I will admit that the bit this article is going for started as a joke in the first half of 2020, but as the year went on, it became less of a joke and more of a legitimate argument.
2020 is a year in which all of us needed to find comfort in something, and the videogame industry made that incredibly easy to do in a year where, due to the transition to new hardware and a general fatigue around the previous generation, we got a truly astounding amount of remakes and remasters.
I’ll be blunt — this was not a particularly strong year when it came to new releases.
As always, the indies bring it, and I’m sure Brad or Mike’s list will be half full of stuff I’ve never heard of that’s worth checking out, but it’s hard to call this a year where the big publishers brought it — they seemed to reflect on their old catalogs above all else.
With that in mind, I present to you a list featuring ten games that were, objectively, better than anything that was released originally in 2020.
2020 Game I desperately Want To Play More Of In 2021:
Yakuza: Like A Dragon
In a normal year, a release on November 10th would’ve been enough time for me to play something and put it on the list, but in keeping with the theme of this article, I’m waiting for the remaster. While I currently have a PS4 copy of Yakuza: Like A Dragon (the latest entry in one of my favorite franchises) I have chosen to wait for the PlayStation 5 update which will be available in March of 2021.
Is this waiting necessary? No.
Do I want to play this game desperately? Yes.
Am I unbelievably jealous of my brother who got an Xbox Series X and gets to play the next-gen version of this game day-and-date with the launch of his console? You bet your sweet ass I am.
Despite my general confusion as to why the most Japanese franchise ever is currently best on a console nobody in Japan will ever care about, I believe my patience will pay off with even more frames per second and more p’s & k’s than previously believed possible. The future is bright indeed.
2021’s Inevitable Story Of The Year:
So…What is Xbox Exactly?
So I got a Playstation 5 that’s so big it won’t fit anywhere on my TV stand, and like a noble idiot I decided not to hawk it for triple what I paid and marvel at a bunch of slightly crisper versions of games that already look great on the hardware I already had. This was essentially the case for the last console generation, but the SSD implementation in both the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series S/X really does have the ability to be a revolutionary step.
This launch cycle also marked the first time in over fifteen years that I did not buy a mainline console at launch, as on top of not having the money for two consoles, I don’t feel the need to own an Xbox Series X or S.
This isn’t to say that Microsoft is failing right now in my eyes. Far from it. Gamepass is the best thing going in gaming right now, and while the Xbox One X was maybe the last console I’d recommend people buy, it ended up being the one I used the most at the end of the last generation due to its obvious horsepower difference — it was a marked improvement over the PS4 Pro for multi-platform releases. (Plus it didn’t sound like a nuclear reactor going off like my Pro did on occasion.)
Microsoft is apparently focusing less on hardware units sold and more on getting their games out to as many people as possible, and with Gamepass providing a steady stream of content and Microsoft’s commitment to supporting older hardware for an extended period, I see my Xbox One X being surprisingly viable for multiple years.
Fun fact: Star Wars Squadrons actually runs better on Xbox One X than it does on PlayStation 5. This console is still strong from a hardware perspective, and I’m quite certain that Gears 6 and Halo Infinite are going to look great on it. So, with a PS5 to cover a far superior first-party lineup along with having a home for the next generation of multi-platform titles, a decent laptop with Game Pass, and an Xbox One X with Game Pass, I don’t really see much that I’m going to miss out on by not having a Series X other than maybe improved load times on the…three ish Microsoft exclusive games I play every year?
And this is cool! While I’m a little worried about the ramifications of Microsoft buying up half the developers in the industry over the past couple years, I’m excited to see how this new approach to being a platform and not necessarily a hardware manufacturer works out for them. As someone who doesn’t feel like giving them more money for hardware after coughing up $500 just three years ago, I sincerely hope they succeed.
Special End-Of-The-Generation Achievement Award for Most Outstanding Developer:
Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Regular readers of Gamecritics will recognize us as longtime admirers of the Yakuza franchise — it’s renaissance in the west this generation is quite possibly the most wonderful thing to happen to gaming since 2013. And since then, we’ve seen quite the turnaround for a company that almost dropped the franchise entirely in favor of making endless games based off the Alien movies.
But let’s be clear — this got done through some work.
There is zero comparison to the output, both in quality and quantity, of Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio this generation. In total, they released ten separate products since the launch of the Playstation 4 in 2013.
