Instead of just writing a piece on my personal pick for Game of the Year, we are going to be doing it a bit differently here! In this post, several of my friends (who you may recognise, either from the Later Levels website or Let’s Chat) have joined me to each submit their own personal favourite game of 2020. I mean, let’s face it, me just explaining my own pick could get tiresome; it is much more fun to team up and compile this list of awesome games that positively impacted each of us in this very difficult year. Thank you to all those who submitted their choices! Right then, let’s get into it!
-WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE GAMES INVOLVED AHEAD-
Ashley Harrison: The Last of Us Part II
AH: When thinking about my choice for Game of the Year, there is one that just simply hasn’t left my mind since I played it; one I wasn’t even too huge on after a first playthrough. Considering the mammoth Let’s Chat in the immediate aftermath, my award simply has to go to The Last of Us Part II. I can’t think of any game that has made me feel the raw emotion of both Ellie and Abby’s journeys. It made me feel pure anger, watching Joel be brutally murdered by Abby and her gang within the opening hour. It made me feel terror, kept on my toes by the whistles of the Seraphites, and being trapped in the Hospital Basement with the Rat King. It made me feel content, watching the respective relationships between Ellie/Dina, and Abby/Lev develop. I was fully emotionally invested for the whole ride, a rollercoaster that just doesn’t stop and constantly hits new highs and lows. It’s emotionally exhausting to play, but for absolutely all of the right reasons. The controversial inclusion of Abby as the second playable character are the sections where it really shines, with a balance of Infected and humans each as deadly as the other.
This is also where my favourite character development occurs, and that’s Lev’s story. Playing Abby’s story for a second time, they became one of my favourite characters, someone who is willing to give up everything to avoid a pre-chosen destiny of being married to one of the village Elders; transforming himself from being a girl called Lily, and training to be a soldier to protect his family and himself. Lev loses both, and is left alone – a fantastic mirror to Ellie, who has also lost her family. Abby and Lev is a great shadow of Ellie and Joel, and after listening to Neil Druckmann talk to Troy Baker about the ending it made me appreciate that aspect. Ellie seeing herself and Joel in Abby and Lev in the critical climactic moment and allowing Abby to leave isn’t satisfying ending, but works so well. Nothing, or nobody, in the game has a happy ending; why should this be any different? Whilst there are many good shouts for Game of the Year this year – and with good reason, Animal Crossing: New Horizons saw the world through a real-life pandemic, and Hades shining that brilliant Indie spotlight that so often goes missed – The Last of Us Part II tops them all for me, and is my worthy winner of Game of the Year.
Jordan Senior: Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time
JS: Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is a perfect example of taking what works from the first three games and expanding on it with new and innovative elements. What I love about this instalment is its sense of familiarity, whilst also not being a copy/paste of the original trilogy. A perfect example is the use of the masks, which play a huge part in changing the game narratively and mechanically; I found them very interesting (and relevant with 2020!), as they add a sense of challenge and excitement to each level. You have to adapt your play style with each mask, and this encourages you to be spontaneous as you can’t just rely on your favourite mask to complete the levels. The other aspect that made this game very enjoyable is the sheer amount of content you receive, such as inverted levels, gems, and various collectables that make it a pleasure to revisit and explore everything Crash 4 has to offer.
Aesthetically, this is the best looking Crash game to date with jaw-dropping visuals, vibrant colours, and contrasting set pieces. Each world feels different, unique, and has their own identity that doesn’t feel like a reskin of previous worlds. Characters have never looked better, and despite not having any new characters, returning ones like Tawna and Dingodile feel refreshing to the series. Crash 4 is extremely accessible, whilst additionally having that challenging feel that previous games had. I pulled my hair out in a lot of the levels (and I don’t have much hair!) – this is a positive for me, as the frustration made me want to improve and re-learn the mechanics of Crash Bandicoot. However, the retro and modern (unlimited lives) modes allow you to play the way you feel comfortable; modern is no easy feat, but makes losing less punishing and more forgiving. If you’re a fan of platformers, this is a game I highly recommend and you will not be disappointed!
Kim from Later Levels: The Longing
LL: My Game of the Year of the year is one that isn’t likely to make many appearances on official lists but is rather unique and has an important message at its heart. The Longing by Studio Seufz is an ‘adventure idle’ release, in which players take on the role of the last servant of a king who once ruled an underground empire and now needs to sleep – for 400 days in real-time – to regain his faded powers. It’s your duty as the Shade to stay in the earthen palace ready to awaken him at the end of that period, so what are you going to do with all that time?
You can start the title, turn it off, come back to it three months later and legitimately reach one of the endings. You can speed up the hours by decorating your room, learning to play an instrument or drawing. And if you’re the more adventurous type, you can explore the caves and find puzzles to solve, or even try to escape; but those thinking of cheating the system by changing the clock on their PC should be warned, for the Shade will find himself sent to a dungeon. It might seem like a small and unassuming game at first, with cartoonish graphics and a quirky-looking protagonist, but they hide a work which is far more serious and left me feeling different. I’m not entirely sure how to explain it; it’s almost as if I realised for the first time how people can be driven to certain actions through their loneliness, and I’m questioning why we don’t do more about this. The fact that The Longing locks if you choose to follow through with a certain action just makes it even more poignant and a release which will stay with me for a long time.
