TheGamer Game Of The Year Editor’s Pick, 2021 – Stacey Henley
Hello and welcome to TheGamer's Game of the Year list – or should I say, one of TheGamer's Game of the Year lists. As is tradition here, throughout December our editors and a few other key members of our team will be presenting their top ten games of the year. As editor-in-chief, I'm going first, which means everyone who comes after me will be wrong. We'll be handing out a coveted Editor's Pick award to every game that tops our individual lists, and then in late December when all the lists are in, we'll do an aggregated list of our picks to decide TheGamer's ultimate Game of the Year list. But also remember if it's not the game I pick then it is incorrect.
A few quick ground rules before we begin – any game released this calendar year is eligible, as is any live-service game that has had a substantial update in 2021. Remakes, remasters, and ports are up to each editor to decide – you won't find any here, although last year Final Fantasy 7 Remake would have made the cut. With that out of the way, let's check out the ten objectively best games of the year.
Also, quick shout out to NEO: The World Ends With You and Severed Steel, who can consider themselves unlucky not to be here.
10. Boyfriend Dungeon
Boyfriend Dungeon took me out dancing, treated me to a wonderful meal, went all out on the champagne, and then walked me home. I invited it in, but it just kissed me on the cheek and told me it would call me in the morning. I’m still waiting on the call. What I’m trying to say is Boyfriend Dungeon got me all hung up on it then never did the deed. Its dungeon mechanics were interesting, with each weapon offering a new approach to combat, and the dating sim angle was excellent – but two relatively short dungeons and a rushed resolution later, it was all over. Its characters were brilliant, combat was varied enough for the short playtime, and Seven was absolutely dreamy, but it was all over too soon. My summer fling. That's the thing about illicit affairs – it's born from just one single glance, but it dies, and it dies, and it dies a million little times…
9. The Forgotten City
Expect to see this game a lot over the next few weeks. The Forgotten City will consistently be appearing on two sets of lists this month – game of the year lists like this one, and backlog lists as people try to cram in all the games they missed out on in order to hit a self-inflicted deadline. Unfortunately, it'll end up on the latter too often, as its paltry single nomination at The Game Awards suggests it has been grossly overlooked. The former Skyrim mod has one of the year's most interesting stories, featuring a modern day soul transported to Ancient Rome in a never-ending time loop where a single sin by a single soul in the city restarts the loop. It's intelligent, well-crafted, measured, and it has the best side quest of the year. What a shame not enough of you played it.
Another overlooked gem here. Chicory has the best exploration of depression I have ever seen in a video game, as well as the best exploration full stop. Chicory casts you as the new brush wielder – essentially the artist in charge of putting colour in the world. You're actually the brush wielder's janitor, forced into the role when the actual wielder quits. You name yourself after your favourite food, and like every other basic bitch out there, I went by Pizza. As you move through the world, you leave paint breadcrumbs for yourself to trace back, and interact with a series of metaphors for our own inner demons. Games are starting to approach depression more, but none have met it head on or tackled it as creatively as Chicory.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy
I know, I'm as surprised as you that it's on here. After the disaster of Marvel's Avengers and the fact GotG is the most susceptible Marvel franchise to falling into an inescapable vat of cringe, I did not have high hopes for this one. Eidos Montreal went and did it though – Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the best games of the year. It doesn't take itself too seriously, yet it's measured enough to tell a meaningful story, and it understands every single one of its characters perfectly. It doesn't do anything new, and Star-Lord himself is pretty ineffective in combat, but the game threatens you with a good time and then delivers. What can I say, I’m easily pleased.
6. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
When I played Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart for my review, it felt like the first true ‘next-gen’ experience. I’m not sure anything else has eclipsed it since. It’s a great platformer, and while I’ve cooled on it slightly since my first taste – though I stand by my 4.5 score – it remains comfortably one of this year’s best offerings. A fairly safe game in a lot of ways, it’s also technically adept and a breeze to play. Add in the freshness that Kit and Rivet bring to the party and you have the bona fide sixth best game of the year.
