In the world of video games, 2021 will be forever remembered as the year of major COVID accounts. 2020 was already tough, but many of its biggest games were mostly completed in a normal development cycle. The projects planned for the following year were not so lucky.
So, this year’s game news was rife with delays, hot launches, unfinished messes, and game publishers scrambling to fill their schedules with under-prepared backup plans. And that doesn’t say anything about gamers themselves, wondering if chips and crucial parts could one day be plentiful enough for them to purchase the latest equipment for consoles and PCs.
Yet against all odds, fantastic games have yet crossed the 2021 finish line, ranging from big-budget behemoths to surprising indies. This year, in an effort to reduce rating based anger and celebrate every game on our roster, we’re removing numbered ratings, with the exception of crowning an official Ars Technica pick for the best video game of 2021 to the very end of the list.
This alphabetically ordered list includes everything from jaw-dropping praise to cautionary-filled considerations, but each game’s ability to decipher that 20-item list is, in our opinion, a sufficient indication that every game deserves a second look.
Ars Technica may earn compensation for the sales of links on this publication through affiliate programs.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite
If you’re a regular Ars reader with a fairly powerful PC or gaming console and some hot opinions on Convergence from Ridley Scott, HR Giger, and Dan O’Bannon, you’ll likely find something to like in the first co- operation game in the Aliens universe. Elite firefighting team Keep it simple: you and two friends use gadgets and big cannons to take out waves of even bigger enemies, mostly in the form of xenos, but possibly with Working Joes in the mix.
How does such a simple pitch compete with dozens of other cooperative shooters on consoles and PCs? AFE lands on this year-end list not because of refreshing new ideas, but because of solid execution. Cold Iron Studios strikes a delicate balance between designing a curvy battle arena, compelling enemy models, interesting co-op strategy options, and variable combat pace, all while stringing together a long and varied campaign with growing stakes. more serious than (shocking) Weyland-Yutani made a mess. During each campaign mission, momentum rises and falls in a way that’s perfectly suited to leaving your mic on and catching up with your teammates between intense firefights, while class-specific perks and weapons require. teammates to monitor and interact in a meaningful way.
This last quality contrasts sharply with the feeling of loneliness that I experience Back 4 Blood, a 2021 co-op combat candidate who struggles to catalyze collaboration between his teammates. I need more reasons to interact with online gaming teammates in 2021, not less. AFE gets that right in a well-executed package, although its peaks in difficulty will likely take your team to extremes of dying and trying again.
—Sam Machkovech, Editor-in-Chief of Technological Culture
Switch | Buy on: Best buy, Target, Nintendo Online Store
Many racing games have identity crises; they do not engage in realism or ridicule and get nowhere. This is not the case with Cruis’n Blast, which embraces as much as possible the noisy, garish and playful spirit of the arcade. It makes sense: The game was initially developed as an arcade exclusive in 2017 before being ported to Switch last September.
Cruis’n Blast is purely devoted to speed. You never have to take your finger off the accelerator once you’ve hit the gas. When you hit a wall, you don’t stop; your car simply rotates 360 degrees and keeps moving forward. There is no minimap in the lower corner, because even when you turn, the only direction you are going is forward. This is a game where you can still zoom straight ahead at 145 miles per hour while drifting and tilting your car to the side. This is all lovingly absurd: you can drive a tank or hammerhead shark and race through dinosaur infested jungles or UFO overrun cities. You can drift and do wheelies in a stealth helicopter (with accompanying car engine sounds). You can do a barrel roll.
There is no online multiplayer, although there is a split screen that can accommodate up to four players, which Ars appreciates, and many other racing games have more cars and tracks. (Forza Horizon 5, which almost made our 2021 list, is a better bet on that front.) Every race is more of a race than a competition: AI has a heavy elastic effect, and each track has scripted events that happen at just the right time. Winning means using your nitrous oxide at the right time and doing Mario kart drift-boost as often as possible, without taking over correctly. Still playing Cruis’n Blast is a rush, each race is an explosion of effects, colors and chaos for two minutes. You come in and go, and the game never pretends to be something it’s not. It’s a big, happy dose of honking unreality.
–Jeff Dunn, Trade Editor
The door of death
PC, Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X / S | Buy on: GOG, To smoke, Nintendo Online Store, PSN, Xbox
Browsing through this list, which is currently sorted alphabetically, you’ll find other games that arguably breathe more life into familiar gaming conventions than The door of death Is it that. After about 15 minutes of this top-down adventure game you will probably notice its merging of Zelda-like crossing and puzzles and Dark souls-as a mix of brutal battles, dodge and attack mechanics, and dead enemy spirits as bargaining chips.
But as 2021 drew to a close, we at Ars couldn’t let go The door of death like a first-rate gloss of the two concepts combined, much like the one from 2017 Hollow knight took our breath away as a familiar retread but brilliant of all things Metroidvanie. The door of death coaxes his players with a Tim Burton-caliber plot about pretending like the Grim Reaper, but the real fun comes from how studio Acid Nerve, which has previously released Titan Quest, combines masterful combat controls with beautifully rendered stop-motion worlds and monsters. What if it was familiar, when the execution is so quick to play and beautiful to watch?
Better yet, after debuting earlier this year on PC and Xbox, The door of death has since spread to Nintendo Switch as a solid 30fps port – and we can’t say the same for other similar games on this year’s best list. So if a lot of your year-end game plans will be spent on Switch, maybe because you’re taking one on vacation, you’d better commit to The door of death that Nintendo’s 2021 Switch-exclusive re-release of Zelda: the heavenly sword.
—Sam Machkovech, Editor-in-Chief of Technological Culture