Goty 2021

Game of the Year 2021

Happy New Year! 2021 has come to an end! It was a year full of great video games, but also a peculiar year where a lot of the best ones were for smaller audiences, rather than the mass market appeal we sometimes see with video games. DarkZero has voted on our favourite games of the year. Let us count you down through the gems that made it into our very own top 20 list.

20 Back 4 Blood PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S


This is essentially what a new Left 4 Dead game would be in 2021. The original developers of Left 4 Dead, Turtle Rock, return to the first-person shooter, cooperative zombie genre to bring gory action. Now there is an added twist of deck-building elements that change the flow of gameplay, while also buffing the player to extend their run through many chapters within the game’s four acts. The initial demo was not promising, but those problems were adjusted with the release build, and new patches keep coming that add more cards, difficulties, and content to the game. Back 4 Blood might not have the memorable characters that we are come to love in Left 4 Dead, but it does bring with it some good changes to its core gameplay. Weapons now have modifications, increasing their usability, meaning people who like a specific type of weapon and keep using it are no longer underpowered.

The game is stupidly amusing in a team, and it allows both for melee and gun survivability without feeling hindered for picking the option that takes you up close and personal to these worm-infested dead. Seeing a buddy run ahead of our cooperative team, smashing up some zombie skulls is so stupid, but always brings laughter. The gameplay is satisfying and punchy, and the switches in enemy power-ups due to the card mechanic help add freshness in each run. It sometimes alters how you approach the dead. The cards might seem like such an insignificant thing, but having to deal with zombies that have helmets on or levels infested with crows that alert hordes when disturbed does change how people approach this game. There is also a rather brilliant set-piece involving a jukebox in a bar that picks from a list of random songs that fit so well with what goes on in that scene, one of the craziest moments in a video game released in 2021. If it was not for Monster Hunter Rise, then this would take the best cooperative award.

Before Your Eyes
19 Before Your Eyes PC


A short, bittersweet experience that those with dry eyes might want to skip. By connecting to your webcam, this narratively-focused game about a dead soul telling the story of their life jumps to the next scene only when the player blinks, allowing for some touching moments to be dropped accidently in an instant and has the player fight against their own instincts in order to stay in a particular memory just that little bit longer. With the ability to steer the direction of the protagonist’s life with a set of big decisions, the twists and turns throughout manage to rope all the potential timelines back into a central story that will tug harshly at your heartstrings and have you calling your loved ones to reminisce. A truly unique title that creates a new method of playing games and simultaneously masters it.

It Takes Two
18 It Takes Two PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S


A great experience with a partner and a must-play for lovers of cooperatively-focused games, although that’s not saying too much with the desperate shortage of them. However, due to its total lack of a real challenge, the more battle-scarred co-opers will breeze through this one like a +1 knife through melted butter. That doesn’t take away from the constantly changing surroundings, crazy left-field antics, and totally mad (and frequently oddly dark) story, though. Seemingly made for couples, with the need for communication but also the ability to battle it out in an array of creative competitive mini-games, this laugh-fest might just be the one that gets your other half into the hobby.

17 Halo: Infinite PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S


The latest Halo title suffered a year-long delay, and I feel this has done wonders for the final product. I found this release fascinating, a package that was split into single-player and multiplayer, with the latter hitting first as a free download, then the campaign coming a few weeks later. I’m not the biggest multiplayer person, but this feels like a return to form for Halo’s online battling, with new modes and updates in the plan to keep it fresh over what will be no doubt a long life for this element of Halo: Infinite.

I’m a single-player Halo fan. For me, I always felt Halo was its most exciting when being on the Halo, an artificial world created by the Forerunners. When I think of Halo, I think of those times landing on what seemed a large scale level, driving around in a Warthog and engaging in enemy firefights, as the AI smartly approached combat, flanking, using cover, and dodging danger coming their way. Halo: Infinite is the next step, ironically, the evolution, taking it’s combat gameplay into a much bigger open map, an open world, in which the player takes Master Chief around enemy surroundings, taking part in the same engaging battles, this time on a much larger scale, taking away their hold on buildings and making them yours. This has managed to be done in a way that does not lose anything that made the earlier games so great. Design of the Halo has been given care, and the addition of the grappling hook and holding bases that spawn vehicles means the player has the means to get around without feeling locked out of certain areas of the map.

