Gamer Escape's Top 5 Reviewed Games of 2020

31 Dec 2020

It has arrived: the end of the year. A year that felt simultaneously gone in a flash yet unbearably long. It sure has been an…interesting…start to a new decade.

In gaming, though, the year has been crazy. A brand new console generation has begun, and people are still struggling to be a part of it, with PlayStation 5s and Xbox Series X|S’ continuing to be out of reach for many. Huge anticipated blockbusters finally dropped this year, including Final Fantasy VII Remake and The Last of Us Part II.

Even here in my corner of the Gamer Escape empire, 2020 has been a big one. Our dedicated team, hard at work making sure you know what games are worth experiencing, finally cracked the triple-digits in the number of games reviewed! Some also say that review teams aren’t official until they’re Metacritic official, and this year, Gamer Escape became Metacritic official.

As is now tradition, the GE team has taken a look back at every game reviewed this year and, after much violence deliberation, we have managed to form our top five. The five games we think everyone in our wonderful community should experience at least once.

Like previous years, we have pulled in the original reviewer of each winning game to give their final thoughts of the year. Thank you to everyone for being a part of the Gamer Escape community, and we look forward to continuing this wild and enjoyable odyssey in 2021! And so, without any further ado, we present to you, dear Gamer Escape readers…

Gamer Escape’s Top 5 Games of 2020!

5: Streets of Rage 4

Reviewed by: Aaron Botts
Release Date: April 30th, 2020
Systems: PS4, XB1, Switch, PC
Reviewed Version: PC
Gamer Escape Score: 9/10

It’s honestly refreshing to see the beat ’em up as a whole making an appearance at all in this day and age. Never mind that this was SEGA going back into the well a la Sonic Mania, and much like that game we were given the biggest love letter to Streets of Rage and the genre and decade it came from.

Really, there’s just so much about this game I could highlight that are better experienced yourself. The soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal and stands tall with the music of its forebears. Gameplay is tight with (adjustable) era-appropriate difficultly, and the fact that there’s couch co-op at all is a nice touch. There’s unlockables from prior games, nods to elements and characters from the franchise, and visuals that can stand against similar games. While it may not have the visuals sported by games like Cuphead, it’s damned obvious that they were going for a level of detail that would at least be in the ballpark of that. Everything about this game screams, “I love this franchise and I want to give it the respect it deserves.”

Growing up in the ’90s, I definitely had a few brushes with the first three games. Even with SEGA tossing out the Streets of Kamurocho minigame as part of their 60th anniversary this year, this game does a fantastic job of showing new players what the hype was all about back when this genre was a force to be reckoned with. The fans revived Streets of Rage, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

4: 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim

Reviewed by: Josh McGrath
Release Date: September 22nd, 2020
Systems: PS4
Reviewed Version: PS4
Gamer Escape Score: 9/10

I was struck by what I saw from Vanillaware’s latest project when it was first announced for western release around three years ago. Not just from the beautiful art design, but from the premise of the game: a Sci-fi work interweaving thirteen separate stories.

It was quite an ambitious project, and I became a bit worried as the game approached its Japanese release. When news broke that one of the game’s core systems was going to be a Tower Defense game, I grit my teeth a bit – I am a noted non-fan of that genre. The praise it received after its release across the Pacific lifted my spirits a bit, though.

Once I finally had the game in my hands…I was left stunned. Vanillaware crafted what is easily one of the best stories I have experienced this year in any medium. I still have no idea how they managed to deftly weave together thirteen stories and still manage to have it all make sense, without any characters being underdeveloped or falling to the wayside. Even the Tower Defense mechanic wound up being fun…if mostly by way of the hilarious ways I was able to break it.

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a game that I implore everyone who cares about narrative in gaming to experience. If it wasn’t for the fact that the PlayStation 5 released this year, I’d even call it a reason to go get yourself a PS4 if you didn’t have one already.