They made six entirely new games (Yakuza 0, Yakuza 6, Yakuza: Like A Dragon, Judgement, Fist Of The North Star: Lost Paradise, and the Japanese only Ryu Ga Gotoku Ishin!), two lavishly-produced remakes (Yakuza Kiwami 1 & 2), and a well-crafted remaster collection that we will talk about later.
Oh, and apparently somewhere along the way they got a hankering to play some Super Monkey Ball so they also handled remastering Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz just for kicks.
Ten games. TEN! In seven years! Made with three separate engines built in-house! That’s TWELVE for those that want to count the remastered Yakuza 3, 4, and 5 as separate releases. That’s the kind of release schedule I’d expect from two brothers making microcomputer games from their mom’s attic in the ’80s, not a modern triple-A studio. While I Imagine these people need vacations, they should be unbelievably proud of the work they have created. No other developer even came close.
2020’s Turd Of The Year: Warcraft III: Reforged
Sure, let’s make the weakest game of 2020 a remaster too. Here’s the thing, though — even in a normal year, I don’t see many games being able to beat Warcraft III: Reforged for this “achievement”.
This game came out way back in January, so let me remind everyone just how much of a train wreck it was.
On top of releasing without promised features like revamped cutscenes and ultra-widescreen support, it also had the most draconian user agreement ever put out by a major publisher in which players have to agree to forego any ownership of in-game mods they produce because Bobby Kotick is still pissed off that he didn’t get any of that DOTA money. Further, it was a rushed port released early as an attempted mea culpa after tons of terrible press that included things like laying off hundreds of people while simultaneously reporting record profits and also kowtowing to a fascist dictatorship. Somehow, despite all the odds, despite the fact that just two years prior they did a remaster to the original Starcraft that was exceptional, they couldn’t even release a game that didn’t crash constantly.
Oh, and if you owned the original Warcraft III on Battle.net already, too bad! You got Reforged for free because they George Lucas’d this bitch and removed the original completely from their ecosystem. This is now the official Warcraft III of record, and there ain’t a damn thing you can do about it. Add to that some exceptionally bad “we’re hearing you and we’re sorry” letters from a PR group that really should know better at this point, and there’s no question that Warcraft III: Reforged is the greatest dumpster fire the industry produced in 2020.
Now, for the The End-All, Be-All Absolutely 100% Defacto Completely Faultless And Definitely-Not-Written-With-An-Ounce-Of-Cynicism List Of The Top Ten Game Releases Of 2020.
Honorable Mention: Demon’s Souls
Let’s get one thing out of the way right now — I don’t particularly enjoy playing Demon’s Souls.
I respect it. I admire it. I don’t want FROM SOFTWARE to change it to better suit my tastes. but, the fact is that I just don’t click with the gameplay loop, and I don’t find the world or lore particularly intriguing, which are the two things that usually get me through an RPG. However, as a starved PlayStation 5 early adopter, I couldn’t resist the allure of seeing what a true exclusive made from the ground up for my new hardware looked like, so I plunked down $70 to give it a spin (which is about $55 more than my usual “screw it, maybe this is the one” price for trying a Souls game).
While it certainly is telling that the most technically-impressive title on either of the new platforms is a remake, Demon’s Souls is the only launch game that legitimately made me think “Okay now THIS seems next gen”.
Bluepoint Games have done a tremendous job completely remaking Demon’s Souls and bringing it up to a new standard while ensuring the feel of combat remains intact. Also… There’s just a lot of stuff everywhere. Clutter gussied up and placed with exceptional care to create unmatched atmosphere, and it’s so far been juuuuuuuust enough to keep me banging my head against this Souls wall. For that reason alone, it deserves some recognition.
10. Black Mesa
Appearing on this list is a lifetime achievement award of sorts for the people of The Crowbar Collective, who have been working on this expansive remake of the original Half-Life in one form or another for nearly fifteen years.
The game has been mostly completed for about five years now, but it finally hit version 1.0 in March of this year with the release of the final chapter. The end levels of the original Half-Life (taking place in the alien homeworld of Xen) were, frankly, rather bad, and a rough finish for an otherwise-revolutionary title. A skeleton team spent years dramatically overhauling this final chapter to turn it into something one would actually want to play, and they succeeded spectacularly. By doing so, they’ve created something very rarely achieved — they’ve made a fan remake that is actually better than the source material.
