Wait, already? Really? Yes, we played video games this year! Indeed we did, and a lot of them were very good. It was surprising how good a year it was for video games across the board. Not only did smaller projects within big studios, or big projects in little studios have their moment to shine, but some landmark event games dropped: between Halo Infinite’s long-awaited arrival to very tall pretty vampire ladies and finally some reason to boot up your Xbox Series X, PS5 or GTX 3070 (is that one considered old by now? yikes). That said, here’s our selection of the 12 best video games of 2021, and stay tuned for our upcoming lists featuring the Top Indies and the Top Multiplayer titles of the year as well. – Evan Griffin
12. Resident Evil Village
Dark. Atmospheric. An action-filled bloody good time. Resident Evil Village built off the success of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard to create another stellar addition in the series. The eighth-titled entry in the main line-up balanced the sheer horror that terrified gamers in recent years with the thrilling action that the Resident Evil series has injected since Resident Evil 4. A great modern balance for both sides of the fandom to meet in the middle.
Resident Evil Village is a beautifully gritty game, especially paired against the snow mountains and villages of Europe. The mechanics favor a faster approach that pushes players to make quick decisions and feel the panicking paranoia of evil around every corner. The return of the merchant system was a nice touch to inject more adventure elements into the game, particularly with its resource management. Plus, Resident Evil Village shines with its horror variety. Each new area within the game takes inspiration from different survival horror elements (i.e., vampires, paranormal, etc.), so it feels like a love letter to horror gamers. [Justin Careiro]
11. New Pokemon Snap
While a sequel to this spin-off was incredibly overdue, New Pokemon Snap is also incredibly welcome. New Snap builds on all the fundamentals of the decades-old original to match the much larger size of the franchise’s creature roster while experimenting with changes to that foundation to create a fun safari adventure. On top of that, a mid-year update added the coolest feature yet – the ability to shrink down and experience a route from a completely different perspective. Hopefully, Bandai Namco will deliver on adding this to all the courses, but even as is this game is a stellar revival. [Travis Hymas]
10. Halo Infinite
Halo infinite’s campaign is a hot mess that I can’t put down. 343 industries hasn’t had the best track record in my eyes with the Halo franchise, with be boring as hell 4 and the narrative nightmare of 5, plus their RTS spin offs, they are more miss than hit at this point. So, as someone who hasn’t TRULY enjoyed a Halo game since Reach, I had alot of concern going into Infinite, what with it’s MASSIVE delay and rough initial trailers. Well, I’m happy to announce that despite some REAL rough patches, Halo infinite falls in the hit category. It’s a game that plays and performs like a DREAM on PC, and while the story is kinda a wash, it is so overshadowed by it’s phenomenal gameplay sandbox and movement mechanics that it almost doesn’t matter. ALMOST. Halo infinite takes some pages from the Holy Bible of modern shooters, Titanfall 2, and gives John Halo a slide and grapple hook. I’m torn between the pure arena shooter roots of Halo with no running, just gunning and the bold future Halo could be headed towards with this new movement suite. I can’t stress enough how GOOD it feels to be able to spiderman your ass across the Halo rings encampment and combat encounters, grappling on to vehicles and enemies with ease, coming as close as I will ever be comfortable calling Halo a movement shooter. Halo has a bright future ahead of it, and it has never felt so good to load up a warthog with NPCs with big ass guns and ruin some space gorilla’s day. [Miles Stanton]
Even nowadays games tend to fall into pretty constricted categories. That’s why whenever we get an experience that is truly experimental and genre-bending, it’s such a treat. Deathloop is a first-person shooter with time travel, stealth, mystery, powers, and a creative variety of weapons and ways to take out your opponents. All wrapped up in a neat swinging sixties-inspired bow and delivered by Arkane Studios and Bethesda.
Players take control of protagonist Cole, stuck in a Groundhog’s Day style loop, reliving his death at the hands of an evil time-looping syndicate. Cole has to take out eight members of this syndicate to break the loop and live to see another day. Deathloop features the best mechanics in Arkane’s recent years. The game combines several elements from Dishonored and Prey (two previous Arkane titles) and gives them a nice and shiny polish. Controlling Cole as he shoots and parkours his way across the island feels great, and the story is engaging enough to keep you invested in this timey wimey caper. [Adonis Gonzlez]
Returnal is a weird game to talk about. It is such a mishmash of different ideas and mechanics that congeal to make both a fantastic game and a MASSIVE pain in my ass. Now, I’m no stranger to difficult games, as a long time fan of old ass boomer shooters and some REAL jank RTS games, I’ve had my fair share of hitting a wall when it comes to difficulty curve in games, but Returnal is a whole beast of a different color. It’s almost unfortunate that it plays as well as it does because it will absolutely bust your balls from the word go, and I have probably melted a brain cell or 10 trying to maximize my runs to be as smooth and painless as possible, only to have my fade run by the level end boss. Despite it absolutely wrecking my ass time and time again, I always enjoyed playing Returnal, and can’t wait to see where Housemarque games go from here. [Miles Stanton]
7. Guardians of the Galaxy
When Square Enix announced that they were developing the Guardians of the Galaxy game for Marvel, a whisper made its way across the cosmos. Not actually, but it was a controversial topic. The excitement at the thought of Marvel’s ragtag group of anti-heroes finally getting their own AAA game came with a looming, Avengers-sized piece of baggage. But while that game left a questionable first impression on the general public, the same cannot be said for the Guardians.
