Hello and welcome to 2021. Now that 2020 is well and truly behind us we can probably all say one thing: “it sure was good to have some video games to play this year!”
I’m sure you might also feel like you still need some gaming relief as we move into 2021. So get comfortable and sip your gaming beverage of choice, because here are Hexagorgon’s games of the year 2020, some of which even came out in 2020! Check them out if you need some new stuff to play, by yourself or with friends.
Fall Guys hit it big at launch with their silly bean models and truly insane naming convention (looking at you Big Yeetus.) Whilst you could get caught up in the usual competitiveness of the Battle Royale genre, you’ll be missing the point of Fall Guys if you do.
Each game of Fall Guys takes place over a series of rounds, each consisting of a different mini-game, eliminating a number of players each round. Each mini-game is designed around the wobbly models and their unreliable balance, resulting in a large chunk of time spent flat on your face. The joy of Fall Guys comes from these moments, during the sheer madness where 20 beans (players) attempt to execute the same action simultaneously, and all get in each other’s way. A healthy sense of humour goes a long way in this game.
Mediatonic (the developers of Fall Guys) have been very active with their care of the game. They’ve released 2 major updates already (including 8 completely unique new game modes), and a bunch of smaller updates in between. Despite what Twitter says, Fall Guys seems like it’s here to stay.
In a year where isolation was prominent, most hobbies and social activities had to adapt. A hobby which is dear to my heart is boardgaming, which has been on hold due to social distancing. Enter Tabletop Simulator, a physics simulator designed around flinging dice, shuffling cards and table flipping (my personal favourite).
The reasons why Tabletop Simulator shines above the handful of other online boardgaming services boil down to a few things. Firstly, the catalogue of available games is outstanding. The vast majority of user-submitted content is very well presented. Often, there are helpful scripts to speed up the set-up and gameplay. Secondly, it is such good value, especially since it’s included in a Steam sale every other week (plus, there’s a 4-pack!)
A lot of the games suggested in Family Games: Hexagorgon Approved! were played by Hexagorgon throughout 2020 thanks to Tabletop Simulator. I am grateful to the dedicated and talented community that put so much love and care into the games they share.
Without Tabletop Simulator I couldn’t have played some fab boardgames with my friends who live hundreds of miles away, and that’s why it’s one of my games of 2020.
There’s lots of fantastic music in the Kingdom Hearts series, from quiet piano melodies such as Dearly Beloved and Musique pour la Tristesse de Xion to the lively themes of Destiny Islands and the music of the Disney worlds, often taking melodies from the films themselves.
The story of the game is essentially a recap of the plot of the Kingdom Hearts games up to and including Kingdom Hearts III. If this had come out as a recap game before Kingdom Hearts III it would’ve been much better, as this would then be a way of bringing people up to speed on the convoluted plot.
If you’ve played games in the series before, you’ll find yourself humming along to the 143 tracks in the soundtrack. You may well discover some new favourites from the side games you didn’t play (has anyone actually played Dream Drop Distance?) The fact they’re asking full price for this is also a hit against it: there is a decent amount of content here but you might want to wait until it comes on sale. A demo is available, so it’s worth trying that to see whether the rhythm game part works for you before you commit.
Townscaper is very different to the other entries on the list. It’s devoid of action or multiple interacting layers of simulation. Instead, Townscaper brings one of the most relaxing and genuinely joyful experiences I’ve had from games this year.
All you do is build a Venice-like island town, one house storey at a time. With a single click you add or remove a building piece. You control colour and location, and the game handles the rest. Roofs, gardens, clothes lines, stilts, stairs and railings – they all appear and disappear based on the particular arrangements of buildings that you set up. Despite its simplicity, Townscaper can absorb swathes of your time as you discover each thing you can make in this cute little town builder.
I tried something new and it wasn’t horrible. Here’s the game that made me wish I’d got into visual novels a decade ago, in the dying laptop years.
