It might be hard to imagine, but there’s been more to videogames in 2020 than just Animal Crossing and Final Fantasy. Yes, New Horizons and Final Fantasy VII Remake have dominated the scene for the last several months, but they’re far from the only great games out this year. In fact, they aren’t even the best games we’ve seen so far in 2020. Sure, they’re up there, but not at the top of the list. So far 2020 has been about as broad and diverse as any other recent year when it comes to videogames, and that’s something we hope our list of the best games so far captures.
Here they are: the best games released in 2020 so far, as of the second week of June. Right on the cusp of The Last of Us Part II.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
I’ve never had to wrestle with a controller as strenuously as I do in Maneater. Sharks might be efficient killing machines, but trying to play as one can be hell on your hands and your DualShock. Every time I try to munch on an alligator or mako I have to beat my controller into submission, pounding on the shoulder trigger to take a bite, and then immediately smashing the right joystick to flip around and keep my prey in sight. When we’re evenly matched, these little duels can go on for minutes; when I’m trying to eat up a beast that’s bigger or stronger than me, I have to resort to guerrilla tactics, ambushing them from out of the seaweed, and regularly making short tactical retreats to swallow down some grouper or catfish to regain strength. Maneater reinforces the life-and-death struggle of these undersea squabbles by making me really feel them. These shark fights are the best thing about this weird, ambitious, and inconsistent game, which can veer from disappointing to exciting within seconds.—Garrett Martin
For something called The Pedestrian, studio Skookum Arts’s debut title is a novel little game. It imagines the regulatory signs of our daily lives, those we see at work, in a warehouse or on a busy city street, as a live 2D plane. Starring the little stick figure seen on the door of every public restroom, it presents a secret world where standardized symbols and pictograms come alive and interact to create a series of platforming puzzles. It’s exactly the sort of game you might conjure if you were very bored at work one day, staring at a wall, letting your imagination run away with you. This puzzle game delivers exactly what I desire from games in its genre: a brain busting experience that challenges the limits of my creative problem solving skills without exhausting them.—Holly Green
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
I am not generally a Doom man—younger me felt the original sent games as a concept spinning off into the conjoined shitty paths of thinking violence equals maturity and that heavy metal made with computers is actually listenable—but Doom Eternal is one of the least Doom-like Dooms I’ve ever Doomed. It’s also 100% certified Doom, just like a pure unfiltered toot of the totality of Doom. No, these thoughts don’t contradict each other.
Despite carrying around a few extra layers of business, Doom Eternal feels good. It is physically, mentally and emotionally a much-needed jolt out of all the ruts I’ve been stuck in—a shot of manufactured, harmless stress to take my mind off all the real stresses of today. Visiting a fictional hell world will always be preferable to dealing with the hell world we’re actually living in. Doom’s ripping and tearing is more vital today than ever—and not just that which I visit upon my enemies, but, importantly, the torturous ways in which they rip and tear through me. Doom Eternal is a two-way street—the doom I perpetrate and the doom I have to welcome with open arms. It’s a kind of penance, and I am ready to accept my punishment.—Garrett Martin
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
This loving tribute to Sega’s early ‘90s beat-’em-up doesn’t just channel an overlooked classic. It’s one of two recent games, alongside March’s smarter Treachery in Beatdown City, to revive a genre that was once a cornerstone of the whole medium. The primal thrill and eternal allure of pulverizing waves of bozos with your fists, feet and special moves might have ebbed since their quarter-swallowing heyday in the early ‘90s, but Streets of Rage 4 shows that, when done with love and attention, this kind of violence can be as invigorating as ever.—Garrett Martin
Platforms: PC, Mac, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Switch, iOS
After finishing the adrenaline-pumping, 50-hour epic that was Final Fantasy VII Remake, I was looking for something much shorter and lighter for my next game, and found just that in A Fold Apart. It’s a sweet puzzle game about navigating a long-distance relationship, and although I found the narrative to be a little too on the nose and the puzzles to mostly all follow the same formula, it ended up being the game I needed. Only around three hours in length, I was able to complete A Fold Apart within just a couple days, and I let myself slip into a dream-like trance as I folded the paper and guided these lovebirds through their streams of consciousness. If I didn’t have the game included with Apple Arcade, I probably wouldn’t ever have given it a chance. But I’m glad I did, since its adorable art style and characters coupled with a calming and meditative gameplay loop helped calm some of the anxiety I’ve been feeling about the world. — Joseph Stanichar
Platforms: Xbox One, PC
From the very first moments of 2015’s Ori and the Blind Forest, the developers at the Vienna-based Moon Studios have been manipulating our emotions. They do it about as well as anybody else in videogames ever had, and there’s something commendable about that. They convince us to immediately invest in their characters emotionally, which is hard to do, especially when no real words are being spoken. And one they have us on their hook, they’re excited to devastate us with unexpected deaths and heroic sacrifices. It can be a bit cloying—a little predictable, a little shameless—but it still has the desired impact, which means Moon Studios knows what it’s doing. And since Will of the Wisps, like Blind Forest before it, is a precisely calibrated machine of a platformer, with the the kind of Metroid-style backtracking elements that makes it almost impossible to put the controller down, there’s more than enough follow-through on that emotional wallop.—Garrett Martin
