Thursday, 13 Aug 2020

The best games of 2020 (so far)

We can’t wait until the final weeks of December to share our favorite games of the year. Especially when the final weeks of December are either two weeks or two years away, depending on how you’re currently experiencing time.

This is why we like running our list of the best games of the year as an ongoing project, so you have a place to go right now to see the games of 2020 that you shouldn’t miss. We’ll be continually updating this list until the end of the year, so be sure to check back often!

Here’s how it works: We update the list around once a month, and perhaps more frequently if we’re particularly enamored with a new game. In December, we’ll add any games we missed throughout the year, and then reorganize the list into Polygon’s annual Top 50 Games of the Year feature. For example, take a gander at 2019’s list.

You may notice the inclusion of games that were either fully released or made available in early access prior to 2020. Because many games change from patch to patch, let alone year to year, we may include previously available games that receive a significant update within the year or become available on a platform that substantially impacts how that game is experienced.

Without further ado, here are Polygon’s favorite games of the year.

—Ben Kuchera, opinions editor

Polygon Essentials is a collection of persistently updated lists of the best of the best games for each platform — from the hardware’s launch to its end of production — as well as the best entertainment across virtually every medium. For folks new to a platform, think of this as a starter kit. For long-term fans, consider it a list of what to play or watch next. We’ll be updating these lists often, with entries listed in reverse chronological order. To see a collection of other titles we recommend that might not have made the Essentials lists, check out Polygon Recommends.

Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.

The latest additions:

Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics

The issues in Clubhouse Games are small compared to what the package does right, especially for the price. You’re paying to have the rules explained and enforced by an all-seeing eye, and to enjoy the sights and sounds of 51 games (and a piano!) without ever needing to set up or tear down a board. This is board gaming as convenience, without any of the worries associated with physical products.

Related

Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics review: an embarrassment of riches

This simple package, with an unassuming title and cover, is already one of my favorite games of the year. Nintendo may have released the perfect game at the perfect time with Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and it looks like the company was able to repeat the same trick with Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics.

Now add Crokinole, you cowards.

—Ben Kuchera

Available on Nintendo Switch.

Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | Walmart | GameStop | Nintendo eShop

Super Mega Baseball 3

Image: Metalhead Software

The Super Mega Baseball games have always been bursting with charm, delivering the trappings of semipro sports with a goofy sandlot spin. The series drew me in with its silly fictional athletes and ballclubs, a world of lovable chuckleheads that I got to know over the course of two terrific video games. I never expected that Super Mega Baseball 3 would weaponize those emotional ties in the best way, turning my attachments to my favorite teams and players against me in its excellent, demanding franchise mode.

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Super Mega Baseball 3 is another unparalleled triumph

With the original Super Mega Baseball in 2014, and its 2018 follow-up, Canadian indie studio Metalhead Software brilliantly captured the spirit of the simple, fun sports games that many of us remember from our childhoods. But rather than reviving the exaggerated power-ups of NBA Jam and NFL Blitz, this series blends the cartoony essence of Backyard Baseball and Power Pros with a sound baseball simulation. Where else can you play as a team called the Sirloins, and mash home runs with a mutton-chopped slugger named Hammer Longballo?

Of course, the Super Mega Baseball games wouldn’t have succeeded without a foundation of rock-solid baseball mechanics beneath the surface. But it was the combination of the action on the field and the humor infused into everything else that turned Super Mega Baseball from a novelty series into one of the best success stories in sports video games. There’s nothing quite like it on the market these days.

—Samit Sarkar

Available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One.

Get it here: Microsoft Store | PlayStation Store | Nintendo eShop | Steam

Streets of Rage 4

Image: Lizardcube/Guard Crush Games/Dotemu

Though the combat is simple, it’s an absolute pleasure. Hits land with a satisfying crack, each punch and kick growing the combo counter. With a friend, you’ll find yourself volleying enemies like shuttlecocks in a game of human badminton. A beat-’em-up’s appeal is largely in its feel, and this game feels incredible.

Streets of Rage 4 is everything I could have wanted from a true Streets of Rage sequel. I’m satiated.

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Streets of Rage 4 review: The cool kids finally get a well-earned sequel

But Streets of Rage, as a series, is a time capsule from a different, simpler era. While it’s blunt and repetitive, it also manifests a relaxing social space with ease. Call it video games as loitering. The music is as good as it’s ever been in the series. The stages and characters are beautiful, reimagining the original trilogy’s ’90s locales and punk-inspired band of baddies in a way that stands up to those games without looking cheap or dated. The action itself is so simple that you can get lost in a conversation about, well, anything as you play.

—Chris Plante

Available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One.

Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | PlayStation Store | Microsoft Store | Nintendo eShop | Steam

The Room VR: A Dark Matter

Image: Fireproof Games

Despite the outstanding puzzle design and clever use of scale throughout the game, my favorite aspect of The Room VR may be its sense of place. The general tone of the game shifts quickly from the mysterious to the otherworldly to the ghastly, and that change is done almost entirely through the design of each environment itself, especially once you start manipulating your surroundings to solve each puzzle. There was always a sense, as I threw levers, turned cranks, and even played musical instruments, that I was toying with powers and situations far beyond my control, and that it might have been better if I had just turned this case down.

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The Room VR: A Dark Matter fulfills the promise of VR puzzle games

You’ll never find solid answers to the questions the story asks, but that’s beside the point: The Room VR traps you inside a wonderfully cohesive world with internal logic that doesn’t have to play by the established rules of our reality. It forces you to think your way out of things while greater powers always seem right around the corner. This is dread, disguised as a puzzle game, and VR has only made it better.

—Ben Kuchera

Available on the Oculus Store, Steam VR, and PlayStation VR. It is playable on either Oculus Quest or tethered headsets.

Get it here: Oculus Store | Steam | PlayStation Store

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

Despite the jump in visual fidelity, the heart of Animal Crossing hasn’t changed. New Horizons is still about waking up each day, making friends with local animal characters, laying out furniture in your home, and donating dinosaur fossils to the nearby museum.

While this is all presented as an experience with no clear objective and a “do-what-you-feel” vibe, there is a main goal in New Horizons: to make the best damn island possible. It’s in this implicit challenge that this installment goes above and beyond what past games have offered, letting you create a truly customized habitat for you and your animal friends.

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a much-needed escape from everything

I would make plans for my village layout in older Animal Crossing games, but the most direct control I had was deciding where my starting house was going to be. Sure, I could plant trees where I wanted, but there was nothing I could do about it if a new villager decided to move their house directly in the middle of my carefully arranged orchard.

New Horizons makes enormous changes to the island construction process, putting me in complete control over every major decision. I decide the location of the housing plot for every new villager, before they even move in. I decide where the museum and the shop will be built. If I don’t like where I placed my house initially, I can move it for a modest fee.

Forcing new villagers into perfect, Manhattan-esque grids is somewhat tonally inconsistent with the happy-go-lucky nature of Animal Crossing, but how much you obsess about this stuff is really up to you. I found immense satisfaction in lining up all of the major establishments of my island on Broadway, even though it took a comical amount of planning. But that’s part of the fun for me. It may not be for you, and that’s fine as well.

—Russ Frushtick

Available on Nintendo Switch.

Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | Walmart | GameStop | Nintendo eShop

If Found…

https://youtube.com/watch?v=q_Qs6CjGeQc%3Frel%3D0

It’s refreshing and meaningful to see a complex story in which all pieces of the characters’ lives are considered, each part of a much larger story of a life, and the fantasy that such a life might also produce. There are painful, real moments in If Found…, but the game also revels in the support of friendship and family, too. This isn’t misery porn, nor does it paint reality with a brush that’s too bright, or unrealistic.

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In stunning indie visual novel If Found…, you must erase to rebuild

Besides, it’s not what’s on the page that matters, in the end. Not if you want to know what happens next. Because everything must be erased. There are no decisions to be made, no way to guide our hero through her journeys. I’m just there to erase what she’s written. To bear witness to the material, and then make sure no one does, or can.

—Nicole Carpenter

Available on iOS, Mac, and Windows PC.

Get it here: Steam | Apple App Store

Half-Life: Alyx

Image: Valve

The first hours of Half-Life: Alyx are dedicated to slowly introducing you to how things are going to work in VR. You have time to look around, and I spent too much time in an early room cleaning off a window so I could write on it with a dry-erase marker. Valve didn’t skimp on the movement options, so if you want to teleport, or move freely, or use a transition animation that meets in the middle, you can.

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Half-Life: Alyx is the best that VR, and Valve, have to offer

You’re going to want to spend some time experimenting with all the gameplay and graphical options to make sure the experience is comfortable, as no two people react to VR in exactly the same way. You’ll soon meet Russell, and be given the gloves that let you control gravity, store grenades and healing syringes, and see your health. Then you get your first gun, and set off into the world to find your father.

Things go wrong almost immediately.

—Ben Kuchera

Available on HTC Vive, Valve Index, Quest Link, and most tethered VR headsets.

Get it here: Steam

Desperados 3

Image: Mimimi Games/THQ Nordic

Desperados 3 is the first game, in a year filled with attempts at shaking up the tactical formula, to truly find something new in a pile of old ideas.

It successfully blends stealth puzzle mechanics with methodical, XCOM-style action. But it goes even further, slathering on excellent motion-captured animations, top-notch voice acting, and a map that can be rotated 360 degrees. It even gives the AAA look of Gears Tactics a run for its money.

