It’s that time of the year again. As 2021 draws to a close, and 2022 comes hurtling around the corner, we’ve been looking back at this year’s gaming landscape – and what a year it’s been.
2021 saw game developers truly harness the immense power of the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S consoles, with titles that pushed games, both in terms of performance and from a visual perspective, further than we’ve ever seen before. Not to be left out of the party, Nintendo also pushed some boundaries of its own, giving the Nintendo Switch an upgrade with the release of the Switch OLED – though it wasn’t quite the Nintendo Switch Pro we were hoping for.
But there’s no denying the gaming sphere is still feeling the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. PS5 and Xbox Series X/S stock issues remain a barrier to next-gen gaming and numerous delays have pushed blockbusters due to land in 2021 into a 2022 release window.
Despite the circumstances, however, we’ve seen some truly fantastic games released this year. We’ve infiltrated minds, traveled through dimensional rifts, thirsted over a nine-foot-tall vampire lady, and been reunited with our favorite Spartan. But which games have stood out to us the most in 2021?
Well, it’s not been easy, but TRG and TechRadar have come together to thrash out our picks of the best games released this year. Below, we’ve ranked our favorite games in 2021 from 1 to 10 (with 1 being our favorite). These aren’t necessarily the games we think have had the most cultural or technological impact, they’re simply the team’s favorite games from this year. So read on for TechRadar Gaming’s Game of the Year 2021.
Returnal may not be for everyone, but there’s no denying that this PS5 exclusive utilizes the capabilities of Sony’s latest console to its fullest.
Returnal is centered around space pilot Selene, who crashes her ship, Helios, on an alien planet called Atropos. But Atropos is stuck in a time loop, meaning that each time Selene dies – and she will die frequently – she begins a new life cycle starting at the crash site. Equipped with a high-tech suit, Selene sets out to battle her way across Atropos and break the loop, which will allow her to escape.
Developer Housemarque puts its stamp on the roguelike genre with Returnal, blending ever-changing levels and permadeath with an intense third-person shooter experience. The result is a game that’s pretty unpredictable – you never quite know what to expect when you enter the next randomly generated room. With that unpredictability, however, comes a challenge that will either motivate or frustrate you, but it sure is rewarding when you get it right. That’s not only down to the feeling of achievement you get, but also because of Returnal's surprisingly immersive story. As you progress, you begin to piece together Selene’s past and what brought her to Helios, which is just enough motivation to keep you returning for "just one more run..."
But it’s how Returnal utilizes the PS5's technical capabilities that earned it a place on this list. Loading times are seamless and the gentle rumbles of the DualSense controller paired with superb 3D audio effects, when wearing headphones, create an immersive experience similar to VR. It simply feels like a truly next-gen PS5 exclusive.
9. Mario Party Superstars
Ain’t no party like a Mario Party and thankfully Mario Party Superstars is the best the series has been in years.
The latest Mario Party installment takes the best parts of the series and makes them even better, packing in five of the best boards from the N64 era along with 100 great minigames from previous titles. The result is a polished collection of some of the greatest moments from across Mario Party history. It’s a real multiplayer gem, and it finally has online support, too.
By looking to the past, Mario Party Superstars emerges as one of the best entries in the long-running board game series – and it’s the best it’s been for a long time, period.
8. Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart
One of PlayStation’s most dynamic duos made a comeback this year, with Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart.
Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart sees Lombax Ratchet and his trusty robot sidekick Clank trying to chase down the evil Dr. Nefarious through a series of inter-dimensional worlds, following an unfortunate incident with an (aptly named) Dimensionator, which causes rifts to open within worlds.
Rift Apart is brilliant, fast-paced fun that doesn’t take itself too seriously, with tongue-in-cheek humor to entertain the whole family. Somehow, this PS5 exclusive manages to retain the charm and comedic value that we loved in the original titles, but balances these elements with new characters that offer endearing vulnerability.
Rift Apart is an excellent technical showcase of the PS5’s power too, with developer Insomniac Games making great use of the DualSense controller’s haptic feedback and the PlayStation 5’s 3D audio, making every rail grind and hoverboot speed boost feel all the more satisfying.
7. Metroid Dread
Set after the events of Metroid Fusion, Metroid Dread sees Samus embarking on a new mission to discover the source of an unknown video message from Planet ZDR but, upon arrival, it quickly transpires that Samus has been lured to the planet by a formidable foe.
Metroid Dread creates a palpable level of tension, the E.M.M.I (rogue research robots) are unsettling foes and the boss fights are as challenging as Metroid fans would hope for but never feel overly punishing. Thanks to new abilities and weapons, the combat feels fresh and exciting, with timing a crucial element of victory. There are also plenty of secrets to uncover on Planet ZDR, which offers new upgrades and abilities to unlock that will help you progress.
Sure, Metroid Dread doesn’t shake up the formula too much, but it’s definitely a worthy entry in the series and on our Game of the Year list.
6. Psychonauts 2
Psychic acrobat Raz made a comeback this year in the long-awaited, psychedelic sequel to 2005’s Psychonauts – and it was absolutely worth the wait.
Following directly on from Rhombus of Ruin, Psychonauts 2 sees Raz finally get his opportunity to join the ranks of the Psychonauts, an international group of psychic secret agents –well, as an intern at least. Unfortunately, ever since the Psychonauts’ leader was rescued from the grips of an evil dentist (yep), he’s been feeling a bit off… What’s more, there’s a mole in the organization. It’s up to Raz (well, he kind of takes it upon himself) to sniff out the mole and hunt down whoever’s behind this whole mess.
Psychonauts 2 is a hilarious, heartfelt adventure that embraces a humorous and empathic take on mental health while offering unique (and often bizarre) worlds full of collectibles to track down. It’s easily one of the unique games we’ve played this year and the one that managed to have us belly-laughing one minute and emotionally captivated the next.
