The Best Games Of 2021 (So Far)
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.
We're only halfway through the year, and there are already so many amazing games!
Every year, there are always so many imaginative and brilliantly designed games. The quality on display is undoubtedly a testament to the constant growth of the games industry and how its developers continue to strive to push the boundaries of their creativity to deliver remarkable experiences. 2021 is a year with its fair share of delightful games, and we at GameSpot are big fans of many of them.
As you might know, it's a mid-year tradition for us on the team to wax on about the games we have loved from the year so far. While there are still plenty of exciting releases coming in the second half of 2021, the games we've highlighted below are phenomenal and well worth your time. So before the big fall game release season comes, look to these games and remember them well, especially once Game of the Year season rears back up. In no particular order, these are GameSpot's choices for the best games of 2021 so far.
MLB The Show 21
I didn't expect a yearly baseball game to end up being one of my favorite games of the year so far, but after putting over 150 hours into MLB The Show 21 in just a few months, I suppose I don't really have a choice. MLB The Show 21 is the first game in the series released on Xbox systems, opening it up to a massive new audience, and that audience gets to play a game that makes some serious changes compared to previous titles in the series. The Road to the Show mode now puts an emphasis on a Shohei Ohtani-style two-way player, complete with a better progression system that lets you create your ideal pitcher, hitter, or both.
Heavy customization options for stadiums and a great presentation complete with a podcast about your efforts give it a nice layer of charm, and a unified progression system means that if you want to get into a mode like Diamond Dynasty after only playing something else for weeks, you'll have the cards and currency you'll need to get off to a fast start. It helps, of course, that the on-the-field baseball is as solid as it has ever been, with tons of hitting and pitching options and difficulty settings that can please novices and veterans alike. -- Gabe Gurwin, associate SEO editor
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
Ratchet & Clank has been a workhorse in the PlayStation's stable for some time, delivering a string of predictably solid platforming adventures with a creative streak when it comes to weaponry. Even as Insomniac dabbled in other concepts, from the "wild weapons but grimdark" Resistance to the pop-punk Sunset Overdrive, Ratchet has always been there, inconspicuously plugging away with reliable quality.
Rift Apart feels like the series finally making the big-time. Insomniac exploded with the success of Spider-Man--it's no coincidence that Sony bought the studio shortly thereafter--and Miles Morales was the studio's debut on PS5. But Rift Apart is a PS5 exclusive, with all the expectations and weight that implies. And thanks in part to how dependable the series' core has been, this entry is able to map some impressive new-gen wizardry on top of that same reliable foundation.
The power (and SSD) of the PlayStation 5 enables some flashy new ideas like rifts that switch your environment on a dime, a more impressive cinematic presentation that looks gorgeous from start to finish, and almost nonexistent load times. But what made Ratchet & Clank such a perfect home was how it folded these into the game without compromising its goofy, heartfelt spirit. The enemies are still zany, Ratchet is still earnest, and the weapons are still bonkers. The new addition of Rivet is a lovely way to tell a story about heroism, loneliness, and friendship, while relying on the always-impressive acting range of Jennifer Hale. This was an example of the new generation taking a formula that was already great and making it even better, and that's what makes it one of this year's best. -- Steve Watts, associate editor
Little Nightmares II
Little Nightmares II is the follow-up to 2017's puzzle-platformer Little Nightmares, and it expands and improves upon the original in every way. In it, you play as a new character named Mono, a little boy who teams up with the first game's yellow raincoat-wearing protagonist Six. Together, they silently explore the world outside of the Maw and make their way toward a far-off Signal Tower emitting a strange, distorted signal. Though you play as Mono the entire time, the introduction of an AI-controlled companion makes for even more interesting puzzles that require cooperation. The relationship between Mono and Six is fascinating to watch throughout the game as well, shown not through dialogue but in little moments and gestures, like when Mono grabs her hand. These tender moments are contrasted by scenes where Six's feral and violent nature comes through, leading you to wonder how much your partner can actually be trusted.
Little Nightmares was creepy, but Little Nightmares II ratchets up the tension significantly with spooky atmospheres that constantly had me on the edge of my seat. From a school occupied by a sadistic teacher and evil dolls to a dimly lit hospital with a ceiling-crawling Doctor and fast-moving mannequins, the settings of Little Nightmares II are terrifying on a whole new level. The addition of weapons creates some tense scenes as well, with moments where you're forced to use a hammer to smash enemies with perfect timing. The previous Little Nightmares was all about avoiding detection, but Little Nightmares II often thrusts you out in the open, forcing you to move about in plain sight and navigate strategically to stay alive.
