Thursday, December 31, 2020
Last year, we lamented 'bad stuff' happening over the course of 2019. Well, weren't we in for a rude awakening, eh? 2020 has been a shitter for pretty much everyone, and video games duly provided a welcome escape from reality, giving us the opportunity to zone out, if only for a while. Where would we be without those joy-giving boxes under our TVs? Still in our living rooms, but a lot sadder, in all probability.
We've established that 2020 wasn't great, then (in case you hadn't noticed), but it was very good for new video games. In fact, Game of the Year was a tricky one this time around, with a lot of fantastic titles having to be cut, and at least one of us getting a bit upset as the game they'd been championing all year, got left out in the cold. Even amid an ongoing pandemic, developers stepped up to the plate, and still managed to put out games of a staggering quality.
And so, here we are, at the arse end of an arse year, celebrating all of our favourite games of 2020. It's actually been a great one, although we don't expect blanket agreement from everyone reading our picks – everyone has differing opinions, and that's fine. But if you do feel compelled to comment, here's a template: 'You guys got it completely right/wrong! You're total morons/totally brilliant! This site has gone to hell/another level of awesomeness! Eat expletive/lovely cake!' Delete where applicable.
Now on with the show! We hope you had a great Christmas and have the Happiest of New Years! See you in 2021!
Cherami Leigh/Gavin Drea as V in Cyberpunk 2077
However you choose to play CD Projekt’s latest title, whether that’s with the masculine or feminine voice tone, Cyberpunk 2077’s V is an absolute superstar throughout. You could say they were the star of the show, but we all know that’s Night City itself. It’s not often we choose two leads for one award – in fact, I don’t think we’ve ever done it (and yes, I know we’ve kind of done it twice this year) – but both Cherami Leigh and Gavin Drea were equally fantastic actors when it came to bringing V to life. Whether you choose to be a people person or a complete psychopath, both Leigh and Drea absolutely nailed it. And consistently as well, which is extremely impressive for a game that has a good 100 hours of content in it!
Kazuhiro Nakaya/Kaiji Tang as Ichiban Kasuga in Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Taking the place of Kazuma Kiryu was never going to be easy – the memory of Yakuza's grey-suited noble soul is so inextricably linked to the series, Like a Dragon's protagonist was always going to have a hell of a job living up to his legacy. Happily, as new guy Ichiban Kasuga, Japanese voice actor Kazuhiro Nakaya and English language counterpart Kaiji Tang duly stepped up to the plate, imbuing the plucky, never-say-die hero of his own story with real heart. Only those with the most stony of exteriors could fail to fall for Kasuga and his unvarnished enthusiasm – and it's thanks in no small part to the exuberance and unbridled conviction that both Nakaya and Tang brought to the character.
Sandra Saad as Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel in Marvel's Avengers
Don't meet your heroes, the old adage warns. But when Kamala Khan first encounters the Avengers, she's overcome with childlike excitement, brilliantly conveyed in Sandra Saad's hugely likeable performance. Once she acquires her own powers and then gains the chance to join the superhero team as Ms. Marvel, we're a fan just like her, swept along in the excitement as she rubs shoulders with the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, and Bruce Banner/Hulk. Khan is our window into the Avengers' world; the relatable heart that makes Marvel's Avengers single-player story tick. So much so, in fact, that once the game open up and the narrative ends, you can't help but feel somewhat cast adrift. As Kamala Khan and Ms. Marvel, Sandra Saad's performance anchors us to the story, lending a deeply human element to what is otherwise fairly standard superhero fare.
