This has been a great year for the video game industry, not only because they have made money thanks to the pandemic, but because they have released new consoles and very good games
What would have become of us in 2021, the year in which we could hardly leave the house, but series, movies, books or video games? The latter have had a particularly good year, as they have made the endless hours of confinements more bearable.
As it can not be otherwise, this list is personal and depends entirely on my tastes as a player, so I could that for you there are other best games of the year. I like pistachio ice cream and you like vanilla ice cream, that’s okay: we both eat ice cream.
I have no doubt, however, that in this list there are video games for everyone, from those who want to test their reflexes with impossible difficulties to those who simply want to relax in a virtual world.
Video games are increasingly better and more varied digital recreations, so there is much to celebrate this year that we have had, for better and for worse, more time at home to enjoy this form of leisure.
I’m not at all afraid to give the title to the best game of the year, the GOTY for those who want to say it in English, to an indie game of a niche genre and starring Zagreo, the rebellious son of the god of Underworld, who has become obsessed with leaving the realm of death and will have to fight hordes of enemies in different levels of Tartarus.
What characterizes games like Hades is its repetition loop, which in this case is perfect, no more and no less: you play, you get as far as you get, you die and perfect skills, you unlock weapons, you establish alliances with the charismatic characters of Greek mythology, you expand what you know about the plot and you try again to escape from the realm of the dead. And you repeat. And on. And again. And on and on. And you don’t get tired, ever: that ‘just one more game’ is a lie.
Whether you get it or not, Hades has content for dozens and dozens of hours, with intelligent dialogues (that never repeat themselves, it’s incredible), fantastic character development, incredible design and aesthetics, and a story that unfolds in a way that is only possible in a videogame.
After more than 60 hours playing it, and the ones I still have left, I keep smiling with every interaction and I keep playing it before going to sleep. Because that’s another one, you can play in half hour sessions and always be satisfied. In other words, the best video game of 2021, and one in which its workers have not been exploited to finish it.
Revolutionary games are no longer made nowadays because taking risks is very complicated and genres are tied and well tied… but Half-Life: Alyx can almost be said to be so because of how well it adapts all the innovations introduced by virtual reality in recent years to a long plot within an already very recognizable franchise.
The video game is a medium that lives and dies by interaction and how it makes you feel. This game literally puts you in the character’s body, forces you to handle the gun in a different way (reloading, aiming, everything is different when you do it in virtual reality) and frames everything in a world where even shaking a bottle of wine surprises you.
Add to that how great the plot of the Half-Life saga is and this game fills a gap in its world that no one had imagined could be there, and for that reason it is in the second place of this list. If you have the opportunity to play it, even if it’s only half an hour at a friend’s house, I urge you to do so: it’s quite an experience.
The only bad thing about this game is that to play it requires an investment of about 1,000 euros between game, computer and virtual reality helmet to play it (I’ve done it in an Oculus Quest and it worked perfectly).
The Last of Us: Part II is a game with a gameplay similar to its predecessor that takes too long at times, with an obsession with collecting resources and having to improve the skills of its two protagonists. It has incredible graphics and its technology to hide loading screens is incredible, but as a pure and hard game it could be better.
Good thing it tells a heartbreaking and novel story for the medium, thanks in part to its two protagonists. Watching Ellie become dehumanized as you reconcile with the villain of the story is powerful and something only a studio like Naughty Dog could have done well.
Only a studio this big can introduce a trans man as a co-protagonist of much of the plot and make one of its two protagonists, Abby, have a body very rarely seen in video games, which still sin of conservative, and even sexist, in the portrayal of their women.
The importance of this game lies more in its plot than in the way you play it, which is not the case with the first two names on this list, whose narrative and handling are inseparable; so if you find it insulting that The Last of Us: Part II doesn’t top this ranking, think about this. Besides, it’s about time to punish a bit the games that exploit their workers to the point of ruining their health.
How ironic that just before strict confinement was decreed throughout Spain, Nintendo released Animal Crossing, a game in which you escape to an island in the middle of the ocean to make a totally normal life: plant flowers, help the neighbors, dress up pretty…. An idyllic life, in my opinion.
How ironic that many of us took this game when we were locked up at home and bitter, either because of telework or ERTEs or because we were sick with the virus. Each in our own circumstances, but with the friendliness, simplicity and daily novelty of this game.
In an industry rife with games about killing people and being competitive, Animal Crossing is the opposite: collaborating with others, loving the inhabitants of your island and trying to make their surroundings better while having fun. Because planting trees and decorating your house is fun in this game, something unheard of.
