1. Returnal (PS5) – This is both critically and personally my GOTY 2021. Its sound design, smooth gunplay, diverse environments, eerie music, and ambiguous narrative all made this game feel new generation. Of all the games with dual sense and 3d audio integration, Returnal by far makes the best use of it. Most importantly, it’s innovative — mashing together rogue-like, metroidvania, bullet hell, and third person shooter elements together in a way that feels intuitive, satisfying, and challenging. It’s story and lore will keep players analyzing and theorizing for years to come. – 4.75-5/5
2. It Takes Two (PS4&5, Xbox Family, PC) – Hazelight Studios are quickly becoming the holy grail of co-op games. If a free friend pass and coach co-op didn’t sell you, It Takes Two offers a whimsical experience where working together is applied to both gameplay and narrative. There’s so many mechanics and at play making every second of this game feel refreshing and hella fun. – 4.75-5/5
3. Resident Evil VIIIage (PS4&5, Xbox Family, PC) – Capcom could release a Resident Evil game annually and always fall in my top 10 GOTY. The RE Engine excels at making environments creepy, yet beautiful. Resi 8 mashed up gameplay from Resi 7 and Resi 4, but only the first half of the game shined. It’s also a narrative mess, but I still enjoyed exploring. Especially Lady D’s boo….I mean, castle. – 4.25/5
4. Psychonauts 2 (Xbox Family) – This is Creativity: The Game. A narrative about bonds and mental health that’s perfectly woven into gameplay, where a person’s brain becomes the canvas for top notch level design. Every collectible and color scheme is intentional. No two brain levels feel the same, making this gameplay absolutely refreshing. I also really dig the 90s colorful cartoon art style. The combat does still remain somewhat clunky, but this is more a game about puzzle solving and exploration. It’s nice to see a game foster discussion for mental health, in a way that isn’t so heavy. – 4.25/5
5. Kena: Bridge of Spirits (PS4&5, PC) – An animation team comes together and makes their debut game a banger. Ember Labs created a beautiful and serene game that has cute little creatures following you at all times. The story and characters don’t stand out, but the puzzles and gameplay are really fun. Who knew a game with a Pixar skin could be this sweaty on normal mode. Playing it again on Master Difficulty only gave me a deeper appreciation for Kena‘s unforgiving combat. The difficulty scaling is a bit imbalanced and there’s no NG+, but at least there’s an easy mode if you just want to chill. I can’t wait to see Ember Labs next game and how this studio grows. – 3.5/5
Honorable Mentions: Marvels Guardians of the Galaxy, Metroid Dread, Death’s Door, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.
1. Halo Infinite (Xbox Family) – Choosing between Infinite and Forza Horizon 5 was incredibly difficult. But while Horizon has the upper hand with the graphics (over pretty much any game this year), Halo has the added advantage of having a campaign, a strong, emotional component, and possibly the only other multi-player that can beat FH5. – 5/5
2. Forza Horizon 5 (Xbox Family) – I’m lowkey hating naming this #2 and kinda wanna just make a tie for first, but.. moving along! The highest reviewed game of the year did not disappoint. As usual, the series just keeps surpassing itself in every way possible. As stated above, the only reason Halo edged it out was the incredible campaign… It also helps that we see FH a hell of a lot more often than Halo. – 5/5
3. The Artful Escape (Xbox Family, iOS) – This was an unexpected, gorgeous surprise. Visually unlike anything you’ve seen before. I wrote a review, go check it out (God knows nobody did the first time around). – 4.5/5
4. Scarlet Nexus (PS4/5, Xbox Family, PC) – The downside? Not nearly enough of the fantastic, fun combat. The upside? Pretty much everything else. Go check out Dee’s review. – 4.25/5
5. Fights in Tight Spaces (Xbox Family) – Rogue deck builders are pretty much a dime a dozen. I adore them, but there are a lot out there. If you were to put RDB’s in a river and throw a stone, there’d be a 99% you’d hit one with a fantasy setting and monsters– which is probably why this one hooked me so much. The story is paper-thin: you’re an agent tasked with taking down criminal organizations with your fists. And kicks. And blocks, counters, defenses, knives, and grapples. All is in a minimalist 3D style and environments that’ll remind you of Superhot. Definitely check it out if you like the genre. – 4/5
Honorable Mentions: Forgone, Tales of Arise, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, The Ascent, Disco Elysium: The Final Cut.
