Last year I was all excited about the release of the next generation consoles. The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X were supposed to be these hardware powerhouses that could stand toe-to-toe with even the beefiest of gaming PCs. Ray tracing and solid-state drives were going to revolutionize what developers could build. But then the pandemic hit and a large number of these "next generation" games were delayed into 2021. We are now one year on and some of those games have been delayed into 2022. But of the games that did manage to release this year, the vast majority also came out on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Sure they could load a little faster and the ray tracing was pretty if you were OK with 30 frames per second. But there wasn't anything truly revolutionary.
I'm making it sound like 2021 was a horrible year for video games. It wasn't. Dozens of critically acclaimed titles were released. There are 11 on this list which I thoroughly enjoyed and some of them I played on hardware that was less powerful than my iPhone 13. I was hoping that the PS5 and Xbox Series X were going to be massive leaps forward like the Nintendo 64 and original PlayStation were. But it appears I was far too optimistic. They are marginal upgrades and while they do look much prettier and load much faster, they don't facilitate anything ground breaking. We're in a silver age of game design where we know what our technological limitations are. Now we need to put in the work to design and build these games of our dreams.
Maybe in the next decade photogrammetry or virtual reality or some yet undiscovered technology will be that next leap forward. But for the immediate future game design is king. We can keep churning out sequels and make more uncanny valley human faces, but to stand out in this day and age your game has to be fun at its core.
So let's go take a peek at which games were released this year that I enjoyed the most.
1. Monster Hunter Rise
My most anticipated game of 2021 was Monster Hunter Rise and lo and behold it ended up being my favourite game of 2021.
Most other years I'd say this really shouldn't be a surprise. But to be honest, Monster Hunter Rise is far from the best Monster Hunter game that I have played. I think it is only topping this year's list because it is a great game without any major flaws. Capcom made tons of quality of life improvements to Monster Hunter Rise, particularly around the user interface which is no longer actively hostile. All of the major additions such as grappling, dog companions, and rampage quests are fun. But they really don't matter much in the grand scheme of things. If Capcom removed them in the next Monster Hunter game I honestly don't think I would mind. These additions are more like interesting gimmicks that changed the flavour of this one game rather than massive improvements to the Monster Hunter formula.
Oh one major flaw that I just remembered was the decision to only release Monster Hunter Rise on the Nintendo Switch. It's been well known for years now that the Switch is a horribly underpowered video game console but Monster Hunter Rise is the first game that really showcased to me how bad it was. I could not play it in handheld mode. The performance was unbearable. The PC version is coming out in January 2022 but with my growing backlog and the plethora of games being released next year I don't think I'm going to put more time into Monster Hunter Rise.
Man looking back at these last two paragraphs you'd think I hate this game but I don't, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe the best way to describe it is that Monster Hunter Rise is like really good basic ice cream such as vanilla or chocolate. I fucking love that basic bitch ice cream. I played 88 hours of Monster Hunter Rise this year which eclipsed every other game. But that pales into comparison to other Monster Hunter games were 200-300 hours in a single year were the norm.
2. Control Ultimate Edition
Control is a very polarizing game. Remedy Entertainment is well known for their storytelling and I believe it has gotten better with every game they've released. But on the flip side, I think their combat gameplay has gotten worse with every game they've released. Quantum Break absolutely destroyed me and I had convinced myself that there was no way I would able to able enjoy Control.
But when I saw the Ultimate Edition was free on PS Plus for the month of February and I found myself in a bit of a lull, I thought what the hell and gave it a shot. I am really happy I did because Control is an excellent game.
However, the combat is bad. Let's just get that out of the way. I don't ever remember finding myself enjoying it. But it was just filler between the good stuff which was the story and graphics. Remedy knocked it out of the park with the paranormal world of The Bureau and created some absolutely jaw dropping environments. I was completely lost in the world that they created and found myself wanting to explore every nook and cranny.
I think Control is one of those games that nearly everybody should play.
3. Lost Judgment
Judgment was my 3rd favourite game of 2019 and it looks like its sequel, Lost Judgment, is my 3rd favourite game of 2021.
Lost Judgment matches or exceeds the original in essentially every aspect. The writing, the characters, the environments, the combat, the side-quests, they all transported me to the fantastical realms of Kamurocho and Ijincho. It felt like I was right back in Tokyo again which was an amazing feeling since international travel was essentially impossible this year.