What makes Little Nightmares II truly great for fans of the series are the ways in which it connects back to the first game and the larger implications it brings to the wider Little Nightmares universe. Let's hope for a third game or at least some DLC, because Little Nightmares II's ending is absolutely bonkers and creates more questions than it answers. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it for months. -- Jenae Sitzes, commerce editor
Resident Evil Village
I first played a Resident Evil game back when the original title was remade for the GameCube. Ever since then, I've been a fan of the series and have witnessed both its massive highs and lows. Recently, the series has had a major positive resurgence with its remake of Resident Evil 2 and formula reboot in Resident Evil 7. I'm happy that Resident Evil Village took this momentum and carried it further with another fantastic entry into the series.
Resident Evil VIllage gripped me when I first entered Lady Dimitrescu's castle, and I loved the fun and creativity the developers had in branching further away from the classic zombies of the series. Each of Village's primary villains has their own horror houses you explore, each level possessing unique elements and different ways you have to tackle them. This keeps the game fresh, as you are in for a completely different horror experience each time. And while some of these work better than others (being chased by the vampire-like beings of House Dimitrescu and sneaking through Donna Beneviento's spooky house being standouts for me), all of the levels still kept me on my toes, and had me looking forward to whatever might be next.
In a series filled with iconic games and some of the best in survival/action horror, Resident Evil Village stood its own as a worthy entry into the series, and one that I found to be an absolute joy to play. -- Dave Klein, video producer
Knockout City from Velan Studios is the best game I've played this year. Whereas some games take time to warm up to, Knockout City hooked me immediately.I "got it" basically instantly. I was drawn in with its unique charm and colorful presentation, riffing on the children's game of dodgeball in a way I never expected to see from a video game. The tight controls are intuitive and it just feels good to catch a ball, denying an opponent a point. It feels equally good to get the jump on an enemy and crush them with a well-timed shot. I played dodgeball as a kid (and later in life), and Knockout City delivers the fantasy fulfillment of what it would be like to play dodgeball with higher stakes in a fantasy setting. The gameplay loop is consistently exciting, as different players employ different strategies, which always keeps you guessing. And with Season 2 right around the corner, I'm eager to jump back in and try out the new map and ball. Eddie Makuch, editor
Before Your Eyes
Before Your Eyes's setup is simple, and its effect is powerful. You are someone who recently passed away and you are being ferried to wherever one goes when they die; the only catch is that to gain admission you need to prove that your life was an amazing one. To do this, you experience the life of the player character, Benny, one moment at a time. The interesting thing is you control everything in these moments by having your webcam track your eye blinks. This means that what you see is dependent on how long you can keep your eyes open. Experiences both good and bad are fleeting and can be over in an instant. The act of forcing yourself to keep your eyes open can cause your eyes to water up naturally, and if you couple that with this game's knack for packing one hell of an emotional punch, I imagine most people will have a tough time getting through Before Your Eyes without tearing up, and I think that is good.
I played this game early in the year and I still think about it often. The moments, the music, and the emotions and feelings I went through all along the two-hour journey left a big impression. I don't want to spoil too much about the game plot-wise, but I will say that the feeling I had by the time I reached the end of the game was different from almost any other game I have played. It is such a personal story that resulted in a strange mix of sadness and relief with some other emotions thrown in. Oddly enough, I don't think I can bring myself to go back and play it again, even with how much I loved it. It feels like I would be cheating if I were to try to see more of the scenes I missed because I was tearing up and blinked. I may never know how that one conversation with Benny's parents played out fully, or what the second half of that letter said from the girl who grew up next door. But that is kinda how life is: always moving forward whether you like it or not. -- Ben Janca, video wizard
You'd think that after so many shots at a familiar formula, some major mixups would be necessary. But not for Hitman 3. It's essentially more content for the modern series reboot that started with the 2016 release. And that's a wonderful thing because developer IO Interactive has nearly perfected its style of stealth-action espionage gameplay that turned Hitman's clockwork sandboxes into fascinating levels with a myriad of ways to complete your objectives. From intricate, well-thought out plans to silly improvisations filled with a comedy of errors, Hitman 3 kept on giving us what makes the series fantastic.
