HeadStuff Picks: The Best Games of 2020

What a year right? I feel like I say that every year when I’m putting together this list but man, what a year. Between plague, fire and tyranny it’s been hard to find any joy in the real world. Which is why we retreated to games to worlds that weren’t. We murdered our friends in space. We built islands for a capitalist raccoon-dog. We slaughtered our way through underground labs as a ravenous red monster. We saved a Japanese coastal town from Lovecraftian doom or died trying. We went back through the greatest hits of gaming’s favourite Italian plumber. We struggled to regain our memories as an alcoholic, speed-freak cop. We plumbed the depths of hell and came out the other side, gore-soaked and grinning. Maybe in 2021 we can start to really live again, perhaps even thrive. For now here’s to 2020, may it fuck off and die. Thanks for the games though.

Among Us

(PC, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Android).

Ok, Among Us shouldn’t really be on this list, given that it came out in 2018. But let’s be honest with ourselves, nobody played this until 2020 and that goes for all of you dear readers. Especially you. Don’t tell me you played this before this year cause I won’t believe you. 

A simple concept that’s basically John Carpenter’s The Thing, where you’re dropped into a map as either a crew mate or imposter. As a crew mate you’ll roam the map and complete several quick mini games hoping to get them all done before the imposter(s) kill you or the rest of your crew. And as an imposter your goal is to blend in and kill the crew mates. Crew mates can call meetings if they see something suspicious or find a dead body. This is where the real fun begins. In meetings you’ll have to convince others of what you saw or see if you believe them, ending in a vote to eliminate a player. Hopefully it’s an imposter, but one could’ve convinced you to kill a fellow crew mate.

No game will have you screaming at your friends and then immediately after commend them for lying to you so well.

Despite its age, Among Us will go down as one of the defining games of 2020. If you haven’t played it yet it’s only €5 on PC and Switch or free on phones. Dan Troy

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

(Nintendo Switch).

This isn’t the first time we at Headstuff (and this writer specifically) have gushed about Animal Crossing: New Horizons and it probably wont be the last. Animal Crossing was the game the world needed. A consistent source of positivity and good vibes through this flaming tornado of a year. 

Living your life on a deserted island you shape however you see fit with a cavalcade of loveable characters and fellow villagers took the world by storm, becoming one of the Switch’s best selling games ever in under a year. Animal Crossing doesn’t have a set goal or ending per say, you just do what you want. Maybe aim for a 5 star island, have your island fit a certain theme, pay off your house, fill up the museum with all the bugs and fish you can catch, there’s no shortage of things to do or aspire for. 

It’s the type of game you can play for 30 minutes or so every couple days, or 4-6+ hours every day. It’s all down to you. There’s no rush or pressure to do anything and it keeps the laid back and stress free nature going. 

Animal Crossing is receiving consistent updates, adding new activities, characters and events. They’re a fun to thing to look forward to every now and again and keep the game fresh knowing there’s new additions on the way for the next few years. 

It’s not the kind of game everyone will get into but it’s definitely worth a shot, you might be pleasantly surprised. Dan Troy

Baldur’s Gate III

(Early Access on PC, Mac, Stadia, Console release planned for 2021).

Many people will tell you that the joy of an RPG is in building a character, sending them out to forge new relationships and save or conquer the world. They’re wrong. The true joy of an RPG is in walking up behind an enemy and hitting the “shove” button sending them plummeting to their deaths. One time I did it to a man whose trust I had gained and although the fall didn’t kill him my goblin allies did as he lay prone on the ground twenty feet below. That’s the fun of Baldur’s Gate III in a nutshell. Of course if you want to play an RPG that let’s you shove people off high buildings there are plenty of options, hell Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey even let you kick people.

Baldur’s Gate III is not like its much older siblings. BioWare have no hand in this game instead development duties have been given to Larian Studios who with their Divinity: Original Sin series went from RPG journeymen to masters. Combat is turn based which makes sense considering this is based off the 5th edition ruleset for Dungeons and Dragons and this gives the game a tactical feeling that the previous two lacked. Although it’s still in early access with plenty more areas, characters, companions and quests to come Baldur’s Gate III still feels huge with alliances to forge, squabbles to settle and romances to enkindle. Now If you’ll excuse me I have to get back to cracking the icy façade of my half-elf cleric companion Shadowheart. Andrew Carroll.

