2020 has been quite the year and if that’s not the understatement of the year by December than I dread to think what’s ahead. Still, despite the lethal pandemic, horrifying racism and ever-present backseat threat of global warming 2020 has still been a pretty good year for gaming so far. When cinemas shut down and millions were confined to their homes it was games that were there for us.
Whether it was the peaceful ideal of managing your own island resort in Animal Crossing: New Horizons or sating a massive shark’s appetite in Maneater games were there for us. If you preferred to spend time with lovably complex teenage rogues in Persona 5 Royal or splatter demons across massive arenas in DOOM: Eternal games were there for you. If metroidvania madness in Shantae and the Seven Sirens or monster hunting Old West style in Hunt: Showdown was more your cup of tea then games were there for you. Maybe you were more like me and preferred to drown yourself in the addictive misery of World of Horror than seek escapism. This alphabetical list is by no means exhaustive so be sure to let us know what games were there for you in the hell year that is 2020.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Talk about the perfect lockdown companion. Animal Crossing: New Horizons was already one of Nintendo’s most anticipated games for years now but it could not have released at a better time. Mere days before we were cursed with lockdown, we were blessed with the most refined and engaging Animal Crossing title in the beloved series yet. To contrast with this supersized kidney stone of a year, Animal Crossing has been a splendid stress relief and source of pure unadulterated wholesome joy in the 165 hours I’ve put into it since launch (and most people will tell you those are rookie numbers).
More customisation than ever, the cutest graphics and characters you could imagine, chill tunes and just the most perfect cosy and comfy vibes; there’s reason I and many others have played it anywhere from 30 minutes to 5 hours or more a day since March 20th. Having an entire island to spend your time on refining and tailoring it to your liking over the usual pre-made town was a brilliant decision that leads to your home away from home feeling more personalised than ever.
We’ve all taken pride in how we worked with the blueprints previous games gave us but New Horizons gives you a blank page and says go. Sure you can’t do everything right off the bat and as it’s a game that’s meant to be played daily and experienced over many, many months, it’ll move pretty slow and you won’t have all your customisation or terra-forming till a couple weeks in. But it’s the intrigue and anticipation of what comes tomorrow that keeps you coming back on top of all your current plans and ideas. “Who’s moving in tomorrow? Oh the shops getting expanded? There’s a fishing tourney next week?” are examples of things that’ll bring you back in and that fun rush of seeing a new item, a layout in your head, or an empty patch of land and thinking “Ooh, this gives me an idea” that make it so addicting.
And of course there’s your animal neighbours, who you’ll be bonded with and either falling for unconditionally because they’re so damn cute and friendly and give you nice things and make you feel so pleasant inside and Ruby I will do whatever you want, I will hurt whoever you want me to, you are my bestie, I love you and nothing will ever tear me away from you… or you’ll hate them and bash their heads in with bug nets till they get the message and hop on the nearest seaplane out of here.
New Horizons is a must play for any Switch owner. If you’re a fan of the series then this is the most refined and dynamic Animal Crossing has been yet, and for newcomers, there’s no better happy place after a long and stressful day or escape from the horrors of the outside world than The Nook Island Getaway Package. Dan Troy.
More than ever first person shooters have become the staple of modern action gaming with millions flocking to the likes of Call Of Duty and Battlefield every year without fail. One series that never fails to gain the attention of the masses is id Software’s DOOM series and with 2016’s DOOM, id Software reminded folks where it all began while pushing the boundaries of what could be achieved in modern FPS games. Jump forward to 2020 and id Software have once again followed up the success of 2016’s DOOM with DOOM: Eternal.
DOOM: Eternal is everything you expect from the series. It’s extremely violent, painstakingly punishing at times and deliciously entertaining. Improving on the relentless gameplay of it’s predecessor, DOOM: Eternal takes the first person shooter genre and tears it limb from limb constructing a new behemoth that future first person shooters will be ultimately judged by for years to come.
While not exactly hitting the atmospheric highs of 2016’s DOOM or the terror inducing panic of DOOM 3, DOOM: Eternal is still an absolute juggernaut of a first person shooter to behold. The fast paced gameplay that DOOM has become known for has been improved upon to a near iconic status that firmly sits atop the pile and begs for anyone to dare challenge it. DOOM: Eternal will become the gold standard for first person shooter gameplay and if you seek a truly difficult experience that will push the FPS genre as far as it can go, then look no further than DOOM: Eternal. DOOM: Eternal does have some major issues here and there but if you couple DOOM: Eternal’s highs with 2016’s truly superb DOOM, demon slaying has rarely felt this satisfying. John Hogan.
