Shacknews Best Video Games of the Midyear 2020

The Shack Staff counts down some of the best video games of 2020 as we take a look back at the great titles that released over the first half of the year.

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Aside from being one of the worst years in recent memory, 2020 has cranked out some particularly fantastic games. You've got a title for just about everyone: Animal Crossing: New Horizons for soothing play sessions, Half-Life:Alyx for action and intrigue in VR, and Final Fantasy 7 Remake for a blast of nostalgia. 

The Shack Staff has come together to discuss the best games that have debuted over the first half of the year. These include titles that have released over the first half of the year, on both console and PC. While not every game will be up for best of 2020 deliberation, we believe many of these games will likely end up as contenders for our favorites when that time rolls around. 

Sit back, relax, and check out what we've got in store for you. You may very well find a game you haven't yet had a chance to play making an appearance. 


Half-Life: Alyx

We should all send fruit baskets to Gabe Newell for allowing Valve to create the masterpiece that is Half-Life: Alyx. The team behind The Lab VR experience and Campo Santo joined forces to create one of the most amazing video game experiences to be released in many years.You may say this is hyperbole, but this game is really that damn good. It is made for VR HMDs, which may be off putting for some people, but Half-Life: Alyx will be around in the mix when Shacknews GOTY 2020 discussions go down this December. Mark my words, free man.


Snowrunner

Simultaneously buggy, incomprehensible, and downright soul-crushing, SnowRunner is not a game for everyone. That said, those willing to take on the load-hauling contracts and deliver wood, steel, and equipment to flooded wastelands for the benefit of oil conglomerates will feel unmatched satisfaction when the jobs finally get complete.

Built on immensely satisfying vehicle suspension physics and terrain deformation systems, SnowRunner is able to add white knuckle thrills to guiding a truck six meters through a small creek. Four-player cooperative sessions add to the fun because misery loves company. It will be hard to shake the game from your mind once it has hooks in you and you will strongly consider steering your real-life car into a muddy ditch now and again.


Animal Crossing: New Horizons

It seems the whole world knew that Animal Crossing: New Horizons was going to be a smash hit. They were right. This relaxing island-builder has captured the attention of gamers from all over the globe and managed to keep it. While this is my first dip into the Animal Crossing pool, I’ve played almost every day since launch and don’t see that slowing down any time soon.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the game that we needed in 2020. It’s oozes positive vibes all the time, to the point where even if you fail at something there are no real consequences. Each day that you play and spend time in the world leaves you closer to your goals, while at the same time not making you suffer from the dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out). It’s the perfect game to slow your mind and relax your soul while the world continues to be flipped upside down by a pandemic.


Maneater

You’d think that playing as a killer shark would be a go to for video games, however besides a few mobile games and a small, and I mean some pool of PC only titles, there really haven’t been that many killer shark games where you play as the apex predator. There was one in game in 2006 that did very well, called, Jaws Unleashed. Maneater is the spiritual successor to this game, improving it on all fronts. Swimming, eating and evolving your massive bull shark is tremendously fun to do. The Environments are also beautiful, especially considering most of the game takes place underwater. This old school arcade like shark eating adventure is defiantly worth checking out.


The Last of Us Part 2

I could honestly say a lot about The Last of Us Part 2, and I have in my spoiler-filled feature about why I’m glad that Naughty Dog decided to tell the story they did. From brutal violence, to believable characters, the game is riddled with some fantastic action sequences, tons of great writing, and a load of character exploration. That isn’t to say that there aren’t issues with the game, because there are always problems, but The Last of Us Part 2 does a really good job of exploring the dark world that the first game setup from new perspectives. I don’t want to get too in-depth here due to spoilers, but if you’re a fan of the first game, and you’re willing to take a few steps off the main path and explore the world from a different view, then The Last of Us Part 2 is full of great moments you don’t want to miss out on.


