With another year having tripped and fallen flat on its stupid face it’s time to round up the best games of the year, list style! Of course, my list here doesn’t have the same level of gravitas as the big names, but to be honest I love writing this at the end of every year, so here we are.
Although I don’t think 2021 will go down in the annals as a strong year for videogames thanks to Covid having clearly slowed the industry down, there were still some shining gems to be found. And looking forward, 2022 could be a stacked year. These first few months alone have some corkers.
One thing I noted when I was putting this list together is that there’s 3 Microsoft published titles on here, albeit one is actually a timed exclusive on Playstation which is an incredibly weird thing to say. Arguably it should have been four titles because if I had actually played it I have no doubt that Forza Horizon 5 would have been on here, but for some reason, I haven’t picked it up. I think it’s because I feel like I already know what Horizon 5 is and how good it is; it’s Horizon 4, but bigger and better in quite a few ways. It’s safe, and so I haven’t felt a rush to get to it yet. It’ll be the perfect game to fire up during a lull in new releases.
The point is, Microsoft have done well this year, ending 2021 with three solid hits while being left relatively alone by Sony and Nintendo who didn’t have any major titles coming out as the year ended.
I admit that I’m a bit disappointed that only one current-gen exclusive game made my list. 2021 felt like it should have been the year of the PS5 and the Xbox Series S/X but that just wasn’t the case. There were only a handful of exclusive releases, meaning that the PS5 and Xbox Series consoles still don’t feel like proper must-have machines. If you haven’t got one yet, you aren’t actually missing out on a whole lot. As 2022 winds up (hopefully not just to deliver a jab to the gut) it looks like we’ll get a much stronger case for the new hardware and I’m super excited to experience that.
Looking back over my year in reviews, I didn’t cover many indie titles across 2021, and none of the games on here are small projects. That’s on me because there certainly have been a lot of great games coming from small studios, so for 2022 I need to focus on playing fewer blockbuster games.
And finally, this is my list and yours will probably be very different. It also only contains games I’ve actually played and since I’m just one dude that means there are plenty of games I missed, stuff like Psychonauts 2. That’s just how it goes sometimes, and to all those games I can only offer my sincerest apologies! I’m going to try to get to you all, I promise. I’m lying. Ill never get there. The backlog will remain a leaning tower of doom, but it’s the thought that counts, right?
I debated about putting Deathloop on the list because I’m still in the middle of playing it. So far I’ve put a dozen hours into it, and have no idea if my opinion might change by time the credits roll and the loop is closed. But more importantly, Deathloop is a complicated game with so many interesting aspects, and so many disappointing ones. I can’t really wrap it all up in a few paragraphs
Having started Deathloop so late I heard a lot of opinions about how it doesn’t match up to Dishonored, even despite how similar it can feel at times. To those people I say; you’re right. In some ways Deathloop feels like a more streamlined game with fewer options. But just because it isn’t as good as Arkane’s other work doesn’t mean it isn’t mean still good.
Dishonored always made me feel guilty for ditching the stealth, the Chaos meter always judging me for having some fun. Deathloop skips that whole thing and doesn’t care whether you’re a ninja or the Terminator, giving the whole game a playful tone I really appreciate. As I set about learning the layouts of the four different locations I was sneaky and careful, but now that I know my way around I have no issues blasting Eternalists in the face.
I also wonder if this was Arkane trying to make a more commercially viable game. Despite their immense talent and despite how damn good games like Dishonored 2 and Prey are, Arkane have always struggled to sell their games to world. Deathloop feels like it might be them trying to create a jumping point for people so they can get a feel for what Arkane are all about. There are a let less weapons and opportunities for creative thinking, and the whole campaign structure is more linear than I expected. The game guides you along, too, almost afraid to let players make any big mistakes. If you die, you’ll restart the day. No big deal.
