After almost a year of pretending to be fully clothed we thought it was only fitting that we don the top half of a tuxedo, pour a glass of bubbly, and scream at our peers in a productive, friendly video call about which games were worthy of awards in 2020, and indeed, what those awards should be. Unlike our much more democratic, sensible GOTY 2020 list, this quickly devolved into silliness, but we were able to get some sincere thoughts down before then.
While the annual Game of the Year tradition is a great chance to celebrate our favourite games of the year, the church of PC gaming is a diverse and welcoming one, so it’s nice to have a space to celebrate some of the bonkers achievements in the industry. As much as we love to talk about the positives, let’s face it, it’s been a really weird year, and that weirdness has washed up on the shores of PCGamesNland, dumping hashtag-laden pollutants onto our pebbly beaches.
So join us as we raise a glass to 2020 the only way we know how, with some special awards to celebrate particular, genre-based, or plain pointless achievements across the weird and wonderful world of PC gaming.
Microsoft Flight Simulator
Open-world games have finally met their match in Microsoft Flight Simulator (not now No Man’s Sky), which recreates our gigantic doomed planet – weather systems, warts, and all – and lets you fly around in it for funsies. With the exception of some random death spires jutting out of the ground and the fact that Buckingham Palace looks like an office block in deepest darkest Swindon (Google it), there are seemingly fewer bugs in the entire freaking planet than Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City.
And what’s really special about this is that it’s not all down to one fancy bit of tech, but is instead the result of a handful of technologies: Bing Maps, photogrammetry, Azure cloud computing, meteorological and flight navigation data, and procedural and AI generation. Actual humans played a role, too – 37,000 airports were directly edited by people. It’s such a convincing world that Microsoft Flight Simulator has a dedicated community of storm chasers. It’s a monumental technical achievement and the first – some might say only – game in 2020 to feel truly next-gen.
Ichiban Kasuga, Yakuza: Like a Dragon
It was a privileged few who were materially untouched by this year’s global pandemic. Maybe that’s why Yakuza: Like a Dragon felt as though it arrived at the perfect time, led by the utterly loveable dumbass, Ichiban Kasuga.
Launched by a terrible haircut onto the path of Dragon Quest’s Hero, Kasuga brings with him only his fierce sense of loyalty and his love for his humble upbringing. It’s that friendship, and the mercy he shows even toward some of Like a Dragon’s villains, that are the sources of Kasuga’s effortless strength. As Portia put it long ago, “it blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
Kasuga isn’t particularly clever, but another one of his enduring strengths is his willingness to learn. When Nanba shakes him out of his empty-headed notion that a trip to the temp agency will lift the residents of a homeless camp out of poverty, Kasuga takes the lesson to heart. And when circumstances change for a friend, Kasuga isn’t indignant at the betrayal – he sees things from their perspective and expresses his undying solidarity.
In such a turbulent time as this, it was genuinely wonderful to meet a hero like Kasuga – someone who reminds us that heroes aren’t created by some accident of birth or wealth. They’re all around us, not necessarily standing out from the crowd, and their super power is their willingness to recognise and marvel at the humanity they share with the rest of the world. Check out our Yakuza: Like a Dragon review for more warming thoughts like this.
Best Ongoing Game
No Man’s Sky
Pretty much every year we mull this award over, it always leads to a furious debate between advocates for Fortnite, Rainbow Six Siege, Destiny 2, and GTA V. This year, however, we all agreed that No Man’s Sky deserved the dub. In 2020 alone No Man’s Sky has received seven major updates, bolstering content, improving the game for next-gen, refreshing systems, and implementing crossplay. The team at Hello Games worked tirelessly during the space game’s first post-launch year to deliver something that met famously astronomical fan expectations, but this year, No Man’s Sky has started to exceed them.
A special mention should go to InnerSloth, the small team behind Among Us, arguably the biggest gaming surprise in multiple years. The team can’t claim a robust and consistent update cycle, but that’s because Among Us went from a quietly successful indie game to a global phenomenon in a matter of weeks. While all of this was going on, InnerSloth announced Among Us 2, cancelled it following anxious fan feedback, and finally settled on improving the original game with a new map and a host of quality of life improvements, which everyone seems pretty happy with.
Hades’ story is woven into every facet of its roguelike mechanics. You’re not told that you’re trying to escape hell because you hate your dad, the Lord of the Underworld – it’s something you put together. At first it’s annoying hearing him tut and jeer as you slump past him after another failed run dumps you right back home. But as you stumble across more of his backstory, by talking to the other residents of Hades or the gods of Olympus, you feel like jeering right back at him when you find yourself in his company again.
Your beef with your awful dad isn’t the only story in the underworld, though. As you continue your escape attempt, you repeatedly cross paths with people and gain a small piece of a larger puzzle that is their own story. You meet lovers torn apart by hell, someone coming to terms with their past deeds, and people who don’t want you to go. The more you try and help them, the more you doubt if you should try to escape at all.
