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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.

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The 25 Best Games of 2020
Photo: Naphtali Faulkner

There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension

10. There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension

At first glance, There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension appears to be a spoof of itself, what with the super hammy voice acting and the exaggeratedly elaborate ways in which an A.I. tries to “prevent” you from starting the game, the brainchild of French developer Draw Me A Pixel. The game’s creativity is only lightly on display in this opening, which has you using normally innocuous items, like developer logos or a language-selection flag, to breach the A.I.’s absurd defenses. Each successive chapter further subverts expectations, whether it’s allowing you to look behind the scenes of a traditional two-dimensional point-and-click game or the way in which it uses a classic Legend of Zelda-like framework to skewer the odious mechanics of freemium games that are bloated with ads, energy meters, and cash shops. No element of game design is safe from simultaneous homage and parody, whether that’s using the goofy physics of a brick-breaker to dismantle an in-the-way title screen or manipulating an old handheld Game-and-Watch by damaging the environment surrounding it. Even the credits house a deviously clever puzzle, and a spot-on and decidedly unexpected James Bond title-sequence parody. But that, too, is a trick, because while you’ve been appreciating such novelties, the narrative itself has transformed into a real fourth-wall-breaking meditation on why we create and play games at all. Riccio


Paradise Killer

9. Paradise Killer

Paradise Killer emerges like a demon from out of space, summoned via some occult vaporwave ritual involving a Dreamcast and the blood of Suda51. From the bright interface to the tremendous soundtrack that loops through your open-world murder investigation, the debut from Kaizen Game Works projects a confident sense of self through its wildly original setting: a series of attempted afterlives built to appease eldritch overlords through literal human sacrifice. As investigator Lady Love Dies, you roam the island setting, building a case through detective work that’s perfectly pitched between a conscious structure and a freer sense of interpretation. You piece together plot threads while reaching your own conclusions and then perhaps rethinking your preconceptions, ultimately choosing which evidence to present in a final courtroom showdown. But all is not well in paradise, because beneath the bright, bouncy aesthetic is a moral horror, a universe governed by an unjust authority too enormous for Lady Love Dies to ever fully confront. As you uncover more clues, Paradise Killer becomes about working within an overpowering system and hating its guts, looking for ways to subvert it while finding distressingly few. Scaife


Receiver 2

8. Receiver 2

Receiver 2 exists at some bizarre intersection of the hyperreal and the abstract, its obsessively detailed guns and their accompanying physics contrasting with an apartment dreamspace choked by autonomous drones and turrets all on the lookout for your silhouette. Initiated into a skewed self-help gun cult, you find and listen to the tapes that the organization has prepared for what they call the coming “Mindkill,” while you deal with the meticulous operation of firearms, clearing their jams or rolling with their misfires and bum chambers, attempting to remember how to holster them safely so you don’t shoot yourself in the process. Developer Wolfire Games generates an atmosphere of unparalleled tension and paranoia that will have you jumping at noises and purple lights that might signify the attention of a turret tucked out of sight. As levels go on, the building layouts grow more arcane, demanding more platforming detours and more dodging around the multiplying, mechanical tools of “The Threat.” The guns become even less forgiving, lacking safeties or swift reloads. You come to realize that perhaps the most dangerous thing about this world is not so much the turrets or the drones but the weapon in your hand, this mechanism of unreliable violence whose intricacies you must navigate under pressure while The Threat looms large. Scaife


Desperados III

7. Desperados III

This first installment in the Desperados series since the 2007 spinoff Helldorado is a prequel, and it opens with a flashback to protagonist John Cooper’s last adventure with his bounty hunter father, during which he learns to “think slow, act fast.” That’s basically the modus operandi of German-based Mimimi Games’s latest, because deliberate, stealthy gameplay is the player’s key to victory. For one, it’s more than satisfying to watch your minutes-long action planning, of furtive repositioning and queuing of unique skills, result in the swift and simultaneous sacking of guards at the hands of your five colorful posse members. While the plot and characters in Desperados III may be familiar, and the gameplay recalls that of other modern real-time tactics titles like Mimimi Games’s previous Shadow Tactics: Blade of the Shogun, each scenario feels distinct. You’ll need different skills to burn down a riverboat than you do to blow up a bridge or defend a ranch. Even slight shifts in terrain and available party members (or their inventories) serve to shake up your tactics. Riccio


Final Fantasy VII Remake

6. Final Fantasy VII Remake

Final Fantasy VII Remake is directly in dialogue with the player about what a remake can and probably should be, about how much of a waste it might be to proceed past the endpoint of this particular story—essentially the moment in the original where you’re allowed to freely explore the world outside Midgar—and realize that the journey and the outcome has remained the same. You’re given the chance to choose a different path, to face a literal hideous embodiment of the hands of fate in the game’s climax. It’s a forceful, kinetic statement—that this remake should not be bound by what we already know. And as monstrous as it can be, the symbolism of that gesture is incredibly daring. The game flips the script on the very idea of nostalgia being the only guiding creative force behind a remake, making it another enemy to be slain. The final hours of this game constitute an extraordinary act of subversion, actively challenging us through gameplay to expect more. Clark

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