Danielle Partis’ top games of 2021

Our ethereal contributing editor contributes her favourites of the year

This list is part of our GOTY guest picks, where we invite previous writers and special guests to give us their favourites from 2021. Read more here.

Wasn’t a bad year for games, was it? In between some stellar AAA titles, delightful wee indies and more remasters and remakes to sate our little nostalgia brains, 2021 turned out to be a rammed year even in the wake of several delays. Before I lead into my top games of the year, I want to give honourable mentions to some games I only got around to this year, that would absolutely be at the top. First up – God Of War. What a game. Second up – Jedi: Fallen Order. What a game. Third up – Mass Effect. What a fucking game. 

Also – please remember that these are MY games of the year, not necessarily the most technical, brilliant, genre-defining works of a generation. They are just games that I liked, please keep your piss to a minimum. Onwards!

10. It Takes Two

Right, let me just say that the story of It Takes Two can get tae fuck. Complete shite take on divorce, parental responsibility and the concept of working together. Divorced parents can be a team. Not to mention that the two protagonists constantly bitching at each other throughout the entire game made me want to divorce them after an hour of gameplay.

But, It Takes Two has crept into the top 10 for two reasons; one, I didn’t like another 2021 game enough to punt it out, and two: it is a unique and much-needed revival of the lost art of couch co-op, pulling puzzle and platforming challenges from almost every era of gaming. That, and it is a visual treat, with some of the most creative and dazzling environments I’ve seen all year. 

9. Unpacking

As someone that moved house maybe ten times in as many years, keeping all of my sentimental possessions squished under someone else’s bed punched something personal in me, which I’m sure is not unique or unusual. And despite acting as a nameless, voiceless and appearance protagonist, Unpacking projects my own life experiences back at me, the helplessness of not feeling entirely comfortable in your surroundings, and later, the sheer relief and joy that comes with establishing a place that is incontestably yours. 

Unpacking is a brilliant game. It executes its ideas perfectly, delivering a familiar tale without the need for narration or personality. It’s the toys that you keep, the hobbies that grow over time and shape who you are, the items that you lose and the places that you put them that tell the story, wrapped up in a deliciously zen mechanic that makes it a joy to play.

8. New Pokémon Snap

Pokémon is one of those franchises that I don’t consider myself a fan of, even when I’m scouring eBay for a particular 1996 Gengar Tomy figure. The games never hit me right, and I’ve always craved one that lets me explore Pokémon without that core battle mechanic.

New Pokémon Snap did that delightfully. It let me take a peaceful, awe-inspiring journey to see the pocket monsters in their own habitats, with their own habits and personalities. In Snap, I don’t burden the creatures, I simply take pictures of them vibing and looking cute, and it’s that side of this franchise that I’ve needed all of my life. All we need now is Pokémon Zoo Tycoon and that’s it, we can stop making video games altogether. 

7. Halo Infinite

For all my blustering about falling out of love with Halo, this latest instalment still makes it into my top 10. The parts of Halo Infinite that I did like, I absolutely adore. The barrelling through self-destructing ships, cutting through hordes of Grunts and shattering spines with the Gravity Hammer – all of that feels utterly perfect. While I didn’t want to explore every base and shank every Banished assassin, the world that was built to accommodate that side slosh is undeniably beautiful.

Halo Infinite’s multiplayer is a solid draw too, it’s everything I loved about classic Halo but modernised to play alongside modern shooters, without losing any of its signature flair. For all of its bloat, the things I wanted Halo Infinite to do come off flawlessly, and the parts that didn’t sit right are easy to ignore in favour of a delicious reboot. 

6. Guardians of the Galaxy

After the spectacularly average mush of primary colour sludge that was Marvel’s Avengers, I expected nothing more than another 6/10 romp from Guardians of the Galaxy. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Square’s take on the interstellar gang of rogues is strong enough to rival the MCU, with characters that are as nuanced as they are badass, a fresh narrative that doesn’t lean on pre-existing lore, and a simple but badass combat system to get all five Guardians involved. All of this is wrapped up in a delicious soundtrack, comprised of classic rock anthems and an original score, it’s a rhapsodic romp through space that is written to a perfection, and one hell of a time.

