It’s that time of the year again. Here’s all of the games we think deserve the plaudits in 2021. Finger Guns Presents: The Games Of The Year 2021.
If you’d have asked most people what games they expected to be on a ‘Games Of The Year 2021’ list at the end of 2020, I don’t imagine many people would have predicted this year’s front runners. The on-going impact of
the global bastard COVID-19 has meant that almost all of 2021’s most anticipated titles – Horizon Forbidden West, God of War Ragnarok, Gotham Knights, Gran Turismo 7, Hogwarts Legacy, Elden Ring, Dying Light 2, and many more – all find themselves on the list of 2022 releases.
For every big budget AAA game that found itself delayed into next year however, there was an excellent game waiting in the wings to take advantage of the space in the market this enabled. The extra breathing room in 2021 meant that games from smaller studios managed to take to the stage and flaunt their quality. That’s something you’ll see represented in the following list, with indie games making up a bigger proportion of our selection than ever before. In reflection, 2021 was a frankly excellent year for video games. It’s just that they weren’t the games we expected them to be at the start of the year.
Much like every year, we don’t select a singular ‘Game of the Year’ here at Finger Guns. Anyone who listens to our podcast can attest to the fact that we all have very different perceptions of what constitutes a GOTY contender. We’re not a hive mind. We all have our particular likes and dislikes, some of which are counter to others. We all play very different games from one another. Rather than spend days arguing over which game deserves to be the one, we all choose a selection of games that we think deserve the honour.
This year was a transformative one for Finger Guns. We began the year as a team of 6 – Ross, Paul, Greg, Toby, Andy and myself. Throughout the year, we also added 2 new members – Kat and Miles. Despite some personal ups and downs through the year, as a collective we managed to publish more than 270 video game reviews. Slightly down from last year but still a mammoth achievement. That’s more than 1 for every working day for this entire year (255 days, in case you were wondering).
As we’ve expanded the team, we’ve of course expanded our ‘Games of the year’ selection. For 2021, we’ve selected 37 games in total, a maximum of 5 each. This was tough, and some games simply didn’t make the cut, but if you’re looking for the absolute best games of 2021, this list feels like a diverse and comprehensive list from 8 very different people who all got to have their say.
Without further ado, here are the Finger Guns choices for ‘Games of the Year 2021’
You can hear a podcast version of this list HERE
Ross Keniston’s Choices
Lake was a game that for me came completely out of nowhere. We often have games sent over to us that we’ve no idea were even a thing and end up falling in love with them (hi there, Night in the Woods) and Lake is exactly that.
I had no preconceptions of what this game was going to be. It’s set in a quiet, gorgeous mountain town with a literal enormous lake slap bang in the middle, and you play as the postie delivering their mail. Yep, that’s about it. But Lake has this unwieldy power to draw you in and look deeper, and suddenly the magic appears as if from nowhere. Its quiet, serene and patient mechanics whilst your postie tears it around in her slow postal van encourages exploration, and finding new characters to interact with and enhance your personal narrative, allows you to see what Lake for it actually is, and that’s a story of remembrance.
Your character moves from the big city back to her hometown of Providence Oaks, and not everyone is particularly happy to see her again. As the game progresses you learn more about her history, and suddenly you’re completely drawn in to this glorious 2-3 hour experience that I could have played for days.
Technically it’s not perfect, and not everyone will get what I did from Lake, but when its secrets are uncovered, Lake is an essential experience. Ooft, I loved it.
File this under another game I had no idea about before playing, Unpacking is one hell of a find. Sitting there rather quietly on Game Pass next to the likes of Forza 5,Football Manager and It Takes Two was this unassuming title, and well, I needed a break from Forza so I thought I’d boot it up…
Five hours later and I was still playing this utterly charming and gloriously mellow video game. Unpacking is exactly what you think, telling a story through the boxes you unpack as you go. From childhood all the way to adulthood you’re, ahem, unpacking a woman’s life, ensuring each item she has brought with her is placed in the correct place.
From childhood bedrooms to full houses to unpack, suddenly you’re absolutely drawn in by this concept, and given that moving house in real life is some kind of hell on earth that should never be considered ‘fun’, there’s something so beautifully lo-fi about taking it on for another person, particularly someone you’re following their entire life. You begin to learn an awful lot about your invisible character. Her college habits, her university goals and her mistakes. The narrative being told through her new homes is almost emotional. You’re watching this person grow up and help her move into new digs at every major step, it’s almost parental.
