But then the winter update arrived, bringing with it new holidays and reactions and hairstyles, oh my! And here I am, playing the game every day again, because I want to collect all the new recipes and buy the new items and put a comfortable winter sweater on every single one of my villagers now that it’s started snowing on my island. Because Animal Crossing: New Horizons is my fuzzy sweater, wrapping me up in its comfortable routine once more.
It’s a game that asks so little of you — just a few minutes a day, and it’s rarely tense or cruel — but once you start to dig in there’s always something to do, some charming thing to discover or obsess over. We’re talking about fishing, bug hunting, diving, decorating, gardening, designing your own clothes, visiting friends or just buttering up your neighbors so they give you stuff. It really is the perfect game for quarantine life but let’s be honest: I’d still be playing even if I could go outside. — Kris Naudus, Buyer’s Guide Editor
Cyberpunk 2077 is a competent RPG from experts in the genre, and it’ll be a delight for fans of science fiction and skill trees alike. Night City is a vision straight out of 1980s speculative fiction, complete with corporate control, a thriving sex industry and robotic implants. The game feels like a blend of Blade Runner, Old Boy and John Wick — though that last one might be mostly because Keanu Reeves is in it.
Aside from crafting, inventory management and cyberware upgrades, Cyberpunk 2077 allows players to choose between stealth and full-on assault when it comes to completing missions. V, the main character, can hack gadgets, cameras and even people from afar, staying low and keeping out of sight. Or V can run in, guns blazing, and take out everyone instead.
Cyberpunk 2077 is not perfect, of course. A handful of reviewers have reported running into scene-breaking bugs on PC, especially toward the end of the game, and it hard-crashed once in our review time with it. (The less said about the console version the better.) Additionally, it poorly handles ideas of gender fluidity and transgender representation, both excluding and exploiting these populations in the game art and actual mechanics.
What Cyberpunk 2077 does best is set a mood. Night City is disgusting, sexy, dangerous and warm, and the people there are endlessly fascinating. The performances in Cyberpunk 2077 are top-notch across the board, and relatable dialogue breathes life into the neon and concrete.
To anyone who’s been anxiously anticipating this game for the past eight years, rest easy. It’s worth the wait. — Jessica Conditt, Senior Editor
Doom Eternal transforms Earth into Hell and Hell into a massive, fiery playground. It’s deeply satisfying to see a legendary series like Doom find its footing in yet another generation, offering just enough familiarity to satiate fans’ nostalgia while innovating on what these games do best. Doom Eternal is buttery smooth and high-octane, with huge, gothic environments soaked in blood and gore, a heart-pounding heavy metal soundtrack, and hordes of demonic weapons and enemies.
Doom Eternal emphasizes mobility and speed, giving players parkour-like abilities. This opens up the game’s vertical space and allows the hulking, armored Doom Slayer to soar through the air, swinging from bars and clambering up the sides of crumbling edifices as he slaughters the forces of Hell.
The soundtrack alone is killer. It’s composed by Mick Gordon, the guy who picked up a bunch of awards for the music in the 2016 version of Doom, and it delivers at the same level. The score features synth-infused heavy metal that ramps up the drama and tension at every turn. Put on any of those songs and try to keep your heart rate down. I dare you.
Doom Eternal is a master class in how to elegantly evolve a classic IP, adapting to new, more powerful hardware while retaining the soul of the series. Which, given the whole Hell thing, is quite an accomplishment. — Jessica Conditt
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
Fall Guys is colorful, silly and brimming with joy. It’s an excellent counterpunch to the hellscape of 2020 and a perfect pick-me-up when you have a spare 15 minutes.
While it had been on our radar for a while, I don’t think anyone expected the kind of impact the game would have. Buoyed by its adorable design and status as a PlayStation Plus freebie, it was a huge overnight hit. Developer Mediatonic has kept things fresh since launch with frequent updates and a bunch of fantastic outfits to unlock.
The battle royale takes its cue from shows like Wipeout and Takeshi’s Castle (MXC in the US). Several obstacle-laden courses and 59 opponents stand between you and a highly prized crown. You work with and against strangers toward victory.
It’s a deceptively brutal game. Too many times I’ve been on the verge of glory only for a mistimed jump or a crafty opponent to send me tumbling into the slime. The team-based and tail-grabbing minigames aren’t the greatest. But I can’t be mad when I’m enjoying myself this much. I’ve never been so at peace with being bad at a video game.
