The Biggest Video Game Surprise Hits of 2020

It’s been a year of surprises for us all. Not only did we kick off the spring with the coronavirus pandemic , but we’ve seen a series of anomalies throughout 2020 that have shocked and amazed. The realm of video games wasn’t left untouched by the strangeness that permeated this year, though many of the surprises the industry brought have been much more exciting and positive than those meant to shake us to our core.

From unsuspecting titles becoming veritable mobile phenomena to anime-centric free-to-play games taking the world by storm, our world was nearly turned on its head over the past 12 months. Now that the year is drawing to a close, let's rewind to look at the biggest surprises, upsets, and unexpected moments in the video game world.

Here are some of the standout titles that took us by surprise in 2020.

Phasmophobia

Courtesy of Kinetic Games
Who hasn't fantasized at one point that they were communicating with ghosts when exploring a dark, empty house? Phasmophobia, an unassuming indie title from Kinetic Games, is all about getting to the bottom of a series of hauntings, whether from mischievous poltergeists or vengeful spirits. While rough around the edges in many ways, this shockingly good (and terrifying!) multiplayer ghost hunt shot up to become one of the biggest and most watched games on Steam in 2020.

It’s all about tracking down spirits and bringing them under control for a parade of paid clients, whether you go in solo or with a series of friends. But it isn't all about dropping in, uninvited, guns blazing, to someone's home and knocking out a ghost that's out of control. You need a plan, as well as a series of ghost-hunting tools to help you communicate with spirits and contain or control them.

And it isn't enough to wave around an EMF meter and call it a day. Phasmophobia is far too clever for that. The key to victory is completing a variety of tasks, like speaking into a spirit box to ask it questions (and listening for an eerie response) or setting out a notebook to let the spirit communicate with you the old-fashioned way. You never know quite what’s going to happen when you accept a contract. But with friends around, you’re practically guaranteed to have a spine-tingling time.

In a way, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Phasmophobia quickly piqued the interest of the gaming community at large, attracting massive streamers and snagging multiple honors during the Game Awards 2020, given its advanced ghost AI and everything it’s capable of. But for an industry where it’s normal to see games with otherwise massive budgets blow up, seeing Kinetic Games’ modest horror game receive so much appreciation was both surreal and heartwarming.
Genshin Impact

Courtesy of Mihoyo