3: The Last of Us Part II

Reviewed by: Aaron Botts
Release Date: June 18th, 2020
Systems: PS4
Reviewed Version: PS4
Gamer Escape Score: 9/10

Make no mistake; when The Last of Us originally dropped in the twilight years of the PS3, it made a pretty significant splash. Mixing together a well-written story, fantastic stealth gameplay, and a level of detail expected by Naughty Dog was no easy feat. Needless to say, I was extremely excited when I heard news of a sequel. While the journey to completion is paved with leaks, well documented crunch, and delays (oh hello Cyberpunk 2077), it’s safe to say now that the end result was largely worth the wait.

The gameplay is a natural progression of the original title. Things that were annoying there were taken care of and improved upon. Stealth is still fantastic, foraging for resources is still front and center, and numerous new infected will definitely blindside you once you come across them. Unsurprisingly, this is what I took as the strongest part of the game. Yes, this is even with the wonderfully crafted visuals and voice acting. Gameplay is still king at the end of the day, of course. Ignoring the overtly negative backlash to the story leaks, its exploration of single-minded revenge and the toxicity that surrounds it is a story worth looking at. No, I’m not a fan of some of the writing decisions Naughty Dog made here. But the plot progression supports it, and a lot of the character development seen here weaves into a tapestry of complicated emotions and tough decisions made in the midst of a post-apocalyptic world.

I largely feel the same about my feelings about this game, but the total package is a bleak and brutal experience wrought with gut-punch moments and cerebral action throughout. You may not agree with everything Part II brings to the table, but you will walk away feeling like what you played was money well spent.

2: Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla

Reviewed by: Eliot Lefebvre
Release Date: November 10th, 2020
Systems: PC, PS4, PS5, XB1, XSX|S, Stadia
Reviewed Version: PS4
Gamer Escape Score: 9/10

If you’ve never been invested in the Assassin’s Creed series, it can be easy to look at the latest installment with a more cynical eye as the latest in a line of games you don’t play. But really, Valhalla is much more than that, an arch rendering of the niche that the series has increasingly occupied for itself as a historical tour with touches of myth. Indeed, the “assassin” elements only creep around the edges, with the game far more dedicated to delivering the experience of being a viking through and through.

That would perhaps be a problem if the game weren’t brilliant at delivering exactly that. From every splintering blow landed against shields to every raiding party pouring in off the coast and into a settlement, the game feels top to bottom like a love letter to every idea of Norse culture. It’s savage, and energetic, and driven, and probably the best time I’ve ever had with one of Ubisoft’s long-running series installments in a long time.

Even if you’ve never had any use for sneaking around and assassinating, this is a love letter to anyone who enjoys playing action RPGs and wants to roam ancient England as a viking warrior. The fact that it does all of that with gorgeous visuals and wonderful storytelling is just icing on the cake.

1: Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Reviewed by: Timothy Hyldahl
Release Date: March 10th, 2020
Systems: XB1, PC
Reviewed Version: PC
Gamer Escape Score: 10/10

Moon Studios set the bar pretty high with Ori and the Blind Forest, and when a sequel was announced I was a bit skeptical. I’ve seen a fair few amazing games come out with sequels that tried to lean too hard into what fans liked and lost what made the original so special. Even if they avoided that, it was uncertain whether they would manage to strike gold again.

Once I finally got my hands on it, there was no question that Ori and the Will of the Wisps would go on to be one of the best games of the year for me. Everything from the art to the controls felt great, and what’s more it managed to separate itself from the original in meaningful ways. There’s more characters and combat options and both help to differentiate Will of the Wisps not just gameplay-wise, but tone-wise from the original. You’re an older, more experienced Ori, but that doesn’t mean everything will go fine this time around.

Ori has been a definite light in gaming this year, a world that I never grow tired of losing myself in. Most games I enjoy are in spite of one of the features, such as a boring plot or simplistic gameplay I just plod through to listen to the soundtrack. But here? The art is breathtaking, the soundtrack is amazing, and just the simple act of moving around this world feels fun!