Welcome to the 2020 Windows Central Game Awards! This is our round-up of the best games and best gaming tech chosen by our illustrious panel of hardcore gaming writers and editors. As we are a Microsoft blog, everything compatible with Microsoft hardware or software is fair game for a nomination, as we look back on a year that was pretty great for gaming, but not so great for everything else. Don't forget to take a look at our broader Windows Central Awards too, for a deeper dive into hardware and services.
This year was one for the history books for gaming, but also, the world. Gaming revenues boomed thanks to work-from-home policies and national lockdowns, with manufacturers reporting record interest. This year was a year all about next-gen hardware too. NVIDIA came out swinging with new RTX 3000 series cards, and AMD dazzled with Big Navi and its close collaboration with Microsoft on the Xbox Series X, which gains various advantages from DX12 Ultimate. We saw Cloud Gaming platforms expand, with the launch of Amazon's Luna, Microsoft's xCloud on Xbox Game Pass, and various others.
2020 was a year all about delays as well. The pandemic hit game development hard, despite the upswing in gamers staying home. Some big-name titles like Halo Infinite and Cyberpunk 2077 were delayed so much that they slipped out of eligibility for our 2020 awards, and will have to wait for our 2021 roundup instead.
Without further commotion, we refer you over to our shiny annual awards, wrapping up a year that many of us would rather forget. And through the escapism of gaming, we shall!
Best Games of 2020
Best Windows PC Game 2020
Xbox Game Studios teamed up with Asobo to develop and reboot the beloved Microsoft Flight Simulator franchise, which took to the skies with gusto in 2020. Flight Simulator features a truly unprecedented open world, rendering the entire planet using live cloud data, combining real-time weather information for good measure. The result is a game that is equal parts stunning and relaxing.Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 quite easily floated above the pack for this year's Best Windows PC Game Award of 2020 from the team.
Best Xbox Game of 2020
Ori and the Will of the Wisps quite easily snags the best Xbox game of 2020 award from us for its evocative story delivery, staggering art, meticulous soundtrack, and tight gameplay. The game launched in a bit of a rough state, but Moon Studios rapidly corrected the issues, and what we have now is, simply put, a work of art.Every aspect of Ori and the Will of the Wisps is dripping with love and care, and you're absolutely missing out if you haven't played it.
Editor's Choice Game Award
Carrion gets a special mention as this year's Editor's Choice pick for it's gloriously goretastic gameplay, mind-warping physics, and perplexing puzzles.Carrion is a game where you play as a tentacled, mutant blob, heaving your mass around with a spray of deadly appendages. To stay alive, you must devour your way through the science labs that interred you, munching on pesky scientists, dismantling war machines, upwards and onwards to freedom.Carrion was one of this year's most surprising and memorable games, and it's worth every penny.
Most Anticipated Game Award
Bloober Team is making a name for itself as true connoisseurs of horror gaming. Starting with the excellent, but modest Layers of Fear, Bloober Team has since worked with the likes of Rutger Hauer on the mind-warping Observer, and is teaming up with more legends for The Medium.With a score that leans on the genius of Silent Hill's Akira Yamoaka, The Medium looks like a big leap in production quality across the board for Bloober Team, and we can't wait to play it in early 2021.
Watch Dogs: Legion is a glimpse at what can happen when Ubisoft tries to open up its tried-and-tested open-world formula to new ideas, and the result is something truly spiffing (said in a British accent).Watch Dogs: Legion is a grim look at a near-future Britain, where all things are privatized. Personal privacy is dead, and individual freedom along with it. As the hacktivist group Deadsec, you'll recruit a procedurally-generated crew of London citizens to fight back against this techno-dystopic future, along with some of the best examples of next-gen visuals we have to date.
Best New IP
Industry legends Obsidian Entertainment dropped an unexpected megahit over the summer, serving over 5 million players since launch and earning itself top spots on Twitch and Steam.Despite being in Early Access, Grounded takes home our Best New IP award with its infectious take on the multiplayer survival format. Four friends take on the perils of the back yard after being shrunk to the size of an ant. Harvest materials, battle giant bugs, and unravel the mystery of a science experiment gone wrong in this unique survival sandbox.
Best Independent Game
Hades is the latest and greatest from independent superheroes Supergiant, known for games like Transistor and Bastion.Following a familiar isometric RPG formula, Hades injects a dash of roguelike-style death and rebirth, weaving in a witty and infectious narrative that revolves around Greek mythology.Hades' combat is the true star of the show, with stylish combos and strangely addictive sliding attacks that simply never get old. Hades felt like it came out of nowhere to widespread acclaim and thoroughly earned its place on our humble awards list this year.
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout exploded out of nowhere and became the megahit of the summer, taking trending top spots across Twitch and Steam.In Fall Guys, your objective is to navigate a cutesy creature through a variety of Takeshi's Castle-inspired obstacle courses, with tons of physics-based multiplayer mayhem along the way. The chaos is shared between you and 59 other players, as you struggle and clamber over their flailing bodies for the top spot.
Kentucky Route Zero released its first episode about downtrodden Americana in 2013. It only makes sense that it released its final one in 2020, when its story about capitalism, togetherness, and ultimately begrudging optimism had its biggest impact.Surrealist in delivery and minimal in visuals, Kentucky Route Zero takes our accolade for best story delivery of 2020, ending its lengthy development on a soaring high note.