I just wish the game leaned into some of its own ideas more than it did. Going in I was expecting more of a freeform mystery where I could piece everything together bit by bit, but in reality Deathloop guides you through everything you need to do in order to eliminate all the Visionaries in a single loop. I went in with a pencil and notepad and never needed them.
I actually have a lot of criticisms which I’m going to save for a full review. This isn’t Arkane’s best work, falling below both Dishonored games in several important ways such as player creativity. I’d say Prey is a better game, too. But while it isn’t the very best they’ve ever done this is still a solid, fun and both the concept and the basic feel of the game click with me personally. For those reasons, Deathloop earns its place.
If you’ve ever watched the 1984 classic Top Secret! then you’ll already have a good idea of what UnMetal is all about. Taking a lot of inspiration from Metal Gear, classic parody movies and a host of other games, UnMetal is both fun to play and a bloody good laugh. Although it loves to poke fun at all sorts of tropes, it also clearly loves Metal Gear Solid and wants to be a fun stealth game in its own right.
Jesse Fox is as unreliable a narrator as an unreliable narrator could be, telling his extremely tall tale to not one but two different people. He embellishes, changes things on the fly, forgets details and hastily adds things in when questioned, or just straight up ignores questions. He’s hilarious, a Solid Snake wannabe with a sense of humour and a penchant for bullshit. I love how the game constantly plays with whether Jesse is actually being truthful or not, if it was all real or just fantasy.
While UnMetal isn’t going to change the face of gaming or anything like that, it managed to produce more memorable dialogue and moments than most blockbuster triple-A titles do. For that, it deserves a place on my list and I highly recommend checking it out.
Sadly Halo Infinite does not make it onto my list for its open-world singleplayer campaign, which was certainly enjoyable but lacked the epicness and spectacle I want from Halo. It does however, make it into the list for its wickedly fun multiplayer offering. I’m always wary about anything free-to-play because they’re often designed to make life miserable unless you cough up some cash, But I’ve only actually spent about 15-quid on Infinite to buy the Season Pass and a single skin, and I’ve been having a blast. Hell, if you don’t care about cosmetics at all, you can play the multiplayer and never spend a penny on it while having fun all the time. It’s because of that, that I’m willing to forgive some of its issues.
Big Team Battle is where it’s at for me. Yeah, Battlefield has more players but it doesn’t have the uber-slick combat of Halo, and I’ve rarely had a match where I haven’t guffawed at something. It might be a Warthog squashing an enemy as it goes sliding past on its roof, someone walking backwards into a pit or a moment when I launched myself into the air with a pad and somehow hit a Hawk with my Gravity Hammer in mid-air.
The only doubts I have are about the future. There’s only three maps for my favourite mode and the progress system still needs work. The live-service market is a competitive place, and whether 343 can keep up a steady stream of content and events remains to be seen.
My biggest hope is that we see bigger maps with bigger player counts. It doesn’t need to be absolutely huge, but 24 vs 24 player matches with all the Halo madness could be heaps of fun and could let vehicles play a bigger part of the action.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
I didn’t see Eidos Montreal’s version of the Guardians of the Galaxy being on this list, and yet here we are. Although it’s not the strongest game in terms of its…well, gameplay, Guardians of the Galaxy features some of the finest voice acting and the best writing of the year. This crew of galactic idiots managed to worm their way into my heart. I loved these guys, loved hanging out with them and listening to their banter and learning about their backstories. I laughed, I nearly cried, I sniggered and I peed a little.
Playing through Guardians also made me reflect on how much Marvel’s Avengers really let me down. I’ve been reading comics since before I could actually read, just flicking through the pages of superheroes. Then came my life-long addiction to Spider-Man, a character who helped shape my view of the world. And then like most of the world I came under the spell of the MCU, damn near having an anurism when the Avengers finally assembled on-screen for the first time. It always seemed so obvious that Marvel should attempt to dominate the videogame landscape as well, and yet somehow they’ve struggled. The Avengers should have been that moment where the MCU came thundering out of the sky like Thor but instead it limply plopped onto the dirt like dog poop. Dull characters that felt like weak imitations, crappy missions, iffy writing and a lousy live-service design.
