Despite delays and the massive development changes brought on by the continued COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 saw a whole bunch of great games release. There were so many, in fact, that some absolute gems didn't end up getting a spot in GameSpot's top 10 games of 2021. Those games still deserve our respect and your attention, however, so the GameSpot staff chose some of our personal favorites and showed them some love. These are the best of the rest from 2021!
NHL 22 (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S)
I love ice hockey. And I really enjoy EA's NHL series. This year's game, NHL 22, was another winner in my book; it gave me hours upon hours of enjoyment throughout the year. The new X-Factor abilities, which come to the hockey series after spending several years in Madden,are also now in Madden 22, add a fun and exciting new layer of strategy to mix things up. But it's really the bones--the gameplay and overall presentation package--that impressed me this year and kept me coming back.
The game does a stunning job of recreating the look and feel of an NHL game. The hits feel heavy and powerful, the one-timers are rewarding, and the dangles are as satisfying as ever to pull off. It just feels good. Every new match fills me with a sense of excitement about what's about to happen. The game looks even more realistic this year, too, as the ice glistens more impressively, and the subtle animations of player movement and stick skills are so incredible that someone walking by might think you're watching an actual NHL game. Excuse me, I have to go now to play more NHL 22. -- Eddie Makuch, Editor
Nier Replicant (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
Nier Automata is my favorite game of all time. If you've been around me for more than a few hours, you probably already know that. But despite this, I had never actually played its predecessor, as it had become difficult to find and until just recently, was not backward compatible on newer systems. Even so, I had heard how the game's incredible, somber story was leagues ahead of its combat, and the difference between Nier and its sequel would be too starkto enjoy the original. Enter Nier Replicant.
What Toylogic managed to do with this decade-old game is nothing short of astounding. The combat is even better than Automata's, the music and voice acting sound better than ever, and even some of the content cut from the original release and relegated to a Japan-only collector's edition journal has been reintroduced. When playing a follow-up, whether it's a new game or a reworked predecessor, I'm always worried about it sullying my previous experience. Not only did Nier Replicant live up to my expectations, but it made me love Automata even more. -- Gabe Gurwin, SEO Editor
Unpacking (PC, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Switch)
Moving from one home to another has been measured to be more stressful than things such as divorce or having a baby, so a game based solely on unboxing the contents of your life shouldn't be as calming as it proves to be in Witch Beam's zen puzzler, Unpacking. So why is it? I think that's owed to many things. Its wide net of right answers gives the game a welcoming approach. If you think your GameCube games belong in the bedroom and not the living room, you're probably right. It's your stuff, after all. Its colors and music are conducive to meditation, where unpacking room by room, box by box, brings one to a flow state thanks to the nostalgic palette and calming tunes.
But Unpacking's greatest feat is its subtly told story. As you reveal the contents of boxes, you come to intimately know the unseen person to whom they belong. More than just browsing their favorite movies circa 2004, you'll infer who they truly are. Here's when their sibling moved to college. Here's when they had a career breakthrough. Here's when they ditched their jerky partner and found love. It's the sort of story that could only happen in video games, and it's done so well in this first attempt that it feels like what could be an emerging genre has already been perfected. -- Mark Delaney, Guides Editor
A Little Golf Journey (PC, Switch)
As an avid golfer, I pay close attention to every golf game that releases each year, and I play practically all of them. With that said, A Little Golf Journey is one of the best golf games I've ever played. It's also one of the most surprising games I've played in a long time. Though A Little Golf Journey may look like a rather simplistic point-and-shoot casual golf game with understated but vibrant visuals, it holds a bevy of secrets and truly brilliant moments. It's also anything but little.
A Little Golf Journey has nine distinct themed areas and more than 100 levels, each of which was obviously crafted with care. The depth comes from A Little Golf Journey's star system--the fewer strokes it takes you to finish a hole, the more stars you receive. Stars unlock new levels, so there's a tangible reason to master each track. The more I played, the more I learned new ways to approach challenges that initially seemed impossible. Essentially, each level is a deftly designed puzzle that needs cracking. Even after I succeeded, I found new surprises buried in each level, such as alternate exits and hidden challenges that unlocked even more expertly designed levels.
A Little Golf Journey is my favorite game of 2021, and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a relaxing experience that you can easily sink dozens of hours into, whether you like golf or not. -- Steven Petite, Commerce Editor
Cris Tales (Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, PC, Switch)
I love Cris Tales. In a year that held us at the mercy of half a dozen time loops, Cris Tales is a refreshing change of pace that puts me in control of time. Being able to see the past, present, and future of the world and shift the state of people and objects through those three lenses made for thrilling combat encounters that pushed me to think creatively and rewarded my efforts with gratifying victories.
