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Liam’s Best of 2020

What a wild ride

Thanks 2020, but let’s never do that again. A year filled with ups and many, many downs, a whole lot has changed. Gaming is no exception. Sometimes good, often bad and sometimes, somehow, a weird mixture of the two, the video game landscape has been irreparably changed. Here’s how.

My game of the year: Cyberpunk 2077

My PlayStation 4 Pro crashed more times in December than it has its entire lifetime, and 90% of those crashes came on a single day: December 10. The poor thing sputtered and belched as the fans tried and failed time and time again. Frozen screens were common, with the streets of an untextured city waiting patiently for the game to catch up. It was a disaster, but after every crash, I pushed on. I launched and launched, never getting tired of hearing “Good morning, Night City!”

Cyberpunk 2077 is my game of the year. Its shooting-stealth gameplay is fine but everything else is peerless (except, you know, optimisation). The art direction is distinct and daring. Its neon-soaked cesspit of a city ranges from beautifully busted up slums to chrome towers scraping the sky. There is something to do behind each street sign and down every backstreet. Police reports and bare-knuckle scuffles, running ‘n’ gunning, sneaking ‘n’ thieving and much more to pull you away from the major plots. Companion quests arrive with the same quality as the main story and every decision feels important, difficult and reactive. There are real people to meet, fight and fall for, unlike anyone you’ve ever seen. Psychopathic cyborgs, juiced-up junkies, voodoo vixens, chrome-plated soloists, Mad Max-style road warriors, rock ‘n’ roll ghosts and a thousand other kinds of people to talk to and shoot at. It’s just… Great.

The big “but” (and I cannot lie) comes in the form of the game’s performance. Cyberpunk 2077 struggles with its scope, especially on eighth generation hardware. It freezes, crashes, clips and generally breaks. Like, a lot. The game is much more stable now than it was on day one, however. I’d even call it playable, at least on the PS4 Pro. Despite those issues, and the issues that surrounded its development and marketing campaign, Cyberpunk 2077 is still my game of the year. It’s a title with unprecedented power in its world, its characters and its choices. It may be a big, buggy mess, but it’s the best buggy mess of 2020.

Honourable Mention:  Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2

This year’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater remake shredded its way into my heart. It’s a classic pair of games re-imagined for the eighth generation with smart additions like multiplayer and some of the moves and mechanics Neversoft added to later entries. Vicarious Visions built on Neversoft’s systems and created what may well be the greatest skateboarding game of all time — and a very fitting tribute to the games that kick-started skate culture for a whole new generation of fans. 

Honourable Mention: Nioh 2 

Out of all the Souls-likes released over the last couple of years, few have been able to go toe-to-toe with FromSoftware’s bread and butter. Nioh 2 is one of those few. It’s got punishing, pulse-pumping combat, a fantastic world and cast of warriors, and a stance system to rival that of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Most importantly, though, it’s not some pale imitation: its influences are clear, for sure, but its vision is all its own. It’s truly a brilliant game. 

2020’s biggest hits and misses:

Hit: Sonic the Hedgehog, The Movie

I don’t care what anyone says: 90% of the time, Sonic stories suck. The Sonic franchise has ranged from mind-numbing fantasy ballads, 2000s-era misplaced action bravado and the utter madness of the long running Archie Comics series, testing the seemingly-infinite patience of new and old fans alike. It’s a franchise that does the unthinkably bad almost as often as it does the impossibly good. For every deep valley, there’s an amazing peak, and Sonic the Hedgehog is exactly that. 

Somehow, the film adaptation is a fast-paced, family-fun time that captures the blue blur perfectly. The characters are great and, after some “fan feedback”, Sonic’s design is damn fantastic. Add a Dr. Robotnik played by Jim Carrey at his most zany and you’re left with a video game movie unlike any other… because it’s actually good.

Miss: Marvel’s Avengers

Square Enix’s Marvel’s Avengers is a big, fat failure. In two months, the game lost 96% per cent of its PC player base. That’s abysmal for a multiplayer, team-based looter. Seriously, how is anyone supposed to play a game where 752 people logged in in the first two weeks of November? If (and it’s a big if) all those people decided to log in at the same time, there would be only 188 full teams online in 17 days. Ouch.

The game wasn’t a complete failure across the board, though. The campaign is engaging and the combat is fine, but the post-game was meant to be the meat of the experience. It isn’t. With repetitive missions and a criminal lack of loot, expect to be bored (if you expected anything at all). After starting off with so much potential, it’s a shame that a game about Marvel’s most famous superhero team sucks. Avengers – Disassemble!

Hit: The DualSense’s Haptic Feedback

The PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller is a revolution when it comes to the way games are meant to be played. Not only is it a much needed upgrade to Sony’s tried and true DualShock controller, it’s an upgrade to console gaming in general. The upgraded haptic feedback lets the controller react in much more specific ways than the rudimentary rumble of old: walking on metal, for example, gives the controller a satisfying clunk on either side, alternating sides with each step, while rain casts light, delicate vibrations across the controller. 

Vibrations are fine, but the adaptive triggers are the DualSense’s best achievement. Both triggers are programmed to let players feel the nock of a bow, the slash of a sword, the recoil of a rifle and even the swing of a friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. Both features are fresh with room for infinite versatility and creativity. All that’s left to do is hope that developers make the best of it.

What I’m looking forward to in 2021:

Everything Mass Effect

2021 has promised me two things: the original Mass Effect trilogy on modern consoles; and more information on an actual sequel. This is your chance, BioWare. Right the wrongs of Mass Effect: Andromeda. Remind the world why you used to be the best, then show us you can do it again. 

More Next-Gen

We’ve got some seriously stunning exclusives for next-gen this year. For the PlayStation 5 we got Demon’s Souls and… a tech demo. Yeah, sorry Sony, while Astro’s Playground and a Souls series mainstay is sweet, we want more.

Xbox Series X|S, on the other hand, had the most surprising exclusives of all: none.

Snark aside, I am hopeful for what 2021 will bring to the ninth generation. I’m pumped for games like Halo Infinite, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, Horizon Forbidden West and whatever else this year has hidden away. If 2020 was the year to get the ball rolling, 2021 is time to shoot the goal.

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