The 15 Best Games of 2021
There was once a time when our staff could easily publish a list of the best video games of the year and most of us would have played the majority of the games featured on that list. Those days, however, are over.
As with any publication, our staff simply can’t keep up with the number of games being released each week, but we rely on each other to decide what we should spend our valuable time playing and what games we should maybe avoid. With that said, what follows is a list of the 30 games we’ve championed the most over the past 365 days.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Metroid Dread tops our list, given our love for both Nintendo and the Metroid series as a whole— but it is worth noting that it was such a tight race that Dread only took the number one spot by one vote, followed by Resident Evil Village and Halo Infinite which were also separated by one vote each.
As for how our voting system works, well it is somewhat complicated. Essentially, our writers each submit a list of their ten to fifteen favourtie games released in 2021, and points are assigned to each game based on where they appear on each individual list and how often they were voted on. A game must have multiple votes and be released in 2021 in order to qualify. It’s a long, tedious and complicated process that drives us insane every year, but a system that works no less since the results have always accurately represented our staff as a whole.
So, whether you’re into blockbusters or sleeper hits, multiplayer mayhem, epic single-player quests, and everything in between, chances are, you’ll find something to love on this list. Without further ado, here are the 30 best video games of 2021.
15. Death’s Door
This isometric, action-adventure packs a delightful adventure exploring the philosophical musings of life and death in a neat 8-hour package. Being a crow whose corporate job is to reap the souls of those whose time has come is as silly as it sounds, and that playfulness carries on throughout Death’s Door. It explores this somewhat dour subject matter with levity and humor while still holding the ultimate fate of all living beings in respect.
The actual act of reaping is lean and smooth, with a simple control scheme that encourages a mixture of close and far-range offense. A diverse set of enemies and tight level design bring the challenge and keep you on your toes, though, as you navigate a stylized, cell-shaded world that provides quick little hits of dopamine for going out of your way to explore.
Death’s Door is a prime example of a game knowing exactly long it needs to be. By the time I collected all three Great Souls and saw my crow’s journey to its end I felt wonderfully satiated. Another bite and I would have felt overstuffed, and any less and I would have been left hungering for more. That’s a difficult feat to accomplish in video games today, and a big reason why this one is one of the biggest delights of the year. (Matthew Ponthier)
14. Forza Horizon 5
One of the best ways to make your open-world game fun is to make the simple act of moving through your open-world fun. That sense of liberation and fluidity is something the Horizon series has always emphasized and it returns full force for Forza Horizon 5. Chaining drifts, smashing through cacti, and catching air through the jaw-dropping scenery of Mexico is an absolute blast, and that’s before you even get into any of the game’s more structured races. Horizon 5‘s suite of assistance options make sure that whether you’re a racing sim veteran or just a Mario Kart enthusiast you can jump in and start having a good time. From traditional races, to zombie tag, to even a battle royale, there’s always something for you to hop into. It’s truly a fiesta of a racing game and one that shouldn’t be missed! (Matthew Ponthier)
13. Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart
Spend any amount of time playing through the eye-popping graphical splendor of Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, and it’s hard not to have your breath taken away. Easily among the most visually dazzling games ever created, Ratchet and Clank’s next-gen debut is more than a mere graphical showcase. Rather, it is a wildly ambitious development for the series, one that takes the iconic duo to new heights. The moment-to-moment combat has never felt better, thanks to a combination of full support for the Dualsense controller’s unique features, solid underlying mechanics, and a full arsenal including many zany new weapons (turning enemies into shrubbery never gets old). Plenty of over-the-top set pieces, whether they involve rail grinding across planets or shifting between dimensions, keep the action running high at a breakneck pace. On top of all that, the story also maintains the series’ signature satirical charm, while delving into the personal sides of Lombax’s story with some genuinely heartfelt character development.
