For those who aren’t familiar with how we do things, after over twelve hours of podcast recordings we have come up with the top ten games of 2021. Game of the Year is a time we take quite seriously, and if you want to hear the process, it’s there for all to see and hear. I say “see” because you can see the pain in our eyes in video form when someone tries to cut a game from a list. We all have our own personal top ten games of 2021 as well, and you can read those lists, and all the other content via this link.
Despite everything, games have offered a haven for many this year: us included. So here’s various members of our team talking about the top ten games of 2021 that we selected via our Game of the Year podcast deliberations.
Mick Fraser: I found Returnal tough, yes, but something about its world and protagonist, the understated story and its compelling mystery, kept me going. I need to know why Selene was on that planet, why she was foreced to keep reliving death after death. And I was hooked, on the fluid, almost flawless movement and combat, and the stunning environments and enemy design. A true triumph for Housemarque and one of the PS5’s genuine must-have titles.
Mick Fraser: Having come into this series with the advent of Monster Hunter World, I’m still considered a noob. A couple of thousand hours invested in this franchise is but a drop in the ocean to die-hard veterans. And yet, it says something that World, and by extension Rise, were the games that finally got their hooks into me. I sometimes wish Rise wasn’t developed as a Nintendo Switch exclusive. Seeing what was done with World in terms of graphics and performance is still a little awe-inspiring, and RIse feels almost held back by its hardware. And yet, it’s still dizzyingly fun to play, alone or with friends, and I can’t wait for the upcoming expansion in 2022.
Chris Hyde: I hadn’t played the original Psychonauts game, but I was still intrigued to see how a sequel to a fifteen-year-old game would land. The answer is: incredibly well. Psychonauts 2 offers a bit of everything, there’s decent platforming, upgrade trees, collectibles, a hint of Metroidvania. But all that revolves around a story that was quite interesting even for me as a newcomer and characters that despite looking ridiculous, keep you engaged. It also deals with facets of mental health, emotions, and respect in a really sensible way, without ever letting its zany style stop or clash with it. It’s a delicate balance that somehow sticks the landing, creating an enjoyable, endearing experience. Well worth the 15-year wait!
Mick Fraser: This is Arkane at their finest, using skills they honed developing the Dishonored games to create a brand new world packed to the eyeballs with detail and personality. From the incredible aesthetic and soundtrack to the stellar writing, it’s an incredible adventure that sees protagonist Cole and his fasttalking nemesis Julianna do battle across an island caught in a constant timeloop that sees them living out the same chaotic conflict day-in and day-out. It’s a mesmerising, unique experience.
Adam Cook: Incredible combat in both the single and multiplayer components, gameplay that rewards skill and playing the objective: yes please. The campaign gives you that grappleshot which is just fun from the moment you first use it, until you hang up the controller and watch the credits roll. It doesn’t quite stick the landing, and has the issue that every power or ability after the grapple isn’t even close to as useful, fun, or frankly, good. But even then, if you can teach me a skill in minute one that I still enjoy using in hour 13, I’m a happy boy.
Adam Cook: ’ll make no secret of being a fan of the genre, but Metroid Dread is an absolutely marvelous example of why its beloved. Fast moving, both classical in how you get powers, but also developer MercurySteam varied up the order of powers for the first time. On top of that, the story gets wild at the end, with Nintendo allowing a third-party to write a tale that has massive ramifications for the entire series. The perfect length, the best feeling, amazing design work, and we didn’t even know it existed until halfway through the year. Awesome.
Chris Hyde: A game that no one knew existed until May this year, ends up careering its way towards the top of the list. Metroid Dread from Mercury Steam who after cutting their teeth in the franchise with Samus Returns, are back with a whole new entry in the franchise. And it’s clear they’re hitting their stride in this area. They clearly understand what makes a brilliant 2D Metroid experience: superb movement and dexterity, fluid, well-designed, interconnected levels, and combat that feels responsive and satisfying. All present and correct in Metroid Dread, but the experience goes beyond that.
Chris White: I’d not even heard of Scarlet Nexus at the start of the year. However, it was almost my favourite game this year. It offered two branching stories that intertwined with one another. The combat consistently evolved throughout the campaign and made full use of the controller. Every time I thought they’d perfected the fighting, something new was introduced. Not only is it so good to play, the story and characters felt fleshed out and so well-written. I was hooked until the credits rolled, and never felt bored. Not only that, but the monster design and environments were some of the best I’ve ever seen. I’ll champion this game forever, and it’s going to take something special to beat this as my favourite action RPG of all time.
Chris Hyde: It’s Devil May Cry type endorphins when it lands, and the great thing is Scarlet Nexus knows how to build it up over time. You’ll keep unlocking more combo or ways to tackle foes as you progress, giving you more options to take down these weird-looking enemies. It’s incredibly cathartic and hugely rewarding. Well worth anyone’s time who’s not yet jumped into this one.
Adam Cook: I have never liked a “Tales of” game before. I’ve tried, lord knows I have tried. They always look nice, and have all the JRPG stuff I usually am so in love with, but the combat just never did it for me. Tales of Arise is a ridiculous game. It’s a huge risk and it pays off in spades for Bandai Namco. The combat is more like Devil May Cry than it is Tales of Anything. Combos, movesets, and the fact you can play the entire game as whichever of your party — all of whom have WILDLY different combat mechanics — is just… mind blowing. Tales of Arise is a triumph in a similar way Halo Infinite is: it’s brave of a developer to take a phenomenally popular series and alter it, but it pays off. Bravo.