Shadows of New York thrusts us straight into the hindbrain of Julia, a freshly-minted blood-sucker trying to hack out a niche in New York’s byzantine vampire society. The conceit pays off: like Julia, I’d never heard of the Camarilla. How many of us have considered what happens when vampires meet their ‘final death’? I was worried my complete ignorance of the role-playing system that provides the setting would get in the way, but that soon evaporated into the night like one of Julia’s awfully smug superiors. Yes, all the other vampires are achingly cool, own fancy bits of New York and generally have their un-lives together. Each deviates enough from the source-book stereotype to make them interesting, while hinting at the shape of all that background lore.
But the main attraction is Julia herself. I love swashbuckling and/or stabbing my way through games as much as the next person, but playing as a grumpy millennial was strangely empowering. Julia is miserable, out of her depth, and afflicted by fast-food cravings. She has a favourite table at the diner and a complicated relationship with her roommate. I love her for it. The existential worries are what keep the character from being an all-out snarkster. (That and the fact that the older vampires have precisely no time for it.)
At times, the world of the Masquerade seemed breathtakingly harsh, but it was always a heartbeat away from direct social observation. Yes – you realise – vampires suck, but what’s our excuse?
After my first playthrough I was blown away by how accessible and engaging the format was, by the quality of characterisation, and by the game’s neat inclusion of the pandemic. The latter two are what I was hoping for by poking my nose outside the AAA space; but I had always feared they would come at the cost of the first.
What starts off as a faithful remake of the first Half-Life game blows you away when you reach Xen, which was seen as the worst part of the game in the original. By completely re-designing this part of the game, Crowbar Collective have made Half-Life into the game it always wished it could be.
Xen felt like an anticlimax in the original game. Here, in contrast, it looks beautiful and has really varied puzzle and combat designs in it. In 2020, when we haven’t had a main series Half-Life game in 13 years, this filled that itch. (Half-Life Alyx might’ve filled that itch if I had access to a VR rig, but I don’t.)
Since I played this, the developers have provided yet another patch that improves the graphical detail of the game, so I’m probably going to play it again some time in 2021. If the graphical detail of the new levels are
anything to judge by, I’m in for a treat.
It’s hard to call Supergiant Games an indie developer any more, given their track-record. Every release has been a strong contender for Game of the Year for just about every reputable source. Hades is no exception, with a compelling story, fluid gameplay, and easily 100 hours of entertainment if you want to 100% the game.
Despite being a rogue-like where you run through essentially the same dungeon every time, the wide variety of build options and semi-random dungeon generation makes each run feel unique. The between-run progression compounds with your improving mechanical skill and understanding to give the player an even greater sense of progression outside the story.
Compelling story, dynamic gameplay, fluid mechanics; Hades has it all. We expect Hades to feature on many “Game of the Year” lists, not just our own.
I’ve always enjoyed messing around in Paradox’s games, but I’m the first to admit I don’t know all the details. Many of their games, such as Europa Universalis 4, have multiple deep systems interacting with each other. Generally, I have only taken the time to understand the parts that interest me. As a result, previous games from Paradox have generally been quite hard for players who are new to the series to get into.
Crusader Kings 3 remedied these problems and quickly became my favourite game of the genre. It manages this by focussing on your personal Dynasty of characters and offering varied playstyles for different characters. I’ve gone from a scheming mass-murderer to a well-loved diplomat to an expert tactician.
Seeing your own alternate-reality Europe play out as a result of your choices is always a joy.
Death Stranding is about connections. Between people, settlements and the veil between the living and the dead. It’s also about trundling up a mountain in a blizzard to deliver toilet paper to someone.
The game has a solid sense of progression, which is aided by a cool network feature. This allows you to contribute towards structures and roads built by other players. Death Stranding was an experience which, for me, made a connection between gaming and film, and I recommend you check it out.
The tragic demise of my old computer paved the way for some exciting gaming moments in 2020. Red Dead Redemption 2 came into my life as a happy conjunction of three things: the Steam sale was on; I wanted something with epic grass to give my new computer a workout; and a friend had made a surprisingly factual comment about the game’s modelling of pony plums.