It all makes sense that this would be the next evolutionary step of Halo, but they did not go crazy with it. In a time where everyone wants to say they are the biggest, 343 Industries kept the reigns on, and doing so means a tighter experience that still has Halo delivering on its engaging, improvised, combat scenarios. Just a shame that the cooperative campaign is not available until Summer 2022.

16 Inscryption PC


The only problem I had with Inscription is that, as a veteran card gamer, I found it way too easy to constantly break and I ended up flying through it. It’s fun that it allows players to go a little bit crazy but, at its core, even though there’s a lot of depth to the escape room-esque puzzles and 4th-wall shattering story, there is a lot of straight up battling to be done, and the sort of watered-down take on Magic the Gathering quickly becomes a mindless grind without the challenge. Still, Inscryption is a special one, what with its satirical take on the massive influx of deck-builders we’ve seen over the past few years and the way it is constantly changing the mechanics to suit the story and settings. Maybe just go a little easy on it if you’re a fellow cardboard maniac.

15 Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch


I have to say I am so glad my initial impression of this game was wrong. When Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was revealed, I was still soured by the mediocre Marvel’s Avengers, and so watching the lengthy reveal and seeing it was tagged with Square Enix as the published left me unimpressed with what was revealed and decided it was not for me. After its release, I was told by a few people that it was rather good, so I reluctantly decided to purchase it to see if I would feel the same way, oh boy, was I so glad I did as this was a pleasant surprise.

Straight away it was clear this was staying away from everything Marvel’s Avengers was. This game was all about the single-player, with no cooperative insight, no quest list on a map to select, no microtransactions, no live service malarkey, this was purely all about delivering a great time for the player, a decent length of just under 15 hours of a polished, focused adventure that does not need side quests or an open world to help make up those hours. It even had choice options to alter some outcomes of the game, even though overall it is linear.

I already have this idea of what the Guardians of the Galaxy are, but even so, there is so much character with the cast here, all bouncing off each other with the incredible amount of dialogue and brilliant voice acting. It feels weird to be giving a Marvel game this distinction, but I feel that the gang of Star-Lord, Drax, Rocket, Groot and Gamora are some of the best characters to feature this year in video games. We know them for their jokey nature and one-liners, but there is more to them in this game than just the comedy delivery. There is a heart-warming tale of love and loss, character growth between the team and their interactions, I dare say that it gave me a little lump in the throat towards the back end of the game. I saw someone mention that this is a sort of Uncharted game in design, and that is kind of right. There are times where you are taking in the beautiful vistas of the various planets visited, while the team chatter amusingly to each other, but you are still interacting, still exploring, climbing, while all this is going on. Sure, the gameplay has no advancement in what we’ve seen before, it brings solid combat with party AI commands that work. It does its job and brings enough engagement that combat does not get boring. I also did not find it strange that you only played as Star-Lord. After finishing the game, it makes sense as he is the pillar to the story, and there is a lot of character development around him that takes centre stage.

In the end, it is nice to finally have a big-budget title that empowers the love of single-player and does not need to mask it in all the weird ways that a lot of publishers are doing with their titles nowadays to try to extend their life. Just let the video game be its own thing, not everything has to live forever, it can be a singular experience and still offer a great time.

14 Splitgate PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S


DAMN, was this a good time. No grinding for weapon upgrades or learning each character’s unique ultimate ability, just straight up old school combat with a simple twist that changes everything. When someone says ‘Halo online mixed with Portal’, you pay attention, and Splitgate really does feel exactly like it sounds, making it the perfect title to quickly jump into a few rounds of. The core simplicity is key and, even though the space-bending wormholes bring a whole new layer of complexity to the field, being free-to-play means anybody can give it a shot. If you’re tired of contemporary FPS games, I highly recommend riding this nostalgia wave.

