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Best Xbox Games Of 2021 According To Metacritic
Between mind-bending adventures, pure racing bliss, and assassination sandboxes, Xbox had one of its best years yet.
With the first year of the Xbox Series X|S consoles under Microsoft's belt, new studio acquisitions, and a number of games released through its first-party collection of studios, 2021 has been one of the biggest years in Xbox history. There's been no shortage of quality third-party games either, and with titles ranging from the best in high-speed thrill power to the quirky adventures of psychic operatives, we're taking a look back at the best of the best that Xbox had to offer.
GameSpot's sister site Metacritic has rounded up Xbox's top ten highest-rated games of 2021, and unsurprisingly, it's a mix of both first-party titles, indie darlings, and AAA blockbusters from some of the biggest brands in the gaming industry today. We've compiled lists for both Xbox Series X and Xbox One, but all of the games listed below are available on both Xbox platforms.
Best Xbox Series X|S games of 2021
Tales of Arise
Bandai Namco’s Tales series has long been one of its most enduring and underrated properties, mixing anime-inspired visuals, fantasy themes, and deep character interactions together to create unique adventures. If ever there was a game that could propel Tales into the mainstream space occupied by the likes of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, then Tales of Arise was that breakout title that represented a seismic shift for the franchise.
Clever changes to the gameplay formula, a stunning world brought to life by the Unreal engine, and a mature saga starring a likable roster made for a revitalizing journey in Tales of Arise. Not just a brilliant game to play on Xbox Series X, Tales of Arise was simply one of the best JRPGs of 2021, a new and improved version of the long-running series that's bound to shape its future.
At first glance, Death's Door looks like an artistic reinterpretation of classic Zelda dungeon-crawling, a top-down action game that has its fair share of secrets, action-packed enemy encounters and brutal boss fights. That alone makes for a great game, but the real magic of Death's Door is its haunting tale that serves as a reminder that our time on this planet is both brief and beautiful. There aren't many games that can juggle engaging gameplay with thought-provoking content, but Death's Door is a clever examination of life, death, and finding the best way to spend our finite time while we're alive.
A trip around the world, numerous deaths made to look like a case of well-deserved karma catching up with terrible people, and dozens of snazzy suits later, and Agent 47's journey finally came to an end in Hitman 3. While the threequel was mostly what you'd expect from a Hitman game, the third time was the charm as developer IO Interactive tightened up the sandbox formula and added more grandiose story elements to the mix.
With a proven recipe for success, some of the very best levels in Hitman history, and opportunities that ranged from grim justice to deadly dark humor, Hitman 3 closed out the World of Assassination trilogy on a high note.
Psychonauts 2 isn't just developer Double Fine at its most imaginative and best, but also a game that weaves a surprisingly tender and heartfelt story about family, forgiveness, and understanding the mental issues that people have to manage on a daily basis. It's a beautiful game and a terrific example of Microsoft bankrolling projects that provide a different gaming experience than the usual AAA sandbox that dominates the industry. Psychonauts 2 runs wild with visual subject matter and is guided by an incredibly strong art direction.
Formula 1 games from developer Codemasters have been--much like the sport itself--precise, focused, and technically polished showcases of the racing genre at its very fastest. This year's entry in the F1 series was no exception, with Codemasters once again at the wheel and racing across the finish line in confident fashion. Not just the best-looking F1 game to date, this year's installment also added customization features and a fun campaign mode that made the experience feel more personal than ever before.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 was a near-perfect recreation of the classic skateboarding games when it first hit the streets, but its upgraded form on Xbox Series X only serves to amplify just how brilliantly it nailed the landing the first time around. On Microsoft's newer console, the game is an even bigger visual treat with native 4K or a buttery-smooth 120 frames-per-second if you don't mind sticking to 1080p.
Either way you slice it though, the current-gen upgrade captures all of the skateboarding magic in a bottle once again, preserving two of the greatest games of all time for a new generation of fans who want to pretend to be Superman.
