The A.V. Club’s favorite games of 2020

Clockwise from upper left: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (Image: Ubisoft), Spider-Man: Miles Morales (Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment), Hades (Image: Supergiant Games), The Haunted PS1 Demo Disc (Image: Haunted PS1), Bugsnax (Image: Young Horses), Among Us (Image: Innersloth)
Clockwise from upper left: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (Image: Ubisoft), Spider-Man: Miles Morales (Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment), Hades (Image: Supergiant Games), The Haunted PS1 Demo Disc (Image: Haunted PS1), Bugsnax (Image: Young Horses), Among Us (Image: Innersloth)
Graphic: Allison Corr

God, that was a weird one, huh?

As a rule, gaming took fewer hits from 2020 than most other aspects of the entertainment industry—a few delays here, the occasional massive, discourse-destroying trainwreck there—but overall, pretty smooth sailing. As such, our annual list of the year’s most interesting games takes two fairly divergent paths: Those games that gave us comfort and connection in this most bizarrely hermetic of years, and those that pushed the boundaries to provide something fascinating and new. The push-and-pull there has been endlessly intriguing, as a two-year-old mobile game suddenly became the topic of congressional interest, old franchises learned some shockingly new tricks, and Bugsnax did… well, whatever the hell it is, exactly, that Bugsnax did. (Horrify us with cartoon food monsters, mostly.)

The A.V. Club’s Games team is here to present our picks for our favorite games that came out in 2020 (or, at least, gained prominence in same), focusing as much as we can on games that we didn’t already cover with our mid-year piece—so no Last Of Us II, Final Fantasy VII Remake, or other faves from the top-half of the year. As always, we’ve eschewed a formal ranking in favor of our breakdown of the Games We Liked—complete with our “I liked ____ because ____” formulation for getting our preferences in order. Feel free to read the list, and then click over to the comments to give us your own takes on what went right and wrong in 2020 (Video Games Only edition, please); we’ll take some of your answers for our traditional Games You Liked feature that’ll run next week.

And now, without further ado: The games!

Alex McLevy is a writer and editor at The A.V. Club, and would kindly appreciate additional videos of robots failing to accomplish basic tasks.

Samantha Nelson is an A.V. Club contributor, freelance food and drinks writer, hardcore gamer and member of the Critical Hit podcast.

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.

Angelica Cataldo is the Social Media Marketing Coordinator for The A.V. Club and a Chicago-based writer.

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2 / 17

Amnesia: Rebirth

Amnesia: Rebirth

I liked Amnesia: Rebirth because it kept me frantically glued to the screen. The long-time-coming sequel to Amnesia: The Dark Descent isn’t just a scary game; it’s one where, at any given moment, you never know if some small detail in the corner of the screen is going to start moving, or if that next corner you’re approaching is going to open up into some massive alternate-dimension vista of epic scale. Either one is a welcome, exciting element to this sprawling, ambitious game, and keeps it lively even during times when needle-in-haystack searches for the next clue generated serious frustration. But time after time, the next encounter provoked less irritation and more, “That’s really cool.” [Alex McLevy]

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3 / 17

Among Us

Among Us

I liked Among Us because I’m very good at bullshitting. I’m not good at games, generally. I play on easy and Google tough puzzle answers. I’m good at Among Us, though, because the actual gameplay, in which players try to suss out knife-wielding imposters in a cartoony sci-fi milieu, doesn’t matter so much as your efforts to assert your innocence to your fellow gamers. Yes, Among Us was originally released in 2018, but the game’s social dynamic (and easy-to-grasp gameplay) proved to be just the ticket for the isolated masses, with downloads exceeding 100 million this year. You can even thank it for 2020’s most pervasive bit of slang. [Randall Colburn]

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4 / 17

Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla

Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla

I liked Assassin’s Creed Valhalla because the series is inexplicably still fun after all these years. I went back to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey this summer and spent dozens of hours exploring ancient Greece, so I wasn’t really planning to play Valhalla at all… until I loaded it up and realized how much fun the slightly more active combat mechanics were and how refreshing it was to be freed from the oppressive loot system of Odyssey. Every year or two I think “I’m going to skip this Assassin’s Creed game,” until it actually comes out and I buy it before I can stop myself, and it’s been a while since I felt better about giving in to that semi-annual compulsion. [Sam Barsanti]

