Which Title Will Win in our Battle of the Games of 2021?
2021 has been a year of managing expectations and learning to accept the horrors of 2020 as the new normal. Though coronavirus has ravaged the world, vaccines have offered new hope of people being able to slowly get back to something resembling their former lives. A new president took office with the amusing distinction of being older than any of the old presidents. Many promises were made on climate change at the COP26, though many representatives there clearly had their fingers crossed behind their backs while making them.
As we saw from the Capital Insurrection at the start of the year, the good old institution of democracy has taken a beating from those who don’t like the results. Here at HPP though
we’re celebrating democracy, as the team has gotten together to vote for our best 25 games of the tumultuous year of 2021. Though it’s been hotly contested, we all respect the process, and now all votes have been tabulated, it’s time to count down the list and find out which game will win our coveted crystal joystick!
25. The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante
When I first booted up The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante for a review, I never would have thought I’d be inducting it as one of our best games of the year. It looked like a very dour black and white visual novel that’d be thoroughly depressing in a time that already has too much sorrow. It’s certainly true that much of Sir Brante’s story is bleak, but it’s also a powerful ode to the power of one ordinary person to fight against the overwhelming tides of fate and circumstance to make a difference, even a small one.
Every year of Sir Brante’s life is experienced as he grows up during a time of political and social turmoil. He can grow up to become a priest, a noble or a commoner. Much more importantly though, he can accept or reject the stratified social roles people in his world are assigned altogether. He can fall in love or remain devoted to his work. He can love his family or come to reject them. All through the game though, the limited nature of how much someone can do in one lifetime is enforced. If Sir Brante uses his limited willpower to save a girl from being trampled by horses, this might drain his mental fortitude too much to risk his life to help someone else. All through it though, the game makes no judgement on your choices, they are just the path of one fallible human.
The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante is a remarkable storytelling achievement. Ironically, though the game is rendered in an artful monochrome, none of its frequent moral decisions are completely black and white. Every choice had my mouse wavering over the screen, considering the consequences of my actions. It’s one of those rare gaming narratives that’s equally tragic, challenging and exhilarating. The message I felt came across is: don’t weep for the paths not taken or the limited change one person can make, but choose the life you want to live and live it to the fullest. As painful and filled with sorrow as Sir Brante’s life is, it’s one that’s well worth living through yourself.
- Jonathan Trussler
24. Loop Hero
A world plunged into the endless abyss. An overwhelming darkness swallowing man and mythical beast alike. A Lich King, cackling contentedly at his successfully achieved chaos. A hero, emerging from the bleak, black void, wandering in circles until it all comes back to him.
Loop Hero makes for great gaming bookends for 2021, released in March on PC and in December on the Switch. A deckbuilding pixel art roguelike unlike any other, Loop Hero asks players not to control the hero — rather, his environment, placing both allies and enemies in his path to recreate his stolen world. As the hero makes his rounds in these timeless loops, he marvels at the slow and steady appearances of meadows, mountains, farms, villages, and camps, which give him resources to bring back to the refugees who are slowly recovering from the chaos. Simultaneously, our hero fights his way through the recovered spiders, beasts, vampires, goblins, harpies, and more, each victory bringing him closer to the Lich King and his evil forces that wrought such destruction.
It is your hand that brings back the hero’s world, carefully placing both help and harm in his way. How will you reshape the universe?
- Heather Johnson-Yu
23. Toodee and Topdee
I often struggle to convey exactly why I enjoy indies so much to those who rarely play them. So many people just defer to AAA games without a giant reason to try an indie. But this year, a perfect example of why indies are great was delivered on PC with Toodee & Topdee.
Developed by a pair of brothers, it’s a brain warping twist on the puzzle platformer genre. God’s little helper has gone rogue, and is mashing realms together in unpredictable ways. You can literally transition from 2D to 3D on a whim, and use the game’s titular pals to solve challenging puzzles. They’re mind bending, but in a good way. Enemies behave differently depending on which dimension you’re in, as do the many environmental hazards. These include fire, water, lightning and magical portals.
