james debate
james debate

Thursday 16 January 2020

Hello and welcome back to the Hot List. This week we will turn our attention to the videogame industry, previewing for you loyal readers the most exciting videogames set for release in 2020.

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As the gaming industry continues to grow, I am increasingly impressed by the diversity of what's out there. Now more than ever you can find games for any person and any set of tastes, whether it's deep, story-driven titles or casual mobile games. We have genres like walking simulators and "dad games", while 2019 also saw one of the finest RPGs in a generation. With this year's selection I feel there's a good breadth of the different types of experiences and genres that gaming has to offer. It is a good time to be a gamer.

2020 looks set to mark the beginning of a new era as we transition towards the new generation of hardware. Microsoft are set to release the bizarrely named Xbox Series X, PS5 is set to be revealed, and Nintendo are rumoured to be launching some kind of a Switch successor in the summer. You even have the likes of Google and Apple getting in on the action with Google Stadia and Apple Arcade, challenging our notions of what a videogames console should be.

So here it is, the 15 key videogames to keep an eye on in the coming year (trailers linked in the title where available), starting with number 15:

15. Age of Empires IV (PC)

age of empires iv pc 2020Who says videogame companies never listen to the fans? The Age of Empires series has always held a fond place in the hearts of old school strategy gamers, and in particular the 1999 classic Age of Empires II to this day retains a surprisingly devoted fanbase and active multiplayer and modding communities. So much so, in fact, that Microsoft even deemed to make one of the community's more popular mods an official expansion, some 15 years after the game's release.

It seems Microsoft's newfound embrace of the franchise was not limited to just fan-made expansions and HD re-releases, and have announced Age of Empires IV, the first entry in the series since 2005. Little is known about the sequel, but the teaser trailer appears to imply a medieval setting roughly in-line with the second and most enduringly popular game in the series.

One of my biggest memories of Age of Empires was that my school used it as a teaching aid, so whatever happens I hope this new title does not skimp on the educational value. Release date is still to be announced.

Release Date: TBA 2020

14. Sable (PC, Mac, Xbox One)

sable best pc game 2020 80 days meg jayanthI love a good indie game, but few make a debut as eye-catching as Sable. Produced by two lifelong friends in their basement, Sable promises to be a contemplative adventure focused around exploration, with a Gibli-esque aesthetic and stunning hand-drawn art style.

It's certainly one of the best looking games to pop up in recent years, but such an introspective game is always going to succeed on the merit of its storytelling. It is fortunate then that the award winning Meg Jayanth is behind the story. If she can build the world of Sable with the same flair and aplomb as Sunless Seas or 80 Days then it could be a memorable experience.

Releasing initially on Steam, with a later launch on Xbox Live, we should see this one close to the summer.

Release Date: Summer 2020

13. Everwild (PC, Xbox One)

everwild rare most anticipated game 2020 px xbox Rare are on something of a comeback at the moment. Sea of Thieves was well received, and they are riding that hype with Everwild, a game whose ambition harkens back to the glory days of the storied developer.

This is an exclusive PC/Xbox title, not a shock for a company owned by Microsoft. Little is known beyond what one can see in the trailer: a colorful world rendered in a striking cell-shaded art-style, a magical world full of mythical animals and, presumably, whimsy. It looks fantastic, now we just await details.

A firm release date has not been confirmed, but is expected to be released late in the year.

Release Date: TBA 2020

12. The Artful Escape (PC, Xbox One)

the artful escape francis vendetti annapurna edith finch david bowie best game 2020Award winning film studio Annapurna made their debut in videogaming with the spellbinding What Remains of Edith Finch and have since followed it up with a series of remarkable and creative titles, including last year's excellent Sayonara Wild Hearts. This year they will finally follow up this success with their long-awaited title The Artful Escape. This one has been in the works for a while, but 2020 appears to be the year that it finally sees release.

 The concept is quite unique. Players take the role of aspiring folk musician Francis Vendetti on a journey to reinvent his musical and stage persona. The result has been described by the game's lead developer as "David Bowie traveling off from London on an interstellar trip to create Ziggy Stardust".

In terms of actual gameplay, this takes the form of a musical platformer which sees Vendetti's performances depicted as journeys through mind-bending fantastical and sci-fi landscapes, with occasional rhythm-based music sections to pass. Frankly it's stunning to look at and listen to, with a pleasingly relaxing pace to it.

Release Date: TBA 2020

11. Empire of Sin (PC, Mac, Xbox One, PS4, Switch)

empire of sin paradox crusader universalis best games 2020 An interesting prospect from the masters of grand strategy, Paradox Interactive. Empire of Sin gives you the chance to build your mafia empire from the ground up in prohibition era Chicago. Players will be responsible for recruiting underlings, managing their businesses, and dealing with rivals through an X-Com style combat system.

