Another year, another top ten.
This year saw me busier than ever — kind of ironic since I’ve barely left my house since COVID started.
Life found a way to fill that time void, though. Rather than catching up on my ridiculous backlog or playing every new title that came out, I felt like I only saw a fraction of a fraction of what I wanted to.
With this in mind, the games selected here are only the best of what I played… It’s entirely possible that my new most favorite game of all time was something that slipped past me this year — but hey, what can you do?
So, with that caveat in mind, here are my selections along with a few extra awards — and if you want to hear even more about these, Carlos Rodela and I covered them all on the So Videogames GOTY episode.
The Best Things I Played NOT from 2021
Days Gone, Leap of Fate
The Games I Wish I Had More Time To Play In 2021
Disco Elysium, Hitman 3, Lake, Inscryption, Sable, Subnautica: Below Zero
Indies Of The Year
Death Crown, Heavenly Bodies, Wanna Survive
Biggest Disappointments Of 2021
Jett: The Far Shore, Aliens: Fireteam Elite, Diablo II
Honorable Mentions Of 2021
Minute of Islands, The Longing, Devil Slayer Raksasi, Crying Suns, Little Nightmares II
My Top 10 Of 2021
10 – Death Stranding: Director’s Cut review by Mike Suskie
This was almost my GOTY in 2020, and very well might have been if it didn’t have such a miserable pile of nonsensical diarrhea for a story. HOWEVER, this gameplay is sublime. The new additions are fine, but the rebalance of certain elements makes this game about playing FedEx in a ghost-filled wasteland even more enjoyable and playable than it already was. It’s a breath of fresh air to spend time on something that isn’t about guns or killing — it’s about bringing people together and doing nice deeds. Feels great to do that right now.
9 – Golf Club Wasteland review
It initially seems like a goofy indie offering some offbeat golf, but there’s a real heart underneath it. The story slowly unfolds into something great, and the soundtrack does an amazing job of world-building and tone-setting.
8 – Steampunk Tower 2 review
This rando mobile port came out of nowhere to rock my world. It flips the script on the Tower Defense genre and finds a perfect balance between being approachably simple and pleasantly complex. I couldn’t put it down.
7 – Guardians of the Galaxy review by Jarrod Johnston
Like everyone else has said this year, I expected it to be another Avengers-style bomb, but it turned out to be great. The writers crafted a series of mini-movies with a ridiculous amount of scene-specific dialogue that enriches every character while offering great camaraderie and a lot of laughs. The gameplay is fine enough, but as someone who appreciates finely-done character work, this is tops.
6 – Monster Hunter Rise review
As a longtime MH player, it was great to see this one take the best of past iterations, boil it all down to its absolute core, and deliver a pared-down experience that was all-killer, no filler. The new additions are also on point, and now that we’ve had this gassed-up experience, there’s no going back.
5 – The Artful Escape review
This trans-narrative-that-doesn’t-call-itself-a-trans-narrative may play more like an interactive music video than a traditional game, but the sights and sounds were powerful and it was easy to be carried through the stars by the power of guitar.
4 – Kosmokrats review
This game is so clever on every level — both as a 2D physics-based puzzle game, and as a branching narrative — with stakes!! — that takes into account not only player choice, but actual performance during play. It’s sharply-written and quite different than anything I’ve played in quite some time. This is some real out-of-the-box stuff.
3 – The Procession to Calvary review
I don’t usually go in for point-and-clicks, but this one was really Something Else. With visuals made from clippings of Renaissance paintings, it looks like nothing else. Supporting the visuals is an absolutely wicked sense of humor that had me literally laughing out loud. The vast majority of puzzles are well-done, and I knew this game was something special when I discovered the, uh… “alternate” path to winning. So, so good.
2 – Unavowed review by Jeff Ortloff
Two point-and-clicks on my top ten?? What is this madness?? And yet, it’s true. Unavowed felt like it was made for me. Urban Fantasy is probably my favorite genre, and this game sports incredibly strong writing and character work. The cast is great — I wanted to spend more time with all of them — and the game structure was superb. Also? It nails the ending. Chef’s kiss here, folks.
1 – Black Book review
What to say about Black Book? Yes, it’s rough — nearly every aspect of it needs more polish and tweaking, but the core of what it’s doing is amazing. This combination visual novel/deckbuilder offers a rare look into Slavic myths and folklore. It’s almost encyclopedic in nature, but it’ all relevant since so much of the game hinges on the main character’s role as a witch, and we’re not talking sexy lady with a pointy hat stuff. No, this is doing evil deeds, I made a pact with literal Satan witchcraft BUT it’s implemented in an incredibly refreshing, pragmatic way. The main character is a blend of both evil and goodness, and she exists in a world that accommodates the occult, Christianity, and the indigenous belief systems that predated them both. Combining all of this, the developers craft a truly epic tale that is deep, rich, nuanced, and goes places that I wouldn’t have ever imagined… The final hours were just stunning, and it came together in a way that I can only describe as perfect. Black Book was, without a doubt, the best thing I played all year.
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