Perhaps best of all, the game features all sorts of ways to toggle the difficulty up or down to your preference. Add in a creative and humorous plot, devious bosses and well hidden secrets, and you have a real treat.The only negative thing I can even say about Toodee and Topdee is that it’s only on PC, cause I would really love the chance to play this on my Switch. Otherwise, a fantastic indie adventure.
- Josh Speer
22. Blaster Master Zero III
Blaster Master Zero III is one of those rare games that only meets your expectations but exceeds them.
As the finale of Jason and Eve’s story, the game had a lot to live up to while still holding true to the Blaster Master Zero formula that Inti Creates has so lovingly developed. And it does so while improving things! The new weapon system allows you to choose between five guns instead of relying on an overall gun level to access them. Instead, it allows you to level up each of these guns to make them stronger and add additional effects. Though what I do love the most is its story.
The story for Blaster Master Zero III is pretty much everything I was hoping for. It builds up Jason and Eve’s relationship and answers quite a few questions about the mutants you’ve been fighting this whole time. Add in one of the best climaxes, both gameplay-wise and character-wise, and you have an absolute winner in my book.
Also, bonus points for it’s true final boss fight theme being stuck in my head since I played it.
- Benny Carrillio
21. The Caligula Effect 2
The Caligula Effect 2 probably isn’t a game that made it onto everyone’s “Top X Games of 2021” list, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t deserve to be there! A bigger and better version of its predecessor, The Caligula Effect (as well as The Caligula Effect: Overdose), The Caligula Effect 2 is a very solid JRPG all around. While it might not be the most technically advanced game to have come out this year, there’s no denying that its enjoyable turn-based combat–whose unique “Imaginary Chain” mechanic adds in an extra level of strategy for players to mess around with–and deeply compelling story surrounding the darker, more desperate parts of the fragile human psyche, make it a game with plenty of pulling power as well as a game worth trying out for any and all JRPG fans (although you might want to play the first game first).
The Caligula Effect 2 also carries on the tradition of placing a heavy emphasis on music–and, boy, did that focus ever pay off for them. Given that the first The Caligula Effect has what I still consider to be one of my favorite video game OSTs to this date, I had some major expectations for the second game’s soundtrack. Fortunately, The Caligula Effect 2 passed with flying colors. Given how subjective taste in music is, I can’t guarantee that it’ll make the top of everyone’s charts, but, speaking as someone who is pretty darn picky about music in video games, if you even remotely enjoyed the first game’s soundtrack then you’re sure to be pleased by what the second has to offer… You know, on top of it being a fun game with a good story, and stuff.
- Kenny McKee
20. Astalon: Tears of the Earth
Once upon a time in the ancient era known as “1989”, there was a little known Falcom game about a family that was tasked with exploring an interconnected labyrinth beneath their home in order to defeat an evil dragon. It was designed so that only certain family members, through the use of their unique abilities, could explore specific regions and only through the use of all of them at different times could the overall quest goal be accomplished. Though rarely talked about by most, this title became and remained a favorite of mine over the majority of my entire gaming life.
So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that, in 2021, a developer decided to make a game that was largely inspired by this Falcom classic that built upon its inspiration to create a fresh and engaging experience. Astalon: Tears of the Earth is that game and it absolutely does not disappoint. Players are offered three (or more…) characters to explore the depths of a mysterious poison-spewing tower that each play differently and can be upgraded with hidden artifacts to further expand their unique play styles. Discovering new shortcuts and secrets never got old and the amazing soundtrack kept me motivated throughout. Even death, usually the thing that can make or break an enjoyable experience for some, is integral to the game as dying is the only way to purchase from a large boutique of upgrades for the team.