Of course, all this excellent groundwork is perfectly accentuated with its jaw-dropping graphics. It’s simple: no other game before it can boast the same level of technical expertise and graphical prowess on display in Insomniac’s technical showcase. From the Pixar-like character animations to the stunningly rendered environments, Rift Apart bursts with vibrant color and lush detail. Incredible to behold and even better to play, Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart is already a generation-defining title that sets the stage for what the PlayStation 5 can do. (Campbell Gill)
Time loops are gaming’s current obsession. From arcade-esque shooters like Returnal to narrative-heavy adventure games such as 12 Minutes, the time loop is everywhere in 2021. But despite the ubiquity of this mechanic, Deathloop surprises on a consistent basis thanks to its unique, dynamic world.
One of the best parts about Deathloop is the mundanity of its context. Sure, you’re murdering hundreds of people across an island that would make Dr. No jealous, but, there are no actual stakes. Protagonist Cole is just tired of the loop and the people within the loop are self-absorbed narcissists; they are not evil. Whereas just about every other game, or piece of media, involving time loops carries some sense of dread or existential gravitas, Deathloop plays it for laughs and the game succeeds because of it.
The comedy carries over into the gameplay too. The way in which you both discover the Visionaries’ weaknesses and the way you use said weaknesses to kill them, is consistently hysterical. Plus, your actions almost always have consequences with your behavior in the early part of the loop leading to unique, often funny results in the latter part of the day. The game may take place within a loop, repeating the same day over and over, but the experience evolves with your actions; it’s brilliant.
Even though Deathloop launched to some controversy (receiving glowing reviews from critics but disappointing players due to its various bugs and moronic enemy AI), it is still a staggering accomplishment. Everything in the game – the humor, the gameplay, the environments – bleeds together to create a unified whole. Add to this one of the best theme songs to ever grace the medium and you have one of 2021’s most delightful experiences. (Nicholas Straub)
11. Psychonauts 2
After one successful Kickstarter campaign, a Microsoft buyout, and six years of development, Razputin Aquato finally made a mind-bending comeback in Psychonauts 2. From the brilliant mind of Tim Schafer and the folks over at developer Double Fine, the sequel to the original 2005 platformer will not let down fans and newcomers in any regard. Psychonauts 2 is a masterclass modern think piece that goes above and beyond its initial promises. Although it has been fifteen years since the debut of the original title, Razputin’s latest adventure to become a renowned Psychonaut is still as magnificent as ever.
Taking place directly after the events of the intermediate VR chapter, Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, Psychonauts 2 gets right back on track to where our espionage brain infiltrating heroes last left off. As the old gang fails to discover who is the mastermind behind Dr. Lobato’s evil scheme, Razputin finds himself wrapped up in yet another mystery when he finally arrives at the Psychonaut HQ. Taking the role of an intern, the game smartly utilizes the core mechanics of the first game in its newfound setting. Everything feels as if Double Fine just picked up from where they last left off.
Psychonauts 2 not only expands upon the original gameplay, but it best of all aims to humanize its cast as Razputin’s family dynamic and curse are explored to a greater extent. On top of further developing its characters though, the game makes a successful effort to really explore its cognitive disorders. Between the entertaining gameplay and mesmerizing narrative, you absolutely can not go wrong playing the latest entry in the series whether or not you have completed its predecessor. (Marc Kaliroff)
10. Life Is Strange: True Colors
The third in the main series of the Life is Strange game franchise, Life is Strange: True Colors follows a new protagonist in a new setting-much like the second game did- whilst excellently blending supernatural themes into a narrative that focuses on the human condition and the nature of trauma and its affects on our emotions.
This time around, the game follows Alex Chen. Alex is a young adult who has not had an easy start in life. After her mother passed away when she was a child, her father abandoned her and her older brother after being unable to cope with raising his children alone. The siblings went through the foster care system until they were old enough to leave, with Alex’s brother Gabe being separated from her due to his age.