Call of the Sea
Lovecraftian horror in the middle of the ocean - it's as enticing to us as the sea itself is to protagonist Norah in developer Out of the Blue's breakout hit Call of the Sea. But while many games inspired by the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft play by the same (spooky) book, Call of the Sea turns the genre's traditions on their head. This is not a horror story, but rather the story of a character wandering into a horror story that happened before they arrived. Norah turns up on the island searching for her missing husband and his research party, and as you collect clues and unlock the secrets of the island, you’ll also discover what happened on his ill-fated trip. What seems like a simple premise at first, gradually unravels into mysteries hidden within further mysteries, and all the while you're discovering more about the relationships of the many characters who visited the island before you, which proves to be utterly captivating right up until the very end.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Moon Studios is prone to tugging on the heartstrings with its games. Ori and the Blind Forest did so with an opener that would have had the writers of Up nodding their heads in approval in the Pixar offices, but Will of the Wisps offers something a little deeper. You may be forcibly flung into the world of decay, but at its heart, this is a story of hope - in particular, the hope that Ori itself brings to the new world of Niwen. Where the original game loved to linger on Ori’s isolation, Will of the Wisps introduces characters to talk to, to help out, and to receive help from in return. Even amongst scenes of sadness, fear and even death - always right when we had something in our eye, of course - there’s an optimism here that drives the story forward. With memorable characters to meet along the way and a villain whose villainy is no fault of their own, Ori and the Will of the Wisps' story is one that will stick in the mind (and the heart) long after the credits have rolled.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
All too often, it can be easy to remember all the esoteric weird bits in a Yakuza game, without paying due attention to the fantastic story at its heart. While Kazuma Kiryu's seven-game arc proved deeply compelling, Yakuza: Like a Dragon continued on a similar path, blending dark moments with instances of levity, just like real life. As Ichiban Kasuga, your life as a low-level yakuza thug in Kamurocho hits a serious snag, leaving you homeless and destitute in the Yokohama city of Ijincho. What follows is a story of starry-eyed optimism as Kasuga pulls himself up by his bootstraps, and carves himself out a new life. Of course, things are never easy, and before long you're swept up in a multi-faceted conspiracy involving criminal factions, a money counterfeiting ring, and at its very centre, an underlying thread that promotes the importance of friendship and striving to be a better person. A welcome message for these topsy-turvy times, if ever there was one.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
Every year we wait for Call of Duty to slip up, but it never does. The guys and gals making these games know how to craft a strong multiplayer experience, and Treyarch is arguably the best of the best when it comes to COD studios. Not only is the standard multiplayer experience as good as Call of Duty has been in years, with a great selection of maps and weapons as well as vehicles, but Zombies also returns at its chaotic sci-fi best. Add in a little sprinkling of Warzone integration, which sees progression and loadouts tracked across both titles, and you’ve got the definitive Call of Duty experience right here. Well, until the next one comes out in 2021, anyway.
Zombie Army 4: Dead War
The original Zombie Army Trilogy was great fun, but Zombie Army 4: Dead War kicked things up a notch this year, with one of the most balls-to-the-wall exciting Horde modes around, and a fantastic co-op campaign experience. UK studio Rebellion once again flexed its multiplayer shooter muscles, cementing its position as one of the more interesting shooter game developers. Zombie shooting games are ten-a-penny these days, but Zombie Army 4 took its own pulp, grindhouse influences and came up with something crackling with head-popping verve, focused purely on generating nothing but raw, undiluted pleasure. And while blasting fetid undead is always a joy, make them Nazi zombies, and the enjoyment factor is multiplied a thousand-fold. Throw in zombie tanks (yep, really) and imposing, gigantic decaying nasties, and you have the makings of total co-op nirvana.
Minecraft is probably the biggest video game IP in the world. There are few IPs that come close. With the Microsoft purchase in 2014, it was only a matter of time before it saw value in expanding the brand even further. Step in Minecraft Dungeons, an ARPG set in the Minecraft world. I know, I know, it shouldn’t work, but it does, and like most things in life, it’s better with friends! Or even random strangers! Yes, not only does Minecraft Dungeons work perfectly as an ARPG – it really does! – but it actually works rather flawlessly online as well. With locally instanced loot, a good latency, solid frame-rates and no lag when it gets crazy, Mojang and Double Eleven really managed to knock it out the park on their first attempt, providing a deceptively deep ARPG with a great netcode that’s an absolutely blast to play with friends, especially on the higher difficulties!