But Guardian’s of the Galaxy is so much better; it’s hilarious and fun and endlessly charming. It’s a single–player adventure with lovable characters and sharp writing. I can’t wait for a sequel because if Eidos Montreal nail the gameplay AND deliver the goods in terms of story again, it’s going to be fucking epic.
Mass Effect: The Legendary Edition
Putting a remake or remaster on lists like this almost feels like cheating – Mass Effect didn’t come out this year, it launched way back in 2007, and the last game in the trilogy came out in 2013. So just because it was re-released in 2021, should it make it onto a list of the best game’s of the year? Honestly, you could make the argument either way, but because this is my list and I run my website like a tyrant runs a country, I’m including it.
It feels strange to say this, but EA did a good job with this remake/remaster package. The first game has obviously got the most work since it hasn’t aged all that well. Changes to the combat to bring it more in line with the two sequels, a smoother U.I., massively improved graphics and elevators rides that don’t make you want to throw your console out of a window all contributed toward making me feel like I was playing a brand new game! All the same amazing characters, world-building and story beats were there, but now it all looks better and plays better than ever.
Mass Effect 2 still stands as one of the greatest stories told in gaming, an epic suicide mission where your choices can decide who lives and who dies in the finale. It holds up surprisingly well. Yes, by the standards of todays cover-based shooters it’s nothing special, but it’s still perfectly enjoyable. Really, though, it’s just there to give you something to do inbetween the fantastic universe-building, intriguing characters and excellent plot.
As for Mass Effect 3, I can appreciate it a lot more now that the sour taste of the ending has faded away. Now that I know what to expect I can enjoy the ride more. It’s nowhere near as good as Mass Effect 2 was, but it’s still fun and still has some brilliant character work.
If you’ve never touched this series or just want to revisit it after years away, then The Legendary Edition is a must-buy.
Age of Empires IV
History would have been a lot different if I had been in charge of entire armies and towns. For a start, it would have involved a lot more losing and a whole lot more building of mostly useless walls. As much as I love RTS games, I’m not actually very good at them, displaying the tactical brilliance of an excitable puppy trying to assault a door stop. That doesn’t stop me having a great time though, and Age of Empires IV is an excellent return for a series I used to play as a lad.
The key to that is the great campaign mode which is more like an interactive history lesson. A relaxing female narrator, documentary style footage and even wireframe recreations of battles superimposed on said footage do a great job of explaining what dry historical texts tried and failed to educate me on. Sure, a lot of the gritty details are left out in favour of a more sterile version of events, but I still wound up knowing more about XXX than I did previously.
The gameplay is pretty safe stuff, following the standard rock-paper-scizzors setup – horsey boys beat shooty boys, shooty boys beat stabby boys, long stabby boys beat horsey boys and so on. But as you progress and more advanced research and versions of units become available the battles become plenty strategic. A smart player will always decimate larger but dumber forces, which is what you want from an RTS.
I’m happy to see this legend back with Relic at the helm.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
Some games just radiant fun like Mark Zuckerburg radiates “punch me” energy. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is one of those games. It feels so good to play, it looks so amazing, it’s characters are so charming.
I think this is probably the most beautiful game ever. Seriously. Sure, we could argue back and forth about what games have a stronger art style, but in terms of pure fidelity Rift Apart is eye-searingly beautiful. I mean, just zoom into the fur on Ratchet! It’s incredible. And those views? Holy crap, they can render me speechless. It has been described as a Pixar movie in videogame form, and while that comparison is probably played out it’s nonetheless true. I’m convinced that it’s impossible to take a bad screenshot in this game, that’s how damn good it is.
