We’ll remember 2021 as the year when matters outside the games were more important in the video game industry than the games themselves. It was the year when the world was shocked to see the inequality and harassment that went on for years at companies as large as Activision Blizzard. It was also the year when supply chain issues made it impossible to get your hands on a PS5 as a mere mortal.

Let’s just say that this wasn’t the best year for the gaming industry. To be frank, it hasn’t been the gaming industry’s year for a long time. AAA studios have all been lagging behind in terms of services, quality of products, and well, … as the online discourse agrees, almost everything. Even CD Project RED’s immaculate image has been distorted for good. There’s a laser focus on quality, creativity, and the authenticity of games right now, because of so many lazy, unimaginative, or simply half-ready releases in the near past.

But all this doesn’t mean that we didn’t get any good games this year. Until AAAs ride the waves of mishaps, misconducts, endless bugs, and faulty releases, we got promising indie games from smaller studios and amazing big-budget releases.

Check out our list.

10. Returnal

Platform: PlayStation 5

Returnal is a powerful third-person shooter roguelike game by Housemarque. It offers intense combat, amazing effects, and everything else that we’d expect of this studio. However, Returnal is a lot more ambitious than anything Housemarque has ever done before.

It’s a massive PS5 exclusive game that aims to offer an atmospheric sense of exploration, with exciting firefights that should remain rewarding throughout multiple playthroughs. And it does deliver what it promised. This game is long, with a lot of secrets to uncover, and you’ll likely need multiple runs to explore everything that it has to offer.

The central, surprisingly deep story follows Celine Vassos who travels to and crash lands on an alien planet called Atropos. She gets a mysterious signal and tries to locate it with her device, but things escalate and start to warp into a time-loop situation quickly.

The game might not be as eye-candy as other PS5 exclusives, but it does look fantastic, plus, it offers an eargasmic complementary soundtrack that we loved. It’ll for sure make all your adventures even more epic.

Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Microsoft Windows

Ember Lab (the studio bringing you this wonderful 3D open-world action-adventure game) started out as an animation studio. And you’ll for sure catch yourself marveling at the beauty of this digital work if you get the chance to play it.

The story follows Kena, a spirit guide, who helps stuck spirits move on to their next lives. The character design and animation are just mind-bogglingly beautiful and enthralling, which makes up for the sometimes bland storytelling.

With an excellent balance of action, puzzle-solving, and platforming, this beautiful open-world game is a nice throwback to the 3D-style Zelda-like game era. However, combat in this game is nothing like Zelda, and it’s super challenging even if it’s quite simplistic.

Though it has its flaws, this game is a marvel in itself, and it’s fantastic to see what a small studio like Ember Lab can able to deliver as their first-ever game.

Platform: Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows

Just to have some variety on our list, we wanted to declare that the new Forza game really is worth a mention on a 2021 top list.

The map is bigger, more detailed, and provides a showstopper open world to race in. With the new and improved tools, you can also craft your own events that will be indistinguishable from the work of developers. And an enormous visual update has been added too, to make the game more realistic and prettier than ever before. You can catch this mostly in the drastically improved smoke and light effects. Plus, there are custom new parts and 500+ cars in the garage with more characteristics than ever. Also sound improvements. And all this is jam-packed into this one new game.

Though its predecessor wasn’t that much of a lackluster, it’s just breathtaking to drive in this new Mexico map instead of the somewhat bland England in Forza 4. It’s a wonder to get lost in Mexico with so many colourful locations, charming cities, and changing weather.

This game is a dream to everyone with even a passing interest in cars or racing, but even the most anti-car person can enjoy it. It’s gonna be a great road trip, so enjoy the ride!

Platform: Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, Macintosh operating systems, Microsoft Windows

This point-and-click adventure game seems plain and simple on the surface. But soon you’ll discover that there’s a time-loop mystery woven into the game’s simplistic fabric.

The traditional point-and-click/item-combining trope is of course a predominant element in Twelve Minutes. However, the time-loop puts a twist on the traditional game mechanics. You have to use objects over the course of multiple days and combine them with a number of different elements to uncover hidden truths.

The story follows our protagonist (voiced by James McAvoy) arriving home to a shocking surprise: a cop enters and claims to have a warrant for his wife’s arrest. Then, things escalate into an ugly situation, and that’s when the time loop kicks in.

Featuring a new twist on a beloved classical genre and an amazing lineup of voice actors like Willem Dafoe and Daisy Ridley, this game is a real gem for point-and-click mystery fans.

Platform: PlayStation 5, Microsoft Windows

It’s like a finely tuned Swiss watch mixed with the spirit of Outer Wilds, Hitman, Dishonoured, and a hint of Dark Souls. Plus, Groundhog Day. We love Bethesda’s new time-loop game because it successfully eliminates the frustration of completing activities too many times even in this repetitive game style.

You’re playing as Colt, a gunslinger, who wakes up on a strange island with no recollection of how he got there. Oh, and you’re stuck in a time loop of 24 hours. Now it’s your turn to try and break this cycle by taking out your targets, spread across 4 different time periods. It’s impossible to kill them all before the day runs out, so it’s in your hands to herd them together by orchestrating the takeout with precision.

The game stays exciting and captures attention by continuously giving more and more clues, opening new doors, and uncovering hidden secrets in areas you’ve already visited. There’s a constant sense of discovery throughout the day, and you’ll be on your tippy-toes trying to stay alive without a reset.

