Peter’s Tremendous Top Ten Video Games of 2021

2021, amirite? We’re now over a year into the current generation of consoles, yet being able to actually purchase a PlayStation 5 or an Xbox Series X/S is still nigh impossible. Proving what we already knew: scalper bots are truly the worst. The shortage of chips and other factors have made the supply fall far short of demand. Fortunately, many of the year’s best were playable on the older PS4s and Xbox Ones too. Meanwhile, Nintendo released an OLED version of their Switch alongside the first Metroid in years. The year in games saw plenty of highs, although nothing hit the masterpiece level of 2020’s The Last of Us Part 2. Instead, 2021 spread the love with different kinds of experiences: an incredible shooter that heralded the return of Master Chief, a colorful Pixar-level tale featuring not one but two Lombaxes, and plenty of abominations courtesy of the Umbrella Corporation.

One of the highlights in 2021 gaming was working in a small Colorado town’s radio booth, where the focus was feeding a grumpy cat and offering relationship advice to callers. 2022 promises some big names in games like Horizon Zero Dawn: Forbidden West but for now, let’s look at a few great titles that weren’t merely sequels. Then again, this is the second year one of my favorite titles is essentially a remaster of a beloved series (FemShep FTW). With that, on to the worlds and the characters that stayed with me.

10. Returnal

After five hours of dying over and over, I pretty much hated developer Housemarque’s unforgiving rogue-lite shooter. Rogue-lites, for those unaware, put players back at the beginning of the level each time they die with little to no advancements like saved story progression. Yet, this tale of Selene, an “astral scout” (i.e., astronaut) who lands on the planet Atropos in search of something, features Edge of Tomorrow deaths and time-loop gameplay. Selene’s only hope of piecing together what exactly happened is to find audio logs left by… herself. In fact, the only voice you’ll hear in the whole campaign is that of Jane Perry, who is equally mysterious as well as relatable as Selene. Beyond the terrific use of the nighttime Metroidvania atmosphere is the immersive haptic feedback that offers tiny taps on your Dualsense to simulate rain. I might have almost tossed that pricey controller against my wall, but the feeling of isolation and regret never left my psyche. Is it easy? Not even close. But I’d be hard-pressed to find a more rewarding game this year that was rich in detail and fiendish in combat.


9. Far Cry 6

Ubisoft finally makes good on its promise of a Far Cry tale that features a hella cool hero, Dani (male or female), a great villain voiced by Chicken Man himself, Giancarlo Esposito, and the engrossing open world of Yara, a stand-in for Cuba. Political revolutions are still the name of the game, even though Ubisoft swears they don’t make political games (Sure). I wish there was an option to switch from first to third person for the entire campaign, but at least third person is used at Dani’s hideout when she’s upgrading her ridiculously useful rocket launcher and feeding a pet alligator. Far Cry has always been closer to Saints Row silly than GTA level grit, but that’s not at all a bad thing.


8. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

The prettiest PS5 game is also a powerhouse of next-gen hardware. The latest adventure starring the Insomniac’s favorite lombax and his toaster-sized pal Clank breaks into the multiverse a year before Dr. Strange’s sequel of madness releases. Fans of the series will love all the great ammo and weapons choices. My favorite was the “Bee Mine Glove.” The dialogue is sharp as a tack with Pixar level feels. This time players control Ratchet and the “other” lombax, Rivet, who’s voiced by Mass Effect‘s FemShep, the legendary Jennifer Hale. The controls are tight, the haptic/adaptive triggers are solid, but the instant level hopping via the PS5 SSD drive by hitting R1 is a rush every darn time.