5. It Takes Two
Things are better when we work together and in Josef Fares' It Takes Two, your only option is to work together.
It Takes Two tells the story of Cody and May, who are planning to get a divorce, much to the dismay of their daughter, Rose. After some magic goings-on, the couple finds themselves embodying two of Rose’s handmade dolls and have no choice but to work together to reach their daughter so they can undo whatever has happened – all while taking relationship advice from an anthropomorphic therapy book that’s determined to get them back together.
It Takes Two is a lot of fun – even if it is a little cheesy and too on the nose at times. It’s easily one of the best co-op games around, though, and takes elements from a variety of different games and intertwines them in a rom-com-like narrative. What we like most about it is its ability to entertain both gamers and non-gamers alike, meaning it offers something for everyone, even kids.
The winner of Game of the Year at The Game Awards 2021, It Takes Two is one of the dark horses of 2021 – who would have thought a game about divorce could be so much fun?
4. Hitman 3
Hitman 3 is the dramatic conclusion to the acclaimed stealth series from IO Interactive – and what a conclusion it is.
The third and final installment in the World of Assassination trilogy, Hitman 3 picks up with Agent 47 following the events of Hitman 2, which saw the genetically engineered assassin and his handler sticking two fingers up to the ICA. This time, Agent 47 is hunting down the Partners, the leaders of a powerful shadow government called Providence, that controls all of the world's affairs. We won’t say any more than that so as not to spoil the story, but Hitman 3 concludes the trilogy plot arc in a fitting – and somewhat surprising – form, with plenty of twists and turns to keep you on your toes.
While Hitman 3 makes some tweaks to the series’ formula when it comes to the story, the stealth, combat and way you assassinate your victims remains almost identical to previous iterations. But it’s the locations that are the star attraction here, mixing up the gameplay with more experimental objectives, which see you doing more than just offing your victims in exotic locations like Argentina, China and Dubai (Dartmoor is our personal favorite).
As a result, this final entry in the trilogy gave us some of the greatest jaw-dropping moments that we’ve ever experienced from IO Interactive’s murder simulator.
We’re into our top three and it was a very close call on which of these games secured the top spot. But ultimately, Arkane’s time-looping shooter Deathloop took the third spot.
Deathloop follows Colt, who wakes up on Blackreef island and finds himself stuck in a time loop. In order to break the loop, Colt must kill eight 'Visionaries' in the same day before midnight. While that may sound like a straightforward task, it's far from it – and that's where the fun begins.
It's up to you to find out new information, weapons and abilities to help you with your murderous task, making Deathloop a mix between a detective game and a first-person shooter, with some stealth thrown in.
Deathloop offers a different take on the time-looping titles that have become popular recently. Each time you work out a piece of the puzzle or seamlessly chain together a string of bloody events, it feels incredibly rewarding. What kept it shy of our top spot was that it can become repetitive by the endgame, and we would have liked to see some variety in enemies.
Saying that, though, the gunplay feels satisfyingly tight and fun (particularly as it utilizes DualSense features), and we loved using the abilities we discovered to kill off Visionaries and their minions in experimental ways.
Deathloop may not necessarily be for everyone, but it certainly offers something a bit different.
2. Halo Infinite
Halo Infinite really should have been on our Game of the Year 2020 list, but due to a year-long delay, what was meant to be a flagship Xbox Series X launch title ended up releasing at the end of 2021. However, we sure are glad that developer 343 Industries held fire on the latest entry in Xbox’s most iconic franchise.
Consisting of a free-to-play multiplayer and a superb campaign mode (purchased separately), Halo Infinite truly revitalizes the Halo series. From the campaign's captivating story, vast map and liberating gameplay, to a multiplayer offering that's hard to put down, 343 Industries created a game that will resonate with veteran Halo fans and inspire a new generation of players.
Halo Infinite’s campaign is the best it's been in years, and that’s largely because it’s gone back to basics and centered the story around three core elements: Master Chief, his relationship with a personal AI, and the battle against a dangerous new threat. Pair that with a stunning open world to explore, which adds a lot more freedom, and new toys like the Grappleshot and the campaign is damn-near perfect. Halo Infinite’s multiplayer is a must-play, too, even if there have been some launch issues. But it shows huge potential and, with the introduction of new seasons, events and playlists, we can only see it improving as time goes on.
1. Resident Evil Village
After much deliberation, our Game of the Year 2021 is Capcom’s Resident Evil Village.
Taking place a few years after the events of Resident Evil 7, Resident Evil Village once again picks up with Ethan Winters, who has been living a quiet life with his wife Mia and newborn baby Rose in Eastern Europe. But following an incident at their new home, Rose is kidnapped and Ethan finds himself in a devout village in the middle of nowhere, desperate to find his baby – but the villagers are… less than welcoming, to say the least.
Resident Evil Village is a worthy successor to the critically acclaimed Resident Evil 7, but while RE7 managed to revive the survival horror roots of the series, Village builds on it with an experience that draws from all the highlights of the series. What results is a Resi game that promises to thrill veteran fans of Resident Evil and delight newcomers alike.
Resident Evil Village is more action-focused than its predecessor – and it's visibly closer to the classic Resident Evil 4 in its moment-to-moment gameplay – but it blends this with the survival horror elements that we love about older entries. Factor in a slew of quality-of-life improvements, a roster of memorable characters, a well-paced and gripping story and superb utilization of in-game audio, and Resident Evil Village has earned its spot as our Game of the Year.
Final Fantasy 14 Online, Forza Horizon 5, Resident Evil 4 VR, and Life is Strange: True Colors