Hitman 3 does take a few turns to spice things up, like the murder mystery premise in the Dartmoor mission--instead of cleverly assassinating baddies, you can access your target and objectives by navigating some wild family drama as a detective. Then there's Berlin, which offers wide paths to finishing the mission and so many targets in an open nightclub. And the Mendoza mission rivals Sapienza (from the 2016 release) with its lush scenery at a rich-people wine party--thankfully there are some brutal ways to hit your targets.
Hitman 3 is a fine way to cap off the modern Hitman trilogy and seamlessly integrates with the previous two games to form one solid package of incredible stealth-action. -- Michael Higham, associate editor
Returnal begins with a strange signal and a harrowing crash onto the planet Atropos, and the thing I love about it is that the mystery only deepens from there. As you abandon your ship, Helios, you quickly discover that the planet is hiding no end of secrets, between its frightening, deadly fauna, its vast ruined cities, and its seemingly deep connection to Selene, the game's protagonist. Atropos is a dark, foreboding place, and the story of the fate that befell its people is as compelling as the one driven by Selene discovering her childhood home in the middle of an alien jungle.
Returnal resonated with me because of the twisting labyrinth of its ambiguous story, but the joy of blasting enemies is what kept me exploring its corridors. Though I know others are bothered by Returnal's lack of difficulty options and design choices, I mostly enjoyed the balance of its challenge, making the game just tough enough that I felt like I'd earned each new scrap of information Atropos reluctantly released. With some killer, extremely memorable boss fights (the first time I found Hyperion I gained a new appreciation for the game), great combat, and a story that I'm still turning over in my head, Returnal is firmly ensconced as one of my favorites for the year. -- Phil Hornshaw, editor
I struggle to pinpoint why I love Cris Tales--not because I don't like it, far from it. I wouldn't be putting this game on this list if that were the case. But it's so hard to pinpoint the one thing about it that made me fall in love with it. I enjoyed listening to the soundtrack, I laughed at the hilarious interactions amongst protagonist Crisbell and her friends, and I jumped up and punched the air in victory when I managed to pull off a clutch strategy in a heated 10-minute battle against a powerful boss. Everything about Cris Tales speaks to the part of me that loves JRPGs, and experiencing those traditional mechanics and storytelling tropes through a Colombian lens gives them a new appeal.
Cris Tales also feels like an incredibly relevant game right now, telling a story that warns that a big bad is the least of humanity's concerns in the face of everyday people exploiting the environment for personal greed, discriminating against marginalized folks for personal glory, and hoarding medicinal secrets for personal power. These people may seem small in comparison to the villains that define history books, but the effects of their actions are no less devastating on the future. Crisbell tackles these issues with an earnest belief that humanity can thrive if we just choose to work together--it's a naive way of thinking, but an ideology that's refreshingly reinforced in Cris Tales story. After the year we've all had, it's nice to enjoy a story where the heroes triumph over evil by simply putting aside their differences and working as a team because a young girl told them it was the right thing to do. -- Jordan Ramée, associate editor
Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir + The Girl Who Stands Behind
Nintendo has a long history of making surprising decisions, but I doubt anyone was expecting the company to bring Switch's Famicom Detective Club remakes to the West. Originally released on their namesake console in the '80s, the duology went unlocalized for more than 30 years--so long that I had assumed they would never be officially released outside of Japan. When they finally made their Western debut this past May, I jumped into the two remakes out of sheer historical curiosity, but what I found most surprising was just how gripping these long-lost relics remain.
Mechanically speaking, both Famicom Detective Club titles show their age--which is to be expected considering they originally released more than three decades ago. Progression is rigid and occasionally obtuse, and there were times I had to resort to spamming commands until I stumbled upon the right choice to advance the story. Despite this, both games had me enthralled, and I devoured them in quick succession.
The Missing Heir, the first to be released, weaves a complex tale of family politics and murder, all leading up to an incredibly satisfying denouement that expertly wraps up any dangling story threads. While not as densely layered narratively, its follow-up/prequel, The Girl Who Stands Behind, is equally as thrilling, with more twists, red herrings, and a palpably eerie atmosphere. Its soundtrack is also a delight, featuring some wonderfully catchy tunes (like the jazzy title theme) and haunting melodies that perfectly accentuate the story's supernatural tension.