In recent years, survival horror has advanced significantly since it’s initial role playing and 3rd person origins with games like Sweet Home in 1989 and 1996’s Resident Evil. Growing positively in both ambition and gameplay standards, recent developers have looked to the burgeoning success of experiences like Fortnite and PUBG for fresh inspiration in an effort to create unique horror gaming experiences.
Crytek, the minds behind cult classics like Far Cry and the Crysis series, embraced modern gaming’s obsession with asymmetrical multiplayer experiences and in doing so, delivered a deliciously exciting piece of genre gaming in late 2019 for PC and Xbox One called Hunt: Showdown. PS4 gamers unfortunately had to wait until February of 2020 to get their hands on Crytek’s newest effort but let’s just say, the wait was definitely worthwhile.
Crytek’s Hunt: Showdown is an adrenaline pumping experience that pits players against monstrous bounties and other players determined to steal your riches without a single ounce of pity. Each time you delve into Crytek’s dark world of Hunt: Showdown you run the risk of losing your upgraded gear and weapons to the harsh reality of death providing devastating stakes that ensure each new gaming session is feared much like the monstrous creatures you hunt.
In an era focused on fast fluid gameplay, Hunt: Showdown strips it down and focuses on strategy and stealth to provide gamers with thrilling encounters that live long in the memory. Whether you are teaming up with friends or going it alone, Hunt: Showdown is an extremely rewarding survival horror experience that is crafted with genuine care and for anyone seeking the very best in survival horror on PS4, then look no further than Hunt: Showdown for one of 2020’s best horror gaming experiences. John Hogan.
Before delving into Tripwire Interactive’s Maneater, if anyone had of told me that an absolutely ridiculous RPG focused on growing as an infant shark into a hulking Megalodon with an insane lust for human flesh would be one of the year’s greatest surprises, I probably would have laughed it off and denied this statement could ever be true. After delving into Maneater, well, I guess I was wrong.
Maneater is everything you want from an RPG about a giant killer shark. It’s dumb, it’s ridiculously entertaining and more importantly, it’s a huge amount of fun to play. Instead of focusing on serious content akin to the much maligned PS2 game, Jaws Unleashed, Maneater embraces it’s ludicrous premise and excels at capitalising on it’s B-Movie-esque developments to superb effect. This is further strengthened by the realization that Tripwire Interactive have provided a surprising level of depth with Maneater to sink your jaws into.
As you grown in size you inherit new abilities and customizable appearances to live up to the badass persona Tripwire Interactive offers. You will battle all kinds of beasts of the seas, fight for survival against ruthless shark hunters and wrap your jaws around an impressively realized world that offers a plethora of side quests among it’s interesting tale of revenge. Never once did my journey through Maneater lose momentum or interest and by it’s inevitable conclusion I immediately wanted to jump back in again and explore everything I could.
If you are a fan of RPG gaming and find yourself seeking a different kind of RPG experience, then Maneater may just be the experience you’ve been looking for. Simply put, Maneater is the best goddamn shark RPG you’ll ever play. John Hogan.
Persona 5 Royal
The original Persona 5 was one of the 2010’s best RPGs and even that claim is a limitation on its quality. With an engaging story, wonderful cast of characters and excellent battle mechanics correlating with the game’s life simulation aspects; Persona 5 was always well worth your time. But now with an expanded and enhanced version with Royal, there’s never been a better time to jump into the game or even the Persona series.
Persona 5 Royal sees you juggling the double life of a Japanese high schooler who can enter a shadow world, a parallel and vague space mixing the human mind and heart, constructed by people’s distorted desires. Combating your way through the shadow world with your vigilante team The Phantom Thieves, you’ll change the hearts of evil doers to make them confess their crimes. It’s a concept and story that leads to great character depth and world building which will hook you for the 100 hours of playtime.
What makes Persona work is its intersecting gameplay styles. Everything you do in the daily school life half, be it hanging out with friends (or confidants) to build their fighting abilities or unlock or new moves and perks, affects the dungeon crawling battle half and vice versa. There’s so much to do around every corner, at every moment, no matter where you are, but it’s never overwhelming or lacking. Whether one task feels more important than the other is down to how each player decides to play and experience the game’s world. It’s an insanely deep dive that you’ll lose hours to without noticing.
