This year I was big on interactive stories, horror games, solving mysteries, and creatively murdering people. There are a few big triple-A hitters on my list, but 2021 was also a great year for weird indie games—a few of which managed to sneak into my top 10.
10. The Black Iris
Trippy indie horror game The Black Iris was created by solo developer Jamie Ferguson, and it's one of the most interesting games I played in 2021. Set in rural Scotland in the 1980s, you've been sent to investigate a research base that's been overwhelmed by some dreadful cosmic entity. The psychedelic fever dream art, dread-laden atmosphere, and stylish typography make this a memorable and completely unique horror experience.
9. Psychonauts 2
The sheer amount of imagination squeezed into every frame of Psychonauts 2 puts most other games to shame. Double Fine's long-awaited sequel buzzes with creativity, whether you're platforming through a world made of teeth, a bizarre neon-lit casino/hospital hybrid, or a lavish sea-themed casino. It's a quality platformer, and really funny too, but for me it's the wildly inventive levels that make it a 2021 highlight.
8. Night Delivery
Chilla's Art is a Japanese indie developer making the best horror games in the business. Night Delivery is the story of a courier delivering packages to the residents of a tower block, and finding themselves drawn into a surreal nightmare. Like all the short, perfectly formed games by this dev, it's a masterclass in building tension and lulling you into a false sense of security, holding its scares back until they really hit you hard.
7. The Ascent
It's the Arcology that makes The Ascent one of my games of the year. I mean, it's a great game in its own right—a brutal action RPG with some gloriously punchy combat. But the setting, a city squeezed into a giant skyscraper, is the most remarkable thing about it. Mixing scuzzy, lived-in Star Wars sci-fi with neon-flecked '80s cyberpunk, I loved rising to the top of this ridiculously detailed, rain-drenched dystopia.
6. Resident Evil Village
Resident Evil Village is a grimly beautiful collection of killer horror set-pieces, pitting you against some of the most memorably weird, grotesque enemies in Resident Evil history. I love its anthology-like structure, because you're never quite sure what fresh new terror is waiting for you at the end of the next dimly lit corridor. It also features the single scariest moment in the series' 25-year history.
Narrative often feels like an afterthought in deck-builders and roguelikes, of which Griftlands is both. But in Klei's fresh take on both genres, it's placed front and centre. Through randomised plot threads and character relationships, it generates some wonderfully dynamic, interactive stories—and every run feels remarkably different. It looks great too, with its painterly backgrounds and big, bold characters.
There are a lot of games about solving a murder, but very few about getting away with one. This is the straight-up genius premise of Overboard, a reverse murder mystery by Inkle, the studio behind top-tier interactive fiction like 80 Days and Heaven's Vault. Spinning a web of lies and trying not to get tangled up in it is darkly thrilling, and the absurd replayability of the small, dense story it tells is massively impressive.
3. Disco Elysium: The Final Cut
Yes, Disco Elysium came out in 2019, but this Final Cut re-release is good enough that I feel comfortable including it here. Amazingly, it takes one of the best RPGs ever made and makes it even better—particularly the addition of a narrator, whose brilliantly sonorous voice brings the vivid dialogue to life, while also making those big walls of a text a lot easier to absorb. This is the best way to play ZA/UM's offbeat masterpiece.
2. The Forgotten City
I only finished The Forgotten City a few days ago, but it shot immediately to the upper echelons of my top 10. Part mystery, part historical thriller, and part surprisingly terrifying horror game, this dialogue-heavy time loop adventure is one of the best games I've played in years. Just when you think you have it all figured out, the mystery deepens and more weirdness unravels before you. An incredible thing.
1. Hitman 3
Whether you're dodging other hitmen in a crowded Berlin rave, solving a murder mystery in a mansion straight out of an Agatha Christie novel, or infiltrating an underground research facility below a rain-soaked Chinese city, Hitman 3 is one of the best stealth games ever made. These big, rich sandboxes are a joy to experiment with, and encourage creativity and improvisation in a way that is hugely rewarding.
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