As fun as it is to play, Fall Guys also makes for a surprisingly excellent esport. Twitch Rivals and FallMania events have been a blast to watch over the last few months. Sure, there have been some controversies, but what great sport doesn’t have those? — Kris Holt, Contributing Editor
Ghost of Tsushima
You’ve played a game like Ghost of Tsushima before, likely many times over the past console generation. But few nail the ideal of an open-world game so perfectly and effortlessly as the latest from Sucker Punch. Tsushima most closely echoes Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise, but does everything those games do… better. The missions are more memorable, exploration is more organic and combat more precise and rewarding. And you don’t have to put up with any of the jank that plagues many of Ubisoft’s games.
That’s not to say Tsushima is a strictly by-the-numbers release. Whether it’s through the way the island itself guides your exploration or how combat stays engaging throughout the entire 40-plus hour experience, Sucker Punch found a way to say something new in a genre that has been around for the better part of 20 years.
It’s also an achingly beautiful game. As you make your way through Tsushima’s pseudo-mythological take on 13th-century Japan, there’s the sense that every maple leaf, bamboo stalk and lotus flower was touched by the hand of an artist. It’s a familiar experience, yes, but sometimes familiarity is exactly what you need. — Igor Bonifacic, Contributing Editor
After a decade of playing their games, I thought I knew what to expect from Supergiant: a beautiful and distinctive art style, a melodic soundtrack from Darren Korb and a memorable story line. But as much as I looked forward to each new release, it always felt there was something missing from the studio’s games. Bastion, Transistor and Pyre each had the seed of a compelling gameplay experience, but they never fully delivered on that promise. Until Hades.
It’s far and away the most fun game Supergiant has made. Hades spent two years in early access, and it shows. The studio polished every gameplay element to a fine sheen. Enemies are varied and distinct, forcing you to adopt new strategies as you encounter them. Each weapon is easy to learn but difficult to master. And then there’s the Boon system. It opens so many interesting and varied build opportunities, making each playthrough slightly different.
And then of course there’s the way all of those disparate elements of Hades feed into one another. Death is a constant companion here, but it never feels like you’ve wasted your time after a failed escape attempt. — Igor Bonifacic
The Last of Us Part II
Naughty Dog faced long odds with The Last of Us Part II. Following up one of the most lauded games of the decade was always going to be a challenge, and the task that became even more fraught when hours of footage from the game was leaked online a month before the game’s launch. Fortunately, Naughty Dog stuck the landing.
The Last of Us Part II improves upon its predecessor in just about every way, with refined combat, a massive world to explore, fantastic visual design and a great score. It has basically everything you’d expect in a single-player campaign from one of Sony’s prestigious first-party studios. But none of this would matter if Naughty Dog didn’t craft a story that justified a continuation of Ellie and Joel’s tale from the first game.
Director Neil Druckmann and narrative lead Halley Gross came up with a story that explores Joel’s pivotal choice at the end of the previous installment from several perspectives. While you could simplify the game’s story to the proverb “before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves,” the game drew me in with well developed characters, along with a twisting narrative that left me stunned.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was how much I came to care about Abby, a character positioned as the villain in the game’s first half. But she has a full journey where you see how Joel’s decision affected not only Ellie, but Abby as well. It’s not as simple as “you’re playing as the bad guy,” because many people come around to the fact that Abby isn’t the villain at all. Things aren’t so binary in the world of The Last of Us — and while that’s been hard to swallow for some fans, I wouldn’t have it any other way. — Nathan Ingraham, Deputy Managing Editor
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
With Miles Morales, Insomniac took everything that worked so well in 2018’s Spider-Man and polished it while cutting much of the dead weight. The movement feels slick, combat is fluid and dynamic and the visuals are even more spectacular. There’s a greater variety in the side missions too.
There’s a solid story, with Miles patrolling New York City as its only Spider-Man for a few weeks. It’s important that Insomniac keeps Peter Parker mostly out of the way to make sure the younger Spidey gets the full spotlight here. He’s a distinct hero with his own background and relationships, which are a focal point of the emotional narrative.
Miles starts out with some useful abilities you had to unlock in the first game. His venom powers add an extra spark to the proceedings — quite literally as you feel the DualSense controller’s haptics crackle in your hands. Although the core controls are the same, his animations are different from Peter’s, creating a contrast between them.