Royal’s new additions such as new confidant story lines, new areas, an extra dungeon and added battle mechanics makes it the definitive version to play through. It’s got excellent gameplay, a banging soundtrack, story and characters that’ll stick with you, style up the wazoo and yet it never manages to feel bloated. It’s a pretty stellar upgrade for anyone new to the game or series to jump in with because it’s surprisingly very beginner friendly,even to those of us who don’t play a lot of (or suck at) RPGs. And for those who have played the original Persona 5, this still makes for a fantastic excuse to revisit it. Dan Troy.
Shantae and the Seven Sirens
The latest game in the flagship series for Wayforward (River City Girls, Ducktales Remastered) Seven Sirens sees the hair whipping half-genie hero set off to save five kidnapped other half-genies on the island of Paradise in a metroidvania set up. Seven Sirens differs from Shantae’s more recent adventures (Pirate’s Curse and Half-Genie Hero) by being a full on metroidvania, a large interconnecting world where new areas open up as you gain new abilities. Whereas Pirates Curse and HGH were level based games with metroidvania elements of backtracking to old level areas with new powers for upgrades and to progress the story.
Unfortunately, Seven Sirens isn’t quite as strong as these two, but don’t take that as it being a bad game, far from it. Seven Sirens is a blast in the moment to moment gameplay. Movement is fluid, the game looks and sounds great, the new abilities you earn are fun to use and the dialogue carries that distinct Shantae flair and hilarity. Seven Sirens only really suffers in two areas. The first being difficulty. Seven Sirens is absurdly easy thanks to a hefty amount of health and money drops from enemies allowing you to always have a means to heal yourself and the money to buy powerful items and upgrade your attacks.
While an easy difficulty doesn’t bother me or some others, it does get in the way during boss fights which are mostly all clever and fun but you can just tank the hits, mash the attack button and use healing items if your health gets low so they never get to shine as much as they should. The fights against Shantae’s arch rival Risky Boots are particularly bad for this. But for the overall game, if you’re looking for a breezy time you’ll get that here. The second and more major flaw is the map system. Very little is actually marked on it apart from towns and save points. Bizarrely, it doesn’t show the locations of items and upgrades like previous games, which really discourages backtracking for them as it becomes an aimless wander unless you remember the exact location for everything (which I’m telling you now you won’t) going against its metroidvania set up.
That said, this is still a Shantae game so it’s a frantic and charming adventure start to finish. If you’re new to the series this isn’t a bad point to jump in, but I’d still recommend Pirate’s Curse (the best one) over it since its half the price and the more enthralling and satisfying experience. You can’t go wrong with Shantae but in this instance either play Pirate’s Curse and/or HGH first or wait for a sale. Dan Troy.
World of Horror
You don’t have to look far to find media depicting teens fighting against unknowable horrors from beyond the barriers of space-time but Pawel Kozminski’s (aka Panstasz) World of Horror is certainly one of the best (and most recent) of this popular genre. Set in a sleepy seaside town somewhere on the coast of Japan World of Horror pits you against an endless tide of zombies, inter-dimensional abominations and urban legends made real. Drawn entirely in MS Paint in a one-bit art style World of Horror’s monochromatic colour scheme and nightmarish designs scare where its limited animation can’t.
Every aspect of World of Horror, from resource management to combat prep, makes it a uniquely old school survival horror experience. Combat is relatively simple but if you’re not prepared than even the tutorial monsters – especially the split mouthed Scissors Lady – will make short work of you. What’s worse is that, like any good game inspired by H. P. Lovecraft, your own sanity is working against you. The more unstable you become the worse you are at investigating what connects the five randomly assigned mysteries to the locked lighthouse on the coast. Getting the good ending for the Macabre Memoir of Morbid Mermaids case could save your life further down the line whereas failing too many skill checks in a row could increase your Doom metre leading to you being marked for death by the spider god Atorasu-Nasa.
World of Horror wears its influences on its sleeve and its references are even more obvious but a quick playthrough or two – most only last 45 minutes – will reveal the depth of this entrancing game. Beyond its hat-tipping to Lovecraft and Junji Ito the originality of the game is striking. World of Horror isn’t interested in being the next Silent Hill or Resident Evil it is it’s own many-tentacled beast. Uncovering ever facet of this gory and macabre world make playing worth it. Although all roads lead back to the lighthouse it’s the journey that’s important, regardless of how many ancient curses I have to break to get there.