Now that we’re officially in the second half of 2020, it’s time to look back at the first half of 2020 and consider which of the games released so far are the best. Because that’s what calendars are for. They exist to arbitrarily group newly released videogames into time periods in which they’re pitted against each other on top ten lists for people to argue about on the internet. It’s the whole reason the Romans or Mayans or whoever invented calendars. Shame they couldn’t stick around long enough for videogames to get invented and fulfill the purpose of their calendars.
10) Alyx and/or The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners
Okay, here’s the deal. I couldn’t come up with ten games worth the list. I tried. Lord knows, I tried. The stuff I’ve played trying to find a 10th game! Even though I liked what I saw of them, I’m not going to put Resident Evil 3, Nimbatus, Chimera Squad, Plebby Quest, Fort Triumph, Bloodlust 2, Streets of Rage, Deep Rock Galactic, or Station Flow on a top ten list. I would put The Last of Us Part II on a top ten list, but it would have to be a list of gratingly twee young adult shoot-and-scoot “games”. And I haven’t tried Gears Tactics or Maneater yet.
I thought about just adding one of the remastered games that’s come out — Patapon 2, Wonderful 101, Black Mesa, Persona 4, Xenoblade Chronicles, Command & Conquer, Saints Row 3 — but because “remastered” means “it already came out a while ago”, that would set a bad precedent. So I’m instead setting the bad precedent of picking two games I really want to play, but can’t because they’re VR. I get to feeling really oogie when I play a VR game for more than five minutes at a time, especially when it’s not a cockpit-based game. So I really want to play Alyx and Saints and Sinners, and I have high hopes for what they’re attempting in a VR environment, but I think I need to build up more VR tolerance first. Stand by during the second half of 2020 as I work on this, and expect to hear more about these two games.
9) Ancient Enemy
A card battling game, but since it’s not a deck-builder, you’re not faced with the agonizing decisions that make deck-builders so compelling. Instead, it’s solitaire. You’re faced with the laidback chill of flipping cards to line them up in sequence and sweep them off the table…combined with agonizing decisions about how best to cultivate those cards to power your abilities instead of just lining them up in sequence and sweeping them off the table. Solitaire where the cards are a resource, not a simple obstacle. There have been a ton of these laidback solitaire RPGs, but Ancient Enemy is the most clever so far.
8) Doom Eternal
It’s not quite chainsaw ballet. It’s more like chainsaw jazz dance. The developers at Id continue to take Doom getting further and further from Doom and closer and closer to Ratchet and Clank. And ooh-la-la, what a sleek engine. I love those loading times!
Read the review here.
7) Gemcraft: Frostborn Wrath
Almost everything you could want in a tower defense game was in Gemcraft: Chasing Shadows. Now there’s even more of almost everything you could want in a tower defense game in the sequel, Gemcraft: Frostborn Wrath.
6) Intergalactic Fishing
I never thought I would play a fishing game in which I learned how to tie a lure. Which is something I still haven’t done. Seems like tying a lure is like trying to enter the mind of a fish. I guess to catch a fish, you gotta be a fish? But in Intergalactic Fishing, I’ve used the game’s intricate fish database to build my own lures using the abstract lure-building minigame, and with that lure I built myself, I caught the fish I wanted. Pretty gratifying. The worst videogame fishing is just slot machines where you cast a line rather than pull a lever. The best videogame fishing, like Intergalactic Fishing, is slot machines that give you more control than just pulling a lever.
A Darkest Dungeon for the rest of us. Darkest Dungeon was punishing. Iratus suggests you don’t need further punishing. In fact, Iratus says seductively, maybe it’s time to let you do the punishing.
4) Shadow Empire
A fascinating combination of serious wargame, serious resource management, superserious logistics, seriously intricate personnel management, and unserious science fiction. So much detail, so many numbers, so many things to figure out, so many pages in the manual, so many ways for things to go wrong because I don’t understand them yet. I can’t tell whether I actually like this game, or whether I’m just fascinated by it.
Read the review here.
3) Desperados III
Cowboys playing stealth puzzles wouldn’t normally be my thing. But then Desperados III patiently explained that I’m supposed to save and reload regularly. It even reminds me while I’m playing. It wants me to play this way so I can experiment with different solutions to different situations. So it’s like a Hitman game, but with a rewind option! And this posse of cowboys has some pretty cool characters with cool powers. So this is why people liked those Commandos games so much.
2) Zombie Army 4
Gloriously gory, grim, and goofy, all at once. Here are hundreds upon hundreds of Nazi zombies, and so many different ways to mutilate them. Rebellion’s shooters keep getting better and better, and this is a considerable step up from Strange Brigade.
Read the review here.
The culmination of the Spintires concept — trucks struggling through mud — presents you with a set of logistics quests spread across several maps. And this time with snow. To paraphrase Samual L. Jackson’s famous last words in Deep Blue Sea, “You think mud is bad? You should see ice.” Snowrunner is easily one of my favorite caRPGs.
(You might read this list and think it’s short on information. Fair point. It is just a list, for the most part. But it’s also a schedule. Expect to see reviews of these games in the coming weeks. With the exception of Doom Eternal, which already got its review.)