5. Persona 5 Strikers
I’m just gonna say it – Persona 5 Strikers is better than Persona 5. It’s not 16 million hours long for a start, but it also trims a lot of the base game’s fat to make for a zippier, more coherent experience – at least, as coherent as Persona ever gets. Evil smartphone demons, is it? Aye, that’ll be right. The swap from one of the best turn-based systems in gaming to magnificent musou combat is a little bit of a love it or hate it move, but I love it and it’s my list. Don’t like it? Call the cops. Certainly, Strikers wouldn’t land anywhere near as well without the base game’s foundation, but it elevates all of that, tries to do better by Ann Takamaki (this is equivalent to a million ‘make Stacey like our game’ points), and is a fabulous, bittersweet goodbye to the best friends a Phantom Thief could ever ask for.
4. The Artful Escape
Anyone who knows me might be shocked to find The Artful Escape in the relatively low position of fourth on the list. I've been telling everybody to play this game, especially as game of the year list season begins, and even though I've previously written about how 2021 didn't have that many great games, The Artful Escape still finds itself missing out on a medal. All I can say is there's considerable distance between the top four and the rest of the list, like the Premier League circa 2008. The Artful Escape is a musical adventure through space, and it feels like being that perfect level of drunk at the concert of a band you thought were only okay, but three drinks in, you realise they are the greatest rockstars mankind has ever conceived. It feels like discovering that old sci-fi book with the ripped front cover you found in the back of the library and having the metaphors implode your brain. It feels like an acid trip as explained by a person who's had so many acid trips they don't really make sense anymore. Look, just go and play it, yeah?
3. It Takes Two
Let’s be wholesome for a minute. It Takes Two is a very good game, but it’s this high because I managed to play the whole thing with my partner, and that makes it my favourite gaming experience of the year. Aww, isn’t that sweet? My wife says she enjoys games, but she’s a liar. She likes the idea of games, but she hates playing them. It’s a whole thing. That we were able to play the entire thing without breaking up is a testament to its quality. Anyway, It Takes Two is every game ever. It’s a platformer, a soulsborne, a dungeon crawler, a puzzler, a 2D fighter, a third-person shooter, and basically any other genre you can think of. It’s very good.
2. New Pokemon Snap
I love Pokemon, and I love photography games, so yeah. I love New Pokemon Snap. I can see the argument that it’s relatively bare bones – you just take pics of Pokemon until you unlock a new place to take pics of Pokemon – but it’s the best environmental storytelling Pokemon has done for years, maybe ever. Aside from the anime, nothing has captured the Bidoofness of a Bidoof, the Raichuness of a Raichu, or the Cradiliness of a Cradily like New Pokemon Snap. I can’t argue much more for it – I respect any criticisms you have of it. It’s thin on the ground. But I spent 60 hours in it, took a Boldore full of cute pictures, and professional nature photographers decided I was the best Snapper at TheGamer. ‘Nuff said.
1. Life is Strange: True Colors
It was never really going to be anything else. Life is Strange is one of my favourite games of all time, and I think Life is Strange 2 is the most politically charged our medium has ever gotten. Tell Me Why was in my top ten last year. These games just get to me, and after the first Life is Strange revolutionised the narrative adventure genre, True Colors is back to do it again. Everything is more subtle this time around, less desperate to make you cry, and yet no less affecting. Alex Chen is one of the most vibrant gaming protagonists in years, and without the "fellow kids" shaka brah energy the series has been dragged down by in the past. It's also, impossibly, the gayest Life is Strange game yet. As our industry continues to push violent, pessimistic, blood soaked and bullet ridden tales to the forefront, Life is Strange: True Colors is a paper lantern in the sky. Narratively, creatively, and personally, it is the best game of the year.
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