Platform: Mac OS, Google Stadia, Microsoft Windows

We love us some strategy and Humankind brings the best elements of all time strategy favs like Sid Meier’s Civilization into a new light. Though it’s been tried and reinvented many times, this turn-based game has some surprises while you march from the stone age to the space age.

A great new idea is a neolithic era which starts each run with a small group of hunter-gatherers. The playstyle of this era is quite addicting and exciting, something new which we haven’t seen in similar games. When you’re done with the hunting and gathering, you’ll progress through the different eras with a new culture for each era. This is also a nice change to most strategy games where you pick a culture and you’re set. In Humankind, you get to experience many different cultures through the ages, which keeps the game intriguing and unique.

All in all this game delivers a wonderful strategy experience while it gives that sense of satisfaction as you’re building your cities with care. One thing we’d mention as a downside is the level of difficulty which – even on higher settings – won’t be as challenging as you’d expect from a hardcore AI opponent.

Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, Google Stadia

The stealth genre got a new start with Hitman 3, and also a great conclusion to this amazing game series. More an expansion than an update, this third instalment has been mastered to perfection by IO Interactive studios.

The third instalment’s levels are for one, stunning, and two, wonderfully unique. You get to parachute into and infiltrate the world’s tallest building in Dubai, and this is just the starting point. You’ll hide in plain sight and sneak attack among breathtaking scenes, and deliver one of the most complex kills in the Hitman series altogether.

Whether you’re one to deliver kills with surgical precision or you prefer to improvise and leave heaps of dead bodies behind in a storage room, the game will cater to your style. The AI in hitman is still not the brightest and allows improvising with your tactics. But hey, this is what the Hitman series is all about, and that’s why we love it.

Platform: PC, Xbox, PlayStation 4

Psychonaut fans waited a whopping 15 years to revisit their beloved mind-hopping spies and the disturbing worlds inside people’s heads. If you haven’t played the first one, you’ll be caught up with a recap at the beginning. The game also brings a ton of easter eggs, so the level of fanservice is sky-high.

The story picks up straight from where it left off: you play as psychic 10-year-old Raz who’s ready to get promoted to an agent, however, he’s getting a mere intern role instead. From there, everything escalates, and the story takes the inevitable unexpected turns.

Psychonauts 2 recaptures the signature vibe of the high-tech spy headquarters. It adds nice new elements and open areas to it on top. You’ll of course spend hours navigating jungle gyms full of grind rails, trampolines, and trapeze bars. But you’ll also spend just as much quality time exploring bizarre mental landscapes depicting the different characters’ obsessions, passions, and pasts in their heads.

It’s an unapologetically unique game that will surprise you not just with its wit, but its deep emotional storylines. The distinct characters, and the memorable playgrounds inside people’s heads are just the cherry on top.

Platform: PlayStation 5

This showcase game for the PS5 couldn’t be missing from our list. Though it’s torture to see how amazing PS5 exclusives can look and feel in this current situation, getting your hands on the new console and playing this game will be a blast.

Whether you’re new to the characters or you’ve been there in Ratchet and Clank’s PS2 era, this storyline will surely blow your mind, make you laugh, and even rip some tears out of your eyes. The writing strikes the right chords between funny, moving, and witty. And you really don’t need to know the previous games to enjoy this one to the fullest. You can go dimension-hopping in the multiverse, and marvel at the game’s beauty and performance while enjoying the mix of platforming and first-person shooting. It’s quite addicting, to be frank.

It’s an expertly crafted, heartfelt tale by Insomniac Games, one we haven’t seen for a while. Not to mention it’s widely accepted as the prettiest, most jaw-dropping game for the PS5 yet, and probably one of the most beautiful games you’ll ever play.

Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and Series S, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows

One of the year’s biggest surprises was Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy by Eidos Montreal. Mostly because nobody expected anything good from a movie adaptation anymore, let alone a Marvel IP. This game single-handedly gave hope back to gamers and Marvel fans around the globe. Plus, the passion and the craftsmanship in the development shines through in the gameplay, too. And this is something developers like us love to see.

In the game you play as Peter Quill, AKA Star-Lord, traveling with your trustworthy crew between planets, getting your hands dirty, and feuding with your mates every other minute. The characters are remarkably written and the dialogues are to die for – in terms of drama, jokes, and wholesome relationships, this in-game crew is like no other. They are more comic-related than the movies themselves, depicting the group at the beginning of their careers.

The unique style of the game can best be described as a mix of RPG, adventure, and FPS with a hint of nostalgia from a bygone era. There’s no easy way to solve puzzles or to get from point A to B with shortcuts. There’s real brain-work involved, and you might be surprised to jump into this game expecting a lightning-fast playthrough. You won’t be getting any tutorials, easy answers, and cookie-cutter solutions. So if you’re one to look for a challenge in a game, you won’t be disappointed with this one.

What were your favourites this year?

If you’re into gaming like us, you must have your own list of faves. Feel free to share it with us, and if you feel like diving heads deep into the gaming industry, you might be excited to start coding as well. And we’re here to help with that.

We can help you get to a developer career in a year, and you could start to work in a guaranteed tech position soon if you go for our full-stack development course. Building on 4-6 programming languages, amazing soft skills, and a supportive community that you’ll get here, you’ll become a pro developer that companies will love to work with. Breaking into game-making could be easy for you as a next step, having solid basics already.

Check out our payment options, as we have a lot of amazing solutions that could help you with your financials. You could even pay for the course after you’ve finished it, and already work in your new tech job!

If you have any questions feel free to reach out. We’re happy to hear from you!

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