1. Returnal (PS5) – “There are lessons to be learned in death.” Nothing encapsulates this quote more than what my GOTY, Returnal taught me through my 4+ playthroughs. As soon as Selene stepped foot on the planet Atropos, I knew that I was playing something special with the term “Feel the rain” finally coming to life. Procedurally generated room layouts and random loot pool made every run of this rogue-like different, fun, and challenging. Thus, learning enemy attack patterns, jumping and dashing over and through waves, and explosions of colorful particle effects during combat felt incredibly satisfying. Housemarque really pulled a rabbit out of the hat with this one and I cannot wait to see where they take it next. – 4.75/5
2. It Takes Two (PS4&5, Xbox Family, PC) – This is as close to co-op perfection as it gets. The game mixes in so many genres and ideas with every puzzle and encounter cleverly designed in such a way that “It Takes Two” to solve. If you have anyone close in your life, be it a significant other, offspring, or friend you owe it to both to take them along for this thrilling, funny, and at times very disturbing ride. And with a genius feature like “Friend’s-pass” you really have no excuse. – 4.75/5
3. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart (PS5) – How does Insomniac do it? There’s no denying their very strong output of AAA games over the last couple of years and it only seems like it’s ramping up. Rift Apart is a great showcase for what the PS5 hardware is capable of and the game delivers with visuals looking truly impressive. Combat has also been enhanced by adaptive triggers, haptic feedback, and 3D audio all adding layers of immersion that make you feel and hear your surroundings. Ratchet feels like playing a cartoon movie featuring well-written characters, with the Rivet and Kit backstory being especially good. – 4.75/5
4. Resident Evil VIIIage (PS4&5, Xbox Family, PC) – The Resident Evil formula was shaken up once again following the excellent Resident Evil 7: Biohazard with the protagonist role being “handed” over to Ethan Winters. Featuring a new setting, enemy types and a fresh cast of characters, gamers all over the world didn’t know whether to be scared or “excited” when Lady Dimetrescu made her large appearance on-screen. And the scariest gaming moment of 2021 has to go to House Beneviento, fuck that place! – 4.5/5
5. Kena: Bridge of Spirits (PS4&5, PC) – Have you ever played a game that you just wanted to live inside? This is how I felt about the wonderful world of Kena: Bridge of Spirits with its hobbit-like village houses and cute little Rot creatures that trail behind you and offer assistance in solving puzzles or playfully pose around on nearby objects. Animation, art, and character designs are expertly done and it’s easy to see Ember Lab’s background in cinema animation. But don’t let all the cuteness fool you into thinking this is an easy game, the combat and boss fights can be torturous at times yet very satisfying when you nail down your moves and combos. – 4.25/5
Honorable Mentions: Little Nightmares 2, Subnautica: Below Zero, Inscyption.
-Neil Nessa Smith
1. Forza Horizon 5 (Xbox Family) – I essentially purchased a Halo Special Edition Xbox Series X and Halo Special Edition Elite Wireless 2 Controller to play.. Forza Horizon 5 on Game Pass. No lie, kids. As much spin as I’ve gotten with my #3 GOTY (16+ hours, 48% completion), I’ve had nearly a day of race-time with FH5, the best reviewed and arguably best looking video game of 2021. 500+ pretty cars and wondrous, often breathtaking Mexican landscapes aside, I view this “racer” as so much more than.. views. No, Forza is a lifestyle. Horizon is a place to chill, be with A.I. Drivatars or other folks online — the ultimate pick-up-and-play game when you’ve got a few minutes to drive and not hours to trench; but if you have the time, I promise you’ll never feel the loss of any with Forza Horizon 5. (P.S. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m currently binge-watching the Netflix series Narcos: Mexico.) – 5/5
2. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart (PS5) – The year’s most underrated game has an 88% Metacritic score and a 96% approval rate on Google. Yeah, Insomniac’s long-awaited follow-up to Ratchet & Clank is phenomenal. Rift Apart is a now-gen console game-changer that fully utilizes the PS5’s arguable best component, the DualSense controller. Haptic feedback, adaptive triggers, 3D audio– it’s all wonderful. And the game’s dimensional shifts seamlessly showcase the PlayStation 5’s powerful SSD. With zanily colorful weapons and even more colorful characters and story beats — essentially delivering a Pixaresque movie to video game form — this is a game that should wind up on more Top 5 lists. – 4.75/5
3. Halo Infinite (Xbox Family) – Can easily be my #1 or #2. Hell, it’s Halo’s righteous return to glory! Essentially what Destiny has always wanted to be, with gunplay that feels nearly as great as that Bungie (O.G. Halo devs) franchise; but a far more interesting, concentrated story arc: 20 years of The Master Chief, John 117. Infinite’s open world environment allows for supreme freedom, especially with that new Grapple Hook– it’s just the greatest. So are HI‘s splendid 4K visuals, terrific voice acting (especially Jen Taylor as The Weapon/Cortana), challenging-but-not-impossible boss battles, super militaristic stronghold battles with the Banished, and vehicular traversing that surprisingly won’t make you throw your controller. Oh, the MP is great too, thanks to the option of playing with just bots! – 4.75/5