Not only is DIRT 5 a sensational racer that feels like the spiritual offspring of MotorStorm, it's quite easily one of the most attractive genre examples we've seen in some time, even by the high standards set by the likes of the Gran Turismo and Forza Horizon series. Straddling last and next-gen, Codemasters has managed to make DIRT 5 look utterly jaw-dropping on both, so much so that I had to rub my eyes and make sure I wasn't already playing a next-gen game on old hardware – seriously, DIRT 5 is an impossibly tasty-looking game. Racing around each detailed venue is an assault on the senses as fireworks and streamers pop off, mud cakes your car's shiny bodywork, and the festival atmosphere permeates every inch of the screen. It doesn't get much better than this.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla
While on last-gen consoles, Assassin's Creed Valhalla was slightly hamstrung by screen tearing, on Xbox Series X, it mustered stunning 4K visuals at 60 frames per second, and served as a neat introduction to what the new lumps of plastic underneath our TVs are already capable of. And while the best may be yet to come, Valhalla's rendition of England during the Dark Ages was nothing short of stunning, all rolling verdant hills, ancient forests, Roman ruins, mossy cliffs, and small, bustling villages brimming with authentic period detail. Venture outward into England's open expanses, meanwhile, and you'll discover dark pagan relics spreading corruption, mysterious standing stones, crumbling forts, and myriad picturesque vistas. Assassin's Creed has always been great at transporting players to different places in history, and Valhalla is perhaps the most immersive and inviting entry in the series to date.
Niwen, the main setting in Ori and the Will of the Wisps, is a gorgeous world to explore. Developer Moon Studios somehow improved upon the already wonderful visual design of Ori and the Blind Forest when creating this year’s sequel, offering up lush landscape in its trademark ethereal visual style, where the decay is nearly as beautiful as the nature it's creeping into. The animation is equally impressive, with Ori zipping through the world at a silky smooth 60FPS, it then somehow manages to look even better on the next-gen Xbox Series X|S consoles. There have been a lot of great-looking games this year, but none of them combine art style, graphical fidelity and animation with the same level of stunning mastery as Ori and the Will of the Wisps.
You’re going to read us wax lyrical about Ori and the Will of the Wisps a lot on this list, and that’s for good reason. Not only were the visuals gorgeous and the gameplay as precise as a Swiss watch, but the music was just tremendous. Gareth Coker’s score elevates every aspect of the game, with tunes that perfectly capture the mood of each area. The theme from Inkwater Marsh stayed with us for months after we had stopped playing, and returning to the sanctuary of the Glades to the welcoming sound of wind instruments felt like coming home. There’s not many game soundtracks out there we come back to, but Ori and the Will of the Wisps’ is really something special.
Streets of Rage 4
One of the things that Streets of Rage 4 had to get absolutely right, was the soundtrack. Famed not only for its seminal scrolling beat 'em up action during the SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis era, Streets of Rage is also synonymous with catchy and melodic techno tunes, forever drilled into the brain of anyone who's played them. Crucially, Streets of Rage 4 not only brought its own modern score to the table, care of composer Olivier Deriviere and a cadre of collaborators including original SoR artists Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima, but it also got the effects and voices spot on. Throw in the retro soundtrack as a bonus, and Streets of Rage 4 provided both nostalgia-fuelled excellence and something excitingly fresh. A treat for the eyes and the ears.
Say what you will about Cyberpunk 2077 and its completely unacceptable launch on Xbox One and PS4 base consoles, but that shouldn’t take away from how much of a treat on the ol’ ears the game is. From stellar voice acting across the board to the Cyberpunk-y radio stations, Cyberpunk 2077 from an audio standpoint is absolutely fantastic. And that’s before we even talk about the game’s original score, as well, which is a mix between Blade Runner 2049, Westworld, and Game of Thrones, which actually works rather spectacularly. Marcin Przybylowicz clearly proving that he’s just as adept at making a cyberpunk, house, and metal-inspired soundtrack as he was at making the soothing and powerful scores that he’s known for in The Witcher 3, that man and his team have range! An incredible range!
Immortals Fenyx Rising
It would have been easy to write off Immortals Fenyx Rising as just Assassin’s Creed Odyssey for kids, and if we’re honest, we’re sure that it would have been pretty easy for Ubisoft to make, as well. Instead, the game expertly blends Odyssey’s Greek setting with the open air world design of Breath of the Wild and a deep love of classical mythology to create a new IP that stands on its own. With plenty of humour reminiscent of noughties platformers like Ratchet & Clank, great characters, as well as plenty of Greek gods still to meet, we can’t wait to see more of Immortals Fenyx Rising in the future.