The game begins as Alex leaves her care home- which she has been in and out of her whole life, leading to a lack of stability- and goes to live with her brother Gabe in the idyllic mountain town of Haven. The player soon finds out that Alex- much like the central characters in the other Life is Strange games- has a supernatural ability. Hers is not so fantastical as bending time like Max in the first game or telekinesis like Daniel in the second. Alex’s power is instead focused on human emotion, as she is an empath. An empath is a person who is able to see how another person is feeling at any time. Not only that, but Alex can also manipulate their emotions and change them. She can take away someone’s fear or anger and absorb it into herself to feel exactly as they do. The empath ability makes for a different style of gameplay in comparison to Life is Strange and Life is Strange 2, with most of the action based around this manipulation of other characters’ emotions, how they affect Alex and the repercussions of the choices the player makes in relation to these powers. Whilst both of the previous games were focused on the narrative and characters, the third game turns this up a notch by making the main supernatural power related to emotion. This might sound like it wouldn’t be as interesting as the other powers from the series, but this isn’t the case thanks to the way in which the narrative of True Colors fits perfectly around Alex’s empath abilities.
A great third addition to the Life is Strange series, True Colors manages to keep the spirit and themes of the previous games whilst working brilliantly as a standalone narrative-based game as well. (Antonia Haynes)
9. Hitman 3
The dramatic third entry in the World of Assassination trilogy is everything we could want and a brilliant conclusion to the globe-trotting adventure we’ve come to love over the past few years. It’s easy to overlook the game’s minor faults considering Hitman 3 delivers smooth gameplay, innovative maps, and great storytelling that dives deep into the character and world of Agent 47. If you’re a fan of the series, Hitman 3 won’t disappoint— in fact, it exceeds expectations and might be the best third-person single-player tactical game you’ll play this year. (Ricky D)
8. Persona 5 Strikers
Persona 5 is arguably the crème de la crème of JRPGs (rivaled only by Dragon Quest XI). At first glance, Persona 5 Strikers seems to be a satisfactory spin-off, but it delivers so much more, impressing as a full-fledged sequel that even rivals its acclaimed predecessor.
Merging the beat ’em up bombast of Dynasty Warriors with Persona 5’s turn-based combat, Persona 5 Strikers is ambitiously unique. But beyond its stellar gameplay mechanics, it shines as a satisfying story sequel to one of video games’ best narratives. The Phantom Thieves are back in action, on a road trip adventure that pits them against fearsome foes in a wealth of distinctly Japanese locales.
New characters like Sophia and Zenkichi are perfect fits, with the latter’s character arc being a highlight. And replaying Persona 5 Strikers in new game plus adds plenty of bang for one’s buck (just make sure to level up for Merciless difficulty, as it’s brutal).
Developers Omega Force and P-Studio could have ticked boxes with a fun but forgettable spin-off, but went above and beyond with this sublime sequel. The effort is infinitely impressive, and like its predecessor, Persona 5 Strikers’ gameplay, story, user interface (and pretty much everything else, for that matter) is marvelous. (Harry Morris)
In sci-fi action roguelike Returnal, players are constantly faced with what feels like impossible odds on dangerous alien planet Atropos. Developer Housemarque has folded aspects of their previous shoot-‘em-ups into this one, and the results are incredible. Returnal is sensory overload, in the best was: enemy attacks, especially during boss fights, fill the screen with bright lasers and beams while the Dualsense controller makes use of everything from haptic feedback to adaptive triggers. The action is brutally difficult, but players can gain an advantage by scouring biomes for modifiers. Ominous artifacts, like the astronaut figurine or broken wristwatch, bestow huge benefits like revival upon defeat or a more powerful melee attack, while parasites, which offer players a boon for a cost. The weapon variety starts to feel a little slim after several dozen runs, but each weapon has different unlockable traits to keep things fresh. And though there are only six biomes, each one is distinct and memorable. The sci-fi mystery at the heart of the game is devastating, but only the most dedicated will make it to the credits, much less the endgame.
The longer players engage with Returnal, the more they’ll come to appreciate just how polished everything in the game actually is. Roguelikes have grown more popular in recent years and Returnal stands tall for being the first PlayStation 5 exclusive to really take advantage of the hardware. A blisteringly difficult but ultimately satisfying experience, Returnal deserves to be replayed multiple times. (Cameron Daxon)
6. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury
Whenever people think about the best games of any given year, ports like this year’s Super Mario 3D World rerelease usually do not come to mind. That is not to say that Super Mario 3D World by itself is not a quality title, because it absolutely is. The level design, character and powerup variety, and general atmosphere all make for a wonderfully “gamey” experience that is unfortunately rare in today’s mainstream gaming market, and the various gameplay tweaks introduced in the Switch port are all smartly considered. But ports usually do not add much beyond new levels, mechanics, or the aforementioned gameplay tweaks, which makes it difficult to justify them as new releases.