Chris Hyde: What elevates Tales of Arise is that it excels in so many areas. The combat is the first area to mention in that it feels so fluid, satisfying, and a real upgrade from what has come before in Tales games. What starts as a simple, ground and aerial combo mechanic, quickly becomes about identifying enemy weaknesses, and building separate meters to unleash powerful solo or coop attacks. All of which in the roaring heat of battle (supplemented by superb rousing music) are so satisfying to land, before you quickly, and seamlessly divert your attention to the next unlucky foe. In many ways, it’s reminiscent of Scarlet Nexus in its combat, but the way you can tailor and combine your experience across six unique characters makes Tales of Arise just that little bit more satisfying.
Adam Cook: It always makes me laugh when people say “but it’s just a driving game”. We can all be reductive sometimes, it’s never personal and it’s just the easiest way to use the language we’re given. But Forza Horizon 5’s language is simple, and one word: it’s the language of “fun”. It asks nothing of you other than to have a good time. Want to drive endlessly around Mexico doing nothing but listening to the radio? Cool. Not up for racing, and instead want to smash through everything in sight or break through speed barriers? Also cool. How about massive jumps, every discipline of race you could want, multiplayer that is fun even including a battle royale? Forza Horizon 5 is an astonishing achievement that is as perfect a racing game as I’ve ever played. Even after pouring over a day of my life into it, I’m not done with it. It’s just a racing game? Cool.
Chris White: The handling of each car offered just enough difference to make the 250 plus vehicles feel different. There are tons of races and challenges, an awesome soundtrack, and a great sense of community few games get right. The setting of Mexico was stunning, too. It was the perfect game to dive into for twenty minutes or twenty hours. You could spent as much time as you wanted with it and always find something to do.
Chris Hyde: Everything is so seamless and, frankly, allowed. There are no rules on how to play, when or what. You find your own fun, and options are literally around every turn. The car variety is superb, giving you plenty of options to mess around in, and you may have noticed but it’s bloody beautiful to look at too. Mexico is an awesome sandbox playground to explore with intense variety and diversity from lush jungles areas, to mountains, sand dunes or city streets. It’s been my go-to “chill out” game when I just want to relax and enjoy myself this year. So whilst this is my first Forza Horizon game, if they make more, it certainly won’t be my last.
Game of the Year: 1. It Takes Two
Adam Cook: This game should not exist. It’s the feeling I’ve had ever since I finished playing it the third time. I played with Chris White for preview, then review. Then I played it through with Chris Hyde, and Adam Carroll. I almost felt jealous hearing Lyle and Mick were playing it without me. This game is a truly, truly special experience. It’s up there with Super Mario Odyssey, and honestly, if I had to pick between them… well, I don’t know how I could do that.
Mick Fraser: It’s simple really. It has more heart, charm, and pure unadulterated love than anything I’ve ever played. And I don’t mean the love of the characters; I mean love for videogames. LIke Astro’s Playroom, It Takes Two feels like a love letter to the medium. Josef Fares and Hazelight didn’t set out to make just one game. They set out to make all the games they’d ever wanted to make in one go. It’s something that shouldn’t possibly work, a mish-mashed hodge-podge of titles and styles and genres that nerve stops delivering new experiences, new mechanics, new feelings. I played it through with my daughter in just four sittings and have never laughed or shouted as much through a co-op game. If its cliche or hyperbolic to refer to a game as magical, I’m sorry that I’m not sorry to say that It Takes Two is exactly that: pure, unbridled, video game magic.
Chris Hyde: It’s difficult to know where to start with It Takes Two, really. A co-op-only experience created by a team led by the sometimes Marmite Josef Fares could be enough to have some people tuning out. But what they’d be missing out on is one of the most enjoyable experiences of the year. It’s a compendium of superb individual moments that end up delighting and resonating with you long after they’re over. The attention to detail here is frankly staggering, often bordering on the unnecessary. Hazelight Studios demonstrate not only a high level of competency with It Takes Two, but a level of understanding and awareness of what games can and should be.
Lyle Carr: Perhaps the most impressive thing though about It Takes Two is how playful it is. Mini games you can play against your co-op buddy litter the fantastical worlds, from a simple Whack-A-Mole game to curling or even a full game of chess. Alongside all this joyful interactive optional content, playing through the game is a delight. The platforming is tight, the gameplay beyond varied, and the power ups you get encourage you to work together in truly wondrous ways. I know I’m going to be replaying this game with my partner regularly for the rest of my life, and I cannot wait.
Chris White: The story was at times heart-breaking, but it was also filled with a lot of hope. Divorces can be painful, especially for the children involved. Hazelight were sensitive to this, and highlighted how tough it can be for the children involved. As for May and Cody, their relationship evolves throughout It Takes Two. You see their flaws, their strengths, and that love that once burnt bright between them. To make such a remarkable game that can both be funny and moving takes real talent. It Takes Two deserves all the praise, and it fully deserves to sit at the top of many GOTY lists.
Thanks for all your support this year, here’s to a cracking 2022!