After revealing our awards during the past several days, the biggest day of them all has finally come. That’s right, it’s the end of the road folks and time for us to award our greatest honor: Game of the Year. Both the nominees and winner were not taken lightly, having to exemplify the best of gaming to be named. It was a hard-fought battle, but without further adieu, here’s our top 10 games.
There might be those of you who wonder why Loop Hero wound up here in the Top Ten, given that it only has one win and one nomination elsewhere in this year’s awards. Well while Loop Hero might not be a major contender in the technical areas like the other games here (though not for lack of trying, as it still has some great pixel art and music, among other things), it more than excels in the areas of innovation, gameplay, charm and pure fun, which are they key areas when it comes to what makes one of the year’s best games. It’s the type of game where you can get sucked in for hours on end as you try and figure out the best strategy for surviving to and beating the current boss, the type of game that provides these wondrous new spins on classic genre conventions, the type of game that you can look at and think about how there’s nothing else like it. It’s all of that (and more) which makes Loop Hero one of the best games of 2021.
To put it simply: Everhood is a pitch-perfect example on how you lay out a unique gameplay mechanic. One whose originality and visual application is intriguing, eventually building in complexity and context only to then flip those conventions on their head around the half-way mark. Completely reshaping how later (and even prior) encounters may play out. If Everhood were just a gameplay mechanic-centric success, that would’ve been that. But it’s through the literal combination of soundtrack, visuals and writing that marks Foreign Gnomes’ creation this year as one of 2021’s genuinely one-of-a-kind releases. A game that jumps from being surreal and humorous, to dark and bittersweet without ever feeling disjointed. To say anything more about the nature of its narrative — not least its latter half — or just any one of its musically-led encounters would be to spoil a game chock full of amazingly poignant and engaging sequences. A game bursting at the seams with inventiveness and surprise throughout, Everhood’s seemingly small stature plays host to a release both mechanically stimulating and potentially tear-inducing in equal measure.
It’s hard to believe that six months ago, no one would have thought Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy would be game of the year material. The game’s E3 2021 showing was so lackluster that it was difficult to foresee the game succeeding. We’ve never been so happy to be wrong. Eidos Montreal has managed to craft a game that brilliantly delivers on nearly every front. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy weaves together a galaxy-effecting story, but still manages to keep things personal and develop its characters. Part comedy, part tragedy, the story knows when to lighten up and tug at your heartstrings helped in part by spot-on performances from the cast. Despite not being able to play as Gamora, Rocket, Drax or Groot, Eidos Montreal crafted excellent mechanics that allow each member of the team to shine. The game is gorgeous artistically, finding a fresh, unique look compared to its Marvel Cinematic Universe counterparts that’s both colorful and inventive. Taken all together, Eidos Montreal has delivered one of the best games of 2021 and provided Marvel Entertainment with another gaming win.
To create the year’s best new IP, it takes more than just a lack of a popular franchise. It takes a captivating world that sucks players in, a cast of entertaining characters, unique gameplay elements and more. Luckily, Arkane has a ton of experience in such areas, so it’s no surprise that the world of Blackreef and its inhabitants were able to secure a win here. One of the joys of having time loop as gameplay mechanics is that it allows for more freedom to explore each area and soak everything in, learn more about what’s going on, see if you can’t go for that unique weapon that spices things up, or just see how many people that you can kick off of ledges in a single day. Deathloop brings a ton of variety to the table in several areas and it all adds up to an amazing and original game that easily earns this award.
With Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and A Way Out, Hazelight have been committed to figuring out how video games can experiment with dual-character gameplay and/or co-op in various ways. With It Takes Two, though, they came across their most successful attempt so far. Cody and May’s journey to get back to their normal selves while also exploring their relationship and separation is one filled with a countless amount of ways for two players to have a blast, be it something as major as navigating a maze of dinosaur toys or taking down a giant stuffed toy to minor stuff like playing a handheld tank game that they can come across. The way the game can seamlessly switch up genres and assign each player a different role while still being fun and easy to get used to is incredible, and the puzzle and level designs are top notch. It Takes Two is one of the year’s biggest triumphs and if nothing else can boast the year’s best gaming moment in the form of Cutie the Elephant.
