Yeah this is a bit late, I know… But better late than never right? I couldn’t go too far into 2022 without establishing my Game of the Year for 2021. If I’m honest, I didn’t play as many games last year as I planned to. For various reasons, my playtime was less than I’d have expected, especially towards the end of the year; in particular, I feel guilt over not starting my copy of Life is Strange: True Colors yet (just wait, I’ll spontaneously get obsessed with it one weekend, I’m sure).
Still, I played a decent amount of new releases, and there were undeniably some standouts. To build out this post a bit, I’m going to run through a couple of my personal runners-up, before revealing my personal Game of the Year for 2021! For clarity: these are all games that were released – and I played – in 2021, similar to my Top Ten Films lists. Without further ado, then…
#3: Resident Evil Village
Undeniably one of the most hyped releases of 2021 was the eighth mainline Resident Evil game, named Resident Evil Village (see here for my full review). This game built upon the series’ soft reset in Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, continuing the story of Ethan Winters, and similarly maintaining the first-person perspective and focus on chilling survival horror. Much of my personal excitement for Village, however, was the increased connection to the wider Resident Evil world and lore (which was mostly left out of 7), as a lot of my love for the franchise is based upon the established characters and running plotlines. This aspect of Village delivered for me personally – Ethan’s story was still the focus, but the involvement of Chris Redfield led to some incredible sequences and Easter Eggs that had me audibly excited! For me, this is when Village was at its best; intertwining a momentum of horror action with a riveting pace of plot and character revelations, making me eager to keep going.
Stopping Village placing higher on my list, though, was my more mixed reaction to the gameplay when taken as an entirety. Village has a slightly larger scale than the very confined 7, with the game essentially split into several different sections of the titular village, each with their own particular style of horror – from psychological to body horror and more in between. In one way this felt varied and unpredictable – but, contrastingly, in some cases it felt as though sections were over too soon, with potential left untapped. The early-game Castle, for example (which included the infamous Lady Dimetrescu), was a large and sprawling sequence of environments, but the three following areas never quite matched that, even if the overarching hub of the village went some way to masking it. On a purely personal level, I still don’t gel with the feel of the first-person perspective Resident Evil games as much as the third-person ones, either. Yet, whilst these are notable issues I had with the game, they don’t prevent it from being a thrilling new Resident Evil entry that keeps Capcom’s franchise firmly on track – and leaves me very optimistic about where it might go next… (more Jill please)!
#2: Metroid Dread
After around a decade waiting for a brand new Metroid game featuring iconic bounty hunter Samus Aran, at E3 2021 we finally got the reveal of Metroid Dread, the 5th and final entry into the “2D” line of Metroid games. When I realised that Metroid Dread was being worked on by MercurySteam Entertainment, who handled the excellent 3DS title Metroid: Samus Returns (a remake of GBA game Metroid II: Return of Samus), I was immediately confident that this 2.5D action game was in safe hands. Indeed, the developers’ understanding of how to make a Metroid game feel satisfying is evident here: Samus is a joy to control, moving with speed, fluidity, and athleticism – a factor that only escalates as you explore the intelligently laid-out environments and unlock more of Samus’ moveset. Well-known abilities such as the Morph Ball are here to be enjoyed once again, but I was also pleasantly surprised by the sheer amount of new options in Samus’ arsenal; to name just two, the Phase Shift and Speed Boost put even more of a focus on movement skill, and also lead to some ingeniously difficult puzzle solutions. I’m really trying hard not to describe this game as a Metroidvania, you know!
Whilst the focus of Dread is undoubtedly the moment-to-moment gameplay, the performance boost of the Nintendo Switch is well utilised to create a cinematic experience. Backgrounds are full of living creatures, environmental details, and more, and the way the camera shifts for certain story beats is striking; it’s always an exciting moment when you drop into a new area and a cutscene starts. Some of these are a precursor to the fantastic boss battles, which act as wonderful tests of your mastery – often they feel exceptionally difficult at first, until you work out their puzzle-box-esque solution. One focus of the marketing was the E.M.M.I. robots that stalk you through the more survival-horror-style sections, and whilst their aesthetic is a little samey after a while, the different challenge they offer does break up the game nicely. I’m running out of space here, and that’s a sign of how much variety and care is put into Dread; it’s an epic demonstration of the beloved Metroid formula, turned up to eleven!
#1: The Medium
Whilst Metroid Dread is a high-octane showcase of a known quantity, The Medium was quite unlike anything else I played last year (see here for my full review). I’m not denying the influence games such as Silent Hill had on the plot and tone (Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka even worked on the soundtrack for The Medium, so developer/publisher Bloober Team aren’t exactly hiding that), but this game stands out because of more than that. The empathetic main character Marianne is a medium, a person with the ability to see both the real and spirit worlds; the latter of which is a fiery, organic, and beautifully twisted version of our own. Set in Poland, you utilise this ability in order to explore various settings and discover the truth about certain individuals (to say much more would spoil it). The genius of The Medium is in the way it decides to portray the contrasting worlds; it isn’t so simple as there being a good and bad version of characters and places, but instead two separate entities that are reliant on each other to survive. The plot takes this and runs with it to tackle various emotional themes – the duality aspect, and how story and gameplay are so intrinsically woven together, reminded me a lot of the magnificent Celeste (which is a very good thing coming from me!).
Technically, too, there is the sheer impressiveness of having the two worlds running at once, often in different splitscreen arrangements. The colour palette and use of contrast throughout is stunning, adding palpable atmosphere to proceedings; there isn’t too much in the way of combat – instead, it’s the atmospheric and foreboding build-up that provides the scares. Incorporating a dynamic camera within fixed perspectives gives The Medium a profoundly modern feeling, whilst still having that link back to classic horror games such as the early Resident Evil games. Similarly, the puzzle-based progress has the same effect, but again, the use of the dual-world mechanic adds a literal extra layer of intrigue to everything. Just like my 2020 Game of the Year, the remarkable Resident Evil 3, this game can be completed in around 5 hours – but again, just like RE3, there’s so much surprise and brilliance packed in. The year 2021 had multiple games that delivered on the experiences we hoped for, such as Resident Evil Village and Metroid Dread. However, no game managed to surprise and affect me in a brand new way like The Medium did, and that indelible impact is why it’s my favourite game of 2021!
Thank you for taking the time to read this list – and if you haven’t played these games, then it’s safe to say I highly recommend them! Hopefully, 2022 will have plenty more incredible games to enjoy and discuss.
Have an amazing day!