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Desperados 3 feels like a turn-based game built for speedrunners

Best of all, its gameplay systems are incredibly elastic, accommodating a stately pace that caters to newcomers as well as a roguelike mode perfect for daring speedrunners. There are only 16 levels, but they hold the potential for hundreds of hours of gameplay.

—Charlie Hall

Available on PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One.

Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | Walmart | GameStop | Steam

Minecraft Dungeons

https://youtube.com/watch?v=KCbE47v1qVk%3Frel%3D0

Minecraft Dungeons isn’t simple, exactly — it’s just easy to learn and play. But that’s always been the secret to the rare, enjoyable family-friendly games from huge studios: It’s not a matter of making things easy, but ensuring that they are elegant. And this game is, above everything else, elegant. Microsoft is branching out with the Minecraft name, but doing it in such a way that brings fans deeper into the world of gaming, while effortlessly teaching some rather complicated ideas about tactics and strategy.

Your character has one slot for a melee weapon, one slot for a ranged weapon, one slot for armor, and three slots for artifacts that give you different magical abilities. You gain an enchantment point every time you gain a level, and enchantment points are used to choose from a set menu of secondary effects on your weapons or armor.

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Minecraft Dungeons review: elegant, family-friendly dungeon-crawling

Would you like that sword to emit a cloud of poison gas to help deal with mobs, or would you rather it increase the chances that you’ll find gems when you kill enemies? Each enchantment option has three levels of power, so choosing your gear, and then choosing how to enchant it, is the way you build out your characters.

No decision about your enchantment points is permanent, however; you can always salvage older weapons to get the enchantment points back for use in another weapon. The weapons or gear you salvage to regain those points are gone forever, although new gear is awarded at such a steady clip that it won’t feel like a loss for long in most cases. By the time these decisions get challenging, even younger players will have put enough hours into the game that they won’t be intimidated.

—Ben Kuchera

Available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One.

Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | Nintendo eShop | PlayStation Store | Microsoft Store

Doom Eternal

Image: id Software/Bethesda Softworks

The story picks up where Doom (2016) left off: Demons have overtaken Earth. You are a literal one-man army, on the path to becoming either a god or a killer of gods. Your quest to kill three space witches will take you from the aforementioned demon-infested Earth to a demon-infested Mars and back, with some pit stops at your space base, the Fortress of Doom, a hybrid space station and medieval castle floating somewhere (best I can tell) near the moon.

Doom Eternal is like Doom (2016) but with greater scope and clearer intent. Doom (2016) infamously fell into development hell, with its developer, id, spending years reimagining the project like a person in a desert chasing after hallucinations before finally locating actual water. Doom (2016) felt like a game that happened despite itself. Doom Eternal, on the other hand, feels purposeful, like every team member had strived for one goal: to turn the magic of death-metal album covers into a video game. Friends, they did it.

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Doom Eternal review: one of the best shooters in years

Everything is more “badass” (and I never say the word “badass”). The super shotgun has a grappling hook that can catch demons on fire. Badass! You can tell how badly a demon is injured by how much skin and muscle you’ve blasted off its skeleton. Badass! Instead of a pistol, you start the game with a shotgun. Badass!

Developer id and publisher Bethesda have invested small mountains of money in cutscenes, but even our hero seems bored by them, never saying a word, literally walking through the cinematics, and cutting one-sided conversations short with the occasional bullet to the noggin. He doesn’t have time for all this fantasy lore baloney; he has evil to tear apart. His name is Doomguy. What else can you expect?

—Chris Plante

Available on PlayStation 4, Google Stadia, Windows PC, and Xbox One; a Nintendo Switch version is also in development.

Get it here: Amazon | Best Buy | Walmart | GameStop | PlayStation Store | Microsoft Store | Steam

Kentucky Route Zero (full release)

https://youtube.com/watch?v=G0_n9QPves4%3Frel%3D0

The game has a story to tell, but as a player I can tweak moments to give the tale a personal touch. While these choices won’t make a major impact on how the events of the game turn out, they might let me learn something new about a specific character. In the dog’s case, his or her name will remain the same throughout the journey, depending on what I pick.

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Kentucky Route Zero review: a grim road trip about the stops along the way

I can also do nothing at the gas station and just stand there for a few minutes. Crickets chirp in the distance as the sun slowly sets over a nearby hillside. Occasionally a car will motor by, the rolling sound of asphalt on pavement slowly fading away. Kentucky Route Zero is filled with scenes like this, handcrafted to create a sense of quiet contemplation, like wind rushing across a cliffside.

It’s worth noting that Kentucky Route Zero is not a game in the traditional sense. There aren’t really puzzles to solve, or doors to unlock with secret keys. The hardest challenges it ever throws at you are related to roadside directions and not much else. The closest analog would be a very high-quality visual novel, with slight interactivity blended into the gorgeous artwork.

—Russ Frushtick

Available on Linux, Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One.

Get it here: Amazon | PlayStation Store | Microsoft Store | Nintendo eShop | Steam

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