It Takes Two
Easily one of the best co-op games of the year, It Takes Two is a phenomenal combination of tag team gameplay, outstanding levels, and heartbreaking storytelling in 2021. Developer Hazelight's latest effort is a mesmerizing example of why it's one of the best in the business when it comes to co-op games with a heavy emphasis on a gripping narrative, and It Takes Two doesn't disappoint. It's an enjoyable ride through incredibly imaginative worlds, It Takes Two will leave its mark on you by the time the end credits roll, but it'll also remind you that teamwork does make the dream work.
Microsoft Flight Simulator
In a year where international travel has been off the cards for most people, Microsoft Flight Simulator has been a digital getaway and a reminder of just how gorgeous our planet is. No airspace was off limits, and the opportunity to fly over the Grand Canyon or through Tokyo's vast metropolitan space made for an ambitiously massive aerial sandbox. Microsoft Flight Simulator has continued to expand since it arrived on Xbox Series X|S, further refining its world with cutting-edge cloud technology that has turned it into a technical masterpiece for Microsoft's latest console.
Forza Horizon 5
There's a unique feeling of bliss that can only be found when you're behind the wheel of a car, and it's a sensation that Forza Horizon 5 excels at delivering with its scenic tour of Mexico. Whether you're soaking up the scenery on a beach drive in a recently restored Volkswagen Beetle or screaming around corners with every cylinder firing in your ridiculously expensive sports car, Forza Horizon 5 is a masterclass in high-octane racing and constantly rewarding you for your efforts.
That serenity is only amplified by the obscene amount of detail that's present in every facet of the game, events that allow you to focus on the racing disciplines that matter most to you, and the numerous personal stories you'll take part in as you get to grips with iconic vehicles from history. A breathtaking refinement of its successful formula, Forza Horizon 5 is an enjoyable ride of adrenaline-charged racing nirvana.
Hades isn't what you'd call a graphically-demanding game, but it's still one of the best-looking roguelites out there with its vibrant art design and beautifully designed levels that turn the Greek underworld into a scenic pit of damnation. On Xbox Series X|S, the game naturally runs like a dream, never dropping a frame even in the middle of some of the most intense action that it can throw at players. With each run being a rewarding gauntlet of danger, Hades is the kind of game that you'll keep coming back for over and over again. Its charm and challenge is pure, optimized action bliss.
Best Xbox One games of 2021
Little Nightmares II
Beautifully creepy in its design, Little Nightmares II is a jaw-dropping showcase of eerie art design and spooky atmosphere. While its gameplay largely remained the same as the original game, improvements could be found in the formula, and that refinement allowed for a deeper focus on providing an experience that would send a chill down your spine. You don't see the platforming genre mingle with horror too often, but Little Nightmares II is a thrilling example of how to merge two seemingly disparate ideas and create something that'll haunt you long after you've put your controller down.
Who would have thought that a game about the simple task of unpacking boxes could be both so cathartic and heartwarming? Unpacking is a delightful blast of tidy house-keeping bliss and a story told through memories. Every move is a chapter, containing a glimpse into the life of someone who has gone through ups and downs. Unpacking is also one of the easiest games to simply pick up and play, as its point-and-click nature combines with tranquil music to create a zen-like experience of discovery and organizational skills.
It's safe to say that you've never played a game like Genesis Noir before, a tale about the creation of the universe and life itself as seen through the lens of a classic pulp detective story. Living up to that ambitious setup with unforgettable visuals and a jazz-powered soundtrack, Genesis Noir is a stylish trip through time and head-scratching puzzles, small moments of cosmic wonder and interactions with metaphysical concepts that makes for a hard-boiled testament to just how creative video games can be.
Crysis Remastered Trilogy
Crysis: Remastered Trilogy offers a fun romp trough three stylish first-person shooters. Those who are looking for FPS games with engaging campaigns can get a lot of bang for their buck here. The trilogy runs pretty darn well on Xbox One, but of course these demanding games look even better on Series X|S. Still an absolute beast of high-octane gunfights, nanosuit-powered superpowers, and cinematic visuals that were years ahead of their time, Crysis and its sequels have never looked or felt better to play than in this definitive edition of the well-regarded trilogy from Crytek.
