(Featured/banner image via Mega64)
2021 was a year where I was extremely fortunate to get both of the recently released consoles (thanks GameStop Pro membership that I’ll probably cancel in a year!), so my year in gaming was focused mostly on catching up on stuff that was released on new hardware this and last year. It still feels like these machines are next-gen hardware, even though they’ve been out for almost a year and a half at this point since no one can physically buy them in a store still. Hopefully that changes soon, but in the meantime here’s a list of my favorite games from 2021 as well as a list of some of the games I wish I had the time to get into.
1. Metroid Dread
Metroid fans were given an early Christmas present this year when they announced the first side-scrolling Metroid game since 2002’s GBA classic Metroid Fusion. As someone who’s only dipped in and out of the series, but has always appreciated Metroid games for what they’ve contributed to gaming, I was looking forward to hopping into the latest entry in the long-running series. Another collaboration between Metroid: Samus Returns developer Mercury Steam and Nintendo, Dread improves on every aspect of the previous game’s updates and more. The series’ tradition of giving the player a feeling of isolation and fear continues and gets exacerbated by the addition of the game’s new E.M.M.I foes that will stalk the player in certain sections of the game’s maps. Having played Samus Returns on Nintendo 3DS right before getting to touch Metroid Dread, I can say that every update from Mercury Steam’s previous effort is improved on, from the character movement, melee parries, to the full 360° aiming, along with new quality of life improvements to the classic Metroid map and secret finding. I found Metroid Dread challenging but fair, with boss fights asking me to dig into the pattern recognition part of my brain to take each of them down. Each one of these fights felt satisfying in its own way, especially the final one. I’m sure I share the same sentiment as many others in looking forward to seeing what Metroid does next, whether it’s the long-delayed Metroid Prime 4 or hopefully another side-scrolling effort
2. Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart
As one of the to get a hold of a PS5 this year, I was able to get Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, as well as another game on this list, as part of a bundle. I’ve only dipped my toes into the series over the years, having never owned a PS2 and a PS3 much later, with the 2016 reboot/movie tie-in game being the first I got to get my hands on and enjoyed a lot. Being known as a graphics showpiece since the series’ beginnings, Rift Apart is no exception when it comes to being nice to look at. Taking advantage of the PS5 hardware, the game boasts fantastic looking environments and effects, along with having multiple fidelity and performance-boosting modes for those looking to focus on better game performance or graphics. The series tradition of smooth action platforming continues, and has a great story to boot with the addition of alternate reality counterparts in the form of Rivet and Kit (played by video game VA veterans Jennifer Hale and Deborah Wilson).
As a fan of Arkane Studio’s previous effort in the Dishonored series, I was looking forward to this game since its announcement in 2019. The first effort primarily from Arkane Lyon, Deathloop takes the DNA of Arkane’s previous games and infuses them into a pseudo-roguelike FPS where your goal is to figure out how to kill eight visionaries, the game’s ego-fueled main antagonists, in one time-looping day. Along with the visionaries and their devoted followers, your character Colt Vahn has to contend with an assassin with similar abilities to your own named Julianna who invades the level as an online player or the game’s AI through changing the game’s campaign settings. Deathloop was a blast of a sandbox to play around with, allowing more freedom in how to tackle different objectives and felt less punishing when it came to breaking stealth than the Dishonored games. Aside from some technical hiccups and a plot that unfortunately gets less interesting towards the end, this was a great first solo outing for Arkane’s French studio.
4. Astro’s Playroom
Astro’s Playroom is a free pack-in game for the PS5 released in 2020, developed by Sony’s Team Asobi who also worked on 2018’s VR platformer Astro Bot Rescue Mission. I was blown away by what was considered to be a free title, as it was a fantastic introductory showcase for the hardware’s capabilities as well as the DualSense controller. Using the controller’s haptic feedback, you were able to feel the difference between walking on various landscapes, or the grit of trying to walk through a wind tunnel filled with sand. The controller’s adaptive triggers are also used to great effect, with climbing and platforming levels using lighter and harder trigger pulls based on different situations. Astro’s Playroom is also just a fantastic love letter to PlayStation’s legacy, featuring a museum of hardware and gadgets to collect and look at, along with references to the game libraries of each PlayStation console. Each level also features a theme based on the components of the PS5, both visually musically (please listen to the GPU song).
