Opinion Piece

The Best Games of 2021 So Far

It wasn’t until I sat down to create this list of the best games of 2021 so far that I realised this year has been kind of weak. I’ve reviewed 21-games over the past six months and only gave a few of those a high score with the rest being mostly okay but far from great. Given how Covid has impacted the world, though, it’s hardly surprising that videogames have suffered, too, with multiple titles being delayed, and doubtless countless more behind the scenes were pushed back as well.

So, I’ve only listed four games below, and unusually none of them are indie games. Maybe I’ve just not been checking out the right titles so I’d appreciate it if you guys could shout out any cool little indie games.

Hitman 3

IO Interactive wrapped up their so-called World of Assassination trilogy in style with Hitman 3. It wasn’t a huge evolution for the series or anything, but frankly I could care less about that because I just wanted more cool locations to murder people in. Hitman 3 provides that with a selection of memorable locales, from the towering heights of Dubai to the underground club in Germany. And then, of course, there’s one of the best levels in the entire trilogy: Mansion. Yeah, sure, the mansion maybe lacks quite the replay value of larger levels, but getting to don a detective outfit and solve a murder mystery is easily one of the best things Agent 47 and his bald head have ever done.

I think the key component of the modern Hitman games is how they make you feel like a God of Assassination, stalking through a world designed purely for your entertainment. There’s a predictability to everything within Hitman 3 that in other games would have been a bad thing – you want interesting, reactive A.I. who can surprise you. But IO make the predictability and easy manipulated A.I. a fundamental part of of the experience. Every NPC and event runs on predefined parameters and clocks. If you simply stand still and observe, the levels will continue to run through their programs. You are the metaphorical wrench that gets hurled into the gears, and it’s a joy to watch how your presences shifts everything around. And then you load the level back up and hurl yourself at a different part of the level and see how it reacts. It’s such a satisfying gameplay loop.

Honestly, I can fire this game up at anytime and have a load of fun with it. Plus, you can jam everything from the previous 2 games into it, creating this huge murder package. And where else can I dress up as mascot and murder someone by drowning them in a toilet? I mean, the last time I tried that I was thrown out of the golf club.

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

This one is hardly surprising considering I gave it a huge score of 4-and-a-half out of 5 when I reviewed it not long ago. The PS5 is still lacking when it comes to exclusive titles, but two of ’em still managed to make it onto this list. Not too shabby.

Game feel is impossible to really describe. You just know it when you feel it, and Rift Apart has it in abundance. As soon as you pick up the controller it’s like your connected directly Ratchet and Rivet. The controls are so tight and responsive, the weapons feel so good, it all just melds into this fantastically fun feeling. Insomniac are amongst the best when it comes to crafting a game that that practically begs to be played.

And, of course, visually Rift Apart is sublime on almost every single level. There’s a depth to the vistas that is, I think, currently unmatched. It’s as close to a 3D image as I’ve seen on a flat screen without glasses. And the sharpness and the detail is mind-blowing, especially on the character models. I mean, have you stopped to look at the fur on Ratchet or Rivet? It’s insane.

There’s just something very loveable about the characters, too. The slick animations and the excellent performances feel…comfortable, a bit like a Disney movie or something. Maybe I’m talking about nonsense here, but there’s always been something about animated movies, even mediocre ones, that feels warm and welcoming and simple and fun. Rift Apart captures that in its story which in turn makes it so easy to love the game.

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

Y’know, I’m not sure if it’s a compliment to how amazing the Mass Effect games were that they could appear on a list of the best games of 2021, or a dire demonstration of how poor 2021 has been that a remaster of a series that kicked off in 2007 is one of the best releases of the year. It’s probably both, though.

Regardless, both EA and BioWare have redeemed themselves just a little bit with this excellent collection of remasters. The first game does show its age quite a bit despite BioWare fiddling with some of the controls and mechanics, but it still tells an awesome story filled with equally awesome characters. And then Mass Effect 2 is simply outstanding, again giving us a cast of memorable people along with a dramatic, compelling, epic story. Even Mass Effect 3 is fun to revisit all these years later, especially now that we can go into it understanding that the ending wasn’t what we wanted and that all those small decisions weren’t going to make a difference.

Even if the Mass Effect franchise never manages to rise to the heights of the first two games ever again, at least we have this excellent remaster package.

But seriously, Bioware, get your shit together.

Returnal

Back in 2017 Housemarque declared arcade games to be dead, putting up a blog post that revealed their games weren’t selling enough. It wasn’t an accurate statement, though, because four years later Housemarque came back with Returnal, an arcade game in a triple-A disguise.

There’s undeniably an arcade vibe that permeates almost every inch of Returnal, but it’s most noticeable in the boss fights where waves of projectiles fill the screen. With smart jumping and dodging you can weave through them in a beutiful dance of OH SHIT, I DIDN’T SEE THAT ONE! And when you die? Well, just like an old-school arcade game, it’s back to the start.

Returnal has its flaws, for sure. Its rogue-like elements aren’t as tight as other games, its story is muddled and it has moments where it grinds to a halt. Still, Returnal also feels great to play and is packed with interesting little pieces of design.

So arcade games didn’t die. They just evolved, and Housemarque evolved with them.

Super Mario 3D World + Bowsers Fury

The awesome thing about being a Nintendo noob that’s just picked up a Switch is that there’s a huge library of games to check out. Super Mario 3D World + Bowsers Fury. This is actually a re-release of 3D World which initially launched on the old Wii U, but it also comes with a chunky new expansion pack titled Bowser’s Fury. And anyway, who the hell actually owned a Wii U?

There’s a timeless quality to Mario and that remains true with 3D World. It might have been a Wii U game but it’s still a blast to play, especially with four players all yelling and shouting at each other. Although as soon as my niece figured out how to pick up other people and hurl them into the abyss the whole game became…er, annoying. It’s fun as a solo game, too, a relaxing platformer that’s awesome for chilling out in the garden in handheld mode. There’s a constant barrage of fun little ideas that makes each level feel different and fun to check out. And it even runs at 60FPS, even in handheld mode!

Oh, and the music! Do yourself a favour and go listen to Ghost House, because it’s a sublime piece of music.

But the really cool thing about the -release is Bowser’s Fury which offers a tantalising little glimpse into the potential future of everyone’s favourite plumber who never does any actual plumbing. The co-op action gets cut down to just two players which is a bummer and even the FPS is sliced in half when playing in handheld mode. Those sacrifices, though, are made so that you get an open-world to mess around in. You’re free to head off and explore every nook and cranny. The rough edges are a shame but they all feel like they’re part of the grand Mario open-world experiment and that experiment is a total success.

Honestly, I think Nintendo has made a mistake by not selling Bowser’s Fury as a standalone game with a small, budget price-tag. While they do share the same mechanics, Bowser’s Fury and 3D World barely feel related to each other when you play them side by side, so vastly different is the core structures of the two experiences.

I’m just a little Nintendo newbie gawping at all the shiny games, but I reckon this one is well worth playing.

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