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The Best Video Games of 2021 (So Far)

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The Best Video Games Of 2021

As we head into the month of September, we thought it would be a good time to start compiling a list of the best video games of 2021 so far. What follows is a list of our favourite games we’ve played so far this year. We’ll be back in December to update the list but in the meantime, these are the titles we recommend most.

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The Best Games Of 2021

Image: Nicalis

The Binding of Isaac: Repentance

The Binding of Isaac is a very special video game for me, one that drew me into the ‘roguelike’ subgenre and somehow after hundreds of hours never got old. Repentance is the finale, the full Isaac experience and the cap on the story, and with it comes one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had. Things have changed in so many little ways that, whilst there’s still a lot of familiarity carrying on from the previous versions, everything feels new and exciting.

With multiple extra paths, brand new floors, countless new items and combos, and a whole host of new enemies and rooms, Repentance brings the best of Isaac and somehow just keeps getting better the deeper you dive in. The new alternate path leading to the hectic Mother fight also brings a lot of difficulty and a new learning curve, then there’s another new path up and into the finale of Isaac’s journey. The story of Isaac has always been something more in the details than explicitly stated, and whilst that’s still true we do get a much more major focus on what happens with the terrified boy, his murderous mother-driven crazy through religion, and even get a glimpse into the previously largely unknown father.

Repentance offers an off the walls and challenging experience that’s still easy to get into. The addiction it brings on calls for “just one more run…” after every single playthrough, after all, where else can you find a game where one run has you filling the screen with yellow eyeballs that deal aura damage and splatter the room with creep, followed by the next run with a face full of lasers shooting in spirals and spawning spiders? (Shane Dover)

Chicory: A Colorful Tale

There are plenty of games this year that have explored topics of self-hate, depression, and realization, but none will likely ever be akin to the success that indie developer Greg Lobanov and his team of friends have created. Chicory: A Colorful Tale may yield adorable esthetics and an artist tool kit adaptable for painters of all ages, but behind its digestible gameplay is a sea of emotion and trauma that players will find themselves tearing their own heartstrings with. The story of an anthropomorphic dog who is hilariously named after the player’s favorite food is nothing short of a living wonder. Chicory: A Colorful Tale is quite literally a game that players will decide whether or not it lives in a prosperous land of color or a gloomy monotone horizon.

Surrounding itself with the key philosophies of art and painting, Chicory: A Colorful Tale is constantly creating a perfect picture that is bleeding with emotion, color, inspiration, and heart. While the story and characters of the game do take a primary focus, the puzzle-solving, collecting, and artistic capabilities of the gameplay have not been simply presented as secondary colors. It is both an epic adventure across the land of Picnic Province and a stroke of relaxation as it welcomes players to a land they may fill to their heart’s content. From its beautiful hand-drawn graphics and vibrant world to the heartfelt story and characters worth investing time into, Chicory: A Colorful Tale is truly a title that will go down in gaming history as a cult classic of its time. Its aspirations culminate into an emotional venture that is nothing short of beautiful. (Marc Kaliroff)

Cybershadow
Image: Yacht Club Games

Cybershadow

An uncompromising spiritual successor to the Ninja Gaiden games on the NES, Cyber Shadow is a blood-pumping ninja adventure that remains unflinchingly committed to the difficulty of the classic games that inspired it. Cyber Shadow is filled to the brim with instant-death obstacles, unrelenting enemies, and pixel-perfect platforming challenges. Even then, though, the game is never unfair: it introduces just enough modern sensibilities to keep the game from ever getting too brutal. Simple additions like generous checkpoints and unlimited lives bring even its steepest challenges within reach, minimizing frustration while maximizing satisfaction.

Cyber Shadow provides a full-fledged roster of abilities along with dependable controls, giving players all the tools they need to jump, slash, and dash their way through the fiercest robot hordes. A surprisingly deep storyline, immaculate pixelated presentation, and a soundtrack filled with unforgettable chiptune beats make it tough to put the game down even after hundreds of deaths. With a striking sense of style and supremely satisfying gameplay, Cyber Shadow brilliantly scratches that ever-present retro itch. (Campbell Gill)

Death's Door
Image: Devolver Digital

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)

Famicom Detective Club
Image: Nintendo

Famicom Detective Club

The two Famicom Detective Club games, The Missing Heir and The Girl Who Stands Behind, delivered some of the most elaborate and memorable mysteries to ever grace Japanese consoles back in the late 1980s. More than thirty years later, the rest of the world can finally experience all these adventures have to offer with a pair of excellent HD remakes on Nintendo Switch. These revamps may not significantly touch the base content of either title, but they provide a handful of modernizations and beautiful all-new artwork to help bring both experiences up to modern standards.

Both games boast enticing mysteries that masterfully twist, turn, and unravel over the course of each investigation. With stories covering family dramas and even a touch of the supernatural, these cases offer plenty of intrigue to keep players sleuthing for hours on end. The already-great stories are brought to vivid life with the addition of fully redrawn art, including many fully animated characters that add new dimensions to otherwise static scenarios. These games may be decades old, but their Western debut is proof that great stories and compelling mysteries never age (Campbell Gill)

Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade
Image: Square Enix

Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade

One of the best games of 2020 returned bigged and better for the PlayStation 5 with Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade. It isn’t just graphical tweaks and quality of life upgrades here either, Intergrade also includes the all-new Intermission campaign starring fan-favorite ninja thief Yuffie Kisaragi.