My playtime stands at 19 hours, of which an hour was just me messing around with the photo mode. I’m perfectly happy with that, as more major games could stand to be shorter. The Last of Us Part II is excellent but draining, and I’ve barely started to scratch the surface of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla after 11 hours.
I’ve completed the campaign twice on PS5, once with the 60 frames-per-second performance setting and the other in fidelity mode. I’d recommend the former for smoother action, but I’ll be exploring this gorgeous version of Manhattan for a while yet to try and capture some killer 4K, ray-traced screenshots. — Kris Holt
The old games we revisited
One of the hottest games of the year took two years to make it big, and no one was more surprised than developer Innersloth, as it ended up shelving the sequel to improve the original game instead. You can call it the 2020 effect: We’re all stuck indoors and building serious trust issues with other people. So Among Us truly is a game of the zeitgeist. But what makes the game worth coming back to, again and again, is its simplicity: do your tasks and don’t get killed. Or kill everyone you can without getting caught. Sure, you can try to figure out who the impostor is, but a lot of the fun is in just letting the drama between crew members play out on its own. — Kris Naudus
Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality
We’ve already shared our thoughts on some of the individual games, but in general this itch.io bundle was a real gift this past summer, offering players a chance to try out over a thousand diverse indie titles for only $5. And it was for a good cause, with all proceeds going to the NAACP and the Community Bail Fund. One of my most memorable gaming experiences this year was just digging through the selections, making playlists of interesting titles and trading recommendations with friends who also bought the bundle. Sure, I won’t get to play all of them, but it certainly let me dip my toe into so many titles I was curious about but never had the time or money to delve into. — Kris Naudus
Ori and the Blind Forest
In a year in which The Last of Us Part II, one of the darkest games in recent memory, dominated my time, having something more whimsical like Ori and the Blind Forest to dip into was a bit of a blessing. The sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, caught my eye when it arrived in March — but I had never played the original game and didn’t have an Xbox One to try the new one. I did, however, have a Switch, where The Blind Forest arrived late in 2019. It was finally time to give Ori a shot, and while I wish I’d played the game sooner, I’m also glad to have had it around during the slog that was 2020. Its “Metroidvania” heritage means it’s not the most unique game I’ve ever played, but the combo of its gorgeous graphics and accessibility as something I could just pick up and play any time made it a winner. I’m looking forward to diving into this year’s sequel soon. — Nathan Ingraham
Persona 5 Royal
OK, technically this one came out in the US in 2020. However, the Japanese version hit in 2019, plus it’s an upgraded and expanded version of a game that first landed in 2016, so we’re gonna call it retro this time around. However you slice it, Persona 5 Royal is a treat.
Not only does Persona 5 Royal add gameplay and story content to the base RPG, but it’s a stark reminder of just how stylish this entire series is. Persona 5 Royal brings Tokyo to life while throwing outlandish characters in the player’s path and offering a robust battle system, all depicted in a bold, graphic palette. Persona 5 Royal is just like high school, but with way cooler clothes. And alternate dimensions. And talking cats. What’s not to like? — Jessica Conditt
Red Dead Redemption 2
When I look back at the early days of the lockdown, what I think I’ll remember most is the time I spent with Red Dead Redemption 2. The game offered me more than escapism;
I actually found a way to think about the pandemic. When protagonist Arthur Morgan gets sick with tuberculosis, there is no vaccine or cure in his future, only the possibility to try and set things right while there’s still time. That you as the player get to decide whether anything comes of that possibility is what made RDR2 so memorable for me. Sometimes we can’t choose the circumstances we find ourselves in, but we can decide to treat those around us with kindness. That’s a reminder we could all use. — Igor Bonifacic
Super Mario 64
I don’t remember when I first played Super Mario 64. But I’m pretty sure I was immediately hooked. I had played other Mario titles, but having free rein to roam Princess Peach’s castle was unlike anything else I’d encountered.
Sadly, I never had my own copy of the game. Instead, my sister and I would rent the game from our local video store weekend after weekend. So you can bet that when Nintendo re-released it for Switch as part of the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection, I was stoked. Finally, I could play the game all the way through — no longer at the whims of the autosave from whoever rented it last from Video Warehouse.
Happily, the game holds up just as well as I had hoped more than 20 years later. Being able to rediscover the stars and hidden courses and many quirks of the original has been a delight (and occasionally frustrating). In a year when I’ve spent so much time at home, being able to relive one of my favorite games from childhood has been an unexpected bright spot. — Karissa Bell, Senior Editor