The Best Games of 2021

Eric Abent - Dec 20, 2021, 5:05pm CST
The Best Games of 2021

As we prepare to close out 2021, it’s time to look back on the games that defined the year. The COVID-19 pandemic claimed release date through release date as we moved through 2021, but the games industry kept chugging away. Despite the fact that the year’s release schedule was in a constant state of flux, we still received a number of great titles in 2021. In this list, we’ll recap the Best Games of 2021 and tell you what made each one so special.

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Note: While I’ve handled most of these year-end gaming wrap-ups on my own in the past, this year I have some help from one of SlashGear’s newest writers, Josh Hawkins. I’ll note who’s responsible for each entry with our initials (EA and JH) at the end so it’s clear who wrote what. Welcome to the team, Josh! Let’s get into the games.

Hitman 3

IO Interactive took the Hitman series to a new level with its World of Assassination Trilogy, and Hitman 3 was a perfect ending to the latest saga of everyone’s favorite bald assassin. In the third game, IO builds off the interactive environments that it has become known for, and ups the ante even more by adding in new ways to take out targets, as well as new ways to traverse the world.

Perhaps one of the most exciting things about Hitman 3, though, was that it brought all of the missions from the previous two entries of the trilogy to the latest engine. This included new performance enhancements, new features, weapons, and tools. With so many options at your fingertips, Hitman 3 made playing as Agent 47 one of the best sandbox experiences you can find in gaming right now.

Few games managed to hold my attention as well as Hitman 3 did, and despite releasing at the start of the year, I consistently find myself revisiting Agent 47’s universe to try my hand at pulling off more daring and spectacular assassinations. – JH

Loop Hero

There’s no doubt that the roguelike space is getting a little crowded here in 2021. We’ve seen the genre grow to be one of the dominant ones in the indie space throughout the last several years, and there are so many roguelike games that it can be difficult for new titles to stand out. That wasn’t the case for Loop Hero.

Loop Hero serves up a lot of fresh ideas and, like many roguelikes, is defined by “easy to learn, difficult to master” gameplay. For as good as it is, Loop Hero might be the most difficult to describe game on this list. A Lich has plunged the world into eternal nothingness and it’s up to players to rebuild it by placing buildings, enemies, and even terrain from a customizable deck of cards alongside endless loops. While the concept may be a little meta, the core gameplay loop (no pun intended) is solid and given a chance, Loop Hero will have you theorycrafting the most efficient decks and layouts in no time.

Loop Hero is a perfect pick-up-and-play game for those who only have a little bit of free time while also being a game that you can sink your teeth into for extended periods. It offers a fantastic spin on the roguelike genre, and anyone who counts themselves as a roguelike fan should check it out. – EA

Sable

It can be easy to get lost in the most explosive and action-packed games, but Sable isn’t like that. Instead of endless combat, Sable greets you with beautiful vistas like slow-motion sunsets and the remnants of crumbling stone ruins. The game is heavily styled after fantasy RPGs like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but without all the defending and finding new weapons.

Instead of fighting, you’ll spend your time exploring a beautiful world that beckons you deeper into it with every passing second. Sandy banks spread out before you like an ocean, just waiting for you to experience all of the secrets that it has waiting on the other side of each and every dune ahead of you. It’s a beautiful title that does a great job of reminding you that combat doesn’t have to be the centerpiece of a game for it to be an absolute masterpiece. – JH

It Takes Two

After It Takes Two, it’s clear that Hazelight Studios is a master of making memorable co-op experiences. While the studio’s first game A Way Out may have had some flaws, it’s hard to find much to criticize about It Takes Two.

In It Takes Two, players take on the role of a divorcing couple who are forced to work together and examine the failings of their relationship after magically transforming into dolls. The collaborative gameplay, which forces players to work together to solve puzzles and progress through the game, is top-notch, as is the voice acting and the writing.

It Takes Two is a very charming game and an excellent co-op experience that should be on the shortlist for everyone who hasn’t already played it. It’s one of those genre-defining experiences that’s made even better by the fact that it forces you to play through with a friend or a loved one. While those who haven’t played it yet may have thought it was strange to see it win Game of the Year at The Game Awards, those who have played it knew why it was chosen and why it deserved the honor. – EA

Resident Evil Village

No matter what you think about Capcom’s decision to take Resident Evil into the first-person perspective, there’s no arguing that Resident Evil Village is a RE game through and through. The game is chock full of disturbing creatures, tense moments, and undead-slaying action. There’s also a very cheeky vampire lady that everyone on social media fell in love with for some reason.

If you’re looking for a great horror game that doesn’t hold back, then I highly recommend checking out Resident Evil Village. The environments within the game are fantastic, and it continues Ethan Winters’ story from the seventh game with a spectacular walk through the villages and castles of Romania, a fantastic change from the backwoods of Lousianna that we explored in Resident Evil 7.