4. Guilty Gear -Strive- (PS4&5, PC) – GVO 2021’s main evento! As many of you who’ve followed the Geekdom Gamescast/video games department over here at GHG know, the GVO fighting game tournament is very, very important to me. Hell, I hosted the tournament on my birthday during a pandemic. As the first fighting game made for next-gen consoles, -Strive- was a big part of that, and damn does it look ultra eye-pleasing on the PS5. This specific Guilty Gear’s appeal extends to both button-mashing casuals and longtime vets of the franchise. My biggest issue with the game? Unlike GG’s cousin BlazBlue, you can’t fight during the 4.5-hour story campaign. Yeah, that dumb. Still, GGS‘s high metal soundtrack, 4K animations, wildly lively stage backgrounds, and damned near fucking flawless ArcSystem fight mechanics are enough to earn this Top 5 spot. – 4.5/5
5. Deathloop (PS5) – I paid $25 for this. I love Black Friday. Don’t you, too? Much like Guardians of the Galaxy, if it weren’t for the 1-2 Xbox exclusive punch of Forza and Halo, I’d be all over this. Super love the Dishonored-meets-Grindhouse aesthetic, and Jason E. Kelley’s performance as Colt Vahn might be my fav video game voice acting of 2021. If you dig Arkane Studios, don’t sleep on this. – 4.25-4.5/5
Honorable Mentions: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Persona 5 Strikers, Wrestling Empire, Tales of Arise.
Special Shout-Out: Mass Effect: The Legendary Collection.
1. Metroid Dread (Nintendo Switch) – A masterpiece from top to bottom, Metroid Dread is like a souped up mix of Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion with slick graphics and a buttery smooth 60fps. The controls are rock solid, and that’s a good thing, because this is one of the hardest action platformers I have played in a long time. No boss fight ever felt unfair, and the feeling of accomplishment after you finally kick their ass is amazing. With some of the best graphics to be found on the Switch and a kicking rad soundtrack, this was my favorite gaming experience this year. – 5/5
2. Disco Elysium: The Final Cut (PS5, Xbox Family, PC) – A hilarious and quite frankly, jacked up RPG where the only monsters you battle are the ones in your own mind. You play as a junkie detective who went on a bender so intense that he experienced ego loss. No need to fret though, you can create his new personality from scratch and bend it to your will! Full of witty writing, talking ties, and really uncomfortable folding chairs. Oh and disco. Lots of disco. – 5/5
3. It Takes Two (PS4&5, Xbox Family, PC) – Marriage counseling as a two player co-op game! Brought to you by the developers of 2018’s A Way Out, this is a split-screen game that lets two people play together online or in person with couch co-op. Two bickering parents get turned into dolls by a mysterious spell and they have to brave the dangers of their house to get back to their daughter to break the curse. The level design is inspired and even if one player isn’t a seasoned gamer everything is intuitive enough where they can still have a great time! – 4.5/5
4. Everhood (Switch) – One of those artsy fartsy indie games and I loved every second of it! The most obvious comparison is gonna be Undertale (because of the aesthetic) but it’s definitely its own thing. It’s an adventure/rhythm game where you battle strange creatures by dance fighting! The music is fantastic; I would definitely buy this OST. The story is very philosophical, as the entire game is a meditation on death and the afterlife (though not really religious in a specific sense). It’s mostly lighthearted but with a dark nougat center. Super trippy game. – 4/5
5. Astro’s Playroom (PS5) – Officially from 2020, but those lucky enough to score a PS5 this year are very likely familiar with this game– it’s free and automatically downloads to your system the minute you set it up. For a free game the quality is outstanding and it is one of the best ways to get used to all the functions on Sony’s Dualsense controller. It’s also a fun trip through Sony’s history and the music and graphics are top notch! – 4/5
1. Returnal (PS5) – Housemarque knocked it out of the park in their first game for the PlayStation 5, and the first big showcase title for the console. You’ll die a lot and be so frustrated with this bullet hell rougelike, but with each death there’s things you’ll learn for your next trial and progression to your weapons to help push you a little bit further and let you playing. It’s definitely not a game for everyone, but anyone that likes rougelikes needs to give Returnal a shot. – 4.75/5
2. Deathloop (PS4&5, PC) – A welcome surprise after previews and conferences that underwhelmed. But this ended up being one of the most satisfying and fun games to come out this year. Players will gather abilities to help best navigate areas, collect new weapons, find and piece together clues about targets, and figure out what loadout works best. It all gels together wonderfully ..making you want to get as creative as possible in your execution (literally). – 4.5/5
