The Best Games I have played in 2021

The Best Games I have played in 2021

Hi, I’m Benjamin Wagner, this is my blog and today I… look back on possibly my most busy gaming year.

I made a concerted effort to play more games than ever before in 2021. This was because my Switch collection was over 350 games and I was sick of having only played a fraction of them. This lasted until July where my 150 hours of gaming a month on Switch turned to 0 as I purchased a PS5 and then a gaming laptop as the year ended. Even though my gaming habits continue to change (with my 350 strong collection of Switch titles now mostly sold and leaving only around 15-20 behind in its wake), my love for video games is unwavering. On the contrary, with the PS5 and my laptop, I am now able to experience worlds with more detail and depth than the Switch can ever dream of providing. Yes, I still love the Switch but the poor thing is so underpowered these days it struggles to run its own exclusives. This list also gives me a chance to mention some games that I would find it a little more difficult to write a full review about or feel writing a full review about them may diminish what they are.

Plus a couple of wild cards as well.

So, without any further ado, let’s jump in and look at the first game.

WRC 10

Starting off hard, WRC 10 is the best-dedicated racing game I have played this year; and I’ve played a fair amount. F1 2021 is a good take on the definitive motorsport that lacks the bells and whistles a developer with the money that Codemasters (now with EA’s backing doubly so) have. Moto GP 2021 is an excellent effort from Milestone but the career becomes one-note very quickly with the lack of rider transfers and some odd AI behaviours. I also played MXGP 21 this year and it was a fun take on the sport that suffers from many of the same issues that Moto GP does. I even tried out Project Cars 3 this year and… the less said about that dumpster fire the better.

All of the above games, even Project Cars 3, have something good about them but each is held back by the odd misstep or disappointment. WRC 10 is not the perfect racing game but it might very well be the best rally game possible. The cars are challenging to drive and the game encourages you to get better. Sure, you can set the career mode up for you to succeed and win every stage by 2 minutes but I found the joy in a place that I rarely do.

Difficulty.

By cranking the difficulty up to max, I found that this simulation game became more enjoyable. Granted, this really isn’t my normal style. I like to play sports games to relax and to immerse myself in the gameplay itself. I don’t always want to win but want to be competitive enough to still be motivated to keep playing. I actually wanted to get good at this game. I wanted to be legitimately fast. In my first season in the WRC3 class, I struggled a lot. Monte Carlo kicked my ass and I struggled to gain momentum from there. Some top 10 finishes eventually came and whilst I finished my final rally with a respectable 5th, it wasn’t enough to prevent me from losing my drive for the next season.

Yes, it still frustrates me now that this meant I had to be demoted to the lower class of cars again but this is probably the first time I have had this fun in a sports title, not winning. Just thinking about this game makes me want to pick it up once more and try and eke out that extra bit of speed that will make me a rallying legend.

Aside from the addictive difficulty, the PS5 version comes equipped with some excellent dual sense features and if you take enough damage, the adaptive triggers become near impossible to push, adding further to the realism and forcing your risk-reward approach to driving. The game looks graphically excellent and sounds even better. There is even split-screen and online multiplayer for those of you who have friends. This game is the best sim racer I have played this year.

But not the best racer of the year.

Forza Horizon 5

WRC is the best dedicated racing sim but Forza Horizon 5 might just be the best racing game ever created. I’ve never really played an open-world racing game before, with the closest comparison I can make is the Road Trip Adventure PS2 RPG. And whilst it would be impossible to live up to that whimsically, nostalgic childhood adventure. Forza Horizon 5, however, might be the best game to relax in. Set in the beautiful country of Mexico, the entire nation becomes your playground as you drive, drift and crash your way across every road. What you do, is up to you. You can road race. You can dirt race. You can race cross country or undertake speed challenges. You can choose to do none of these and simply drive your favourite car along the streets of Mexico. There are also open-world trappings such as destructible boards that give you experience when you hit them, fast travel points or even the various barns scattered around the country that grant you old, vintage cars to fix up and make your own.