Journey to the Savage Planet
It’s hard to emphasise enough how brilliant, dark and funny the world of Journey to the Savage Planet really is, and how much potential there is for future instalments and spin-offs. There’s tons of savage corporate satire littered throughout, including your employer Kindred Aerospace, whose CEO Martin Tweed proudly boasts about being the “4th best interstellar space exploration company”. Combine this with first-person platforming that would make Metroid Prime blush, a gear-gating system to match and a smorgasbord of bizarre and beautiful creatures to scan, shoot, or boot, and you’ve got something really unique from this new IP. Many of the game’s problems - mostly it's naff combat and often frustrating enemy design - could easily be tightened up in a sequel. Developer Typhoon Studios has been bought up by Google, so we’re not sure what the future holds for them, but we’ll be hoping for a return to the planet sauvage soon.
We had an inkling that Call of the Sea was something special when it was first revealed during the Inside Xbox presentation in May. Even amongst big titles like DIRT 5, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Call of the Sea stood out with its early 20th century setting, vibrant art style and intriguing mystery. We kept an eye on it since, and boy are we glad we did. The story that newly-founded developer Out of the Blue weaves is fantastically imaginative, but equally grounded by its fantastic writing and believable relationships. Where many indie devs have tried to (admirably) bring back the classic point-and-click adventure, warts and all, Call of the Sea feels like an evolution of those classic games brought into the modern era. Whether there’s a sequel on the way, or we get another brand new IP from the developer, we’ll be sure to keep an eye on what comes next.
It’s difficult to put into words what makes Call of the Sea quite so good. Is it its setting, that of a mysterious island utterly dripping in atmosphere and sights beyond our understanding? Or the story, one that unravels its mysteries slowly and carefully, always leaving you wanting to know more? Perhaps it's the gorgeous visuals, rich in colour, or the great voice performance that narrates the entire six hour adventure. In truth, it’s all of the above and more. With a selection of great puzzles and a world that is just a joy to explore, with a sprinkle of Lovecraftian inspiration on top, Call of the Sea proved to be one of the very best indies this year. Also, it’s on Game Pass, so you’ve got no excuse - go play it!
Once upon a time, Streets of Rage was one of SEGA's first-party icons – along with Final Fight, it was one of the finest scrolling beat 'em ups around, when the genre was in its pomp. For fans, Streets of Rage 4 seemed like some sort of unattainable pipe dream, a sequel that would forever live in the mind, but never see the light of day. When the announcement came for Streets of Rage 4 in 2018, it was with trepidation that we began to get very excited about something we'd been waiting for since 1994, wary that it might fail to live up to expectations. Developers Lizardcube, Guard Crush Games, and Dotemu brought the requisite passion to the table for Streets of Rage's long-awaited return, however, with jaw-dropping hand-drawn artwork, familiar albeit evolved gameplay, and myriad bonuses for nostalgia-stricken fans. As far as dreams made real are concerned, Streets of Rage 4 ticked every box, and then some. (I'm still upset this didn't win - Rich).
Technically, Manifold Garden actually released in 2019 – on PCs, that is – but 2020 was the year that the game finally hit consoles, and boy, was it worth the wait! Based on M.C. Escher’s impossible geometrical art, Relativity, Manifold Garden throws you into one of the most magical game worlds that has ever been conceived. With infinite repeating levels, some proper head-scratching and incredibly satisfying puzzles, William Chyr Studio's Manifold Garden was proof that there are still so many explored ideas and areas in the video game space. It’s a technical and innovative treat that absolutely everyone should experience. If you’re into trippy and spiritual journeys, then look no further. It’s probably the game that everyone needs in 2020, an experience to take you away from the struggles of what was a pretty miserable year for planet Earth.
Cyberpunk 2077's Brain Dances
Detective mode-style scenes aren’t exactly new in video games, I mean, Batman has been doing them longer than Cyberpunk 2077 was in development. Seriously. However, it was CD Projekt's approach to detective mode-style scenes in Cyberpunk 2077 that made us stand up and pay attention. Rather than scrubbing a live crime scene for clues, this time you delved into the past and took control of everything. The perspective of the playback, whether to analyse objects with your Cyberware, piece together phone calls or other audio in the environment, or even use thermal imaging to determine key parts of a scene - you have the tools to analyse everything in Cyberpunk 2077’s really cool 'Brain Dances'. Cyberpunk 2077’s Brain Dances have you seeing the moments before a character's death on the hunt for clues, they have you analysing meetings to work out pivotal locations or key information, and more. It's such a shame that a lot of Cyberpunk 2077’s Brain Dances are off the beaten path, just like a lot of Cyberpunk's best content, but they do exist outside the main story. Go and seek them out!