New mini-games, new bosses, and new characters are just the icing on the cake here. With a good 10 hours or more of additional content, Final Fantasy fans who have been holding off on the first part of the Remake couldn’t find a better time to jump into the most entertaining and exciting title the series has had in years.

Packed with fan service and lovingly recreating one of the greatest RPGs of all time, Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade is an incredible and endearing reimagining of the iconic PS1 original and a game that can be enjoyed by fans of the series old and new alike. (Mike Worby)

Hitman 3
Image: IO Interactive

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)

It Takes Two game
Image: Electronic Arts

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)

Little Nightmares II
Image: Namco Bandai

Little Nightmares II

The prequel to 2017’s Little Nightmares hits all the marks, diving deeper into the captivating story cryptically revealed in the first and looking damn good while doing it. Instead of playing as Six like in the original, the player takes control of a new character named Mono, instead teaming up with Six in their own journey through the Pale City.

The gameplay is very similar to the first game, although adding the extra dynamic of being able to swing certain objects as weapons. The ability to fight back against a few enemies though doesn’t take away from the tension present at all though, as the greater threats aren’t bothered in the slightest by Mono’s efforts. Plus, there’ are now collectible hats! Maybe not TF2 levels, but hats!

Little Nightmares II not only meets the first game’s incredible storytelling and tension but manages to exceed it. As the game proceeds and reality starts to bend around the duo a fantastic and surrealist world is opened up. Navigating the terrifying environments and slowly unraveling the origin of Six is captivating. There are a few moments that tug at the heartstrings, and others that grow to be profoundly unsettling. There are a lot of horror game gems shining brightly over the past few years, and Little Nightmares II finds its way right near the top. From the mannequin level to the dark and eerie school, right into Pale City and the Signal Tower as things fall apart more and more, so much of this game sits with you long after it’s done. (Shane Dover)

The Medium
Image: Bloober Team

The Medium

Bloober Team have made quite a name for themselves in the world of horror, putting out some fantastic surreal offerings in Layers of Fear 1 and 2, as well as the stellar Observer in between. The Medium is their latest release, following Marianne, a ‘medium’ with the power to swap back and forth between the regular world and the spirit realm. Whilst trying to track down a mysterious man named Thomas who knows of her powers, as well as trying to unravel her own story, the dangers of the spirit realm become all too real.

One of the most incredible parts of The Medium is the environments. Based on real locations in Poland, everything feels so fully realized. The Niwa Worker’s Resort lays dilapidated and crumbling, and guiding Marianne through the building and the forests surrounding builds up such an atmosphere. Then there’s the spirit realm, drawing on the dystopian surrealist artwork of the late great Zdzisław Beksiński, straddling that thin line between otherworldly and the uncanny valley. The Medium juggles great level designs with some terrifying visuals and a cloying psychological horror seeping through the story. Seeing such great influence of Zdzisław Beksiński brought to life in the spirit realm is incredible, his unique oppressive surrealism isn’t tapped into nearly enough in horror media. Couple this with Akira Yamaoka composing and even just snippets of this game ooze style.

The ending may leave a bit to be desired, but as a whole package, The Medium is a thrilling ride and a great new addition to horror gaming. Bloober Team isn’t always on point, but when they are everything just aligns perfectly. (Shane Dover)

Monster Hunter Rise
Image: Capcom

Monster Hunter Rise

After Capcom completely overhauled the “Monster Hunter” franchise with 2018’s World, it was difficult to imagine how they could innovate any further. Monster Hunter Rise proves that the sky is the limit for the series, though. Literally.

Rise knows exactly where to shake up the formula and where to stick to what the series does best. The brand new Wirebug mechanic that lets you zip around the environment like some sort of prehistoric Spiderman introduces an unprecedented amount of mobility to the game that made the simple act of moving from point A to point B a terrific joy ride. The newfound mobility never detracts from the thrilling victories born from careful preparation and cunning skill that the series is known for, though. The result is a game that is once again welcoming to newcomers and veterans alike.

Just like with World, Capcom has also been providing continuous free content updates to Rise since its launch, ensuring those looking to join the hunt will always have something to sink their teeth into. (Matthew Ponthier)

Persona 5 Strikers
Image: Atlus

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)

Olija

Olija

Ethereal landscapes crawling with shadowy creatures, elusive societies emerging from the mist, and an ancient prophecy come true: Olija is an action platformer with an unrivalled sense of atmosphere. The story of Lord Faraday’s quest for redemption in the desolate archipelago of Terraphage overflows with beguiling mystery told through wordless cutscenes and enticing pieces of environmental storytelling. Hints of romance and a shadowy call of destiny make for a truly memorable tale that keeps players guessing through to the very end.

Alongside its plot, Olija boasts a lightning-fast gameplay loop that marries traditional action combat with brisk exploration. Faraday wields a mystical harpoon that he can toss across the stage and immediately zip to it, allowing for dynamic exploration and snappy combat. With a vast island nation to discover, robust gameplay, and a mesmerizing story, Olija is a truly remarkable expedition that stays with the player long after the credits roll. It may have gotten lost in the shuffle since it was released in January, but even now, Olija deserves a place among 2021’s very best. (Campbell Gill)

Psychonauts 2
Image: Double Fine and Xbox Game Studios

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 RuinPsychonauts 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)

Image: Insomniac Games

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)

Resident Evil Village
Image: Capcom

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)

Returnal
Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Returnal

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)

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury
Image: Nintendo

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 P)

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