It plays so smoothly, too. While it doesn’t do anything groundbreaking in its action, it executes its combat and platforming so well that I frankly don’t care. The much anticipated rift jumping didn’t have the impact I was hoping for on the gameplay, but there’s no denying how visually impressive it is.
But the biggest reason I’ve put Rift Apart on my list is is because it makes me feel warm and happy and fuzzy. I can’t describe it any other way. It’s the same feeling I get watching animated movies like How to Train your Dragon. It’s like wrapping yourself up in a fluffy blanket, and I love it.
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous
Isometric RPGS have made an impressive comeback over the past few years with some excellent titles sating the ravenous hordes of fans. Pathfinder is another of those, a huge adventure in a fantasy world that has been around since 2009.
As I said in my review, Wrath of the Righteous does not want to be appealing to casual players, it wants to focus purely on the hardcore fans who feel comfortable reading pages of text and parsing a raft of stats. The character creation screen alone is a mind-boggling array of classes, skills, abilities and spells, all of them boasting a seemingly never ending wealth of numbers and keywords. I do love a good RPG, but I was still frozen in place by the creation system and stumbled into the game without any idea if my character made sense or would even work. I ended up totally rerolling my character once I began to become somewhat familiar with how the game actually plays and how its systems work.
The real-time/turn-based action (whichever you prefer) is a lot of fun, the characters are interesting and the overall plot is very enjoyable.
It has a few issues, at least for me; the army system and the light town building elements drag the more interesting stuff down, but other people will probably end up loving them.
If you reckon you have a hundred hours to spare, Wrath of the Righteous could be for you.
And my Favourite Game of 2021 Is….Hitman 3!
Could any other game have possibly be at the top of this list? Because it launched at the very start of the year I have a worrying feeling that Hitman 3 has been overlooked by many people when considering the best games of 2021 and that’s a travesty.
Aside from Halo Infinite’s multiplayer no other game has kept me coming back again and again as much as Hitman 3. The levels here are extensive, varied and demanding of multiple playthroughs. The opening Dubai area is gorgeous and a great re-introduction to the Hitman formula across multiple floors where you kill someone hurling a bar of gold at their head. That’s followed up with the stunning Dartmoor manor, a fantastic change of pace for the series that gives you a fun murder mystery mansion to play detective in. Then it’s off to an underground club where Agent 47 goes from the predator to the prey, with the fun twist being that you have to identify and eliminate multiple targets amidst crowds of ravers. Want more? How about an elite black-tie event set in a lavish mansion complete with a winery, a perfect setting to crush a target in a grape presser.
I only wish that IO Interactive had wrapped their World of Assassination trilogy with a strong final mission. As a series that has been defined by giving players incredible levels within which to utilize a wealth of tools, it feels strange to set the final mission on a moving train where you simply go from one end to the other with zero room to stretch your creative muscles. In fairness, creating a satisfying finale for a series like this was always going to be hard since your targets are just humans, able to be killed with a single bullet to the head or screwdriver to the neck, but looking back the underground club in Germany felt more like a final level than the train.
And I love the idea of being able to take the levels from the first two games and combine them with Hitman 3 to turn it into one big murder package. Graphical improvements and gameplay tweaks were applied to those levels, giving them a touch more replay value, as if they needed any more.
Ultimately, though, this is the same Hitman gameplay that made me love the previous two games. Few games can make me keep coming back like this one can to scope out levels, to mess about with the systems, to see what will happen if I stick a wrench or two into the clockwork mechanisms ticking away behind every level. Although I’ve finished the developer made levels, the community keep pumping out awesome custom contracts that always seem to find new ways to play.
IO Interactive are moving onto new projects, letting Agent 47 have a well-deserved rest. But one day, I hope they come back and build Hitman 4 so that I can drown people in toilets again. Until then, Hitman 3 has earned a place in my heart and we have a whole new season of content to look forward to, including the awesome looking VR mode coming to PC.
Categories: Opinion Piece