There’s a lot to like about the way that Capcom blends action and survival horror elements in Resident Evil Village. It isn’t the purest form of Resident Evil you’ll find out there, as it has more action than the original games. But, for a series that has evolved and changed a lot over the years, Resident Evil Village feels like the start of a walk back to the roots of what made this series so good in the beginning. – JH

Metroid Dread

The Metroid fans of the world have to be among the most patient gamers around. They’ve been waiting on Metroid Prime 4 for years, but the wait for a new 2D Metroid game has been even longer (assuming we’re not counting the Zero Mission and Samus Returns remakes).

Those 2D Metroid fans finally got what they were waiting for this year in Metroid Dread, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It was an excellent return to form – a phrase you’ll hear more than once in this roundup – for the series, which has mostly relied on spin-offs in recent years.

Metroid Dread pretty much has it all – an excellent map, tight controls, intense combat, challenging boss fights, and plenty of secrets to find. If you’re a Metroid fan, then Metroid Dread is like a dream, and it’s quite possibly the best game released on the Nintendo Switch this year. Shame on Nintendo for making us wait so long for a proper 2D Metroid, but bravo for knocking the first entry in a long time out of the park. Read SlashGear’s full review of Metroid Dread. – EA

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy

I really wasn’t sure what to expect when Square Enix announced that it would be making a game for Guardians of the Galaxy. The result, though, is an absolute masterpiece in writing and design.

In fact, there’s so much to love in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, that I keep finding myself revisiting some of my favorite parts of the game by loading up my old save files. Everything about the game hits home for fans of the comics. The writing, the dialogue, it all feels like it would fit perfectly inside of a Guardians of the Galaxy comic book, and I’m all here for it.

I will say that the game’s combat does get a little old after a while, and a lot of the battles start to feel a bit too samey. That being said, the rest of the game is spectacular and worth experiencing if you’re a fan of the Guardians — whether that be James Gunn’s version or the original comics version of the hero group. – JH

Forza Horizon 5

Forza Horizon 5 is a lot like Forza Horizon 4 and 3, of that there is no doubt. The game modes are very similar, the open world driving feels very familiar, and even many of the characters are the same because they’ve made the jump from the previous games. If you’ve played Forza Horizon 3 or 4 before, you have a good idea of what to expect from Forza Horizon 5.

Well, you do and you don’t, because for as familiar as the gameplay might be, it’s the in-game world that elevates Forza Horizon 5 above its predecessors. Mexico makes for a beautiful location for the Forza Horizon Festival, and driving through Playground’s take on the country hasn’t gotten old yet.

Even though Playground is guilty of playing things a little too safe with Forza Horizon 5, it’s still one of the best open world racing games ever made – if not the best. The developer will want to consider shaking things up a little more dramatically in future entries, but regardless, Forza Horizon 5 is a masterclass in how to make an open world racer not only with compelling gameplay but also with a compelling world. Read SlashGear’s full review of Forza Horizon 5. – EA

Psychonauts 2

We waited 15 years for Psychonauts 2 and it didn’t disappoint. To call this one of the trippiest games of the year would be an understatement, but, to be completely honest, it just wouldn’t have felt the same if it hadn’t been that way.

Like the first Psychonauts, the second title follows Raz, the series’ main protagonist. Raz is able to dive into people’s minds and help them overcome the various mental constructs they might have built up. It’s an interesting idea that’s made even better by the colorful and frantic design that Double Fine has become so known for over the years.

Everything about this action-platformer feels good, from the environments to the music, and even the enemies that you face off against. It’s a perfect callback to the action-platformers that I fell in love with growing up, and an excellent way to continue telling Raz’s story in the unique and delightful world that Double Fine has created. My only hope now is that I don’t have to wait another 15 years for a new Psychonauts game. – JH

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart was one of the highlights of the year for me, and I’m shocked that I haven’t seen it included in more year-end wrap-ups. While the PlayStation 5 has had a few impressive exclusives this year, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is the one that sold me on the vision for the console.

With beautiful visuals, great gameplay, excellent voice acting, and even something of a heartwarming story, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is like a playable Pixar movie. I loved Rift Apart from start to finish, and I’m looking forward to the next game with these characters.

In addition, Rift Apart makes good use of the PS5’s DualSense controller and SSD. It’s a next-gen experience in a sea of cross-generation games, and while I don’t think it’s quite to the level of a system seller, it does deserve a spot on the shelf for anyone who likes action-adventure games. Read SlashGear’s full review of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. – EA

Age of Empires IV

The Age of Empires fanbase can be a hard group to please. While Age of Empires III is a good game in its own right, most fans have stuck with its predecessor, Age of Empires II, for years. Microsoft’s recent Definitive Edition releases in the Age of Empires series only rekindled that love for the franchise – Age of Empires II in particular – and as we approached Age of Empires IV’s release date, many (including myself) were wondering if Microsoft could stick the landing after all these years.