Stephen Brown: Hades
SB: For 2020, my pick for Game of the Year has to go to a game that changed my opinion on roguelike action games, making me fall in love with the distinct battle mechanics and flavourful character dialogue. That game is Hades! A game where dying is rewarded, Hades offers a variety of options when it comes to battling enemies. You’re encouraged to learn from your previous runs and explore different tactics that work best for you and your play style. Drawing inspiration from Greek mythology, the diversity in combat and power-ups allows you to explore a number of combinations that make each run a different adventure. I would find myself endlessly discussing with friends about our preferred weapons or boons and how this created a unique game experience for all of us.
Another thing I love about Hades is the characters. Their personalities really come to life through the brilliant voice acting and eccentric character designs; the dialogue algorithm really adds to a personalised experience as characters will comment on enemies you may have just faced or other characters you have interacted with. Subsequently, this unlocks deeper connections and builds upon the lore throughout the underworld. Developer/Publisher Supergiant Games really emphasises the phrase “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” with Hades and shows that there is something to gain from failure. While I was initially hesitant the play this game, I’m so glad I decided to try it, because I have had an absolutely brilliant time with the story, the music, the characters, and the seemingly limitless encounters you can have in this dungeon-crawling epic.
Toby Court: Hades (Again!)
TC: For a year that has forced us to stay in, it’s no surprise that my GOTY is the one that focuses on a desperate escape from hell – or Hades I should say. I’m not alone in this view, it has done brilliantly already and I’m yet to hear a bad review. From the roguelike gameplay that that keeps it fresh and entertaining, to a relatable and rich story that is furthered along with each unique attempt, to a diverse set of characters each with their own nuance and personality, it isn’t hard to see how it has won so many awards.
I relish in a stylised approach to the art of a game. If not for survivability, to me it sets the tone and character, and also shows me how much a studio loves their game. This also goes for the sound and music design. Hades has an incredible soundtrack that blurs the lines between metal and opera, and combined with the sleek and vibrant art style, it goes a long way in fleshing out this grimly wholesome universe. They create a real personality which isn’t achieved the same way in a lot of mainstream games. Of course, this isn’t surprising with Supergiant Games’ back catalogue, but as someone who’s new to their games it’s a lovely introduction. I also love the amount of content in the game. It’s easy to think on the surface that there’s only a handful of weapons and bosses, and that games like The Binding of Isaac have already achieved what Hades is attempting, but in my opinion that’d be wrong. Hades has been cultivated and pruned to the point of perfection. It’s compact and hasn’t been overcomplicated with a multitude of tools and mechanics, and when you take the dive you’ll soon find a sophisticated and refined world that never fails to surprise, inspire, and ultimately, entertain.
William Robinson: Resident Evil 3
WR: I have gone into extensive detail on Resident Evil 3 in my review; but why is it my Game of the Year, ahead of all others? Resident Evil 3 surprised me in a fashion no other game has in 2020, essentially merging the mediums of film and game together. Following on from the successful remake of Resident Evil 2, which returned the series to a grounded third-person survival horror, 3 continues that and combines it with more cinematic tendencies, upping the intensity whilst keeping the scares. Playing as Jill Valentine (Nicole Tompkins), who has returned to Raccoon City to investigate the Umbrella Corporation after the horrific events of the first game, you find yourself in the midst of the T-Virus outbreak. However, Jill doesn’t only have that to contend with, as the monstrous bioweapon Nemesis (David Cockman) has been unleashed to hunt down and eliminate any member of S.T.A.R.S. – this means that Jill is relentlessly pursued as she tries to find a solution to the virus and escape the city.
Nemesis constantly adapts to any blow you inflict, putting you on a constant edge and challenging you to use your resources wisely. Importantly, this is not lost on repeat playthroughs of a game that can be finished in a few hours; in contrast, it is accentuated by higher difficulty modes mixing it up to provide moments of shock, delight, and pain (aha!) that had me repeatedly returning for more. The RE Engine is implemented to impressive effect, with silky smooth gameplay and UI complimented by detailed character models and environments, as well as striking sound design (the roars of Nemesis shake me to the soul). All of it is tightly paced and polished in an experience of no excess suiting multiple approaches, whether that be taking your time or going for a speedrun. If you are after a showcase for the content itself, not the amount of content, being the crucial factor, 3 is a spectacular example. The distinct way it combines the best parts of the action and horror elements of the Resident Evil franchise makes it – in my opinion – the pinnacle of the series, and my favourite gaming experience of 2020.
Well then, there it is; our picks for Game of the Year! Once again, thank you to everyone who took part in this piece. Furthermore, you can let us know your own personal pick for Game of the Year in the comments. Have an amazing Christmas and enjoy the rest of your year!