When a developer gets an open-world racing game right, they really get it right. Not only has Playground Games provided the best Forza Horizon to date, they also created a technical masterpiece in terms of a car game. Forza Horizon 5 opened the door for Xbox at the end of the year as it strung together two other releases after this game that nabbed the attention of gamers across the world. Taking place in a scenic wonderland in Mexico, Forza Horizon 5 provided excellent terrain to race on along with some of the latest cars on the market including the Chevrolet Corvette C8. Whether it be a beach, a plateau or the jungle, the scenery was there for whichever type of racing style the player prefers. The team also added new dynamics to the series that helped to make playing the game different from the past.
Telekinetically carrying around living eggs across a deadly obstacle course in order to win on a twisted cooking show. Witnessing the PSI King’s grand musical number upon successfully setting up their concert. Talking to Sam and hearing about her rather…offbeat method of making pancakes. Being reunited with an old friend once Raz learns a new skill with the help of Cassie. The original Psychonauts became a stone cold classic in the eyes of many by serving up so many unforgettable moments. And the sequel somehow managed to deliver even more, with the ones mentioned being a mere sample. Extremely fun and intense platforming action spread across some of the most eye-popping and well-crafted levels in recent years, when mixed with a great sense of humor and a story that can surprisingly deliver twists and gut punches, easily makes for one near-perfect game. And every little part of it will leave an impact, with Psychonauts 2 delivering enough blows to to make it one of the year’s best games, and a successor that’s more than worthy.
Following up on the success of Resident Evil 7 and two other remakes, Resident Evil 8 had a lot to deliver on. There was also a lot of early hype behind what was a marketing home run with Lady Dimitrescu as her presence surely delivered early in the game. Resident Evil Village ended up blending quite a bit of horror lore into one package and living up to Resident Evil standards. It shared the over-the-top storyline the series has become accustomed to while managing to properly blend together a grounded experience. Beautiful visuals and new characters helped define Resident Evil Village and this also includes a set piece to properly provide an atmosphere that the series has offered since the original. Capcom also managed to bring back the series’ Mercenaries Mode for extra content, but the length of Resident Evil Village coupled with the experience and the story no doubt made this a contender for Game of the Year across the board.
You don’t need to be a die-hard fan of the series to acknowledge Metroid Dread’s strengths as an enjoyable, explorative action-adventure full of clever level design and stylish set-pieces alike. But it would be a lie to say Dread doesn’t play off fans’ hopes, dreams and ambitions for a mainline 2.5D entrant so boldly attempting to pick up where 2002’s Metroid Fusion ended. But developer MercurySteam took a decades-old rumor elevated by lofty expectations and delivered. Like Retro Studios’ Prime trilogy, Metroid Dread oozed with a clear, coherent understanding on what has made Metroid so beloved since its inception. A game that builds upon but respects more so the foundation preceding it. Whether that was the world-building — with one of the year’s best “twist” reveals — or the ways series protagonist Samus Aran is portrayed through action and body language alike. Dread in no way feels like the distant, isolated follow-up its chronological placement may imply. Like Super and the original Prime before it, Metroid Dread has with little difficulty risen up the ranks, cementing itself as one of the best entries in the series to date.
What more is there to say about Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart? Over the past few days, we’ve discussed many reasons why Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is such an excellent title. The gameplay is slick, precise and fun with its many inventive guns and gadgets. The visuals are technically gorgeous, detailed and utilize the power of the PS5 to deliver a proper ‘next-gen’ experience. The action is fast-paced, engaging and completely thrilling from start to finish. There’s also the story and performances that are both fun, engaging and filled with comedy and heart-warming moments. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart oozes excellence from every angle thanks to Insomniac Game’s design, gameplay, writing, directing and technical prowess. What truly pushes the game above and beyond its peers this year, however, is the joy, color and hopeful messages the game provides.
After two years of depressing news, being able to play a game capable of exuding so much joy is a real treat. Bouncing around inventive worlds, each with unique layouts and mechanics, never gets old. The colorful cast of new and familiar characters regularly create chuckle-worthy moments. Firing a trove of weird and wacky weapons just to see their wild effects is a joy other shooters can’t replicate. The gorgeous, detailed and colorful visuals are more than enough to brighten a cloudy day. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is excellent, fully delivering a marquee experience that brings fun, joy, action and heart. For all these reasons, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is Hardcore Gamer’s 2021 Game of the Year.