Thankfully, Valve also recognized its quality and allowed the game to be sold, which means the people who spent more than a decade slowly tooling away at a true passion project can actually earn a little money for their troubles.
Black Mesa is a wholly-complete, exceptionally-made remake that serves as an excellent reminder that Half-Life was a helluva videogame. The team even went the extra mile by re-re-mastering the game with the recent Definitive Edition patch that polished it even further. It’s (maybe) the best fan game ever made, and it is the best way to play an all-time classic.
9. Spider-Man Remastered
While not quite as impressive as the from-the-ground-up remake that is Demon’s Souls, Spider-Man Remastered makes the list due to being something I’ve actually enjoyed playing. Marvel’s Spider-Man made my 2018 Top Ten list for good reason, and the team at Insomniac did a tremendous job implementing the advancements in technology harnessing Spider-Man: Miles Morales back into the original release — it benefits tremendously from improved load times and a variety of new visual improvements.
Outside from the odd choice to change Peter Parker’s original face into a digital rendition of Tom Holland’s distant cousin, the huge improvements in lighting and some excellent raytracing make for a remaster than looks substantially better than its previous incarnation, and players who favor framerate can forego the fancier bells and whistles to play at a rock-solid 60FPS if they so choose. Add to that the inclusion of the DLC story content, and it’s clear a lot care was put into making this next-gen remaster an experience on-par with the simultaneously released Miles Morales. because of this, Spider-Man Remastered shines just as brightly as its marquee counterpart.
8. Devil May Cry V: Special Edition
Gotta hand it to the PlayStation 5 for getting two (or kindasorta three?) launch titles on the top ten list this year, while also starting its remaster game strong!
While nowhere near the technical showpiece that either Spider-Man or Demon’s Souls are, Devil May Cry V: Special Edition smartly expands on what was an already-superb title to make it (probably) the best game available for the PS5 at launch. The original was a blisteringly-technical character action game with a completely bonkers narrative, and the gameplay-related enhancements make this an easy upgrade at $40.
Adding new difficulties is one thing, but upending the entire way one plays Devil May Cry by adding heaps of enemies onscreen and effectively turning it into complicated Dynasty Warriors is another, which is precisely what the new Legendary Dark Knight mode does. Dante’s brother Vergil as a playable character flips the script just as much, creating a far more methodical playstyle by improving on a moveset from his appearance in Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition.
While it’s a tad disappointing that it doesn’t look much better than it did eighteen months ago when I first played it on Xbox One X, Devil May Cry V: Special Edition has substantial gameplay improvements that qualify it as a worthy launch title for next generation hardware.
7. Bayonetta & Vanquish 10th Anniversary Bundle
Hey, it’s on one disc and available as one purchase digitally, so it counts.
I already made it pretty clear on this website what I think of Vanquish, so the ability to play one of the greatest games of all time in native 4K at 60FPS on a console (At least on Xbox One X) for the first time is a true joy. While the fact that PC players having this treat for a few years now does keep this re-release lower on the list, Vanquish is now and will forever be a triumph of mechanics that will stand the test of time without fail, and making that as accessible to as many users as possible is a noble pursuit by the good people at Sega.
Ohh and Bayonetta? Pretty good game too. You fight demons with your hair while J-Pop Frank Sinatra plays in the background. It’s rather fabulous really, and a decent little bonus to include for the 10th anniversary re-release of Vanquish.
6. Persona 5 Royal
It wasn’t the best game of the generation, but Persona 5 was undoubtedly the coolest game released during the last hardware cycle. It’s the game I’d most want to hang out with. I’m quite certain it can throw a helluva cocktail party with a spot-on DJ, and it’d easily be the best-dressed. Style is just oozing out of Persona 5, and for those who found the original 100+ hour game to be somehow lacking in content, Atlus is here with the their now-traditional series update to dump a few dozen more hours on those who crave it.
There’s an entire new school term to play through, and new confidants (IE: friends and accompanying sidequests) are transitioned into the main game flawlessly. Players have access to new areas, new shops, new places to hang out in, and Personas have new access to traits that add new dimensions to the combat. Maybe the biggest addition to the combat comes in the form of exceptionally flashy ‘Showtime’ team attacks that really are a joy to watch. Also, I never thought I’d see “added a grappling hook” put on a list of features for an enhanced JRPG, but here we are.
There’s not much visual improvement over the original release, but Persona 5 Royal is chock-full of smart improvements and worthwhile content that will make old fans happy to return and new fans happy to have waited.