13 Sumire PC, Switch


I do not want to say too much about Sumire, because it is all about experiencing it for yourself, so an extract from my review sums it up. Sumire is a beautiful game, but it is not for everyone. That is okay, though, nothing has to be, just like Sumire’s adventure, things happen for a reason. People drift away or attract to things that they can gel with. If you are a person who enjoys a game that wants to tell you a personal story, one that might tug at your heart, make you suffer from the feels, you know, like the people who enjoy watching something like Grave of the Fireflies because it’s a wonderful piece of entertainment and not because it makes you teary-eyed, then Sumire is perfect for you. Just like a film, Sumire will not take a lot of your time, but the time it takes from you is respectfully used to deliver a touching narrative of one’s hardship growing up in a challenging world and what tackling them dead on can do to change one’s life, a story that many of us can no doubt relate to.

12 DOOM Eternal: The Ancient Gods Part Two PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch


Another four more hours of Doom Eternal? DarkZero’s best game of 2020. Well that is self-explanatory… It is more Doom Eternal… nothing else really has to be said. Now it comes with new enemies, locations, and gameplay tweaks, such as the Sentinel hammer and the surface-based grappling hooks, which only add to the already fantastic and dynamic Doom Eternal gameplay.

Toodee And Topdee
11 Toodee and Topdee PC


After having my eye on this one for what could have been years by the time of its release, I was very excited to pick it up for review and was astonished to find out the amount of love and effort that had clearly been poured into it. Not only was it triple the length I expected, full of first-class puzzles and mechanics, but, like The Rewinder and Before Your Eyes, it also almost brought a tear to my eye. The perspective-shifting gimmick was, shockingly, nothing more than a jumping off point for this one as the deeply creative nature of the developers is apparent throughout the entire experience as it never stops pushing the player to their limits in execution and problem-solving.

10 Unsighted PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch


A dying world to explore. Dungeons full of secrets and puzzles. Fast-paced combat that leans into stamina usage and parries. RPG elements for upgrading, taking advantage of temporary buffs, and weapons creation. All polished to a beautiful pixel-art shine. Unsighted already has everything, even before you find out about the narrative and built-in real-time countdown system. All the automatons are dying. With each one carrying the heavy burden of knowing the exact amount of hours they have left before completely losing their minds and turning unsighted. Once an NPC is lost there is no recovering them, even if they were a vital part of your build strategy. So make sure to use what precious items you find to keep the ones you love alive, as you battle for the freedom of all in the honour of those lost along the way. Only you can save them, so are you sure you want to detour your mission for an extra healing vial?

9  Persona 5 Strikers PC, PS4, Switch


I was pleasantly surprised with Persona 5 Strikers, as I expected it to be another take on the Musou/Warriors formula that Omega Force has become efficient in producing across their own Dynasty/Samurai Warriors games and the many intellectuality proprieties they have managed to be involved with. Persona 5 Strikers is different, maybe it is from the input from the Atlus’ P-Studio, but this game feels like a sequel to Persona 5 rather than a spin-off that often happens with Warriors/Musou games.

Care was taken to keep the essence of Atlus’ RPG intact to recapture the soul of Persona, the presentation, the music, the visuals, the voice acting, all kept. This is an RPG that has dungeons, has an exciting story featuring all the casts of the original, just the major difference between the main game and this spin-off is the battle system; it is in real-time rather than traditional turn-based, but it works! Omega Force has done well to bring in the foundations of Persona 5‘s turn-based combat into this real-time variation. A lot of the same rules apply here that they did in that game. What this means is combat is fast and hectic, it really is just a blast to participate in, even if sometimes it is filled with too much madness it can be hard to see what is going on with all the colours and effects on screen.

Persona 5 Strikers might not be the full-fat Persona experience (it does not have social links for example), but it is a quality extension to the Persona 5 story, a worthy summer road trip with the gang that has a nice new ice cream flavour added to the experience.

8 The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles PC, PS4, Switch


I am a big fan of the Ace Attorney series, so the fact that it has been five years since we had Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice made me more excited when Capcom announced that there would bring both The Great Ace Attorney games in English as a collection. These were initially announced back in Japan for the 3DS as Japanese exclusives, but finally, they are here and they did not disappoint.

