GamingBolt’s Game of the Year – Top 25 Games of 2021

We count down our favourite games of the year, before crowning one of them as the best of the best.

Posted By | On 21st, Dec. 2021

GamingBolt’s Game of the Year – Top 25 Games of 2021

2021 may not have seen as many releases of generation-defining games as several previous years have done, but it’s hard to look back at the last 12 months and not be satisfied with their output. In terms of pure quantity of releases, and the quality of so many of those, this has been a great year for games, and with a number of excellent games spread out across genres and platforms, from big developers and small, there’s been a little something for everyone to dive into and fall in love with. Soon, it’ll be time to look ahead at what 2022 has in store for us, but before that, here, we’re going to take a look back at the last 12 months and talk about what we felt were the 25 best games of that period, before crowning one of them as GamingBolt’s 2021 Game of the Year.

NOTE: All entries and rankings were decided by an internal vote held among the entire GamingBolt staff.

#25. RATCHET AND CLANK: RIFT APART

Available on: PS5 | Developer: Insomniac Games | Read Our Review

As the first new full-fledged mainline Ratchet and Clank game since 2009’s A Crack in TimeRatchet and Clank: Rift Apart had great expectations to live up to, and happily enough for all concerned, Insomniac’s action platformer passes all of its tests with flying colors. It boasts frantic action, fun platforming, and a solid story with a lot of heart, driven by an excellent cast of both new and returning characters. It is, of course, also a visual and technical stunner, and may very well be one of the best-looking games we’ve ever played.

#24. LIFE IS STRANGE: TRUE COLORS

Available on: PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Stadia | Developer: Deck Nine | Read Our Review

life is strange true colors

Life is Strange as a series has slowly but surely cemented itself as a force to be reckoned with over the years, and even though it changed developers in 2021 with Life is Strange: True Colors from Dontnod to Deck Nine (who also worked on Before the Storm), it didn’t fail to live up to expectations. From its rich setting to its excellent soundtrack, from an affecting story to its memorable cast of characters (protagonist Alex Chen chief among them), True Colors is yet another excellent entry in Square Enix’s beloved series.

#23. DEATH’S DOOR

Available on: Xbox Series X/S, PS5, Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC | Developer: Acid Nerve | Read Our Review

death's door

There’s been no shortage of games inspired by the classic The Legend of Zelda formula over the years, but very few of them have turned out as well as Acid Nerve’s Death’s Door. With its excellent dungeon design, smartly crafted puzzles, memorable boss fights, and rewarding exploration, it excels in all the areas that a game like this should- but Death’s Door isn’t content to just be a Zelda clone. Brutal challenge, a charming visual aesthetic, and a unique central premise all come together to ensure that it has a strong identity of its own, helping it stand head-and-shoulders above most other games in the crowd.

#22. DEATHLOOP

Available on: PS5, PC | Developer: Arkane Lyon | Read Our Review

deathloop

Any time Arkane Studios puts out a new game, that game is pretty much guaranteed to be one of the best experiences of the year, so the fact that Deathloop breaks into our top 25 comes as no surprise to any of us. With a larger focus on action than the immersive sim approach that the studio has become known for over the years, Deathloop is quite different from Arkane’s usual output, but in so many other ways, it’s cut from the same cloth. It smartly uses its time loop premise to weave a web of complex systems and mechanics, tasking players with not only planning out the entire game, but also challenging you to stick to that plan and execute it to perfection. Repetition becomes your most useful weapon in Deathloop, and when everything comes together, there’s nothing else quite like it.

#21. POKEMON BRILLIANT DIAMOND AND SHINING PEARL

Available on: Nintendo Switch | Developer: ILCA | Read Our Review

pokemon brilliant diamond and shining pearl

Pokemon has been struggling to grow in meaningful ways for quite some time now, but Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl were never going to be the games that did that. As remakes, these were always likely to be incredibly faithful and unambitious. That, funnily enough, is actually one of their biggest strengths. Being able to traverse Sinnoh as it was back when Pokemon was at the peak of its powers is exactly as fun as you’d expect, and the fact that Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl aren’t as frustratingly hesitant to actually challenge their players as most Pokemon games have been in recent memory helps the experience stand on a solid foundation.