Best Art Direction
There's no other way to say it: Ori's art direction is nothing short of sublime; a living painting. Ori and the Will of the Wisps really pushes the borders on what can realistically be considered a "2D" sidescroller, with layer upon layer of love-infused detail that flows in perfect sync with a majestic soundtrack that soars with your triumphs and tribulations.Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a rare gem that delivers at every level, with each design aspect presented in perfect harmony. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a true masterpiece and work of art, and it wholly deserves this year's art direction award.
Best Ongoing Game
Fortnite has long dominated the live service space as a pioneer in the battle royale genre, but its steady traction throughout 2020 fortified its name in history. Like it or not, Epic Games has reshaped the relationship between video games and the mainstream, with its impact only amplified amid a global pandemic.With its steady cadence of virtual events, each becomes a cultural milestone, from remote gigs with Travis Scott and Diplo, tie-ins with top brands like Marvel, or even providing a platform for Black Lives Matter talks. While Fortnite isn't a newcomer to ongoing experiences, Epic Games' Fortnite efforts reached new heights in 2020.
Best Gaming Hardware and Accessories of 2020
Editor's Choice Gaming Accessory Award
Few gaming products out there manage to tick all the boxes, and Secretlab has proven repeatedly that they are the top dog in the gaming chair space.This year, Secretlab refreshed its product line with superior packaging and construction steps, while maintaining its meticulous reputation for high-end quality. New additions to the lineup like the World of Warcraft and Cyberpunk series chairs added some much-needed flair for gaming fans, while softweave and executive leather options keep things office-appropriate. Secretlab chairs are simply the best, and that's why they've grabbed our Editor's Choice award this year.
Best Xbox Accessory
The Razer Kishi solves two of the most annoying problems with Project xCloud, otherwise known as Cloud Gaming on Xbox Game Pass. First, the Kishi fixes the lack of ergonomic controls on a smartphone display, providing an Xbox-like controller experience on mobile. Second, it eliminates the delay associated with Bluetooth, connecting straight into your mobile device via the phone's USB-C port. The Kishi became an essential Xbox accessory this year for anyone who uses cloud gaming, and we love it.
Best Xbox Gaming Headset
The LucidSound LS50X exploded onto the scene this year, taking LucidSound's audio profile all the way into the premium end. With next-level coolant-gel comfort, robust materials and construction, and some of the best wireless sound in gaming, the LucidSound LS50X ascends above similar solutions for those who want something truly premium. The LS50X also throws in Bluetooth support for good measure.
Best PC Gaming Headset
The HyperX Cloud II Wireless headset is the best for PC gaming for obvious reasons. The first is comfort. HyperX has a stellar reputation for delivering headphones you can wear for hours without feeling like you have a clamp on your head. The second, just as important, is audio quality.The Cloud II Wireless relies on a 2.4GHz dedicated connection (dongle) instead of troublesome Bluetooth. It also checks all the right boxes with 7.1 Surround Sound, a 15Hz–20kHz frequency response, and massive 53mm drivers. Finally, at $150, they are competitively priced for premium PC headsets, but you're also buying into HyperX's renowned customer support, making them a great deal.
Best PC Gaming Accessory
You can't build on perfection. Or can you? That's ultimately the question Razer answered when it made the Razer DeathAdder V2 Pro, which is quite easily one of the best mice money can buy for any purpose, let alone gaming.For the DeathAdder V2 Pro, Razer leveraged its industry-leading HyperSpeed wireless technology, which is currently the front-runner for latency and consistency, in the march to bring wireless to competitive esports. Throw in world-class ergonomics and the power of Razer Synapse configurability, and you have a winner from every angle.
Best Gaming Laptop
Razer continues to push its competition to the back of the line with its infallible Razer Blade 15-inch laptop line, which got an important refresh in 2020. Rocking RTX Super graphics and Intel 10th Gen octa-core processors, the Razer Blade 15 lineup is more powerful than ever, bringing improvements to heat and noise generation, with displays that run all the way up to 300Hz. Razer continues to show the competition how it's done, and that's why it remains our favorite gaming laptop of the year.
Game Industry Awards of 2020
Tech Innovation Award
The Xbox Series X nabs our Tech Innovation Award, for bringing PC-like performance and features to video game consoles for the first time. 4K resolution with 60 frames per second could become the baseline experience in the months ahead, with ray-tracing and other features powered by DX12U-infused RDNA2 architecture. The monolithic console is a presence that simply can't be ignored, for its fearsome power and flurry of fine improvements.
Game Industry Excellence Award
AMD continues to shake up the processor and graphics card industries by innovating and releasing competitive products at aggressive prices. For too long have Intel and NVIDIA been able to sit back and relax without competition, sometimes even overcharging customers.Whether you happen to be in team blue or green, having AMD well and truly in the game throughout 2020 has been a blessing for the PC world.
Game Developer Excellence Award
Intrepid developer InnerSloth wins our game dev award for 2020, for its unexpected viral hit, Among Us. The game originally launched in 2018, but enjoyed a massive resurgence in 2020, owing in part to virality on streaming platforms. Among Us has since captured the imagination of gamers of all ages for its sci-fi multiplayer game all about betrayal and suspicion. InnerSloth pivoted diligently to meet the massive influx of new customers, and are now the stewards of one of the greatest party hits of recent memory.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!