by John Rogers & various contributors
The video games that kept us sane in the year of Covid-19
In a year that most of us were happy to put in the bin, video games were a bright spot. Quarantining at home came as a shock to the system for many, so traversing simulated landscapes, competing with friends in online multiplayer, or evacuating reality for far-future wonderlands proved an invaluable form of escapism.
Console sales went through the roof accordingly. Nintendo’s handheld Switch system became a hot commodity, selling out worldwide. Lapsed gamers returned to the fold, and first-timers decided it was time to give games a chance. A timely Oxford study about video games being good for mental health went viral. The millions who found solace in the gentle environs of Nintendo’s smash-hit cute-‘em-up Animal Crossing: New Horizons didn’t disagree.
All this, and the arrival of the next generation too, in the bulky shape of Playstation 5 and the XBox Series X. With all that in mind, we asked some of our gamer friends – from critics to streamers to podcast hosts – to share their top games of the year. Some chose 2020 releases, and others personal favourites regardless of release date. From AAA blockbusters to viral multiplayer games to artistic indies, their lists reflect the ever-expanding diversity of the medium.
We hope you enjoy comparing notes, and perhaps discovering something new to try out yourself. For more weekly video game coverage, be sure to subscribe to the RAR-affiliated podcast Gaming In The Wild, with new episodes every Friday evening on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and everywhere good – and stay tuned for more RAR gaming coverage in 2021.
Co-host of Time Played 3hr
Umurangi Generation (PC)
“A game about taking photographs at the end of the world, this is a pretty small indie game that’s on PC now, and coming out on Switch in 2021. It’s a first person photography game in a cyberpunk world, with a lo-fi aesthetic, and hardcore lo-fi beats playing all the time. You’re given objectives you need to photograph, a time limit – although you don’t have to stick to it – and you complete the objectives to move on to the next level. The way it tells a story is wonderful. It’s told subtly through the environments you explore.”
Wide Ocean Big Jacket (PC)
“A short vignette of a game about two adults and two kids who go on a camping trip, where nothing of particular merit happens. I love games that are gentle and soft, and tell a small, intimate story. Between the writing, the small interactions, and the tiny effects you can have on the space, it made for a lovely, warm afternoon gaming experience.”
Orwell’s Animal Farm (iOS)
“I played this one during a weekend away on my iPad. I’m always interested in adaptations, and how people do it. In this one, you’re effectively running the Animal Farm, and trying to sustain it for as long as possible while running through the plot of the book. There’s some conflict there about who to side with, and how to make the farm survive. A fascinating little game.”
Art of Rally (PC)
“I grew up playing driving games. My dad’s big into cars, and I didn’t like playing violent games. Every once in a while I’ll pick up a racing game, although they’re often pretty samey. But Art of Rally is really about capturing the feeling of driving a rally car. It’s an isometric, top-down, low-poly aesthetic, with fictional representations of classic rally destinations in Finland, Japan and Norway. The career mode runs you through the history of rally driving, with cars of different periods. It’s a racing game with a warm, gentle, meditative vibe.”
Cyberpunk 2077 (PC)