Fancy a drive through beautiful Mexico? Or how about a haunted European adventure? A pair of familiar heroes make their long-awaited return, and a couple of perfectly-planned assassinations were just some of the best games in 2021.
Every year we look back and pick our favorite games of the year. In 2021, we got the highly-anticipated sequels to beloved, as well as bold, imaginative new games that make us fall in love with games all over again. IGN’s winner for Game of the Year 2021 is…
Forza Horizon 5
Some people play Forza Horizon 5 for its gorgeous scenery or accurate vehicles. Some play it for its online community and competitive races. Others are into making detailed custom designs or completing challenges. Still, others like to drive cars off cliffs. The brilliance of Forza Horizon 5 is the way in which it welcomes and embraces every one of these types of people by presenting enough roadway for them to drive on for miles. Its adoring rendition of Mexico is beautiful from coast to jungle, from city to desert, peppered with ever-changing weather and real-world details that make driving through it all — which is a lot! — a joy.
There are endless things to do either alone or offline with others, which might seem overwhelming if Forza Horizon 5 weren’t utterly relaxed about what you accomplished, when, and how quickly. Forza’s equally happy with you improving your race times as it is with you driving as fast as you can up and down a beach to the tune of Water Music Suite No. 2 in D Major. It’s a physics toybox of lovingly made cars, indestructible, pristine, and ripe for collecting, racing, or smashing into one another for as long as you like. – Rebekah Valentine
For more, check out IGN’s Forza Horizon 5 review.
The Best Games of the Year 2021
There were plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about Halo Infinite heading into it: the departure of not one but two directors on the project before Halo co-creator Joseph Staten parachuted in to help steer Infinite to the finish line, the painful delay to the Xbox Series X’s second holiday instead of its first one, and… Craig. But developer 343 Industries gets the last laugh and we get the last smiles, because Halo Infinite delivers. Its single-player campaign reinvigorates the series by organically blending Halo’s classic combat sandbox with a massive Halo ring you’re free to explore and cause trouble in, like a glorious mash-up of Halo 1 and Halo 3. Its multiplayer boldly goes free-to-play and gives players both old and new something it turned out the first-person shooter space desperately needed: a pure arena shooter that overdelivers on fun and cuts out any of the trendy nonsense (battle pass issues notwithstanding). In total, it is a package that restores Halo to its rightful place in the video game zeitgeist, and one that no FPS fan should miss. – Ryan McCaffrey
There’s a scene in John Wick 2 where a dedicated gun sommelier outfits John Wick with weapons catered to his exact tastes. IO Interactive is sort of like this sommelier, presenting would-be assassins with a delectable buffet of deadly choices in Hitman 3.
Whether that’s the urge to pull off a perfectly professional hit with only the finest weapons, or being able to lure your target into a large grape press at an exclusive winery, Hitman 3 caters to your whims. With Hitman 3, IO Interactive created an immaculate toybox that combines high-end luxury with tremendous fun. You can be efficient or outrageous as you’d like in the world of Hitman, and Hitman 3 is the finest effort yet in the series where the only boundaries are really the ones you haven’t broken yet. – Matt Kim
For more, check out IGN’s Hitman 3 review.
Some game developers want to make you feel powerful. Others want you to feel smart. Daniel Mullins seems to aim for a different, more specific feeling — a sort of slack-jawed wonder. Like the one-man developer’s previous games, Inscryption hides what it really is for quite a while, slowly revealing its secrets until you can’t help but stop and scratch your head at how this digital magic trick has been achieved. Unlike his previous games, Inscryption is also a gorgeous rumination on game design itself, taking the rules and vibes of multiple card games (Slay the Spire, Magic, and Netrunner all spring to mind), adding his own, and creating a cocktail strong enough to leave you punchdrunk, once you realize quite how much is going on under the surface.
And even aside from all this cleverness, Inscryption is a fantastic game in and of itself, a snappy combo of roguelike cards, escape-the-room puzzles, and more, delivered in deliciously creeping style. There has never been a game like this before, and there never will be again — mainly because Mullins will surely move onto something stupendously weird and strikingly new all over again after this. – Joe Skrebels
For more, check out IGN’s Inscryption review.
