Compared to the banger year that was 2020, 2021 was a relatively quiet one for PlayStation- but we’re at a point where even relatively quiet years are brimming with excellent games to play across a variety of different genres. PS5 and PS4 players had no shortage of excellent games to choose from over the last 12 months, and here, we’re going to highlight a handful of those as the ones that we enjoyed the most- before picking one of them as the ultimate winner for the year.
NOTE: The nominees and winner were decided by an internal vote held among the entire GamingBolt staff.
A 9-to-5 job where you, a crow, are tasked with reaping the souls of the dead might not sound like a lot of fun on paper- or wait, it does. And it is. Death’s Door takes that unique premise to create a charming experience that is constantly delightful, but more importantly, it’s also an incredibly well-designed game. The combat is solid, the dungeons and puzzles are great, the boss fights are smartly designed, and the level of challenge here will consistently put your skills to the test.
GUILTY GEAR STRIVE
At this point, there’s little doubt in anyone’s mind that there are few other developers out there that can put out all-time great fighting games as consistently as Arc System Works can, and with Guilty Gear Strive, the Japanese studio may very well have created one of its best offerings in recent years. An excellent online interface, gorgeous visuals and animations, tightly designed and immaculately balanced mechanics, a solid selection of modes and fighters- all of these strengths and more elevate Strive above most of its peers.
LITTLE NIGHTMARES 2
Little Nightmares 2 is the perfect sequel- it understands what its predecessor was good at, and it doubles down on those strengths in more ways than one, from terrifying and grotesque enemies to haunting sights in a desolate world. t makes you feel completely powerless and just barely equipped to deal with new hurdles all at once, and with smart improvements made to things such as combat (or what little of it is there), puzzles, and platforming, it delivers one of the most satisfying horror adventures we’ve played in quite some time.
LIFE IS STRANGE: TRUE COLORS
Life is Strange creators Dontnod Entertainment have moved on from the series, but thankfully, Life is Strange: True Colors proves that the series is in excellent hands with Deck Nine. It’s a game that succeeds in every way that a new instalment in this series should, with a heartfelt narrative and a strong cast of endearing characters being some of its many, many biggest strengths. It might not have the same impact that the very first game in the series did, but it hones the series’ formula to a sheen unlike any of its predecessors.
F.I.S.T.: FORGED IN SHADOW TORCH
F.I.S.T.: Forged in Shadow Torch deserves all the attention, and more. Combat, exploration, and progression are the core tenets that this genre is built on, and F.I.S.T. exhibits a keen understanding of each of those areas. On top of that, with its unique visual aesthetic, characters, and dieselpunk setting, it also sets itself apart from what’s become a very crowded genre in recent years.
RATCHET AND CLANK: RIFT APART
Ratchet and Clank fans had been starved for a new full-fledged mainline entry in the series for well over a decade, and yet, impossibly enough, Rift Apart turned out to be well worth all of that anticipation. Some might say that it plays things a bit too safe, in that it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect a new Ratchet game to be- but given how long it’s been since we got one of these, that’s not a bad thing at all. With bombastic action, slick platforming, excellent characters, and of course, stunning visuals, Rift Apart is an early standout game in the PS5’s life.
CHICORY: A COLORFUL TALE
A passing glance at Chicory: A Colorful Tale might give you the impression that it’s a simplistic game, but as anyone who’s played it would tell you, it’s deceptively deep and compelling. Whether it’s its unique painting mechanics, which enable clever puzzles, or its narrative, which focuses on excellent characters and that together tell a heartfelt coming of age tale, Chicory is a game that will keep finding ways to surprise you – in the best ways possible – right up to the very end.
KENA: BRIDGE OF SPIRITS
The fact that Kena: Bridge of Spirits is Ember Lab’s first game ever still amazes us, because it’s so good, and so confidently made. Where its gorgeous visuals and top-notch animations are concerned, the game obviously benefits from the studio’s background, but even from a pure gameplay perspective, there’s so much to love here, from the solid level design and rewarding exploration to the clever puzzles and surprisingly challenging boss fights. It might not be the most unique game out there, but it’s executed well enough to make up for that.
RGG Studio established Yagami and co as brilliant characters in the space of a single game with the original Judgment, and Lost Judgment does what any sequel should- builds on those excellent foundations with an even better game. From a captivating story to predictably excellent combat to a densely packed open world that’s always a joy to explore and so much more, Lost Judgment excels in all the ways you would expect it to.
MARVEL’S GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was fighting an uphill battle even before it launched, but thankfully, it managed to conclusively prove all skeptics wrong when it actually launched. Rather than being smothered by the shadow of the MCU movies, Eidos Montreal’s game carves out its own identity with excellent portrayals of beloved characters, brought to life by brilliant performances and writing. It tells a story full of heart and humour, and with absolute focus on tightly crafted linear gameplay, it succeeds in being exactly as good as it should be.
Owing to its very nature, Returnal is not the most accessible game out there- which is a shame, because this is a game that needs to be experienced by everyone. Never before has Housemarque delivered such an astoundingly developed package. Whether you’re looking at the combat, the technical achievements, the story, or any other part of the game, Returnal exhibits a masterful understanding of what it needs to do to excel at being what it wants to be across the board. We’ve always known that Housemarque is a talented studio, but with Returnal, they’ve joined the upper echelons of the industry.
RESIDENT EVIL VILLAGE
Resident Evil has gone on an excellent run these last few years, going from strength to strength to strength, and while it’s debatable whether Resident Evil Village stands toe-to-toe with something like the RE2 remake, there’s little doubt in anyone’s mind that viewed on its own, this is an amazing game. From its slower, deliberate horror moments to the more action-packed, tense encounters, this is a game that delivers one standout moment after another.
At this point, if Arkane is making a game, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be well worth your time. Deathloop doesn’t buck that trend. It places a greater emphasis on action, which sets it apart from other Arkane titles, but it’s got that same knack for systemic gameplay and emergent mechanics that the studio has always been known for. Time loop games are a dime a dozen these days, but very few of them leverage that premise to elevate their gameplay and structure as well as Deathloop does.
IT TAKES TWO
Josef Fares and his team at Hazelight have gone all-in on co-op games, and with It Takes Two, they’ve proven beyond a doubt that games in this space can be just as amazing as any other. It Takes Two is an absolute joyride- at every turn, the game comes up with brilliant new ideas that give rise to new and exciting gameplay mechanics, and all of it is pulled together by a captivating story that deals with heavy themes in expert manner. Story and gameplay are often very distinct entities in games, but It Takes Two melds them together the way very few other games have ever done.
TALES OF ARISE
For fans of JRPGs and for fans of the Tales series, Tales of Arise is something of a dream come true. Bandai Namco’s series has been struggling to find its feet for quite some time now, but with Arise, which is the biggest and most ambitious Tales game to date, it has brought itself firmly back on track. With excellent visuals, a solid story and cast of characters, and addictive combat, Tales of Arise excels in all the ways that one could want- and most importantly, it establishes a solid template for the series’ future.
Housemarque’s pedigree as one of the best developers of arcade shooters out there is well-earned, but even so, there were some doubts about whether they’d be able to hit similar heights with a far more ambitious, fully AAA game. Well, that most certainly cast all of those doubts away- Returnal is a stellar game that not only delivers the kind of frantic, adrenaline-fueled bullet hell combat that this developer has also been known for, but succeeds in other ways as well. A mystery-fueled story, a hauntingly beautiful setting, a compelling roguelike loop, progression mechanics that encourage variety and replay value, and so much more- Returnal is a game that shines bright thanks to a plethora of strengths, and as such, stands as our favourite PlayStation game of the year.
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