Recognizing the best of the best that PC gaming had to deliver.
Today, PC gaming is stronger than it has ever been before. With a thriving ecosystem that involves openness and freedom for its players, and a frankly ridiculous volume of games from across all avenues of the video games industry, it should come as no surprise to anyone that PCs remain the most popular platform for video games in the world. As with every year, 2020 marked a packed slate of games for PC. Here are some of the best ones of the bunch.
NOTE: The nominees and winner were decided by an internal vote held among the entire GamingBolt staff.
Hideo Kojima’s eccentric open world game was extremely arresting in 2019, but in 2020, it took on a brand new resonance. That, perhaps, is what helped it capture an entirely new audience on PC upon release, as its story of a world torn asunder and causing people to live in isolation, relying on delivery men for the most basic of necessities, found new meaning in a COVID-19 world. It helps, of course, that the game itself remains extremely unusual and engaging, and that the PC port was fantastic – substantially better than many console games find their PC versions to be.
Horizon Zero Dawn
One of those bad PC ports of a console game was Horizon Zero Dawn. While Death Stranding had already marked a great debut for the Decima Engine on PC, Horizon itself was a shoddy port, besought with multiple problems, and generating a lot of backlash from users. Over time, Guerrilla has addressed a lot of these issues, and the port today is in much better shape. It helps, of course, that the game itself is pretty good too, with its unique setting and great enemy encounters especially helping it stand out even three years on from its original release.
Hades captured the zeitgeist in 2020 like very few other games did, and with good reason: this roguelike game is just that darn good. While technically the game had been available on PC in early access for over a year before, its official 1.0 release was what pushed it into the eye of the mainstream, including on PC. Fast, frenetic, unpredictable, and as engaging to play in a short, 10 minute burst as it is for hours long marathon sessions, Hades is one of the best games of last year, indeed, of the generation, and it should come as no surprise that its incredible PC version finds itself on this list.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection
While Halo Reach launched on PC last year, the bulk of the Master Chief Collection – Combat Evolved, 2, 3, 4, and 3: ODST – all came to the platform this year. They were incredible ports too, doing justice to one of the most prestigious and beloved series in gaming as they made it available to an entirely new audience. The ongoing success of The Master Chief Collection is a testament to just how great these games are, and how well PC owners took to their PC versions – and with multiple updates planned into 2021 and beyond, we can probably expect Halo to be a fixture of PC gaming for a long time to come now.
Microsoft Flight Simulator
Microsoft’s Flight Simulator games were always a pretty niche thing, so no one really expected the revival to be of any interest to anyone beyond a few enthusiasts. Flight Simulator, however, found a massive audience on PC in 2020. Perhaps buoyed by people looking for any escape into the outdoors that they could find among the endless lockdowns caused by COVID, a lot of people flocked to the game – and they found an incredible flight simulator in the process, with a staggering and frankly frightening level of attention to detail, and photorealistic graphics so good, no one would blame you if you mistook them for real life.
Risk of Rain 2
Like Hades, Risk of Rain 2 had technically been available for a while before its “official” launch. But that official launch finally made this gem of a roguelike shooter get the recognition that it deserved. Mixing and mashing up a smattering of gameplay styles, including roguelike, third person shooter, co-op horde, and moving the classic original to a 3D environment, this game found rave success in 2020, and managed to stand out even in a year where Hades sucked the air out of the room for roguelike discussion. If you haven’t played it already, absolutely check out Risk of Rain 2 – it can run on pretty modest rigs too, so no PC gamer has an excuse for passing on this one.
The original Spelunky was a seminal game that managed to define roguelikes almost as much as the original game that birthed (and subsequently, named) the genre to begin with. Expectations were understandably high from its sequel, and while Spelunky 2 is not quite the revelation that the original game was, it’s a pitch perfect sequel that iterates on everything that its predecessor did, making it better, and delivering a far superior package in the process. It’s brutally challenging, always unpredictable, and full of content for the enterprising player to discover and master – in other words, it’s everything that a Spelunky fan would want from a follow up.
Valve’s first new singleplayer game in a decade was also something that people had long been hoping for, but given up hope on it ever happening – an honest to goodness new Half-Life title. While Half-Life: Alyx is not Half-Life 3, it is nonetheless a brand new entry in the series, and one that manages to advance the plot in spite of its “prequel/sidequel” status. A VR exclusive game, it demonstrated Valve’s utter mastery over the nascent format like few other developers have managed so far, delivering the kind of high profile VR exclusive that the medium has been lacking so far. It being a VR game also meant that it was every bit as much of a revelatory game as Half-Life 1 and 2 had been in their time, finally managing to find a way to deliver that same kind of leap forward that people had doubted the series would ever be able to deliver again.