The Famicom Detective Club games certainly aren't perfect, but developer Mages has done a marvelous job modernizing these classics, and the Switch remakes prove just how well their stories hold up--the most important factor for a visual novel. There are still many more games to come this year, but the two Famicom Detective Club titles have already earned a spot among my favorites. -- Kevin Knezevic, associate editor
Chicory: A Colorful Tale
Your first impression of Chicory: A Colorful Tale may be that it's a cute little adventure game where you play as an adorable dog and paint the world however you want. And it's definitely that, but beneath that initial premise is a much deeper story about self-worth, social life, how our heroes affect our lives, and the fragility of confidence and chasing our dreams. Despite some heavy themes that are portrayed so effectively, Chicory maintains an undeniable warmth and sense of comfort, like a cozy blanket that makes you feel like everything's going to be okay despite the hardships.
Chicory plays like an old-school top-down Zelda adventure--a world divided up in grid-like sections. Navigating through its world and chasing down the mystery behind titular character Chicory requires some sharp thinking as puzzles and painterly challenges lay between you and where you need to go. However, aside from a few rare combat sequences, Chicory is more of a test of your ability to analyze and see the world through various lenses. As you build up your toolset as a painter, you'll begin to understand how to access new areas and solve puzzles that were otherwise gating progress. Paint and color being at the forefront of this, however, puts a fresh spin on the classic adventure game conventions.
Becoming the "wielder"--the one responsible for bringing color to the world and satisfying the wants of the people around you--is a tall, stressful task. You'll come to learn exactly why that is, and what that kind of life means. It's a relatable story and journey for so many, but also a joyous adventure in a world you can make your own through color and creativity. -- Michael Higham, associate editor
Guilty Gear Strive
Guilty Gear Strive is the most fun I've had in a fighting game since Street Fighter 4. I've spent over 100 hours in three short weeks battling friends and strangers online--and the experience is, without question, magical.
To be frank, Strive is my first serious entry into the franchise. In the past, I considered Guilty Gear games unapproachable, as I deemed their esoteric game mechanics to be too hard even for seasoned fighting game veterans. But developer Arc System Works brilliantly redesigned the franchise's formula with Strive, considerably changing the core mechanics--the combos, the signature Roman Cancels, the gameplay--without overly simplifying them. I dare say the drastic changes made Strive more approachable and less intimidating. I can confidently say I had a lot of fun learning the game.
For me, learning a game requires playing many, many matches against a human opponent. This is where Strive shines: online matchmaking. Somehow, through a magic algorithm, the Tower--10+ floors of varying player skills--does an amazing job at pairing equally skilled players together. Newcomers can safely dive into the trenches without fear of getting mauled by a veteran. And because I'm not demoralized by an egregious butt whooping, I keep coming back for more games. The Tower allows players to learn at their own pace, an invaluable component for my personal motivation. Of course, this means nothing if the online connection was powered by a potato. Fortunately for us, Strive features stable rollback netcode, consistently providing smooth matches mostly free from lag (Dragon Ball FighterZ, I'm looking at you!). -- Richard Li, video producer
Persona 5 Strikers
I never thought I'd get a sequel to one of my favorite games of all time, but that's essentially what Persona 5 Strikers is. Taking place after the events of the source RPG, it's like taking a lovely vacation with a group of friends you weren't sure you'd see again. Evil is of course brewing and the Metaverse is being abused for awful opportunistic people to manipulate society, but the Phantom Thieves know how this goes.
The thing is, Persona 5 Strikers expertly adapts the RPG conventions of the franchise to create a fast, frenetic, and satisfying action combat system. Koei Tecmo's penchant for musou games is elevated by adhering to Persona's identity and it's so damn good. All the stylings, flourishes, and extravagance from the original game come through beautifully as well.
Strikers' story may not hit the same emotional notes as the original game, but the downtime in this follow up instills a nostalgic feeling and a new sense of confidence in combating evil as the crew enjoys life while they can. And the soundtrack (part Atlus sound team, part Koei Tecmo) only uplifts this feeling by spanning all sorts of different genres to communicate a consistent message of confidence, strength, and the power of friendship.
Persona 5 Strikers feels like a game I'd dream up after the credits rolled following my first Persona 5 playthrough--it's kind of wild that it's real. But the road trip across Japan's iconic cities and finding excuses to kick ass and save the world is all I could really ask for, and that's what we got. -- Michael Higham, associate editor
Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139…
How could Nier Replicant--a remastered and upgraded version of the first Nier game--live up to my hopes when Nier Automata is my favorite game of all time? Somehow, it managed to do that, delivering an emotional and tragic tale that sets the stage for the later game while also offering a newfound sense of hope and optimism through an additional ending. The pacing isn't perfect, as the "replaying" you do in Replicant is much more egregious than in Automata, but the payoff is absolutely worth it. Even returning Nier players have a few surprises waiting for them.
