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Game On: The best video games of 2020

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 31, 2020

2020’s “Hotshot Racing” proves games don’t need photo-realistic graphics in order to be aesthetically pleasing.  (Sumo Digital)
2020’s “Hotshot Racing” proves games don’t need photo-realistic graphics in order to be aesthetically pleasing. (Sumo Digital)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

The beginning of a new year is often the perfect time to reflect. In general, 2020 has been a year of highs and lows for me and countless others, but lockdowns, fewer and shorter commutes and remote work gave me extra time to play a greater variety of video games than any previous year.

I’ve been known to binge one or two games for months at a time, but this year I can proudly provide a varied list of which games I consider to be the best of 2020. The most exciting release of the whole year was “Streets of Rage 4.” I grew up playing the original trilogy on the Sega Genesis, but the last “Streets of Rage” was released in 1994, the same year I was born.

To receive such a lovingly crafted sequel after 26 years was exciting, and despite my over eagerness, the game actually surpassed all my expectations. The hand-drawn animations are gorgeous, the soundtrack is catchy, and the combat is more bombastic than ever.

Despite its indie status, “Streets of Rage 4” was nominated in the “best action” category at the Game Awards next to heavy-hitters like “Doom Eternal” and “Half-Life: Alyx,” ultimately losing to “Hades.”

“Doom Eternal” might’ve been the most surprising game of 2020. Although I respect the “Doom” franchise for setting many standards for the first-person shooter genre, I wasn’t a fan until its latest entry.

“Doom Eternal” brought to the series a greater variety of weapons, environments to explore and enemies to destroy in gruesome fashion. I blasted through the bloodbath of a campaign within a couple of weeks. Anyone who enjoys first-person shooters and has a strong stomach will likely enjoy “Doom Eternal.”

“Deep Rock Galactic” was an early access title for a couple of years but was finally considered “complete” in May. The indie hit deserves every bit of its success, blending cooperative FPS gameplay with an intriguing science-fiction setting and an excellent gameplay loop. There’s something very gratifying about mowing down hordes of alien arthropods with your friends.

The icing on the cake? All levels are procedurally generated, meaning you explore a different cave each time you play. In many ways, “Deep Rock Galactic” is the best modern co-op shooter, and I’m unconvinced “Back 4 Blood” will take that crown away when it is released on June 22.

Although I’m rarely a fan of the racing genre, “Hotshot Racing” was a surprisingly good homage to retro arcade cabinets. The vehicles handle beautifully, with the low-polygon graphics and “OutRun”-inspired music bringing the whole presentation home.

Speaking of surprises, “Among Us” was this year’s sleeper hit. The social deduction game is something like a video game adaptation of “Mafia” or “Werewolf.” The biggest letdown of “Among Us” is the lack of an integrated voice chat, making communicating a hassle unless you can coordinate half a dozen friends to play with you.

InnerSloth, the game’s development team, has recently promised to update the 2018 game it had practically abandoned before its meteoric rise in popularity that peaked in September.

Finally, I am greatly enjoying “Cyberpunk 2077” despite its rocky release. Although it’s an all-too-common practice to launch half-broken video games, it’s rare for such a high-profile game to be so riddled with bugs.

There’s no reason to believe the developers, CD Projekt Red, won’t work hard to rectify the situation, but I can understand consumers being frustrated by the lies they were fed.

For anyone interested in a shooter-RPG hybrid from the creators of “The Witcher” series, I’d recommend waiting a few months before delving into “Cyberpunk 2077,” which is at its core an immersive game with a compelling storyline.

I have a hunch the troubled release of “Cyberpunk 2077” could be a sign of things to come. Compared to older consoles, it runs loads better on a new gaming PC. With the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S released in November, most gamers are due for an upgrade, but many are unable to plunk down the cash amid economic uncertainty.

However, it typically takes a couple of years for manufacturers to phase out the old systems – throughout 2021, I hope other developers will handle the generational differences with more grace than CD Projekt Red has.

Finally, a whole slew of games such as “Far Cry 6,” “Halo Infinite” and “Deathloop” were slated for 2020 release dates before being pushed back due to development teams shifting to working from home.

2021 is shaping up to be a year chock full of excellent video game releases, so there’s plenty to look forward to – a happy new year indeed.

Riordan Zentler can be reached at

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