#20. GUILTY GEAR STRIVE

Available on: PS5, PS4, PC | Developer: Arc System Works | Read Our Review

Guilty Gear Strive - I-No

Arc System Works may very well be the king of the fighting genre at this point, but even though pretty much everyone expected Guilty Gear Strive to be yet another win for the studio, it still manages to surpass expectations. Not only does it strike a great balance between being accessible and easy to learn and having incredible mechanical depth that enables a high skill cap, it’s also gorgeous to look at (which is putting it mildly). New mechanics such as the Roman Cancel and the wall break are excellently implemented, the netcode is consistently solid, and Survival and Arcade modes are an absolute blast as well.

#19. KENA: BRIDGE OF SPIRITS

Available on: PS5, PS4, PC | Developer: Ember Lab | Read Our Review

kena bridge of spirits

Ember Lab had made a name for itself as an incredibly talented animation studio, before then deciding to switch lanes and try its hand at game development. It’s hard to think of a better way for the developer to announce itself on that stage than with a debut title as solid as Kena: Bridge of Spirits. Where gameplay is concerned, Kena doesn’t break the mould in any way, but with challenging combat, smartly designed puzzles, engaging exploration, and tight and linear design, it concocts an experience that is consistently enjoyable to play. On the visuals front, Kena surpasses all expectations, creating a charming, gorgeous world populated by beautiful environments where everything animates as if it had been lifted straight from a CG movie.

#18. NEO: THE WORLD ENDS WITH YOU

Available on: Nintendo Switch, PS4, PC | Developer: Square Enix | Read Our Review

neo the world ends with you

The wait for a sequel to The World Ends with You was a torturously long one, to the point where any sequel was going to have to live up to impossibly high expectations. That NEO: The World Ends with You does that as well and as confidently as it does is still hard to believe- and yet it does. This is a game brimming with style and personality, with flashy and enjoyable combat that is propped up by a unique yet engaging progression system, and all of it revolves around a story that pulls you in from the very first second, and builds constant momentum as it forges on towards its dramatic conclusion. It’s a shame that Square Enix marketed this game as poorly as it did, because more people need to play it and see how good it is.

#17. TALES OF ARISE

Available on: PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Xbox One, PC | Developer: Bandai Namco | Read Our Review

Tales of Arise_03

Bandai Namco’s long-running RPG series had been struggling to find its feet in the last few years, but with Tales of Arise, it swung for the fences. Thankfully, the gamble paid off. Where its storytelling ambitions, visuals, and production values are concerned, this is easily the most ambitious and big-budget Tales game to date, all of which is plain to see in every second you spend with the game. In other ways though, it’s a classic JRPG that no fan of the genre should be able to turn away from- a world-trotting story, an endearing cast of characters, diverse environments that are brought to life with beautiful graphics, and of course, a consistently enjoyable and action-packed combat system. Tales of Arise firmly brings Bandai Namco’s beloved series back on track, and in the process delivers one of the most well-made JRPGs in recent memory.

#16. SUBNAUTICA: BELOW ZERO

Available on: PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC

Developer: Unknown Worlds Entertainment | Read Our Review

Subnautica Below Zero_02

By their very nature, survival games can be a bit unwelcoming to those that are unfamiliar with their loop, but just like its predecessor, Subnautica: Below Zero smartly avoids the pitfalls that games in this genre are usually prone to. That’s because there’s just so much going on here. Those who are looking for a hard-boiled survival experience will surely find that in here, and Subnautica: Below Zero’s loop of exploring, collecting resources, crafting better tools and equipment, and building and expanding your base has all the classic strengths of a well-made survival game. Beyond that though, there’s a gorgeous and vast open world to explore that is teeming with beautiful alien sights, prodding players to plunge into the depths to see and learn more about the flora and fauna of this frigid underwater world.

#15. CHICORY: A COLORFUL TALE

Available on: PS5, PS4, PC, Mac | Developer: Greg Lobanov

Chicory - A Colorful Tale

Chicory: A Colorful Tale is a game that will take you by surprise more and more the further you get into it. At first glance, its charmingly simplistic veneer paints a picture that is quickly dismantled by deceptively rich and engaging gameplay mechanics that bely that minimalistic exterior. Its unique and rich painting mechanics lie at the heart of genuinely clever and engaging puzzles, while Chicory’s story – which is the star of the show – also takes you by surprise. Once again belying its charming aesthetic, Chicory tells a relatable, profound story, populated be lovable characters, all of which comes together in one of the most surprisingly affecting gaming experiences we’ve come across all year.

