Overlode’s top 10 games of 2021

The founders of Overlode come together to list the 10 best games of 2021
This list is part of our GOTY content, where we invite previous writers and special guests to give us their favourites from 2021. Read more here.

When deciding how to format our Game of the Year list, we decided to do what we’ve done since day one, and steal from Giant Bomb. Those familiar with that site already know where this is going. While below you’ll find our Top 10 games and words from each of us on the games, that’s not even half the story. 

A few weeks ago, we recorded our Game of the Year deliberations in their entirety, taking a list of almost 40 games that all of us had played in one form or another, and cutting it down to 10. This is a fun way of doing things, not only because it allows us to give every game we played some kind of airtime that it might have lost during the busy periods in the year, but it also allows us to think about the year in games as a whole. 

It gets heated. I mean, we’re only picking 10 games, and there have been way more than 10 great games this year, especially between the three of us, but what we’ve ended up with is a list that we think sums up the tastes of Overlode in 2021. Some darling had to be killed in order to get us to the promised land, and ordering the 10 took over half of the podcast. 

We highly recommend you give the podcast a listen if you want the full rationale behind the list, and why omissions were made.

If you don’t want to be spoiled on what happens in that marathon podcast (seriously, it’s five hours long), then turn away now. 

You can listen to the podcast here.

Are you ready? 

Are you sure? 

Where did Balan end up?

10. The Artful Escape

Words by Danielle Partis

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 its 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. 

9. Chicory: A Colorful Tale

Words by Harry Mitchell 

While I had middling expectations of a ‘colouring in game’, I was extremely taken in by Chicory: A Colorful Tale. It’s written in a cute, funny, but most importantly genuine way. The drawing mechanics quickly grow legs to show fun platforming and exploration tools, and the concept of taking over a genius artist’s role using a PS5 analogue stick was always entertaining.

But that’s what Chicory is all about, and why I loved it. Your conversations with characters and conflict with your idolized hero makes you quickly realize that this is a game about imperfections, drawing outside the lines, doing things for fun and still calling it art. There isn’t an expectation to become a more precise and talented artist, just to grow into your own style and become comfortable with yourself. While it’s an excellent adventure game, you’ll leave Chicory: A Colorful Tale with some more learnings about how to paint through life

8. The Forgotten City

Words by Jordan Middler

The Forgotten City is a game that makes such a strong impression with the limited time that it is with you that I literally started playing it on the morning of our Game of the Year deliberations and was ready to come into the podcast and fight for it to be right near the top of this list. It’s essentially an episode of Doctor Who wherein the Doctor is sent back to an ancient Roman city wherein no one can Sin, or the whole place goes all Goldmember. 

The game asks genuinely interesting questions about humanity, all the dialogue is brilliant, and it looks great. I found myself thinking about it even when I wasn’t playing it, wondering if a certain chain of events would allow me to see one of the four endings in a different way than I did the first time.

When the game first came out. Myself and Harry filmed a video about it, having a look through the early areas, towards the end, I suggested that Harry use the gun that he had selected as his loadout and create a large hole in the head of the person that sends you back in time. 

Doing this caused the game to immediately end, sending credits up the screen. 

Extremely funny.

7. Halo Infinite

Words by Jordan Middler

Halo Infinite is a good, often great game, however, the campaign shows off its best tricks far too quickly, and playing it further will only lessen the impact of its opening hours. The multiplayer suite is incredible and considering it’s free to play, it’s impossible to advise against at least trying it. I wish I loved Halo Infinite more, and I expected to, but it feels like it’ll take 343 another game to actually work out what it wants to do with its open levels, beyond just having them.

The game is largely here based on the limitless enjoyment and quality of the multiplayer. There’s basically nothing wrong with it from a sheer, mechanical perspective. It feels unbelievably smooth to play, it’s genuinely tense when games come down to the last few points, and the combination of the new equipment from the campaign and the classic Halo weapons make it the best Halo multiplayer since 3. 

6. Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy

Words by Jordan Middler

Guardians of the Galaxy is a fantastic game that surprised me not only with how much I enjoyed the combat, but how it reminded me just how much I love these characters. It’s funny, genuinely full of heart, and a visual powerhouse. It might just about outstay its welcome if you’re not as into these characters as I am, and you might find the combat a bit repetitive, but as soon as it was done, I didn’t think “That took ages”, all I thought was… “so… when’s volume 2?”

The game also looks gorgeous. It’s a planet-hopping adventure, so you’d expect the developers to stretch their legs with the art style, and they do it tremendously. A highlight is the cyber-punk drenched spaceport of Nowhere, which happens to be in the severed head of an ancient celestial being. Facial animation is also excellent, and the fur tech on Rocket’s face is only outmatched by Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, leaving it in esteemed company.