The original 2010 Nier's biggest flaw was its dull, stiff combat, and after the excellent Platinum Games-developed Automata system introduced flashier and fluid attacks, there was no going back. The same improvements seen in that game were implemented into Nier Replicant, with combat that has such a great feeling of weight and control that it may actually surpass Automata. Combine that with Grimoire Weiss's unique special abilities for a huge amount of variety depending on your combat situation, and it's even harder for me to not jump back in and just beat up enemies in the open-world areas while I listen to Weiss' conceited quips. -- Gabe Gurwin, associate SEO editor
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury
Considering how steadily Nintendo has been porting its best Wii U games to the Switch, it was only a matter of time before Super Mario 3D World arrived on the hybrid console. Rather than a straightforward re-release, however, Nintendo made some welcome tweaks to the game and added an entirely new mini-adventure on top of it, turning an already excellent title into one of the very best releases of the year.
Super Mario 3D World itself is just as vibrant and joyful as when it first released in 2013--a finely tuned collection of challenges that plays with a head-spinning number of concepts. Nearly every level in the game introduces some new gameplay idea, from blocks that phase in and out of existence to the beat of the music to power-ups that conjure up doppelgangers of your character. The adventure is endlessly surprising, and Nintendo has refined the gameplay in some welcome ways, speeding up characters' movements and introducing online play.
Bowser's Fury, the aforementioned mini-adventure included in the package, is a delight as well. Whereas 3D World is a smorgasbord of linear, self-contained challenges, Bowser's Fury is set in one sprawling open world, making it more reminiscent of Super Mario Odyssey (albeit built atop 3D World's controls and power-ups). Each island you encounter here is a level unto itself, and they repeatedly change in some way as you collect more Cat Shines. What keeps the adventure exciting are the moments when Fury Bowser--a supersized, enraged version of Mario's nemesis--awakens and begins raining fire down around you, forcing you to take cover and, in many instances, opening the way to new collectable Shines.
Both Super Mario 3D World and Bowser's Fury are wonderful in their own right, but together, they make for a must-have on Switch and one of my favorite releases of the year so far. -- Kevin Knezevic, associate editor
Monster Hunter Rise
There's no greater joy than the moment something you've spent years not liking clicks. In 2021, I'm thrilled to admit that Monster Hunter clicked for me, and it only took its latest entry, Rise, to unveil the excellence of this 17-year-old armor-crafting fest.
For years, I've always known Monster Hunter to be a much-loved franchise with pulse-pounding fights and complex combat mechanics, but its often obtuse, slow-moving progression always kept me from loving it. But Rise breaks that down, streamlining the experience while allowing the series' best parts to shine through sooner and more consistently. Of course, those parts being its monster hunting.
Even at Rise's most complex, it does a better job pulling you into its time-honored gameplay loop. There are even fewer barriers across its basic systems and UI now, so you can quickly get right into the "rinse and repeat" cycle of hunting monsters and using their parts to enhance your character's weapons and armor without much hassle. That was a godsend for me because all I ever wanted to do in previous games was get sucked into the combat and not get bogged down by constant foraging or dull tutorials.
And gosh, when I did get absorbed into combat, I started to discover the brilliance of Monster Hunter and what it does so well. As a fan of action games, such as Devil May Cry and Dark Souls, I found that it too is a game about positioning and attacking intelligently. But it keeps you on your toes in a more approachable and easygoing way by pacing its fights, often stringing you from moments of intense combat to brief respite as your prey flees, then back again into the fray. The new Wirebugs only elevates the tempo of it all--something I admit was a significant contributing factor to what made it all click--allowing you to get right to the fun of every beat immediately, thanks to the high-flying maneuvers it provides you in and out of combat. It's such a joy.
Unfortunately, I'm now running up against the word count, talking about how much easier Rise makes it to get into Monster Hunter, as well as the newfound appreciation it's given me for the simple things it has always done. It makes me sad because I've not even had the chance to talk about how cute and charming it all is--the adorable Palicos and Palamutes are simply the best! But let me assure you, in this whirlwind of erratic passion, if there's any Monster Hunter game that could get you into this series, it would be Rise. It's an outstanding action game well-capable of providing you countless hours of extraordinary highs. Give it a shot; you won't regret it. -- Matt Espineli, editor