The best games of 2020 so far, ranked

The year, such as it is, is halfway through, and while it has proven unrelentingly, horrifyingly bad, current events have taken on at least one (vaguely dystopian) silver lining – plenty more time for gaming! In that respect, 2020 has been a great year, full of variety, experimentation, and, of course, controversy.
Never have the serene trips of escapism games grant been more welcome, or more vital. So check out our best games of 2020 so far.

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1. Persona 5 Royal

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The two best games of the year are lifestyle simulators – how poetic! First up is Persona 5 Royal. You play as Joker, a student at Shujin Academy falsely accused of assault. You must live a student’s life, exploring a gorgeous, aesthetically inventive recreation of Tokyo – get a part-time job, hit the library, do some romancing. If this were all Persona offered, it would still be compelling, a kind of gamified version of an outrageous soap TV show or anime. But Joker and his companions are also superheroes – aided by Pokemon-like companions called Personas they must invade the minds of adults with evil intent. A deluxe edition remake of one of the best games of 2017, the bustling streets of a metropolis, unmitigated by quarantines and social distancing, are rendered almost moving now. It stands as one of the greatest JRPGs of all time and the best game of 2020.
2. Animal Crossing

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Tom Nook and the gang return – this time you build your new life from scratch, on a desert island. You know the deal – collect resources, craft tools, make friends. Speculate on turnips and tarantulas as the Bank of Nook mimics global central bankers by cutting interest rates. Build a new life. Animal Crossing was always a big deal, but Covid turned it into a cultural phenomenon. Aya Kyogoku, the series’s current director, told The New Yorker that “the game can provide those practicing social isolation with a place that can relieve them of anxiety and stress.” He was right. A kind and gentle game, in cruel and frightening times, that has comforted players across the world.

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3. Half-Life Alyx

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Half-Life Alyx is Valve’s attempt at building a VR game from the ground up. They nail it, demonstrating at every turn the possibilities of scale and immersion VR can provide, possibilities that have been sorely lacking from its library of games. Set between the events of Half-Life and Half-Life 2, you play as Alyx Vance, and must fight against a vicious alien race known as the Combine. VR entirely revolutionises the stale shooting mechanics of the action FPS genre – weapons must be aimed and reloaded by hand. A real glimpse into the future, if you will, by a studio that has revolutionised gaming before. Now if only there were some way of playing it without spending half a grand…
4. Ori and the Will of the Wisps

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The original Ori and the Blind Forest was a 2D platformer in the Metroidvania/Rayman vein – you played as Ori, a guardian spirit and his forest creature companion, Sein. The game’s gorgeous swirling watercolour style was a moving work of art. Gamers clamoured for a sequel, and here it is. Will of the Wisps expands on everything that made the original great – moving story, fiendish gameplay and astonishing art style – to deliver one of the greatest platformers of all time. It’s just really charming – try it out.

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5. Kentucky Route Zero

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A point and click adventure game, separated into five acts spread out over seven years – the last was released in January of this year. You follow Conway, a truck driver, as he crosses the fictitious Route Zero to make a final delivery for an antiques company. Slow, meditative and opaque, the game’s story ruminates on the Americans “left behind” by the modern era. Like the rest of the games on this list, it plays on old tropes of video games to deliver an experience that feels wildly ambitious and new.
6. Ghost of Tsushima

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Ghost is set in the world of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai cinema – there’s even an optional Kurosawa Mode, a display setting that conjures up a film grain, black-and-white filter. You are Jin Sakai, a samurai lord tasked with repelling Mongol invaders. Held back very slightly by a shallow take on samurai cinema narrative, the game’s outrageously beautiful world still elevates it to one of the best games of the year, and a tonic to those locked inside the house.
7. Last of Us 2

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While the narrative split the WIRED office – is the game as morally compelling as it thinks it is? – there’s no doubt the Last of Us series represents the pinnacle of cinematic gaming and acting, it now comprises two graphical marvels of astounding care and attention to detail. The Last of Us 2 picks up four years after the last game. Ellie and Joel have settled down in Jackson, Wyoming, in an encampment keeping the marauding hordes at bay. After one character caves another’s head in with a golf club, the player must set out in pursuit of violent revenge.
8. Death Stranding

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Wild, even for a Kojima game, Death Stranding split opinion – particularly for its monotonous gameplay. You play as Sam Porter Bridges, a porter who works for a hegemonic delivery company called Bridges. In this dystopian future, a cataclysmic paranormal event has filled the world with shadowy, Birdbox-esque monsters called BTs, and caused rain to rapidly age anything it touches. Sounds weird? It is. Hideo Kojima, famous for the Metal Gear Solid series, is one of gaming’s few blockbuster auteurs – give his vision a go.
Will Bedingfield is a staff writer for WIRED. He tweets from @WillBedingfield
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