In retrospect, 2020 has been an incredibly strange year, with a majority of the blame being put on the Covid-19 pandemic causing so many delays and obstructions within the games industry that it seems like a miracle any studio managed to deliver a game at all this year. Health comes first though, of course, but we’re still happy this year managed to produce some all-time bangers. Here’s New Game+’s picks for the best games of 2020, selected by both staff members and freelance contributors that have written for the site this year.
In development as a mod since 2012, Black Mesa made a lot of big promises when it sought to faithfully recreate the original Half-Life game from 1996 as a fully-realised, commercially-released remake for PC gamers. What resulted was a game that stuck as close to its predecessor as much as possible in terms of story, gameplay and overall vibe, but with much more improved graphics, level design, and “feel”.
What’s particularly noteworthy about Black Mesa is how much it improved the Xen chapters that die hard Half-Life fans bemoan about the original. These sections of the game were original abrupt, difficult platforming sections stuffed with difficult enemies and poorly-paced chapters, which has now been improved to feel like enough of a game in their own right. Playing through Black Mesa’s Xen feels very DOOM 2016-inspired, and it’s obvious just how time and effort went into this segment of the game.
It’s very rare you find a remake that makes the original feel obsolete, but I think Black Mesa makes a strong case for it.
– Olly Smith
The Last of Us Part 2
Living up to one of the most dearly loved games of all time is not an easy feat. We’ve had seven years to fall in love with the gruff Joel and spirited Ellie, so it was hard to give them back and let them guide us through the next part of their lives. While Naughty Dog’s choices were shocking and more than a little divisive, The Last of Us Part II astounded us all over again. Willing to take us down paths we’d rather have left untrodden, The Last of Us Part II made profound choices. Ones that asked us to truly reflect on the story, characters, and morals, and in ways that hurt yet inspire hope.
The sweet and brash Ellie doesn’t transform as much as she does evolve, revealing the violence she’s always had to carry within her. This violence born from love marks her as the same as Abby although she might at first seem like the antithesis to her journey.
It wasn’t easy playing this game. Often I had to pause to wait for tears to stop, and more than once I had to step away entirely, taking the time to consider the visceral reactions the game evoked in me. So no, it wasn’t an easy play on any front. But it was meaningful. And I’m still mourning it now.
– Alex Dewing
A game that is extremely slow and takes 400 days to beat doesn’t sound that appealing, right? And yet The Longing manages that kind of experience with a modicum short of perfection. In it, you play as the servant of a great underground king who has gone into a 400-day slumber in order to recover some of his power, and it’s your job to simply pass the time until he reawakens. This means doing literally anything the game allows you to do, from exploring the labyrinthine caves of the kingdom to simply chilling in your living quarters.
In fact, you could turn the game off and come back in 400 days’ time to see the ending, it’s amazing just how much freedom you get to spend the game doing whatever you please. The Longing makes that time worth it though, carefully bringing you back periodically to witness new events that take time to unfold. For example, there’s a big chasm in one area of the kingdom that is slowly filling up with water dripping from the ceiling, and it takes a couple of weeks for that hole to fill and allow you to swim across.
The Longing is not for everyone, but I had fun playing this in very tiny segments over the year. I still haven’t managed to complete it yet, even though the game does give you options to help speed up time, and I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing how I feel about the game once the credits start rolling.
– Olly Smith
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Ori and The Will of the Wisps seems to have slipped away from the zeitgeist when people are considering their GOTY this year. In a year where we have all been either locked down or forced on the front lines, where AAA games have dominated the discourse and multiplayer bean people have allowed us some form of social comfort, the whimsy of Ori has nearly been forgotten.
However, what Ori represents for me is the perfect evolution of both genre and IP. Every aspect of Ori and The Will of the Wisps is an upgrade on the The Blind Forest. The combat is slick, the world design is beautiful and the storytelling is gorgeous and layered. There’s an experience for any player, whether you are playing to unlock the mysteries of Nibel or for the effortless platforming and combat. One thing is for certain, you will get invested, and you will ugly cry at least once (twice if you’re like me and everything makes you cry).