#14. LOST JUDGMENT

Available on: PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Xbox One, PC | Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio | Read Our Review

lost judgment

Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio never misses. After successfully having reinvented Yakuza as a turn-based RPG, the developer returned to the series’ classic brawler formula to continue Yagami’s story in Lost Judgment, and did so in predictable excellent fashion. This is a game that excels in all the way you would expect it to- crunching combat, a riveting story full of twists and turns, incredibly written characters, and a deluge of optional content that you can pour countless hours into. Skateboarding around Yokohama, which seems like such a small addition on paper, is also an excellent new twist, and all of it combines in an amazing game that’ll keep you hooked right up until the credits roll.

#13. MARVEL’S GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

Available on: PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC | Developer: Eidos Montreal | Read Our Review

marvel's guardians of the galaxy

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy had to deal with its fair share of skeptics in the lead-up to its launch, but it proved all of its doubters wrong instantly upon release. At a time when games have become obsessed with either bloated open worlds or live service models (or both), this is an game that is singularly focused on telling a story in tightly crafted, linear experience. The story itself is the highlight of the experience, strengthened by excellent portrayals of beloved characters, which, in turn, are brought to life by amazing performances and animations. Then there are the choice and consequence mechanics, the consistently enjoyable combat, the banging soundtrack, and so much more- all elements come together in what is probably the best and biggest surprise of 2021.

#12. LITTLE NIGHTMARES 2

Available on: PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Stadia | Developer: Tarsier Studios | Read Our Review

Little Nightmares 2_06

Tarsier Studios’ original Little Nightmares is still one of the most unique and terrifying horror games we’ve played in quite some time, so when we say that its sequel is better than that first outing in every way possible, you know that that isn’t praise that’s lightly given. Building on the foundations of its predecessor, Little Nightmares 2 delivers a creepy, horrific experience where contrasting elements work in perfect harmony to create something wholly unique and nightmare inducing. One exhilarating sequence follows another with excellent consistency in this game, all of which collectively tell a wordless story that has stayed with us even now. Add to that smart puzzles and platforming sections, improvements to combat and stealth, and consistently impressive visuals, and what you get it is one of the best horror games in recent memory.

#11. F1 2021

Available on: PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Xbox One, PC | Developer: Codemasters | Read Our Review

Codemasters’ F1 series is something of an anomaly. While most other yearly franchises struggle to maintain an acceptable level of quality, the F1 games actually manage to make meaningful improvements each year. We’ve had these games in our yearly game of the year lists on a consistent basis for some time now, and given how excellent F1 2021 is, we were compelled to include it once more. Excellent racing, a solid new story mode, incredible mechanical depth, and pristine production values are just a few of the many, many strengths that prop F1 2021 up as a standard for all racing sims to aspire to.

#10. SHIN MEGAMI TENSEI 5

Available on: Nintendo Switch | Developer: Atlus | Read Our Review

shin megami tensei 5

Shin Megami Tensei 5 was a long time coming, and living up to all that hype and anticipation was never going to be easy even for a developer as ridiculously talented as Atlus. But this is a game that holds nothing back in its attempt to deliver the ultimate SMT experience. With its rich, deep combat system and its brutally unforgiving challenge, Shin Megami Tensei 5 excels in all the ways an SMT game should, but it also goes above and beyond in ways this series never has. A fully 3D world is something SMT fans aren’t used to seeing, and SMT5 has an incredible one at that, which constantly rewards exploration and remains a blast to explore thanks to surprisingly tight and enjoyable traversal mechanics.

#9. JURASSIC WORLD EVOLUTION 2

Available on: PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Xbox One, PC | Developer: Frontier Developments | Read Our Review

jurassic world evolution 2

Frontier Developments’ Jurassic World Evolution in 2018 was a dream come true for fans of the beloved IP, and its sequel lived up to expectations by building on those foundations to deliver an even better game. What could one possibly want from Jurassic World Evolution 2? More dinosaurs? Better management mechanics? More replay value? More content? Jurassic World Evolution 2 has all of that and more. Not only is it a love letter to the franchise, just like its predecessor was, it’s also an accomplished park building and management simulator that will sink its teeth into you and swallow you whole, refusing to let you go even after you’ve clocked in dozens upon dozens – if not hundreds – of hours.

