Let’s be honest, this year has been exceptionally crap, but the comfort that video games have provided has done wonders on our mental health (well, with the exception of one particular game). Games brought us all together in this tough time that our world shares. On top of hosting some of the most critically acclaimed games of the new decade, 2020 is the year of two new console launches: the Xbox Series X|S and PS5.
While the consoles have had their rocky launches, especially where availability is concerned, this marks the year where gaming makes the jump to 4K at 60 frames per second and super fast loading times. This has been one of the most important years for gaming, and 2020 has seen the launch of many amazing titles that we’re super excited to talk about.
Without further adieu, here is Laptop Mag’s 15 best Games of the Year for 2020:
15. Microsoft Flight Simulator
A pandemic ravaged 2020 and stymied the travel industry, barring globetrotters from visiting the exotic locales on their wishlists. Suddenly, in mid-August, the clouds parted, the angels sang and Microsoft Flight Simulator descended from the heavens — this plane game gave those of us with wanderlust an opportunity to explore the world without stepping foot outside their homes.
Tapping into its data-rich resources, including Bing and Azure, Microsoft created a game that’s more than just a flight simulator. Microsoft Flight Simulator is a portal to freedom, transporting gamers to the fjords of Norway, the jungles of Costa Rica and the cityscapes of Dubai. Think about how huge Planet Earth is — just think about it! And yet, Microsoft wasn’t intimidated by the idea of giving gamers access to every nook and cranny of the world. As Microsoft serves you the world on a platter, you’ll need a powerful (and costly) graphical engine to handle all of that realism goodness. Admittedly, there is still some room for improvement, but the sheer vastness of Microsoft Flight Simulator’s worldwide reach deserves a Game of the Year award.
— Kimberly Gedeon
14. Astro’s Playroom
Free games have no right to be this good. Astro's Playroom comes pre-installed on your PS5, so there is no excuse not to play it. But even if this cost $40, it would get my recommendation.
Astro's Playroom is part technical demo, part platformer. On the demo side, the game showcases the capabilities of the PS5 and its DualSense controller. You can feel the drip-drop of rain landing on your hands through the controller's haptic feedback, swiping the touchpad zips Astros into a vehicle, and blowing into the microphone propels platforms forward using a pinwheel. Each of these clever mechanics prevents the game from feeling like a bland tutorial, instead, Astro's Playroom demonstrates the technology in a way that’s both rewarding and engaging.
Beyond showcasing the controller, Astro's Playroom is a solid platformer and a heartwarming love letter to PlayStation and its fans. You play as Astro, a small robot living inside of a PS5. Each world within represents a different component of the machine, from the CPU to the GPU, memory, cooling system and SSD. As you traverse these levels using a variety of tactics and skills, you'll come across characters from beloved Sony franchises. It's a fulfilling adventure that engages your inner nerd while giving you a jolt of nostalgia.
Ultimately, Astro's Playroom does exactly what it sets out to do: set high expectations for what is possible on your new console, and make you feel good about buying a PS5 instead of an Xbox.
— Phillip Tracy
13. Cyberpunk 2077
It was the best of times, if you’re a PC gamer. And it’s definitely the worst of times if you’re a console gamer –– at least if you’re trying to play CyberPunk 2077. It’s no secret that the game is currently beset with problems, including muddy ugly textures, glitches and low frame rates on current-gen systems such as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One X. The problems are a little better on next gen consoles (but not by much), it’s nowhere near as polished as the PC version. And all of that is before all the transphobic problems the game encountered on launch.
So why is Cyberpunk 2077 on the games of the year list? Well, if you’re playing on a powerful enough PC, it’s a beautiful game that runs like a dream. The main story is rather short for an open-world game, but it’s crammed to the gills with side-missions that introduce you to a rich pastiche of characters. I’m curious to see how this situation will play out, but for now, Cyberpunk 2077 is a lesson that every developer and publisher needs to take heed on how not to launch a game.
— Sherri L. Smith
12. Half-Life: Alyx
Half-Life: Alyx is by far the most technologically impressive VR game that you can play right now. When I first hopped in the game, I didn’t leave that balcony you start on for like five minutes because I was so enamoured with the world design as well as the number of objects I could mess with around me.
Apart from its wild physics and wonderful art design. The biggest difference between Half-Life: Alyx and other VR games is that this actually feels like a game. It has a full-blown 12-plus hour campaign with a deeply engaging and humorous story. The overall gameplay also feels like another Half-Life game, from the action to the horror-esque elements except with a slightly slower pace to accommodate for VR. Valve truly showcased what’s possible with VR games, and hopefully other developers are able to follow suit.