5. Overboard!

This stylish you-dunnit came out of nowhere and absolutely ensnared me. A narrative-driven point and click murder mystery where every conversation matters, Overboard is immensely replayable,  incredibly addictive, and a perfect weekend lover. 

Overboard kept delighting me with every new discovery, and it was — unlike your in-game husband — absolutely impossible to put down. It’s a narrative triumph, brimming with fun, and one I will keep chipping away until I have mastered the art of wealthy spouse disposal. For educational purposes, obviously.

4. Inscryption

On paper, Inscryption is not a game I would like. In fact, it’s a garbled amalgamation of genres and themes I would categorically avoid when searching for a new game. And yet, this spooky indie has crept onto my games of the year with its sheer brilliance. Part deck builder, part horror and part roguelike, Inscryption takes you on a chaotic journey to escape the clutches of a monster that fucking love cards, and a few other adventures along the way. 

The core of Inscryption is its fantastic card game, which is fairly simply to grasp but incredibly complex to beat. Each boss raises the stakes in an entirely new way, but similar to games of its ilk, death is a reward. The more you die, the stronger your deck gets, and that indulgent loop reeled me right in. Inscryption is mesmerising, striking, and a marvel of design that you’d be a fool to miss. 

3. Deathloop

Deathloop really came out of nowhere for me. Not a renowned fan of Arkane, I ended up getting it by pure chance and falling in love with Colt’s groundhog murder party. Deathloop’s level design is remarkable and intuitive; by the third run of an area I was a master of the terrain, and it was that familiarity mixed with the myriad of tight skills that made it a delight to play. 

Flamboyant, stylish and brutal, Deathloop strong-armed me into its gorgeous environments, smart-talking narrative and fervent time loop mechanic by drip feeding a smart plot and giving me a little more rope each time. While I didn’t particularly like the very end, the journey alone was so decadent that getting through one more day hardly felt like a waste. How DO they keep that food so fresh?

2. The Artful Escape

While The Artful Escape is not my game of the year (though it came bloody close), I can’t recall a game that has felt so personal in recent years. Francis Vendetti, young musician from Calypso, California, is living in the shadow of his uncle, Johnson Vendetti, a world famous folk legend. Despite his best efforts, Francis isn’t vibing with folk music under the intense pressure of everyone around him, so decides to create a stage persona. In the process, he finds himself the star of his very own interstellar space rock opera. 

The unapologetic, larger-than-life energy emanating from The Artful Escape is nothing short of extraordinary. While it’s main mechanic of walking right and pressing X to shred may not resonate with everyone, the sheer cosmic grandeur spilling out of every aspect of The Artful Escape’s design, from its environments to its wacky characters, has been crafted with such passion and enthusiasm that it’d be incredibly hard to hate, even if you’re some kind of freak that doesn’t like guitars. 

1. Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart

When it comes to creating worlds that just ooze unfiltered joy, Insomniac is almost in a league of its own and has been for a long time. Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart took that to a whole new level, encapsulating everything that is fun and brilliant about video games and packing it into a next generation release that makes fighting for a PS5 worth it.

I could wax on and on about how gorgeous it is, the bombastic worlds full of colours and explosions, the chaotic gameplay and the delightful narrative full of warmth, but Rift Apart resonated with me so much because it is the first game in many years to make me feel like a kid again.

One of my fondest and earliest gaming memories is sitting on the floor of my parents’ house and playing Spyro The Dragon. Cutting about through incredible levels setting shit on fire and hoovering up gems set me up for the rest of my life, and I owe that one to Insomniac. That memory came full circle with Rift Apart; I was sitting on the floor completely mesmerised by it, feeling exactly like I did back then. A joyous game from start to finish, exactly how games should feel.

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