Game Infinite's Top Ten Games of 2021
To say that 2021 was a weird year for game releases is to be a little bit of an understatement. 2020 was a year that needs to no introduction, but for gaming, many projects were close to completion when the pandemic hit, and many games were able to still release, and some that probably should have been delayed, released anyway. What COVID did to 2021 was cause a shockwave in release calendars, pushing record amounts of projects out of 2021 and into 2022. In fact, months into 2021, my top ten list so far I keep throughout the year was really really bare. I don't mean to take away from the games on this list, 2021 was far from a "bad year" in games, it was just very...different. In the absence of many much anticipated big AAA titles, it left me more space to play different genre's I wouldn't have played otherwise. There are a couple games on this list that I would have skipped or fell below the radar if this had been a "normal year". Games like Back4Blood, Tales of Arise, or Scarlet Nexus are games I maybe wouldn't have invested in normally, but I am glad I did! In addition to many 2022 delays, 2021 also gave rise to more gaming controversies as more game companies have been exposed for their toxic working environments. Games that would have otherwise occupied some of my time like Call of Duty and Battlefield, I chose not to support, and launched in garbage states to critical failure. This year allowed for me to play more indie games, new genres, and it allowed me to revisit even more games. Followers of GI can look forward to our Top 10 Indie Games list, but also a new list, Top Revisits of 2021, celebrating remasters, DLC, and live service games that filled the void in quiet new release months.
This list may contain a few indie games or the GI Indie GOTY, but will "focus on AAA titles", while a separate list for Top Indie Games 2021 will be done separately. I highly recommend those games as well. Also, Remasters, DLC, and previous year live service games are all disqualified, and go in our separate new list "Best Revists 2021".
RULES for our annual Top 10 List:
- December 1st 2020 - December 1st 2021 eligible. (Halo Infinite and Solar Ash are examples as anticipated titles eligible for 2022 lists)
- The majority of our Indie Picks are going in a separate list. This list has a partial focus on AAA. The AAA Focus does not diminish the quality of those games not present. This was done to limit the list to 10.
- Remakes are allowed but remasters, DLC, seasons, are not, they go on a different list.
- Both Early Access and current year 1.0 releases allowed.
- If a game released in a prior year, but made it's first "notable, arguable, cultural" impact in current year it may be allowed. If it can be argued this game was not "discoverd" by the masses until current year, it is allowed.
- Major console releases may be allowed if that game was only available on PC in prior years, HOWEVER, Next-Gen Ports such as PS5 and XSX versions of previous year PS4 and Xbox One games are ineligible for list, treated same as remasters.
10. Naraka: Bladepoint - 8/10
It is possible you haven't heard of this Battle Royale game, and if you haven't it is worth a try. I know some of you may already groan at the words " Battle Royale" and I can understand that. Quickly rising up the ranks of zombie game statues is just how many "samey" looking pubs clones there are, and games wanting to capture on that Battle Royale money, but Naraka isn't that. It looks unique and fresh, and plays solid. While it might be a Battle Royale in concept, it doesn't feel like the many other BR's out there. In addition to solid fun fast gameplay, it has great character models with cool and unique designs. Our favorite was Matari who actually made it onto our Top 10 New Characters List. Give Naraka a chance if you haven't yet.
9. Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart - 9/10
Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart is a game that managed to change my mind on something. Before Ratchet and Clank, I was yet to be convinced about the need right now for next-gen only titles. The Xbox One and PS4 generation had proven plenty powerful enough to give us graphical powerhouses such as Last of Us 2 or Assassin's Creed Origins. Even the weaker Nintendo Switch was delivering beautiful games like Breath of the Wild. I was yet to be convinced that game development had progressed to a point that they could be made I a way that would not be possible on these older consoles. Sure the XSX and PS5 could make games better, but did we really need next-gen only titles already? Well Ratchet and Clank was the game that convinced me that next-gen titles could already be here. The game really takes advantage of the SSD in PS5 to take new approaches to level design that just weren't possible before. The SSD architecture means the game can instantly load worlds and environments in a faster way, allowing for next-gen level design.
