Even though there were a few major tentpole multiplayer releases in 2021 that ended up disappointing fans, overall, the last year had a number of excellent options for those who enjoy multiplayer experiences, from competitive shooters to co-op-focused experiences and more. Here, we’re going to highlight the 11 that stood out to us the most, and from that group, we’ll pick one as our favourite multiplayer game of 2021.
NOTE: The nominees and winner were decided by an internal vote held among the entire GamingBolt staff.
Outriders is a pretty damn enjoyable game even if you’re playing it solo, but People Can Fly’s RPG shooter is really at its best when being played in a squad of three. Heading out into a squad where each player has unique strengths and abilities and watching different classes and kinds of builds working in synergy never gets old, not least because Outriders’ energetic combat makes that process so satisfying. It might not be the most unique experience out there – co-op looter shooters are not in short supply by any means, after all – but when viewed purely on the merits of execution, there isn’t an awful lot to find issue with.
BACK 4 BLOOD
Left 4 Dead, like many other beloved Valve franchises, seems to be stuck in an interminable slumber, but the original developer of that series, Turtle Rock Studios, recently took it upon themselves to finally give the people what they’ve been craving. Back 4 Blood is a spiritual successor to that classic co-op survival shooter formula, and it’s excellent. Brutally challenging and cleverly designed around tense encounter design and an engaging progression system, Back 4 Blood consistently delivers one heart-pumping sequence after another, and inherently encourages replay value. Working together as a group as efficiently and effectively as possible in this game always feels like a rewarding accomplishment.
MONSTER HUNTER RISE
This one was pretty much guaranteed to be in here the moment Capcom first announced it. The Monster Hunter formula has been perfect for co-op gameplay for as long as it’s been around, especially when it’s at its best, and Monster Hunter Rise, which takes the new and improved World formula and improves upon it even further, is Monster Hunter at its very best. That ridiculously addictive loop of heading out to hunt down specific monsters as you keep working your way up to better gear never, ever gets boring, and all those immaculately designed fights flourish even more when you’re taking them on with another player by your side.
FORZA HORIZON 5
Forza Horizon 5 is a game that wants you to have fun no matter what you’re doing. If you’re playing solo, you’re going to have an absolute blast. If you’re playing multiplayer- well, ditto. From the Eliminator to Horizon Arcade events, from encountering players in the open world and challenging them to head-to-head races to jumping into co-op for specific events, from creating, sharing, and downloading liveries with other players to so, so much more, Forza Horizon 5 is brimming with multiplayer activities, each as entertaining as the last. The fact that it’s all so easy to find and jump into makes it that much more enjoyable.
Since Rocket League struck gold all those years ago, more than a few games have tried to come up with some wacky concepts of competitive multiplayer games based on unique adaptations of sports- the exaggeratedly action-packed dodgeball offerings of Knockout City are probably better than most of what’s offer in those other games. Velan Studios’ game is surprisingly easy to get into, and hides deceptive mechanical depth that not only encourages truly meaningful competitive gameplay for those who really want to invest in the game, but also makes progression and the act of getting better at the game significantly more satisfying. In addition to that, there’s a variety of modes, well-designed maps, and post-launch support has been pretty decent. All in all, very few multiplayer games have kept us coming back in 2021 the way Knockout City has.
Arkane Studios’ Deathloop is, first and foremost a single player game. It’s a story-driven experience, after all- but though its online component is by no means crucial to seeing the game through to the end, it’s still a huge part of the experience that adds to it significantly. Much more than one might expect, in fact. Exploring the game and suddenly being invaded by another player’s version of Juliana injects sudden tension to proceedings, and the game of cat-and-mouse that follows, regardless of which of the two you’re playing as, can lead to some of Deathloop’s most exciting moments. The game smartly also incorporates that mechanic into its story and its time loop premise, so it never feels like it’s pulling you out of the main experience. Deathloop’s multiplayer deserves plaudits for its conceptualization just as much as it does for actually bringing that concept to life in an effective manner.
Codemasters’ F1 games have offered solid multiplayer experiences on a consistently basis for a number of years running at this point, and F1 2021 is, as you’d expect, cut from the same mould. PvP races remain a blast, thanks to the predictably solid driving and tuning mechanics, while leaderboards are as addictive as ever. What really stands out in F1 2021 is the ability to play the career mode with another player, where you can go through the entire career playing either with or against each other. Multiplayer in F1 2021 feels even more packed and, as such, enjoyable- which is a pretty accurate way to describe the entire game on a whole.
IT TAKES TWO
Hazelight Studios delivered something fresh and exciting with A Way Out, a game that made co-op central to both its story and gameplay, but It Takes Two takes that core idea and does some truly unforgettable stuff with it. From its insistence on making both gameplay and story always work in and around each other to the boundless creativity and variety the game showcases in everything from environments to mechanics- It Takes Two is a game with a very particular vision, and it brings that vision to life excellently. It’s not often that we see a game doing justice to its ideas and ambitions as well and as creatively as It Takes Two does.
Unlike many other games on this list, FIFA 22’s multiplayer has been among the best experiences in this group this year not because of wild innovations or fresh ideas, but because, like the entire series, it’s continued on with a tried-and-tested formula. From Ultimate Team to Seasons, to Pro Clubs, to Volta to even single kickoff matches or custom tournaments, FIFA 22, like its predecessors, boasts healthy multiplayer offerings. Given the fundamental mechanical strength of the game, anyone who enjoys football sim is bound to find something worthwhile in this area.
GUILTY GEAR STRIVE
Fighters might be much more inherently inaccessibly in nature than many other competitive multiplayer games tend to be, but for those who do get into them, they tend to be so much more rewarding and addictive than most other games out there. Guilty Gear Strive, as probably one of the best fighters we’ve played in recent years, has those qualities in abundance. What really makes the game’s online tick is the excellent netcode, which is something that can really make or break a game. Excellent new mechanics like the Roman Cancel and wall break spice up multiplayer gameplay as well, while there’s also a lot to be said about how meaningfully different all the characters feel from each other, and yet how pretty much all of them are a blast to play as.
Halo Infinite may not have been a do-or-die game for Halo, given how massive this series was even when it was at its lowest point, but it was still pretty damn crucial that 343 Industries got this one right. And they absolutely did. Both sides of the experience shine, which, of course, means that the multiplayer does as well. Adopting a new free-to-play model, Halo Infinite’s multiplayer has had some initial growing pains with things such as Battle Pass progression and the cosmetic story, but seeing 343 Industries listening to feedback and making improvements in response so promptly in these early days has been very encouraging. Of course, where it really counts, Halo Infinite knocks it out of the park, with fun modes, excellently designed maps, and the best movement and combat mechanics in a Halo game to date all coming together to deliver a multiplayer Halo experience for the ages.
IT TAKES TWO
Josef Fares and his team at Hazelight have made it abundantly clear that they want to keep on developing games that focus exclusively on and are built around co-op, offering something that basically no other game does. It Takes Two deserves immense credit for that on its own, but of course, what really helps this game stand out is how incredibly well-made it is. It leverages its focus on co-op in consistently unique and creative ways for both its story and gameplay, in the process creating something that feels doubly special. It Takes Two backs up its ambitions with immaculate design, while always ensuring that it’s all always in service to creating a two-player experience. For all of that and more, it deserves the highest honour in this category.
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