At its core, both of The Great Ace Attorney games in this collection, which really could be looked at as one giant game, since the core story arc crosses over both titles, retains what the series has been best-known for. That is the fun, eccentric characters, witty dialogue, and engaging murder mystery storytelling, but throws in a different time period of the early 1900s. The bizarre Herlock Sholmes (Sherlock Holmes), is stupidly over the top, and plays a part in helping the new protagonist, Ryunosuke Naruhodo, seek out justice for the accused in the city of London, even getting his own gameplay mechanic to give the series even more interaction over what is, in essence, an adventure game dressed up as a visual novel. These games have to focus much more on their characters and story since these take centre stage over the gameplay. New gameplay additions are here, but some, such as the British Jury interactions, feel more included to give the storytelling a more dramatized outcome. This works well in a game like The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles as it enables players to get lost in the world of court action that would never pass as justice in real life, making it a far more enjoyable roller-coaster ride towards this game’s eventually satisfying conclusion.

The Rewinder
7 The Rewinder PC, Switch


Well this one came out of nowhere! I very much enjoyed the demo of The Rewinder earlier this year and just managed to squeeze it in at the last minute, only to be blown away by the originality and wonderful story, full of cultural mythology and brilliant time-travelly brain-teasers. By far my biggest surprise and something I’m going to be evangelically sharing all throughout 2022, due to its sad lack of visibility.

Fights In Tight Spaces
6 Fights in Tight Spaces PC


I played more FiTS than anything else this year. It was the game that kicked off my recording frenzy on the DarkZero YouTube channel this year and I even continued to mess with it throughout its ten months of Early Access, something I don’t really do. When I saw it was finally being released in December, when I’d usually not have access to a computer due to visiting family across seas, it was also a part of the decision to buy an expensive Pro Surface tablet so I could continue playing more games! It’s fair to say I love it. It’s definitely not the deepest deck-builder nor anywhere near the most replayable in terms of content, but the grid movement and ability to pull off the craziest turns is just so bloody fun!

5 Guilty Gear Strive PC, PS4, PS5, Arcade


A visually stunning fighting game that is wrapped up in an amazing presentation and has a banging soundtrack, probably THE Original Soundtrack of the Year. This presentation is the first thing that hits when playing Guilty Gear Strive. Once sticking past its honeymoon period, it is clear that this Guilty Gear strikes a good balance between the crazy mechanics of previous games and streamlining them so that it is not as difficult to get into the game’s fighting. There is still depth here, and elements like Roman Cancels still play a part in the complex side of this game, but it feels now everything is easier to understand.

Guilty Gear Strive is such a bloody blast to play, so many matches have been intense due to the push for aggressive combat. This is some of the most fun I have had in a fighting game since the rebirth of Killer Instinct. One mega plus is that Guilty Gear Strive currently has the best netcode in any fighting game, to the point I could play from the UK to Mexico with my friend and have great fights without dreaded desync issues. Its online works in a way that the lobby rooms in ranked mode split based on stats, so it always felt I was having good fights with people without either getting bodied or bodying people.

A brilliant, gorgeous fighting game with beautiful online play, a win, win for any fighting game fan. Guilty Gear Strive feels it arrived at the right time with what has been going on with the global pandemic and people’s isolation.

4 Monster Hunter Rise Switch


Monster Hunter made its glorious return to Nintendo hardware this year with a game that took some ideas from the brilliant Monster Hunter World: Iceborne and expanded on them while giving it a coat of Japanese traditional themes. It has the mandatory new maps, new monsters, some of which will become iconic for the series – it is hard to forget the ice blade bear design of Goss Garag – but it was the change to the gameplay that makes the Monster Hunter series once again up the bar for monster hunting action.

Everything was sped up; combat was faster, the movement was more agile, and getting around the maps was much easier, due to the inclusion of Palamute; basically dogs that the player could ride across the ground or up walls. The biggest addition to movement and combat was in the inclusion of the Wire Bug, a mechanic that seems like Iceborne’s Clutch Claw at first glance, which was used to grab onto monsters and deal damage by hanging on before charging them into a wall, has now been given the ability to be used with weapons to initiate special moves. The Wire Bug can also be utilised to hover in the air to avoid incoming attacks or give a short time to plan a falling strike. The most amusing ability is that it is able to trap monsters so that the player can ride and control these marvellous beasts for a few seconds, using their abilities to attack other monsters. The moment I was riding a Basarios and using its massive flame beam shot to end a hunt quest for a Barroth is where I was completely sold on the idea that Monster Hunter was a better game for having this feature.