Ratchet and Clank was more than just a PS5 tech showcase however. It had quality characters, fun likable characters, and a fun adventure that kept you engaged.
8. Scarlet Nexus - 9/10
I said Scarlet Nexus is the best Non-Star Wars, Star Wars game I have ever played. In my impressions review, I stated how much I fell in love with the telekinetic combat that honestly does telekinetic powers better than almost any other game to date. It balances control with chaotic fun that just works. I stated how much this game makes me want to see a Star Wars game adapt this style for Force Powers, or straight up give us a Star Wars JRPG.
That aside, Scarlet Nexus is a phenomenal anime inspired action game that delivers fun characters, solid combat, and innovative abilities. Even if you don't normally play JRPG's this game is a solid place to start.
7. Bright Memory Infinite - 8/10
Bright Memory Infinite is the full 1.0 version of the previously released Bright Memory, with various technical and narrative upgrades. Bright Memory Infinite is a very interesting and unique game. You might be surprised to learn that this is in fact an indie game, originally created by one man in it's early days with only minimal team and help later. Bright Memory Infinite questions what Indie Games are capable of. It asks the question that if an Indie Dev focuses on quality or quantity, can they pull off a game that looks and feels every bit AAA without the team and budget. Bright Memory Infinite is only about 2 hours long. It feels like a lengthy singular mission in a AAA game, and honestly I am ok with the brief length. This game is an experience. Could they have sacrificed the AAA visuals, next-gen weather effects, and polished gameplay for a longer experience? Surely, but this is a game that tries to max everything to 11, perhaps at the expense of game length. It's just a different type of game than the 20, 40, 100 hour games you may prefer. This game is just a wild ride, with insanely fun combat, and weather effects that just immerse you into this world. In Bright Memory Infinite you play as Shelia, a special ops super woman with swords, guns, weapons; a near unstoppable force in combat. You are investigating a strange weather phenomena being created by a Black Hole in the sky that the games antagonist faction is trying to destroy the world. It's a goofy somewhat over the top story at times, but it fits with the mood of the game. This movie is a two hour action movie flick with fun combat. This is a must play for anyone who wants to just enjoy some really pretty graphics and gunslinging blade swinging action for a evening.
6. Kena: Bridge of Spirits - 9/10 Best Art Style 2021
Kena had been on my anticipated list for a while, as the game just looks so intriguing. I was weary as a few early reviews I read painted the game in a disappointing light. However, I didn't see their disappointment when I finally got around to it myself. Kena is not only a fantastic new character (See: Top 10 new video game characters of 2021) welding one of the most interesting new weapons we've seen recently, (See: Top 10 new video game weapons of 2021), she takes us on one of the most beautiful journeys of the year. Kena is also one of the most difficult games I've played with challenging puzzles and solid combat.
5. Tales of Arise - 9/10 - Best RPG 2021
Tales of Arise is a game I may not have had time to play if this were a normal year. I also don't normally play these anime style JRPG's and 2021 was a year that delivered to two of them I found particularly intriguing. Tales of Arise has some flaws that keep it from higher on the list. It has a odd approach to combat that feels unnecessarily retro, and it's map / navigation is clunky. However, the game's characters and visuals are top notch. Shionne was one of my favorite new characters of the year, as her ice queen sharpshooter persona was just fun to get to know. Even if anime style or JRPG's are not your normal thing, Tales of Arise just rises above the many many choices in those categories, and delivers a game that could be a mainstream action RPG. I consider this game the best RPG I played this year.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy - 9/10 Best Action 2021
I did not hate Avengers like many people did, but mostly because I was having a blast playing it with a friend. Alone, that game would have been much less enjoyable. I also understand it's technical flaws and design flaws. Where Avengers was a critical and financial failure, Square Enix was smart not to repeat that same mistake. Guardians of the Galaxy is like Avengers in no way, and manages to succeed in every way that Avengers failed. Instead of being a poorly made live service looter brawler, Guardians is a single player, more Mass Effect style sci-fi action game with RPG elements. Everything from it's A+ Next-Gen visuals, to it's quality Narrative and Characters, this game is just a surprise quality piece of gaming.