An unexpected and entertaining release that ended well before I had grown tired of the experience, Astalon will be a title that this Poor Player will be getting replays out of for some time to come.
- Pernell Vaughn
Inscryption is the best game I’ve played this year – I’ll tell you, and I’ll tell anyone else who’ll listen. Why? Well, I’ve never played a game like Inscryption, and I doubt you have either, in fact, if you haven’t played it stop reading this now and download and play the game immediately.
But if you’ve played it, stop and appreciate what you’ve experienced: a deck builder, a rogue-lite, a 16-bit RPG, all woven into a deeply unsettling meta-narrative.Yes, Inscryption suffers from pacing issues in its second act, but its first and third acts are outstanding, including Leshy’s Cabin and the deck building mechanics.
I was most intrigued by Inscryption’s story. Clearly, the game is a game about games, their influence on society, perhaps a hint of commentary on crunch culture, with a healthy dollop of creepypasta thrown in for good measure. A few optional secrets round out the recipe for something truly special.
Besides wanting to know the ending, Inscryption’s story made me feel very unsettled, in a way few video games have. It reminded me of reading Goosebumps novels when I was very young, or perhaps, Silence of the Lambs when I was older. I think this was down to how often it broke the fourth wall, as well as the nature of the YouTuber narrative woven throughout it.
Between you and I, I’m slightly disappointed many of my fellow Hey Poor Player brethren didn’t feature this game in their votes for game of the year – I think it’s at least challenging for the top three. But don’t let this slight discourage you – Inscryption is a fantastic game.
- Jon Davis
18. Chicory: A Colorful Tale
Chicory: A Colorful Tale bites off a lot. It wants to deal with heady subjects like depression, jealousy, impostor syndrome, and self-loathing while also being a charming, fun experience which you can enjoy just for its wonderful exploration, clever puzzles, super creative boss battles, wonderful accessibility options, and fun painting gameplay.
That it succeeds at pulling all of these threads together into a satisfying whole is nothing short of miraculous. Chicory spoke to me personally in a way few games have and I suspect most people who have ever struggled with creative output will be able to find a thread that speaks to them as well.
- Andrew Thornton
The latest offering from Dishonored developer Arkane Studios, Deathloop, is a shooter unlike any other. Both stylish and cerebral, this time-looping tour of the mysterious Blackreef Island masterfully mixes punchy combat with a compelling mystery as players aim to assassinate eight antagonists in a single day. Fail to perform that perfect hit, and you’re back at square one, armed with little more than the knowledge you gained on your previous attempt.
It’s an uphill battle, to be sure. However, each botched attempt brings you closer to unraveling the mysteries of the island and its murderous denizens. As you take down your targets across the game’s interconnected map, you’ll learn their schedules so that you can line up the pieces for your final run, as well as amass an arsenal of superhuman powers to help level the playing field. Once you get the ability to do things like teleport, turn invisible, or kill scores of enemies with a single bullet, Deathloop begins to feel like an entirely different game. Watching protagonist Colt Vahn evolve from a mere mortal to a borderline time-hopping demigod during my review playthrough was hands-down one of my greatest gaming experiences of 2021.
It’s only been a few months since Deathloop found its way to the PS5, and I’m already itching for more. Here’s hoping this is just the beginning, and Arkane and Bethesda Softworks send players on another loop down the road.
- Francis DiPersio
16. Lost Judgment
The follow-up to Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s 2019 Yakuza spin-off, Lost Judgment once again puts players in control of Takayuki Yagami, a private eye who finds himself pulled into a vast conspiracy filled with unsavory characters. However, while the story beats and punch-drunk combat will be familiar to fans of the Yakuza series, it’s what Lost Judgment manages to do differently that sets this spin-off apart from the pack.
