As 2021 comes to a close it is time for the age old tradition of sitting back and recounting my favorite games of the year. 2021 was an interesting year for games one with few heavy hitters but a lot of really good games. Anyway, we’ve got no time for an overly long and thoughtful intro. To the GAMES!
Oh! And I’ve included any games I’ve played this year on the list. So, if you don’t like it…well make your own list.
10. Grand Theft Auto Definitive Edition
I love the PS2 era GTA games and so getting this packaged collection of them all for the current gen systems was a dream come true. Finally playing through GTA 3 or San Andreas for the first time in years was a blast.
Just one held back significantly by the games’ well-publicized bugs and tech issues. The problems were particularly glaring in Grand Theft Auto 3, where multiple game crashes, pop-ins, freezes, slow down, and more plagued my time in Liberty City repeatedly, to say nothing of bizarre lighting and the Definitive Edition missing out on some of the games’ most iconic music.
In the end though, there was just something special about revisiting these landmarks and experiencing Claude, Tommy, and CJ’s stories. For that alone it makes the list.
9. Resident Evil Village
Resident Evil Village simply peaks too early and has to follow up what I think is the best horror game ever in Resident Evil 7. The combined weight of those two things held back RE8 for me.
Even still though, RE8 is a great classic gothic setting and game, one that manages to capture the feeling of constantly being watched, unnerved, and never able to shake the tension in your shoulders the entire time through.
The game brings back some of the sillier and more outlandish elements of the series which worked only so much for me but RE8 at the end of the day was a good entry in the Resident Evil series.
8. Operation: Tango
What a great game. Just as another entry on this list, it’s hard to say where I would have ranked Operation: Tango, or if I would have even played it, outside of my experience with Trevor but what I did play with him was a great fun lighthearted spy adventure.
The dynamic of getting to experience the game from two different points of view, either as the agent on the ground or the hacker behind the scenes is inspired and allows so many great co-op moments with the other player.
Plus as a cool extra perk most of the trophies are named after Bond movies and if that’s not the way to my heart I don’t know what is.
7. Alan Wake Remastered
One of the games I had most been told I should play for years now. When I finally sat down with this remaster I was left with the distinct impression that boy howdy this sure is a PS3/360 era video game.
That’s both a good and bad thing. Without getting too deep in the specifics I think Alan Wake is at its strongest when it’s leaning into the weird and trippy story at its heart and at its weakest when it feels the need to throw another combat section at you.
My favorite description of Alan Wake is that if it was a game made today it would have felt much more free to have ditched most of its combat. That’s largely my review as well, but dang what a weird and wonderful and flawed little game.
6. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Man, if I had played this the year it came out, it would have been in a fierce fight for my game of the year. Giving me so much of what I would want from a Star Wars video game. Cal is a great character to go on this journey and the crew he picks up along the way is even better. The worlds, the themes it explores, and how it helps to flesh out this time period between trilogies all allow Fallen Order to shine.
Then you get to the game’s combat which finally allowed a Souls-like style game to truly click for me. Fallen Order is easily one of my favorite gaming experiences in the past couple of years and it would have been far higher on my list had it come out in 2021.
5. Astro’s Playroom
The other big game that didn’t come out in 2021 that I had to include on my list. This would have been my second favorite game of 2020, behind only the masterful Ghost of Tsushima had I played it that year.
I could rant and rave all day long about how fun and joyful Astro is. Instead I will simply say it is one of the greatest treats for both people who have played games for decades and for those just starting out I’ve ever seen. Pure joy and laughter in a game.
4. It Takes Two
I’m honestly a little shocked at how high this game ultimately got but there really is something special to a solid co-op experience. Getting to play through this whole game with Trevor (check it out on Youtube.com/ThatNerdySite) was a genuine treat and easily one of my fave 2021 gaming memories.
Is the story utterly mad and bonkers and not at all successful in striking the right balance? One hundred percent yes. Is this about as far removed from a family game as possible? Also yes.
But at its heart is an innovative and charming gameplay experience that is constantly changing and dynamic and different for each of the players and yeah, It Takes Two is flawed as hell, but it’s also fun as hell.
It truly does have one of the most traumatic and darkly shocking sections I’ve seen in a game in years though.
3. Hitman 3
Incredible. A chef’s kiss of a game. Hitman 3 simply demands your attention and focus and gives you a gaming experience perfectly delivered.
Man. Just damn what a trilogy of games we’ve gotten.
Deathloop is a masterful example in game design and world building. The dynamic between Colt and Juliana is fun and engaging throughout and the central mystery at the heart of the game, while perhaps not amazing, is engrossing and fun to fall deeper into.
Deathloop started the year as one of my most anticipated games and by the time the year came to a close I was happy to see I was justified in my excitement for it. In some ways the most fun I had with a game in 2021 was with Deathloop. It just misses out on being my game of the year.
2021 Game of the Year – Emily is Away <3
Kyle Seeley is really talented y’all. As someone with much love and adoration for the prior two games in the series, the long awaited 3rd chapter in the Emily is Away series was circled on my calendar from the start of the year.
It was a blast for the whole games team to all be playing through the same game at the same time with each other, all checking on where each one of us was, and then doing soooo much content over the game. Indeed, getting to sit down with Kyle for a That News You Care About was a great joy as I always love the chance to sit down and talk with him.
Kyle was the first ever developer I interviewed and had as a guest on Input. I’ve played these games for 6 years now and have grown a good deal in that time span. It felt utterly fitting then to have Emily is Away <3 being the most emotionally mature, understated, and complex of any of the games in the series up to this point.
For the first time an Emily game is about more than just chasing after the girl. Indeed within the first two chapters, that aspect of the game is over. What this game truly cares about is the nature of navigating a relationship with someone. Of balancing friendships, love, and schoolwork all together and seeing how it holds up. This is a game about a specific time in your life, right as you undergo a massive change in your world and placing you back in those shoes.
Did it help that it basically synced up to my own personal timeline of schooling? Sure. But I honestly think Emily is Away <3 is a game that is just brilliantly crafted. It didn’t hit as emotionally raw and powerful as Emily is Away Too did, but that’s fitting for the kind of the story it is telling and the ending it is pushing towards. For the first time I regret nothing. For the first time I wouldn’t really have changed anything in my playthrough. It was me, and Emily, Matt, and Evelyn all together striving to create one last year together before college and adulthood, and the numerous pulls and tensions of life begin to try to separate us.
I didn’t end up with Emily at the end of the game. For the first time though, I’m happy with that. I’m ok. Emily is Away <3 dared to ask what makes Emily so great, what makes her so worth chasing. The beats and themes of the game and those answers may not work for everyone but they delivered for me and looking back at the trilogy of games Kyle has created, what a wonderful and beautifully fitting note to close out that arc. Emily is Away <3 is my game of the year and a remarkable closing of a 6 year long chapter.