3. Life is Strange: True Colors - 9/10 Best Narrative 2021
Life is Strange True Colors was either going to be awful like Life is Strange 2, or be phenomenal like the first one. This was a make it or break it for this series, and I am happy to say the game knocked it out the park and course corrected back to much of what made the first one great. The game made what could have been a weird and boring power...something truly unique and different. The game really lives or dies on the shoulder of protagonist Alex Chen, and I am happy to say that her character really shines as a series great. Her emotions are real, raw, and believable, as well as the weight of the story impacts in a genuine way. Even if you don't typically care for narrative focused games, True Colors is a story to experience.
2. Splitgate - 9/10 INDIE GOTY 2021
(Also: Best Multiplayer 2021, Best Free to Play Game 2021)
I truly struggled to find fault with Splitgate when giving it a final score. My most nitpick issue was perhaps a lack of cosmetics and customization options. It felt weird giving a 10/10 to a game that was still in early access, so the "unfinished nature" of the game, and little cosmetics to customize, landed it at a 9/10, but this game sat at the top of my list for months. It is just insanely fun. It is easy to pick up, but incredibly fun to master. This game is tactical gunplay at a level that I really enjoy. It rewards those who want to be strategic, find corners, and use portals in clever ways.
SplitGate is Portal meets Halo, and that formula just WORKS. It is such a perfectly blended formula that I can't believe it hasn't been done before. I hope that Splitgate grows and gets huge and stays as big as it is. I want a Splitgate 2. I want Splitgate lore. I want Splitgate characters and crossovers. I want more Splitgate.
This game "technically" released way back in 2019, however, I made it eligible of this list as in 2021 it released a big "Season 0" update, launched on consoles, AND made a huge cultural impact where 2021 is the year it was truly discovered by the masses. Like "Among Us" before it, the actual day it was available for download, and the year it "really" released to the public just isn't the same. This is the year it was discovered, and became so popular the console versions had to be pushed back to accommodate more servers. This is a 2021 game.
If you haven't played Splitgate yet, your have missed out on one of the most fun games of the year, and the best shooter we got this year. In a year where AAA absolutely dropped the ball on shooters with mega flops such as Vanguard and Battlefield 2042, Splitgate is here to deliver S tier multiplayer combat.
2021 has many games that didn't quite make my list for various reasons, that I still enjoyed so I wanted to give them an honorable mention.
Aliens Fireteam Elite
Resident Evil Villiage
Back 4 Blood
NOTABLE GAMES ON REVISIT LIST:
Apex Legends (Best Ongoing Game 2021)
Mass Effect Legendary Edition (BEST REMASTER 2021)
One of the games that I had the most fun with that didn't make the list was Elyon. Elyon was a new fantasy MMO that I really enjoyed playing. I'm not a huge MMO player, so enjoying this game was a surprise for me. I actually had more fun with it than New World, and it could have made the list if it weren't for the technical issues. While fun, the game just doesn't meet the technical requirements I would want for a game on this list. It crashed more times than I could count and had rampant start up issues. That being said, when the game ran, I enjoyed the world, combat, and art style. Resident Evil Village is an Honerable Mention for opposite reasons. It was technically really good, but I struggled to get into it and play enough of it to warrant putting it on the list. Perhaps I will revisit and give it a second chance. It's dark, grey, and drab and I didn't play enough to measure it. I understand it is technically great, and ranks high on many lists. It just didn't capture me.
One game that was on my list for a while during the prep for this article, that just got barely bumped off by a game I played at the very end, was Back 4 Blood. I had it at number 10, and really had pretty positive experience with it and only just got bumped off.
Aliens Fire Team Elite and Pokemon Unite are two games that offered casual fun, and could be a great time; but their experiences are just a little hollow and one note. There are a few missing games that were repeat appearances on many outlet's lists such as Deathloop, Returnal, Metroid Dread, and It Takes Two that I either didn't play or didn't capture my interest, but many respected outlets enjoyed.