I haven’t looked back. The horses are indeed second to none. The dogs are pettable. In fact, I’ve been having a shockingly lovely time just spying on farm animals (there are points for that, too). The PC version has prominent accessibility options. I found that, on the lowest difficulty, combat didn’t get in the way of enjoying the missions. You can even choose to skip checkpoints if you find yourself struggling.
After hours mucking about in the online portion of the game, it’s hard to remember how grim the West is when you’re playing as Arthur Morgan. I won’t spoil the story, but the themes of human failure and the death of an age play out beautifully.
If I’m honest, I’d like to award Game of the Year 2020 to the world Rockstar have coaxed into existence. Covering five ‘states’, the game delivers pastiches of American ecosystems that feel genuinely diverse. This is the best historical tourism on offer.
My games of the year for 2020 seem to have a common theme: nostalgia. Half-Life 2 was the first First-Person Shooter that clicked with me, and introduced me to the genre; Kingdom Hearts is a game from my childhood that I revisited as an adult and found a welcoming, positive story; and Crash Bandicoot was one of the first video games I ever owned, and was my favourite for a long period of my childhood.
This game could have easily been forgettable. I don’t have much love for the sequels that came after Naughty Dog stopped developing the series. However, this game adds a bunch of new original design elements that really make the game shine. The levels are fantastically vibrant and (in its default mode) don’t care about how much you die. This means they can up the challenge significantly without adding extra frustration with a “game over” screen.
There’s a lot of content in the game after you’ve “completed” the game. The level sets get re-used in N. Verted Mode, and there are optional harder challenges (such as completing each level with fewer than 3 deaths) as well as the traditional box gems and time trials.
The last level has platforming that reminded me of Celeste, bringing together the skills that you’ve practised across the entire game. Every death seems fair though, and you get the challenge of trying to pull off the tricky platforming sections that you almost did that last time.
Outer Wilds released on Steam just before my birthday, so I bought it as a present to myself. And oh boy was I in for a treat!
In Outer Wilds you play a first-time astronaut discovering a universe stuck in a time-loop. If I tell you much more than that it would be a spoiler. You travel around a unique solar system uncovering its mysteries and figuring out what has happened, and what will happen. The game is expertly crafted to feel like a race against time, only to realise that – once you know what you are doing – each journey can be completed at a surprisingly leisurely pace.
Outer Wilds is genius in its design, in that you are theoretically capable of doing anything (even completing the game) immediately. But –my word –you need to discover just about everything before you really understand what you need to do. This game will make you feel like a genius and a fool at the same time; you’ll feel overwhelmed with joy and endlessly melancholy with the same discovery; simultaneously terrified and excited by every new step. Outer Wilds is definitely a contender for my top game of all time, and one that I would recommend to everyone, regardless of their prior experience with video games.
My only regret is that I can’t wipe my memory and play this game for the first time again.
Having skipped out on the Assassin’s Creed series from Unity to Origins, I never got the chance to experience the series visiting my own country during Syndicate. However, this changed in November when the games visited Saxon England during the Danelaw.
Now, I’m a history/mythology nerd and a sucker for games set in the real world across different time periods (as you’ll see with my second place choice), and getting to experience these different places at different times is what keeps me engaged with the Assassin’s Creed games. But getting to visit home this time pushed it to the top of my list.
Honestly, it’s not just the setting that made me enjoy this instalment, but the characters and story too. I had learned not to get too invested in the Assassin’s Creed games’ overarching plots, but Valhalla managed to pique my curiosity. Sure enough, I found myself caring about individual characters’ arcs and how they fitted into a period where the Assassins and Templars were still in the process of becoming the Orders we know so well.
When pitching this game to my girlfriend, I had my doubts, she had her doubts, but oh boy were we wrong! Divinity: Original Sin 2 is an excellent entry point to RPGs for the uninitiated: the story is fantastic and all the NPCs are voiced. There are lots of characters to meet, towns to explore, dungeons to loot, spells to learn and evil do-ers to squash.
For a year when the outside world was daunting, being able to get thoroughly immersed in the world of Divinity made it my Game of the Year 2020.