What was with that bit at the end where you’re walking towards the camera though?

5. Hitman 3

Words by Jordan Middler

Hitman 3 is an incredibly strong conclusion to what is one of modern gaming’s best trilogies. The environments IO Interactive has crafted have never been more creative, more sprawling and more overstuffed with secrets waiting to be unearthed. The depth is unimaginable and the enjoyment of orchestrating the perfect kill never stops being incredibly satisfying. While not every level in Hitman 3 will sit among the likes of Paris, Sapienza and Miami, new additions like Dartmoor prove that not only does IO still have plenty of tricks up its sleeve, the acquisition of the James Bond franchise is poised to be one of gaming’s most tantalising prospects. 

4. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

Words by Danielle Partis

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.

3. Inscryption

Words by Harry Mitchell 

While many of my anticipated indies of 2021 disappointed me (sorry Genesis Noir & Jett: The Far Shore), Inscryption came and saved the day. A cursed card-battler found on a disc in the woods, Inscryption has an unmatched vibe with dark humour I couldn’t take my eyes off of. The game itself is intuitive and very fun, with no element going to waste as even excess damage and pulling your own teeth out can change up your game.

What makes Inscryption my game of the year is its repeated genius at doing things to make me gasp out loud. Getting out of your chair to find clues around the room, the moment cards come alive and begin to talk to you, or when you discover that the end of the game is only act one – that’s what makes this game a masterwork. 

I don’t want to spoil Inscryption any more, as discovering these moments for yourself mixed with its creepypasta meta-humour is too much fun to steal from others. But from start to end, Inscryption plays with expectations, fears and gameplay mechanics while taking you on a journey celebrating gaming itself. It’s why I love indie games, and games in general. 

2. Returnal

Words by Jordan Middler

Everything was working in Returnal’s favour in order to make it my Game of the Year. Not only is it from a studio, Housemarque, that I love (Resogun is a top 5 PS4 game, fight me), but it’s also their take on a genre I love, the third-person shooter. 

It’s an incredibly hard game. It’s impossible to get away from that. Most people reading this list will have either never played the game or have only played the first area because they can’t progress. And while I think the difficulty is essential and actually appropriate to the plot, as opposed to other hard games that are just hard for the sake of being hard, I do regret the idea that people won’t be able to see just how cool the narrative of Returnal is. 

It’s absolutely bathed in that scandy-mystery that I loved in games like Control, which makes sense when you learn that they share a key writer, Eevi Korhonen. The game ask a lot of you to get to its true ending, in fact, even beating the game isn’t enough to uncover all the world of Atropos has to offer, but if the game was just the story set against some middling gameplay, it would still be somewhere on this list, the reason it tops the list is because the gameplay is simply unimpeachable. 

The sheer variety of weapons, augmentations and other variables that can impact a Returnal run is so large that even playing the game again a few weeks ago in anticipation of Game of the Year, I found myself trying out completely new playstyles and thriving. Like the drip-fed narrative, I think the game should open you up to these guns and variables a bit quicker, but once you get over that first hump, there’s a momentum to collecting weapon upgrades, health upgrades and other items that by the time you get to the boss, you feel unstoppable. Of course, you’re not, but don’t let that stop you. 

Yous inty Blue Öyster Cult?

Game of the Year: Deathloop

Words by Harry Mitchell 

Deathloop combines stealth, chaos and style in a way no game ever has, criticizing and fixing the immersive sim formula to craft something new. Its looping days split into segments brings an element of Hitman to the Dishonored fun, making the same locations into totally different experiences depending on the time, temperature, and mood of the area. It brings the attention to detail from Arkane into a layered, expanding scale like no other.

Its design is stellar, with the narrative melding brilliantly through some witchcraft magic. While its superpowers mostly borrow from previous titles, its loadout function turns every day into a potential new approach instead of winging with what works so far. Because if you mess up, Deathloop is at its peak. Getting spotted by guards no longer ends in a panicked quick load; it’s an invitation to pull out that ridiculous gun you’ve been itching to use and use Jedi powers to toss a lad off a cliff. And if that isn’t enough, the inclusion of a multiplayer mode with Julianna invasions have no business being as tense and fun as they are.

Its polish, craft and sheer entertainment factor of Deathloop makes it an essential masterclass. Whether you’re a fan of stealthing around Dishonored manors, laying out plans in Hitman, or eating through enemies like a DOOM or Infamous action classic, Deathloop has something delightful for everyone.

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