Controversial statement: 2020 was a bit of a strange year. We gamers saw a number of great titles released, and a few that really captured the public’s attention. However, let’s break from the Last of Us-es and the Cyberpunks to celebrate some hidden gems. I asked our writers which games, modern or otherwise, they discovered in 2020 that really captured their attention and helped get them through the year.
I asked them to tell me about a game, how it got missed, and who should play it. Listed below are the recommended games of Gamer’s Waypoint- some hidden gems that are worth your time, even if you’re not necessarily a fan of the genre.
Soham Sevak: Eliza (2019, Zachtronics)
“A largely unnoticed gem from my best of 2020 list is Eliza. I played it on the PC, however it’s also available on Nintendo Switch, Linux, Microsoft Windows, and Macintosh operating systems. It’s a visual novel that explores the life of Evelyn. Reeling from loss, burned out from her time in the tech industry (and its notorious ‘crunch culture’), she returns to her old company to work with the AI counselling program she once helped create.”
“Eliza is the perfect marriage of a novel and a game. Evelyn’s frustration and weariness are almost tangible. Some hard truths are also thrown bare at the player during her sessions with patients and Eliza, the eponymous program. If you want honest, inner thoughts on life and the exhaustion of pursuing a perfect career, Eliza is for you. At times, you need to look away; often the truths are so raw that they hurt. There are also five possible endings depending on your choices in the game, which just sweetens the deal.”
“It was released within a couple of weeks of being announced in August 2019. As a result it flew under a lot of people’s radar. It costs roughly $15 on Steam, which some might not want to spend on a visual novel. Especially one with minimal gameplay like Eliza.”
“Eliza is for fans of emotional, moving and thought-provoking games – which don’t need a rig that demands a second mortgage. Playable on low-end systems too, and will definitely make you think about career ambitions, depression and life in general. There is nothing quite like Eliza, but games like Gris or Florence provide just as unforgettable an experience.”
Marky Gonzales: Maneater (2020, Tripwire Interactive)
“My obscure game of 2020 (perhaps more underrated than obscure) is the one and only shark RPG, Maneater. I played it on Epic Games, but it’s also on Xbox and PlayStation for both last and next-gen. It’s an action RPG where you play as a shark, eating pretty much everyone and everything in sight, constantly evolving, all in the name of REVENGE!”
“It’s just a fun, oddly relaxing, throwback beat-em-up. It has a thinly-veiled message of conservationism, and is hilariously narrated by Chris Parnell of Rick and Morty and Archer fame (Jerry and Cyril respectively). The RPG evolution system is simple but varied and wacky enough to promote escalation. No evolution is missable as the resources required are limitless in the open-world map. The combat is also simple and satisfying, with enough variety to stay fresh.”
“Maneater released as Covid-19 was ramping up in the U.S. (Six days later the US passed the 100,000 death toll). Despite this, the game did receive positive sales and sizable enough coverage. However, I don’t think the game got the buzz it deserved. It passed a million sales in September, quite respectable for smaller releases like this one, but I feel that its perception as “just an RPG but with a shark” hindered its reception unfairly.”
“Players of Jaws: Unleashed (Appaloosa Interactive) know the satisfaction of swimming as a shark, eating oceanic fauna and defenceless humans. Fans of that game and other beat-em-ups would love this entry, as well as lovers of shark week.”
Ivy Walls: Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst (2016, DICE)
“My surprise hit of 2020 was Mirrors Edge: Catalyst. I played it on Xbox One, but it is also available on PlayStation 4 and PC. It’s a soft reboot of the original 2009 release, adding an open world and new parkour mechanics into the mix. You play as Faith, a runner in the city of Glass. Runners send secret messages between citizens who don’t want their communications tracked by the city’s government. The game uses a first-person perspective, and blends hand to hand combat with fluid parkour gameplay for an experience unlike anything else I’ve played.”
“At release, many (myself included) felt it had lost some of the original’s charm, becoming a more generic action game. Because of this I hadn’t really given it a chance, only playing for a couple of hours before dropping it. With nothing else to do over lockdown, I tried it again and surprisingly, found it actually pretty fun. While losing some of the originals hand-crafted feel, this is more than made up for with the games improved mechanics. Traversing the city with Faiths suite of parkour skills is a blast. It only gets more rewarding the more you play as you learn the quickest routes and moves. I would suggest players turn off “runner vision”, as the constant GPS arrow ruins immersion and reduces the player’s freedom.”
“Like many other fans of the original, I was disappointed on the games initial release. It seemed developer Dice had watered down the core gameplay to appeal to a wider audience. For example, in the original players could avoid all confrontation if they wanted with skilful use of mechanics. Catalyst forces combat on the player at certain points. This put many players off, and combined with the admittedly weaker story and overbearing tutorials, it’s no wonder the game was panned on release.”
“While this game may not be for those who want story, it’s all about the gameplay. However, those interested in a simple yet deep, rewarding gameplay loop with meaningful growth and skill expression might love it.”
