The Doublejump Crew rings in the new year with a look back at our Game of the Year from 2021. Whether you’re a sucker for a cryptic puzzle game, a fiend for action adventure, or a lover of online multiplayer; there’s definitely something here that’ll resonate with you!
Abir’s Pick: Halo Infinite
Halo Infinite is fucking phenomenal at times. In the single-player campaign, these times are when you get to grapple hook across Zeta Halo’s pseudo open-world landscape, and in the multiplayer, it’s anytime you play a game mode that isn’t tied to an event. I’ll be honest, I was frustrated by the fact that the campaign’s story neatly sweeps Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians’s narrative consequences aside (watch this video for context) to tell a new tale of the Master Chief stopping the potential activation of a Halo ring against a familiar alien threat.
However, the sheer fun of traversing the landscape, rescuing and recruiting marines, and listening to silly Grunt banter really redeemed the otherwise boring corridor shooting levels. In fact, it’s like the game’s campaign was designed by two competing teams: one that embraced the open-world premise and the other that was stubbornly sticking to the series’s traditional cookie cutter linear missions. While the game’s final act is all linear, the quiet moments depicting Master Chief’s internal guilt for failing to save Cortana were quite touching to see.
The multiplayer, similarly, is fundamentally fun to play. A lot of fun to play. There are just enough weapons to provide variety but not so many that you have to worry about stats, loadouts, and power levels like you do in Destiny 2. It is still early days, so there aren’t many maps and the cost of in-game purchases are very high, but developer 343 Industries has finally launched its own Halo with a stable multiplayer base.
Runner-Up: Titanfall 2
Yes, yes, I know that this game was actually released in 2016, but it’s just so un-fucking-believably brilliant that it pipped Forza Horizon 5 for the second best game that I played in 2021. I haven’t finished the campaign yet, but I can honestly say that it boasts one of the most novel levels in any story mode ever. Its multiplayer is still the benchmark for sheer fun when it comes to movement, gunplay, and speed; but unfortunately, as I write this, the game’s official multiplayer mode is unplayable. However, a crafty group of homebrew fans have resurrected most of its multiplayer functionality in an official PC mode called Northstar, so if you’re keen, you can still partake in the giant mecha action of Respawn Entertainment’s finest work.
Ben’s Pick: NEO: The World Ends With You
Just like the original Nintendo DS game from a cool 15 years ago, NEO: The World Ends With You is a masterclass in integrating game mechanics with narrative. I’ve played my fair share of games that fail to mesh their gameplay with the story being told: one I particularly remember is Tomb Raider (2013), which has Lara Croft freak out about having to kill another human being – the first time that she’s been forced to do so – in a cutscene before immediately coldly mowing like 40 people to death with a bow and arrows.
Everything in NEO: The World Ends With You is designed to back up its central themes of learning to understand and cooperate with people: you control four characters simultaneously in battle; stat-boosting meals can only be consumed by everyone or the whole party goes hungry; only by sharing items and embracing diversity do you succeed in combat. It drives home the great story in a way that’s only surpassed by the original.
Maybe that’s the game’s biggest flaw: it lives a little bit in the shadow of the original. It’s not quite as ruthlessly experimental with the mechanics and sometimes relies on fan-pandering character inclusions in moments that don’t need them. Regardless, it’s hard not to get caught up in the ocean of style and intrigue that this game brings. It’s got one of the best soundtracks in video game history, some amazing character writing, and a complex-but-accessible combat system that keeps you coming back for more; even after the story’s finished. There’s so much to love, and it’s absolutely the most fun that I’ve had with a videogame this year. It’s massively underrated.
Runner-Up: Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker
Final Fantasy XIV has had a big year. With World of Warcraft starting to age out of the public consciousness, there’s been a massive influx of new players seeking the next big massively-multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) lifesuck. Those new players won’t be touching Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker’s content for hundreds of hours, but, once they get there, they’ll find the conclusion to the best story in any Final Fantasy game bar none. The new dungeons are slick and exciting, the new areas often absolutely breathtaking, and the new jobs and levelling system will keep you interested for a long time. It’s not the game’s best expansion to date, but that something this compelling can be not even the best part of the experience speaks volumes to the quality of Final Fantasy XIV as a whole. There’s a free trial for the entire base game and first expansion, too. You should play it – if you can manage to get in.
