Whatever else has been going on in the world, 2021 has been a stellar one for video games. The first year of the new consoles and a quite consistent drop of quality games throughout, whatever genre you’re into.
It wasn’t easy, but we’ve put together two videos outlining our choices for game of the year. Both have been embedded below (keep scrolling for the top 10 one). If reading words are your thing, after that, we have the NGB team’s full and final top 10 games, including thoughts from the people that voted for them. Enjoy!
In addition to the team’s category choices, we got the thoughts of our friends Graham and Bibby form Ice Cream Uploads (great streaming duo). See what they had to say below. We always like to share different opinions from our friends around the industry.
Graham: If it has to be a game I’ve played, I’d be tempted to actually say Call of Duty: Vanguard. It’s a WW2 game, and it’s a Call of Duty game… both have been done and then done again. But I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to. If I can mention a game I haven’t played it’d be Forza Horizon 5. I’ve not played it yet, but the pure fact I want to play a racing game in 2021 is a surprise on its own to me.
Bibby: Insurgency: Sandstorm. I’m not the biggest FPS fan ever but the tactical side of what Insurgency tries to achieve is a tale to be told. It heavily relies on communication with your team mates and to put together a strategy that you think might work – if you do that, you will have a blast. This isn’t no run and gun game!
Graham: Battlefield 2042. There’s a few other high profile games that launched and didn’t stick the landing in the year that could have taken this, but (in my social circle) BF2042 needed to do it more than any other. Instead we just have “another broken Battlefield game” at launch. Yes, it’ll get fixed in due course, but the shooter battle is lost by that point.
Bibby: Outriders. Quite frankly, it was similar to a lot of games but didn’t achieve half as much as they accomplished. Pretty boring overall. Shout-out to Mario Golf too, shambles.
Best old game
Graham: Spider-Man: Miles Morales! Potential GOTY 2020 contender, for me, now I’ve played it. I got to it a few months late though, which is why it’s in my 2021 discussions. It took Spider-Man (which is incredible) and made it better, both in terms of mechanics and story.
Bibby: Streets of Rage 4. Not technically an old game, but one that came out in 2020 which myself and Graham played through on stream with some co-op action. That game gave me flashbacks to 25 years ago playing with my grandad on the first game, on the SEGA Mega Drive.
Best looking game
Graham: Kena: Bridge of Spirits. 100%. It looks gorgeous. I said since we first saw it, in a State of Play mid-2020, that it looks like a playable Pixar movie. What more needs to be said?
Bibby: Kena: Bridge of Spirits. A stunning setting and the colour palette is *chefs kiss*
Graham: The Day Before. It looks too good to be true. The Last of Us, meets DayZ, meets State of Decay, meets The Division… If it delivers on what it’s aiming to achieve, then that’s a huge step forward for open-world survival. Massive expectations being created though, so it has a lot to live up to.
Bibby: Skyrim (obviously). For a game that is now technically TEN YEARS OLD, the PS5/Xbox Series X (with the anniversary edition) has made the game look as beautiful as potentially a high-end PC could make it. Obviously, the console versions don’t have all the third party mods you could put into it to make it sparkle anymore, but 21 year old Bibby couldn’t have ever imagined it looking and playing this beautifully, ten years prior.
It’s almost time for our top 10 and some words from the team members (and Ice Cream Uploads guests) that voted for them. Before that some quick honourable mentions.
Asim Tanvir: I never knew a dodgeball game could be so much fun. I avoided it at first, but after getting pulled into it by some friends I had an absolute blast. Simple to get into yet difficult to master. Win, lose or draw; I always had a great time playing this one.
Bibby (Ice Cream Uploads): A game that caught me off guard as to how fun it is. It’s a pick up and play arcade dodgeball game, but is certainly one that is very difficult to be good at.
Graham (Ice Cream Uploads): Shouldn’t be as good as it is. Daft. Colourful. Infuriating. Amazing.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits
Asim Tanvir: While it doesn’t do anything ground-breaking, what you do get it a fun mix of platforming, puzzle solving and melee-action in beautiful visual package. Seriously, the game is stunning. Technically very impressive. All this from a studio not really known for fully fledged video games. I can’t wait to see what they do next.
Graham (Ice Cream Uploads): Visual masterpiece. Chilled and beautiful.
Back 4 Blood
Asim Tanvir: It filled the Left 4 Dead shaped hole in the gaming heart. No surprise given it’s made by a dev team made up of many people that worked on that series. I just wish I had more time to jump with friends and take down hordes of the undead. So much fun. A very good spiritual follow-up to a much-loved series.
Bibby (Ice Cream Uploads): As a big Left 4 Dead fan, this game is everything and more! A blast with friends yet criminally hard solo!