I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the absence of one 2021's best experiences, the Mass Effect Legendary Edition. It is a game I said that the 10/10 scale was insufficient for, and took one of the greatest game trilogies of all time and gave it fresh paint and 4k visuals. It is left off this list on the technicality that Remasters go on their own list, and I consider them ineligible for this list.
1. Forza Horizon 5 - GOTY 2021
(Also: Best Racing Game 2021, Best Visuals 2021, Best Console Exclusive 2021)
Each year I wrestle with myself over GOTY, debate what factors contribute to a great game truly being GOTY. Is it fun factor and replayability? Is it the raw technical achievement? I always seem to come down to a top two, one apple and one orange. One game is the one that just knocks it out of the park in fun factor and replayability, and another that just shines in raw, pure, technical quality. My top two in 2019 were down to Jedi Fallen Order and Apex Legends. I felt that Apex had more replayability, and was a game I wanted to continue playing, but Jedi Fallen Order was the one I felt had the over all standalone better quality from a technical standpoint. It had phenomenal characters, story, and over all score. Same with last year, I considered The Last of Us Part 2 to be the technical winner, an absolute master class in technical score of narrative and characters and design; even though I certainly had more "fun" with Final Fantasy 7 Remake, my number 2. Oddly, If I had to choose, I would play FF7R again over TLOU2, and I continue to play Apex to this day. This year has a similar dichotomy of my top two. Splitgate was almost my top pick, as it is some of the most fun I have had this year. It is just loads of fun, and something I will continue to stop back for in 2022. I had it at the top of my list for a good amount of the year, as nothing seemed to pass it...
Until Forza Horizon 5 came along...
If you haven't played it, you might be surprised that "just a racing game" could somehow be the best game released this year. I am not the only outlet to include it high on the list, or even at the top. Forza Horizon is just a technical powerhouse. It is just immensely polished and quality gaming. Forza always delivered top notch visuals, but Forza Horizon 5 takes it to another level, with one of the most beautiful open worlds in gaming. It contains a absolutely stunning map that takes you on adventure across Mexico, with quality weather effects and diverse as possible environments. It also features literally hundreds and hundreds of vehicles to choose from. Everything from trucks, to luxury, to sport, to racing, to classic, to a Halo Warthog. The choices of vehicles to choose from is mind blowing. Forza Horizon 5 is more than just a quality look, it offers a shocking amount of quality as well. This is a dense map with countless, often times overwhelming stuff to do. All this beautiful scenery and countless vehicles don't go to waste to the photographers in some of us. I will admit I spend about as much time using the photomode as I do racing. It is just too much fun taking pictures of these gorgeous cars.
Forza Horizon 5 also did something so fantastic that I almost didn't notice it. I mentioned this cool feature in the Top 10 New Characters of 2021 article, and stated I think this could be a interesting new standard for RPG's and Character Creators in the future. If you played it, you may have not noticed it either. Did you chalk it up to a funny coincidence that the main character shared your name? I did. I didn't recall telling the game my name, and characters were speaking my name in audio as a part of dialogue, as if it were a pre-recorded voice line, so certainly the main character just had to be named Jesse. I was wrong, and I am glad I noticed the list of names in settings and looked up what the game did. The game looks at your account name and automatically knows who you are, and automatically named my character after me. One step forward, actual characters in the games narrative vocally call my character by my name, it doesn't just refer to it in text. It doesn't sound like an unnatural voice to text, it sounds like a real person reading my name. I pointed out how in every RPG ever, your name rarely matters, as you are always referred to as some kind of title or a last name. If your custom name did ever appear, it would only be in subtitles or text. Future games could incorporate players even more into the emersion, by having their character named after them and actually have NPC's call you it. I just found it incredible and polished and something innovative.
So far I have praised the game for it's quality visuals, its innovative features, it's wealth of stuff to do, but I haven't mentioned the thing that makes a game like this so important and that's the gameplay itself. How does the actual driving feel? Well it feels fantastic. It is a perfect balance of realism and fun. It doesn't feel too arcade, while at the same time doesn't feel bogged down by being too simulation. Forza Horizon 5 is a game I will keep coming back to when I need to kick back and race in 2022, and if you normally skip racing games, this should be your exception.