While 2020 was an expectedly chaotic year, it still managed to offer some fantastic games for both the PlayStation 4 and the PS5. This year marks the bittersweet end of the PlayStation 4 as the core Sony platform, bolstered by an impressive lineup of first-party games. Its final year saw an impressive batch of exclusive games like Final Fantasy VII: Remake, Ghost of Tsushima, and The Last of Us: Part II, which closed out the console’s life in top form. Coupled with the PS4’s swan song, we also saw an impressive debut for the PlayStation 5, which managed to keep the momentum going with its own set of unique games.
Before 2020 reaches its end, GameSpot’s team of editors and producers wanted to take some time to look back at the PlayStation’s greatest hits from this year, which spans both the PS4 and PS5 consoles. In addition to the games above, we also included the PS5’s killer app, Demon’s Souls, which stands as a remarkable return to form for the original souls-like. Below, you’ll find our five picks for the best PlayStation games of 2020, along with our thoughts on what made them so special.
For more on the best games of 2020, which includes other roundups focusing on the Switch and Xbox, be sure to head over to GameSpot’s hub page compiling all the noteworthy titles from this year.
Ever since the release of the original Final Fantasy VII in 1997, the story of ex-SOLDIER turned mercenary Cloud Strife and his allies saving the world from environmental and cosmic ruin has become an iconic part of the gaming lexicon. The prospect of revisiting these characters and the world they inhabit with new visuals and new gameplay was an enticing one, and five years after its announcement, we finally got the first installment of the remake for the classic JRPG–and it proved to be worth the wait. What truly made Final Fantasy VII: Remake special was that it was not only a game that reinvigorated the original’s atmosphere and sense of optimism in bleak circumstances, but it also reinvented the way we see these classic characters and their storylines. In a surprising twist, the remake of Final Fantasy VII recreates many of the original game’s iconic moments in order to serve a larger story that ventures into exciting new territory. Final Fantasy VII: Remake is not just a remake, but rather a new experience with old friends on an uncertain journey.
In GameSpot’s 10/10 review, Tamoor Hussain explained in detail how Square-Enix’s revisit to the world of FFVII is more than just a remake. “Regardless of your history with the original game, Final Fantasy VII Remake is an astounding achievement. The wait for its release was a long one, but in gameplay, story, characters, and music, it delivers–the wait was worth it. For first-time players, it’s an opportunity to understand why Final Fantasy VII is held in such high regard. It’s the chance to experience a multifaceted story that grapples with complex subject matter, be in the company of memorable characters, and be moved by their plight. For returning fans, this isn’t the Final Fantasy VII your mind remembers, it’s the one your heart always knew it to be.”
The Last of Us was simultaneously a new beginning for developer Naughty Dog and the end of the PlayStation 3’s era. So it felt appropriate for The Last of Us: Part II to follow a similar path by closing out the era of the PS4, with the developer continuing the story of Ellie’s harrowing struggles in a bleak world that’s gotten worse. As expected for a sequel, it expands on the original’s sense of uneasy exploration with tense survivalist gameplay, giving way to encounters that can quickly veer into gruesome violence. However, the sequel’s biggest achievement is its narrative, which tells parallel stories focusing on Ellie and newcomer Abby.
At its heart, The Last of Us: Part II is a story bolstered by its characters, and seeing the sequel examine Ellie through the lens of another protagonist led to some of the most powerful and uncomfortable narrative moments of 2020. With its story set in a morally ambiguous world where every character carries the scars of trauma, the sequel presents a question: Who among them gets to decide who’s in the right? Ever since its release, The Last of Us: Part II has stood as a controversial game. Its focus on the toxic cycle of violence and its study of Ellie as a character–and not just as a protagonist–made for one of the most talked-about games of the year, leaving fans and critics alike to examine what we talk about when we discuss games criticism.
In Kallie Plagge’s review of The Last of Us: Part II, she explained how the game’s uncomfortable and often inconvenient truths about its characters led to some powerful moments in the game. “By the time I finished The Last of Us Part II, I wasn’t sure if I liked it. It’s a hard game to stomach, in part because so much of who Ellie is and what she does is beyond your control. She is deeply complicated and flawed, and her selfishness hurts a lot of people. At times, the pain you inflict feels so senseless that it can leave you numb. It’s all messy and bleak and made me profoundly sad for myriad reasons, but the more I reflect on it, the more I appreciate the story and characters at its core. I wanted almost none of it to happen the way it did, and that’s what’s both beautiful and devastating about it.”