Streets of Rage 4

Beat'em-ups have been sparse and samey for quite a while. There are few games of this nature with production quality that stands up to modern contemporaries, as well as being deeply fun and enjoyable. Enter Streets of Rage 4. This return to the bare knuckle brawler series came skidding into 2020 with gorgeous animation, awesome music, an in-depth set of characters full of tricks and learnable styles, and a grand slew of levels and ways to challenge them.

Streets of Rage 4 comes in a time when nearly every other beat'em-up game that exists in the scene today is still leaning just a bit too hard into the retro pixelated style. Don't get us wrong. Games like Mother Russia Bleeds and Treachery City Beatdown definitely still have a place in our hearts and do great things all their own, but it only takes one look at Streets of Rage 4 to see why it's a gold standard benchmark of what a truly incredible game in this genre can be when developers pull out all the stops. Months later, we're still clearing harder and harder playthroughs, going for higher score runs, and jamming to the music in our occasional off-time.


Final Fantasy 7 Remake

Easily one the biggest games to release in 2020, Final Fantasy VII Remake made old fans smile and feel nostalgic, while at the same time introducing new gamers to the famous franchise for the firs time. In my lengthy 31 min video review I went into detail about why this was able to do so many unique and fun things. All while building up from the classic polygon mess that was the original Final Fantasy VII back in good old 1997. From the amazing and addictive real time combat system, to the visual design of the characters and the compelling story, it’s quite a huge game, that’s only rivaled by it’s equally huge fan base. Final Fantasy VII Remake will in multiple conversations for game of the year, and with the shear amount of success the game had at launch it’s easy to see why.


Resident Evil 3

Capcom had a certified banger on their hands when they released the Resident Evil 2 remake last year. So good in fact, it was the runner up for our Shacknews 2019 Game of the Year. The developer followed this act with a remake of Resident Evil 3. Recreating the iconic story from 1999, Resident Evil 3 retells the classic story for a new generation. Resident Evil 3 remake benefits from pristine graphics, better voice acting, and elevated scares.


Doom Eternal

Doom Eternal takes everything about the first game and tries to improve up on it in new ways. The fast-paced and brutal violence of the series comes to a screeching collide with platformer mechanics, giving players new ways to fight their battles. It’s an interesting way to try to improve upon the Doom formula, and while it works well enough, it does leave a bit to be desired.

Despite whatever missteps the developers might have taken, though, Doom Eternal is still every bit as much of a masterpiece for combat lovers as the previous games in the franchise. id has done a fantastic job of bringing the combat that made Doom 2016 feel so fluid to the sequel, and while I wasn’t always the biggest fan of the changes they made, the world that you play through feels absolutely fantastic to experience.

You can, of course, read a bit more about our thoughts on Doom Eternal in our review, but if you’re looking for a good single-player shooter to dump some time into, then Doom Eternal could be exactly what you’re looking for.


Ori and the Will of the Wisps

The 2010s have been host to a golden age for Metroidvania games, so it is only fitting that the run should end on the most beautiful example. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is Moon Studios sequel to Ori and the Blind Forest and manages to up the ante in every way. Trading the 2D sprites of the original for a jaw-dropping hybrid 3D presentation results in scene after scene that would work as a fancy painting. The frame rate cap and input lag from the first game is gone, allowing the precision platforming to feel even better than before. The HDR-enhanced color palette leaps off the screen and washes over players with a mix of lavish hues. Will of the Wisps resembles a dream come to digital life and is on the shortlist of must-play games of 2020.


Call of Duty: Warzone

Each year it seems like a new battle royale game hits the scene to steal the thunder from the old guard. In 2020, Call of Duty: Warzone is that game. Built on the engine from 2019's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Warzone opened up Activision's take on the genre to the masses and became a smash hit overnight. Thanks to its smooth gunplay and interesting additions to the genre, Warzone is easy to pick up and play. It's ever-growing install size has been the subject of many internet jokes but the game has seen constant updates since launch and shows no signs of slowing down.