Without giving away too many spoilers, much of Lost Judgment’s narrative is removed from the neon-lit streets of Kamurocho, as Yagami investigates a rash of bullying incidents at Seiryo High School, located in Yokohama’s Isezaki Ijincho district. This new setting opens the door for all kinds of exciting situations as you complete school stories, which revolve around the school’s various clubs. From leading the robotics team to victory in tense Robot Wars-inspired melees to shredding the skate park with the skaters or even joining a biker gang, there’s just so much to do. And, as you’d expect, these are more than mere distractions. Each school story features the same gripping storytelling you’d expect from the Yakuza series, giving you all the incentive you need to complete even the optional missions.
That’s not to say Lost Judgment’s school segments are the only things the sequel does to stand out from its predecessor. From the addition of parkour and stealth mechanics to even more activities littered around the game’s two cities to keep you busy, Lost Judgment offers enough Ryu Ga Gotoku goodness to guarantee fans of the Yakuza franchise glued to their controllers for dozens of hours.
Sadly, the future of the Judgment series is uncertain due to a dispute between Sega and Kagami actor Takuya Kimura’s talent agency. But if Lost Judgment happens to be the last we see of the scrappy investigator, the franchise is indeed ending on a high note.
- Francis DiPersio
15. Before Your Eyes
How do you talk about a title like Before Your Eyes without giving away what makes it GOTY material? The experience is 2 hours long at most, and its most heartbreakingly impactful reveal is what gives the game its meaning. Saying too much about its storyline sincerely spoils the emotional discovery of the self players experience while blinking their way through someone else’s memories. How do you talk about a game that has made so many weep?
Perhaps it’s wisest to discuss its unique mechanic, as Before Your Eyes implements eye-tracking technology that moves the storyline forward with every blink, memory by memory.
Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that said mechanic is instrumental to the storyline itself, an incredible example of ludonarrative harmony that allowed me to truly find myself in someone else’s shoes.
Perhaps all I can leave you with is the fact that after finishing Before Your Eyes, I threw my glasses off and cradled my face into my hands and sobbed, gut-wrenchingly reminded of our mortal fragility, the grief that comes with the loss of hopes, dreams, and potential, and that life often flashes before your eyes — blink, and you’ll miss it.
- Heather Johnson-Yu
14. Death’s Door
Ever since Breath of the Wild came out, I’ve watched Zelda fans coo about how amazing it was. And while there’s a lot to enjoy, myself and others tend to prefer more traditional entries. So when Devolver Digital and Acid Nerve teamed up for a twisted adventure with Zelda flair, I should have known to be excited.
Death’s Door is a one of a kind adventure with a gloriously weird cast of characters and zany bosses. You play a Reaper on a quest to recover a lost soul, and things get so much more complicated as you play. You’ll face absurd foes, including a Frog King and a Pot Witch, on your quest to uncover the truth. Mixed with the lush visuals and contrast between black and white and color, and it’s easy to get immersed in the action.
The combat is what brings everything together. It has a touch of Souls difficulty, but it’s also forgiving and easy to master. Fight waves of vicious foes, dodge and counter, and use powerful magical spells. An easy contender for GOTY.
- Josh Speer
13. Ys IX: Monstrum Nox
That a series that has been around as long as Ys is still managing to find new ways to mix things up and take the series in new directions is admirable. Even better though is how wonderful the new traversal abilities added to Ys IX: Monstrum Nox feel. Whether you’re running up walls, soaring through the sky, the prison city of Balduq slowly opens up to you, both by providing new areas to explore and letting you reach new parts of old areas.
Throughout Ys IX there’s always something to collect and something to build. You’ll constantly gather new companions to work in your hideout and new resources in order to improve your equipment. These mechanics actually reminded me a lot of Suikoden and that’s about as high a compliment as I can pay to an RPG. The base building isn’t quite as involved as it is there but it still hit me right in my happy place.