7. Resident Evil: Village

After two excellent remakes of their seminal Resident Evil 2 and 3, Capcom knew it was time to move the franchise forward with the eighth official entry in the series. (Hence, the name VIIIage). Yes, leading man Ethan Winters (from RE VII) is still the most annoying character ever in the series (which is saying something), but wowsa, the RE4 style and gameplay is engrossing. Following part seven’s first-person perspective, I feared Village would get dull, but the golden glow of the Victorian era opulence meshed with gothic horror perfectly kept me on edge. New villains like the heavily-memed Lady Dimitrescu, who stands nearly ten feet are instantly memorable (Maggie Robertson, who supplied the voice and mocap, recently won Best Performance at the Game Awards). The creepy level that houses a living doll is a high watermark for the entire series. Now about that Re4 remake I keep hearing about…


6. Hitman 3

The Hitman series had never really clicked with me until now. I never quite understood the fascination of Agent 47’s seemingly endless ways to assassinate targets with character movement, which seemed a tad too SIMS. Yet here I was sneaking onto a grand old estate to impersonate a detective that’s been hired by a wealthy family to solve a crime. This Knives Out simulator became the kind of mission I aimed to do perfectly the first time (talk to everyone, collect the poison, etc.). Upon subsequent run-throughs, I wondered how many inventive ways I could knock off my targets. A later mission where I planted a bomb on a golf ball for another clueless one-percenter never ceased being funny. I highly recommend paying the extra moola to play parts 1 and 2, all fully upgraded for 4K splendor. Taking out a baddie who exclaims, “But I have family!”? Priceless. It’s the opposite of when I felt bad for all those Seattle citizens whose names were revealed once I offed them in Last of Of Us Part 2. This balances things out, right? My ledger is definitely in the red now.


5. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy

The best surprise of the year is how marvelous Peter Quill and his crew fare on their debut outing on consoles/PC. From the addictive team-focused combat to the endless conversations, developer Eidos-Montréal’s single-player campaign is one of the best action RPGs of the year. Chatting with Rocket over who’s a better captain or discussing the responsibilities of being a good leader with Gamora is handled in quite possibly the best conversation system ever implemented. The key feature is that speaking with your crew never interrupts the combat. Dialogue options pop up and can be answered or ignored on the fly. Graphically, this is the best a Marvel franchise has ever looked on a system. Considering how stunning last year’s Miles Morales was, that is no small feat.


4. Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

One of my favorite sci-fi sagas of all time, BioWare’s Mass Effect trilogy was like no other when it debuted exclusively on the Xbox 360 back in 2007. The dialogue was funny, sharp, and affecting as I assumed the role of Commander Shepard in a world that somehow blended Star Wars thrills with Star Trek ideals. The visuals were the most atmospheric ever on an HD screen. The music was a glorious call back to the synth magic of the 80s. Yes, the big finale in Mass Effect 3 is still hotly debated but taken as a whole, there’s never been a better RPG or world-building epic that tapped into our post 9/11 anxiety on such a galaxy-spanning scale. For most fans, though, it’s the characters that are so darn memorable. Garrus is still the best space cop ever. Mordin, the amphibious Salarian, warms my heart with his impressive singing of the H.M.S. Pinafore. Dr. Liara T’Soni is the coolest 100-year-old romantic partner of all time. The 2021 legendary edition is wisely a remaster, not a remake. All the voices, the art direction, the sounds are intact but looking and running better at 4K 60fps. There are some much-needed tweaks to the first installment in terms of better aiming and item management, but overall, it’s mostly quality-of-life enhancements. I’ve already played the entire trilogy twice this year. A third play-through is undoubtedly in my future for 2022.


3. Halo Infinite

The last major Halo entry, 2015’s Halo Guardians, was met with mixed to bad reception. I appreciated the updated controls, but the story that started so strong in Halo 4, namely, the Master Chief trying to figure out what was wrong with his AI counterpart/significant other Cortana, was completely wasted in part 5. Last year’s early demo of the latest installment gave fans pause as the graphics looked dull and the new “open world” design looked sparse. Imagine my surprise that Infinite is not only the best shooter of the year but the best Halo outing since Halo 3 from 2007. Developer 343 Industries has long been in the shadow of Bungie, who created the series but left to plot their own Destiny. Finally, 343 gets the world and characters by focusing on less, not more. The light open-world design is so good, so organic to exploration it’s a wonder the series took two decades to implement. The heart of this entry is the Chief and his new AI, “the Weapon.” Unlike the character-filled universe of the Mass Effect series, Halo has never been great with supporting characters, but focusing on just two individuals (technically, there is a third, and he’s… fine) has always been its strength. Plus, the new grappleshot literally changes how you can interact in the environment. Tossing fusion coils which are pretty much exploding barrels at The Banished (i.e., the newish Covenant), is intuitive and just plain fun. I finished the first campaign in 12 hours and immediately started round 2. It’s THAT good.