— Rami Tabari
11. Sackboy: A Big Adventure
If you wanted more after completing Astro's Playroom, Sackboy: A Big Adventure is the logical next step. Many of the gameplay mechanics in this platformer echo those found in Astro's Playroom. So why play Sackboy? Because it's a wildly creative game that stimulates your senses in fascinating ways. It, too, takes full advantage of the DualSense controller, but adds layers with delightful visuals and sounds. The colorful visuals, adorable creatures and phenomenal music will bombard you as you make your way through one level after the next.
Marketed as a spin-off of the LittleBigPlanet franchise, Sackboy: A Big Adventure is a full-length game, requiring at least a dozen hours to finish and even more to collect all the light spheres in each level. It is also challenging, so don't be turned off by the child-friendly aesthetic. Another reason to buy Sackboy? It's one of the few couch co-op games available on PS5 at launch.
— Phillip Tracy
10. Demon's Souls
The Soulsborne franchise has consistently pulled me into its slew of extraordinary worlds, bolstered by some of the most creative game design in the medium. Demon’s Souls is no exception, with the 2009 original often being cited as the beginning of this phenomenal genre and the effects it had across the medium.
Bluepoint’s reimagining is surprisingly different than I expected, but it’s a phenomenal spectacle that possesses the highest graphical fidelity in a game that’s currently playable. Every scene is imbued with an awe-inspiring level of visual detail, a gorgeous use of color, visceral character animations and epic visual effects. It’s one of the first true demonstrations of the PS5’s graphical power, and it gets me incredibly excited for how the console’s future games might look.
— Mohammad Tabari
9. Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Le sigh. I love a good Metroidvania and Ori and the Will of the Wisps is not a good one, it’s a great one. The sequel to Ori and the Blind Forest, Will of the Wisps picks up sometime after the events of the first game Ori, the light spirit and its family find themselves on another adventure. This time, it’s to save Ku, the baby Owl who is lost on the dark isle of Niwen. It’s a tale of profound lost, grief, rebirth and love that’s told via breathtaking backdrops and a mesmerizing soundtrack.
The game easily sits in my top five prettiest Metroidvanias and in my top 10 Metroidvanias overall. While I was miffed that I had to regain most of Blind Forest powers, I couldn’t help but be drawn into the story, the new characters and the new big, bad. If you’re looking for a game that’s pretty, challenging and meaningful, Ori and the Will of the Wisps needs to be on your shortlist.
— Sherri L. Smith
8. Final Fantasy VII Remake
When I first heard that Square Enix was remaking my beloved Final Fantasy VII, I was aghast. Had they no respect for the classics? Especially this classic, which cemented my love for 100+ hour JRPGs. I should have known better, because Final Fantasy VII Remake is a love letter to its predecessor that expands the story by taking a closer look at some of the cooler story beats.
Instead of rushing your way through Cloud’s time with Avalanche, Square Enix focuses on letting you get to really know Biggs, Wedge and Jesse. Plus, you get more time with Cloud, Tifa and Barrett and it’s all-done in a beautiful high-res finish with a refreshed battle system and new materia system. Yes, you’ll get your Sephiroth fight and Cloud’s turn as the prettiest girl at the party, but it’s the way the story ends that will have you primed and pumped for the next installment. It seems that the story we knew and loved is growing in exciting new ways.
— Sherri L. Smith
7. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is phenomenal in its ability to present a world so elevated in tranquility that the one-of-a-kind sensation it provides has been felt around the world. It possesses a structure that is all in service of making the player’s heart melt to the extent where any one of their villagers offering up a “thank you” results in them feeling wholeheartedly good about themselves.
It doesn’t encourage the player to do good things for the sake of profit, as your neighbor trying on a new dress you bought for them and smiling is already more than satisfactory. It’s also one of the few games that can actually make me bawl like a baby. I accidentally missed my in-game birthday this year, meaning all of my beautiful villagers threw a party for me and I straight up forgot. I feel so awful that I can’t even go back in to confront them. No other game has made me want to cry so bad. Thank you Nintendo.
— Mohammad Tabari
Beyond just possessing a technically impressive creation toolset, Dreams’ fuzzy and painterly aesthetic contributes to every moment feeling wholly personal. Whether you’re creating something or experiencing another’s creation, every world, character, album and logic system is community-built and hand-crafted. If I decide I want to spend the entirety of my time with Dreams making music, I can upload each song and someone who needs those tracks can utilize them.