The remake of one of the most beloved video games in the history of the industry, what could possibly go wrong? Beyond some performance issues and a bit of filler, the truth is that Final Fantasy VII Remake is a great game not so much for retelling the story of Cloud and company, but for introducing certain changes and taking a bit of a risk with the traditional remake formula.
The combat system, fortunately, is totally different and works like a charm, allowing magnificent combinations between combatants and introducing the right touch of strategy and planning in a saga that usually had the fighting as a mere formality between the story.
And the changes in the narrative, which we all know extensively, are very interesting, because for fans who already know what happens with Aerith, Sephiroth or even Zack, it seems to have opened a new path that can change what we take for granted and make this remake something new. The success of this game is not only the nostalgia well rethought, but also the new opportunities.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned over years and years of shooter games, it’s that there’s something very satisfying about blowing an enemy’s head off with a gun. The more outlandish the gun and the critter we shoot, the better the better.
Doom: Eternal understands that this is the key to its success and has invented countless ways to do it, building around it all sorts of excuses that serve solely and exclusively to make you feel very powerful when you kill an enemy. The double jump, the dodge, the sword, the flamethrower…. It all adds up to that single purpose.
I can’t say I wouldn’t have preferred the game to focus more on these good ideas that expand the gameplay and less on adding a backstory to the Doom Guy’s kills, or Doom Slayer now; but even I think these stories about our protagonist are fine.
Doom: Eternal is pure rhythm and as a game it knows how to get you swept up in the action. ‘Smash and smash and smash until there’s none left,’ the game says, and indeed, it does.
Yes, Among Us was released in 2018, but it has been in 2021 when the common mortals have discovered it and we have realized that playing ‘The Thing’ on a mobile while chatting with friends on Discord is very, very fun. No wonder streamers haven’t stopped playing it and its popularity has only increased.
The Among Us proposal is easy: up to 10 crew members in a scenario, with their tasks to perform. The twist: there can be between one and three impostors who hunt the others and go unnoticed by the naked eye… until they kill someone or slip through one of the cracks in the stage.
Suspecting everyone, falsely accusing friends and ending up screwing up or getting the group decision right is genuinely fun and more typical of a board game than a video game. In a year when we can’t be together because of the virus, this game has been a great replacement for traditional board games.
Sneaking another remake onto this list may not say anything good about me or this year’s video games, which can’t compete with the re-release of another game. But it just so happens that both games, Final Fantasy VII before and, now, Demon’s Souls, are fundamental classics.
In this case, the game’s revision is an almost perfect copy of the original, but with better graphics, fewer bugs and a few control improvements, which make enjoying the first ever ‘Souls’ wonderful.
It is true that out of its context, Demon’s Souls is not so revolutionary, but even to this day, it is an experience of survival and learning to master a game to the very last detail in order to succeed. And all this without ever becoming frustrating, because what it manages to kill you when you make a mistake is that you do not make it again.
There are few video games like this one, and I can’t think of a better title to use for that brand new PlayStation 5 that you bought as a Christmas present.
If you miss traveling and flying, like me, Microsoft Flight Simulator can be your best medicine. Lucky if you don’t have a good computer, because it’s one of those games that demand everything from a computer.
As with Animal Crossing, there’s something nice and fun about the tranquility and realization of piloting a plane in the most plausible way possible (this isn’t GTA, dude) and seeing the world’s landscapes from your home, especially in a year like 2021, where you might not see the street for weeks from your indoor apartment.
The simulation genre has some very loyal users who even build, in this case, airplane cockpits so that the illusion of flying is almost a reality, but you don’t have to go so crazy to simply enjoy a little trip at the controls of a small plane and see the world like a bird.
The experiences that video games allow nowadays are so rewarding that titles like Flight Simulator are becoming more and more popular, because not all of us need (or do not always need) the fast and constant impulses of a FIFA or a Call of Duty to entertain us.
Maybe I’ve had a silly year with flying games or virtual reality games, but the truth is that the story without excessive ambitions, the fantastic control and, obviously, the setting in the Star Wars universe of this game drove me absolutely crazy. Whether you play it in virtual reality (my case) or not (also my case), Squadrons is a very different action game with an arcade essence of yesteryear, but in which there is also room to manage your ship and freak out with the weapons and the maintenance you do with it. This is thanks to Star Wars and that, of course, how can you not have a fancy X-Wing and do all kinds of pirouettes while shooting in a battle against the Empire.
I wish all Star Wars games, and its movies, really, were so clear about their identity and what they have to achieve in their consumers. In the case of Squadrons, especially if you play it in virtual reality, is to make you feel like a pilot from a galaxy far, far away.