2. Deathloop

While Halo Infinite shined as a campaign with two allies front and center, Arkane’s Deathloop kept me invested by how much its two main characters really hated each other. The premise sees Colt having only 24 hours to “break the loop” while Julianna will stop at nothing to protect it. The loop, naturally, is a time loop. The 60s Euro mod style is akin to Arkane’s steampunk series Dishonored by way of Austin Powers. The sense of humor and overly complicated time travel logic made the campaign something I just had to finish in two sittings. Hanging out with Colt as he constantly got berated by the Juliana – and died over and over – is perfectly balanced with Bioshock-like abilities. Voiced by James E. Kelley and Ozioma Akagha, their enthusiasm for the whacked-out island of Blackreef is hilarious.


1. Life is Strange: True Colors

2015’s Life is Strange by developer Dontnod was the closest an interactive experience had gotten to painting within the colors of a coming of age tale. The gameplay could be rudimentary, and the episodic rollout didn’t quite work, but there was no denying the memorable character of Max Caulfield. She was an amateur photography teen who lived in the fictional town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon. Soon enough, there was a murder to solve and a strong supporting cast of characters. Six years later, you can still find the game streamed on Twitch by those who’ve played it numerous times, but, like a favorite show on the CW or a teen movie, they can’t get enough of it. Max had the power to rewind time in lieu of killing baddies, but even then, that mechanic always felt unnecessary. Yet this was the mid-2010s, and a game with no powers or zombies or whatever was out of the question. Time has proven that the reason the Life is Strange series has been so popular has never been about traditional gameplay.

2021’s Life is Strange: True Colors, developed by Deck Nine, is the game of the year. Nearly every aspect I wanted in a series I adored has been perfected or excised. The lead character, Alex Chen (voiced by Erika Mori), moves to the small fictional town of Haven Springs, Colorado, to start a new life with her older bro. Soon enough, her sibling has died in a terrible accident, and it’s up to Alex and friends to figure out what exactly happened in this small mining town. While the technical peaks (4K, 60fp, near-instant load times) are a given, it’s the tweak to Alex’s so-called powers that is the greatest leap forward for the series. Alex is, essentially, an empath which means she can sense exactly how others around her feel. A woman at the flower shop, who may have lost someone recently, has a specific colored glow to her. A young man who seems pissed off all the time burns red. Our main protagonist can see how people feel more clearly than others, but it’s not really a cheat. She’s not an emotional manipulator, so the narrative is focused on how Alex comes to understand the residents of New Haven, not exploit them. How death is handled is powerful but not overly theatrical.

One inspired level has the town believe a fantasy tale a young boy wrote to deal with his own grief. So the town becomes a send-up of LARPing (live-action role playing). As Alex takes the boy from the park to a record store and beyond, the townsfolk are dressed up as wizards, goblins, you get it. It’s the one time the game allows for traditional RPG mechanics. The art style and voice acting are wonderfully grounded.

Plus, the DLC Wavelengths, which stars Steph – a character who has been in several Life is Strange installments – is set entirely in the Haven Springs record store. You spend a year getting to know her life, a cat, and all the nooks and crannies of the job. Entirely memorable in how well the “hang out” vibe permeates.

The best game of the year is the one that sees a future for the industry beyond many tropes I admittedly love. Yet, I can’t wait to see what experiences are awaiting exploration in the world of ones and zeros.

2021 Games I Hope To (Finally) Dive Into in 2022:

Death’s Door, Inscription

Honorable mentions:

Metroid Dread, Outriders, Call of Duty: Vanguard, Alan Wake Remaster

Hope to see you all online!
Gamertag/YT/Twitch: pajamo


2 Responses to “Peter’s Tremendous Top Ten Video Games of 2021”

  1. Brian White

    This is probably my most favorite Top 10 list this year since video games were huge for me.
    I heard so much about Returnal and how hard it is.
    I could not get into Hitman 3 and struggling with Death Loop a bit.
    Where is It Takes Two on this list?! Loved that game!!!
    Loving Halo Infinite too. Finally the Xbox has some games!

  2. Peter Paras

    I never got to play It Takes Two but I hear it’s phenomenal!