Did you know that Among Us – one of the most popular games of 2020 – actually came out in 2018? I certainly didn’t. It was quite a shock to find out it wasn’t eligible for Checkpoint’s Game of the Year list, because, well, it’s not from this year.
Which got me thinking. Let’s face it: 2020 was awful, for not one, but a downright cornucopia of reasons. For a lot of people, including us here at Checkpoint, this year meant spending more time at home, and finally getting around to games from the past. Games from The Before Years that we may only have discovered recently, or personal favourites that gave us solace when things got tough.
With that in mind, we are proud to present Checkpoint’s 2020 GONTYs – Games of Not This Year. Our favourite games from 2020 that did not come out in 2020. You’ll never guess what mine is.
Among Us (released 2018)
It’s ludicrous to think Among Us didn’t come out in 2020, because it seems perfectly designed to be played in an age where every social interaction had to be online. I’ve tried playing Among Us in person; it’s not as fun, which explains why its popularity didn’t take off until more than a year after its release. The game is at its best when you can hear the voices, or see the faces, of everyone you’re playing with, but you can’t see what anyone’s sneaky little fingers are up to.
No other game has managed to sweep up so many people in my life – friends and family, gamers and non-gamers alike – in such a short period of time. If you’ve heard Elliot and I talk about Among Us on the podcast, you’d know that this is the first video game my mother has ever played. And she is so good at it.
Some of my favourite memories of 2020 will be the occasional 11pm message in a group chat: “is anyone up for a quick Among Us sesh right now?” We’d start a Zoom call, play a game or two together, talk about our day, say good night, and hang up in the span of 15 minutes. It’s the closest I’ve had to an impromptu late-night Maccas run all year. And it’s almost better, because I didn’t need to put trousers on to do it. The game is continually being updated and is starting to come out on more platforms, so I’m nothing but excited to keep playing it with basically everyone I care about. – Pedro
The Forest (released 2018)
The Forest was a game I really found myself getting stuck into in the middle of COVID-19. This is a survival game that sees players in a plane crash, stuck on a mysterious island rich with eerie forestry. Weird, half-human half-mutant creatures that are cannibalistic in nature follow your every move. It’s up to you to survive the horrors ahead of you, find your missing son and maybe even work out the secrets of the island. This is an odd choice admittedly. The world’s been pretty bleak this year, why jump into a game all about surviving and avoiding cannibals? Well, the co-op is fantastic.
I played this game for a number of weeks with my friend in another state and its co-operative nature, horror and even occasional clunkiness made for some special gaming moments. All this distance between me and my friend but we can still scream in horror when a 6 legged humanoid mutant comes crawling towards us. We can laugh together at the kooky (but not game ruining) bugs you’ll often find in game. Hell, maybe we can even call that flimsy little log cabin we made together home. Wrapping up the game’s wonderful twist ending, it’s safe to say we’re excited for the upcoming sequel. – Charlie
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege (released 2015)
When I missed Rainbow Six Siege during its release phase, I don’t think anybody realised at the time just how popular the game would go on to become. Five years later, Ubisoft have continued to support it with new content, characters, maps and events, and it’s gained a decent following in the eSports space as well. One of the reasons I avoided it for so long was the fear the barrier for entry being too difficult. After all this time, how could I expect to compete with the other players who have already put so much time in?
As it turns out, Rainbow Six Siege is super accessible to newcomers. It has a newbie matchmaking environment that takes away the fear of being stomped, and the 5v5 gameplay loop of defending or disarming a bomb makes for an endlessly compelling and competitive gameplay loop, with clever map designs and interesting abilities for the unique character classes. On top of that, it’s on Xbox Game Pass and recently got its next-gen upgrade so that it runs on Xbox Series X and PS5 with improved frame-rate and visuals. I certainly didn’t expect a game from 2015 to captivate me so much in 2020, but my squad and I have spent countless nights in Siege and we’re still keen for more. – Luke
Dark Souls III (released 2016)
My Game of the Year wasn’t even released in 2020 – it came out in 2016. Dark Souls 3, the culmination of years of FromSoftware refining their now legendary “SoulsBorne” formula helped me through one of the hardest years of my life. From relationships ending, to deaths in the family, to simply making it through the global pandemic with my sanity intact – 2020 has tested me.
Dark Souls 3 provided an escape into a similarly challenging and brutal world. I took the game in bite sized chunks; returning every few months to progress my characters journey through Lothric. With each boss defeated, or each new area conquered, I felt like parts of my trauma or pain in the real world were also being defeated. Did the game solve any of my problems? No. Did it help me process the complex and distressing year that 2020 was? Absolutely. – Nat
Prey (released 2017)
It may seem weird that a video game set in a dystopian space station (Talos I) where aliens reign supreme would be a comforting 2020 experience for me. But Arkane Studio’s Sci Fi thriller RPG was one of my fave games of 2020, and helped me get through the majority of lockdown for a number of reasons. One was the bad-assery of Morgan Yu, the game’s protagonist. Players can choose Morgan’s gender and if they go with female, Yu is a lesbian. It’s always amazing, as a queer person, to play a character whose sexuality you identity with.
Yeah the game may be unpredictable, dark and scary, but so was 2020. Moving around the 60s-inspired interior in a 2035 where JFK wasn’t assassinated, in a time when I could only move 5km from my home, was a sweet escape into a world that was just as weird as 2020. What made it comforting however is the way that Yu dealt with this world. She’s experiencing memory loss, has no idea who to trust, does not originally know the rules of this world and yet, still powers on to find the answers to try and save her teammates and Talos I.