While it isn’t perfect, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is one of the best action RPGs I’ve played in recent years. With fantastic combat, a compelling story and characters, and exploration which sits among my favorite in any recent game, after a slow first hour or two it grabbed me and never let go. Whether you’re a series veteran or you’ve never played an Ys game in your life, you’ll find an adventure that’s well worth taking.
- Andrew Thornton
12. Forza Horizon 5
When Forza Horizon first graced the consoles with its lush environments and jaw-dropping car selection, it wanted to find the very best of everything racing and put it into one slick, free-roam realm. It takes a special breed of racing game to tickle the fancies of gearheads and casual gamers alike, but by god did Forza do it with gusto and passion. Forza Horizon 5 stands as the pinnacle of racing, covering all grounds from “as realistic as it gets” to “even grandma can play” with such grandeur and visual fidelity that it could easily be seen as the racing game to end all racing games.
Want to kick off traction control and see some real physical damage pop up when you screw up? You’ve got it! Want to make your cars indestructible and have all comforts and luxuries at your disposal? By all means, go for it! With all of that and everything in between, this game was made to give you what you want out of a racing game. With plentiful rewards in its user-friendly, well thought-out progression system, you’re never without a wicked whip to take on Mexico’s lush jungles and desert highways. Hardly a hiccup or pothole on this road, leaving first place for racing games this year to Forza Horizon 5.
- Cory Clark
11. Mario Party Superstars
Mario Party is back! After what feels like an eternity wandering in the desert and trying to find itself, the premiere party game has returned to test the bonds of your friendships.
Utilizing a series of old boards and mini-games, this is a trip down memory lane done right. Mario Party Superstars updates many board mechanics in order to fix some of the things that drove you nuts in the past (I’m looking at you Peach’s Birthday Cake) while bringing back many old favorites. You know those rotate the control stick games from Mario Party 1? Well, they’re back! And honestly, it’s good to see them return.
If classic Mario Party is one of your favorite jams, then grab some friends and see just how “friendly” you are all when the person in last place trades all your stars with them via Chance Time on the last turn. Ah, Mario Party… How we’ve missed you.
- Benny Carrillio
10. Chivalry 2
I’ve waxed lyrical about a few games this year. Some have been thought-provoking, others have been simply well-designed, but none have let me scream: ‘I soiled meself, and nobody cares’ as I get my head lopped off by an imposing knight in chainmail – apart from Chivalry 2. This Monty Python-esque silliness is peppered throughout the game, and it makes for a rip-roaring experience, especially if you’ve got a couple of mates.
Imagine being transported into the Middle Ages, and placed onto the field of combat, with no real idea what it is you’re fighting for, except you don’t really like those fellows in blue/red.
Then envision you’re playing Battlefield, except once again, it’s the Middle Ages and guns weren’t really a thing, and instead, you’ve got to hack, bludgeon and parry those blue/red fuckers to death.
The result is objective-driven, 64-player pandemonium. You don’t really know what’s exactly going on, but just in front of you, your teammate is missing their arm, screaming wildly, while their opponent is making fart noises. All of a sudden you feel compelled to wildly swing your axe at the horrible arm-chopping bastard, in an effort to avenge your fallen, armless, comrade.
And as you swing your axe, you’ll be surprised at how deep the combat system is in Chivalry 2. After the lengthy opening tutorial – which I recommend you do – you’ll learn to swing horizontally and vertically while moving your head, block, parry, feint and kick your way to success. Chivalry 2 is pure unadulterated fun, and while it may be 10th on this list, I think it’s probably the game I had the most fun with in 2021, and it’ll be one I’ll continue to play this year.
- Jon Davis
9. Metroid Dread
Despite a lack of huge heavy hitters in the AAA space, 2021 was, for me at least, a vintage year for gaming. From thought provoking indie delights like Chicory, to Halo’s triumphant return to form, the number of games that made a lasting impression on me is vast. Rising above everything else however, was Metroid Dread.