The same cannot be said about the Super Mario 3D World Switch port, as it includes an entirely new game in the form of Bowser’s Fury. The first truly open-world Mario experience, Bowser’s Fury serves as a fantastic complement to Super Mario 3D World’s linear campaign. Transitioning between different areas to complete objectives feels remarkably seamless, and the Fury Bowser mechanic adds a fun level of dynamism to the game world that other Mario titles simply do not have. The game incorporates Super Mario 3D World’s assets in interesting and creative ways, and its short length makes it incredibly enjoyable to replay over and over. On its own, the Switch release of Super Mario 3D World is already a great port, but the addition of Bowser’s Fury elevates the overall package to a level that few other rereleases can compare to. (Daniel Pinheiro)
It seems as though it is impossible to open up Steam without coming across a new deck-based indie roguelike. The genre is packed with incredible titles, but none of them are like Inscryption. This Devolver Digital-published game is unique, a knockout among a sea of other indies. Part deck builder, part escape room, part mind-bending horror puzzle adventure, Inscryption defies expectation at every turn to burn itself into the memories of those who play it.
Inscryption is dripping with style. Players see everything from a first-person perspective, as though they are sitting across the table from their opponent. The rough wooden table where the cards are dealt feels tangible, and the creaking timbers of the mysterious cabin players find themselves trapped in adds atmosphere in spades. The card mechanics at the core of the game are incredibly well-realized, familiar to anyone who has played Magic: The Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh!! but distinct enough to differentiate themselves. Every match becomes a race to deal enough direct damage to the opponent to tip the scales in favor of the player, but the game doesn’t stop after a few victories.
There is a mystery at the heart of Inscryption whose layers are slowly peeled back as the player stands up from the table to interact with their environment. The cabin is a puzzle box, filled with interactable objects. Solving one mystery soon leads to another, up to the game’s stunning, unpredictable finale. Even for players new to card games, Inscryption is essential. (Cameron Daxon)
4. It Takes Two
Josef Fares, the founder of Hazelight Studios and lead designer of It Takes Two, has always been interested in pushing the nature of multiplayer games forward. Whether by recreating the couch co-op experience or revitalizing what online play can achieve, Hazelight’s games are memorable for how players engage with them together. This concept is taken to the extreme In It Takes Two, a co-op only third person adventure game. In the game’s opening, a child’s wish transforms her two bickering parents May and Cody into dolls. Dismayed to find that they can’t instantly be returned to their bodies, Cody and May realize that the only way to make it through the ordeal in front of them is to cooperate. Puzzles and challenges in It Takes Two can only be overcome by two players working together in truly innovative ways.
At first, solutions are as simple as one player pressing down a switch as the other moves through an opened door. Eventually, Cody and May get involved in much bigger struggles that require more intricate cooperation and coordination. Boss battles are frantic and fun, easily a highlight, but the most impressive thing about It Takes Two is that the game constantly throws new mechanics at players in every area. The tone of the story is wild, bouncing between heartfelt sincerity and slapstick comedy, but it all comes together. Rather than have Cody and May rely on the same handful of interactions, It Takes Two switches up the gameplay at every opportunity, resulting in a memorable, experimental masterpiece. (Cameron Daxon)
3. Halo Infinite
I don’t need to quote the Miyamoto line about delayed games here – anyone who has played Halo Infinite’s campaign will understand just how worth the wait it is. The extra development time has done wonders, and our patience, albeit enforced patience, is rewarded by one of the most dynamic, fluid and exhilarating Halo experiences ever. This assessment isn’t entirely down to the grappling hook, but a lot of it is.