And yes, the game does have a story that involves you building up the festival and yes, the dialogue can be pretty cringe-inducing. Not as bad as Rider’s Republic but still the sort of thing a businessman would think up and not an actual human being. Regardless of the story, the big expeditions that unlock when you have enough Horizon points are another big, big success. Each offers something different, usually in a new car and is simply something I have never experienced before. I have only put about 20 hours into this game so far but I will probably be coming back for weeks and months to come. Mexico is proving very difficult to leave.

Pro Cycling Manager 2020 (160 hours on Steam. Series combined: Over 1000 hours)

Another series that proves difficult for me to leave is Pro Cycling Manager. Since I fell in love with the sport in 2008, I have played every iteration of this game. And whilst the number of changes the series has undergone is questionable, for a cycling fan, it is still the very best management game you could hope for. The career mode is all I ever play in this game and taking a team or your liking, or even your own creation to becoming a Grand Tour conquering goliath like the real-life Team Sky of old is great fun. I also enjoy starting as a tiny little team but building my way up through the ranks. In games like Football Manager, the gameplay can feel very passive and random. In PCM, that simply isn’t the case. You have full control over every rider on your team and what they do. If they’re in poor fitness, you haven’t balanced your riders training right. Find yourself losing every race, don’t despair. The other riders might simply be better than you. Sometimes finishing 10th is a great result for your minnows from the Basque countries.

Even I have to admit for those of you who aren’t existing fans of the sport, you will probably find the barriers to entry a little too high here. To do well at this game, you need to understand the sport itself. There are also many things this game could do better and its presentation becomes more and more outdated each year. But when you are climbing the final mountain of the Tour De France on the hardest difficulty with a team you have built up from nothing, there truly is no better feeling in gaming for me.

And that’s sad to admit.

Oh, and buyers tip. The games don’t evolve that much from year to year so I tend to find myself upgrading bi-yearly. 2020-2021 really isn’t much of a leap; get the cheaper one. Maybe it will encourage the updates long-term fans, like me, crave.

Genshin Impact

Ah, Gacha Impact. Whilst I loved the tech demo Astro’s Playroom on the PS5, it wasn’t the full experience I really wanted it to be. Genshin Impact is the open world, epic game I just couldn’t put down. I had bought 3 or 4 other full price games that couldn’t find their way into my system as I found it difficult to put this free Chinese gacha game down. The story is nothing special but the combat and the open world is about as perfect as this sort of game could ever be. I have always been a fan of Gacha games, as odd as that is to say, and have spent a lot of time on mobile gacha title One Piece Treasure Cruise. Gacha games aren’t inherently bad and it works spectacularly well here. This mechanic allows the creators enough budget to create a large number of varied playable characters who can drastically change the way you play the game. You can have four characters choosable at one time and with clever play, the elemental system begins to rear its head. By blending elemental attacks together, you can create chemical reactions that can do bonkers damage.

This game is far from perfect and the grind of dailies and other tedious MMO style designs can creep in but that’s okay. Microtransactions are very much optional and I don’t believe they are overly predatory, especially compared to other similar games at least. This may be because I don’t tend to feel the need to play an active service game forever. Sometimes it’s okay to jump in, have your fun and then leave. I might come back again in a year or two but, for now. I am satisfied. This game gave me what I was after and is an open-world experience that I implore everybody to try; simply, because it is free. I repeat…

IT’S FREE!

MH Rise, AI Somnium, Returnal, Yakuza 7 & FF7 Remake

I have mentioned, reviewed or am reviewing all of these games in one way or another. Monster Hunter Rise and AI: The Somnium Files are mentioned in my Top 17 Switch Games post and Returnal has one all to itself. Final Fantasy 7 Remake should be posted by the time of this going up and Yakuza 7’s will be posted on the 3rd of January. Spoiler for these two, they’re exceptional RPG’s that fight through their flaws to be among the forerunners in this genre. Keep this one short because I have over 5000 words on FF7, Returnal and Yakuza already written. Read them instead.