Platform: PlayStation 4
Dreams takes the creative aspirations of MediaMolecule’s previous franchise, Little Big Planet, and expands them into something almost overwhelmingly broad. You can make all manner of games within Dreams, or dig in on a more granular level and work on game mechanics or assets. You can even dabble in other mediums, from animation to music. It’s a powerful portal into ideation, with perhaps the freest and most open-ended tools for creating within a game platform. And the community has wasted no time putting those tools to good use, with a massive amount of homegrown content worth playing and exploring.—Garrett Martin
Platforms: PC, Switch
Games are even more stuck in the past than usual right now. Over the last few weeks I’ve spent time with remakes of Final Fantasy VII and Resident Evil 3, hung out daily in the fifth (or sixth?) Animal Crossing game, and even dug through an entire miniconsole full of TurboGrafx and PC Engine deep cuts. Whenever I needed a break from the old and familiar, from the earthy bonds of our boundless nostalgia, I turned to In Other Waters, a deeply strange, entirely alien game well worth exploring. Its clean, minimal display belies a complex structure of interlacing gizmos and gadgets that replicate the operating system of a high-tech diving suit being used to explore the oceans of another planet. The colors are soft and warm, synths hum lightly in the background, and the main thing we have to do is read about this foreign world, its unusual wildlife, and the relationship that develops between the scientist within the suit and the artificial intelligence helping her carry out her tasks. In Other Waters is a true anomaly in 2020; it has the spirit of an old point-and-click adventure game dressed up in a slick, futuristic, sci-fi display, and is extremely patient with its players and respectful of their intelligence.—Garrett Martin
What drives the magical tension in Valorant is that one bullet is all it can take to result in your death. While there is currently one agent, Sage, whose ultimate ability is to resurrect one player, once you die, that’s it. There’s no chance of being brought back like in Apex Legends or dealing with the pressure of returning in a few seconds to make a coordinated push with unwilling teammates like in Overwatch. The pacing of Valorant injects suspense into every moment, and makes sure not a single second feels wasted. It’s also refreshing. While matches can take a good while since you need to wait until a team reaches 13 points, they usually don’t last long enough to feel like a drag. Once you overcome Valorant’s learning curve, it’s thrilling in a way I’ve desperately needed these days. Thanks to this pandemic and being stuck under quarantine, I don’t have the motivation to do much of anything. I wake up, stare at my screen and browse the internet without aim, try to do some exercises, and feel sleepy by 9 p.m. When I play Valorant, I feel something more. It’s exciting and nerve-wracking and just plain fun.—Natalie Flores
Platforms: Switch, PC
Treachery in Beatdown City is no mere brawler. It looks a lot like old school beat ‘em ups. But it has a strategic depth that fans of old school dense-as-fuck JRPGs will recognize and love. It gives what could have been a rote beat ‘em up a unique sense of tempo, a rhythm that feels good, feels like a real fight. Hectic intensity breaking off into deep breaths before resuming, split-second planning before explosive finishes. But the thing about Treachery in Beatdown City that really matters to me? Who gets access to using violence. Most games give you a stock white guy (the “progressive” ones give you a white woman, redheaded, sometimes with white girl dreadlocks). And it’s always in service to some form of cultural hegemony or a version of “Western” imperialism. Violence in games is great, when you are a member of the status quo going ripshit on anything that threatens the status quo. Really the only deserving violence you can usually do in games is on Nazis—and they’re always fangless paper doll versions of actual Nazis. Wolfenstein: The New Colossus didn’t even let me merc a bunch of dopey Klansmen. Beatdown City says “You see that racist? You can wreck his shit.” It’s a catharsis for everyone who has to deal with this shit daily. A place to unapologetically throw hands at all the people who need to catch them. It’s a power fantasy for everyone left out of the normal videogame power fantasy.—Dia Lacina
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Square Enix pulled off an impossible trick here. They not only remade one of the most beloved games of all time in a way that thoughtfully built and expanded on the original; they somehow turned what was about five hours of story in 1997 into a 50-hour game without it ever feeling all that padded out. Remake preserves the strong political consciousness of the original game while greatly fleshing out many of its secondary and background characters, giving it all a greater emotional resonance than it had back in the day. This game has something to say but remembers to keep the focus on characters and their relationships, preventing it from ever becoming too preachy. It’s not subtle, at all, but it’s more subtle than the original, or what you would typically expect from a JRPG, and that’s one of the reasons it’s our favorite game of the month.—Garrett Martin
Originally Animal Crossing applied almost no pressure to the player. You could pay off your house, or not, and that was pretty much it. Much has changed since 2002, though. Almost everything you do in New Horizons has the residue of productivity on it, even if you’re trying to be as aimless as possible. Instead of playing games within this game, the only way to not accidentally be productive is to literally do nothing—to sit in a chair, or lay on a hammock, and put the controller down. To sit quietly with your own thoughts—thoughts that exist fully outside of your Nintendo Switch.
