2021 hasn’t offered gamers an embarrassment of riches, as the pandemic slowed development on many franchises. But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been plenty of top tier titles to keep players happy.
Buying a video game as a holiday present can be challenging if you’re not a player yourself. Separating the good from the bad can be a tricky affair. Here are some can’t miss suggestions, though, that should keep any player happy.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
Perhaps the game that most successfully demonstrates the capabilities of the PlayStation 5, Rift Apart is also a joy to play. The familiar franchise gets a modern update without losing its charm. It offers stunning visuals, levels that load in (literally) the blink of an eye and terrific use of the PS5’s haptic controller, making it one of the most next-gen titles to hit the street so far. (It’s exclusive to Sony’s system.) The gameplay is captivating, fun and loaded with heart. And the game itself, while it’s technically a shooter, is safe for most players.
The Metroid franchise is one of Nintendo’s most beloved and Dread is the first two-dimensional Metroid story in 19 years, blending the old-school gameplay with modern gaming technology and enough new ideas to keep it fresh. It also looks amazing if you happen to have the new Nintendo Switch OLED (and still looks plenty good on the original Switch). It’s a Nintendo-exclusive game that will test players, though, especially those who aren’t familiar with Metroid or who haven’t played this sort of game in a long time. This isn’t a franchise that’s big on hand holding, so players will have to figure a lot out on their own—though that will make the victories even more satisfying.
A strong candidate for 2021’s best game, Deathloop is an action-packed shooter that introduces a new game mechanic to the genre. The plot, in a nutshell, is you’re on an island where every day repeats. You’re fighting to make your way off and destroy the apparatus that makes time reset. But you’ve got an army of people protecting the system and one opponent (which can be either A.I. or another player) who is particularly challenging. It’s fun. It’s self-aware and winks at itself. It blends stealth and action masterfully. And it’s one of the most unique games you’ll pick up in recent memory. Developer Arkane Studios, creators of the Dishonored franchise, have outdone themselves.
Call of Duty Vanguard
Just released this month, the latest installment in the Call of Duty franchise is set in World War II, after last year’s version focused on the Cold War. There’s a campaign, but the real focus is on the multiplayer mode, with 20 maps, four of which are centered around a new type of gameplay called “Champion Hill,” which blends strategy and gameplay. Squads will share a certain number of lives, and the last person standing wins. And the popular zombies mode will be back as well.
Forza Horizon 5
Also new in November, this installment of the popular racing game is set in Mexico (albeit an enhanced fictional version). It features the largest game map in the series history, nearly 50% larger than its predecessor. And it allows players to go where they want, adding an open world aspect to the races, along with a robust weather system. The goal, of course, is to go faster than your opponents and beat them to the finish line, but Forza Horizon 5 (available only on Xbox) also will have a series of mini-games during multiplayer sessions that add another layer to the fun.
Announced in 2018 and originally planned to release alongside the Xbox Series X, Halo Infinite is arguably the year’s most anticipated and most worried about title. The development was troubled, to say the least, with the game’s director being replaced last year and reports of notable “course corrections” since that time. So, while the worry is justified, this is Microsoft’s biggest franchise—and one that it will work hard not to damage. The most recent previews have been a lot more impressive than early looks at the game.
The Xbox-exclusive game follows up Halo 5, with Master Chief trying to figure out why Cortana, his longtime A.I. partner, went rogue and tried to destroy humanity. The multiplayer components of the game will be free-to-play, but if you want to follow the storyline, you’ll need to pay for that separately or subscribe to Microsoft’s Game Pass service.
Diablo II Resurrected
Diablo II is one of the gaming industry’s greats, but the graphics were a bit long in the tooth after 21 years. Resurrected updates the action role-playing game, with 4K graphics, higher framerates, and little tweaks that make playing more enjoyable to modern players. (And you can swap back and forth between the two versions to see just how dramatic the upgrades are as you play.) It’s not just a fun nostalgic trip. The gameplay is as solid and captivating as ever. The only complaint is the game doesn’t support cross-platform play, so if you want to play cooperatively with friends, they’ll need to be on the same game system as you.
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy—The Definitive Edition
It’s been six years since we’ve gotten a new Grand Theft Auto game, and the odds of GTA 6 being out anytime soon are slim, given how popular (and lucrative) Grand Theft Auto Online has become. But sometimes, you can move forward by taking a step back. This updated trilogy of older GTA games includes Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, updating the graphics to a level that’s acceptable for today’s player and offering some specific play features for different gaming systems. It’s not a new game, but these were the three titles that put GTA on the map for most players, something legacy players have been clamoring for. And it’s a chance for newcomers to the series to see what all the fuss was about.
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