Master Chief’s newest toy gives near-endless scope for experimentation in battle. You can grapple up to a Banshee, knock out the rider and fly it to the next enemy camp before leaping out, swinging from a tree, landing a mid-air sticky grenade on the nearest Brute, and dropping down right on a Grunt’s head for a glorious knockout from above. It’s pure superhero stuff, and you’ll feel annoyed at yourself if you’re not pulling off the most acrobatic kills possible. A grappling hook isn’t exactly unique or new here, but perfection doesn’t always need to be ground-breaking.
While the balletic violence feels perfect, the game itself isn’t, and after a while, the open-world becomes a little shallow. There’s no denying how refreshing it feels to play a Halo game that flows so perfectly from set piece to set piece at the player’s discretion, with a generous helping of side content in between, but the content itself is not all that varied. How you vary the content of such a shooty shooter is the question 343 probably haven’t answered here, and missable collectibles minus replayable missions is an unfortunate equation that will dent replayability significantly until fixed.
Infinite feels like a potential Breath of the Wild moment for the Halo series. A choice to reinvigorate through greater freedom and exploration puts this entry right at the top of the franchise rankings. It’s a giant step forwards, but not the full step just yet. Repetitive gameplay should never feel this good, and that is a huge compliment. (Alex Aldridge)
2. Resident Evil Village
Capcom’s horror magnum opus has hit peaks of zombie fuelled fear, and troughs of clunky confused action. Many would agree that 2005’s Resident Evil 4 is the franchise’s pinnacle, melding a melting pot of aesthetics and mechanics into something special. Resident Evil Village follows suit, and whilst it doesn’t quite hit its spiritual predecessor’s heights, it comes bloody close.
Jumping back into the shoes of Resident Evil 7’s Ethan Winters, the hand-losing hero journeys to a mysterious mountain village to rescue his abducted daughter, Rose. Immediately prevalent is Resident Evil Village’s indulgence in the comically creepy. From the now-iconic Lady Dimitrescu, to the intimidating Heisenberg, Resident Evil Village effortlessly hooks players into its kookily spooky cast of antagonists. By serving up a scenario where Ethan must fight for his life against a host of B movie baddies in macabre zaniness, Resident Evil Village captures moments of magic not seen since the aforementioned Resident Evil 4.
Whilst the campaign’s pacing isn’t perfect, and The Mercenaries is too strategically specific for its own good, Resident Evil Village shows that when it comes to quality horror, Capcom continues to have its finger on the pulse. (Harry Morris)
1. Metroid Dread
Nintendo blew up the 2021 E3 by announcing the first entirely new 2D Metroid title in almost twenty years. The fact that the game, the long-rumored Metroid Dread, was right around the corner was simply icing on the cake for the long underserved Metroid fanbase.
To make matters even more exciting, Metroid Dread launched to some of the most considerable numbers the series has ever seen, offering Nintendo a clear indication that there are still plenty of Metroid fans out there hungry for any new content they can give us.
It ought to come as no surprise either. Building off MercurySteam’s incredible work on the Metroid II remake, Metroid Dread takes elements from modern Metroidvanias, indie platformers, and souls-likes and mashes them together into a one-of-a-kind 2.5D adventure that will leave fans of all stripes decidedly satisfied. (Mike Worby)
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Ricky Da Conceicao, Founder, Editor-in-Chief
Patrick Murphy, Editor, co-founder
Mike Worby, Managing Editor
Marc Kaliroff, Games Editor, (NXpress Podcast)
Brent Middleton, Indie Games Editor
Campbell Gill, Indie Editor; (NXpress Podcast)
Izsak Barnette, Senior Writer
Renan Fontes, Senior Writer
Mathew Ponthier, Senior Writer
Cameron Daxon, Staff Writer, (NXpress Podcast)
Antonia Haynes, Senior Writer
Christopher Cross, Senior Writer
Tim Maison (Game Boys Podcast)
Ryan Kapioski (Games Boys Podcast)
Alex Aldridge (The Winner is You Podcast)
David Smile (The Winner is You Podcast)
Marty Allen, Staff Writer
Patrick Morris, Staff Writer
Caitlin Wiliams, Staff Writer
Daniel Pinheiro, Staff Writer
Dylan MacDougall, Staff Writer
Michael McKean, Staff Writer
Nicholas Straub, Staff Writer
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