The fact that you can do that, though, is an example of the confidence within Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Nintendo might have ramped up the numbers and the to-do lists, all the tasks and chores that make New Horizons feel like one of the last outposts of whatever notions of normalcy we might’ve once had, but you can still tune that out and live within your own head for a spell. That head might naturally drift towards the hellishly contorted world we live in, and not the delightfully cartoonish one of Animal Crossing, but escapism is overrated anyway. I’d rather worry about every aspect of modern living while quietly reflecting on the rhythmic roar of a videogame ocean than while sitting slackjawed in a living room I won’t ever be able to leave again. Give me these New Horizons—rigid, commercial, and staid—over the chaos of the last decade.—Garrett Martin
Does this sound familiar? A city’s in lockdown after a crisis, its citizens wearing face masks for their own health. Heavily armed cops patrol streets rife with anti-cop graffiti. Institutions have violated their compact with the people, and those in power came down hard on those who rose up against them. It’s real life around the world right now, but it’s also the setting for Umurangi Generation, a beautiful photo game that contrasts the peacefulness of taking photos and making art with the fear and violence of a police state, and which came out a week before the protests inspired by George Floyd’s murder went global. The societal issues that people are protesting are timeless, sadly, and embedded at the very foundation of our culture, which means a game like Umurangi will always be timely—at least until society is transformed to the point of being unrecognizable. Playing Umurangi over the last few days can be taxing, especially if you turn to games simply to shut out the world around you and ignore what’s happening. The added context of the last week also makes it exhilarating, though, and in a way that leaves me feeling a bit guilty and shameful—like a tourist who, instead of documenting real life oppression, is living in a fictionalized version of it. The events that inspired Umurangi’s crisis are environmental—designer Naphtali Faulkner’s mother’s house was destroyed during the bush fires that raged through Australia last year, and the game’s dark red skies hint at a different kind of trauma than the one currently happening in America and elsewhere. It’s one that still looms above all of society, though; if we don’t tear our own cities down first, the worsening climate problem inevitably will. Despite the different disasters, and even with its futuristic, sci-fi trappings, Umurangi Generation is a vital, current, powerful game that uncannily captures the mood of its time.—Garrett Martin
Platforms: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Kentucky Route Zero’s final act finally came out early this year, and capped this brilliant game off perfectly, with the same combination of mystery and mundanity that has always been its hallmark. Kentucky Route Zero is one of the slipperiest, most subtle games ever when it wants to be, and thuddingly, powerfully upfront when it needed to be, turning the classic point-and-click adventure framework into an existential Southern Gothic allegory about work, art, life, and everything else. Despite the seven years between Acts I and V, Cardboard Computer somehow never lost the thread along the way, with all its digressions and discursive plot points contributing to its magical realist explorations of life. If you haven’t played it before, it’s the perfect time to jump in, now that it’s finally finished.—Garrett Martin
Platforms: PC, iOS, Mac
If Found isn’t a happy story. It’s an honest one. There’s a good chance you will cry, perhaps more than once, but there are also moments of joy, love and triumph. Despite the artistry of its presentation, and despite a recurring sci-fi metaphor that adds a bit of depth to the story but never quite fully connects, this is a low-key, modest, human affair. Its observations about family and relationships are touching, grounded and real, avoiding melodrama or outsized pronouncements about human nature. Much of it is universal, sure, but the focus remains on its lead character Kasio and how her merely being who she is can disrupt her relationships with her family and the world around her. It’s a character study of a specific person in a specific time and place, but whose pains and struggle ring true throughout the ages.—Garrett Martin