Graham (Ice Cream Uploads): Absolute vibe. A game that is extremely socially rewarding, providing you have people to play with.
THE TOP 10
It’s time for the final top 10. You have the video above and the final team list with some words below. Here. We. Go.
10: Resident Evil Village
Asim Tanvir: The final couple of hours of Resident Evil Village descend into madness, flipping between gameplay styles, but what comes before features some of the best of what the series has to offer. Expert atmosphere and tension building, complimented by moments of sheer panic. One section in particular is pure survival horror genius. I’m not embarrassed to say I was genuinely freaked out and (dare I say) scared.
Kieran McLung: Resident Evil shifting to a first-person perspective left a lot to be desired with core fans but Resident Evil: Village steers the franchise back to its chaotic, camp and explicitly video-gamey roots. Resident Evil: Village is still action-centric, as Resident Evil 7 was, but its genuinely fun gameplay, bizarre (yet enjoyable) story and a section of the game that is one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever played make it a standout of this year’s games.
Nico Di-Maria: Following on from the success of Resident Evil 7, Village gives us another dose of terrifying yet hugely satisfying jump scares and drama. I insisted on playing this game with my brothers because I was too scared to take it on by myself. We had so much fun throwing the controller over once one of us couldn’t take any more! Capcom has nailed this “new” formula for Resident Evil and I couldn’t be happier.
Bibby (Ice Cream Uploads): As much as werewolves and mech warrior battles doesn’t strike me as things that should be in a Resident Evil game, the atmosphere and terror is there to be absorbed. For those two alone, it makes my game of the year list.
9: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
Asim Tanvir: It’s been a while I’ve laughed this much when playing a game. Whether it’s the chat during the wonderfully crafted cutscenes or the banter during actual gameplay, the script nails each individual Guardian and the dynamic between them. It’s arguably better than the MCU movies! The fast paced gameplay and stunning visuals just round off the amazing package. Two words… FLARKIN’ AWESOME!
Nico Di-Maria: Everything Marvel’s Avenger’s should have been. Guardians of the Galaxy gives us one hell of a ride! Superb gameplay and a fantastic story. One that brilliantly gives a fresh coat of paint to characters we’ve seen a lot of recently. I had more fun than I ever thought I would playing through the title as Peter Quill, trying to keep Rocket and the gang in check.
8: Psychonauts 2
Asim Tanvir: One of the best development teams when it comes to this genre deliver genuine platforming goodness. Smart, witty, inventive and wholly unique.
Kieran McLung: After playing admittedly playing very little of the original Psychonauts I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Psychonauts 2 as much as I did. But from the get-go, it welcomed and held me in its warm embrace with instantly likeable characters, moreish art style and genuinely funny writing. The gameplay is refreshingly old-school, the level design genius and the enemy design just *chef’s kiss*. You can tell this was created from a place of love and I yearn for more games of this ilk in the future.
7: Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
Asim Tanvir: Like playing a Disney animated movie. No, really, Ratchet & Clank is that good. A true showcase of what the PS5 can do. That said, it’s not just a tech demo. The gameplay part of the package more than holds its own too. A simple platformer on its surface, but peel away the layers, delve further and you’ll find plenty of depth on offer. For me, a must-have if you’re lucky enough to own a PS5. Catch Ben’s full review here.
Ben Ward: A game only Housemarque could make to this level of quality, Returnal provides a stunning looking rogue-like with exceptionally tight mechanics. An intriguing story with an engaging set of enemies and weapons make for a title that is truly one of the best on PS5. You can also my find full review here.
Asim Tanvir: I haven’t finished it. I might not ever finish it, but I 100% recognise, appreciate and applaud what Housemarque has crafted here. Given it’s unforgiving nature, the rogue-like genre isn’t for everyone, but the quality of each mechanic that makes up the game is superb. I’m just not good enough to get through it all. Yet. Plus, for me, the best use of the DualSense and 3D audio on the PlayStation 5 to date.
Ben Ward: A Microsoft studio pushing out one of the best PS5 timed exclusives of the year? 2021’s weird. Deathloop is Arkane at its best, with a series of levels and targets designed to provide a perfect sequence as Colt and Juliana try to take each other out through an endlessly repeating day. A gorgeous art style, a fantastic gameplay loop and sharp writing make for a game you really should play. I also reviewed it here!
Asim Tanvir: A wholly unique timeloop game that pulls off pretty much everything it sets out to do with incredible style and confidence. It might take an hour or two to click, but once it does Deathloop’s world is your stealth-action playground.