As with most Paradox titles, Empire of Sin will play like a mix between a strategy game and an RPG, and there is no developer with more experience in this niche genre.

Empire of Sin will launch across every home console, PC and Mac, with a release date set for some time in the second quarter of the year.

Release Date: Spring 2020

10. Starmancer (PC, Mac)

starmancer chucklefish stardew valley starbound kickstarter best game 2020The latest title from Chucklefish, publisher of Stardew Valley and Starbound. Starmancer is another love letter to the 16-bit era of games.

First appearing on Kickstarter some two years ago, Starmancer is a colony building game in the style of Rimworld or Dwarf Fortress, with an isometric pixelart visual style that is reminiscent of fellow Kickstarter success Star Command, as well as Chucklefish's other titles. Players manage a colony, complete missions and expand through a procedurally generated living world.

Starmancer has been in closed alpha for most of 2019, with an initial public release expected towards the end of 2020.

Release Date: Late 2020

9. Flight Simulator (PC, Xbox One)

flight simulator 2020 best most anticipated games pc xboxI can practically see the dumbfounded expressions on some of your faces. James has Flight Simulator on his most anticipated games list? What's next, Myst? Minesweeper? Flight Simulator is, of course, the venerable Microsoft games series dating back to the 1990s. The gold standard of the genre and a passion of flight aficionados the world over. But the series has been defunct for some 15 years now, so what has prompted Microsoft to bring the franchise out of retirement?

This newest edition employs some quite remarkable technology. Powered by Bing maps, Flight Simulator will feature an accurate simulation of the entire world to fly over, complete with textures, topography and 3D features powered by Microsoft Azure. But really it is the attention to detail that is most remarkable, zooming in close to see this staggeringly scaled world populated by simulated traffic on the streets, animals in the wild, and stunningly detailed weather systems. Even if you are not into flight sims, this is a game to just switch on and gawp at.

Release Date: Spring 2020

8. Starfield (PC, Xbox One, PS4)

starfield bethesda fallout best game 2020 pc xbox ps4Anything you can do, we can do better. Having seen rivals and original Fallout creators Obsidian try their hand at a spacefaring RPG in 2019's The Outer Worlds (to moderate success), the current stewards of the Fallout franchise Bethesda are themselves getting into the mix with the as yet still very mysterious, Starfield.

Most of the details of this title remain shrouded in mystery, but rumours suggest a grand space opera in the style of a Mass Effect or Star Wars, with open-world exploration built around the same concepts as Bethesda's tried and tested Fallout and The Elder Scrolls series. Quite how this will adapt to a game which allegedly features multiple worlds and the ability to fly a spaceship is anyone's guess, but the few teasers we have seen point again to titles like Mass Effect for hints.

I am very excited about this game. The only reason it is this far down the list is because of my skepticism that it will in fact launch this year as expected.

Release Date: TBA 2020

7. Gamedec (PC)

gamedec rpg cyberpunk disco elysium best game 2020Slow-burning story-based RPGs are in vogue after last year's Disco Elysium, as is the cyberpunk genre (see number one on this very list). Combining both those things is Gamedec, an adaptation of the Polish series of sci-fi crime novels.

The concept is deliciously on trend, a hard-boiled neo-noir detective story who investigates crimes in virtual worlds. Think Ready Player One mixed with Bladerunner. As with last year's Disco Elysium, this is an RPG that decidedly does not focus on violence and action, but instead on its story and characters. Gamedec will live and die by the quality of its writing, but the premise so far is intriguing.

Gamedec will launch in 2020.

Release Date: TBA 2020

6. Half-Life: Alyx (PC)

pc half life three 3 alyx episode vr steam valve best game 2020Has hell officially frozen over? Is Half Life 3 finally upon us? Unfortunately not.

When Valve announced the first new title in the Half Life series, some 12 years after the most recent entry in the series, it understandably caused a lot of hysteria. However, Half Life: Alyx is not the sequel that we had all been hoping for. Rather this is a "sidequel" if you will, intended more to show off Valve's new virtual reality technology than to really expand the franchise.

Now that's not to say that this isn't going to be a worthwhile game. It is Half Life after all, and while a Valve game is a rarity these days, they still consistently manage to deliver a high quality product when they deign to do so. The game still looks great and has me very excited, even if that excitement is a 7 out of 10 as opposed to the 11 out of 10 that Half Life 3 would have been.

