Now I’m an Xbox guy, but even I felt the pull to boot up my PC to play several games in 2020. And boy, what a year to do so, as there were quite a few notable standouts on PC this year. After mulling it over, GameSpot’s staff compiled the following list, which is our five favorite PC games to release this year.
Don’t fret if you want to play some of these games and don’t have a PC for gaming. Both Hades and Spiritfarer are available for specific consoles. The others, however, are PC exclusives. Heck, Half-Life: Alyx will probably prove the hardest to get access to as you’ll need a headset that supports the game.
Hades is a marvelous game, largely for how it subverts the expectations of the “game over” screen. In any other game–especially a roguelike–“game over” would traditionally signal the end of something. It’s hard to recover from a “game over” screen–it almost exists as an easy stopping point for players, allowing them to resume the game from a checkpoint on another day. But that’s not the case in Hades. When protagonist Zagreus dies, his story continues. Characters respond to his failed attempts to escape the Underworld, his successes in progress, his growing strength with every run, and his choices in how he fights. Hades is always progressing forward, sometimes with minor steps and other times with major jumps, regardless of whether you fail or succeed, encouraging you to keep playing even after messing up.
In GameSpot’s Hades review, Suriel Vazquez gave the game a 9/10, writing, “Like in the Greek myths Hades takes inspiration from, endings aren’t tidy, and they’re almost never final. They’re protracted, often unsatisfying, and are hard to find real closure in, and the fact that Hades understands this is its greatest strength. I’m sure there’s a point where, after running through hell enough times, I’ll have seen all Hades has to offer, both in its clever and endless fights and its many alluring characters, intimate moments, and rewarding quests. The story does end. But what matters so much more are all the moments between the start and end of a story, and the people who help us see those climactic moments but also stick with us between them. They’re the reason we keep trying, and the reason we keep coming back.”
This is it. This is the one. Every jump in technology requires a pull–something to encourage potential customers into believing why it’s worth buying in. Half-Life: Alyx is that for virtual reality headsets. If you’ve yet to invest in VR because you were waiting for a good enough reason to do so (we feel you, headsets are mad expensive), then look no further than Half-Life: Alyx. This game takes full advantage of VR tech, immersing players into a realized world as opposed to just plopping them down into a 3D space.
In GameSpot’s Half-Life: Alyx review, Michael Higham gave the game a 9/10, writing, “Not only has Half-Life: Alyx made good on its shift to VR, it has elevated many of the aspects we’ve come to love about Half-Life games. It may not be as bombastic as previous games, but the intimacy of VR brings you closer to a world you might have thought you knew over the past 22 years. Even when familiarity starts to settle in, its gameplay systems still shine as a cohesive whole. And as it concludes, Half-Life: Alyx hits you with something unforgettable, transcending VR tropes for one of gaming’s greatest moments.”
Handling grief, regrets, and shame can be hard, but it can be easier to deal with if you have a friend. In Spiritfarer, you’re that friend, aiding spirits in their final moments before they completely pass on to the afterlife. It’s a heartwarming role, but one that comes with plenty of sad gut punches too. That emotional throughline is the backbone to Spiritfarer’s management sim mechanics, giving you some structure to dive into while you process your own feelings surrounding death and how one moves on from it.
In GameSpot’s Spiritfarer review, Hope Corrigan gave the game a 9/10, writing, “Spiritfarer is somehow a game with no risk but all reward. There’s no death, no pain, no rush on any task, and yet I don’t think I’ve ever felt this complete. You’re allowed to totally take your time, play on your own terms, and even though your tasks are easy, they are incredibly fulfilling. If the game had kept giving me quests, I feel as if I would have kept doing them for eternity, just because I wanted to. All of Spiritfarer’s novel mechanical variations kept potentially repetitive actions from ever growing old. Its gleeful little islands got more exciting to explore as new platforming abilities were unlocked. The characters, even small ones with funny little quips of dialogue that you encounter, were friends that I cherished. I absolutely adored existing in Spiritfarer’s beautifully animated, compassionate world so much that it genuinely came to feel like home.”
It’s difficult to pinpoint which of Microsoft Flight Simulator‘s successes makes the game so good. Is it the game’s incredible depiction of the real-world, right down to offering players the opportunity to fly into an actual hurricane in real-time? Or the game’s approachable nature that makes it easy for anyone–whether they’re flight-sim veterans or newbies to the genre–to jump in and start flying? Is it both? It’s definitely both.
In GameSpot’s Microsoft Flight Simulator review, Edmond Tran gave the game a 9/10, writing, “[Microsoft Flight Simulator is] a game that gives me anxiety about having to upgrade my computer. But it’s also a game that gives me a great sense of calm as I cruise through clouds far above the Earth. Microsoft Flight Simulator is a tremendous experience that makes you appreciate natural beauty and man-made ingenuity in equal measures. Being encouraged to dive into the rabbit hole of learning how to operate genuine, complex machines to perform amazing feats of science is giddying, as is being able to journey across a realistic, mostly accurate depiction of our entire, beautiful planet. Microsoft Flight Simulator is a spectacular technical achievement and a deeply inspiring experience filled with glorious possibilities.”
Quite a few strategy games released in 2020 but none quite turned our heads like Crusader Kings III. Though its loose structure can make it admittedly difficult to stay engaged in the game for long periods, the small nuggets of narrative and the consequences from your actions keep you invested in your own personal campaign until you’re ready to take a break and roll a new character later. Being able to choose your own objectives and play your own way–whether that’s violently taking over the country or peacefully establishing a community led by generations of benevolent rulers–is a liberating feeling. It genuinely feels like you can achieve your goals in your own way instead of being told what you must do and how you have to do it.
In GameSpot’s Crusader Kings III review, David Wildgoose gave the game an 8/10, writing, “In a sense, Crusader Kings 3 is all over the place. It doesn’t always work perfectly, and at times it really makes you work for it, but there’s something amazing in that any of it works at all. Strategy games can tell interesting stories as their empires rise and fall, but their procedural narratives are rarely as affecting and poignant as they are here.”