How do you have a 2020 Roundup? A year that has put the Annus in Annus Horribulus. The ongoing pandemic notwithstanding its been a year where everybody seems to have shared tragedy on some level. Having lost close friends, dear pets and suffered a weather event catastrophe I’m just glad COVID has not yet reached my door.
Here we are at the dawn of a New Year, and just like twelve short months ago. Everybody was wishing that when that calendar clicks over the trend gets better. We should take a quick spin around the highlights of what we managed under such adversity.
2020 Roundup – a year in gaming
A year in games can be as busy or quiet as you like, thankfully the pandemic didn’t stop the world from gaming. In fact it would seem that it only got more people online. Sneaking a cheeky game of something while working from home was likely a common scenario. We knew as we went into 2020 there would be new consoles. We didn’t know how COVID would be affecting supply chains, distribution and promotional budgets. In general, the latest generation of consoles have become rarer than “hen’s teeth” in the run up to Christmas. A sign that the gaming community is growing, people had money and wanted to feel good about something new. Not only are the consoles jumping generations, but so are the consumers. The deeper and wider pool of target audience is far reaching. We’ve seen new kids on the block vying with octogenarian Grannies for the latest hardware.
Then there is the step change in technology.
It has to be said that once the “new console smell” had faded we were waiting for the “Wow Moments”. The XBOX delivered muscle and the Playstation delivered some innovation. Neither however felt like the giant leaps we made back when the previous iterations came home. The mid-generation “Pro” models have to bear some of the blame. With developers desperately trying to polish or re-up existing games the launch slate of system sellers was light. Don’t forget to check out Barrie’s first 14 Days with his XBOX though.
New consoles aside, we’ve had a great year for content. Over seventy published reviews for games and DLC, not bad for a part-time team of four. Hardware reviews for a number of gaming gadgets, great special features and the odd spinoff like Guy’s awesome looking Everdure BBQ or the FitBit ranges. Its been a busy year, We’ve also had to pull on the odd assist from non-regulars like Dylan Burns and Nina to bolster the team. Our good friend NGUNSZ also managed to jump on our invitation to attend the Dualsense and PS5 Hands-On with Sony, given that COVID was stopping me from flying anywhere.
2020 Roundup – Features, you say?
We ran some fun one-offs this year. Even though we had a good supply of content coming through, the face of PR had changed. With everybody working from home it was harder to get extra content. Sexy Press Kits just weren’t available to hit the Instagram or Facebook accounts. Features were always something we’d hoped to expand on, as hardworking regular people with life and responsibilities sometimes you just need to let go on something for fun rather than a deadline.
I had a couple of standouts, one of which has been a solid draw on Google all through the year. That was a love letter for my beloved Championship Manager 97/98, a DOS PC game I lived in my twenties. To this day the game holds a massive cult following and still in my eyes delivers the right playability over its more complex relatives. Not a bad feature born on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
My other personal favourite was being able to realise a lifelong dream and play my PS4 on a cinema screen. With customers gone and businesses struggling to find more income, my local multiplex offered up a few hours and catering for some Big Screen PS4 action. I leapt at it and had an absolute blast. I know now, I need to buy a smalltown cinema for personal use, if I score on the lotto this week!
Other absolute solid mentions go to Nina’s Deep Dives on The Last of Us 2 and Rainbow Six. Not forgetting Nicks PS5 Hands-On (again!). Its fair to say we’ll be looking to run more of these articles this year and I have a slate penciled in for the next few months.
2020 Roundup – what about the games then?
There was a lot to choose from, franchise games, massive AAA titles and Indies all making themselves known. The new console launches went hand in hand with Watchdogs and AC Valhalla. Ghost of Tsushima blew people away, for me it suffered in the tailwind of Last of Us Part 2. Media Molecule finally made Dreams a thing, No Man’s Sky kept getting better and Iron Man VR fizzed. The all format story of the year goes to Cyberpunk on many levels, but I’m taking my time on that. Gerard got his PC Rig up and running ready for MS Flight Simulator. Which also saw him revisit Death Stranding, Horizon Zero Dawn. However it was indie darling Cloudpunk that got him dreaming of electric sheep.
My personal top 3 for the 2020 Roundup
Both great games because they’re both very playable. Maneater was a fun review to write, but short lived. Hot Pursuit just flicked my switches, so I’ll go with that. It’s fast, forgiving and fun.
There’s something satisfying about weaponised police cars taking out Hoons.
Second Place is Zombie Army 4, we kicked off the year in style back in January with this.
Its a fun, playable romp with a ridiculous story and plenty of Nazis to gib. Add some RPG lite elements, crazy weapons and bizarre enemies. If there was an award for the game I’ve gone back to time and again this year it would win.
Grab some mates or play alone, third person action at its funnest.
My absolute top game of the year, generation and for as long as I’ve been playing.
It has to be The Last of Us Part 2.
Taking all the qualities from the original game and building so heavily on it. The game is rock solid, from smashing open vending machines for health bars to the brutal turns in the story.
