Here are some of the best video games of 2021 – CBC.ca

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If you, or someone in your household, is a gamer then you’ll want to hear our next interview. Associate Producer Danielle McCreadie talks to CBC’s gaming expert Jonathan Ore about his picks for the best of 2021.

It’s been a weird couple of years for video games.

Thanks to the pandemic, more people than ever logged onto digital worlds while staying inside. Many studios were forced to delay the release of highly anticipated titles. Just getting your hands on a new console like the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X hasn’t gotten any easier a full year after their release.

That’s to say nothing of the continual updates about developers in the industry speaking out against workplace abuse and burnout, as calls to unionize continue to grow.

That said, 2021 has seen its fair share of impressive games. Here are some of this year’s best.

Resident Evil Village

PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Microsoft Windows, Google Stadia

Capcom’s long-running horror survival series has experimented with its tone and structure multiple times over the last 20-odd years. Village, the eighth mainline game in the series, feels like a celebration of all of them, combining its heart-pounding horror with sprinkles of its trademark cornball humour.

Players will find themselves frantically blockading doors to hide from rampaging werewolves, blasting hordes of zombies with a shotgun or trying to escape Lady Dimitrescu — the internet’s favourite tall vampire lady.

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy

PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows

This game can feel messy when the fighting ramps up. Zipping around the battlefield with Star Lord’s rocket boots while commanding your four teammates in real time can turn the screen into a sensory overload of monsters, energy flashes and energy bars.

But Canadian developer Eidos Montreal takes the time to deliver a rollicking and heartwarming story that often exceeds its better-known Marvel Cinematic Universe equivalent led by Chris Pratt. Just make sure you brush up on your ’80s classic rock first. 

Inscryption

Microsoft Windows

Inscryption is the most surprising game of 2021 — and many of those surprises are so intriguing that it would be a disservice to spoil them here. When it begins, you’re trapped in a log cabin belonging to a mysterious man who forces you to play a weird card game. If you win, you might have a chance to escape. If you lose, you’re dead.

Canadian indie developer Daniel Mullins has made a game that’s one part Magic: The Gathering, one part escape room and mixed it with a weirdly endearing cast of supporting characters. Inscryption spirals in several genre-defying directions, some of which pick away at the definition of what a video game even is.

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

PlayStation 5

Rift Apart doesn’t stray far from the formula that Insomniac Games set for this series in 2002. You run around alien worlds that look plucked out of a Pixar movie and blast baddies with weapons ranging from heat-seeking missiles to a topiary sprinkler that turns enemies into garden hedges.

That formula’s still as fun as ever. But it stands out with a heartfelt story featuring series newcomer Rivet (voiced by Canadian Jennifer Hale) about loners finding friends and learning what it means to be a hero in the face of overwhelming odds. 

Metroid Dread

Nintendo Switch

Samus Aran, one of the gaming world’s original heroines, returns in her first starring role in a game since 2017. Nintendo and co-developer Mercury Steam have mostly stayed true to the series’ roots, which were arguably perfected in 1994’s Super Metroid and have since spawned dozens of imitators.

That’s good news for Dread, a 2D side-scrolling adventure game with plenty of weird aliens to fight and corridors to explore, along with a healthy dose of mystery to its story. Players should prepare for some extremely difficult boss battles near the finale, however, that demand lightning-quick reflexes to win.

Death’s Door

PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows

Death’s Door is an action-adventure that is equal parts dark and light. Sure, you’re a reaper of souls fighting monsters who refuse to die — but you’re also a cute little crow working for a bureaucracy of soul collectors. 

The comedy peppered throughout this twisted tale of life and death is what sets it apart, along with its memorable characters and villains. Its colourful artwork, multi-layered (and repeatable) level design and simple combat mechanics also help keep it interesting beyond the hacking and slashing with your sword. 

Psychonauts 2

Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Microsoft Windows, MacOS, Linux

Critical darling Double Fine Productions delivered this sequel to its 2005 sleeper hit starring a team of psychic detectives and adventurers who delve into the psyches of supervillains, where their innermost anxieties and doubts manifest as all-too-real monsters.

Double Fine’s works are usually best known for comedic stories, but weaker gameplay elements. Psychonauts 2 upends those expectations, with top-notch 3D running and jumping, a wildly imaginative world and lovable characters that you care about combining to make one of 2021’s most memorable games.

It Takes Two

PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Microsoft Windows

Co-operative gaming is still relatively niche as genres go, but games like It Takes Two may push it further toward mainstream popularity. Two players take on the roles of Cody and May, a couple on the rocks who end up magically transformed into sentient dolls shortly after telling their daughter they plan to divorce.

Once you get past the admittedly unsettling premise, it’s excellent on all fronts, from acting to pacing through to gameplay and plot. Many critics agreed, as it won Game of the Year at this year’s The Game Awards.

Unpacking

Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Microsoft Windows, MacOS, Linux

Unpacking is a deceptively simple game: you literally unpack cardboard boxes, arranging items in a new room, apartment or home as you move in. It’s a cleverly designed puzzle, as you figure out how to find new shelves and corners for all your items rendered in sharp retro pixel art.

But soon you realize that each item you unpack and tuck away tells one person’s story by giving a glimpse into some of the most important moments of her life. The items she carries throughout her life, the ones she doesn’t, and the people she meets speak volumes without hearing a single line of dialogue.

Chicory: A Colorful Tale

PlayStation 4/5, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, MacOS

Chicory’s paint sloshed colouring-book aesthetic immediately stands out when compared to the other games on this list. You play the wielder, using a paintbrush to colour the countryside where the colours have been mysteriously drained.

Painting the world and discovering the surprising ways your brush interacts with it puts a novel spin on the top-down adventure genre pioneered by The Legend of Zelda. Along the way, though, it tells a story about burnout and the sometimes-crushing expectations of following in your mentor’s footsteps that will resonate particularly with millennial and Gen Z players.

Hades

PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, MacOS

Hades officially launched in 2020, but you can make the argument that no game released in 2021 surpassed it. You play as Zagreus, the petulant son of Hades (the god of the dead), who has chosen to fight through the endless hordes of monsters to escape the Underworld and reach his godly relatives on Mount Olympus.

Supergiant Games created a masterful alchemic mix of storytelling and action with Hades. It’s won a truckload of awards since launch, and last week became the first video game to win a Hugo Award, in a special one-off category for games at the awards show that celebrates science fiction and fantasy literature.


With files from Pete Evans, Anand Ram and Ryan Turford.

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