As fast as 2020 went, 2021 was even quicker, as incomprehensible as that still seems. It was another off year outside of gaming, with the world still coming to terms with the plague and the incompetence of folks who prolong this all. Actually, 2021 was an off year for gaming as well, or at least when it comes to original IP’s and sequels.
2021 was dominated by an up-ticking trend as of late: re-releases. Either games have been straight re-released, games have been remastered, or games have been remade. This has been a growing trend over the last few years, but 2021 is by far the most blatant showing. That’s not to say the year in gaming was a flop because of it – some exciting and worthwhile games have been released, whether they were brand new titles, a sequel, or an aforementioned re-release.
Because I am human, I have not played every game released this year, as with every year. For more context, here’s a list of major game releases that I haven’t played at all this year:
- Deathloop – while it’s already had a deep discount (never buy an Arkane, Ubisoft or most EA games at launch unless these are heavily anticipated titles by you, since they always go on sale for up to 50% off within 2-6 weeks of release), I’m still waiting it out some
- Call of Duty Vanguard – I can boot up a CoD from 10 years ago and basically experience the same exact thing for free (okay, it’s evolved beyond what it was on MW2 but really, it’s the same thing with different weapons and perks between them)
- Battlefield 2042 – no desire to play it
- Resident Evil Village – still need to play RE7
- Returnal – zero interest in it
- Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart – never really played any of the franchise previously, nothing about it made me want to change that
- Lost Judgment – still playing through the first game
Now here’s a list of games that I own and haven’t played yet, or own but haven’t put enough time into, that were released in 2021:
- Tales of Arise
- Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker
- Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster
- Solasta: Crown of the Magister
- Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous
- Alan Wake Remastered
- NEO: The World Ends With You
- Metroid Dread
- Bravely Default 2
- Pokemon Brilliant Diamond
- Caligula Effect 2
- Castlevania Advance Collection
- Shin Megami Tensei V
With all that out of the way, here were the five best games I played in 2021 (two weren’t even originally released this year):
5. Halo Infinite – Campaign (XSX)
As someone who has never liked the Halo franchise, though did enjoy legendary co-op of Halo 3 and most of Halo Reach at launch (replayed the latter recently, and it’s pretty bland, sans the still awesome space combat), I had little desire to give Halo Infinite a try. I heard it had an open world to it, and since it was on Game Pass day one, I said sure, why not? Infinite ended up being by far the best Halo game I’ve played, and has some of the best gunplay in the genre. Although the game basically ends where it felt like it was just beginning, the open world was a neat twist to the franchise, and the audio is phenomenal. Never liked Halo previously and have Game Pass? I highly recommend giving it a chance. You might actually be surprised.
4. Mass Effect Legendary Edition (XSX)
While the lack of 3’s multiplayer was a bit depressing (and would have easily gotten a 10 if it was intact), the rest of the package was far from it. 120fps on Series X, better use of lighting, particles and such, and the slicker look overall sold this package ten times over. Three of the greatest games in one package, and far and away my all-time favorite franchise. There’s absolutely no excuse not to give this series a try, in arguably its finest form.
3. Forza Horizon 5 (XSX)
Having never played a Forza title before, I decided to give it a shot, since the holiday releases were severely lacking in general. I was hooked instantly. I’ve never been a big racing game fan outside kart racers, but Forza Horizon 5 just does everything right, and next to nothing wrong. It’s the most chill game, where you can just zone out while driving around the massive, gorgeous game world. I’m happy that not only did I give this a chance, but that Game Pass is a thing, and I likely would never have tried it otherwise. An absolute gem.
2. Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS5)
Rating: 9.6 (10 stream round up)
Two years in a row? Blasphemy! It’s the same game as last year, re-released with PS5 upgrades and the bonus chapter (have not played yet, will get around to it in the coming months). What really makes this even more enjoyable than the first time through is the 60fps, which seems tailor made for the experience, and was sorely missing previously. It’s crazy how much more I love this than the PS1 release, primarily because in Remake, characters have more time to be fleshed out, whereas the OG version, the characters were miserable and utterly unlikable. Still a must play/own game, now for current gen. That third act of the game….woooooooooow!
1. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (XSX)
Rating: 9.7 (10 stream round up)
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a depressing success. It’s a phenomenal experience from beginning to end that will under perform because it came after Marvel’s Avengers. That means even though there will be enough word of mouth to go around singing its praises, Guardians will ultimately not reach as many gamers as it should, due to a mixture of terrible promotion by Square Enix, as well as following a game that turned many gamers off from even considering giving this a shot. This might be one of the biggest shames I’ve seen in gaming.
Guardians to me, is the end-all-be-all of comic book licensed video games. A storyline, script and voice acting worthy of a movie adaptation, gameplay that’s simplistic but grows on you as time passes, one of the best soundtracks ever (and set pieces that play off its magnificence) and a top notch pacing that very few games manage to pull off, all in one package.
I haven’t felt so enamored with a video game since Yakuza Like A Dragon, which was my game of the year for 2020, and to an extent, Final Fantasy VII Remake. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is everything that I love about gaming, that was released at the wrong time. It should have been this first and then Avengers. At least that way there would have been a bigger chance (with better promotion as well) that gamers would have given this a chance. Let my high praise spark a light of interest in you that this is worth playing, and not only is it worth playing, but it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played.