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5 / 17

Bugsnax

Bugsnax

I liked Bugsnax because it satisfied my hunger for anthropomorphic food and hardcore shipping. Young Horses’ open-world adventure packs a creative punch with each clever critter, from the french fry-inspired spiders to the flame-throwing scorpion peppers. Even more interesting than the Bugsnax themselves are the more human-like Grumpuses, who ground the story with such familiar angst and affection. One may not expect to find some of the best examples of queer love in entertainment when launching their meal-hunting game, which is what makes Bugsnax one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. It’s always satisfying when a developer balances fantastical whimsy with deeply human storytelling so winningly, and this colorful wonder doesn’t skimp on the tasty puns or the sentimentality. We only hope that the next chapter of this tale includes more of the same… and a lot more Chandlo and Snorpy. [Shannon Miller]

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6 / 17

Hades

Hades

I liked Hades because it taught me there are worse things in this world than death. Supergiant Games’ fourth major release is many things: A hyper-compelling Rougelike action game; a thirst-trap for mythology fans; the best Cerberus petting simulator of 2020. But most of all, it’s a game about trying, about the value of pushing the rock up the hill in the hopes that this time, maybe, it might not roll back down. Nowhere is that clearer than in the game’s nigh-perfect story structure, which drops character beats, interesting upgrades, and warm conversations into the world every time young Zagreus makes his way back to his father’s house in Hades—whether wreathed in triumph, or covered in the blood of another defeat. [William Hughes]

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7 / 17

The Haunted PS1 Demo Disc

The Haunted PS1 Demo Disc

I liked The Haunted PS1 Demo Disc because it gave me glimpses of alternate timelines where video games have evolved in ways radically different to our own. Some of these tangents are recognizable: Dead Heat reimagines Resident Evil as a hard-nosed, futuristic noir. Others are utterly alien: Erasure’s abstract puzzler/dystopian dream-repair simulator is a wetware nightmare likely to fry your synapses. Each offering comes with surprises, whether a twist on an old formula or something new altogether. Not every title included in this lo-fi collection of works-in-progress and hastily assembled, one-note concepts nails the landing. But when they do, like in psychedelic Lovecraftian romp Ode To A Moon or Dread Delusion, the heir to the King’s Field series’ unwanted crown, they become precious reminders that there’s still place in the medium for new, unfamiliar directions. [Alexander Chatziioannou]

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8 / 17

Homescapes

Homescapes

I liked Homescapes because it kept my mind off of everything but a small, well-tended digital property. Yes, the silly little game that’s been popping up in ads you’ve scrolled past since 2017 became a valued part of my mental-health arsenal during 2020, for what I expect are obvious reasons: During a time when it seemed like the world was spinning out of control, and death is literally outside your window—in the air itself—having a little place I could care for, and exert control over, was a balm. Playing a modified form of Candy Crush Saga as a means of building a house, tending a garden, and caring a family, was, to put it oh-so-eloquently, comforting as fuck. [Alex McLevy]

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9 / 17

Jackbox Party Pack 7

Jackbox Party Pack 7

I liked Jackbox Party Pack 7 because it shook up family game night. My family is big on game night, and with everyone staying home, our usual choices grew stale. So the release of the 7th Jackbox Party Pack was a godsend. While Quiplash 3 is a worthy contender for the best game in the pack, a new addition to the Jackbox family, Talking Points, is the clear winner. The game is very similar to the antics found on shows like Impractical Jokers, where players create a slideshow and topic for another player to present like a TED Talk. The game pulls you out of your comfort zone and takes the anxiety of public speaking to a whole new level. The charades-like gameplay is a refreshing shake-up to the famous fill-in-the prompt battles, and makes for very interesting conversation. [Angelica Cataldo]

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10 / 17

Marvel’s Avengers

Marvel’s Avengers

I liked Marvel’s Avengers because it made learning each hero uniquely rewarding. The game had some issues, primarily with its largely perfunctory loot system. But one thing it absolutely nailed was the specific feel of each of its selectable heroes—provided you put in the time to level them up and spec out their abilities. Throwing Thor’s hammer is fun, but pinning a dude to a wall with it, charging it with lightning powers, and then zapping every other dude in the room is more fun. Every character has something like that, and finding that something for each hero helps Avengers stay fun even after the end of the very good story campaign. [Sam Barsanti]

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11 / 17

Paradise Killer

Paradise Killer

I liked Paradise Killer because it’s long-form detective work done right. The most compelling half-hour I spent with Kaizen Game Works’ lush, world-building-heavy detective story, Paradise Killer, wasn’t spent doing any of the things the game is ostensibly about—wandering its bizarre, high-tech island of Elder God cultists; interrogating suspects; hacking weirdo computers. No, it was the 30 minutes I spent in the game’s menu, right before initiating its game-ending trial, carefully putting the evidence together and assembling the case in my head. Underneath its mystic trappings, Paradise Killer is one of the best fair-play mysteries ever presented in gaming, a twisty-but-trackable tale of corruption, greed, and fanaticism unleashed. By the time Lady Love Dies walked into the courtroom, she was armed with two things: Her trusty executioner’s pistol, and a rock-solid grasp of the game’s enigmatic, fascinating truths. [William Hughes]