I’ve said many times that skipping cutscenes is a skill for me, unless its a Naughty Dog game. This is top tier writing, art direction and gameplay. Nothing has ever come close. I can’t wait to see it on a dedicated PS5 version to experience it all over again.
My personal top 3 for the 2020 Roundup (Guy Edition)
Guy, or @nzbrowncoat to some has been our strength in Youtube. From a self taught start to videos regularly getting into tens of thousands of views, we always look forward to another few minutes with his silky Kiwi tones. Let’s hope 2021 give him some more Mass Effect.
Third Place is Star Wars: Squadrons which I reviewed in October.
I will be the first to admit that to feature a Star Wars game, let alone one made my EA in my game of the year discussion is not something I would have predicted. But we can all admit 2020 was full of surprises on many levels.
Now the caveat I must make clear, is that Squadrons auspicious placing must go hand in hand with the PSVR. Sure, Squadrons is a great ‘flat-tv’ game on its own. However in Virtual Reality it becomes one of the most immersive flight-sim-lites I have ever played.
Second Place is a tough one.
With 2020 just being a bit shite. I wanted to make mention of Sackboys Big Adventure on PS5, as it is a joyful escape from all the crap we have faced. But at the start of the year I was won over by the dark magic of Doom: Eternal.
Doom: Eternal’s balance of aggression and strategy, sets it apart from all the other first person shooters out there. Its music and level design are just perfect and…..well I just loved being in hell.
My First place game is The Last of Us 2.
Ellie’s journey into darkness is an experience not to be missed.
The Last of Us 2 is a master-class example of refined game mechanics seamlessly combined with narrative depth. Meticulous design, attention to detail and bravery to challenge gamers to be mature. Has elevated Naughty Dog to be, in my opinion, the best game developer in the world.
My Personal top Three for the 2020 Roundup (Barrie’s edition)
Ever present and ever green, @TusockNZ has been our go to for XBOX over the years. We tried to get him a PS5, but it didn’t pan out, but then imagine his pile of shame, you could see it from space.
Third Place is Journey To The Savage Planet.
Released to Game Pass on Xbox just at the time of lockdown here in New Zealand this widely unknown title from 505 Games really sunk its hooks into me. With its accessible gameplay and pleasing aesthetics, the Savage Planet was a joy to explore.
Throw in some off beat humor and it really was a title to get me through those uncertain times. And now on writing this I see there is some DLC, might be time to revisit the Savage Planet. Sometimes it really does pay to check out those non-AAA titles.
And that is where Game Pass is so good, the ability to try something you normally would overlook.
Second Place is divisive. Cyberpunk 2077.
Full of bugs, an unplayable mess, I want a refund. Not here. Nope, apart from a few audio glitches and one memorable graphical glitch Cyberpunk 2077 has been a joy to play. Maybe I am more open to quirks and oddities thanks to my love of obscure RPG’s. But I am still really enjoying my time in Night City.
After tweaking the HDR settings on my Xbox Series X I am finding Cyberpunk 2077 a beautiful, well fleshed out game. Have to admit I am still torn on whether to wait for the next gen upgrades or not… Nothing a second play through won’t cure though.
My First place game is Wasteland 3.
I have a long love affair with post-apocalyptic settings. Fallout has been filling that desire for many years now, so it was fantastic to have a return to the original post-apocalyptic world. With familiar names and faces I felt at home, comfortable and content.
I know isometric RPG’s are a niche market. I am well intrenched in that market. Turn based joy and adult themes. In the crazy old year that was 2020 I needed something familiar, something to remind me of the good old days and for me that is what Wasteland 3 did.
My Personal top Three for the 2020 Roundup (Gerard’s edition)
Last but not least, we managed to get Gerard to give us his top three from a beach somewhere in New Zealand. Also known as @Gamejunkienz on Twitter, he’s been around a bit and knows his stuff.
In third place, Cloudpunk (PC, Ionlands)
An indie title from a small German team, Cloudpunk scratched Cyberpunk & Blade Runner itches with its dysotopian setting, neon-soakd city and flying cars.
Voxel graphics give a pixelated visual style that works and while things to do in the city itself were limited at launch, the developers have released updates which make it, on PC at least, a great Cyberpunk game set in a city of the future.
In second place, Microsoft Flight Simulator (PC, Microsoft Game Studios)
his is the game that made me buy a new Thrustmaster flight stick just so I could nail my take offs.
Combining stunning visuals & intricate details, MFS was the perfect antidote in a year when international travel was essentially non-existent unless you were returning to your home country.
I loved just booting it up, flying around places and I’d visited and seeing if I could see my house in my home town.
My First Place game for 2020 was, Ghost of Tsushima (PS4/Sucker Punch Productions)
I’ve always been a fan of developer Sucker Punch and it didn’t disappoint with Ghost of Tsushima, a game that came at the end of the PS4’s lifecycle and showed what a talented team is capable of.
Telling the tale of samurai Jin Sakai following a Mongol invasion of his island home of Tsushima, it’s a nice mix of hack n slash and exploration as you becoming a powerful warrior out to defend your family’s honour.