Desperados 3

Follow me on an insane plan if you will. It's one to five western heroes each with their own abilities against whole towns of merciless bad guys who are on the lookout for them. Get caught once and the whole hive will be on you. Get a gang member killed and you'll have to reload a save. Don't perform each moment of a mission impeccably and you'll be eating bullets before you know it. And yet, with auto-save and load in hand, you might find it hard to stop gnawing away at Desperados 3's tough exterior.

This game was not made to be merciful in any way and even on normal difficulty, it's a multi-tiered stop-and-go puzzle that will exercise your strategic puzzle-solving at every turn. Each level is grandiose and reminiscent of the Hitman series' biggest scenarios. And yet the whole thing is almost breathtakingly beautiful at times too. Desperados 3 might bristle at you, but there's so much it is going for it between the unique gang members, the beautiful levels, and the sheer joy of when you cross the threshold to finish an area and conquer your mission that it can also be all-too-easy to forget how hard it's trying to kill your characters at every single turn.


Trials of Mana

I never expected to like Trials of Mana as much as I did and I'm saying that from the perspective of somebody who had never played the original games. For one thing, this dives far deeper than I would have ever expected it to. The choice to jump in with a party of three characters and follow along with any one of six storylines is immensely satisfying, especially with the game feeling noticeably different depending on who your lead character is. The intersecting plots is a fantastic touch, with my only complaint being that I wish there was more of it towards the end.

But Trials of Mana is a true triumph because of how much Square Enix went out of their way to reconstruct it. It looks more detailed and colorful than a lot of modern RPGs and the combat fits in perfectly with what players expect of this gaming generation. There's also a lot of fun in experimenting with different character builds and mastering their different magic spells. There's so much to explore in terms of gameplay and lore, Trials of Mana easily stands among the best games of 2020 so far.


Valorant

Riot Games set expectations high for Valorant when they initially revealed the game as Project Ares last year. Despite the swelling of excitement, Valorant still managed to deliver on all of its promises. It's an excellent shooter, with incredibly responsive weapons and input. The integration of agents and their abilities into the peak-shooting 5v5 style of play creates for some of the most competitive experiences in the genre.


Bleeding Edge

Out of all the games that have come out so far this year, Bleeding Edge seems to stand alone as far as its genre is concerned. I can’t really think of any games that have come out recently that are anything like it. Not only does it figuratively bleed style with its roster of unique playable characters that includes a mech-ed out dolphin in a battle tank, it’s also a blast to play.

Beyond its cyberpunk aesthetics, Bleeding Edge also offers up some of the most entertaining squad-based PvP combat out on the market right now. It’s the kind of game that’s easy to pick up and doesn’t take forever to fully master. I’d recommend putting together a team and messing around with all the playable characters until you’ve got the ultimate squad.


Murder by Numbers

This is a concept that never should have worked. But what's funny is, that's not the first time I've said that about a game from developer Mediatonic, the same people who brought us the pigeon dating simulator. But that's what I said about Murder By Numbers, a game that crosses together a narrative murder mystery and Picross puzzles. And yet, it works so beautifully.

I love how well the Picross element is organically weaved into the main narrative, but more than that, I love the Murder By Numbers story itself. Honor Mizrahi might be one of the best new characters in 2020, an out-of-work and down-on-her-luck actress who runs into a floating robot to solve mysteries with. As Scooby-Doo-ish as that idea sounds, Mediatonic balances that out with captivating adult drama, three-dimensional characters, and intriguing plot twists. I came to really love the Murder By Numbers story and the Picross element kept me hooked for hours. It's a game that shouldn't work, but Murder By Numbers not only works, but it's one of the best indie games I've played this year.


Deep Rock Galactic

Spending most of its life in Steam Early Access, Deep Rock Galactic finally saw an official release halfway into 2020. All that time spent polishing the game has paid off handsomely, where what used to be a rough experience has been honed into a nearly flawless diamond. Grab three friends and take off on an underground adventure in search of precious minerals while under constant threat of being murder by an army of bugs.

Loaded with content, an immensely satisfying progression system, and a devoid of lootboxes or pay-to-win mechanics, Deep Rock Galactic is a breath of fresh air (that is probably not actually fresh if you are chewing through rocks halfway through an random planet's interior while you are covered in bug innards).