The original Demon’s Souls on the PS3 was a stoic and uncompromising game that garnered a passionate following and built a reputation for being one of the most difficult games of its time. However, its real lasting impact would be that it would give birth to a new sub-genre of games called souls-likes and push developer From Software into AAA status. In 2020, Bluepoint Games released a remake of the original game as a PS5 launch title, preserving its stoic gameplay while giving it a substantial graphical overhaul that shows off the surprising power and flexibility of the new console. The remake not only proved to be a fantastic way for fans of the souls sub-genre of games to revisit the pioneer that started it all, but it also proved that Demon’s Souls, with its core 2009 gameplay intact, still manages to stand the test of time.
In Tamoor Hussain’s full review of Demon’s Souls on PS5, he explains how it manages to reinvent the original Souls game as a stellar game that shows off what the PS5 is capable of. “Quirks aside, Bluepoint’s remake is an unmitigated success. It is a technical tour de force and a true showpiece for the PS5 and the power of Sony’s next-generation console. But, more importantly, it’s also a creative marvel coming from a studio that is clearly showing the world it has its own voice. Bluepoint has taken From Software’s original game and expressed it in a richer and fuller way, and in doing so given me something I thought was impossible: the opportunity to relive the experience of falling in love with Souls games for the first time.”
Sucker Punch Productions steadily evolved from making 3D platformers, to making open-world superhero games, and most recently, to creating a fully realized samurai action-game with Ghost of Tsushima. Stylistically, it’s drastically different from the developer’s previous works on Sly Cooper and Infamous. But in actuality, it brings together all their efforts to offer up a solid package of samurai-style combat, tense stealth, and large-scale exploration on the lush and vibrant island of Tsushima during an invasion from opposing forces. Coupled with its surprisingly robust online co-op mode Legends, Ghost of Tsushima is a solid open-world adventure that helped close out the PS4’s lifespan with style.
In Edmond Tran’s review of Ghost of Tsushima, he detailed how Ghost of Tsushima’s open-world and stellar combat offered a compelling experience. “Ghost of Tsushima’s story hits hard in the game’s third and final act, and ends in spectacular fashion. It left me with the same kinds of strong emotions I felt at the end of all my favourite samurai film epics, and had me eager to watch them all again. The game hits a lot of fantastic cinematic highs, and those ultimately lift it above the trappings of its familiar open-world quest design and all the innate weaknesses that come with it–but those imperfections and dull edges are definitely still there. Ghost of Tsushima is at its best when you’re riding your horse and taking in the beautiful world on your own terms, armed with a sword and a screenshot button, allowing the environmental cues and your own curiosity to guide you. It’s not quite a Criterion classic, but a lot of the time it sure looks like one.”
Though the original Persona 5 was released in 2017, Persona 5: Royal is an enhanced re-release that improves the existing game while also adding in a new school semester for the crew of Phantom Thieves to dive into. With its slick and stylish visuals and the bumping soundtrack to lift your crew of Phantom Thieves along the adventure, there’s a remarkable sense of positivity and earnestness within the story. The Royal edition not only reaffirms what made the original great, but it also empowers its cast of characters as they take matters into their own hands to right wrongs and fight demons who look to enslave humanity.
In Michael Higham’s 10/10 review, he explained how Royal’s new innovations not only improves the existing game, but also strengthens the overall message of unity with its cast of characters. “As P5R comes to a close, it tries to ease you into its end with heartfelt scenes, some new and some familiar. But in doing so, it only makes it harder to say goodbye again. Persona 5 Royal is many things: a collection of small inspiring stories, an ambitious harrowing journey with some good friends, a stunning visual and auditory experience, a resounding call to action. By refining what was already great and building on its best qualities with a brilliant new story arc, Persona 5 Royal asserts itself as an unforgettable and empowering RPG that should be recognized as one of the best games of our time.”