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The 25 Best Video Games of 2020

When reality plunged us into chaos this year, so many of the best interactive experiences offered us respite.




The 25 Best Games of 2020
Photo: Naphtali Faulkner

Yakuza: Like a Dragon

20. Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Any concerns you may have about Yakuza: Like a Dragon diluting the series’s oddball crime-sim gameplay with all matter of JRPG grind will vanish somewhere around the point where wild, hot-tempered himbo protagonist Ichiban starts smacking around triad gang members with a vibrator while dressed like a Dark Souls boss. The sheer absurdity of every wild moment in the game keeps it in the same rarified, delirious realm as its predecessors, but besides the new turn-based RPG elements, Like a Dragon still strikes a very different mood. Silly waters run deep here: The further the plot goes, the more it resembles The Irishman than Goodfellas, a tangled tale of long-standing regrets, and ignominious endings to violent lives, all under the veneer of trying to go legit. Somehow, with its gameplay even further separated from reality, Yakuza continues to pull off its most incredible magic trick: ensuring that its bald-faced silliness never clashes with—only enhances—the more pensive nature of its plot. Like a Dragon is several weird tastes that somehow go great together. Clark

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

19. Animal Crossing: New Horizons

An island escape in the time of a global pandemic, Animal Crossing: New Horizons fosters a sense of connectedness whose value can’t be overstated. Almost as soon as you land on your new island home, the game becomes our personal playground. Despite looking like a mere graphically upgraded next-gen iteration of the original Animal Crossing, the game evolves the series’s formula via a bounty of creative customization options. And while the villager interaction has been reined in and simplified, a New Horizons island still manages to feel like a living, breathing place. And that’s a result of all that’s simultaneously familiar and new about this Animal Crossing experience. As ever, the seasons change as they do in the real world (and are flipped depending on the hemisphere you’re in), bringing forth specially timed events and holidays, offering further options to personalize one’s home and islet. The world is your oyster in the game, whose robust online functionality paves the way for you to visit other people’s islands, affording a not-insignificant measure of comfort and community for gamers in a year where leaving your house was a risk. Ryan Aston

Sackboy: A Big Adventure

18. Sackboy: A Big Adventure

Across the LittleBigPlanet series, Sackboy’s appearances have constituted glorified tutorials for the robust LittleBigPlanet development toolkit: short, playable primers on how to build levels. But in the nostalgia-inspired platformer spinoff Sackboy: A Big Adventure, you no longer need to do that work, as you can jump straight into exploring the impeccably realized world of this game, making your little Knitted Knight jump, sling, swing, and grapple through dozens of uniquely crafted levels. When friendly frogs unfurl their papery tongue-paths as you stomp on them, or the auras of jellyfish prisms reveal hidden roads, the game evokes a joyous feeling of discovery and glee, akin to that of being set loose in a toy shop, albeit one in which everything has been assembled out of scraps of fabric and other cleverly deployed detritus. Sackboy: A Big Adventure doesn’t take place in the Imagisphere for nothing, and as cutesy cardboard cutouts of aliens and animals bop along to the beats of songs like “Toxic,” “Uptown Funk,” and “Material Girl,” it’s almost like wandering through some sort of Rube Goldberg machine of the pop-cultural imagination. Riccio

Half-Life Alyx

17. Half-Life: Alyx

Creating a sequel-slash-prequel to an iconic video-game series 13 years in cryosleep is just as an unenviable a task as launching a big-budget title using new technology that might evolve the entire medium, yet Valve delivers with Half-Life: Alyx. Returning fans to the sci-fi nightmare of City 17, a young Alyx Vance fights the omnipresent alien invasion alongside other members of Earth’s resistance, pulled into a plot to rescue a mysterious individual who disappeared some 20 years earlier. While Half-Life: Alyx’s core gameplay doesn’t deviate too far from that of other VR titles, Valve has refined the exploration, shooting, and physics puzzles that this series is known for into something that isn’t played as much as it is experienced. In Half-Life: Alyx, fighting the Combine is just as compelling as exploring the derelict buildings of City 17, and being able to lift and inspect and throw any object contributes greatly to the game’s feeling of immersion. Guns are reloaded by physically putting a new mag in and pulling the slide, marker pens draw on whiteboards, and liquid even sloshes around inside bottles. Boasting visuals that border on the photorealistic and intuitive 1:1 controls that feel entirely natural, Half-Life: Alyx pushes virtual-reality gaming to new heights. Aston

Superhot Mind Control Delete

16. Superhot Mind Control Delete

When Superhot was released in 2016, much praise was heaped on its novel “time moves when you move” gimmick, though some criticized the game for its brevity. Superhot: Mind Control Delete, initially planned as DLC but released as a standalone game that’s bigger than the original, is a brilliant rebuttal to that criticism. Whereas Superhot subversively riffed on the tenebrous nature of control, Mind Control Delete slyly questions the purpose of extra content and how long a game should or shouldn’t be. The game feels like the brainchild of students who were into debate club as much as programming. Each new layer of gameplay exists to both argue for and against its inclusion, right up until the final twist, which allows players to progress only by their being willing to give up some of their hard-won new abilities. Riccio

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