Ninjala

From the beginning, Ninjala was destined to be compared to Splatoon. It is, after all, a colorful bubblegum pop team-based or solo competitive game. However, when you get down to the nuts and bolts of Ninjala, that's when it puts in the work to set itself apart. After all, Ninjala is a melee-heavy parkour fracas. The ninjas chew gum to craft various weapons in the three categories of katana, yoyo, or hammer, each with their strengths and weaknesses you can use to engage the other team or players.

Ninjala works further to set itself apart with mechanics like ninjutsu, weapon breaking and parries, and gum-based abilities like the Gum Shoot, Gum Bind, and more. Bonuses like the IPPON in particular reward players for not only staying dominant, but staying engaged in combat as well. Ninjala has single-player story mode content that can be bought, but the multiplayer component is free to play outside some seasonal cosmetics, passes, and other fun stuff, and even then the introductory offerings of the game a fantastic start to what should be an enjoyable and refreshing experience with each season of further content, additions, and events.


Journey to the Savage Planet

It’s really easy for games released in the first month of the new year to get glanced over or even forgotten. Released on January 28th 2020 Journey to the Savage Planet is a game that should be commended for its Metroidvania gameplay. In fact, I rerefer to Journey to the Savage planet as a modern-day Metroid Prime. Exploring an alien environment to upgrade your suit and weapons is a blast to do, and the games humorous tone will make you chuckle throughout your playthrough. Although the game maybe be simple and indie, It’s seriously a really good game and deserves to be held in high regard.


Granblue Fantasy: Versus

When the betas for Granblue Fantasy Versus first started to hit in 2019, it was truly curious to see what Arc System Works was putting together with Cygames. The Granblue Fantasy mobile RPG is quite a gacha collectathon and it has a massive array of characters, weapons, and seasonal content to keep players going along for the ride. That said, Arc System Works did quite well in taking a solid cast of Granblue Fantasy regulars and applying that trademark Arc System Works shine and mechanic to it.

Each of the fighters in Granblue Fantasy Versus is arguably an entry that belongs in the shuffle and they do well to fit a lot of good archetypes. Lancelot is the speedy misdirector, Ladiva is the grappler, Metera and Ferry are zoners, Percival, Katarina, and Gran are all-arounds... And the cast has just grown since. But nonetheless Arc System Works has done a great job in making these characters feel approachable with both a technical and one-button press ability system that allows you to simplify the input of a move at the cost of a longer cooldown to access it again after. Finally there's the astounding visual work. Every entrance, exit, and super move has such an attractive visual flair to it that matches feel deliciously decadent to the eyes even after a wealth of play. Now if only Arc System Works could work out some proper rollback netcode...


Do you agree with our picks? Be sure to stop by and leave a comment letting us know what you felt were the best games of the midyear during this very bizarre year. Hopefully by the time we wrangle the best games of 2020, we'll have bid COVID-19 farewell. We're not getting our hopes up. 

From The Chatty
  • reply
    July 1, 2020 1:00 PM

    Shack Staff posted a new article, Shacknews Best Video Games of the Midyear 2020

    • reply
      July 1, 2020 9:03 PM

      Bump.

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      July 1, 2020 10:40 PM

      I have not played any of those.

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      July 1, 2020 11:34 PM

      Been quite a few goodies this year already. Desperado 3 sounds really awesome and may be the next game I play. Stealth games have really expanded in ways that make them not only more accessible but as a result much more fun and sand boxy. Some of my favorite games of the last 5 years have been stealth games, TLOU2 included!

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      July 2, 2020 6:46 AM

      No Persona 5 Royal, huh?

      🤷‍♂️🤦‍♂️

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      July 2, 2020 6:49 AM

      Mojoald didn't sent me the oculus to play Alyx :(

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      July 18, 2020 1:50 PM

      which game is the headline-image from? that looked more interesting than anything else on the list :D

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