The fact that Metroid Dread finally materialized some 15 years after being originally announced was miraculous enough. However, the fact that it turned out as well as it did after those 15 years is absolutely mind-blowing.
Rarely do games stuck in development hell for such a length of time stick their landing, however Metroid Dread does so with incredible confidence and style. Developed by MercurySteam, the same team behind the also fantastic Samus Returns, there was never really any doubt that they would nail the fundamentals of exploration, combat and Samus’ satisfying moveset. Where the doubt did creep in as release drew closer and we found out more about the game, was around how well they would build this game around the flagship new addition; The E.M.M.I’s.
As it turns out, this caution was completely misplaced, as the E.M.M.I’s and their inclusion helped turn a great Metroid experience into my favourite title in the series to date. Each encounter with an E.M.M.I turns into a pulse pounding action-platforming puzzle, as you are forced to use every tool in Samus’ arsenal to avoid these new threats until you come back later, equipped to take them out. I struggle to think of a gaming experience in 2021 that provided me with as much gratification as I felt when turning an E.M.M.I to dust, who had spent the previous couple of hours terrorizing my playthrough.
Add onto all of the above the perfect pacing, expertly crafted boss battles and a gut-wrenching narrative conclusion to a story decades in the making, and Metroid Dread is honestly as close to a perfect game as I think I have experienced in quite some time.
- Shane Doyle
8. NEO: The World Ends With You
The World Ends With You rocked the Nintendo DS ten years ago with a unique combat, thrilling story, and absolutely killer soundtrack. It’s safe to say that all of that is cranked up to eleven with the sequel. NEO: The World Ends With You dares to dream in 3D, painting a flourishing, bustling Shibuya that’s rife with eye candy to devour at every corner. The combat, while far simpler than its predecessor, still strikes a fine balance of easy-to-learn but hard-to-master.
Most importantly, Takeharu Ishimoto takes the reins again to provide my vote for the best damn soundtrack I’ve heard all year. Add some stellar voiceover work, a thrilling tale filled with new and returning characters, and a gorgeous little chunk of Japan to play in, and you’ve got a recipe for one simply fantastic JRPG.
- Cory Clark
7. Pokemon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl
The decision to place Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl within HPP’s top 10 games of 2021 is controversial enough that some people might be less-than-Happiny about it. And, for those who you are Garchomp-ing at the bit to tell us how Purugly our list looks with BDSP sitting up as high as it is, I totally get it. But, we like what we like, and the decision to agree is just Phione by me.
I have extremely fond memories of the original Gen IV games, as do many a Palkia of mine, and There was no way that I was going to Probopass on their remakes—Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. I especially remember how excited I was when I learned that they were going to be as faithful as possible to the original versions, and, upon finally Shinx-ing my teeth into my very own copy of Shining Pearl, found myself immersed in a comfortable experience that, in my opinion, very skillfully combined newer Pokémon elements without compro-Mime (Jr.)-ing the original elements that made the Gen IV games what they were. Sure, it might not have all of the bells and whistles that the staple Gen VIII games, Sword and Shield-on, have—and their decision to leave out the myriad of de-Luxray features found within Platinum has me Hippopotas-king why they’d deprive us of such wonderful things just as much as the next person. Despite any imperfections, however, I just Gastro-don’t think that I can do anything but ultimately praise the game for what it was. Diamond and Pearl were Glameow-orous when they originally came out, and Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, in my opinion, are just as solid!
- Kenny McKee
6. Halo Infinite
In the afterglow of finally getting the Halo so many of us dreamed of for the last decade, its easy to forget how unlikely this all was. 343 Industries spent the last decade trying to get the Halo formula right since taking the series over from Bungie and while there have been moments that worked, the series had fallen out of favor among many players. Years of delay, the last caused by public backlash to a poor showing, didn’t fill many of us with hope that Halo Infinite could turn it all around.