Callum’s Pick: Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous
Tabletop Pathfinder terrifies me. Its complexity has earned it the nickname “Mathfinder”, so when I came across Pathfinder: Kingmaker, I was sceptical. But about 500 hours later, I have to say that it’s brilliant. It managed to capture the scale and mutability of its tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) roots, all while handling the more unwieldy calculations for you. It even implemented the original’s Alignment system pretty well – though I’m still not sold on Alignment in general. That’s not to say that the game’s simple; there were enough classes to choke a principal, and if you’d only ever played Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition, you may have found yourself wondering why there were so many different types of attacks and armour stats. But I loved it, and when developer Owlcat Games came out with a sequel that promised all of the above and more, I was in.
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous manages to raise the stakes, widen the scope, and generally improve upon Kingmaker in just about every way. There are more classes and characterisation options, allowing for more in depth role-playing, and we can finally see more of Pathfinder’s world. The story takes us across different planes, raising the stakes from the fate of one kingdom to Multiverse-level stuff.
But Owlcat doesn’t just make the numbers higher and expect you to care; the stakes always feel grounded with your cast of companions and colleagues. The main downside that I can think of is that it’s easy to get overwhelmed, given the number of player options for class, background, and etc; and while there are a lot of guides out there that can help, Wrath of the Righteous can be a bit opaque to newcomers. Once you’re in, you’re hooked, and Owlcat absolutely nailed this RPG.
Runner-Up: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
I wasn’t sure about what to put here, but after remembering my initial thoughts after first hearing about Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, I figured that I owed it a public apology. I came into this game with low expectations, and I can’t emphasise enough how low they were, but I kept hearing good things got it on sale. I then spent the next few days in some sort of fugue state, laughing and crying through Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. I love this game: the character writing, the music, the action. It’s not the most outstanding game that I’ve played this year in any particular area, but it all comes together in a coherent way that feels inspired by, but unique from, the Marvel films and comics. It’s not especially long, only about 20 hours, but it uses its time incredibly well.
Jake’s Pick: MARVEL Future Revolution
Here I am, choosing a mobile game as my Game of the Year yet again, and the reason for that is simple: I haven’t played many new releases this year, and MARVEL Future Revolution came out in August, but I’m yet to put it down. That, and because it’s… pretty much the game that Marvel’s Avengers should have been: a well-designed, visually outstanding, open-world, MMORPG that also boasts a lengthy story (that you can play nine times as of this writing, once with each hero), a stack of end-game content, and plenty of multiplayer content to tackle with friends or with complete randoms. The gameplay is easy enough to get a feel for and very well fleshed out, the voice acting is surprisingly good, and the overall sound design is fantastic. It’s just a very well-made game that would absolutely have been at home on PC.
Yes, being a mobile game, it’s loaded with in-game transactions and pay-to-win mechanics, but MARVEL Future Revolution is also rewarding enough that players can get quite a lot out of it without making a single in-app purchase. That obviously comes as the result of a considerable grind, but I mean, what MMORPG isn’t a considerable grind if you don’t want to take a plastic shortcut?
Seriously, though, if you’ve got an iPad or you’re cool with playing huge-scale games on your phone, give MARVEL Future Revolution a shot.
John’s Pick: Monster Hunter Rise
Monster Hunter Rise isn’t exactly a back-to-basics approach to the franchise, but it’s close. By unifying the small-scale portable-friendly approach of the traditional entries with the detailed epic scope of Monster Hunter World, Rise turned out about as well as anyone could hope for. It’s a remarkable achievement.
World’s open-world style levels are back, but the maps in Rise are tighter, less convoluted, and more manageable. The new monsters are excellently designed, even if Rise could stand to have a bigger roster overall (which should be fixed in the upcoming expansion). Magic-y grappling hooks called Wirebugs flatten a number of earlier mechanics – monster mounting, jumping attacks, special moves – into one elegant feature. Wirebugs also help solve the lingering issue of sluggish on-foot navigation; now you can just Spider-Man swing up cliffs in between riding your dog around like a horse. Even the story is surprisingly solid since it focuses more on the ecological side of things, the major danger being that your home is under threat of monster stampedes called “Rampages”. There’s more to it than that of course, but I appreciated its straight-forward simplicity more than I expected to.
With the PC port finally out and the expansion Sunbreak about to casually perfect an already fantastic entry later this year, I can’t wait to see what Capcom does with Monster Hunter next.