4: Hitman 3
Ben Ward: As good an example of refining a formula to the point of perfection as you’ll ever see, Hitman 3 takes everything from the first two rebooted entries and smashes them all together. IO’s upcoming Bond game gets previewed with the Dubai level, but Dartmoor is the obvious standout here. Berlin’s nightclub is a masterclass of level design, with its sprawling underground club and warehouse giving you a perfect sandbox and a hatful of targets to enjoy. The final mission on the train doesn’t quite land, but everything else hits with the precision of a shot from 47’s Silverballers. A wonderful example of honing your craft, the ability to bring in content from the previous games makes it easy to see the trajectory that the World of Assassination has taken. Again, you can find my full review here.
Asim Tanvir: Could be a game of the year contender for the spectacularly put together Berlin mission alone. As someone starved of a new Metal Gear and Splinter Cell, this game satisfied that hunger and more. Each mission is an intricately designed stealth masterpiece. If that’s your genre, you simply have to play Hitman 3.
3: Forza Horizon 5
Kieran McLung: Its likeness to Forza Horizon 4 can’t be ignored. It lead to some *ahem* debates during our GOTY ranking discussions. But Forza Horizon 5 is a refinement of the franchise rather than a reworking. Playground Games has tweaked and tinkered with the formula, bringing it to near perfection. Simply put, Forza Horizon 5 is pure, unadulterated fun. It isn’t just the best Forza game, it may well be the best driving game.
Asim Tanvir: Not only better looking thanks to the power of the Xbox Series X, just better overall. There’s so much to do and see in the stunning recreation of Mexico. The best compliment I can pay it is if I’m looking to chill for 30 minute to an hour, Forza Horizon 5 is my go to and will be until the sixth iteration comes along.
Gari Clark: Forza Horizon 5 is an absolute belter of a game. It looks astonishingly good, but the arcade-style racing is equally as impressive. On top of that, it’s packed full of content to keep you coming back. If you have Game Pass, Forza Horizon 5 is a must.
2: It Takes Two
Asim Tanvir: There’s a reason why co-op focused games are few and far between. It’s hard for development teams to nail the mechanics and keep them consistently entertaining for two people over a decent length of time. With It Takes Two, Hazelight Studios shows everyone how it’s done and then some. It’s original. It’s inventive. It’s heartwarming. It’s pure unadulterated fun. All that, for two people. I laughed. I got the feels. I even got into disagreements with my co-op partner, but the game remained a joy. Always. You see, that’s the beauty of It Takes Two. Every single part of the game comes together expertly to make you feel what the characters you’re playing do. The journey might not be smoothest, but what matters are the smiles, good times and fun. It Takes Two delivers plenty of these and more. My personal game of the year.
Gari Clark: It Takes Two shocked me at just how fantastic it is. It’s charming, emotional, brilliantly written and most importantly, fun. If you want a co-op game that will pull at your heartstrings then It Takes Two hits all those notes. It’s a game that you’ll experience and be done with quite quickly, but you’ll be thinking about a lot after. A stunning experience and one every gamer should experience.
GOTY 2021: Metroid Dread
Andrew Beeken: If you’d told me at the beginning of the year I’d be playing a new Metroid game, I’d have asked “Oh, Metroid Prime 4 is finally coming out then is it?” But no, we didn’t get Retro’s highly anticipated fourth entry to their first person action adventure series. Instead we got Metroid Dread, the long awaited finale to the classic Metroid series and a superb return to the series’ side scrolling roots. It’s a game that’s tough but fair, has epic boss fights and rewards and encourages exploration – just like a good classic Metroid title should! But with the relentless, stalking EMMI robots, Nintendo and developer Mercury Steam add a big old slice of survival horror to the mix.
The game doesn’t stop there, though, with subtle subversions of the formula across the board from a refinement of the manual aiming first seen in Metroid: Samus Returns, to a reversal of the traditional world traversal which sees Samus starting in the depths of the planet ZDR and having to work her way up. The gorgeous visuals and focus on providing as stable as possible 60FPS, coupled with the haunting and atmospheric soundtrack and audio design all combine to create an absolute classic that is simultaneously familiar yet utterly unique.
Asim Tanvir: 2D Metroid you know and love, but upgraded just enough to keep things interesting. The exploration and combat are both fun as always, introducing new abilities and challenges at you at just the right time. Best of all though (as the title suggests), is the palpable sense of dread in the new EMMI sections. I never thought a Metroid game would induce a state of panic from me, but these parts of the game did. Kudos to Mercury Steam and Nintendo. For the most part, it’s still Metroid, sure, but it’s damn good. Welcome back, Samus.
And there we have it. Thank you to everyone who has read, watched and/or engaged with any of our content this year. It’s hugely appreciated. We’ve got a lots more in the pipeline for 2022. We’ll see you then!