2020 Gift Guide: Best Video Games For the Holiday Season
To say that 2020 has been a different year than other recent ones would, of course, be a colossal understatement. While adjusting to the new normal involved with living amid a pandemic, people have also coped with the sluggish release of new entertainment and content to digest in tough times … while simultaneously stocking up on activities and hobbies they can do from the comfort of their home. This has resulted in, well, the videogame industry continues to thrive despite the complications, working through mild delays in software releases and still moving full steam ahead into the arrival of a new generation of consoles in November. Granted, there’s still one delayed title – Cyberpunk 2077 – that many people are still uncertain about whether it’ll get here before the holidays, but for the most part, it’s still been a solid year for new titles worth wrapping up and giving as gifts.
Below, we’ve bundled together over a dozen titles that have either stood out from the rest this year or are very, very likely to impress once they’ve come out in the near future. Be sure to hop over to Ben’s Bargains Hardware Gift Guide to figure out what machine you’ll want to play these games on — whether it’s the current cycle of game consoles or the upcoming ones that are inherently backwards compatible.
Gifts for the Horror Survivor
The best of gaming’s horror genre tends to hover around the concept of pandemics and the origins of those diseases, which may go in two directions this year: they may trouble those playing even more, or they may resonate more deeply amid the current world situation. Both are absorbing experiences in their own right, and worth the intensity.
The Last of Us Part 2
- Naughty Dog left a mark with their tense survival horror experience The Last of Us, both as a technical achievement and for the skill behind its harrowing post-apocalyptic storytelling. The sequel sets its sights on matching the original, and it does so in more ways than one.
- Set several years into the future, this sequel puts the player in primary control of Ellie, the focal character from the first game whose mere existence played a major role in combating the infection. The gameplay of The Last of Us remains a secondary tool for storytelling, but the controls and the intensity of combat remain on the same precise level as the original, with more focus on Ellie’s stealth.
- The gameplay of The Last of Us remains a secondary tool for storytelling, but the controls and the intensity of combat remain on the same precise level as the original, with more focus on Ellie’s stealth.
- The Last of Us is all about the narrative, though, and this one’s a doozie: a harrowing, somewhat controversial story about the consuming nature of revenge.
Resident Evil 3
- Last year’s remake of Resident Evil 2 became quite the surprise, transforming the rough plot concepts of the original survival horror game through intense modern design via third-person shooting controls. Resident Evil 3 does roughly the same with the next installment in Capcom’s storied franchise.
- This one focuses on the story of Jill Valentine of the STARS rescue troop and her interactions with Nemesis, an intelligent zombie bioweapon created by Umbrella that’s loose in Raccoon City.
- Knowing they had a winning formula on their hands, Capcom didn’t mess with what worked in the previous year’s remake while developing RE3 and its focus on one of the franchise’s popular villains..
Gifts for The Sci-Fi Aficionado
Three of the most significant names in the realm of science-fiction video games cranked out games for 2020, some with engaging sandboxes to explore and others with familiar, yet different landscape to traverse.
- Look, I’m making two risky assumptions here, but that’s okay: the folks at CD Projekt Red will finally be delivering their adaptation of the Cyberpunk role-playing franchise before the holidays are over and done, and if The Witcher 3 is anything to go by, it’ll be something special for both sci-fi and RPG genres.
- Dropped in the space of Night City, a multi-region sandbox environment, the player’s deeply customized character begins on a chosen “lifepath” and entrenches in the dangers of the city’s crime syndicates. Gameplay will be first person, though, something quite new for CDPR.
- From class selection and weapons to consequences of actions upon the overarching 40+ hour storyline, Cyberpunk 2077 makes a lot of compelling promises to genre aficionados that it has every intention of keeping. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed that this new December 10 date holds.
Final Fantasy VII
- It’s tough to even believe that Square actually did it … or, at least some version of it. Fans begged for a graphically polished, somewhat updated version of the turn-based RPG Final Fantasy VII for many, many years, and the developers finally delivered with this first installment of the story.
- Instead of merely duplicating the original game with contemporary tech updates, the game has been massively expanded and combat controls widely altered into a more action-oriented design.