LINKS:

And by the by, the best game released in 2021 that I played this year, was Monster Hunter Rise. Despite the merits of the next game…

Returnal Top 10 Switch Games FF7 Remake Yakuza 7: Like A Dragon

Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart

As a child, I didn’t really get Ratchet and Clank. My younger brother was a big fan but I really wasn’t into shooter gameplay. It wasn’t until I reached college and a couple of friends came around that I began to fall for this classic franchise. I don’t know what got us playing the original trilogy but it is the sort of memory I don’t think I will ever be able to replace. The expert level design, challenging platforming and varied combat creates a series unlike any other. And whilst the games have ebbed and flowed over time in terms of quality and in terms of goals they are trying to achieve, they have always been fun.

Ratchet and Clank Rift Apart is probably the most cinematic game yet and, whilst a long way apart from the original titles in terms of platforming gameplay, the story and the gunplay is better than ever. But even this isn’t the standout.

It’s them graphics, bro.

This game is the perfect showcase for what the PS5 can do. It loads like a drag racer and it is near impossible to distinguish between gameplay and cutscene. Seriously, I found myself just sitting there waiting for the cutscene to end, not noticing that it had already happened.

The characters, the gameplay, the moment to moment experience is just otherworldly. Rivet is an excellent new protagonist and if this is the final game where Ratchet is the title star and we move to the adventures of Rivet, I would be more than happy. This might very well be the most polished and complete video game I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying yet… it still lacks the special something that the earliest games hold for me. The comedy is good but lacks the variety of the earliest Ratchet titles. This game is incredible and is better than almost every one of its contemporaries but it just isn’t my favourite Ratchet game. Maybe after replaying it a few times, it might grow on me a little more. It just lacks the heart and depth that I want it to have.

Still. It is fucking beautiful.

Alan Hansen’s Sports Challenge

Alan Hansen, much like the Mona Lisa, is an eternal beauty. Beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder and there is something oddly beautiful about Wii shovelware. Only on the Nintendo Wii would you find a video game only quiz show hosted by football pundit Alan Hansen, a man famous for getting something wrong (you can’t win anything with kids). What is produced is a beautiful time capsule of the mid-2000s, with outdated sports trivia and some truly unique art design. The game is low budget, low quality and, played with a friend, absolutely tremendous fun.

Slide Stars

Slide Stars is not a good video game. But it also isn’t a bad video game. I must admit, I picked this game up because I hoped it to be dreadful. I thought it would be a piss poor mini-game collection that would be good fun to laugh at and little else. What I got, however, was a water-based platformer that is actually… fun? I don’t know. The game is short and the level design can be a little bland but there is just something about this game I love. I couldn’t care less about these ZZ-Tier celebrities, I did enjoy laughing at their ridiculous biographies and their slightly distorted video game models. This game is more than the sum of its parts. It’s fun to chase times to top the leaderboards and the hard challenge levels are a real joy to finally get through. And for a budget £15 title, this is probably as good as this game could ever be.

Stardew Valley

I played Stardew about 4 years ago. Alone. On the Switch. It was fine.

I then played it Co-op with a friend, this game takes on a whole new light. Farming with a friend sounds bad but is actually one of the most addictive gameplay experiences around. Building up a sustainable farm to bring in consistent coin. Adventuring in the mines. Romancing townspeople. Just chopping wood. Everything just feels right. Much like Animal Crossing, the developers take an idea that should feel like a list of chores but instead make it something incredibly deep and fun to play. I wouldn’t have got this far without my co-op partner and the social vehicle that this game became made it one of my 2021 highlights.

Football Manager 2022

My final highlight is another game I used to play. I haven’t played Football Manager since 2016. I just got bored with the same old grind every year and, as my interest in other games grew, I just left this one behind.

Until I and my Stardew buddy learnt we could play a Career online together. We played 50 hours in a week and a half and are still going strong. Me with Hamburger SV and him with Hannover 96, we built our teams up and chased promotion. The first year, I ended 4th and he in 5th; just 1 point behind the coveted playoff position. The next season, I got promoted as champion but felt a twinge of sadness as my friend had to settle for 4th after a late-season collapse. The third season showed Football Manager’s crueller side. The Hamburger team I had built up cruelly stolen from me after a poor run of form left the board with no choice but to fire me. My friend is 4 points clear in the second division and is on for his first promotion as I search for a new job. The game is mostly spreadsheets, guesswork and a lot of random numbers but there is just something satisfying when things go right. And the joy of winning the league is one that is hard to compare.

