Best of 2021 – Day One: Story, Soundtrack, Performance, Graphics, Design

Over the next eight days, Hardcore Gamer will be revealing its Best of 2021 Awards leading up to our Game of the Year. Today we present you with the Best of Story, Soundtrack, Performance, Technical Graphics and Artistic Design.

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy

Eidos Montreal’s Mary DeMarle is no slouch when it comes to storytelling. Having penned the excellent stories of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, it wasn’t surprising that Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy would have a good story. By the time the credits roll, however, it’s clear that it has an amazing story, one that portrays the cast not as goofballs, but actual characters with story arcs. It combines tragedy and comedy, tear-jerking moments and laugh-out-loud moments, and suspense and surprise to create a rich narrative. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, putting characters at their lowest before raising them up into the triumphant team we know and love. At around twenty hours long, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is about perfect, giving players something to feel throughout. It’ll make you jubilant, sad, excited and hooked until the credits roll. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy does everything a good story should.

Runner-Ups
Bustafellows It Takes Two The Forgotten City Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker

Everhood

It’s not uncommon for a game to offer a figurative double-whammy in its closing segment, perhaps in an attempt to catch its players off-guard, but Everhood might be the first game in a long time to dish out a quadruple-whammy with all the emotional weight that impact would likely deliver. Case in point: “Heavy,” “Reconciliation,” “Euthanasia Rollercoaster,” “Farewell Battle.” Developer Foreign Gnomes and co may have made easy work of carving out a soundtrack as memorable as it was catchy. But Everhood’s brilliance — be it its final moments or simply any one of its prior stand-out encounters – was in its understanding that music, when used in the right way, can be more than just a pleasant accompaniment. It can be uplifting, transcendent, deceptive, maybe even a little comical given the right set-up. Even the shorter one/two minute segments don’t fail in dishing out catchy, electronically-charged riffs. Music so evidently plays a pivotal role in the way encounters unravel throughout the game, but Everhood went one step further in crafting a soundtrack as tonally and structurally versatile as it was emotionally hard-hitting.

Runner-Ups
Shin Megami Tensei V The Artful Escape Tales of Arise Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy

It was always going to be hard to find a cast for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Since 2014, Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana are widely seen as the best interpretations of these characters. Plus, the E3 2021 showing didn’t give many faith that this new non-MCU cast could pull it off. To everyone’s surprise, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy not only put together a stellar cast, but a cast that provided the best performances of the year. Anchored by Jon McLaren’s Star-Lord, the cast works together to provide an authentic look at the group of misfits. Perfectly capable of tugging at your heartstrings or making you laugh, each actor meticulously delivers a powerful range of emotions to effectively bring these characters to life. In fact, we’d dare say that this cast might be better than their MCU counterparts. That’s just how strong the performances are in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

Runner-Ups
Life is Strange: True Colors Deathloop Resident Evil Village Psychonauts 2

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

A year into the latest console generation, PS5 and Xbox Series X|S owners don’t have a lot to show for it. While Demon’s Souls mesmerized at the PS5’s launch, the wait was long for proper current-gen titles that truly take advantage of the new hardware. So when Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart came along as a PS5 exclusive there were high hopes it could deliver that next-gen visual experience. Thankfully, Insomniac Games over-delivered, providing a technically-profound visual experience in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. Packed with both big and little details, Rift Apart is a stunning game filled with beautifully rendered fur, large vistas and meticulously-modeled weapons. As a PS5 showcase, the game beautifully makes use of the console’s hardware to deliver a visual experience not possible on a PS4. Ray-tracing, instantly loading assets from the SSD, and wonderful 3D audio and DualSense optimization take Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart from a great-looking game to something special. 2021 was filled with technically-beautiful games, but none pushed gaming graphics farther than Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.

Runner-Ups
Resident Evil Village Forza Horizon 5 Returnal Call of Duty: Vanguard

Psychonauts 2

Sixteen years ago, the original Psychonauts was easily one of the most visually-creative games of its time. Flash forward to today and its sequel can make the same claim as well. The Mental Worlds in Psychonauts 2 are once again easily the star here when it comes to a feast for the eyes, be it the psychedelic stylings of the PSI King’s Sensorium, the blend of lush greenery and tragic ruins in Bob’s Bottles or the twisted casino/hospital hybrid of Hollis’ Hot Streak. But even outside of them, Double Fine is still able to whip up a cast of creative and (literally) colorful character designs, a world that uses retro aesthetics in subtle yet eye-catching ways and wide open hubs filled with a ton of impressive scenery, especially in the tacky tourist trap of the Questionable Area. And that’s not even getting to the stuff that might act as spoilers. While current gaming technology allows the world of the Psychonauts to look even more impressive, Psychonauts 2 shows that pure imagination when it comes to visuals is still what leads to a work of art.

Runner-Ups
Solar Ash Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy It Takes Two

Continue to Day 2 →