After being in early access for two years, Splitgate hit beta/console release in July of this year. A free-to-play multiplayer arena shooter that very much leans into its “Halo meets Portal” game design, this was a blast to play in a multiplayer landscape without anything like it at the time. Portals can be used to set up traps, create a perfect sniping position, or flank an opposing player in a variety of ways. Players quickly got the hang of Splitgate’s mechanics, which resulted in some of the wildest kills in a shooter I’ve ever seen. While it is free-to-play, I never personally felt pressured to purchase anything while being able to put enough time into the game to earn in-game currency cosmetics and cosmetics. With Halo Infinite’s release a short while ago, it’ll certainly be interesting to see how the future of Splitgate pans out.
6. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
Another 2020 game, Miles Morales’ solitary adventure was another great title in Insomniac Games’ efforts over the past few years as a PlayStation studio. Giving Miles a solo outing was a great idea, and we get a look at being Spider-Man through the eyes of a newer, younger, inexperienced superhero who’s been given the responsibility of protecting NYC while Peter Parker is out of the city. New electricity-based abilities complement the game’s already great combat mechanics, while the wizards at Insomniac continue to do best-in-class graphical and animation work. With Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 coming in 2023, I cannot wait to see how the developer ups their game.
7. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury
While a port of the original Super Mario 3D World would have been good enough to get me to buy it again on Switch, including a new open-world expansion had me sold. Playing the 2013 game again was still a joy, but Bowser’s Fury sells the package in showing a possible future for 3D Mario games. Featuring an open world with several unique hubs that open up the more trinkets you collect, Bowser’s Fury felt like a great blend of a more open game like Super Mario Odyssey, but with collectibles that felt more fulfilling to collect while doing the game’s tight platforming. If Nintendo goes this route with Odyssey’s follow-up, then 3D Mario games will continue to have a bright future.
8. Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139…
As someone who considers Nier Automata one of the best games of the past decade, I was excited when it was announced that the original Nier would be getting a remaster as I had never gotten to play it. Nier Replicant features a graphical overall, updated combat, as well as new story content for fans of the series. An improved version of the 2010 game, it was great to see the original Nier get the love and attention fans had been hoping to see. Aside from some plodding side missions and repeating content multiple times to get new endings, I found this remaster a great way to experience the original game.
9. Halo Infinite
A late addition to this list due to how late in the year it was released (also I was lucky enough to grab a Series X just before the holidays), Infinite takes its place on this list mostly due to its great multiplayer. Going free-to-play on both console and PC was a smart decision, giving players on both platforms easy access to the game’s suite of offerings. The multiplayer feels like the Halo of old, but with just a touch of modern shooter trappings (think Halo 5 meets Halo 3). The triad of grenades, guns, and melee still work just as well as they did since the original and the new weapons, vehicles, and abilities feel awesome to control (please put more grapple hooks in games). I have not had the opportunity to get far into the game’s campaign, but cannot wait to dig deeper into the open world.
10. Alan Wake Remastered
Alan Wake got a remaster back in October of last year, coming to PlayStation platforms for the first time as well. The game’s selling point as a playable Stephen King novel always intrigued me, but I never got around to playing due to the game’s initial mixed response. After seeing the high praise for Remedy’s Control in 2019 along with the potential shared universe with Alan Wake, I decided to give the remaster a go and did not regret it. While still feeling like a third-person shooter from 2010, the horror trappings were still enough to push me through to the end, as well as the included two DLC chapters. With Alan Wake 2 getting announced during The Game Awards late last year and reportedly going full survival horror, I’m excited to see how the sequel shapes up (and finally play Control!)
Games I Wish I Had Got Around to Playing in 2021: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Inscryption, Chicory: A Colorful Tale, Death’s Door, Unsighted, Loop Hero, Unpacking