Manifold Garden's Infinite Worlds
If anyone is still stupid enough to think that games aren’t art, all you need to show them is William Chyr Studio's Manifold Garden, which is quite literally a piece of art. M.C. Escher's Relativity to be precise – with Relativity being the former name of the game – the artwork it's inspired by. Manifold Garden was not only a stunning puzzle game, one in which you traverse a geometrical impossibility using the environment and mind-bending physics to make your way through its wonderful world, but the game’s infinite and repeating levels also meant that it was incredibly innovative as well. The fact that you can drop though the level to access new areas or even get a new perspective, gave the puzzle game a new dimension that hadn’t really been explored by video games before. Also, it’s a hell of a thing to look at with the ol’ peepers, regardless of the technical achievement of it all, which is pretty phenomenal if you ask us.
Watch Dogs: Legion's Play As Anyone
While the game that resulted wasn't without its disappointments, you can't fault Ubisoft Montreal for at least attempting something so ambitious in Watch Dogs: Legion. Presenting you with innumerable people from all walks of life to play as, in Legion you can recruit whoever you like the look of, be it a 'living statue' who can evade the law by standing still, an artist equipped with a paintball gun, a granny with a taser, a dashing super spy with their own vintage sports car, a drone operator, or a busker with a trumpet. Mechanically, it all works brilliantly, too, at the expense of a single relatable protagonist to hang your hat on. That said, there's still fun to be had tearing across Watch Dogs: Legion's vision of near-future London, visiting landmarks from the air via cargo drone, or breaking into the grounds of Buckingham Palace as a royal guard. The game as a hole may have ultimately fallen short, but for effort alone, Legion's 'play as anyone' concept was certainly admirable.
Initially announced as Gods & Monsters at E3 2019, it was nearly fifteen whole months before the game was properly shown off again, and only a few months before release, as well. For many of us, I think it’s fair to say that expectations for the game were pretty low during those months, and that’s if we even remembered it existed. What a shock it was then, when it finally launched in December and was… really bloody good? With a huge open world, Zelda-inspired puzzles, fab combat and a genuinely funny and heartwarming story to boot, Immortals Fenyx Rising proved to be one of Ubisoft’s most exciting new releases in years. After all, how often does a huge publisher roll the dice on a new triple-A IP these days? Consider us very pleasantly surprised.
Minecraft Dungeons qualifies as one of those games that came out of nowhere and completely took us by surprise. Obviously not in the fact that we didn’t know it was coming, but more down to the fact that, honestly, when we first saw it we didn’t get it… I mean, after all who would have put Minecraft and ARPG in the same sentence, let alone the same video game? No-one, that’s who! But here we are, and not only did it work, but it worked fantastically well. It was fun, it was adorable, it was as tough as you wanted it to be, and it was surprisingly deep. Definitely one of 2020’s biggest surprises and a game you should play if you haven't already. You won’t regret it!
There should be nothing inherently surprising about a Yakuza game being brilliant. Ever since the series first launched in 2005, SEGA and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio have turned out games of a consistently high quality, which is perhaps where the surprise comes in – RGG decided to abandon its winning formula for Yakuza 7, known in the west as Yakuza: Like a Dragon, presumably in an effort to court a new audience. Throwing out the series' well-established brawler combat along with old protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, Like a Dragon introduced a turn-based system, and new hero Ichiban Kasuga, a man with questionable hair and an unbridled sense of optimism. All of this was a big gamble, for sure, but it's one that paid off in a big way, freshening up Yakuza without dispensing with the offbeat humour, fun mini-games, and wilfully nutty substories associated with the series. Not everyone expected it to work, however, and as a Yakuza fan, the change in direction initially seemed like a cause for concern. Turns out, we needn't have worried – Yakuza: Like a Dragon was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2020.