Runner Up: Umurangi Generation Special Edition
There are a lot of reasons to praise Umurangi Generation. The dope soundtrack by ThorHighHeels, the vibrant and detailed levels, or the way that it actually teaches you the basics of photography as you progress. But it’s really the world-building and fatalist protest elements that make this game special, like an Australasian millennial take on Half-Life 2’s City 17. It’s as effortlessly funny as it is painfully incisive, especially throughout its Macro expansion, wordlessly exploring the threat of contemporary fascism (particularly in Australia), the dismissed casualties of climate change, and the exhausting effort it takes to confront either or even be informed. I wish the Switch port was better, since its always-rough frame rate means that the motion controls are hard to enjoy, but it’s worth playing Umurangi Generation however you can.
Kate’s Pick: DEATHLOOP
I say this with love but DEATHLOOP is the most imperfect Game of the Year that one could hope for. I’ve always been an arts nerd and something about the bright, neon, Andy Warhol-esque aesthetic of Deathloop just lives on in my brain in the months since I completed it. Much like HADES, the playback loops are electrically addicting, allowing you the chance to blaze through levels and puzzles at varying times of the day. The voice acting and characterisation is top-notch and – in yet another Freudian twist – I am compelled to adore the father-daughter relationship between Cole and Julianna. Their dry sarcasm and psychopathy give Arkane Studios’s work just that extra dose of charm. There was hardly a time when I wasn’t laughing while playing Deathloop; for the gunplay, mechanics, and characters coalesce like a contemporary novel of fantastical realism. I adore DEATHLOOP, as I do with many of Arkane’s games.
I would be lying, however, if I said that it didn’t disappoint me. The multiplayer was hollow to me, a void with so much potential that just sat squandered. Furthermore, the ending of the game left much to be desired, though perhaps the emptiness of its sudden nihilism and disconnect was the intentional emotional impact that the developers strove for. DEATHLOOP is an imperfect game, but I adore it all the same. It throws aesthetic, wit, and kinetic gameplay into a blender and emerges with a technicolour smoothie. Sure, there are chunks that don’t go down too well, but the experience alone is worth the setbacks.
Runner-Up: Resident Evil: Village
As arguably the better game, there is a tiny part of me screaming to put Resident Evil: Village into my GOTY spot. It is the exact antithesis of what I loved in DEATHLOOP: dark, gloomy, hopelessly Gothic, and melodramatic. Where DEATHLOOP uses absurdity as a feature, Resident Evil: Village is blistering sincerity and commitment to its tone. Having been thoroughly underwhelmed by the Resident Evil games in my years as a staunch Silent Hill fan, Resident Evil: Village took me by surprise and wrapped me up in its Gothic charm. Its seamless blend of atmosphere with survival and well thought-out level design blew away my expectations, and I was hooked for days on its ability to keep drawing me back. Having played the whole game on stream, I’m sure people could remember my excitement and I maintain that energy even now. It’s a worthy successor to the franchise’s reputation, and I hope that Capcom can develop more games like it in the near future.
Lucas’s Pick: Evil Genius 2: World Domination
While I only played a few new releases this year, Evil Genius 2 is my pick for Game of The Year for a couple of reasons: Firstly, it is a loving homage to the original game from 2004, with many call-backs and a design team who clearly loved the source material working on it. I love the lairs and the base design mechanics – so much so that I probably spent more time plotting out floor plans than I did actually fighting the Agents of Justice…
That’s not to say that the game is perfect, there are definitely some things that need polish. The repetitive grind of collecting money and the fact that you can essentially prod the Super Agents’ regions risk-free makes some parts a little lacklustre, but, thematically, the game is exactly what I’d hoped for when it was announced. Overall, I love the game, and I’m looking forward to what comes next when developer Rebellion Developments releases what I’m speculating to be an underwater lair. I mean, the next expansion is called the “Oceans Campaign Pack”, so I’m hoping it’s a chance to build an evil City of Atlantis.
