Zack Zwiezen’s Top 10 Games 2021

Well, 2021 was a wild, awful mess of a year. I don’t need to recap what made 2021 so bad because, if you are reading this, you already know. We all live on Earth (I assume) so no point going over it all. Just, yeah, what a shitty year, huh?

But at least we had some great games! I know some folks, even a few fellow Kotaku colleagues, seem down on the games we got this year. I disagree. I think 2021 was a great year for games. I personally played more games in 2021 than I have in a long time. And a lot of them were good!

So here are my top 10 games of 2021. (And some honorable mentions at the end.) As usual, this list is in no particular order until the very end, where I’ll list my game of the year.

Resident Evil Village

The Big Lady from Resident Evil Village.

Screenshot: Capcom / Kotaku

Sure, the big tall lady the internet had a crush on wasn’t really in the game all that much, but so what. The rest of Resident Evil Village is still great. Ethan might be mostly an idiot with very injured hands, but idiots tend to be the perfect people for horror games. So brave, so stupid… And all the Resident Evil 4 references didn’t hurt, either.

Lost In Random

The two main characters from Lost In Random standing in an alley.

Screenshot: EA / Kotaku

It’s like a (good) Tim Burton film tossed into a blender with some dice and witty writing. This is one of those games that snuck up on me, and after playing the full game in a weekend, I came away very impressed. The mix of real-time combat and dice-rolling strategy is great and I appreciated how, even towards the end of Lost In Random, it still had new ideas and twists to toss my way.

Hitman 3

Agent 47 from Hitman standing in the shadows.

Screenshot: IO Interactive / Kotaku

Oh yeah, holy shit. This game came out this year. It feels like a lifetime ago. But no, Hitman 3 came out in 2021. While I think it has the weakest set of levels out of the modern trilogy of Hitman games, I still had a blast with its new areas. Plus, getting to replay the old levels now with fancier visuals and new features was nice. Hitman 3 is basically the entire trilogy smashed into one perfect package, what more could you ask for?

It Takes Two

The two main characters from It Takes Two flying through the air above random items.

Screenshot: EA / Kotaku

If you’ve played It Takes Two, then you already know how dark it gets and how at a few points it goes totally off the rails. However, as someone who loves playing games with his significant other, but who rarely finds games that we both love, It Takes Two was a beautiful piece of entertainment. The pacing is excellent, with dozens of different gameplay mechanics stitched together into one wild adventure that never became boring or predictable. And having someone by your side to experience the darker moments was nice. We both would go “Oh GOD… WTF!” together.

Ratchet And Clank Rift Apart

Rivet and her big hammer as seen in Ratchet and Clank.

Screenshot: Insomniac / Kotaku

I’ve only played like two of these games before, so while others complained that this gorgeous new entry felt too similar to the past Ratchet & Clank games, I was having too much fun to care. Plus Rift Apart really looks like a next-gen game, which is nice considering I got these new consoles hanging about my place, taking up space. So yeah, it’s more of the same, but I’ve not played much of those other games and I guess, I’m happy about that.

The Ascent

A zoomed out shot of a rain soaked, neon-filled section of a Cyberpunk-like city.

Screenshot: Neon Giant / Kotaku

Here’s a game that didn’t click with me at all… at first. The starting hour or two was a grind. But I pushed through and discovered a story I really liked, some twists that caught me off guard, and a combat system that really feels great—once you get some better guns and figure out how cover works! I’d like more of this, please.

Psychonauts 2

The main characters from Psychonauts 2 and some bacon.

Screenshot: Double Fine / Kotaku

On the surface, Psychonauts 2 is a great action-platformer with a wonderful sense of style. But dig a bit deeper and you’ll find a game that questions if people can change and what happens when we let the darkness in ourselves grow, and how others are hurt by our past mistakes and choices. In 2021, it seems more impossible than ever to forgive people for their terrible, dark choices and actions. But Psychonauts 2 offers the opinion that it might still be worth it. I don’t think I agree, but I’d like to.

Halo Infinite

The Master Chief, in his green armor, standing in front of alien structures.

Screenshot: 343 Industries / Kotaku

Halo Infinite is a new Halo game directly inspired by those big, open levels of the original game. Yet, it also adds new ideas too, including an awesome grappling hook and a bad battle pass. (All the new ideas aren’t winners, I’ll admit.) Still, it’s amazing that my only real problem with Infinite is that I wanted MORE! More campaign missions, more maps, more modes, and Firefight. When a game leaves you wanting more, that’s a good thing.

Forza Horizon 5

Two cars going very fast on a road near a bright and sunny beach.

Screenshot: Playground Games / Kotaku

I’ve played all the past Forza games, but for whatever reason, this one hit me harder and stuck with me longer than anything since Forza Horizon 1 or Forza Motorsport 3. I almost put Forza Horizon 5 as my ultimate Game of the Year. Maybe in a few years, I’ll look back and regret my final choice. But while I loved the incredible selection of cars, the over-the-top races and stunts, and even (some) of the music, one game barely snuck over the top and beat out Forza. And I didn’t expect it at all.

Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy

Peter Quill in his red jacket and black pants.

Screenshot: Square Enix / Marvel / Kotaku

Well, what a wild year 2021 ended up being if Guardians of the Galaxy is at the top of my list. (And looking around, I’m not alone.) But here we are. After the first trailers were released for it at E3, I assumed I would play it but that I probably wouldn’t like it much or even finish it.

Then it came out and I played the entire thing in a very short amount of time, enjoying almost every minute of it. The writing is easily the best part of this superhero action game, but I also loved the alien worlds you get to visit and the way the game reacts to what you do or don’t do. I’ve seen some complain Guardians of the Galaxy is too chatty, but I didn’t mind because the dialogue was often hilarious.

Yet, the real secret weapon of this game is that it is filled with heart and charm. It never lets the comedy step on the toes of the sad or the dramatic moments, sometimes even using comedy to sneak in character moments that will stick with you long after you finish it. I hope we get a sequel, because I want to spend more time with these weirdos and their space llama.

So there we go! That’s my list. If you want to read my 2020 list or 2019 list, just click those links and enjoy. Or get angry about my options. Whatever makes you feel better, I guess.

Before I go, here are some other great games I played this year that just didn’t make my top 10 list! Echo Generation, Resident Evil 4 VR, Kena: Bridge of Spirits, The Gunk, Returnal, The Big Con, The Riftbreaker, and Deathloop. Like I said at the top, too many good games this year!

And if you care, you can see every game I played in 2021 (and over the last few years) via my Giant Bomb lists. I maintain these because I’m obsessed with my own stats, but they also prove useful when putting together lists like my top 10. Just know that I include every game I play, not just stuff I finished or liked.

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