No Man's Sky
By the beginning of 2020, No Man’s Sky was a full, complete game and had sold some incredible numbers. Developer Hello Games absolutely doesn’t need to keep supporting it with new content, and yet this year we continued to see the space-faring exploration game receive tons of updates, all for free. We got cool organic space ships, Exo Mechs, Dead Space-style abandoned ships to explore, and even cross play in 2020, and that’s before the huge Origins update that dropped in September. That ‘3.0’ update added tons of changes, including more unique terrain, volcanoes, new weather and even finally saw the return of the giant sandworms that graced the pre-release trailers but never made it in to the final game until now. All of this, completely free, for a game that’s over four years old now - we’re certainly not complaining.
Call of Duty Warzone
Activision doesn’t do free stuff, right? Every year the publisher releases a brand new Call of Duty game at full price, that’s just how these things work. Hell, even Call of Duty’s entry into the battle royale scene was bundled in with Call of Duty: Blacks Ops 4. It was a bit of a surprise, then, when Call of Duty Warzone was announced and released early in 2020 as a free-to-play COD title, breaking the annual release schedule. Since then, the game has received tons of support, with six seasons of content and plenty of map mix-ups such as a new subway system, a stadium revamp, and even a ghost train for Halloween. Activision even revealed this year’s Call of Duty game, Black Ops Cold War, within Warzone, and we’re excited to see where the game goes next.
2020 was a huge year for Fallout 76. After a bit of a disastrous launch in 2018, the next year of the game's life was one of mixed fortunes, as multiple fixes and updates were often undercut by silly monetisation attempts and new problems. This year, however, saw the game-changing Wastelanders update launch, adding NPCs and proper questlines to the game for the very first time. Finally, Fallout 76 began to feel like a true Fallout title, just with multiplayer. Add to that the Steel Dawn update which arrived later in the year, adding even more NPCs and quests to take on, and it’s fair to say that Fallout 76 now feels like a completely different game - so much so that Fallout fans who (understandably) dismissed the game at launch may want to take a second look.
When a studio has only released two games in its ten year history, is it wrong to class it as one of the best developers in the world? Well, when those two games are up there with some of the best ever released, we’d say it's fair. We loved Ori and the Blind Forest - so much so that we put it in our top twenty games of the decade - and it seemed like Moon Studios had an uphill battle to best its debut hit with a sequel. However, not only did Ori and the Will of the Wisps live up to the first game, it exceeded it in nearly every way imaginable. In many ways, Will of the Wisps is a near perfect sequel, and it's testament to Moon Studios that it managed to pull it off. Not only that, but the developer has continued to support the game throughout the year, optimising the hell out of it and releasing an impossibly beautiful Xbox Series X enhanced version that runs at 120FPS or 6K, depending on your fancy. Not bad for your second ever game, eh?
2020 was the year that developer Hello Games released its first new title since No Man’s Sky. A daunting proposition given the mire that surrounded that game’s launch, but we needn’t have worried. The Last Campfire was a wonderful indie puzzler, which not only proved to be an excellent game, but also a really nice 1000G to obtain. That’s not all Hello Games was up to though, as No Man’s Sky continued to receive tons of updates, including a massive 'Origins' update, adding millions of new planets with more vertical landscapes, a full UI refresh and loads more all for free. No Man’s Sky even got a shiny new Xbox Series X|S version, and as a free upgrade as well! Hello Games has had a good year, that’s for sure.
Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
What a year for Yakuza on Xbox. For years, the series was confined to PlayStation, and might never have appeared on an Xbox console. But in 2020, thanks to Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio (and intervention from big Phil Spencer), we can not only play Yakuza on Xbox, but soon, we'll be able to discover the mainline saga in its entirety. To date, Yakuza Zero, Yakuza Kiwami, and Yakuza Kiwami 2 have all come to Xbox Game Pass, while Yakuza: Like a Dragon launched as a next-gen console exclusive for Xbox Series X|S, something unimaginable until this year. Four Yakuza games in the space of 12 months! How good is that? And that's only the tip of the iceberg – in 2021 we've got Yakuza 3, 4, and 5 Remastered, and Yakuza 6: The Song of Life to look forward to. There's never been a better time to discover Yakuza on Xbox. Cheers, RGG!