The same caveats I gave for the original still apply to Lost Judgment. It is a game that leans heavily into Japanese culture so if that isn't your cup of tea you're probably going to bounce off it. But if you're a fan of open-world beat 'em ups with a great story that mixes both heavy drama and comedy, you should give Lost Judgment a try.
4. Persona 5 Strikers
I did not think I was going to love Persona 5 Strikers as much as I did. I only started playing it because I was so starved for another Persona game. I figured it would end up being your typical musou that I would tire of in a few hours. Oh how wrong I was.
This is a true Persona game, not some money grubbing spin-off. The combat definitely isn't Persona 5 Strikers strong suit but outside of that you could easily be convinced that this is Persona 5 DLC. That is how strong the storytelling is in this game. After Persona 5 Royal I just wanted to spend more time with the Phantom Thieves and thanks to Persona 5 Strikers I got to road trip across Japan with them.
While I don't always love the games that Arkane Studios makes, I respect the effort and dedication that goes into realizing their vision. They know what kind of games they want to make and, for the most part, don't compromise. Their last two releases, Dishonored 2 and Prey, didn't really grab my attention but they are ludicrously well executed games. With Deathloop, Arkane seemed to finally build something that I could connect with.
Deathloop is not going to be a game for everyone. In fact, a lot of people are probably going to be turned off by the gameplay. But in my mind, Deathloop is an example of a nearly perfectly designed game. Every decision that was made regarding the core gameplay loop flows into one another. Very similar to how I felt about the core gameplay loop of Resident Evil 2 Remake. Sure people can not enjoy this core gameplay loop, but I don't think they would be able to say it is objectively bad. It is just something that does not appeal to them which is fine. Not every video game has to appeal to everybody.
This isn't to say the writing or voice acting is bad. Far from it. Jason E. Kelley and Ozioma Akagha provide absolutely stellar performances as Colt and Julianna. The world of Blackreef is engrossing and beautiful. But this is icing on a perfectly baked cake. If I turned off voice acting and cranked the graphic settings all the way down I would still enjoy Deathloop.
So if you are reading this and haven't yet played Deathloop, I implore you to give it a chance.
6. New Pokémon Snap
There really isn't anything more to be said about New Pokémon Snap. Does the idea of a relaxing drive through a beautiful environment while taking pictures of Pokémon sound enjoyable to you? Cool, then buy New Pokémon Snap.
7. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is another really satisfying entry in the series. It is your stereotypical arcadey third-person shooter. If you like the Ratchet & Clank series or you enjoy over the top mindless shooters then you'll enjoy this game.
But don't buy Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart because it is a PS5 exclusive. Nothing this game does is exclusive to the PS5. It would be possible to run this on the PS4 and the only real thing you'd be missing is the really fast load times. But nothing about the PS5 hardware changes the gameplay.
I highly recommend Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart but just make sure you're going into it with the right expectations.
8. Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town
Last year Animal Crossing: New Horizons was the chillax game for the pandemic. In 2021 I have moved onto Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town. Waking up every morning, tending to my crops, then wandering into town. I just found myself in the mood for one of these chill games one month and thoroughly enjoyed my time in Olive Town.
9. World of Demons
World of Demons is a very simply hack and slash from PlatinumGames for Apple Arcade. I enjoyed the few hours that I put into it and think that if I owned a Backbone controller I'd probably have played more. The biggest issue was that it became repetitive fast. The combat is really smooth which you'd expect from a PlatinumGames' title but it wasn't as deep as their other games. I'm assuming PlatinumGames just didn't put as much time into this as they usually would since it was an Apple Arcade exclusive and the potential audience was relatively narrow.
10. SongPop Party
As someone who loves to brag about being able to identify songs, SongPop Party is the app for me. The only major issue I had with it was their selection of songs was incredibly limited. You're only able to pick very narrow playlists that seem to contain only a couple dozen songs.
Personally I'd love to be able to take my entire Apple Music library and just play random bits of it to see how long it takes me to identify a song. Maybe if I finally get off my ass in 2022 I could program my version of this app.
11. Survival Z
Survival Z is probably a perfect Apple Arcade game. A top-down shooter with light tower defence elements where you'll kill zombies for about five hours before you've completely beaten the game. I played it on my iPad with a PS5 controller connected and it was an excellent little distraction.#GamesOfTheYear