- That isn’t the only thing updated in FF7, as the story has also been massively extended so that the tale of Cloud’s heroic journey into Midgar extends across numerous games, with this likely being the first of 3. Whether that’s okay will depend on the player: purists may grumble through the lulls in their familiar story, but most find the extensions reach a thoroughly satisfying point that leaves them ready for more.
- Breaking free from Konami and operating solely under his development label, Metal Gear Solid mastermind Hideo Kojima has released his first original independent game, Death Stranding. Kojima’s focus on innovation carries over into his unique courier action sci-fi experience.
- The main character, voiced and motion-acted by Norman Reedus, transports supplies between post-apocalyptic cities and reestablishes connections between them. If he dies along the treacherous terrains populated with monsters, he’s transported to an other-worldly place where he can reconnect with his living body and continue his pursuits … but not without blowback.
- World-building, responsive cargo game mechanics, menacing apocalyptic threats and existential musings deliver something that strives for something truly unique, all hallmarks of a Kojima game.
Gifts for The Open-World Explorer
While there’s certainly plenty of pleasure to be had in knocking out shorter games, just to celebrate the completion of something, there’s also something particularly satisfying about exploring vast areas without an obligation to really accomplish anything. It eats up hours and distracts from what’s going on in the outside world, and the more immersive the realms being explored, the better. Being able to control a shark … ? Well, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla
- The past few Assassin’s Creed games have departed from the franchise as most gamers came to know it, having less to do with the obvious assassin’s guild and instead exploring its historical origins through open-world versions of Egypt and Greece. Valhalla does the same, only in the period of the Vikings.
- This next installment once again offers players the choice of a male or female protagonist, but this time it’s the same character, Eivor, as they push through Anglo-Saxon occupied regions of Britain. The story seems more interested in the conflict between the Assassins and Templars, though.
- Gameplay concepts from Origins and Odyssey will carry over into this starkly different environment, while older settlement occupation ideas from older AC titles will return. In terms of the action, it’s bound to be as versatile as previous games in terms of choosing between brawling, ranged, and stealth.
Ghosts of Tsushima
- The folks behind superhero sandbox game Insomnia have gone in a different direction – back in time, actually – to create Ghost of Tsushima, a historical open-world experience set in 1200s Japan during the Mongolian invasions.
- Gaining control of Jin Sakai, a warrior defeated in battle and ill-prepared to take on the Mongol forces, players must explore the landscape in search of allies to help in the resistance and to learn new fighting techniques.
- Tight hand-to-hand combat and an encouragement to explore alternative methods of getting through battles have earned the game a lot of praise, along with the ability to select a more realistic “lethal” mode that more accurately depicts what’d happen if warriors attacked one other with blade strikes.
- The graphic presentation of Japan from that era will be remembered as one of this gen’s best.
- An open-world shark role-playing game. All Maneater had to do was deliver on its premise to ensure that heaps of people would end up playing it, and it certainly did so. Focusing on a revenge story and adding in an array of customizable supernatural mutations simply makes it have a bigger splash.
- Maneater follows a newborn bull shark as they chomp their way from being a baby to a full-sized predator, eating wildlife – and humans — along a fictional Gulf Coast region. Players master a few fairly simple attack techniques while also mutating the shark’s body with electricity, stone, and other stuff.
- It’s an RPG, sure, and it allows the player to be the kind of shark they want to be, but Maneater really, really wants them to eat up everything and mutate into the biggest, weirdest bull shark they can.
Gifts That Are a Blast From the Past
Lately, video games have enjoyed something similar to movies and TV shows in the way old franchises have been revived with new content. The games in this section have a degree of “back in the day …” aspect to them, while also carrying their own modern spit polish and enjoyment.
- The classic shooter franchise Doom was rebooted in 2016 to great effect, making fans forget about the passable installments that came about in later years after the original successful run on PC. Eternal dials everything up a few notches and manages, for the most part, to succeed while doing so.
- Following a timeline where 60% of the world’s population has been wiped out and the rest dispersed to other locations, the Slayer returns to the battle to eliminate several key priests linked to Hell.
- While some have considered the story to be one of the things that suffered in this escalation of the Doom franchise – a little too grim and nutty for its own good – the outlandish shooter energy and how it fuses with the surrounding environment makes up for those shortcomings. The plot may be all over the place, but that’s part of what completes the Doom Eternal experience.
