modern action-RPG sensibilities with the traditional turn-based combat that inspired it. Each of the four playable characters has a completely distinct fighting style, and each boss battle is true spectacle in its own right. The Remake even turns some of the more outlandish, farfetched enemies into believable threats, like the bizarre Hell House, and incorporates some concepts from the last ten years of the franchise, such as the Stagger mechanic.
The result is the farthest thing from a new coat of paint designed to earn boatloads of money on nostalgia alone. Final Fantasy VII Remake is simultaneously a remake of a beloved game and a new game that stands on its own two feet. It offers something for old fans and newcomers, lays a sturdy foundation for further installments, and elevates the modern JRPG.
Runner-up #2 – Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Over the past decade of my experience following video games in a professional capacity, I have learned never to “get hyped” for any game. History has shown me that every hype-cycle ends with a disappointing product, sold on lies, and serves only to further sunder my trust in the video game industry.
I feel the need to state that up-front, because nowadays, I almost NEVER get excited about a video game. But I got excited about Animal Crossing New Horizons. When Nintendo showed that first official trailer during the E3 2019 Direct I felt a swell of excitement within my heart that I had not believed possible anymore. It has been the only game in several years that I have anxiously followed—excitedly counting down the days and following every piece of information I could about it.
Animal Crossing New Horizons was everything I could’ve hoped for, and more. Like I said in my review, it really is the perfect Animal Crossing game. It is absolutely gorgeous to look at, combining high definition graphics with vibrant colours and a copious attention to detail; it implements new features that feel so perfectly at home in the Animal Crossing gameplay that it’s a wonder they didn’t find their way in sooner; and it provides such a wide avenue for creativity that there is always a reason to come back to it.
But not only is Animal Crossing New Horizons an incredible game, but it was the exact game people needed during this horrorshow of a year. With a global pandemic confining many people to their homes, Animal Crossing New Horizons was a game that not only provided a necessary escape from reality, but it acted as a social tether for many people. I can say personally that this pandemic was made somewhat bearable by being able to hang out with my friends through Animal Crossing New Horizons, and I have to believe I wasn’t alone in this.
For these reasons, Animal Crossing New Horizons earns the highest accolades from me, and is truly the best game to come out in 2020.
Runner-up #3 – Doom Eternal
With a shift in favour towards online multiplayer shooters, it’s a small miracle that the follow up to Doom 2016, Doom Eternal has garnered high praise from both its player base and critiques alike.
Doom Eternal like its predecessor refined its campaign with larger levels, deadlier enemies and more carnage, not to mention an excellent introductory expansion that continued the trend that will hopefully lead to more things to come for the game in the new year. Doom Eternal may not be reinventing the wheel, but it has cemented itself as a game that lives up to its namesake while deserving mention in our list of Game of the Year candidates.