Player Research’s Games of the Year 2021

21st December 2021

2021 was a somewhat quiet year for big blockbuster titles, due to the many (understandable!) release pushbacks. The wonderful thing about that though, was that it allowed for lots of unique, interesting and unexpected games to step into the spotlight and capture our hearts with some very beautiful, and very exciting adventures!

We’ve had a great time in the last 12 months spending dozens of hours in lots of incredible, and unique game-worlds. From getting stuck in time loops, to nostalgic memories of moving houses, to cruising across the beaches of Mexico, returning to the Citadel and so much more!

Some of our Player Research staff have put thought into what their favorite games were from the year, along with some runners up and highly anticipated titles for next year! So without further ado, let’s dive in and find out what games got top picks across our team and why!

Amy:

Forza Horizon 5

Image via https://i.imgur.com/qvXSKLc.png

For the longest time, I really wanted to stop sucking at racing games, because racing games are just tremendously fun – when you’re not awful at them. For me, it felt like the only way forward was trial and error, and practise, practise, practise.

That’s boring, though. I just want to feel like a cool race car driver.

Enter the Forza Horizon series. My first experience of the series was with Forza Horizon 4 and it was the most welcoming experience I’ve ever had with a racing game. The ‘Suggested Line’ feature changed everything for me – for the first time, I had the guidance I needed to find the best line, and real-time feedback to help me adjust my speed to take corners gracefully. I got better fast, and it felt really, really good.

Needless to say, I was highly anticipating the release of Forza Horizon 5, and I think it’s the most fun I’ve had with any game this year. It has everything I loved about the last entry and more – ridiculous, over-the-top set pieces like driving around an active volcano, and delightful arcade-y minigames dotted throughout the map.

Driving through Mexico is a joy in and of itself, and I could happily drive around the open world for hours without doing any race events at all. Cracking game, easily my #1 for 2021.

Honourable mentions:

Endless Cylinder

Deltarune Chapter 2

Most Anticipated Game for 2022:

Hollow Knight: Silksong

Brianne:

Age of Empires 4

Image via https://i.imgur.com/4CTOKZQ.jpeg

I grew up playing Age 2, so I was excited when Age of Empires 4 was released this year. I was excited to dive back into the historical strategy I’d loved as a kid. Age 4 definitely delivers.

Each civilization looks and feels unique, while having their own individual play-style. I can feel the care that went into making Age 4. It makes for an absolutely joyful strategy experience and all of this makes it my top pick for my Game of The Year.

Most Anticipated Game for 2022:

Dying Light 2

Chloe S:

Forza Horizon 5

Image via https://i.imgur.com/mt3iXXq.png

Pure, non-stop, fantastical fun. That’s exactly how I’d describe my experience with Forza Horizon 5.

The joy and awe in my face would have been clear for anyone to see had they witnessed me playing through the opening sequence of this game. It simply blew me away with the bombastic introduction of airdropping you into not one but 4 (!) exhilarating racing sequences one after the other, in 4 different flashy cars and 4 uniquely stunning locations; it very effectively set the tone for what the rest of the game was to hold!

Whether I’m roaming around slowly drinking in the beautiful views, blasting off a canyon-top trying to set a high score for jump distance, skidding round the jungle mud-streams in one of my favourite rally cars, or hitting top notch speeds in a roaring Lamborghini – there is off-the-scale fun to be had round every corner!

The new system of unlocking Outposts and new races with Accolade points works great too for motivating you to explore. But the best thing about this is how it still enables you total freedom to decide how you earn points, meaning you’re never forced down a certain path.

Additionally, it’s a joy as ever to work towards building my car collection. With so many routes to earn credits, and additional collection options through gifts, wheelspins, barn finds and season challenges, you never go too long without a new toy to try!

As a long term fan of the Forza Horizon series, I was nothing but impressed and it was well worth the long anticipated wait!

Honourable Mentions:

Unpacking

Hades (console release)

Most Anticipated Game for 2022:

God of War: Ragnorök

Mégane:

Days Gone

Image via https://www.bendstudio.com/assets/cms/careers/2021.04.29-12.08.09.png

(Mild spoiler warnings) Have you ever wanted to have a motorcycle or to be a biker, but your mum always told you no? Have you ever wanted to bash zombies’ heads with a baseball bat, but it was too dangerous to do so in real life and you’d probably die in a couple of seconds? Then you’re like me, and this game is for you!

You will get to spend hours and hours riding your bike in the post-apocalyptic wilderness of Oregon, through forest, desert, and snow, killing zombies, escaping hordes at night, and building your bike and skills to get the hell out of there.

Even if this game is an open-world full of quests (but nothing like “chore” quests, for once!), outlaws camps and zombie hordes, it’s primarily a storyline-based game.

We play Deacon St. John, a drifter that lost his wife Sarah during the pandemic outbreak. However, we start to understand that she might not be so dead… After 20 hours of playtime, I’m still yet to know what happened to her and what will happen to Deacon and his partner in crime “Boozer”. The open world gives us freedom, and the storyline keeps us hooked.

This is a game that I call Game of the Year, as it’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited to play a game after the 5-hour mark.

Honourable Mention:

Cartel Tycoon

Back 4 Blood

Most Anticipated Game for 2022:

Horizon Forbidden West

Seb:

It Takes Two

Image via https://www.ign.com/wikis/it-takes-two/Tips_and_Tricks

Hey Hazelight! Can you leave some game design for everyone else?!

It Takes Two is chockablock with delightful level design, mini games, cute one-off interactions and charm. It’s a real love letter to couch co-op, and somehow balances pure nostalgia for the cooperative games of my youth, while feeling unique and fresh.

Although I didn’t love the main characters, with their incessant bickering and one-upmanship, they turned the corner into characters I loved-to-hate. Pushing through the dialog, it was the attention-to-detail and the visual spectacle that kept me going.

A remarkable creative achievement!

Honourable Mentions:

Halo Infinite Multiplayer

Pokemon Unite

Far Cry 6

Ula:

Life is Strange: True Colors

Image via https://cdn.nivoli.com/adventuregamers/images/screenshots/43893/lis3l.jpg

(Mild spoiler warnings) My favourite game of 2021 is Life is Strange: True Colors. The stories of Alex, Gabe, Steph, Ryan and others in Haven, was both touching and extremely pleasing visually.

The Haven town itself is one of my favourite locations created in a game world ever; I wish it existed and I could visit it! With the river, animals, forests and mountains all around the town valley, and the Record Store, and Alex’s apartment above the tavern.

The voice-acting of Alex, Gabe and Steph is amazing. Alex, with her calmness despite strong emotions she feels. Gabe, the best big brother in the world, a character that we truly miss even though we know him only for a brief moment. Steph, who is so great that she truly deserves the DLC.

But my very favourite thing about this game is making the empathy a superpower. This is an inspiration people need, I believe. It’s such an important skill to work on. Also, it kind of makes you feel like everyone can find some superpower within themselves and it doesn’t need to be supernatural.

I also like that this game isn’t about some spectacular adventures or epic battles but about aspect of life a lot of people can relate to. The death of a close one, the impact of dementia on day-to-day life and relationships, the difficulties with fitting in and finding one’s own place, finding a significant other (Although I wish the last motive was developed more).

After the game’s end I felt truly happy for Alex. I really liked that feeling of leaving her in a good place, and honestly caring about her even though it’s “just a game”.

Honourable Mentions:

Blake: The Visual Novel

It Takes Two

Written by:

Portrait of Chloe Snell MA
Chloe Snell MA

Games User Researcher


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