Leah MacLaughlin: Dragon Age II (2011, Bioware)
“My game for 2020 is Dragon Age II. I played it on PC but it’s also on Xbox 360 and PS3 (woah, throwback haha). It’s an action RPG where you play as Hawke, slowly but surely becoming the Champion of Kirkwall. The game is set in a high fantasy world where dragons roam, demons are summoned and darkspawn lurk.”
“It has all the elements one could want in a high fantasy RPG. There’s magic, there are dragons and a pretty serviceable combat system, not to mention the story is thoroughly enjoyable. You start from nothing then make a name for yourself. The path is riddled with tragedy, but you have some of the best companions that help you get through it. They’re what really makes DA II great. The mix of party members is so chaotic and they’re all so different. Hawke has no business being friends with any of them, and yet friends they are. All companions have wonderful depth to them, and surely one will steal your heart.”
“DA II is, dated to say the least, going on a decade old. While it sold well at the time, 2011 was a big year for fantasy RPGs. Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Dark Souls and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings came out that year. And that’s just the other fantasy RPGs, there are plenty of big titles that dropped that year outside the genre. It also diverged from Dragon Age: Origins somewhat, to mixed reactions. However it’s a gem that is worth revisiting, even now.”
“DA II is for anyone who enjoys Elder Scrolls or other similar high fantasy games, it’s a wonderful take on the genre. Aside from that, if you’re a lover of plot driven, choice matters games, this would be a great pick up.”
Sam Butzer: Moonlighter (2018, Digital Sun)
“My game of choice for 2020 is Moonlighter, developed by Spanish studio Digital Sun. It released initially on PS4, Xbox, PC, and Mac but then later also released on the Switch six months later. It is a classic Roguelike in most regards, with you crawling through procedurally generated dungeons during the night as you grow ever stronger. However, this game takes a unique spin by allowing you to open a shop to sell the items you procure. You can also explore and interact with the village of Rynoka where the story takes place.”
“The inclusion of the shop and village smartly provides a break in a usually fast paced genre, allowing Moonlighter’s brilliant atmosphere to really shine through. The art style, the music, character design, absolutely everything comes together to create a peaceful feeling that washes over you every time you boot up the game. Dungeons feel less ‘frantic bullet hells of The Binding of Isaac‘, more ‘peaceful afternoon of Stardew Valley‘. However that still does not stop them from having their true moments of awe later on.”
“The unfortunate truth though is that many people seek out those fast paced environments in Roguelikes specifically. By going against that norm, Moonlighter sits in a genre where a majority would not seek out its best point of difference.”
“What it does have to offer is a very relaxing, engaging experience that hooked me from the first minute. Fans of farming simulators like the aforementioned Stardew Valley or Roguelike fans in need of a change of pace would benefit from giving Moonlighter a shot.”
Thomas Duncan: Astral Chain (2019, Platinum Games)
My hidden gem for 2020 is Astral Chain (2019, Platinum Games). I played it on Nintendo Switch, where it’s an exclusive. It’s a combination action/light RPG where you play as a cop, alternating between bonkers action and police procedural work. All of this happens in a future cyberpunk world where humanity is under threat of extinction from interdimensional demons.
This game is a weird mix. Half of it has you being just a cop, walking the streets, helping people with their problems, until the action for that level kicks in. Then, the best reason to play this game: the combat. You and your pet demon(s) fight your way through quite varied enemies. The combat system starts very simply, beginning very accessibly but cripplingly simple. But by the end, it’s mad anime combat as you and your demon swing about the battlefield on either end of the titular chain. It’s one of the most satisfactory combat systems I’ve ever played, and definitely one of the most innovative.
HOW DID IT GET MISSED?
It’s a Switch exclusive, which is not so popular for fast paced action games. It also came out the same week as Control (Remedy Entertainment) which had some striking similarities plot wise (government organisation, evil red astral plane monsters, innovative gameplay) and had a great critical reception. That is also a great game, but they’re very different, and it’s a pity that they muddied each other’s release press.
FOR FANS OF…
Anyone with a Switch who likes action games – it’s an exclusive, and it slaps. Otherwise, for fans of PlatinumGames (Devil May Cry, Nier, Bayonetta) or anime in general.
Honourable mentions and less hidden gems from the team.
- Outer Wilds (Mobius Interactive): for its incredible use of exploration as narrative.
- The Last of Us Part II (Naughty Dog): for how it subtly changes the gameplay for each character to encourage you to change your playstyle in line with said character.
- Hades (Supergiant Games): for making death as valuable as success in a genre that is typically frustrating and repetitive.
- Red Dead Redemption 2 (Rockstar North): for a stunning, near-perfect open-world experience.
- Afterparty (Night School Studio): for providing a witty and humorous take on hell.
- Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark (6 Eyes Studio): for providing a spiritual successor the Final Fantasy Tactics series that is still able to stand on its own merits as well.
- Superliminal (Pillow Castle): for its mind-melting imagery, heartfelt story, and innovative puzzles.
- Not for Broadcast (NotGames): for its valiant message, interesting premise, and eccentric game-play.
Which games got you through 2020? Let us know in the comment section, while you’re there why not check out a more in-depth look at Outer Wilds!
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