The Best Games That Came Out in 2021
We’re hurtling towards the end of 2021 and starting our little annual ritual of looking back on everything that’s happened in the year. There have been some big game releases in 2021, although it can’t really compare to last year, which gave us Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Cyberpunk 2077, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, the Final Fantasy 7 remake and Hades. Instead, the general theme of games in 2021 was quality over quantity, with a few standouts really stepping up to represent the year. Here, we’ve compiled some of the best games that were released in 2021, from big titles to indie gems.
This isn’t a ranking — it’s more like a thoughtful list based on what we’ve enjoyed playing and each game’s critical and commercial reception. There’s a mix of single-player and co-op games as well as titles on PC, PlayStation, Xbox and Switch. No matter what kind of game you like, there’s something exceptional from the past year on this list.
Fifteen years after the release of the first game, Psychonauts 2 did the impossible and lived up to everyone’s expectations. Psychonauts 2 keeps everything that made the original game great, like a wild sense of humour, surreal level design and a determination to choose kindness over violence, but it also improves on all of these things. Critics called it a “masterclass in level design” and there’s an ability you can unlock that lets Raz turn his psychic punch into an ability that lets him pat wild animals. Psychonauts 2 is a sweet, funny and memorable game that’s different to anything else you’ve ever played.
More than any other time loop game, Deathloop makes the loop mechanic your biggest challenge and greatest tool. To beat the game, you have to defeat eight targets in a single loop. At first, that’s impossible — your targets are scattered around the island and constantly on the move — but soon you learn to manipulate the loop to get them in the same place at the same time. It’s a thrilling take on the time loop genre, made even better by the supernatural powers you can use. You’ll spend a lot of your time chasing stories across the island during the course of a loop just to discover a little bit more about this strange place, and by the time you finally break the cycle, you’ve learned enough about your targets to feel the full weight of your actions.
Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl
Recent Pokémon games like Sword and Shield and Let’s Go, Pikachu! have modernised the series, and while a lot of the features they’ve introduced have been popular, there’s a lot to be said for the classic Pokémon experience. That’s what Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl give you in the form of a remaster of the 2006 Diamond and Pearl games — classic Pokémon with modern graphics and new mini-games to keep things fresh. Some players are calling Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl a return to true Pokémon form and saying the remaster captures the magic of the series.
The third game in the series that rebooted the Hitman series is also the one that received the highest review scores and generated the most hype from players. Critics called Hitman 3 the “most creative and surprising” game in the trilogy, with huge sandbox levels and multiple ways to approach each target. It also offers fun new ways to experiment with the series’ usual gameplay, like the mission that sees you solve a murder mystery in a grand mansion. It’s all very Knives Out and speaks to the odd delight of the series — this mission reverses the Hitman concept, and instead of discovering awesome and ridiculous ways to assassinate your targets, you figure out how other assassinations were pulled off.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition
Mass Effect is still one of the games we point to when we talk about meaningful decisions (just ignore the ending of Mass Effect 3), and the remastered trilogy proves why it deserves to stay that way. After the disappointment of Mass Effect: Andromeda, the Legendary Edition reminds us why we love Mass Effect: Commander Shepard and their ragtag crew taking down the Reapers against all odds. BioWare could have done more to bring the games up to 2021 standards, but the Mass Effect Legendary Edition is still a good way to experience the trilogy one more time.
It Takes Two
It Takes Two is one of the cutest co-op games ever made. Made by Hazelight Studios, the team that is becoming known for their meaningful co-op experiences, it focuses on two parents on the brink of divorce who are transformed into dolls and have to navigate toy worlds and dreamscapes to return to their bodies and their daughter. If you haven’t already played it, find a friend and download it ASAP.
Life is Strange: True Colours
Life is Strange: True Colours continues the series’ history of telling emotional stories and giving players a meaningful role to play in how that story unravels. This time the story is about Alex Chen, who reunites with her brother after years spent apart in the foster care system only to find him murdered shortly after. Each Life is Strange game gives you a superpower to play with, and this time Alex’s power of empathy lets her feel what others are feeling. True Colours has more in common with Life is Strange 2 than the first game in the series or the Before the Storm standalone game, in that it deals with heavy, mature themes with a surprisingly gentle and tender touch. It feels like the embodiment of everything the series stands for.
Overall, Metroid Dread follows the formula the series has perfected over time, but it throws in enough modern mechanics and quality-of-life fixes to make it feel fresh. It’s a direct sequel to Metroid Fusion and follows Samus as she battles aliens and machines on a deadly alien world. Besides some stealth sections that the game could do without, playing Metroid Dread is like seeing a good friend after years apart.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
Was it a surprise that people weren’t expecting big things from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy? Marvel games don’t exactly have a great track record, but fans were surprised by how endearing and fun this game is! Lots of people praised the banter between the Guardians, which the game plays up with the Huddle ability — a short time out in the middle of the game’s chaotic combat that Star-Lord uses to hype his team-up.
Forza Horizon 5
The latest Forza Horizon game is the series’ best yet, making everything people love about these open-world racing games bigger and better. There are over 500 cars to unlock and a huge map of Mexico to race across, and it’s filled with challenges, story missions and all sorts of races. The social open world is back, as is the battle royale mode, making it easy to jump into an online race against real people and level up your garage collection.