With much of my year spent in the world’s longest lockdown (hi Melbourne), I played a lot of video games in 2021. So, I thought I’d share some of the games I loved this year.
As with my annual book list, this is not a list of games released in 2021. Rather, I’m sharing the things I played and enjoyed through the year, in the hope you might enjoy them too.
2021 was a bit of a weird year for game releases. Despite having bought a PS5 when it came out, there were disappointingly few really good games released specifically for PS5. After the Cyberpunk 2077 debacle, it seems that all the biggest games got pushed back—whether that’s because of seeing what happens when a game is rushed to market too quickly, or other issues, I’m not sure. I’m very excited about the games coming out in 2022, especially Horizon Forbidden West, Starfield, Stray, and Ghostwire: Tokyo.
Without further ado, here are the top five games I played in 2021.
Damn, Disco took me by surprise. I’d bought the game on sale months earlier, and finally got to it this year. But when I played it, it turned out to be the socio-politico-surrealist-noir point-and-click adventure I never knew I needed. Okay, I probably always need more surrealist noir, but hey.
You play as an unnamed detective who wakes up from a three-day bender in a trashed hotel room. You have to solve a murder while trying to remember what happened and who you are. As the tagline says, you play an absolute disaster of a human being, and that leads to some utterly hilarious dialogue options. Who can’t love a game where your limbic system discusses your self-destructive nature with you?
I can’t discuss Disco Elysium without mentioning the legendary Kim Kitsuragi, mild mannered rev-head partner in detection, who judges your fashion choices and secretly dreams of being an airship aviator. I lived for the slight upturn of his wry smile.
Add to this, subplots about disgruntled tabletop game writers, Cuno the absolute brat, and the Insulindian Phasmid, and you have a game which is completely unclassifiable and unexpectedly brilliant at the same time.
Detroit: Become Human
There are very few video games which get me as invested in the story as the Quantic Dream games, and Detroit: Become Human is their best release to date (bring on Star Wars: Eclipse!).
Detroit: Become Human follows the path of three androids as they intertwine in a powerful journey of freedom—or captivity—for androids in Detroit City.
I got so caught up in this game that I played it over a couple of days. It’s not a long game, but Detroit is well worth ten hours of your time. It’s Quantic Dream’s best release to date, and a beautiful game full of heart about what makes us human—and the great virtues of freedom, equality, and family.
I’ve loved the Hitman World of Assassination Trilogy, which cumulated in this year’s release of Hitman III. I’ve spent hours perfecting the best way to assassinate someone in this darkly humorous game, exploring every nook and cranny of each map. The highlight of the Hitman franchise has been the exceptional environment design, and Hitman III is no exception. The Chongqing and Berlin levels are some of the best in the series, with spectacular lighting, maps, and narrative experiences.
Added to this, Hitman III fits in better storytelling in short interstitials than some 100-hour games. There were moments I gasped out loud as secrets were revealed. And although I would have gone in a slightly different direction with the ending, I enjoyed playing Hitman III immensely.
Agent 47 has retired from games for the time being, so IOI can work on the new James Bond game. It’s one of my most anticipated games for the next few years. While we wait, it’s worth checking out the entire trilogy from start to finish.
Days Gone took me by surprise. I thought I was getting into a game about two dudebros fighting their way out of the zombie apocalypse on motorbikes. What I got was deep characterisation over an epic storyline about the determination to save the ones you love. Also, Full Throttle vibes.
The game is long, but I came back to it again and again, wanting to find out what happens to Deacon St John next.
The zombie fighting mechanics are excellent and terrifying. The first time I ran into a cave not knowing there was a horde in there, I can remember my utter surprise as they came swarming out and I had to run for my life. Defeating the hordes in the game is original and challenging, requiring a lot of forward planning and utilisation of the environment.
While there are no plans for a sequel as yet, I would love to see this game series continue and look forward to what Bend Studio does next.
If you’re looking for a game to play over the summer/winter break (depending on where you are in the world), Deathloop is an absolute hoot. I haven’t laughed so much at a game in a long time.
Colt Vahn is trapped in the world’s worst Groundhog Day, living the same day over and over on Blackreef Island. He’s got to break the loop while being hunted down by assassin Julianna Blake.
With its 70s blaxploitation vibes, hilarious dialogue, and complex narrative design, I had so much fun playing Deathloop. You’d be hard pressed to find a more fun PS5 release this year.