The constant cycle of failure can be off putting in roguelikes, but Hades’ narrative makes sure that you always gain something for at least trying. Even if you can’t feel yourself getting to grips with the game’s combat or bosses. Read more in our Hades review.
There’s no formally established nomenclature for the games in this category – trust us, we really tried – sometimes you’ll hear them called ‘B games’ or ‘bargain bin games,’ but we’re going with 7/10. Review scores aren’t the full story – you can get the full story by reading our Marvel’s Avengers review – which is why they’re often accompanied by a ton of words, and sometimes you’ll run into a seven that just feels right. There may be a host of problems that kept these games out of the top tiers, but when you come upon them – sometimes years later – it’s clear they had their hearts in the right places.
This year, that game is Marvel’s Avengers. If you were plugged into the games Discourse around the time it launched, you’d likely have come away with the impression that it was an expensive failure: the endgame grind was unsatisfying and the PC version was riddled with bugs. By the end of the year, Avengers was sitting in Steam’s bargain bin, with a hefty 50% discount appearing to beg players to please, just give it a chance.
While all that is true, it masks the fact that Marvel’s Avengers is not only a gorgeous and versatile brawler, it’s also a terrific example of using an established property well in a videogame format. Placing Avengers newcomer Kamala Khan at the centre of its single-player campaign was a masterful move: she bridges the gap between fans and heroes, and only the most hardened cynic could fail to be charmed by Sandra Saad’s performance of Marvel’s new heroine.
Crystal Dynamics may have big plans for Marvel’s Avengers, but even if those don’t pan out, the campaign story is a fun enough action movie romp to justify the price of admission – especially if you can pick it up on sale. Our alternate pick for this category is Serious Sam 4, which is a slightly different proposition. To fans of the series and old-school ego shooters it’s probably an easy eight out of ten, and it doesn’t have the same blue cheese-funk that often marks a classic 7/10.
Tides of modders have been juicing their noggins to think of new ways to play the biggest and best PC games around. That’s meant a whole lot of snazzy new Skyrim mods, Witcher 3 mods, Crusader Kings 3 mods, and… well, you get the picture. Our pick of 2020, however, is something humble in premise, but most excellent in execution: the Rat Doom mod for Doom II.
Mattheenstra’s “low effort” creation swaps out all of Doom II’s weapons for “something rat related”. Doomguy’s pistol, par exemple, becomes a hand holding a rat who’s wielding a pistol. The rat’s hand holding the pistol isn’t a rat hand (Ed: Paw. It’s called a paw.), though. The rat just has the same human hand as the one that’s holding the rat. Except it’s holding a pistol. With us? Good.
It seems the tufty little critter is more on board with some of the rodenty replacements than others, but we assume that no rats were harmed in the creation of the mod. If you’re looking for a homemade Vermintide kind of an experience, Rat Doom’s the thing. Oh, and while you’re here, you might enjoy our roundup of the best rat games on PC.
The What The Hell Is This Award
The ‘What the Hell is This’ award represents those things which aren’t necessarily terrible, but those which force us to tilt our heads sideways and screw our faces into grotesque forms in an effort to comprehend what’s going on. This category was inspired by a bizarre digital art gallery from Activision, which was thus an obvious contender, but when it comes right down to it there’s only one piece of game industry bobbins weird enough to be the winner: #FreeFortnite.
In case you didn’t know, the ‘Free Fortnite’ hashtag is part of an ongoing legal dispute between Epic and Apple. Epic believes that Apple is taking an unfair cut of Fortnite’s revenue on iOS, and has instituted a third-party payment processor to get around paying Apple’s share.
It’ll be for the courts to decide which megacorporation is ultimately in the right, we’re just saying Epic’s PR campaign is a bit weird. Within hours of the start of the lawsuit being filed, Epic ran a video called ‘Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite’ in-game and online, which parodied Apple’s famous ‘1984’ commercial and compared the App Store’s profit cut to a fictional fascist dictatorship – something that only seemed weirder when, months later, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney compared the struggle for bigger profits to the very real Civil Rights Movement.
Epic is well within its rights to pursue changes in how business is done on the platforms it makes its money on. But to all appearances, #FreeFortnite is an effort to weaponise the game’s audience against Apple via social media, using references which much of that audience is too young to understand, and which dealt with far more serious issues than which already excessively wealthy corporation gets to keep more of our money. Ultimately, there’s only one question we can ask: what the hell is this?
Orlog, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
Final Fantasy started this, we reckon, with chocobo racing and then Triple Triad. Now every sprawling open-world RPG must ship with a minigame that players end up loving more than the game it’s in. For The Witcher 3 that minigame was Gwent, an accessible card battler with more depth than you’d think – depth that was fully realised when CD Projekt Red made a standalone version. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has a slightly simpler tavern game for players to invest far too much time into: Orlog. There’s not much in the way of a meta, but there’s enough room to finesse your own strategy, and watching weathered Viking hands shift tactile tokens and clacky game pieces around the board is a constant delight.