Cyber Shadow is a blast from the past, a lovingly-crafted homage to the classic platformers of yesteryears. Taking plenty of inspiration from tough-as-nails cult-classics such as Ninja Gaiden, Cyber Shadow threw in near-perfect controls, a certified banger of a soundtrack, and boss fights that would leave your clothing drenched in sweat once you overcame those showdowns. A love letter to a beloved era in gaming, Cyber Shadow's modern twist of a classic video game formula is challenging, riveting, and unmissable action.
Yakuza Remastered Collection
If Yakuza: Like a Dragon and Yakuza 6: The Song of Life left you hungry for more Japanese crime drama action, then the Yakuza Remastered Collection was bound to fill you up when it arrived. With the first two Yakuza games having already been remade as part of the Kiwami series, the Remastered Collection puts a fresh coat of paint on the third, fourth, and fifth entries in the series. An enormous amount of content to play through, the Yakuza: Remastered Collection also feature a few handy updates to prevent them from feeling too dated and polishes them off with smooth visual upgrades.
The original Nier is a cult-classic of solid role-playing features, a hard-hitting story, and perhaps too many tedious fetch-quests. More than a decade later, Square Enix's beloved RPG got a second lease on life with Nier Replicant, a remaster that sought to polish many of the original game's rough edges. Some archaic gameplay elements from the past may have stubbornly remained behind, but the overall package gives Nier a well-deserved second chance at spinning an epic tale and dishing out some satisfying action. This is the definitive way to play the original Nier, and it makes this underrated gem play almost as smooth as Nier Automata.
Ghosts 'n Goblins Resurrection
Back from the grave and ready for a new lease on life, Ghosts 'n Goblins Resurrection recaptured all the classic charm of the Capcom original, as well as its unrelenting challenge. A modernization of the fan-favorite game that is loaded with jaw-dropping visuals and cunning art design, Ghosts 'n Goblins Resurrection made zero compromises on the game that it wanted to be. One for the fans of mercilessly tricky platforming, this remake was relentless but incredibly satisfying when you survived a level by the skin of Sir Arthur's teeth.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
Yakuza has long been one of Japan's best exports to the west since anime achieved global popularity, and in 2021, Xbox fans finally got to see how the saga of Kiryu Kazuma concluded in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. Yakuza: Like a Dragon may have helped kick off the Xbox Series X|S launch in the West with its soft reboot of the series, but Yakuza 6 showed just how big the boots were that new franchise lead Ichiban Kasuga had to fill.
The Dragon of Dojima's final adventure is nothing short of epic, a complex tale that starts out in the back alleys of his favorite city and eventually culminates in a grand battle that involves gangsters, military secrets, and a global conspiracy. It's also a perfect send-off for Kiryu, as it puts meaning behind every punch thrown in this thrilling crime drama.
A lighthearted journey through macabre worlds, Death's Door is an enchanting tale about respecting the dead and making the most of our very limited time on this mortal coil. Handling sensitive topics with surprising ease, it's also an absolute blast to play with its thrilling action, its explorative elements are a beautiful homage to classic Legend of Zelda games, and its examination of death is a well-handled reminder to never fear the reaper.
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition
You'd need a few weeks off from work to tackle Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, as BioWare's compilation of its epic space odyssey may just be one of the best value-for-your-money games of 2021. Recapturing the magic of the original trilogy and bundling in almost all of the DLC that came with them, BioWare could have easily called it a day right then and there. Instead, the studio essentially remade the original Mass Effect so that it was more in line with its two sequels, added an exhaustive number of tweaks to the entire package, and made the trilogy look better than ever by overhauling its visual design.
A compilation with pure passion woven into its digital DNA, the Legendary Edition is now the definitive Mass Effect experience.
Ever since it was established, developer Double Fine has proven that it's one of the best studios around when it comes to juggling wild concepts, charming characters. and impressive worldbuilding. Psychonauts 2 plays like a game which takes all of these elements and amplifies them, with the end result being one of Double Fine's greatest works yet. Not just a visual smorgasbord of imaginative art direction, fun platforming, and head-scratching puzzles, Psychonauts 2 is a touching tale of redemption and forgiveness, all told in a manner that delicately approaches mental health topics while still managing to provide some of the best entertainment of the year.
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