3. Forza Horizon 5 (Xbox Family) – I don’t care for racing games. At all. But after giving the game a try (Thank you Game Pass!), it is such an easily accessible game! A stunning one to look at too. An open world racing game where you have a multitude of races or challenges to take part of and a million different cars, avatar clothes, etc. to collect. And it’s all at your own pace. It’s taken the place of Animal Crossing as my “pick up and play whenever” game. – 4.5/5
4. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (PS4&5, Xbox Family, PC) – Yet another welcome surprise. What could have easily been Square/Disney making a quick buck off of the name, GotG captures the same magic of the movies. All the personalities are there with a memorable story, and your choices throughout the game impact how portions of the story unravel. Gameplay has you filling in Starlord’s shoes as you’ll shoot and use abilities to take down does, as well as directing your 4 other members in combat, which can be a juggling act at times. It’s a fairly linear game, but this is a clear example that sometimes the best games/stories are played that way. – 4.5/5
5. Resident Evil VIIIage (PS4&5, Xbox Family, PC) – The latest entry in the RE franchise is up there with the best in the series. I was a huge fan of RE7 going back to it’s more horror oriented roots. Despite being skeptical, Village manages to maintain the atmospheric horror of the previous game and inject a healthy dose of the refined action from RE4/RE5 into it’s veins. The tension never lets up and neither did the action. It’s a consistent adrenaline rush all the way to the credits, and even beyond those. Any fan of the horror genre shouldn’t miss this. – 4.5/5
Honorable Mentions: Metroid Dread, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, Kena: Bridge of Spirits.
1. Lost Judgment (PS4&5, Xbox Family, PC) – Every idea that RGG studio has had over the last 15-years seems to have been perfected this time out, with the best beat ’em up combat to date. With an ungodly amount of content to tackle, the heart of Lost Judgement is still within its story. And RGG shows a lot of courage, dealing with a very hot button issue in Japan and the world over right now – Bullying. Does it hit its mark all the time with the story? No, but more often than not the story left me speechless and admiring the direction they took with it. Don’t sleep on maybe the best game-playing experience I had all year.. maybe in the last few years, as well. – 5/5
2. Metroid Dread (Switch) – Samus is Back! And that is awesome! This was the game we all hoped it would be when Nintendo announced it earlier this year. From start to finish it is an amazing experience and easily showcases that no one does “Metroidvania” quiet like the people who put the Metroid in the well ya know… Man, just everything here is perfect to me and (yet only 2!?) the combat is just so much fun; Dread feels like stepping back into shoes you thought you outgrew but find they still fit perfectly. The setting, the lore, the story, the team behind this went above and beyond to craft just a magical experience. Don’t listen to the naysayers who say it is too hard; it can be overcome! – 5/5
3. Ys IX: Monstrum Nox (Switch, PS4, PC) – Here I come with my Dark Horse pick. Ys is one of the best action RPG franchises out there, and even at its worst it is pretty damn good. What we got in Monstrum Nox is just the most fluid and responsive action RPG combat ever, with a really deep and rewarding story that kept me playing just out of what the hell would happen next?! And seriously, easily the best soundtrack of 2021 to me. (Go give a listen to Cloaca Maxima on YouTube or something…) Really would love to hear more people give this game a check out on my recommendation. You will not be disappointed. – 4.75/5
4. Shin Megami Tensei V (Switch) – About as perfect to an RPG as I have ever played recently, Atlus has done nothing but improve their series over the last decade and this feels like the ultimate creation of those improvements. All the quality of life upgrades they have put into their games, all the streamlines, it is all here. But it all feels new again. Combat is as fun and challenging as ever and the story as deep and dark as always. Not only is SMTV the best of the franchise, it is also one of the best RPGs ever crafted. – 4.75/5
5. Resident Evil VIIIage (PS4&5, Xbox Family, PC) – A great follow-up to Resident Evil 7, Village feels in a lot of ways like a natural continuation to the series, as if RE7 was the return to survival horror the fan’s wanted while VII feels like another visit to RE4. Almost everything about the presentation screamed love letter to 4 and that isn’t a bad thing. From some great set pieces and some truly horrifying things, Resident Evil Village is a great experience that never overstays its welcome. – 4.5/5
Honorable Mentions: Hitman 3, Inscryption, Rogue Lords, Dyson Sphere Program, Valheim, Death’s Door, Loop Hero.
***GHG’S OVERALL 2021 GAMES OF THE YEAR***
2. Forza Horizon 5
3. Metroid Dread
4. Halo Infinite
5. It Takes Two
Honorable Mentions: Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, Resident Evil VIIIage, Deathloop, Disco Elysium: The Final Cut, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Kena: Bridge of Spirits.
Featured image courtesy of Polygon.