Release Date: March 2020

5. Crusader Kings 3 (PC)

crusader kings 3 europa universalis best game pc 2020 paradox We have already covered how Paradox Interactive are the masters of the grand strategy craft, and the Crusader Kings series has always been the best of the bunch. Nearly a decade (and some dozen or so expansions) since its release, the second title in the series remains one of the finest games of the genre, so naturally I am very excited about the upcoming sequel.

Crusader Kings is a grand strategy title that sees you play as a land-owning noble anywhere from the county to empire level in medieval Europe (and later Africa, Middle East and Asia). What sets it apart from other medieval strategy games is the unique blend of strategy and RPG elements that has come to define the grand strategy genre. You don't just play some faceless god-king as in the Civilisation series, but an actual character in the game world. You are responsible not just for managing your fiefdom or empire, but your whole dynasty and all the relationships that entails. The breaking down of a strategy game to the level of individual people is quite unique for the genre and provides a remarkable sense of flavour and character to the series. The newest title in the series is doubling down on those RPG elements, with more character and story-based events, skill-trees, and much more.

Crusader Kings 3 releases in 2020.

Release Date: TBA 2020

4. Kerbal Space Program 2 (PC, Mac, Xbox One, PS4)

kerbal space program 2 jebediah best game 2020 The original game remains one of the best gaming surprises of recent years. Created by one amateur coder during his lunch break, the concept was fairly simple: build rockets and try to launch them into space under realistic physics and orbital mechanics. The deceptively deep toybox-like design tools proved such good fun that you could sink hours into just getting that one perfect spacecraft into orbit before even realising you had other planets to visit. Now a full team of professional designers are bringing a full-blooded sequel, Kerbal Space Program 2.

The goal of this sequel appears to be to take the successful foundations of the original and just build on it. More parts, colony building, multiple star systems. It's the type of feature list that fans and modders have been dreaming about, but the key will be to get the basics right. The physics system has to feel as solid as the original, the building tools need to be as intuitive. It won't be enough to just slap a coat of Kerbilish paint on a pale imitation.

Originally slated for release by March, it has now been pushed back into the next financial year, indicating a release later in 2020.

Release Date: Summer 2020

3. Watch Dogs: Legion (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4, Stadia)

watch dogs legion brexit trump london best game pc xbox ps4 2020 stadiaWatch Dogs: Legion is the latest title in Ubisoft's Watch Dogs series, and looks to be the most exciting addition to the series yet.

For those who have not played a Watch Dogs game before, picture an open world third person action game in the style of Grand Theft Auto, but with a technological, hacking focus ala Deus Ex. Watch Dogs Legion brings the series to a new London setting and adds a hugely intriguing new mechanic: play as anyone.

WDL imagines a post-Brexit dystopian London that has fallen into authoritarianism and hardship. Players will be members of the resistance, with the aim of recruiting other members of the public to the cause.That's right. In this open world recreation of London, you can play as any NPC you see. The scale being promised is remarkable ambitious, and the concept is timely. If they can pull it off in a way that doesn't feel like a gimmick, this will be a GOTY contender.

Release Date: March 2020

2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 (Switch)

legend of zelda breath of the wild 2 sequel switch best game ever 2020How do you follow up a game that is often considered to be one of the greatest ever made? That is the question Nintendo will be asking now as they craft The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 (presumably a working title). In fairness, it is a position in which they have found themselves before in following up the Ocarina of Time. The result on that occasion was Majora's Mask, a game considered by many to be even better than its predecessor. So no pressure then.

We know nothing about this game, other than the fact that it is apparently directly related to its predecessor, itself a somewhat rarity in the Zelda series. One of the major boons in Majora's Mask's development was the fact that the engine and assets were already there, which meant that the developers could use their time more for adding finesse and character. If they pull the same trick this time around then we could be in for something special.

Release Date: Late 2020

1. Cyberpunk 2077 (PC, Xbox One, PS4, Stadia)

cyberpunk 2077 rpg game 2020 pc Cyberpunk 2077 is an RPG set in a tantalising Cyberpunk setting in near future California. The impressive trailer at last year's E3 showed off a seamless, living open world, and a series of quest and character design systems that allow for a remarkable level of player agency. It is said that every mission will have multiple paths to completion, allowing for a high variety of playstyles and roleplaying options.

2019 revealed a further surprise with the presence of Cyberpunk icon Keanu Reeves as one of the game's main characters. Developers CD Projekt Red have exceptional pedigree when it comes to RPGs, and now with the budget and ambition to match we could be in for quite the spectacle.

After years in development, Cyberpunk is finally almost here, and will launch in April.

Release Date: April 2020

So there you have it folks: 2020 in videogames. Tune in next week for the most exciting new theatrical productions coming this year!

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