Somehow though, Halo Infinite is the game so many of us wanted. There’s a fun campaign to play, incredible multiplayer which continues to steal far too many hours from my life, and there’s still more to come. Fans may miss modes which didn’t make the launch period and will have to be added in later such as co-op and the forge, but what’s here is undoubtedly one of 2021’s best games. The most impressive part of Halo Infinite may be how thoroughly it nails the feel of Halo. Despite years of updates and new modes, it still reminds me of the game I’ve loved since 2001. After years of not getting that from the series, it’s like going home. For the next title in the series I’ll be hoping 343 Industries takes a few more risks, but after so many years of struggling to get it right, giving players a modern version of the game they remember was the right way to go.
- Andrew Thornton
5. The Forgotten City
Games resonate with us for a variety of reasons: to connect us with others, to relieve our stress, to take us to exciting new places. But a game of GOTY caliber should do all those things and more — it should challenge us to grow and encourage new ways of thinking. The Forgotten City is one of the few games I’ve played in my lifetime that not only provides a scintillating story with interesting puzzles and dazzling art direction, but demands players consider its philosophical underpinning — one that can genuinely influence how we should view our place society and treat others.
Originally an award-wining Skyrim mod, the combat-optional first-person adventure The Forgotten City was redeveloped into a standalone title by a core team of three people. Replacing its Elder Scrolls base with ancient Roman history, The Forgotten City maintains its original idea of a hidden community held together by a single law: The many shall suffer for the sins of the one. The inverse is perhaps a bit more palatable — as long as no one commits any crimes, no one in this cursed city will die. Of course, that begs the question — what constitutes a crime? Surely murder and theft is wrong, but what of price-gouging? Debt-bondage? Worshiping the wrong deity? What if the person perpetrating an objectively harmful deed is mentally incapable of understanding right from wrong? Is a lone hermit capable of unethical actions, or is a society required for ethics to exist? All of these questions and more are posited but never truly answered, instead left for the player to ruminate over and conclude for themselves.
Released during a pandemic, The Forgotten City is an impactful reminder that we are not islands and that our actions affect each other in ways we may not always see or even understand. Presenting different belief systems held through time against each other that interact in both collaborative and caustic ways, The Forgotten City argues that morality is not a constant and instead challenges us to consider what it really means to live by the Golden Rule.
- Heather Johnson- Yu
4. Psychonauts 2
It’s impressive that Double Fine insisted on making a sequel to a sixteen year old game which underperformed even at the time. Even more impressive is that this sequel ended up being one of the best games of 2021.
Psychonauts 2 offers everything you could want from a modern action platformer. A charming story with a wonderful cast of characters. Creative visual design which makes each new area feel fresh and wondrous. Tight controls that help you navigate the game’s cleverly designed levels and a wide variety of satisfying puzzles to use along the way.
Double Fine have always brought creativity and wonder to all of their games but Psychonauts 2 feels like the game they’ve been trying to make for over twenty years. It gets almost everything right and shows what a studio of this talent has the resources they need to really explore that creativity. If this is what we can expect from their future now that they’ve been acquired by Microsoft, then the future is bright.
- Andrew Thornton
Returnal was one of the first true exclusives to arrive on the PlayStation 5, at a time when Sony sorely needed one to make a splash. With big hitters like God of War Ragnarok and Horizon Forbidden West relegated to release in 2022, developer Housemarque stepped up to deliver – and oh boy – they certainly did!
With no previous experience of releasing a triple-A game, Returnal is an imperious statement of intent from Housemarque. Its graphics are perhaps some of the prettiest on the PlayStation 5, but it’s the combat that impressed me the most. Clearly, the team at the Helsinki-based studio have learned extensively from their previous titles Resogun and Nex Machina to produce a pulsating, tight and exhilarating combat experience that rewards good timing and precision.