Star Wars Squadrons
- After almost twenty years without a proper dogfight simulator, Star Wars zips back into the fray with Squadrons.
- Those who are used to the options available to them through the Battlefront line of games might not be as impressed, but those who’ve played through the LucasArts classic Tie Fighter and X-Wing games receive a healthy injection of excitement at seeing how this game captures that feeling.
- Players hop in the cockpit of any number of the fighter ships from the Star Wars universe, from either side, and engage in fast-paced space combat. The single-player campaign shifts between the two sides, while several multiplayer modes ensure plenty of after-story dogfights and operations among friends.
- Light role-playing elements through upgrade systems and class-based modifications add an extra contemporary punch to the experience, but the essence of those classic ‘90s simulators are strong with this one.
Toy Hawk Pro Skater 1+2 Remake
- As the years have gone by, remakes of games have gone in numerous directions based on the genre. Tony Hawk is arguably one of the best examples of how to do a faithful remake just right, taking the original two games – almost two decades old – and simply making the same game feel very new.
- As can be expected, the visuals for the freestyle skateboarding game have been dramatically overhauled, yet the layout and depth of the levels doesn’t stray from what’s familiar. Those with muscle memory of the urban landscapes and skate parks will likely feel that come back quickly.
- The controls, on the other hand, have been updated with extra finesse to allow for more precise combos. Along with that, there are a plethora of unlockables in the game and extra challenges to cross, unlocking extra appearances for the skater.
Gifts for [E]verybody
Whether it’s the satisfying completion of everyday tasks on an island or the enthrallment of vaulting through a vivid forest landscape, the games below showcase that the games occupy the E for Everyone quadrant of the gaming world are just as versatile and engaging as ever.
- In a year when so many things have been thrown out of whack and kept people from completing tasks they wanted to do, Animal Crossing: New Horizons ended up being something like a comfort-food simulator through its management of tasks in a colorful, vibrant landscape separated from the chaos.
- Those with experience in the previous Animal Crossing games understand what the game’s all about: nothing, really. You gain control of a customized character who moves to a deserted island and develops a daily routine of their choosing, hopefully with the objective of developing a community.
- The game’s mechanics operate on everyday activities and cultivating a community of the user’s design, and, of course, there’s the game design involved with inviting others – even other players – to come and visit their individual island. It’s a refreshing way to keep up everyday activity in a not-so-everyday time.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
- Ori and the Blind Forest quickly established a reputation for being a beautiful, challenging, and emotive platformer for the modern era. The sequel from Moon Studios, Will of the Wisps, meets or exceeds whatever expectations might have existed about their second attempt. And it’s a tearjerker, too.
- Taking place shortly after what happens in the first game, players regain control of spirit Ori as they set out to guard a newborn owl and right certain wrongs in the life balance in the forest. The swelling of emotion that drives the first game continues into the second, arguably with an even stronger energy.
- The Metroidvania feel of the platforming continues into this one, with even more complex level designs that have been lovingly created with vivid, whimsical colors and aesthetics. The challenge is there with engaging puzzles, but not to a frustrating degree and not in any way that’d deter from the atmosphere.
… And Finally, A Gift For the Webheads
Many of the games listed above will be receiving updates to get themselves up to speed for the new console generation, and that’s part of the reason why the roster of launch titles and exclusives remained fairly low leading into the release of the PS5 and the Xbox Series units. There’s one, however, that understood the responsibility that comes with greater power, and it’ll be slinging into the picture at a point where it might leave an impression that’s to be felt for the rest of this generation.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales
- Insomniac took the lessons of previous Spider-Man games – and superhero games in general – and crafted a terrific sandbox experience where it felt like the player truly became Peter Parker. The studio hopes to do the exact same with Miles Morales and the enhanced realism that the PS5 could bring it.
- With the popularity of the animated movie Into the Spider-Verse, Morales has become a more recognizable name among mainstream audiences. Now, he’s becoming the star of the video game show in this sequel, where he grows into the role of a new hero as he deals with organized high-tech crime stemming from a villain known as The Tinkerer.
- Originally hinted at as a enhanced expansion of Spider-Man, it’s a budget title that’s smaller in scale than the first one, yet stands alone with new content and utilizes the PS5’s graphical and control-based bells and whistles.