5. Saints Row The Third Remastered
I talk a lot about the concept of “good stupid” in my writing about videogames, and no game in the history of the medium has successfully encapsulated what “good stupid” is like Saints Row The Third. It’s what happens when a studio ceases to care and puts all its eggs into the fuck-it bucket, and that’s exactly what Volition did by turning their fairly standard GTA-influenced franchise into one of the most absurd fever dreams one could have.
I have yet to find another videogame where I can strut like Ric Flair after beating a man to death with a baseball-bat-sized dildo, so please message me directly if I am forgetting one.
And yet despite extreme irreverence and a lot of cynical humor, Saints Row The Third is able to maintain a surprisingly earnest and wholesome core due to the rad group of friends players hang out with. The Third Street Saints have become a strong ensemble cast, and this new iteration of their finest outing is a great way to play what is one of the funniest videogames ever made. While it may not be obvious from screenshots, the team at port studio Sperasoft have done a considerable amount of work updating the graphics and stabilizing a game that has, frankly, never run particularly well on consoles. PS5 owners in particular are now able to harness the extra horsepower to achieve a silky-smooth 60fps.
For both technical and archival purposes, Saints Row The Third is a title absolutely deserving of this fancy new edition, and for those questioning why, I would suggest buying this game immediately and finding out. It’s perhaps the most unappreciated masterpiece of the last decade.
4. Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition
Remember Operation Rainfall? In 2011, a bunch of people got together to lobby for the English translation and western release of three Nintendo Wii exclusive JRPGs. The Wii was already a bit long in the tooth at that point so there wasn’t much appetite for these to be released, but these ardent fans stuck together, foolishly pooled their money so some dude could send PR teams poorly-made care packages, and somehow bothered enough people to finally get XSeed to pick up the localization rights for The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower.
As for Nintendo of America? They thoroughly ignored these people no matter how much the folks in charge of Operation Rainfall beg to differ, and Xenoblade Chronicles was finally released in America on April 6th, 2012 because Nintendo of Europe already translated it.
What still amazes me playing Xenoblade today is how modern it feels despite it being over a decade old (The Japanese release came in June of 2010).
The JRPG genre as a whole isn’t one well-known for being on the cutting edge of innovation, but Xenoblade smartly borrowed from contemporary MMORPG’s with features like rewarding XP after quests (and not requiring a return trip to the questgiver) which made accepting mounds of optional fetchquests far more appetizing.
Xenoblade Chronicles is also a game that can be enjoyed in both six-minute or six-hour bursts, so the Switch is a fantastic platform for this Definitive Edition. The combat moves at a blistering pace where buffs and debuffs fly all over the screen, and it’s much nicer to look at thanks to tasteful redrawing of character models which seem to walk a fine tightrope between the original release and the more anime-inspired Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Rounding out the package is a brand-new epilogue chapter that is (thankfully) unlocked from the start so experienced players can jump straight into that if they so choose.
Operation Rainfall had zero to do with Xenoblade Chronicles being released for the Wii, and they had even less to do with it getting Definitive Edition’d this past June. I only bring it up to remind myself how dumb it was sending those people $15 in exchange for a paper sleeve that I never received. Regardless, Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition is great, and the best way to experience one of the finest JRPGs of the past decade. Thank you Nintendo (and only Nintendo) for making it happen.
3. Mafia: Definitive Edition
2002’s Mafia was many things, but it was one thing above all else — Eastern European.
The team at what is now called 2K Czech created a beautifully-realized period drama, but that didn’t stop them from adding weird quirks only found in Eastern Bloc PC exclusives like realistic bullet trajectory or a charming-yet-stilted English translation. It’s hard to describe, but one knows this sort of jank when they see it, and it’s only capable of being produced by former Communists. While I’m slightly disappointed this aspect has been nearly scrubbed away in Mafia: Definitive Edition, the monumental improvements across the board make that pill slightly easier to swallow.
The mechanics here have been completely redesigned with drastically improved shooting and driving, the cutscenes have all been redone with better voice actors reading from an improved script, it looks sensational, and some of the original’s stringent gameplay requirements have been streamlined. Thankfully, fans of the original can retool the difficulty in numerous ways, so those pining for the days of strictly-enforced traffic laws or permanently losing ammo from magazines not fully exhausted are covered.
