While 2020 was a difficult year overall, it was a spectacular year for games — making it easy to find many candidates for our best games of 2020 list. With two brand-new consoles and a slew of powerful GPUs, we had plenty of ways to enjoy dozens of ambitious new titles. From daring original IPs, to hotly anticipated sequels, to gorgeous remasters, the best games of 2020 paid homage to the medium’s past while experimenting with the hardware of the medium’s future.
The Tom’s Guide staff had a vigorous debate over the best games of 2020, and narrowed our list down to 15 outstanding gems. These are the games that we, personally, vouch for. If you’re looking for something to play over your holiday break — or a way to kick off 2021 on the right foot — then look no further.
Lying somewhere between game and creative tool, Townscaper allowed me to drift off into a calm gaming trance multiple times throughout this year. Opening the game presents you with a vast empty ocean, but one where a simple click instantly spawns a little piece of land, and subsequent clicks creates stories of a building. You then go where you will, creating little seaside towns, collections of islands, or a city as large as the map will let you make.
What may frustrate you about the game is how the map is split into irregularly shaped units, but I would argue this is its master stroke. Developer Oskar Stålberg (who also made a similar tower-building browser game called Brick Block) doesn’t seem to want you to craft a perfectly designed metropolis according to your own vision, but to discover one as you play. It’s this that allows the game to be simultaneously relaxing and engaging in just the right way. — Richard Priday
14. Superhot Mind Control Delete
You’re likely already familiar with the original 2016 Superhot, the FPS where “time moves when you move”. Mind Control Delete is somewhere between an expansion and a sequel, adding only a limited number of levels, but lots of different weapons, enemies and special powers to try out.
This game does feature a story, but it’s less explicit than the original. Instead, its main aim is to encourage you to try new loadouts and perk combinations, either in the campaign missions or in new endless levels. It’s the perfect parcel of extra content for existing fans, but players who want to try some Superhot with fewer pauses for the narrative may really like this, too. — Richard Priday
13. Persona 5 Royal
Persona 5 Royal isn’t a sequel to the hit 2018 Japanese RPG Persona 5 — it’s just a much better, expanded version. Thanks to new characters, missions and adventures, we’ve now got an even more compelling game, for both those who haven’t played P5, and those who absolutely loved it. As for the story, it’s a simple tale of a new kid who moves to the big city where he discovers that adults are abusing their powers. You make friends with other teens, and unlock powers that allow them to make these nefarious adults confess their wrongdoings. — Henry T. Casey
Phasmophobia allows us to escape the dread of 2020 and dive headfirst into the horrors of a haunted house. The difference? We can explore the haunted house with three other friends. Partially popularized by various YouTubers and Twitch streamers, this survival horror game allows you to visit a secluded location in an attempt to solve the mystery of the haunting and escape while you still can. Since the game is still in early access, some bugs can be expected. However, with proximity chat and impressive VR support, Phasmophobia has undoubtedly provided some of the biggest scares of the year, and that’s saying a lot. — Denise Primbet
Ghostrunner is a first-person slasher that flicks between brutal and balletic. As one man with a sword against a colossal cyberpunk high-rise of thugs with guns, perishing is inevitable, and your extreme fragility really does mean it’s easy to reach the credits with a death count in the hundreds. And yet, unlike a lot of desk-punchingly hard games, Ghostrunner doesn’t care about dwelling on failure. Death is swift, but so are restarts. Combined with some deliciously intuitive parkour mechanics, you’re never still for long. And, since enemies fall as quickly as you do, the result is an exhilarating race up the last skyscraper on Earth with only a small handful of puzzle sections to help you catch your breath. Ghostrunner may want you dead, but it never stops encouraging you to keep going. — James Archer
10. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
In a way, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout was the perfect lockdown game. It allowed us to come together with our closest friends in the most chaotic way. Playing as a fully customizable adorable little jellybean-like creature, up to 60 players are thrown into a series of obstacle courses, battle royales and various team games until only one is left standing. Will you ever win the crown? Highly questionable. Will you have fun trying while running around in a ridiculous chicken costume and being knocked out by a giant pineapple? Definitely. — Denise Primbet
9. Doom Eternal
Doom Eternal is, in many ways, the perfect game for 2020. You play as the Doom Slayer, who exists in a state of perpetual murderous fury. The greedy, short-sighted powers-that-be unleashed literal Hell on Earth, and now the Doom Slayer must rip and tear every demon who glances in his general direction because someone has to fix this mess, dang it. The fast-paced first-person shooter gameplay requires you to constantly balance your shields, health and ammo; standing still for more than a second or two usually means a gory death. Doom Eternal is pure catharsis, wrapped up in tight shooting mechanics and just enough exploration to keep things interesting. — Marshall Honorof
8. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
After weeks of virtual renovations and asking everyone to invest with Tom Nook, gamers went full Kim K and surprised their closest inner circle with invitations to their own private islands. There, we were able to pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time. Yes, Animal Crossing: New Horizons provided a way to get away virtually when doing so physically was dangerous. New Horizons’ Stalk Market, though, proved to be one of its best mini-games (if that’s how you’d classify it), enabling online socialization despite the game’s poor implementation of cross-island travel. — Henry T. Casey
7. Half-Life: Alyx
This wasn’t the Half-Life sequel many people have awaited for at least 13 years. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that Half-Life: Alyx is an extraordinary game. While virtual reality games have got a lot more sophisticated in recent years, Half-Life: Alyx arguably sets a new standard for immersive and intuitive VR games. Granted, it’s not exactly a game that’s accessible to all, given the need for a proper tethered VR headset. But Half-Life: Alyx shows that VR isn’t just a throwaway platform, and is instead something that has huge potential if game developers are willing to roll up their sleeves and really think about it. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Valve’s metaphorical sleeves are stuffed with plenty of spare money. — Roland Moore-Colyer
Hades is a very 2020 game, as everything goes wrong, over and over again. In it, you portray Zagreus, the son of Hades himself — and you’re on a mission to get out of hell. Except — sorry — you keep dying. Thankfully, Hades makes death almost fun, as its beautifully stylized aesthetics, hilarious dialogue and tight gameplay make you want to keep coming back for more. And Hades stays compelling because of how you keep getting new kinds of upgrades for your weapons and attacks, so you can find the best combination to actually escape. — Henry T. Casey
5. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has been a bit of an unexpected 2020 hit. I was ready for another run-of-the-mill Assassin’s Creed game that reworked AC: Odyssey into Viking livery. But it turns out Valhalla is a lot more than that. While the game world is suitably littered with points of interest, this time around they yield truly interesting things. In the first couple of hours, I stumbled across a Viking woman who’s lost a comb, and was challenging people to find it in order to spend a night of romance with her. In fact, side quests like that, which you basically stumble across, gives a Witcher 3: Wild Hunt flavor to Valhalla. That’s a very good thing. It also looks gorgeous on the PS5 and Xbox Series X, making it feel more like a next-generation game rather than a cross-platform title. — Roland Moore-Colyer
4. Star Wars: Squadrons
What I thought was going to be another EA license cash-in turned out to be one of my favorite Star Wars games in a long-time. Squadrons does nothing new or original. Many other games have put you in the cockpit of an X-Wing or TIE Fighter, but this game just does it really well. Squadrons treads the line between arcade spaceship shooter and flight sim rather nicely. It’s easy enough to pick up, albeit with a steep-ish learning curve if you want to wrangle the most out of an A-wing or TIE Bomber for example. And if you want to go full Red Leader, then you can don a VR headset and play the game with a proper flight stick setup. As a person of limited gaming skill, I was quite happy piloting nippy fighters with an Xbox Wireless Controller, but never felt less than immersed. — Roland Moore-Colyer
3. Spider-Man: Miles Morales
Marvel’s Spider-Man on PS4 wasn’t just one of the best Spider-Man games ever made; it’s one of the best Spider-Man adaptations, period. Spider-Man: Miles Morales continues that proud tradition on PS4 and PS5. In this meaty standalone expansion, you’ll take control of neophyte Spider-Man Miles Morales as he tries to protect New York City from a new threat while Peter Parker is out of town. With refined web-slinging, fluid combat and a heartfelt story, Miles Morales delivers more of what we loved about the original Spider-Man, but in a more compact package. The game is even better on PS5, with a 60 fps frame rate and almost no loading times. — Marshall Honorof
2. Demon’s Souls
Including Demon’s Souls on a list of 2020’s best games almost feels like cheating. The game also dominated “best-of” lists when it first debuted on the PS3, way back in 2009. However, time has been kind to Demon’s Souls. The game’s “tough-but-fair” action/RPG gameplay is as refined as ever, as is its eerie, minimalist story and rich level design. If anything, the game is better than ever before on the PS5, thanks to some much-needed quality-of-life tweaks, near-instantaneous loading times and an active online player base. If you’ve never explored the fallen kingdom of Boletaria, now is the perfect time to do it — and if you have, it’s high time to pay it another visit. — Marshall Honorof
1. The Last of Us Part II
As a sequel to one of the PS3’s defining games, The Last of Us Part II had to satisfy nearly impossible expectations. The first game wove a complex tale of survival and redemption, and ended on a satisfying note. How could Naughty Dog build on its grim postapocalyptic world without retreading old ground? By putting players in control of Ellie, and following her on a cross-country journey for revenge. The Last of Us Part II delves into some dark moral territory, and an unexpected gameplay twist forces players to question where their empathy really lies — and where it belongs. Top-notch shooter/stealth gameplay doesn’t hurt, either. — Marshall Honorof