Unpacking is on Game Pass and I fully recommend giving it a go if you need to get out of your head for a couple of hours. There’s nothing else like it.
I said in my review of Bonfire Peaks;
Bonfire Peaks is a gorgeous experience, with a multitude of puzzles that will challenge even the most hardened genre aficionado. The sense of completion is wondrous, and the voxel world is a peaceful one to work through at your own pace. You’ve been never been so utterly relaxed and completely infuriated at the same time. It’s quite the achievement.
That’s exactly what Bonfire Peaks is. It’s a beautiful, hard-as-nails, keep your brain ‘ON’ experience that stands mountains above its genre competition this year by simply being hugely rewarding and utterly compelling. The story of a man burning his belongings on a seemingly endless number of bonfires to find whatever it is he may be looking for is at the same cathartic and infuriating. Quite the allegory for mental health, I would argue.
There’s an internal struggle at the heart of Bonfire Peaks that spoke to me, along with its absurdly difficult puzzles that drove me up the wall. The contrast of the games ‘simplistic’ visuals along with the difficulty of the puzzles made for an experience that encouraged me to carry on because I wanted to see more, to learn more and find myself at the top of the peak. If not to help this guy out, who evidently needs it.
I encourage you to seek it out. It could just help you out. Or it could make you throw your controllers out of the window and flip a table. It literally could go either way.
Well well well. I’ve never liked racing games. I’ve played a bunch over my gaming history and none of them I would consider a Top 10 of all time video game (barring Mario Kart 8, but does that count?). Then comes Forza Horizon 5, the full goddamn game on Game Pass staring at me and telling me to put it through its paces and stare at the gorgeous visuals. Son of a bitch, it worked.
Forza Horizon 5, for my money, is the best racing game of all time. There’s just no denying it at this point. I say this because it’s the only one I’ve ever stuck with, the only one I’ve really, really dived into and got completely lost in, figuratively and literally. I think it captured my imagination not just because of the absolutely stunning opening sequence, but the fact that it doesn’t feel like a racing game at heart, it feels more like an action/adventure RPG. You just happen to always be in a car.
Unlocking cars, exploring the utterly breathtaking Mexico playground Turn 10 have created and finding new races to do in every corner of the map, there’s something here for every single gamer on earth and it’s beyond me how Turn 10 have pulled this off. Forza Horizon has always been fun, but this is on some other level I never could have dreamed of. Everything is so brilliantly fine tuned and beautifully presented, it’s difficult to not completely fall in love.
It’s absolute magic, and technically it’s free. I have no idea what we’ve done to deserve this.
Well, hail to the Chief.
It’s taken a long time for me to be excited about Halo again. After Halo 4 didn’t hit the heights I expected and Halo 5 came and went without any fanfare in my life, I began to wonder if 343 Industries would ever have what it took to reach the lofty heights of Bungie’s heyday. It seemed like an impossible task, and us as fans would be waiting a lifetime to have Chief back on top where he so rightly belongs.
And then came Halo Infinite. Six years in the making, this was what we’ve been waiting for since Halo Reach. Billed as a ‘soft reboot’ of the entire franchise, Infinite feels like it’s been created from the ground up to be the greatest hits of everything that I love about Halo. The campaign pulled me in and didn’t let go (the first night clocking up seven straight hours just exploring Zeta Halo and getting into as many scrapes as I could find), this new take on Halo in a vast open-world (ish) was exactly the re-invigoration the series needed.
Pulling at my heartstrings as they explore the relationship between Chief and Cortana more intricately than ever before whilst I’m laughing hysterically on my sofa as the Grunts come out with one liners I wish I could replay all over again.
The multiplayer – which is free, remember? – is the icing on the cake. Propelling Halo – Halo! – as the greatest online shooter currently available, the endless fun on offer is a glorious celebration of all that came before it. Released two weeks before the campaign, it’s become a staple of my evenings, either playing online or with friends and tearing up the leaderboards. I’ve got addicted to such a degree I’ve become that person when my team don’t play the objective. I never thought it would happen, they just don’t realise how much of an asset I am. One day I’ll get my due.
Anyway, Halo Infinite is a late addition to my Top 5 but it’s for good reason. This series means everything to me and I haven’t had this much joy from it since the release of Reach in 2010.
Damn, Chief. It’s been a while. Welcome back.