Mafia III developer Hangar 13 has done a tremendous job gussying up this long-dormant classic for a new generation of players, and taking a stroll through Lost Heaven has never been so enjoyable. It’s not the best game on this list, but Mafia: Definitive Edition is easily the most impressive remake of the year.
2. The Yakuza Remastered Collection
If Ryo Ga Gotoku Studio is the developer of the generation, then I think it’s a safe bet to say that Yakuza has emerged as (maybe) the defining franchise of the Playstation 4, because it’s now possible to play through modern renditions of all eight mainline Yakuza titles thanks to the Playstation 3-sized hole filled with the release of The Yakuza Remastered Collection.
While Yakuza 3 & 4 were released as separate digital downloads during the second half of 2019, they were compiled for a two-disc set coinciding with the release of Yakuza 5 on PS4 in February. We finally did it guys. We got Yakuza 5 in English on a disc. The holy grail for, like, seventeen people has finally been bestowed upon us. Seriously though, it’s great to have these three titles collected so we can have the entire saga completely accessible to players on modern hardware.
Yakuza 3 deserves its reputation as the weakest mainline entry, but even the weakest Yakuza game is better than 95% of the competition, and there are plenty of important plot developments in it that do more to define protagonist hall-of-famer Kazuma Kiryu than any other title in the series.
Yakuza 4 expanded scope with four playable characters while ironing out the kinks in Yakuza 3’s combat, presentation, and RPG mechanics.
While 3 and 4 are great, there’s a reason that Yakuza 5 became one of the most lusted-after Japanese exclusives for years. While it is indeed as awesome as people say, most of us had stopped caring (or stopped having a Playstation 3 plugged in) by the time the game was released as a digital-only title for the west in 2015. Now that the series has erupted in popularity here, it’s great to see Yakuza 5 get another shot at recognition. It is truly spectacular and worthy of your time.
This set was never a given, by the way. The Playstation 3 has been notoriously difficult to emulate, and it’s caused an unprecedented level of high quality, big-time exclusives like Metal Gear Solid 4, Killzone 2, and Tokyo Jungle to be (seemingly) lost to the sands of time even while we are smack dab in the center of a remaster craze. So, don’t scoff at the effort the team put in getting these three previously-PS3 exclusive games to run at a rock solid 60 FPS in 1080p on modern hardware (and 1440p on PS4 Pro), especially considering how poorly performing Yakuza 5 was in its original PS3 incarnation.
On top of that, the exceptional translation team at Sega of America has gone back and touched up the script for each game, with considerable reworking done to Yakuza 3 in particular. Considering this $60 release represents the best bang-for-the-buck on this entire list with over 250 hours of content spanning three games, it’s extra-credit work like fine-tuning an already-published translation that got this exceptional collection as high on this list as it is.
1. YOUR THREE-TIME, BACK-TO-BACK-TO-BACK, REIGNING, DEFENDING, UNDISPUTED GAME OF THE YEAR IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 2020:
Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes Of An Elusive Age Definitive Edition (On Xbox One X)
It’s a threepeat for the champ.
2018’s clear choice for Game Of The Year got the asterisk treatment on my 2019 list for its exceptional first port, but in a 2020 where remasters and remakes dominated my playing habits, no game gave me such joy in returning to as Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes Of An Elusive Age Definitive Edition.
The switch version from 2019 made a wide variety of quality-of-life improvements, added additional sidequests, gave the ability to play with a full orchestral score and also included a fully-realized 16-bit de-make of the game for good measure. It was a substantial upgrade to a brilliant game that already had mounds of content, but moving the game from PS4 to Switch had a severe impact on the visuals. Being able to have those upgrades available on more capable consoles is a godsend.
While the new port runs fine on Playstation 4, it should be noted this award is specifically being given to the Xbox One X release which takes full advantage of the hardware and is able to run at full 4K resolution with 60 frames per second. I’m not usually one to return to a game I already beat after 95 hours, but seeing it run at 4K60 with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra backing it up makes me shockingly ready to dive in all over again. This release represents the classiest way to play the classiest game of the last generation, and no game on this list deserves the moniker of “Definitive” quite like this one does.
Dragon Quest XI s: Echoes Of An Elusive Age Definitive Edition on Xbox One X is the More Perfect version of one of the finest RPGs ever made, and after a year that necessitated all of us needing a little cheering up, it’s guaranteed to make you smile.