#8. PSYCHONAUTS 2

Available on: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PS4, PC, Mac, Linux | Developer: Double Fine Productions | Read Our Review

psychonauts 2

Any game that follows-up on a cult classic 16 years on from its launch is likely to be setting itself up for failure, but Psychonauts 2 is no ordinary game. Rather than being daunted by those expectations, it thrives under the pressure, and comes out on top as a game that’s bigger and better than its predecessor in every possible way. Psychonauts 2, with its lovable and eccentric cast of characters, tells an incredible, expertly written story that deals with heavy themes with the perfect balance of humour and sensitivity. And it excels on the gameplay front just as much, with the entire experience being defined by boundless creativity unlike anything else we’ve ever experience. Each level is a visual trip, and the game uses those incredibly varied settings for levels to craft genuinely fun platforming and combat challenges. From beginning to end, Psychonauts 2 exhibits what a game can achieve when top-notch storytelling and ingenious game design join hands.

#7. IT TAKES TWO

Available on: PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Xbox One, PC | Developer: Hazelight Studios | Read Our Review

It Takes Two

Hazelight Studios – or Josef Fares, to be more precise – made some bold and lofty promises about how good It Takes Two was going to be, to the extent that it seemed pretty much impossible that the game would be able to live up to all of them. Incredibly enough, it does- and then some. If it’s a story you want, It Takes Two tells an incredible one, full of heart and humour and personality (though you might want to prepare yourself for some surprisingly heavy themes and moments). If it’s fun gameplay you want, It Takes Two has it in spades, with every level coming up with brilliant new ideas that are expertly executed, before being tossed out the window for something completely new and unpredictable in the next level. It Takes Two refuses to be bound by staples and conventions, and in doing so, it delivers a game that’ll give you something no other game can.

#6. HALO INFINITE

Available on: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC | Developer: 343 Industries | Read Our Review

Halo Infinite

Halo Infinite’s task was not an enviable one- to deliver a game that was Halo at its core in a way that its recent predecessors haven’t been, while also expanding the series’ identity in tangible and meaningful ways. Striking that balance is tough, especially for a developer with a track record as spotty as 343 Industries. That Halo Infinite manages to do all of that is an astounding achievement in and of itself. Its open world campaign is one of the series’ best campaigns to date, which, as anyone familiar with the series will tell you, is ridiculously high praise. On the multiplayer front, there’s just as much to love, and with consistent improvements, that side of the experience can become even better. Incredible combat, tight movement, and solid design have joined hands here in a way that they haven’t done in a Halo game for quite some time, and it’s such a relief to be able to say that at long last, Halo is back to its best.

#5. RESIDENT EVIL VILLAGE

Available on: PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Xbox One, PC, Stadia | Developer: Capcom | Read Our Review

resident evil village

Resident Evil has been on an absolute roll these last few years, and Resident Evil Village keeps that momentum going. Capcom’s survival horror series was at the peak of its powers with RE4, and Village smartly takes more than a cues from that classic, while also borrowing ideas from other excellent games in the series. The end result is an excellent survival horror game with incredible, heart-pounding action. It’s a carnival of horror rides, a best-of collection of everything Resident Evil has succeeded at over the years, from the tight level design of Lady D’s castle to the pure, intense horror of House Beneviento, from thrilling combat encounters against overwhelming swarms of foes to memorable boss fights that rank among the very best in the series. In more ways than one, Resident Evil Village is a celebration of the series and everything it has been about over the last two and a half decades, and regardless of which era of the franchise you’ve enjoyed the most, you’ll find plenty to love in its latest offering.

#4. RETURNAL

Available on: PS5 | Developer: Housemarque | Read Our Review

returnal

Housemarque took a massive leap from Returnal. After having made a name for itself with excellent arcade bullet hell shooters like Nex Machina and Resogun, the developer decided to try its hand at AAA development, while still keeping its identity intact. Returnal does that better than anyone could have expected. Leveraging its time loop mechanic to create a devilishly challenging roguelike experience, Returnal keeps slapping players in the face with its excellence, whether that’s with its captivating story, its thrilling and fast-paced combat, its engaging progression mechanics, or just how unbelievably gorgeous it looks. It’s also an excellent early showcase of what the PS5 and its hardware are capable of- and most importantly, what Housemarque is capable of when the studio is allowed to chase its ambitions.

#3. MONSTER HUNTER RISE

Available on: Nintendo Switch | Developer: Capcom | Read Our Review

Monster Hunter Rise - Magnamalo

Anyone who has followed Monster Hunter as a series knows that for 15 years, it has consistently delivered and overdelivered, with Capcom finely honing their craft, improving upon what came before, and always, always, always delivering an incredible game. Really, Monster Hunter fans had no reason to doubt that Capcom would be able to follow up on 2018’s revelatory Monster Hunter World, the incredible next generation realization of the long-running Monster Hunter formula that finally made the world understand why legions of dedicated fans swear by Capcom’s action RPG series.