While Age of Empires IV isn’t perfect, it’s a very good entry in the series. Good enough, at least, to pull the Age of Empires II pros away from that game after years and years of playing it. Personally, I’m awful at Age of Empires IV, but even I can see that the gameplay is solid in this entry. It even gives you history lessons as you play through the campaigns! What’s not to love?

Time will tell if those Age of Empires II veterans will ultimately go back to the game they’ve called home for many years, but the fact that many of them are still playing Age of Empires IV as I write this should be a testament to the notion that it’s no mere strategy game. While the graphics have been a point of contention among the fanbase, it’s hard to find too much else to complain about, so this is a big win for a community that has been waiting on a new entry for more than a decade. – EA

Halo Infinite

If I would have told you in July 2020 that Halo Infinite was going to wind up on a best games of the year list, you probably wouldn’t have believed me. The details of Halo Infinite’s troubled development are well known at this point, and if there was any doubt, the campaign demo we saw last year was a solid indication that all was not well with Microsoft’s flagship franchise. The company delayed its game beyond the Xbox Series X launch window, but a year later, Halo Infinite is finally out and it’s clear the decision to delay was the right one.

Halo Infinite’s campaign is quite a departure for the series, being a semi-open world instead of strictly linear. The open world actually adds a lot more to the game than I was expecting, and I’m excited to see what 343 does with it in future campaigns, whether those are added to Halo Infinite as DLC or they’re released as standalone products.

Halo Infinite is definitely the best Halo game 343 Industries has made so far. There are some issues surrounding the free-to-play monetization in the game’s standalone multiplayer mode – in short, it’s too greedy – but the gameplay is absolutely stellar. I’m excited for the future of Halo, which is something I haven’t really felt since Bungie had the reins to this franchise. Let’s just hope that whatever 343 does next with Halo, it includes the Grappleshot, because whew baby that’s a fun tool to use. Read SlashGear’s full review of Halo Infinite. – EA

Valheim

Normally, an early access game wouldn’t make this list by the simple fact that it’s considered unfinished. Valheim, however, is a special case, because even with plenty more work and development ahead of it, there’s already plenty of content to get lost in.

Played with friends, Valheim quickly becomes one of the best survival experiences in gaming at the moment. Its retro-inspired 3D graphics look absolutely beautiful (once you get used to them, at least), and all of the game’s systems work surprisingly well despite the fact that we’d expect an early access title to lack polish.

I am super excited for the future of Valheim, and I think all survival fans should check out this game if they haven’t already. Don’t wait for its full release, just grab the game and dive in. It isn’t often that I recommend that people buy early access games so enthusiastically, but Valheim really is something special. – EA

The remasters, re-releases, and current-gen ports we loved in 2021

In this bonus section, we’ll go over some of the best remasters and re-releases that launched in 2021. Remasters and remakes have become commonplace in the industry, and while some of them can be blatant cash grabs that look to monetize nostalgia and nothing more (looking at you, GTA Trilogy), some of them are made with dedication to the source and become the definitive way to play those games from the past.

First up is Mass Effect Legendary Edition, which might just be the best value in gaming this year. Packing not one but three remasters, Mass Effect Legendary Edition updates one of the best gaming trilogies of all time for modern platforms. It’s true that the first Mass Effect is still a little rough around the edges, but even that game has a compelling story to tell, and it’s just a precursor to the phenomenal Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3. All Mass Effect fans need to take the Legendary Edition for a spin because there’s a lot to love about it.

Square Enix’s Final Fantasy Pixel Remasters also impressed this year, though the biggest problem for us has been finding time to play through all of them. Square Enix’s work to update these games with fresh pixel graphics and a truly awesome remastered soundtrack gracefully ushers these old-school games into the modern era. While we’re still waiting on Final Fantasy VI, the first five games are available on PC and mobile devices. Here’s hoping Square Enix decides to bring them to Xbox, PlayStation, and Switch so our console brothers and sisters get to reexperience these classics for themselves.

Finally, hats off to the folks at Sucker Punch for their work on Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut. Though the Director’s Cut is available on both PS4 and PS5, the latter platform is the one you want. On PS5, the visuals in Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut are simply stunning; there’s no better way to describe them. The combat, as always, is on point while the narrative and art direction seep style. At this point, Sucker Punch could announce another re-release for 2022 and we’d be onboard given how great Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut is.

Wrap-Up

Well, there you have it: SlashGear’s best games of 2021. It’s a long list that could have been even longer, and it’s proof that the games industry had a year filled with solid releases despite the COVID pandemic’s best efforts to derail development. Thanks to all of these delays from the pandemic, we’re expecting an even bigger year in 2022, so get ready because the releases are only going to get better from here.


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