This barnstorming combat loop is married with rogue-like mechanics, which unveil additional gameplay elements, as well as an intriguing story. Main character Selene crash lands on the alien planet Atropos, where within the first couple of minutes she finds her own body, seemingly dead, and lifeless for quite some time. You’ll quickly die, and begin the same loop, again and again, only this time it’ll be slightly different to the run you’ve experienced previously, with more plot doled out.
Coupled with some smart boss design, and the high-risk, high-reward stakes of pushing a cycle to its limit, Returnal is a compelling experience.
While I don’t think Returnal has the same sort of pull as a title like The Last of Us, Uncharted or Horizon, the rogue-like third-person shooter is the sort of game you must experience in an industry that’s becoming increasingly risk-averse.
- Jon Davis
2. Shin Megami Tensei V
Shin Megami Tensei V is, without a doubt, one of 2021’s best titles, and those of you out there familiar with the game shouldn’t be clueless as to why that is. Naturally, SMTV brought with it everything that players have already come to love about the MegaTen franchise with it, what with its heavy story, intense combat, looming sense of ethereal dread that the series has been known for for so long. And, in terms of utilizing what’s already been there, SMTV did a great job. ATLUS saw fit to only make minor adjustments here and there to the core parts of its gameplay–the combat and demon collecting–resulting in something that both felt comfortably smooth and familiar while also offering a smattering of new and fun surprises here and there.
Not everything in SMTV is old hat (and I say that as lovingly as possible), however. The game took some incredibly bold steps when it come to world-building and player exploration. Admittedly, the abundance of platforming required of platformers feels a little strange in a core Shin Megami Tensei title, but, overall, I’ve got nothing but good things to say about the wonderfully horrifying world of Da’at. Shin Megami Tensei V was undoubtedly ATLUS’ biggest SMT adventure to-date (and quite possibly its best!), and left me feeling quite confident that things will only continue to get more exciting from here.
- Kenny McKee
1. Resident Evil: Village – Jonathan
Resident Evil: Village made an impression right from the very start. When people saw that first trailer of the towering vampiress Lady Dimetresceau stalking protagonist Ethan Winters around a lavishly decorated mansion, people’s excitement spiked (as did their libidos). However, even though the aristocratic Lady Dimetresceau became Twitter’s “Dommy Mommy ” and really defined the game on social media, she’s just one of the many villains causing grief for poor old Ethan. Anyone can see from the design of the antagonists and their domains just how much twisted love and care has gone into designing them: from the cybernetic body horror hell of Heisenberg’s factory to the mad dollhouse of House Beneviento. Every room and location is packed with secrets and goodies to find. Each villain’s realm even has an ornately crafted pinball game to take a break from the survival horror to win prizes! Those worrying that the intense scares mean a departure from Resi’s signature moments of wacky fun need not fret!
The fast-moving narrative packs in many unexpected surprises with moments of genuine tragedy and heartbreak contrasting with the campy, exaggerated villains. Much like Resident Evil VII before it, Village combines genuine horror scares with intense gunplay action more seamlessly than you’d ever think possible. One moment you’re barreling down a corridor, ducking and diving away from giant threshing machines and the next you’re hiding from a horrific mutated baby. Then there’s the majority of the game, where you’ve got access to a full arsenal of weapons. Whether it’s a sniper rifle taking down a gargoyle from a hundred meters or a grenade launcher obliterating a pack of werewolves, every armament is intensely satisfying.
It’s stunning to look at and exhilarating to play, and that’s why the latest iteration of Resident Evil claims the title of our Game of the Year for 2021. Though there’s been some stiff competition this year, Resident Evil: Village towers above the rest in a way that’s equal parts scary and alluring just like Lady Dimetresceau herself. As she grabs our crystal joystick for a well-deserved win, let’s just hope she doesn’t scratch it with those sharpened talons!
- Jonathan Trussler
That’s a wrap for another year, folks! What did you think of our list? What were some of your favorite games of the year? Sound off in the comments section below or join our Discord to rap some more about it with the HPP team.