But as much as I appreciated the game's combat, the story is what I love most of all in Cris Tales. Cris Tales is the story of humanity's impact on the world, and how repeated exploitation of the environment, racism, greed, and hoarding cures to deadly diseases have long-lasting and devastating consequences. Protagonist Crisbell may be a time mage, but I felt more like a time detective playing as her, looking for clues in the future to deduce how events in the past and present culminated in tragedy, and then doing my best to change the timeline into something better.
Cris Tales is quite funny for most of its runtime--I don't think any other experience this year has elicited as many chuckles, smirks, and outright cackles from me. A lot of that is thanks to actor Lindsey Vega (who has quickly become one of my favorite voice actors), the voice of Willhelm, an old and gruff time mage now perpetually frozen in never-ending youth. Vega deserves all the awards for making Willhelm as funny as he is. -- Jordan Ramée, Editor
Knockout City (Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, PC, Switch)
Part sports game, part competitive shooter, Knockout City creates its own space in a crowded multiplayer field thanks to inventive gameplay that pulls from playground games and high skill ceiling PvP in equal measure. Velan Studios' "dodgebrawl" game plays like a high-energy Saturday morning cartoon and cloaks its seriously competitive edge in gym shorts and kitten mittens. With fully customizable characters becoming each player's unique avatar, teams of three or four can head out to elaborate rooftop playgrounds and compete in one of the world's most ubiquitous childhood games.
Using the baseline of dodgeball, Velan creatively rewrites what it means to point and shoot online with friends and against other players. The universal rules of dodgeball are here, but they're enhanced with fantastical abilities, a catchy soundtrack, and thoughtfully made maps. Its mechanics of throwing and catching dodgeballs is a great example of practice making perfect, as dedicated players will soon find themselves climbing the ranks should they take on the game's ranked modes--or maybe just bopping their friends in the face again and again.
Many have tried to follow in the footsteps of Psyonix and its titan of arcade sports, Rocket League. Finally, fans of the genre have another game that boasts both tight gameplay here and now with plenty of potential for the future. -- Mark Delaney, Guides Editor
Bowser's Fury (Switch)
Nintendo has made such a habit of migrating games from its overlooked Wii U library to the Nintendo Switch that the last generation seems almost like a prototype for the current one. So it was no surprise that the company eventually got around to porting Super Mario 3D World, one of the best Mario games in recent memory. What is surprising is that rather than a simple port with a slight upgrade or two, this time Nintendo packaged the original with a completely new experience that takes risks with the Mario formula and serves to complement the original.
Bowser's Fury feels like the kind of conceptual game mash-up that large corporations must tinker with all the time but rarely show to the public. It takes the open-world concepts forged in Super Mario Odyssey and brings them to fruition with a single large, open environment that unfolds as you progress through its various goals. It also plays with scale, allowing you to see the world and various platforming challenges through regular play and then completely recontextualizing it with larger-than-life Fury Bowser battles. And as a piece of the overall package, it shows Nintendo's creativity and versatility using Mario as the canvas for both a perfectly polished classic Mario experience and an experimental new take on the iconic platformer. -- Steve Watts, Associate Editor
The Sims 4 (PC, Mac, Xbox One, PlayStation 4)
When The Sims 4 launched in 2014, I was disappointed. Maybe I was spoiled by The Sims 3 and its vast number of expansion and stuff packs, but The Sims 4 released without things like toddlers, story progression, or even swimming pools. Swimming pools! How else would I murder my Sims?
The Sims 4 of 2021 is vastly different to The Sims 4 of 2014, however. Over the years, The Sims team has actively listened to and worked with its community and modders to create meaningful changes and add more content to the game. 2021 alone saw a slew of content, both paid and free, and promises for more in the future. From the addition of the adorable Cottage Living pack that allowed us to live out our best cottage core fantasies, to numerous quality-of-life changes, as well as building an inclusive space for its players, The Sims is thriving, and I can't wait to see what comes next. -- Lucy James, Senior Video Producer
It's difficult to talk about what makes Inscryption so good without ruining it. The game is a brilliantly deployed series of surprises, and any adequate description of how special it is because of those surprises would rob you of the ability to enjoy them. Suffice to say that it is a collectible card game, with some roguelite elements, and it is spooky. Set in a darkened cabin with a shadowed but murderous opponent sitting across from you, Inscryption manages to be bloody and foreboding, and that creeping sense of dread you have as you play is the fact that the consequences of losing the game extend beyond the table.
Things only get weirder and creepier as you progress in Inscryption, and despite coming off as something of a horror game at first, it's worth noting that the game explores more than a single genre. At the center of it all, though, is uncovering the mystery of what Inscryption actually is. You'll quickly discover that it's not just a card game--the cabin in which the card game takes place is, itself, a location you can explore. The story extends beyond the table, and the experience isn't just about winning, but escape and survival. Your survival will require wits. It'll also require sacrifice. -- Phil Hornshaw, Senior Writer
The products discussed here were independently chosen by our editors. GameSpot may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.