Orlog faced stiff competition from Yakuza: Like a Dragon’s surprisingly robust business management sim, which is almost too impressive to deem a minigame.
The Horndog Award For Outstanding Achievements In Thirst Trapping
Blame it on us all being cooped up inside. Blame it on the general suckishness of the year. Whatever the case, 2020 has left most of us horny af, and games have been right there to help quench the thirst. We had very open-ended seduction in Crusader Kings 3, an endless supply of monetised husbandos and waifus in Genshin Impact, and relentless options for nudity in Cyberpunk 2077. But in 2020, one game managed to be hornier than all the rest.
Hades isn’t overtly sexual – well, no more than its mythological inspirations require, anyway. There’s no nudity, and none of Cyberpunk’s lavishly animated sex scenes. But damn, everyone is Just. So. Hot. From Dionysus’s alcohol-drenched abs to Megaera’s ever-present whip, every character in Hades exudes an entire DeviantArt portfolio’s worth of sex appeal.
And while, yes, Aphrodite is just a strategically obscured nude woman, Hades’ sex games credentials go well beyond the straight male fantasies that have powered decades’ worth of videogames. Hades provides thirst traps for every taste and sexuality, and even does a fantastic job with its in-fiction queer love story. It’s horniness you can feel good about, and that’s what we really needed in 2020.
The Lawbreakers Legacy Award, Presented by Anthem
Big-budget games with lots of marketing that quickly disappear after launch. It’s a trend that claimed Lawbreakers back in 2017, Anthem at the start of 2019, and too many to count in 2020. EA’s Rocket Arena didn’t have enough hype built up around it to justify inclusion on this list (see also: Bleeding Edge), Crucible went a step too far by failing to launch so hard it was literally unlaunched, and despite what some overzealous YouTube thumbnails might claim, Fall Guys is doing just fine. Cyberpunk 2077 sure is making a late push for entry, but at time of writing the jury is still out on its long-term future – and given how many copies it’s already sold and the vast shadow it’s cast over the industry for better or worse, it seems unlikely that it’ll ever fade away.
It’s also worth flagging that the Lawbreakers legacy award typically goes to games that really aren’t that bad, which is why this year it’s going to Marvel’s Avengers. As we argue in the ‘7/10’ section, it’s actually a reasonably good game, yet it simply never caught on with PC gamers. And, unlike some of the other games mentioned above, you can’t argue that it wasn’t pushed hard enough. SteamDB’s player count charts paint a pretty damning picture with a peak of 31,165 concurrent players, which dropped to just 581 in barely a month. There are signs of recovery following post-launch content updates, with the player count now hovering between 1,000 and 2,000 at the time of writing, so there’s hope yet.
Close But No Potato Award
Sam Fisher, Rainbow Six Siege
I mean, come on! It’s been seven long years since Splinter Cell: Blacklist came out, and after a couple of barely teases from Yves Guillemot and Sam Fisher’s voice actor, fans could be forgiven for thinking that Ubisoft were primed to reveal a new Splinter Cell game.
Er, no. Instead, Ubisoft gave us an older, more grizzled Sam Fisher as a new playable operator in its tactical FPS Rainbow Six Siege. Credit where credit is due, it’s the ideal setting for Fisher to find himself in, and the team behind Rainbow Six Siege has ensured everything from his iconic night-vision goggles and suppressed pistol is present. That’s neat, but it’s no Splinter Cell sequel or reboot.
This award had some fierce competition from Half-Life: Alyx, which is the closest we’ve been to Half-Life 3 since 2006 – the first and only time Valve said there would be three DLC episodes for Half-Life 2.
The ‘From Out Of Nowhere’ Award For Surprise Of The Year
In a year that brought us a competent open-world MMO from China and what’s best described as Takeshi’s Castle with bean people, it’s a spooky four-player co-op game about hunting ghosts that’s surprised us the most. What makes Phasmophobia’s sales so surprising is the simple fact that nobody knew about it until it was out. Both Genshin Impact and Fall Guys were announced during E3 2019 (and of course Among Us isn’t even eligible for these awards as it was released in 2018), whereas only those who saw Phasmophobia’s Steam page knew that it was coming until it was here.
It’s not as polished as Fall Guys or Genshin Impact, but Phasmophobia ticks all the right boxes for a sleeper hit. It has an eerie ambiance, full voice chat support that even the ghosts listen in on, and it came at just the right time of year for those looking for something spooky to play with friends. It also supports cross-play with both VR and non-VR players, though if you ask us, playing this in VR should come with a health warning and a spare pair of undies.