The publishing giant that is Ubisoft seldom has a quiet year, but 2020 was a particularly busy one for its console gaming division. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla kept up the open-world franchise's streak of excellent games following 2018’s Odyssey and 2016’s Origins, as well as offering a gorgeous next-gen experience on Xbox Series X|S. Watch Dogs Legion may have been a tad disappointing, but it still offered one of the most unique and risky gameplay mechanics seen in a triple-A title in years, and it also launched a brand new IP with the surprisingly good Immortals Fenyx Rising - both arriving on new consoles. Hyper Scape may not have made quite the impact Ubisoft was planning in the battle royale scene, but Rainbow Six Siege is still going strong and joined the next-gen ranks, too. All in all, a fantastic year for Ubisoft when it comes to game releases, and with more to look forward to next year with Roller Champions, Riders Republic, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Remake, Far Cry 6, and plenty more.
After losing Destiny 2 to Bungie in 2019, it felt like Activision's release slate could be a little sparse going forward, with only Call of Duty to really hang on to. The publishing behemoth clearly had other ideas though, and 2020 proved to be one of the busiest years for Activision on console in a long old while. Not only did we get two new Call of Duty games, with the ever evolving Warzone and regular annual installment Black Ops: Cold War, but we also got Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, the first new mainline title in the series in over ten years. And of course, we can’t forget about Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2, a fantastic remaster of two of the best skating games ever made. All things considered, this was one of Activison’s best years, and it’s great to see them finally reaching into their big bag of IP and reviving some classics. We’ve got our fingers crossed for a brand new Spyro game in 2021!
In a year fraught with uncertainty, Xbox still managed to launch a new console, take Xbox Game Pass to the next level with more games being added than ever before, and even found time to make a huge acquisition, adding ZeniMax Media and Bethesda's various game studios to its first-party line-up. While Xbox Series X|S eventually rolled out in November with no first-party exclusives, the promise of numerous exclusives to come (all set to launch day and date on Xbox Game Pass) is an enticing proposition, with Xbox poised to make 2021 a big year for its next-gen platform. Delays for Halo Infinite and The Medium might have left a sour taste, but took little away from what Xbox ultimately achieved in 2020. Onwards and upwards!
Initially thought to be an April Fool's Day joke, Yakuza: Like a Dragon's turn-based combat was a huge gamble after seven mainline games of brutal real-time brawling. With Kiryu's saga at an end, the way was also paved for a brand new protagonist in Ichiban Kasuga – the smart move would have been to keep things as they were, right? Not so, as it happens. The seventh mainline Yakuza rolled the dice, doing away with the tried and true template in favour of a fresh turn-based combat system, while preserving the spirit of what makes the Yakuza series so unique. Kasuga proved a hugely likeable lead character, while its core theme of friendship proved more resonant than ever. Yakuza: Like a Dragon retained its sense of fun and off-the-wall humour with enough nods for long-time fans, while rolling out the red carpet for series newcomers – both camps discovered one of the highlights of the year.
Since changing tack with Assassin's Creed Origins in 2017, Ubisoft's biggest series has gone from strength-to-strength, heading to Ancient Greece with Odyssey, and now England during the Dark Ages in Assassin's Creed Valhalla. Drenched in period detail and teeming with exciting content, Valhalla could have easily been a case of diminishing returns, but instead, it provided another intriguing open world to dig around in; compelling combat with the ability to dual-wield two weapons of your choosing; the chance to embark upon raids, burning and pillaging; and a burgeoning settlement in which to plough your resources, and watch it grow. As Eivor, the Viking life is more than just limb-lopping and conquest – there are alliances to forge, targets to hunt down, and vast expanses to be explored across England and beyond. Assassin's Creed Valhalla saw a return for the (not so) hidden blade and social stealth, too, which is a very good thing.
What a game. Ori and the Will of the Wisps improves upon nearly everything from Ori and the Blind Forest, and does so with aplomb. Combat is vastly improved, with a selection of spiritual weapons to choose from, leading to exciting boss fights and interesting enemy encounters. Progression is entirely focused around Metroidvania-style exploration, with Spirit Shards, Life Cells, Energy Cells, and Golek Ori hidden behind tough platforming sections or gear gating. The platforming is a thing of beauty, with Ori dashing, bashing, and triple jumping their way through a beautiful forest setting with balletic grace, all the while offering a challenging but fair difficulty level that never peaks too high. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is one of the best games of its kind, and it should come at no surprise to see it awarded our Best Game award this year. Bravo.
Thursday, December 31, 2020 @ 01:03 PM
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