– Michael Weber
There was a really good cyberpunk game released in 2020 and its name is Umurangi Generation. The best way to describe the game would be a mix of The Bradwell Conspiracy’s photography system and the creativity of real-life photography by featuring editing tools and equipment to give a huge sense of freedom. The game’s lo-fi aesthetic amplifies this, because what good is a photography game if you don’t have it layered within a beautiful world?
In particular, Umurangi Generation is very much grounded in contemporary social politics, taking the anti-establishment roots of classic cyberpunk and growing them beneath the very real modern dystopia of current events such as the Australian bushfires and the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the world leaders’ inability to handle it. It feels very worthy of adopting the “cyberpunk” mantle.
– Olly Smith
I really love slower games with lots of dialogue, and Coffee Talk really defined that experience for me. Set in the eponymous coffee shop in a fantasy version of Seattle, you play as a bartender working late night shifts interacting with the customers as they come in. You make their orders, get to know them and observe their lives play out right before you.
Coffee Talk has great visuals, which go well with the game’s fantastic sense of place and fully-realised characters. By the end of the game I ended up caring a whole lot for each person I served, feeling like I had fully intertwined with their lives. I understood their personalities, philosophies and wants from life, and only wanted the best for them. I have to admit I’m not a huge visual novel guy, I like my narrative games to have a bit more bread to them, but Coffee Talk really wowed me from start to finish and I think that’s wonderful.
– Olly Smith
Utopias: Navigating Without Coordinates
What is a collective, asks the Berlin-based art collaboration, AAA Software, in Utopias: Navigating Without Coordinates. Its response is contained within the question by reference to a category of collective: a videogame company. It suggests a whole that folds its parts into itself to an assembly of utopia, upended by the individual. Nine vignettes follow one another in Utopias with abrupt starts and ends. Disparate notions string them together and keep them apart whose disparateness unites and separates at once.
A collective whole and its individual parts is what this disparateness defines and shapes in movement by movement towards an utopia. AAA presents this as an ideal in navigation while looking for coordinates for “organiz[ing] a collective.” Is it coordinates that navigation takes place without when categories of individual and collective are predefined by movement? It is towards which movement leads what we may call an utopia predefined by the territory and categories of individual and collective.
Whether it’ll lead to plurality of ideals as these multitudinous categories imply will depend on what their movements afford. Leaving them open to engagement and interpretation, through hardware requirements and control schemes with the former and through forms that shift and change with the latter, is enough to provoke thought towards multitudes.
– Zsolt David
Unto the End
Resource management, dangerous enemies, and a harsh world that tries to kill you at every corner. Sounds quite like the metaphor for 2020, but Unto the End wowed me with how much it dedicated itself to becoming a survival combat game where even the meekest of foes could spell your death.
I particularly enjoyed the focus on the game’s slow pace. There are a lot of side-scroller action games which prioritise pitting you from scenario to scenario, giving you very little room to breathe. Instead, Unto the End understands that the best way to pace a difficult game is to give you long moments of respite from these harsh situations. Ultimately, you’ll spend more time exploring and collecting items rather than in combat, but the infrequency of these moments make them all the more interesting.
– Olly Smith
Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020
Flight simulation gameplay doesn’t normally appeal to me in the slightest, but I reckon Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 might be one of the most impressive games of 2020 due to the fact it managed to simulate an entire world. Using algorithms, cloud technology and a bit of smart engineering, this game allows you to visit any location on Earth from the view of a cockpit. You want to go to New York? Done. Want to go see Machu Picchu? You absolutely can.
Not only is the game so technically substantial, but in a year where many of us have been unable to travel and see the places we’ve wanted to go see, it feels perfect to release a game that allows us to do exactly that in a virtual form. But funnily enough, the first place I ever visited in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 wasn’t a fancy tropical country or a big expansive city. It was home.
– Olly Smith