Call of Duty: Warzone

(PC, PS4, Xbox One).

It’s easy to criticize Call of Duty. Fun too. But one unexpected balm for me in the late spring and early summer of this year for me was Call of Duty: Warzone. This battle royale mode of the ever popular first person shooter series didn’t do much different in terms of previous entries in the genre or even Black Ops 4’s Black Out mode but it had the pedigree of the Call of Duty name tag which guaranteed robust support and a large player base from day one. There was the slim pickings of a story to follow but if you want a game that satisfyingly ties its lore together in a cohesive whole you may as well play Bloodborne. I was there to shoot.

Even in a 6v6 match on Call of Duty the series’ systems are easy to learn but hard to master. Being dropped in with 149 other players dramatically stacks the odds against even some of the best CoD players. Long distance snipers are a bane on the smaller maps but in Warzone they’re wolves among sheep. Long stretches will be spent either alone or hunkering through alleys and through undergrowth with your squad before brief, loud gunfights either send you to the game’s ingenious respawn mechanic – a one-on-one match in “The Gulag” – or have you loot the bodies of the fallen and head on in search of the next target. It’s never easy by any means but nothing worth playing ever is. Andrew Carroll.

Carrion

(PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch).

The idea of a reverse horror game is relatively new and it’s mostly been used in horror games like Friday the 13th: The Game and Dead By Deadlight. Even then only one player would get the true reverse horror experience of playing as the monster, the rest would be victims. Carrion was different. Phobia Game Studio’s first IP put you in the fangs, tentacles and barbs of a red, angry blob ripping its way through an underground lab. What Carrion lacked in terms of plot it made up for in terms of power fantasy. Everyone likes MacReady, Chief Brody or Ellen Ripley but we all secretly wonder what void-like intelligence exists behind the eyes of the monsters they face. Thanks to Carrion now we know.

The game makes you start off small, a little gobbet of crimson flesh consuming scared scientists to get bigger. Soon enough you’re smashing soldiers off walls, tearing mechs to pieces and batting drones away like flies. It’s 2020’s grossest, goriest power fantasy with a stunningly disgusting 2D neo-retro design and a creeping score that sends up its influences as much as it walks its own path. It might be short and could use a little more rigid direction here and there but Carrion’s power comes with playing as the terrorizer not the terrified. Andrew Carroll. 

Disco Elysium

(PC, Mac, Stadia, March 2021 for consoles).

A lot of us have had nights where we’ve gotten apocalyptically drunk and had trouble remembering what exactly led to the pounding headache, roiling stomach and spiritual exhaustion. Very few of us have gotten so fucking blotto that we forget our entire identities by the time we wake up. Harrier “Harry” DuBois does exactly that in ZA/UM’s isometric RPG Disco Elysium and must work his way back through what exactly happened on his three day, amnesia-inducing bender as well as investigate a murder with his new partner Kim Katsurugi that’s threatening to tear apart the port district of Martinaise. This is only the beginning of an odyssey involving striking unions, Communist holdouts and cryptids.

Disco Elysium ties all of these things together beautifully weaving Harry’s story of alcoholism and lost love through a political situation more volatile than petrol soaked dynamite. Each character feels incredibly lived-in with a deep inner life that makes each one unique with few – including Harry – ever feeling like true heroes or villains. The complete absence of combat, replaced instead with dialogue options, never loses the tension of the turn based systems so many other games use. The shoot-out that closes the second act is a masterclass in tension with each throw of the game’s invisible dice yielding a fist pump or whispered curse. Still, it’s Harry and Kim that make the game’s story so enjoyable. Amnesiac that he is Harry is malleable to extreme degrees while Kim is firm and assured in his beliefs making for an interesting, ever-changing dynamic. I won’t spoil it but it’s safe to say that Disco Elysium rewards kindness which is something this year needed. Andrew Carroll. 

Further Reading: In Disco Elysium I Am Not the Hero and That’s OK.

Doom Eternal

(PC, Stadia, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS5).

The sequel to the 2016 reboot of the classic franchise manages (somehow) to be a meatier experience; with a greater scope and cleaner delivery, whilst losing none of the novelty and satisfaction of its high-octane demon-slaying, Doom Eternal offers up what could easily be considered one of the greatest first-person shooters to date. 