All of the incredible creations are accessible within the game’s system, meaning all you need to make a great game is a director with the vision to put it all together. This means, no matter what you’re building, you feel like you’re contributing to something on a greater scale. And even if you’re someone who just wants to play rather than create, Dreams can propel you through dozens upon dozens of unique and phenomenal community-built experiences.
— Mohammad Tabari
5. Doom Eternal
Doom Eternal is the most unadulterated fun I’ve had playing a video game this year. It’s not a deep, contemplative masterpiece like The Last of Us Part II, nor is it pushing the mechanical limits of the medium like Half-Life: Alyx did. Instead, it refines and builds upon what we’d expect out of a high-octane first-person shooter, and it delivers in nearly every way. Doom Eternal invites you to explore a gorgeous, wicked hellscape full of comical brutality and violence.
You’re expected to evade, chainsaw, glory kill, blow your adversaries to bits, bathe enemies in the holy fire of your flamethrower and commit to a Looney-Tunes-esque sprint with monstrous demons. As I played through the game on Nightmare, I fell in love with how id Software frequently made me use everything in my arsenal, as enemies and bosses have distinct weaknesses that force you to adapt swiftly. If you’re looking to experience a marathon of heart-pumping gunfights against colossal demons while Mick Gordon’s excellent atmospheric soundtrack pushes you through hellish worlds, Doom Eternal is more than worth playing.
— Mohammad Tabari
4. Spider-Man: Miles Morales
I have a confession: I didn't complete Spider-Man on PS4. To be completely honest, I didn't even get very far in it. Spider-Man: Miles Morales, however, is a different story. I completed the campaign in a few days and have almost wrapped up all of the side quests.
While I don't have a favorite Spider-Man, I prefer Miles Morales' story and the authenticity of the new game's characters. The PS5 launch title also showcases the technical capabilities of the consoles; you'll swing across a stunning New York City canvas without encountering any lingering load screens. Action is fluid and the few gameplay changes in this spin-off make the frenetic action required to take down baddies feel more rewarding than ever.
While it may turn off some gamers, I prefer the shorter story. As someone who shies away from endless open-world adventure games, I appreciate how the finish line in Spider-Man: Miles Morales always felt within striking distance. Once you've finished the condensed main campaign, you can spend several additional hours swinging around the city completing side quests or starting back at square one in New Game+ where you can unlock brand new skills.
— Phillip Tracy
I had played Hades when it originally launched in early access back in 2018, and I was plenty impressed by it, but by no means did I ever think it would be Game of the Year material. However, Supergiant Games doubled down on pretty much everything to create one of the best rogue-like dungeon crawlers out there.
Sure, it has the basic rogue-like concept of you die, die and die again, but unlike most rogue-likes, Hades features a compelling story with captivating characters that fill you with purpose every time you go on a run. Even after bathing in the blood of thousands of demons and bashing your head against super-intense chambers until you finally get to the last boss, you immediately want to sink back in just to reconnect with the characters and advance their quests.
— Rami Tabari
2. Ghost of Tsushima
A console as good as the PlayStation 4 with all it’s generation-defining titles deserves to go out in a blaze of glory. Ghost of Tsushima does that and more. Aptly developed by Sucker Punch Productions, Ghost of Tsushima comes out of nowhere. An original IP that pays homage to classic Akira Kurosawa films like Seven Samurai –– hell there’s even a Kurosawa mode that switches to black and white with that sweet letterboxing. The game is breathtakingly beautiful, filled with golden ginkgo forests, fields of hyacinths and beautiful misty waterfalls.
But that beauty belies the threat of Mongol General Khotun Khan, who’s cutting a bloody swath through Tsushima on his path to conquer feudal Japan. The only thing stopping him is Jin Sakai, a samurai warrior raised on the path of honor, forced to choose a path of stealth and dishonor –– the path of the Ghost. From dramatic duels and crafting haikus to innovative use of the touchpad, Ghost of Tsushima is the perfect game to close out this chapter of the PS4 and open the new book that is the PlayStation 5.
— Sherri L. Smith
1. The Last of Us Part II
It’s hard to describe a 30-plus hour, heart-wrenching, extremely violent and depressing roller coaster ride in a short graph, so I’m not going to try. However, what I will say is that The Last of Us Part II is a master class in story-telling, animation, gameplay design and so, so much more. It’s not a perfect game by any means, but it takes the player through the most bold narrative choices and crosses lines that I’ve never seen in a video game.
Not every game should have a story like The Last of Us Part II, but developers should learn from it. It takes daring steps in its narrative that goes against every cliche in the book and will forever be remembered as one of the most controversial games of all time because of it. It’s a masterpiece.
— Rami Tabari