Runner-Up: Mass Effect Legendary Edition
There’s a definite theme of nostalgia coming through in my picks this year. An old favourite returned to my gaming library during 2021 in the form of Mass Effect Legendary Edition. I was immediately swept back into a world that I’d loved since the first instalment released in 2007. Juggling the requirements of managing a galaxy at war, when so many elements are stacked against you, is what made the game great. There was a sense of purpose, that all your choices mattered and that the stakes meant something. Leaving Anderson behind to lead the resistance, choosing who you couldn’t rescue on Virmire, those moments still feel real with weight. While not a huge amount changed from the initial release – most of the updates were in the form of graphics enhancements and quality of life changes – it was a great adventure to go on during the height of being forced to stay home. Commander Shepard and the SSV Normandy SR-1/SR-2 crews saved the galaxy once more, all while headbutting Krogan, helping each other sort out their personal problems, and talking the big bad to Death as often as possible.
Ruby’s Pick: Inscryption
Inscryption is a hard game to talk about because I so badly want to discuss every single detail of it, but I also want to tell you nothing except to go and play this game for yourself right now! Combining what should be entirely disparate elements – roguelike deck-builders, escape rooms, and found-footage horror, to name a few – this cryptic game has gained a lot of praise, and for good reason. The card game at its core is easy to learn, but to call the game simple would be a huge disservice to the work of its developer, Daniel Mullins Games.
I’ll admit, some of my own progress in Inscryption was the result of luck more than skill, but every time I thought that I had this game pegged it completely flipped the script on me. The mysterious plot and spooky atmosphere constantly drew me in to play just a little more to find out what happens next, and every new twist and turn had me ooh-ing in surprise or realisation. Fans of Slay the Spire’s strategy who are looking for something a little darker will adore this game, but I highly recommend everyone give it a spin to see just how masterful a small but perfectly conceptualised and executed game can be.
Runner-Up: Resident Evil: Village
Trust me, no one is more surprised that both my GOTY and Runner-Up picks are horror games than myself. Resident Evil isn’t usually my kind of fare – I don’t really enjoy anything zombie-themed – but Resident Evil: Village takes the franchise in a new direction, transporting its protagonist Ethan Winters into a gothic Eastern European setting and turning up the action while toning down the scares. The four Lords ruling over the titular village that Ethan must defeat are all highly memorable, and their different domains are littered with excellent environmental storytelling and, frankly, stunning graphics. But perhaps my favourite thing is just the sheer absurdity that the game presents with such a serious face – especially during boss fights. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be scared or having a laugh. Either way, Resident Evil: Village is a highly enjoyable ride from start to finish.
Ty’s Pick: Ruined King: A League of Legends Story
I hate League of Legends, despise it even. I don’t like multiplayer online battle arena games (MOBAs), and from what I’d seen and heard about the community I wanted nothing to do with it. Enter Netflix’s Arcane, arguably one of the best outputs by the streaming service and easily tied for best video game adaption with Netflix’s own Castlevania series.
Suddenly, I’m hooked, and my search for more leads me to Ruined King: A League of Legends Story; a single-player role-playing game (RPG) set in Runeterra (League of Legends’ setting) where you take control of a group of the more popular champions from Riot Games’ behemoth.
Expecting a pretty average character RPG (CRPG), I was instead greeted with a devilishly fun RPG. Adapting the MOBA Lane system is a unique take on turn-based battles and adds a subtle layer of strategy on top of the usual turn-based RPG fair.
The game’s art direction is stellar, with backdrops that ooze atmosphere and life that rival some contemporary open-worlds in their ability to immerse the player.The characters that weave through this story and form our motley crew are an interesting bunch, and the way that they play off each other feels natural and fun with some really well-written and well-voiced banter.
Ruined King: A League of Legends Story is so good that I’m struggling to keep this concise, so do yourself a favour and pick this one up ASAP… it’s only AU$45!
Runner-Up: Shin Megami Tensei V
The OG returns, the JRPG series that you hear murmurings about. After what feels like an eternity – to the point where I thought that Atlus had abandoned the series in favour of its younger brother Persona – comes this absolute masterclass of JRPG game design. Shin Megami Tensei V is one of the best games on the Switch, one of the best outputs by Atlus, and an absolute must play for anyone who enjoys absolute best-in-class design in their RPGs.
As you can see, 2021 was a surprising year for variety in video games. Not a single one of us shared a particular Game of the Year pick like we did in 2020, but we’ll leave it up to you to tell us whether this means that all of the aforementioned games were worthy contenders in their own right or if none of them were strong enough to take the crown outright like HADES did in 2020.
Let us know in the comments section below!
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