This was the best Switch game for me! Bringing across the core gameplay of Monster Hunter World: Iceborne was a good idea, and with all these additions, this is the best playing Monster Hunter title at the moment. With the announcement of the PC version and an expansion dubbed “Sunbreak”, which will add the “G rank” difficulty, plus add even more monsters, maps and quests, it could very well bring the challenge and become the best Monster Hunter title in Capcom’s now most popular IP. Either way, it is easy to say that Monster Hunter Rise is looking like it will continue to keep me busy in 2022.

3 Roguebook PC


It’s easy to see I’m a fan of card games, both digital and physical, and so I’ve played more than my fair share of those looking for a piece of the Slay the Spire pie. Roguebook feels different, though, no doubt due to the help of the legendary Richard Garfield. The cards and mechanics are extremely polished, tight, and satisfying to build around. The graphic design itself is charming but there’s also more depth than one might imagine at first glance, due to the game being set in the Faeria universe, which is already deep with fantastical lore and interesting characters that tie the whole experience together.

2 KeyWe PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch


Cooperative-specific games aren’t so easy to come by and not many of those that are available can even hold a candle to the likes of Overcooked, a personal favourite of ours. This year It Takes Two took a shot, and the full multiplayer-only story was a massive success – we enjoyed it very much. But whilst it was a lot of fun, it just didn’t bring the co-op mayhem we crave. KeyWe, on the other hand, did just that, and managed to go completely above and beyond our expectations. With a totally unique premise, non-stop curveballs and custom levels, an array of hefty challenges and well-hidden secrets, KeyWe was a highlight of our year and gone all too soon.

1 Forza Horizon 5 PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S


The fifth instalment of Playground Games’ Forza Horizon series is the outcome of mastering the concept of producing exciting racing games set in an open-world playground. This series has always been consistent in delivering a great experience, a consistency other series can only dream of. All this experience has come together to bring the best Forza Horizon yet to Xbox and PC, hell, probably one of the best racing games ever conceived.

But what makes it so good? Where to start? For one, the wonderfully varied landscapes and the captivating culture of Mexico gives the game character. Driving around these vistas, which, by the way, all look beautiful, thanks to the impressive visuals, is simply stimulating. From the dense rainforests filled with Mayan temples, the Baja California Desert, the dreamlike blue ocean crashing into the sandy beaches, the huge volcano surrounded by mounds of ash, and the colourful walled towns, offer one of the best open worlds this year. All this environment can be driven on, and the game wants you to explore and find all its secrets. It also means that all this land creates some astonishing race tracks to race the game’s 500+ cars on. Fancy rallying down the volcano? Driving some vintage Beatles on the beach or taking an old 90s hatchback through the dense forests? All this is available, and if you are not happy with a track, just make your own tracks and championships and share them with the world, along with all your custom liveries. It’s easy to forget that it does all this while being able to all be played with a friend or more, due to its quality online element.

Forza Horizon 5 is a fantasy that car lovers will adore, but Forza Horizon 5 is magical. This is a game that anyone can enjoy. Playground Games have gone out of their way to offer accessibility options to open this world to as many people as possible. You do not need to be a lover of cars to relish the fun here. It is an emotion of happiness and smiles, a bliss of constant fun. I’ll shut up now because it is time to slap on Hospital Radio and get back into my Koenigsegg Jesko; those brand new seasonal events are calling for me to finish them with my online friends.

I’ll end by saying this, Forza Horizon 5 is not only a superb racing game, but more so, an exceptional game that should not be shunned from winning Game of the Year just because it slots into the racing genre, Forza Horizon 5 is so much more than that.

Congratulations to the team at Playground Games and Forza Horizon 5 for taking the top spot, our runner-up KeyWe and the other entries too. Some truly superb games were released in 2021.

Happy New Year and best wishes from everyone at DarkZero for 2022!