My Favourite Video Game of 2020 - Hades

Sometimes, I play a game and I just think "oh, well this is unfair". Not in terms of it being unbalanced necessarily. That happens occasionally for me because I suck at playing games, but it's not what I'm referring to here. No, what I'm referring to is that sometimes it feels unfair how much a game is just tailor made for me. Hades is such a game, the newest from beloved indie studio Supergiant Games. It is a hack and slash rogue-like (don't worry if none of those words mean anything to you, I'll explain in a minute) in which you play as Zagreus, the son of Hades. You are attempting to escape the Underworld for reasons that you will discover as you go, although the path to getting to the mortal realm will, ironically, involve being killed quite a lot. As someone who loves a little bit of Greek mythology, as well as a well crafted indie game, Hades was always going to go down well with me, but I wasn't expecting it to go down quite this well.

Talking to Achilles, Orpheus or Nyx is a treat that I'm always quite excited for, no matter how many times I come and see them.

Like I said, the gameplay is hack and slash style, in that you basically have to beat the shit out of rooms full of enemies. To do this, you're given six different weapons, which all give you new ways of destroying hordes of the undead. There's a sword, a bow, a trident, boxing gloves, a gun and a shield, each of which have a regular attack and a special. You'll go through rooms full of enemies, picking up rewards in each and slowly working your way up to bosses at the end of each level. These four levels of hell all offer different enemy types and challenges, meaning that you'll never be in any doubt as to which area you're in. Once you inevitably die though, you return to the Halls of Hades, where you can speak to other mythical figures and spend some of the items you picked up on your last run on upgrades. Weirdly, this bit is almost as good as the actual combat. Don't get me wrong, I love beating up assorted demons and witches and ghosts, but talking to Achilles, Orpheus or Nyx is a treat that I'm always quite excited for, no matter how many times I come and see them. You'll even get to pet Cerberus, the hell hound who guards hell, because of course you can. After over 50 runs, they all still have new things to say to me and new ways to reward my attention.

Speaking of these characters, they are brought to life by some truly excellent design work. They are visually beautiful takes on characters who have existed for millenniums, that somehow feel fresh despite that longevity. Their looks are great encapsulations of their given rule, be it love, wine or death, being instantly recognisable for anyone who has ever dabbled in mythology. Not as important, but they're also all very hot, which just adds another level of good stuff to this already brimming cauldron. They're voiced wonderfully too, all by voice actors I was totally unfamiliar with. I feel awful ever playing the game with a podcast on in the background, because even when their dialogue isn't essential, their performances have a way of making it feel like it is. The entire world of Hades is given this level of attention to detail, looking and sounding absolutely gorgeous. You hit an enemy and it feels satisfying. You pick up an item and you're delighted. You emerge from a pool of blood and you think "that looks much better than someone emerging from a pool of blood has any right to". I would recommend playing it on the biggest screen you can but everything is so well defined that even playing it on a small screen, you will understand perfectly what's going on.

There doesn't really seem to be anything about Hades I don't love.

Me being me, I also want to talk about how perfectly themes are woven into this game. Early in the game, you meet Sisyphus. Sisyphus is a character from Greek mythology who, as punishment for tricking the Gods, is forced to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity. Every day, he rolls it up the hill and every evening, it rolls back down to the bottom of the hill. His task is futile, yet he continues to do it. Rouge-likes are like this, in that you go through the same thing, over and over again, knowing that you will eventually end up where you started, no matter how good your run was. On a different level of thematic goodness, there's the Trial of the Gods. For most of the game, the Olympian Gods are always very kind to you, excited to see you arrive at Olympus, but these trials expose their true selves. The Gods are all assholes, as almost any Greek myth will prove, and when given the play is given the choice between a gift from two Gods, whichever God you don't choose will immediately throw a strop and try to kill you. Hades just gets Greek mythology, which I can say as someone with an A Level in the subject. That won't matter for everyone but as someone who knows their stuff fairly well, it was incredibly pleasing.

There doesn't really seem to be anything about Hades I don't love. Combat is amazing, the visuals are drool worthy and somehow every major Greek myth referenced seems to be one of my favourites (there's one character reveal which genuinely made me shriek with excitement). Though it feels like a game I was always going to adore, I can't see how anyone else wouldn't at least like it. So this year, give it a chance. Don't buy games from AAA publishers who work their staff to the bone, hire sexual abusers or put out broken, buggy games. Buy a game from an independent company like Supergiant, who have managed to create one of the best games of the past few years with nothing more than love and talent. Now if you'll excuse me, I feel another escape attempt coming.

Honourable Mentions:

Animal Crossing: New Horizons - If not my game of the year, Animal Crossing is certainly my most played game of the year, with over 200 hours logged so far. Unlike many, I have continued playing this since the first lockdown and still love my villagers to pieces, with no plan to stop hanging out in sight.

Doom: Eternal - A little too long for my tastes, but in a year like this, it feels especially good to have a game dedicated purely to shooting demons in the face. If I sucked less at it, maybe I would like it more.

Jackbox Party Pack 7  - Any Jackbox game is usually only as good as the people you play it with, but the seventh edition has some games that have brought me to tears of laughter many, many times.

Super Mario 3D All Stars - This is just a re-release of three old Mario games, but man, they're really good games. Super Mario Galaxy especially has been a huge joy to re-visit and been my preferred way to wind down in the evening after a long day spent doomscrolling.

Tetris Effect: Connected - If I put a re-release of a Tetris game as my game of the year, I would be bullied off the internet, but it's truly the best version of an already perfect game. The new online "Connected" mode really does make everything feel fresh again, even for those who have sunk years into the game.

Spiritfarer - In the grand theme of games this year, I wish Spiritfarer hadn't dragged so much in its ending, but even so, it was a game I loved hanging out in. Notably, it's also the first game in ten years to have made me cry, which is no small feat, somehow.

Kentucky Route Zero - A weird episodic art piece of a game, there is no easy way to describe Kentucky Route Zero. All I can say is that it ticks a lot of my personal boxes in both narrative and gameplay and will almost certainly not be for everyone. If you like Annapurna and their weirdness though, give it a shot!

Noita - Where Hades is a slick and refined series of endless dungeons, Noita is chaotic and crazy, with each pixel rendered and able to explode, set on fire or dissolve. That's not a critique though, both have their place and that place is in my heart.


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