TheGamer Game Of The Year Editor’s Pick, 2021 – Sam Hallahan

The haze of an ongoing pandemic and a generally slow year for games meant that when I was asked to recount my ten favorites, I could barely recall three – but after sitting down and looking back on the year, I was pleasantly surprised at the games I’d forgotten. There are also plenty that I still haven't gotten around to yet, but let's not think about those for now.

Some honorable mentions? Death's Door is a close cut from this list, as a Zelda-Souls-like that emits grandeur and style to no end; The Forgotten City, as I have forgotten to actually play it, but I've heard its praises from every direction; and Little Nightmares 2, a game that is both cute and horrific at the same time, and it's a damn dreadful delight. I've also heard that the Halo game is pretty good, but I'm two missions into Halo CE, so give me a sec.

10. The Artful Escape

I didn't hear about this game at all, until I did – and oh, I did, but for good reason. What started as a peaceful tour of a beautiful town shortly exploded into what I can only describe as absolute sensory overload – but still, there's no denying the charm and prowess that The Artful Escape delivers almost immediately. With non-stop, downright glorious visuals and a constant flourish of fanfare orchestra, this title is a must-experience – whether for the story, the soundtrack, or if you just want to stare at some brilliant vistas as you shred your guitar through cosmic realities. Either way, if you have a few hours spare, sit down and buckle up – it's going to be quite the adventure.

9. Sable

There’s something refreshing about starting with absolutely nothing in a desolate wasteland. What home you do have is quickly left behind as you set out on your journey, crafting and adding to your hoverbike as you go. Seeing what ruins I would run into or what characters I would meet at each settlement was always a joy, and brought a serenity to the otherwise ever-present post-apocalypse. And with an art style that looks like it’s jumped right out of a comic book strip with the animations to match, how can you not adore it? Sable is one of those indie games that went under my radar, but I tried on a whim – “Why not?”, I thought – and I was glad I gave it a chance.

8. Forza Horizon 5

The car game is good. I mean, it was always going to be – Forza Horizon 4 was excellent, so taking the same series to a new and interesting location was a given. This time, racing around the arid deserts and volcanic ranges of Mexico makes for an experience that feels a whole world away from the flat, just-about-green UK landscapes of Horizon 4. You can race, take part in stunts, or even carry out science experiments by, you know, driving your car around. I’m not even a huge fan of racing games – I don’t play any, to be honest – but I feel like anyone could pick up Forza Horizon 5 and have a blast for hours on end. You don’t even have to think too much about it, just pick a road and start zooming away.

7. Guardians Of The Galaxy

Yes, the big Marvel game is on the list, but listen – I don’t like Marvel that much. Sure, I’ve seen the Avengers films and some other MCU bits, but they’re hard to avoid at this point. The thing is, this Guardian’s of the Galaxy game initially looked repetitive, uninspired, and a little stale. Was it? The combat, yes, but the story was a surprising twist on any expectations I held. There are some absolutely hilarious moments, and then moments that hit hard, with real emotion carried by every performance. With an engaging narrative and characters that were downright loveable at times, I watched the credits roll and was happy with the overall experience – and let's be real, I never thought I would actually get as far as the credits. It was, in the end, a fun video game – nothing less, but not a whole lot more either, and that's okay.

6. The Ascent

In their debut game, the 12 independent developers at Neon Giant crafted an amazing, complex, and absolutely gorgeous cyberpunk world. This isometric twin-stick shooter might be simplistic in its gameplay elements – one stick moves, one stick shoots, now go get loot – but it never ceases to be a joy to explore the heights and depths of Veles. The quests are similar in nature, with a general do/kill/destroy structure to them, but it absolutely nails this formula. Sure, you might be under indentured servitude to whichever ruthless leader looms above you as and when it suits them, but I always found myself wanting to continue playing anyway, seeing what new places I could explore and creatures I could shoot. It helps that the game looks like a top-down view of an ultra-realistic, gritty Star Wars setting – sci-fi fans will adore this one.

5. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

Have you ever played the original Ratchet & Clank games? Well, imagine that, but bigger, better, and a whole lot more fur. Rift Apart is, at its core, a Ratchet & Clank game – true to the roots, and never too much more. We had some incredible PS5-fuelled graphics, set pieces to make Nathan Drake blush, and the introduction of newly beloved characters Rivet & Kit. With an engaging narrative that took us to planets we had never seen the likes of before, it was hard not to have a great time. And yet, as grand as it goes, Rift Apart never stepped beyond its boundaries, for better or worse. Yes, it's a relatively short experience, but it packed in so much flair to ensure I was always either smiling or in complete awe. The game is truly a next-generation Ratchet & Clank – nothing more, nothing less – and exactly what it needed to be.

4. Life Is Strange: True Colors

We've had the ability to rewind time and mess with consequences. We've had a brother that can dangerously shuffle an entire room when he's grumpy. This time, in True Colors, we can see and feel the emotions of others – it might sound less cool but this right here is the best Life is Strange we've ever had. With Alex Chen moving into a small town with a tight-knit community, she must investigate the covered-up death of her brother, learn to open up to those around her, and use the abilities she's tried so hard to suppress in order to find out the truth. With some truly heartfelt and incredibly creative moments, and a story that makes you feel so many emotions, True Colors deserves its place as one of the best games this year.

3. Metroid Dread

Metroid? Check. Dread? Oh yeah. As one of the most badass bounty hunters in the galaxy, there are very few things that Samus would need to run from – so if she starts running, you better get the heck out of there now. Stranded on planet ZDR with no memory of what happened to her, Samus must fight her way up and out of this eerie and long-abandoned facility. The catch? The dangerously possessed E.M.M.I. robots that want to stab you in the face – you know, for science. These moments of sheer panic and narrow escape are what make the game anxiety-inducing – a true sense of dread. As a perfect modern take on classic Metroid, this game stands as one of the best in the entire series, honoring its roots while pushing the genre to brand new places. Perhaps winning the best Action/Adventure game at the Game Awards will mean Nintendo won't wait another 19 years before making the next one.

2. Monster Hunter: Rise

I had wanted to get into Monster Hunter for so long, but I struggled. Generations Ultimate on the Switch seemed complex and daunting. World on the PS4 treated me like I should already know how to play, instead of walking me through it at a comfortable pace. I really wanted to dive in and love these big monsters and just-as-big weapons, but every time I tried, I hit a barrier. Monster Hunter Rise lowered this barrier and welcomed me into its world with open arms. I don't know if it was the setting, the learning curve, or the fact that I could leap and swing around with Wirebugs to my heart's extent, but this Monster Hunter game captivated me and had me running out on hunt after hunt.

I still play it now, and cannot wait for the Sunbreak DLC in 2022 to expand the experience even further. I've also taken that step back into the older MH titles as a result now I do know how to play. Rise is excellent and brought me a new passion for a fantastic series. It's great because I have so much content to play through now, but oh man do I have so much to play through now

1. Deathloop

I'll be honest – I didn't expect to like this game. I know Dishonored and Prey are great, but I could never get on with the controls. Something about the way Arkane's first-person perspective is handled always felt off to me – and I know that's just me, but I can't explain it. Perhaps it's the frame rate? Anyway, I loaded up Deathloop ready for that immediate disheartening feeling, but goddamn this game feels good.

The controls felt perfect, the style was swiftly delivered, and Colt Vahn almost instantaneously became my favorite character from this year’s games. As I played more and more, I spent hours scouring each area of Blackreef throughout the time loop, discovering lore, secrets, and complex puzzles that didn't give me the answer. I'm talking riddles and radio frequencies, maps and perspectives – I can't recall feeling the same way about these sorts of completely optional puzzles in any other title, and I love it. After 50 hours, I had finished the game, broken the loop, got the Platinum Trophy, and continued to blast enemies with the Heritage Gun and experiment with the Slab abilities, before doing it all over again. Plus, have you seen the kicks in this game? That's GOTY material alone.

Deathloop just clicked with me, and I never expected it to. I wanted to like it, yes, but I didn't think it would pull me in and keep me so entangled in its compact and colorful world. From the mysteries of Blackreef, to the strange and distinct Visionaries, right down to the back-and-forth bickering between Colt and Julianna – I felt that drive to keep going until I had seen it all. It's just a shame I can't go back in time and play it all over again – I can't, right?

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