Guardians features a lengthy original story that borrows from the comics and films alike for inspiration, offering up a fresh look at the team that turns out to be surprisingly funny and heartfelt. The gameplay, while a bit repetitive, perfectly captures the essence of each member of the Guardians as the player (controlling Peter Quill/Star-Lord) directs the team to victory. Points are acquired through progress and exploration, along with new abilities, skills, and upgrades; giving the whole thing a slight RPG effect. If you were hesitant to give this one a shot, totally understandable, but Guardians of the Galaxy is worth a playthrough. [Adonis Gonzlez]
6. Little Nightmares II
Little Nightmares II is a visual storytelling masterpiece. Just like the previous game (Little Nightmares), the sequel’s art style is its biggest wonder. The outlandish characters and the haunting design of the stages feel like the game takes place within a storybook, rendering the tone fantastical and bleak. Don’t let its childlike approach fool you; this is a horror adventure game that takes a different approach to what might scare you.
Beyond its art style, the game’s next greatest highlight is the puzzles. Little Nightmares II has players thinking on their feet to get past enemies, unlock new locations, or simply just move to the next stage. Each puzzle or hurdle offers plenty of variety to push the game further. What helps in this regard is the introduction of the dual-team gameplay between Mono and Six. Little Nightmares II changes up how to play the game because each character has a special ability that can help in the adventure. The gameplay adds something new to the series that feels fresh and fun, while still capturing all the love we had from the first game. [Justin Careiro]
5. Shin Megami Tensei V
The newest mainline entry in one of the most influential JRPG franchises ever, Shin Megami Tensei V is the culmination of nearly thirty years of refinement of concepts and style, with the result being an atmospheric, gritty experience that capitalizes on the overwhelming strengths of the experienced team that put it together. As per usual, Atlus constructs a world embroiled in a war of ideas, oozing with as much danger as there is style. The switch to a 3D open world is a welcome one, immersing you in a hostile environment where your only choice is to embrace the power of demons and fight for your life. The plot is interesting and fresh, but the strongest writing comes from the many interactions with the hundreds of demons you will fight and collaborate with, and the music is tense but very catchy. These demons are a bit different, and SMT V is truly something special. [Aaron Reyes]
The triumphant return of one of Nintendo’s (thought) long forgotten legacy franchises, Metroid Dread is everything that the franchises needed at the moment. Building on the systematic legacy of Super, it escalates the wild nature of the story left after Fusion, it refines the new features explored in Samus Returns and it most importantly takes some deeply necessary lessons from the other games in its genre from modern indies like Hollow Knight back to Castlevania Symphony of the Night for the PlayStation 1. While Dread sells itself on the haunting EMMI robot encounters, it’s the hidden story twists and the resurgence of the Chozo and the X parasites from deep within Metroid’s lore that make boss encounters in the game the most thrilling and heart-pounding that Samus has ever faced to this date. And that ending. Oh, my word that ending. [Evan Griffin]
3. Monster Hunter Rise
Stripping away a lot of what made predecessor World for the sake of a timed Switch exclusive may on paper sound like a bad idea, but Monster Hunter Rise is all the stronger for the choice. Perfectly paced and shaped around the pick-up-and-go nature of the Nintendo Switch, Rise is a great companion piece to 2018 great but is also a perfect entry point for anyone curious about the series. Bonus points for the excellent navigation improvements brought by the wirebug and Palamutes that honestly should at least be options in future installments to continue the hot streak Monster Hunter has been on. [Travis Hymas]
2. Psychonauts 2
A psychedelic sequel sixteen years in the making, Psychonauts 2 comes out of the gate swinging and doesn’t lose momentum at any point before the credits roll. Tim Schaefer and the team at Double Fine have taken the fantastic groundwork laid in the original and brought to the table an older, wiser sequel that has all the boundless charm and humor with a more meaningful message and a greater sense of responsibility when handling the sensitive mental health topic presented. This was a game I picked up and could not play anything else until I had beaten it front to back one hundred percent. [Aaron Reyes]
1. Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart
Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart is not only one of the best games in the ongoing series from Insomniac Games, but also one of the best games on the PS5 to date. With truly stunning visuals and an emotionally gripping story, this game takes everything fans have grown to expect from the series and brings it into the new generation of gaming. This time around, Ratchet and Clank are thrown into a mission that puts them face to face with interdimensional rifts, the evil Dr. Nefarious and another Lombax named Rivet. And when the two friends are separated, they each learn more about themselves and the importance of their friendship. Fans of the original PS2 game will love the advancements in the gameplay and all the new weapons. Even if this is your first Ratchet and Clank game, you will quickly discover what has made these two characters such legends in PlayStation history. [Tyler Carlsen]