Whatever else you can say about 2021, it’s probably been a slightly better year than 2020. While things have definitely not yet gotten back to normal (and it might be some time before that happens), the world has been slowly approaching a sense of normalcy, and we’re no longer reeling from a sudden, unexpected change of circumstances in the way we were last year.
2021 has also been a slightly better year for the gaming industry, with many companies able to avoid the kind of delays 2020 brought to their work. While the rest of November and December could bring us some surprises, we feel pretty confident in stating what our favourite games of the year have been up until this point. We’ll be using lists created by platforms like Gamerbolt.com for reference as we count down, in no particular order, the 9 best games of 2021 so far.
Returnal knows you’re going to fail. Like the best roguelites, it incorporates your failure into its core gameplay loop, generating random configurations of rooms as the alien planet you’re stuck on shifts and changes around you. So far, so humdrum, but Returnal’s huge production values, operatic (if obscure) narrative, and incredible combat help to elevate it above the usual roguelite fare. Make no mistake, though; unlike many roguelites designed to be played infinitely, Returnal has an ending, and you’ll need to keep your wits about you if you want to reach it.
Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection (PC, PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch)
Konami, take note: this is how you revive an old-school tough-as-nails platformer. Yes, unlike the terribly mediocre Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Resurrection understands what made its parent franchise famous, namely brutally difficult 2D platforming and a colourfully comedic sense of cruel humour. This time around, though, you can fine-tune the difficulty so that things aren’t quite so insurmountable, making Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection a perfect compromise between old-school challenge and modern sensibilities.
Cyber Shadow (PC, PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch)
Yacht Club may not have developed Cyber Shadow, but much like the publisher’s own Shovel Knight, this is a game that understands what made retro gaming so special. This time around, the target to emulate is Ninja Gaiden, but Cyber Shadow manages to surpass its sensei thanks to superior level design, better controls, and a more engaging story. Sure, there are some unfair moments, but if you love pixel-perfect 2D platforming, you’ll adore this game.
The Forgotten City (PC, PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch)
The Forgotten City is testament to the skill and power of the modding community. What was once a Skyrim mod is here given fresh life as a standalone title, complete with a setting change (we’re now in Ancient Rome) and an overhaul to the story and characters. The basic idea remains the same, however: you are stuck in a city in which when one person sins, everyone dies. What follows is a clever, heartfelt story in which you’ll need to use all of the tools at your disposal to uncover the truth.
Inscryption works in a similar vein to games like Undertale or Doki Doki Literature Club, in that it’s very much not what it initially appears to be. We won’t spoil any further, but suffice it to say that if you just want a standard roguelite deckbuilder, you won’t find it in Inscryption. This is as much a psychological horror escape room as it is a card battler, and while the card-battling aspect of the game is certainly solid, it’s not what we’re all here to see. Unsettling, well-balanced, and creatively satisfying, Inscryption is a real sleeper hit.
Hitman 3 (PC, PlayStation, Xbox)
Concluding what developer IO Interactive is calling the “World of Assassination Trilogy”, Hitman 3 offers yet more creative sandbox levels and hilarious ways to dispatch your targets. This time around, Agent 47 can solve a murder mystery in an Agatha Christie-style English manor, evade some goons at a Berlin club, and discover the disturbing truth lying underneath the neon-lit streets of a Chinese city. As ever, Hitman 3 is at its best when you’re taking things in your stride, observing targets and waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
Metroid Dread (Nintendo Switch)
Developer MercurySteam proves itself to be a more than satisfactory custodian for the Metroid series with this, Samus’ twelfth major outing. Dread is far more linear than many of its predecessors, but that enables MercurySteam to craft an atmospheric, tense journey through ill-lit sci-fi corridors and creepy alien biomes. Throughout the whole game, the E.M.M.I robots are an ever-present threat, with Samus forced to evade them in nail-biting stealth sections should she be unfortunate enough to enter their domain.
Like Arkane’s other games, Deathloop is a smart, tightly-coiled puzzle box just waiting for an enterprising player to come along and spring its many traps and surprises. Your goal is simple: kill eight people in order to escape the time loop you’re trapped in. Things get more complicated when you realise you’ve got to do it in a single day, meaning you’ve got to make sure all of them are in the right place at the right time. There’s only one way to do that, but it’s immensely satisfying to figure out what it is.
Resident Evil Village (PC, PlayStation, Xbox)
After the minimalist experiment that was Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Village injects some of the maximalist energy of the series’ later instalments into the formula. You are still Ethan Winters, whose bodily misfortunes beggar belief throughout this game, but you’ve got a little more pep in your arsenal now, and there’s more to explore. Village is often scary, frequently silly, and occasionally very disappointing, but it’s an experimental entry in the series that hopefully indicates where the next game will go.