It Takes 2
If there’s one thing that It Takes Two makes abundantly clear over the course of its brilliant co-op-only adventure, it’s that no one does a two-player co-op quite like Hazelight Studios. It Takes Two’s creative juices never stop flowing. You move seamlessly from fresh idea to fresh idea: from a co-op-puzzle-based third-person shooter to a 3D isometric dungeon crawler RPG, to a Mario-inspired 3D platformer, to an on-rails shooter, to a 2D-fighting game. It never ceases to surprise, delight, and amaze at every corner, resulting in a game that not only stands as one of the best of 2021 but also one of the greatest cooperative games ever made. – Mitchell Saltzmann
For more, check out IGN’s It Takes 2 review.
In Metroid Dread, Nintendo has created a game that defies the Next-Gen: It draws you in with its style and speed, but lacks 4K resolution — and from there it gets even more old-school. It has mostly 2D gameplay, incredibly difficult bosses, and when you are stuck, you’ll just have to pause and spend lots of time deciphering the map (or seek out a strategy guide).
This is a mix of elements few games share now, let alone exclusives from AAA publishers, but Dread makes its many throwbacks work with minimal modernization or streamlining. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild took a similar tack, going back to basics and building on the exploration and often unforgiving open world of the first NES game. But what resulted was much further from the NES game. Lose a few billion polygons and Dread might have fit snugly as a sequel to Super Metroid on the SNES, or many of Nintendo’s subsequent systems. It’s brave to take players back this far, but here we are in 2021, and Metroid Dread is a smart, flashy, and wonderfully difficult game that outshines more bloated (“feature-packed?”) peers. – Sam Claiborn
For more, check out IGN’s Metroid Dread review.
Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart
It had been 12 years since Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time came out — the last full-length, completely original mainline Ratchet & Clank game — when Rift Apart hit the PS5 this year. Expectations were high, but Insomniac absolutely rose to the occasion to give us its most gorgeous, well-told Ratchet game yet.
A true showcase for the PS5’s hardware, Rift Apart saw FOUR main characters (Ratchet, Clank, Rivet, and Kit) seamlessly jump through portals transporting them to entirely different versions of planets without skipping a beat — a feat made possible by the PS5’s super-fast SSD. Unforgettable weapons like the Topiary Sprinkler, Blackhole Storm, and Void Repulser reminded players exactly what made Ratchet special in the first place: fluid combat, insane weapons, and unbridled creativity. It’s unclear if we’ll get another Ratchet & Clank (or Rivet & Kit) any time soon, but we’d welcome it with open arms. – Colin Stevens
For more, check out IGN’s Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart review.
Resident Evil Village
Like it or not (and many survival horror traditionalists do not), Resident Evil is one of the best action game series going today. Resident Evil Village alternates between arcade-like shooting gallery scenes, giant boss fights with elaborate patterns to identify, and twitchy escape sequences from invincible enemies, all building to a surprisingly explosive ending fitting more of a classic Call of Duty campaign than a zombie-filled mansion. Despite all of these high-intensity moments, when you do catch your breath, Resident Evil Village is captivating and smart.
Set in a medieval castle town with Metroid-like, interconnected paths, you’ll have to leave some puzzles for later — which is hard to do since ammo and supplies are vanishingly scarce. It’s the moments of exploration, prep for your next battle, and just taking in the gorgeous sights where Resident Evil Village shines. With a relatively short campaign, Resident Evil Village also has a lot of cool reasons to replay with upgraded weapons and things to unlock; Deathloop isn’t the only looping shooter to fall in love with this year. – Sam Claiborn
For more, check out IGN’s Resident Evil Village review.
Despite its immense track record of making superb arcade games going back more than two decades, Housemarque has consistently been overlooked in conversations about the games industry’s foremost action developers. Returnal is its coming-out party. It’s a big-budget action game with an indie soul, incorporating the best of the rogue-lite genre with superlative production values.
At heart Returnal isn’t all that different from Nex Machina, Dead Nation, or even Resogun; indeed, its multi-colored shower of bullets would fit right in Super Stardust HD. What makes it remarkable is how readily these elements translate to a tentpole release like Returnal, and how determinedly Housemarque sticks to its acknowledged strengths. The result is a melting pot of familiar elements that still come together to feel fresh and new. Throw in some outstanding sound design and some genuinely unnerving creatures, and you have one of the very best games of 2021. With Returnal, Housemarque deserves to be acknowledged among the ranks of the games industry’s very best studios. – Kat Bailey
For more, check out IGN’s Returnal review.
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All IGN Best Of 2021 Gaming Categories
IGN’s Best of 2021 Awards were designed by:
Lead Design + Art Direction: Julia Rago
Motion Graphics: Will Batchelor