Football Manager 2022 is a very special game and one that will consume your life; if you let it.

TALK ABOUT THE BAD GAMES!

I don’t really like slagging off bad games. As you can see, games like Slide Stars and Alan Hansen are great fun despite their critical flaws. Heck, I even enjoyed playing through Balan Wonderworld to some extent. But there were two games this year that disappointed me so much, I just cannot think positively about them.

Biomutant

Biomutant has a killer premise. A post-apocalyptic planet with anthropomorphised animals ruling the roost. What’s not to love.

Turns out, quite a lot.

Biomutant is mediocrity personified. The combat is a bland and uninspired button-mashing fest. The game is poorly optimised and there are multiple visual glitches, even running on a far more powerful PS5. The game lacks character because none of the characters speak; just a narrator who speaks a lot but says little. It worked in Bastion. It doesn’t work here. I didn’t finish Biomutant. I wanted to love it and there is such a good core idea here that I might even go back to try and slog through it one day. But when I have a list of 30 probably better games stacked up next to my TV, I can’t justify spending more than the 5 hours I did with Biomutant.

Because none of those hours was fun.

Mario Golf Super Rush

This game sucks. Without a doubt, my biggest disappointment of the year is this shitfest. Most games have a redeeming quality or two. This game in a beloved, long-running series is one of the laziest and low-effort games I have ever had the displeasure to play. Mario Golf on the GBA is one of the best games I have ever played and every other game in the series has something unique about it to make it worth playing.

The game starts strong. A story mode. I wasn’t expecting the beautiful RPG style game from the GBA era but, sure, this could work. It doesn’t. The characters are lifeless, the story goes nowhere and it all just plays like one big tutorial.

Okay, but what about the golf? It is fucking dire. I can’t understand why the creators of such a successful and pioneering gameplay formula, the three-button system, and take away player control; replacing it with random numbers.

Why?

Why!? Why would you do this to yourselves? There is no innovation here. The games before were already easy to pick up and play AND had the option to make the final button press (for accuracy) automatic for younger gamers but didn’t tie you into that. This game gives you no choice but to play like this; handicapped, if you pardon the pun.

Even if the gameplay was more rewarding, there are more problems. The courses are bland and forgettable. The additional game modes are gimmicky and aren’t even fun for a 10-minute multiplayer session. The character roster is pitiful. Mario has so many characters but they use so few in games like this. They are essentially skins anyway, especially with the limited animations in this title, so why they cheap out every time I will never understand. This game is a mess and I can promise you now, I will never play this title again as long as I live. Biomutant was dull. Mario Golf: Super Rush is an insult to fans.

I refuse to play the game again to take screenshots. Sorry not sorry.

I spoke about this in length in my review of Everybody’s Golf for the PS4, but Mario Golf Super Rush is not just the worst game I have played this year but might be the most disappointing game that I have ever played. And that’s what really stings.

And now we come to the crux of the matter.

The Crux of the Matter

I just love games, man. It doesn’t matter if they’re world beaters, great indie games or utter shit. No matter what I play, I have something to say about it. I want to play as many games as possible. And on that note, it’s usually around this time of year that people outline their hopes and dreams for the coming year. I’ll give it a crack:

My gaming-related goal for the year is to play as many GBA games as possible. It’s a big life goal of mine to write a big gaming anthology about a specific system and, for me, the GBA is the one. I’m clearly not a strong enough writer yet and have the internet presence of a wall fly but, it’s nice to dream I suppose.

More realistically, I want to keep blogging, keep gaming and probably play more JRPG’s than ever before. You never know, somebody someday might even read this! Scary as that may be. Thank you for those who have stumbled unto this dark, sordid little corner of the internet and those who actually read the overly flowery and extended drivel that I attempt to churn for you. This is my heartfelt thank you.

And as I swallow down that little bit of sick, I’m Benjamin Wagner and I endorse this message.

I do not own most of the images used in this post. If you are the owner and wish for them to be removed, please let me know.

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