But even if you were among the few naysayers and skeptics, Monster Hunter Rise was probably a thoroughly convincing and resounding rebuff to the idea that World had been a one off- taking everything that players loved from that game and building upon it, while bringing oodles of its own innovations and improvements to the core formula, Monster Hunter Rise ends up delivering the definitive Monster Hunter experience, mixing the open world maps and quality of life improvements that made World so beloved with the varied monsters and emphasis on diverse movesets that fans had loved about the pre-World games so much. Throw in an incredible emphasis on traversal – seriously, we don’t know how we will ever play a Monster Hunter game without Palamutes or Wirebugs ever again – as well as improvements to the online experience, and even more emphasis placed on honing and finetuning the combat, and Monster Hunter Rise ends up becoming far and away the best playing game of the series. World raised the bar for Monster Hunter by an incredible degree- Rise ends up being a true successor to it in raising that same bar all over again.

#2. METROID DREAD

Available on: Nintendo Switch | Developer: MercurySteam | Read Our Review

metroid dread

When the last new 2D Metroid game came out, the internet was basically email and a bunch of corporate sites, smartphones didn’t exist, HD didn’t exist, DVDs were cutting edge as far as storage media went, and, most pertinently to Metroid itself, Metroidvanias weren’t yet a “thing” the way they are now. That’s how much time separates Metroid Dread and Fusion. So to say that expectations from Dread were astronomical is perhaps understating the extent of the situation here- particularly given Metroid’s mismanagement over the last decade (which saw fan-reviled games such as Federation Force and Other M release in this period), as well as how much the genre moved on even in the absence of the IP that spawned it (in the guise of incredible indie titles such as Ori, Hollow Knight, and Axiom Verge, to name just a few).

But when MercurySteam and Nintendo finally released Metroid Dread earlier this year, it was a resounding rebuff of that sentiment- doubling down on the action side of Samus’ past adventures, exhibiting a dramatically nuanced understanding of her character, showcasing some top tier world design, and nailing the very act of movement and traversal in a way that few developers other than Nintendo really know how to, Metroid Dread is a revelation. It’s an incredible tour de force that presents a masterfully paced game, a relentless rush through arguably the best designed entry in the 2D Metroid saga, one that manages to bring closure to the single longest-running storyline in the medium in a largely satisfying manner. Metroid Dread isn’t as labyrinthine as Hollow Knight, nor is it as exacting in its platforming as Ori and the Will of the Wisps (not that it is a slouch in either of those areas), but in terms of pure action, combat, and the sheer joy that comes from movement and traversal, it has no peer. And the fact that it pulls all of its own strengths together, building upon nearly four decades of Metroid, and honouring its venerated legacy in the medium on top of all of that, makes it a staggering achievement, and truly one of the best games Nintendo has managed to put out in recent memory.

GAMINGBOLT’S 2021 GAME OF THE YEAR – FORZA HORIZON 5

Available on: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC | Developer: Playground Games | Read Our Review

forza horizon 5

We’re perfectly aware of the fact that racing games don’t often top lists such as this one- but Forza Horizon 5 transcends genres. More than anything else, this is a standout achievement in technology, game design, and creativity. It’s a game that, above all else, wants you to have fun constantly, no matter what you’re doing, no matter how you’re doing it, no matter how much time you’ve spent playing it.

The open world of Mexico is gorgeous and lovingly crafted- varied and dense, boasting incredibly diversity in environments and biomes, in weathers and seasons. Simply driving around the world and through its streets is consistently fun, owing to how good the driving mechanics are- which, of course, doesn’t come as a surprise at this point in a game made by Playground Games.

That open world is also teeming with a ridiculous amount of things to do, from excellent races and events across a number of different categories to bite-sized activities like stunt jumps, finding and breaking bonus boards, engaging in the plethora of multiplayer activities, collecting cars to add to your ever-growing garage, or just chaining a bunch of skill moves together to rack up a bunch of points. And of course, where visuals are concerned, there are very few games out there that are as impressive as Forza Horizon 5 is.

No amount of praise is enough for Playground Games’ stellar open world racer. In the end, it was surprisingly easy for us to crown it as our game of the year.


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