Playing as a queer character who had the power to make changes in a strange world filled with weird, scary aliens made me feel better about not having much control over a lot that occurred in my life in 2020. – Lisa
Dragon Age: Origins (released 2009)
I am nothing if not predictable. When the year started going down the toilet, I immediately turned to the familiar and comfortable. Dragon Age: Origins. While I have certainly played more of Skyrim, this is the game that I have played the whole way through the most. I know it like the back of my hand, and sometimes when you’re feeling down you just want to eat some dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets and that is what DA:O feels like for me.
While the game is an action RPG, that is rarely why people play it, and certainly not why I do. I play it for the moments when you and your party members are sitting around a campfire, enjoying a brief respite from the disaster occurring just outside your camp. It’s warm, it’s comfortable and it is safe. With the setting of Dragon Age: Origins being so dark, and the end of the world always just waiting in the wings, it manages to capture the way people try their best to keep things light at even the worst of times. Alistair’s attempted jokes about the Blight feel eerily similar to the weary jokes I’ve been making at the ‘rona’s expense all year.
The game definitely shows its age, especially in the quality of its textures and the animations, but it was exactly what I needed. – Bree
Wandersong (released 2018)
When I was burnt out from the gaming community in the middle of this otherwise totally great year, Wandersong refilled my spirit. On the cusp of some unknowable apocalyptic event, Vrad (or whatever *you* call him) raises the legendary sword to defend the world from evil. Except, he’s not the chosen one… So instead Vrad takes up singing and pledges to help people as a bard. So begins a wonderfully wholesome adventure. It very much has the Legend of Zelda brand “cheerful, nice, child-friendly epic fantasy” vibe to it. Yet, it still manages to blend a thematic story with deep characters and worthwhile conflicts. Despite being cute and cheerful, Wandersong is a frank exploration of confrontation, resilience despite being destined to fail, and the power of proper communication.
Whilst Wandersong does lean into the story a lot, the gameplay is still rather solid. Over the course of its story, Wandersong finds all kinds of ways to use its simple mechanics. The main addition of *note* is that your little bard can sing. This is used for Simon Says-like memory tests, to control winds or plants for platforming and a whole lot more. Generally speaking, these just serve to refresh the feeling of the gameplay. They find the perfect balance of being challenging enough to keep you engaged, but not so much of a hurdle to pull you away from the experience for too long. Oh, and of course all the singing does a fantastic job of pulling you into the sonic landscape of this game. As the game’s quality and wholesomeness refilled my joy for games coverage, the music inspired me as a producer. Simply put, Wondersong is an absolute tonic, and not only one of my favourite games this year, but one of my all-time favourites. – Sam
Wargroove (released 2019)
I reviewed Wargroove when it came out, and I had a ton of fun with it. It hit that magic sweet spot of Advance Wars nostalgia, while still bringing plenty of new material to the table. When developer Chucklefish released the free Double Trouble expansion earlier this year, I felt compelled to return to the game and get right back into the new content.
Wargroove has been comforting to revisit a year after release, as even after the campaign is over, there is plenty to do. Completing puzzles, arcade missions and more difficult campaign missions awards Stars, which can be used to unlock new concept art and music tracks. While I have been stuck at home, going back and completing some of that side content, as well as checking out the expansive and creative array of player-generated levels and campaigns, has given me a fun little project in my spare time over the last few weeks.
Wargroove’s incredibly charming art style and catchy soundtrack make it a great game to relax with. Plus, dialling the difficulty way down and steamrolling over your opponent with a platoon of Emberwings will never not be cathartic. Wargroove was an excellent strategy game when it released early last year, and it has only improved with age. Strategy fans definitely need to check it out if they have not done so already. – Tom
Black Mesa (released 2015 on early access)
Whilst this game was “technically” fully released this year, it has been around in various stages of its development from as far back as 2013, so I think it is perfect for this list. In short, this game is a ground-up remake of the original Half-Life, developed by Crowbar Collective as a passion project.
The graphics have been majorly overhauled, at times looking downright beautiful (especially the Xen levels), whilst the story and the gameplay are largely the same as the original. This has always been one of my favourite series, so being able to play through the entire story as Gordon Freeman once again instilled some serious nostalgia vibes, right down to the voice of Gordon’s suit.
If you loved the original Half-Life, then I can wholeheartedly recommend checking out Black Mesa. It is a perfect representation of a passion project created by fans that provides just enough new tweaks, whilst not taking too much away from what made the original the beloved title that it is. – Justin
Kentucky Route Zero (Act I released 2013)
Tom and Justin have inspired me to include my own “technically not a 2020 game” entry. Kentucky Route Zero’s fifth and final Act released in January of this year, which prompted my friend and I to play through the entire game from the beginning. Since the game has no voice acting, we took it upon ourselves to perform the lines ourselves. With every new character introduced, we came up with new Kentucky-sounding (or so we thought) accents for them, so the game was much funnier for us than maybe it’s intended to be. There’s a lot of dense dialogue and heady themes flying around this magical realist depiction of the American South, so it was fun absorbing it all with a friend.
We played the first Act-and-a-half in person, but then a certain pandemic hit, and we had to lock right on down. Thankfully, the PS4’s Share Play feature let me stream the game to her console from home, so we could continue our shenanigans remotely. It was a wonderful way to ease into lockdown and briefly pretend the world was still normal. Kentucky Route Zero is a slow game that requires no timed button inputs, so we could take turns controlling it, surviving the laggy wilderness of Australian internet speeds. Once we finished, we tried to do the same with Sayonara Wild Hearts. Things didn’t go as smoothly. – Pedro