merritt k’s Game of the Year 2020 List

This year I realized I basically only like two kinds of games: live service/arcade titles with no clear ending that let me chill out with my friends online, and tightly-paced experiences that take a few hours max. The Last of Us Part 2? Cyberpunk 2077? Never heard of her!

10. Destiny 2: Beyond Light

Destiny 2 provides two distinct but equally potent experiences. The first is a pleasant way to occupy your hands with repetitive activity while you are listening to an audiobook or podcast. The second is a kind of team-based challenge that tasks you and five other people with working together to solve puzzles and defeat space monsters. I spent a lot of time on the former, but it’s the latter that really made memories for me this year, whether it was streaming the old Raids with the Fanbyte team or cracking the Deep Stone Crypt with my clan.

sludge life frog dude

9. Sludge Life

Dreaming big on a ramshackle island in an endless sludge sea. Ultra-cool aesthetics that don’t stand in for substance. Leaving your mark on a sputtering, choking world. Sludge Life is one of the very few reasons I used the Epic Store at all this year.

8. Fuser

I have not played Fuser, nor do I intend to. But watching Niki play it every Friday on Twitch for the last couple of months has essentially been church for me. In a good way, I mean.

7. Paradise Killer

This is my Control of 2020, in that I’m only a few hours in but immediately captivated by its whole vibe and will likely finish in January and then not shut up about it for several weeks. I didn’t think Paradise Killer would be my thing — it seemed too twee, too self-consciously “vaporwave” — but its world is so colorful, so well-crafted, that you can’t help but fall into it. Truly a galaxy brain move to merge the interactive fiction/detective mechanics with first-person exploration. Can’t wait for the soundtrack to arrive on vinyl next year.

Fatum Betula

6. Fatum Betula

Fatum Betula deploys the PS1 horror look that’s been popular among low-fi indies for the last couple of years to create an experience that’s more richly atmospheric than actually frightening. It’s a game that — like the best films — operates on dream logic to tell a number of stories about the deep mysteries of the universe.

broken warframe xaku

5. Warframe

The story of Warframe — both in-game and without — is bizarre and unlikely. It’s a free-to-play game that’s polished and attractive, casting you as a fleshy, robotic being with powers ranging from “good at swords” to “controls a programmable synthesizer that lets you play the Mortal Kombat theme to make your friends fight better.” Developer Digital Extremes has steadily iterated on the basic premise since the game’s launch way back in 2013, and Warframe now contains one of the best and most closely-guarded plot twists I’ve ever seen in a video game. Seriously, a game about space ninjas made me cry — because it’s somehow not just a game about space ninjas, it’s about trauma and recovery and community too.

It was not their force of will, not their Void devilry, not their alien darkness… it was something else. It was that somehow, from within the derelict-horror, they had learned a way to see inside an ugly broken thing… and take away its pain.

risk of rain 2 review

4. Risk of Rain 2

I really didn’t care for the first one, but Risk of Rain 2 is just such a blast with friends. It takes the experience of playing an MMO and compresses it down into an hour or so, letting you and your pals amass piles of gear and take on outlandishly large monsters without the commitment most such games demand. It’s like Destiny for non-sickos, if it was on the PlayStation 2.

Post Void

3. Post Void

Finally, they figured out how to make a good Sega 32X game. Post Void has you careen through dayglo mazes, shooting faceless suits while your life drips out the bottom of a shrunken head that is your only companion. I had given up on trying to finish it but even just writing this makes me want to go back and give it another shot. It’s Doom on bath salts, a distillation and amplification of the FPS experience into an upsettingly pure form.

tomorrow won't come for those without

2. tomorrow won’t come for those without []

I already wrote about this one, so I’m just going to quote that here. Meanwhile I am going to be playing all of the developer’s other works I can get my hands on over the holidays.

tomorrow won’t come for those without [] recalls a variety of popular media — it channels the quirky RPG aesthetics of Earthbound, the melancholic religious atmosphere of Evangelion — but it ultimately creates an experience that succeeds on its own merits. There’s something unbearably touching about it — the way Ori sleeps in the bathtub, the description of Rem as smelling like “salmiac licorice,” the vending machines that dole out collectible cards of the inhuman Celestials. It’s adolescent horror, a world in which the prospect of closeness with another person is as tantalizing yet unspeakable as the terrors that populate humanity’s most ancient nightmares.”

1. Hades

“This Supergiant game Hades is in early access and it’s really good.” – Steven Strom, Fanbyte Managing Editor, Early 2020

“A game about a little guy running around? And it’s a roguelike? And it’s horny? That doesn’t sound like my thing.” – merritt k, Noted Fool, Early 2020

What is there to say about Hades that hasn’t already been said? It’s the culmination of developer Supergiant’s craft, it’s a visually striking game with charming characters brought to life by expert voice acting, and it’s endlessly satisfying to play. The game’s mechanics weave so seamlessly into its narrative that it never gives you the sick feeling many roguelikes do of compelling you into one more run. In Hades, every run is a chance to learn more about the world, to further interact with its characters. It feels enriching rather than draining. It feels human, which is a funny thing to say of a game about gods. I know Supergiant doesn’t usually do DLC, but I 100%’d Hades and if they release additional content for it then I’ll do the same with that. It’s an outstanding accomplishment.

Disco Elysium was my game of the year in 2019. Hades is 2020’s. If anyone comes across a title like Post-punk Tartarus in 2021 please let me know, I want to be ahead of the curve this time.