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12 / 17

Risk Of Rain 2

Risk Of Rain 2

I liked Risk Of Rain 2 because beneath all the bluster of its constant running and gunning there lies a sense of wonder quite unlike anything in the action-roguelike genre. Crucially, this is not about unlocking new ways to engage with its core demands, like discovering a hidden room in The Binding Of Isaac or acquiring a new weapon in Hades—but almost a subversion of them. With difficulty rising, visibly, every passing moment, it’s counterintuitive (even suicidal) to go wandering for those secrets. But they’re there, slowly creeping their way into your awareness, scattered hints that in this universe of vivid colors and psychedelic guitars, endless warfare is mere backdrop to some grander cosmic drama playing out beyond the next mountain peak. [Alexander Chatziioannou]

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13 / 17

Spelunky 2

Spelunky 2

I liked Spelunky 2 because it didn’t fix what wasn’t broken. Look: Not every single thing Derek Yu added to Spelunky 2, the eight-years-later follow-up to the HD remake of his 2008 masterpiece, is perfect. (Those fucking moles.) But as an exercise in good sequel design, Spelunky 2 is practically textbook: Keep everything that works (the slapstick physics, the meticulously crafted survival rules, the ever-widening sense of discovery), and then just continue building on and fleshing things out with ever more deathtraps and weird mysteries. The end result is a game that manages to out-do its predecessor in terms of “Just one more run!” compulsion, while holding on to what made the original such an unstoppably playable hit. [William Hughes]

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14 / 17

Spider-Man: Miles Morales

Spider-Man: Miles Morales

I liked Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales because it made me feel a little more mobile during a time of stasis. For the last three years, one of my most reliable pop-culture comfort foods has been Marvel’s Spider-Man, a game I’ve kept playing even after completing the main campaign and the side missions and the fetch quests. The reason is pretty simple: I’ve just never grown tired of making my way across its simulated New York City—that’s a fun I can’t exhaust, no matter how many times I fire the game up for a quick 20 minutes of blissful swing time (interrupted by the occasional goon beatdown that’s basically muscle memory at this point). So it was a given that I was going to pick up the sequel/spinoff. And while I can’t deny that the new game is basically glorified DLC, offering more of the same with a few gameplay tweaks (and, obviously, a different cast of characters), the dependable joy of just web-slinging around NYC has taken on a whole new vicarious dimension during a period of my life defined mostly by an inability to go anywhere. It may be a poor substitute for the actual pleasure of hopping around the real city I live in and interacting with my favorite people in it, but it is a substitute—and even just the illusion of liberating mobility has provided a few extra endorphins during this extended stay in living-room purgatory. Or maybe I just need to go for more walks. [A.A. Dowd]

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15 / 17

Wasteland 3

Wasteland 3

I liked Wasteland 3 because it captured the absurdity of living through the apocalypse. Before this year, I would have thought that living through a crisis on the scale of COVID-19 would feel somber and dramatic like The Last Of Us. But the experience has been endlessly surreal and weird, with people wearing inflatable T. rex costumes as hazmat suits and declaring bars autonomous zones. Wasteland 3 nails that vibe with its story set in a version of Colorado ravaged by nuclear war that features a cult devoted to Ronald Reagan and an apartment manager who’s angry that a cloning experiment is upping her electricity bill. There’s plenty of terrible stuff happening in the game that you can try to stop (or not), but it’s also just deeply silly. [Samantha Nelson]

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16 / 17

World Of Warcraft: Shadowlands

World Of Warcraft: Shadowlands

I liked World Of Warcraft: Shadowlands because it helped me reconnect with friends when I really needed to. I’ve been playing World Of Warcraft on and off for 15 years, and I particularly enjoyed using it as a way to keep in touch with friends around the country. A new expansion is always a great time to jump back into the game, and that’s especially true for Shadowlands, which made it easier than ever to level up a new character and get right to the added content. It’s also streamlined the endgame features so keeping up doesn’t feel like such a chore. The setting of the game is the realm of the dead, where you can spend time interacting with many favorite characters from the series’ history, and it seems appropriate that I’ve been able to share those adventures with friends who also haven’t set foot in Azeroth in years. [Samantha Nelson]

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Alex McLevy is a writer and editor at The A.V. Club, and would kindly appreciate additional videos of robots failing to accomplish basic tasks.

Samantha Nelson is an A.V. Club contributor, freelance food and drinks writer, hardcore gamer and member of the Critical Hit podcast.

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.

Angelica Cataldo is the Social Media Marketing Coordinator for The A.V. Club and a Chicago-based writer.