The gameplay this time around is far more punishing and proves a grueling finishing school for a professional demon slayer. Combat arenas are designed for fluid movement and inspired opportunities to slay; leaping and pivoting between hordes of cannon fodder and mini-bosses alike with a vast array of powerful weaponry. The brutal economy of Doom Eternal, which provides ammo and health from the infamous glory kills, ensures a relentless and visceral need for close combat amidst the hail of lasers and bullets. The total sensory assault is complimented by Mick Gordon’s shredding soundtrack to the demonic apocalypse to ensure the intensity never dips below maximum.

The story this time around is more serious and offers a passing look into the lore of the Slayer’s world. While the platforming aspects and collectibles offer something of a nostalgic breather in between bouts of bloodshed. 

Every gunfight is a calculation, and while that might sound frustrating, such a demanding gaming experience pushes you to play faster, smarter and bolder. With every fight, you learn to match the rhythm of your surroundings, with options available to master your preferred method of playing. Once the pieces fit, it becomes an elegant dance of death with an adrenaline rush unmatched by any game in recent memory. Eoin Carty

Super Mario Bros 35

(Nintendo Switch)

I’m not an equal opportunity gamer. For the most part the entirety of my gaming life, right through to today, has been on a Nintendo console. I finally got my hands on the Nintendo Switch at the start of lockdown and jumped straight into the titles revolving around my go to plumber. Super Mario OdysseyNew Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, Super Mario Maker 2… I know there are other franchises but like I said I’m not an equal opportunity gamer!

Imagine my joy when Nintendo released a new take on one of the all time greats with Super Mario Bros. 35. Tackling the familiar world of Super Mario with the added obstacles of being flooded with opponent’s enemies brings a fresh challenge to the levels many have played countless times. Strategy comes in many forms; time management, coin collection to refresh your power-up roulette box and then pick and choose who to bombard with your fallen foes as you try to be the last plumber standing. Sure, it hasn’t got the greatest longevity in terms of replayability but it has brought me many hours of joy over these secluded months. Paddy O’Leary.

Visage

(PC, PS4, Xbox One)

It’s been quiet a year for horror games. Such a year that this isn’t even the last horror game on this list. But it might just be the scariest. In a year that saw nearly all of us trapped alone in our homes with nothing but our own thoughts for comfort it was easy to create phantoms and demons out of them. Games like Visage can give us the opportunity to both exercise with our demons and perhaps even exorcise our demons. Set entirely within an American suburban house á lá the dearly departed but not forgotten P.T. and Allison Road Visage sees players take control of Dwayne Anderson who awakens in the house and finds it haunted by three of it’s previous inhabitants.

Doors disappear. Hallways twist and spiral. Footsteps echo above Dwayne’s. Lightbulbs pop at random. And these are just the random paranormal events the game’s AI sends at you to destabilize Dwayne’s mental state leaving him vulnerable to the ghosts of Lucy, Dolores and Rakan. The actual scripted events will leave you powerless before bellowing demons, husks in the shape of dead old women and stiff figures half-lit by flickering lamps. Light is your ally in Visage but it will not save you. The only thing we can do to get to the light in Visage, as in life, is to push through the dark. Andrew Carroll.

World of Horror

(PC, Nintendo Switch release planned)

World of Horror wears its influences on its sleeve. From H. P. Lovecraft to Stephen King to Junji Ito the inspirations for Pawel Kozminski’s (a.k.a. Panstasz) one-bit horror game are initially clear. Eventually the game reveals itself as far deeper than just homages to Lovecraftian doom and Ito’s most nightmarish creations. It’s combat and exploration systems are intricate and well thought-out and they add tension where the barely-there animation can’t. It’s not the scariest game ever made but it’s certainly creepy and compelling in a way that makes it feel unique compared to similar games with more robust graphics.

World of Horror has you solve 5 randomly chosen cases in order to prevent an evil God from destroying the world at the end of an in-game week. Most play-throughs only last about an hour or less and the game will require many in order to see all of its content. Each mystery has at least two endings and careful management of your stamina (health) and reason (sanity) is required to get to the final battle in the locked lighthouse. Between there and the beginning are cases involving hyper-addictive ramen, a murderous ghost with scissors and a mermaid obsessed janitor to name a few. Cracking a case is a delight but it’s finding new ways to solve it that keeps World of Horror interesting and terrifying. Andrew Carroll. 


Featured Image Credit.

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