Valorant is a hero shooter set in the League of Legends universe, which means it’s taking one of the most popular genres on the market (especially on PC), and combining it with one of the most popular games of all time. Of course Valorant was a runaway success, it was never going to be anything else. However, it also, obviously, helped that it was a heck of a game, managing to deliver a compelling shooter that evolved a rather nuanced and complex competitive scene shockingly fast. Valorant proved that Riot is not a one trick pony, and that its upcoming League of Legends spin-offs are ones to keep an eye on.
Co-op and horror games don’t usually go well together (how can you be afraid when you have others with you bantering away?), but Phasmophobia proved to be a rare exception to the rule when it launched earlier last year. One of those games that managed to break out in 2020, its unique blend of co-op and horror, which takes multiplayer game tropes such as voice chat, and subverts them by turning them against the player, managed to garner it a massive following. Phasmophobia is hugely recommended to everyone, even those who may not necessarily be fans of horror games otherwise.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Ori and the Blind Forest was a revelatory experience, and widely regarded as one of the best Metroidvania games of all time. It says something about Will of the Wisps, then, that it is so incredible, it all but makes Blind Forest obsolete. Improving upon the original in every possible way, Will of the Wisps is a bigger and better follow up, expanding the platforming and combat that defined the original game, bringing in mechanics inspired by other successful games in the genre, and retaining the strong, tightly crafted level design that is the mark of any good Metroidvania. While the game had a fair few technical issues at launch, most of those are long since smoothed over, which means anyone jumping into this game now has nothing preventing them from experiencing a masterpiece of game design.
Football Manager 2021
Critics of the franchise derisively call Football Manager “spreadsheet simulator”. That is a name that fans of the series have embraced and taken to, calling Football Manager spreadsheet simulators affectionately, because the ridiculously deep and addictive simulation of football is as popular as it is because of how much it asks its players to keep track of. Football Manager 2021 is no different, delivering the strongest outing the series has had yet, overhauling the presentation, AI, and greatly improving and expanding manager interactions with players, with owners, with the media, adding new recruitment options, and so much more. Football Manager 2021 is a love letter to anyone who is a fan of the beautiful game… and spreadsheets.
While Half-Life: Alyx is the Half-Life game from Valve everyone had been waiting for for the better part of a decade, let’s not forget about Black Mesa, the fan led remake of the original Half-Life game, that finally launched in its 1.0 guise in 2020. Modernizing the original game so thoroughly that it feels right at place next to other games on the market today, without losing the essence of what made the original Half-Life so great to begin with, Black Mesa is an incredible tour-de-force that is simultaneously indicative of how strong the original game was to begin with, and also just how talented fans can be – very often, more so than even the developers whose works inspired them in the first place.
inXile’s Wasteland 2 was… fine. It wasn’t really great, definitely not worth the decades long wait fans had to endure. It’s not a surprise that not many expected much out of the follow-up, especially when its new, quippier tone was revealed, which flew in the face of what fans expected from the series. But honestly, a break from the original game, rather than a slavish attempt to recreate it, was probably what the series had needed all along, because Wasteland 3 is fantastic, delivering a strong, engaging, and ridiculously deep cRPG that can stand side by side with any number of the great games that have headlined the cRPG revival. Technical issues aside, it can be definitively stated that it is one of the best PC games of 2020.
The Pathless delivers the kind of open world game that is still unfortunately in rather short supply. Stripping the markers and maps and compasses et al that comprise most open world titles, The Pathless forces players to actually pay attention to the world they are navigating, guiding them through its vistas with nothing but its strong visual and terrain design and the player’s curiosity leading them on. It is telling that it is a better open world game than most others, with a fraction of the dev team size – and it is also uniquely distinct in being the rare open world game that does not outstay its welcome, delivering a short, compact experience that signs off on a high.
Microsoft announced, and then subsequently released, Gears Tactics without much fanfare, and honestly, that’s a damn shame, because this game ended up flying under the radar for many as a result. Gears Tactics, however, might be the strongest and most exciting outing the Gears of War universe has had in a while, with the shift to an XCOM-style turn based strategy template proving to be a breath of fresh air, while also allowing for different stories of vastly differing scopes to be told. Gears Tactics is just a damn good game, as much of an obvious recommendation for fans of the notoriously hard to crack into turn based strategy genre as it is for fans of Microsoft’s iconic franchise.
There have been many great PC games in 2020, but none of them was probably as monumental, as important, as historic, as Half-Life: Alyx will prove to be in the long run. VR as a format has mostly struggled to gain traction in the mainstream market for years now, with high-end VR especially finding takers hard to come by, with its high costs and lack of compelling content. Valve managed to change that in one fell swoop, while also rewriting the rulebook of exactly what one should expect from a VR title in the process. Comparisons in video games critique are always suspect and problematic, but it isn’t exactly inaccurate to say that Alyx is every bit the revelation for what VR game design can be that Super Mario 64 was for what 3D game design can be more than two decades ago. That it also manages to live up to the expectations of Half-Life fans who have been starved for a new game for over a decade, and have built up a new full game in the franchise to near mythical status, is ultimately all the evidence you need of just how incredible Alyx really is, in the end.