Even as some parts of the world start to open back up, 2021 has given us plenty of good reasons to stay inside and play video games. Those lucky enough to nab a PS5 or Xbox Series X over the past year have gotten some truly next-gen experiences, while the ever-enduring Nintendo Switch continues to get excellent exclusives. And whether you’re a hardcore PC gamer or still rocking your older-gen console, a ton of great multiplatform titles kept us glued to our couches and computers for weeks on end.
Now that we’ve done the hard work of playing countless hours of video games this year, we’ve picked out the ones worth checking out. And fortunately for you, many of these great titles are currently on sale or available as part of an Xbox Game Pass subscription. Whether you’re looking to catch up over the holidays or need a great last-minute gift idea, here are the best games of 2021.
Deathloop ($22.99, originally $59.99; amazon.com)
Arkane Studios already has a knack for crafting first-person action games that give the player a ton of freedom to be as sneaky, crafty or straight-up menacing as they want, and Deathloop takes that formula to another level. This creative time-loop shooter challenges you to take out a series of targets in a single day, resulting in a gleeful trial-and-error puzzle of addictive action in which you’ll learn — and eventually gain new abilities — from each attempt. Deathloop’s gameplay is a blast whether you’re strategically sneaking around or wreaking havoc with supernatural powers, and the incredible performances by Jason E. Kelley (Colt Vahn) and Ozioma Akagha (Julianna Blake) will make you want to unravel this time-travel mystery in its entirety.
Forza Horizon 5 ($54.99, originally $59.99; amazon.com)
Forza Horizon 5 isn’t just a great driving game — it’s one of the best open-world titles out there, period. Sure, there are plenty of fun races and challenges to tackle, but simply cruising around Playground Games’ stunning recreation of Mexico — and wreaking all kinds of havoc in the process — is what kept us glued to the steering wheel. Horizon 5 looks great whether you’re playing on PC, Xbox or even the cloud, and its wide array of vehicles and activities will keep even the most devoted drivers busy for weeks on end. It doesn’t matter if you’re a racing game fan or not; the latest Forza Horizon is a beautiful arcade playground that just about every gamer should experience.
- Forza Horizon 5 is also available with an Xbox Game Pass subscription.
Halo Infinite ($59.94; amazon.com)
Halo Infinite strikes a perfect balance of evolving Microsoft’s flagship shooter series while bringing back the core components that made it so special in the first place. It would have made this list for its free-to-play multiplayer alone, which we’ve lost countless hours to thanks to its delightfully tight gunplay and a fun sandbox of weapons and abilities that you can use in all kinds of creative ways. Seriously — you haven’t lived until you’ve stolen a tank using a grappling hook.
But that sandbox opens up even further in Infinite’s campaign mode, which gives you a massive open world to explore while still providing a cohesive, compelling story that you’ll want to see to the end. It’s big, ambitious and takes some major creative risks, all while giving us that same sense of joy and wonder that we felt when we first touched down on the original Halo ring in 2001 — or lost our entire social lives to Halo multiplayer in the years that followed.
- Halo Infinite’s campaign is also available with an Xbox Game Pass subscription.
Resident Evil Village ($31.27, originally $49.99; gamestop.com)
After Resident Evil 7 brought Capcom’s survival horror franchise back to its roots, Resident Evil Village built on that foundation while going bigger and better in every way. This first-person thriller drops you into a gorgeously haunted European village, which contains four distinct locations that each feel like their own unique flavor of Resident Evil. There’s the pure gothic horror of the castle, the steampunk tension of the foundry, a creepy swamp and a haunted house that delivers one of the most genuinely terrifying moments in Resident Evil history. It’s all tied together by some of the most satisfying combat and puzzle-solving in the franchise, as well as a story that was so compelling, we blew through the game in a weekend just to see how it ended.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition ($29.99, originally $59.99; bestbuy.com)
We didn’t expect one of our favorite games of 2021 to be a remaster of a series we’ve already dumped well over 100 hours into, but here we are. Mass Effect Legendary Edition does a superb job of bringing BioWare’s beloved sci-fi role-playing trilogy to modern platforms, delivering revamped 4K graphics and some welcome quality-of-life changes without messing with what makes these games so special. Heck, it even makes the first Mass Effect’s combat actually fun to play! Mass Effect has unforgettable characters, superb writing, dynamic squad-based action and an interactive narrative that lets you shape the story across three entire games. It’s one of gaming’s essential franchises, and Legendary Edition is the absolute best way to experience it.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy ($29.99, originally $59.99; bestbuy.com)
We weren’t sure what to expect from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy after last year’s middling Avengers game, but we sure were pleasantly surprised. Eidos-Montréal has delivered an excellent take on our favorite spacefaring band of misfits, one that combines thrilling superhero action with an engaging and emotional story that reminds us why we love these characters to begin with. Zipping and shooting around as Star-Lord feels fluid and fun, and we had a blast commanding the unique abilities of Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot during both combat and puzzle-solving. But as with any great Guardians story, what really makes this title a standout is the character interactions that will both make you laugh out loud and pull at your heartstrings. Also, it’s really, really pretty — especially on a PS5 or Xbox Series X.
The Medium ($29.99, originally $49.99; gamestop.com)
The Medium was a delightful surprise that we may not have discovered if it didn’t launch on Xbox Game Pass early this year. This creative horror adventure tasks you with solving puzzles and avoiding deadly enemies while navigating both the real world and the spirit world — sometimes at the same time. The Medium’s ability to render two entire game worlds at once is a true showcase of what the PS5 and Xbox Series X are capable of, and its breezy runtime and solid story are perfect for a weekend of spooky fun. Our only big gripe with The Medium is its cliffhanger ending, so here’s hoping there’s more on the way.
- The Medium is also available with an Xbox Game Pass subscription.
Metroid Dread ($59.99; gamestop.com)
We’re not necessarily massive Metroid fans, and mostly fired up Metroid Dread to test out the Nintendo Switch OLED for our review. Flash forward a few weeks later, and Dread is easily one of our favorite games of the year. The latest Metroid game is simply a pitch-perfect 2D action experience, with thrilling gunplay and traversal, intense and memorable boss fights and an ever-expanding labyrinthe world that invites you to explore while also smartly pushing you towards your next objective. It’s one of the best Switch games yet, and a must-play for series diehards and newcomers alike.
Monster Hunter Rise ($33.88, originally $39.99; gamestop.com)
We’ve always had a hard time getting into Capcom’s beloved but somewhat impenetrable Monster Hunter series, but Rise is the one that finally stuck. Exploring Monster Hunter’s massive environments has never been more accessible or fun, thanks to new features such as a grappling hook and an adorable new canine companion that make it much easier to get around and jump into the big monster fights. The game’s 14 weapons — which run the gamut from giant swords to hybrid machine guns — are a blast to use and master, and the classic Monster Hunter loop of slaying creatures and getting rewarded with cool gear is as addictive as ever. Throw in some of the series’ best visuals to date (even on the aging Nintendo Switch) and chaotic new Rampage missions, and you’ve got the best jumping-on point yet for this enduring action role-playing series.
Psychonauts 2 ($53.99, originally $59.99; gamestop.com)
Even if we were judging it solely as a 3D platformer, Psychonauts 2 is one of the most delightful games of the year. Double Fine’s colorful, quirky adventure arms you with fun psychic abilities and features some incredibly inventive level design that has you literally go inside of people’s minds to solve puzzles and defeat bad guys. But that latter part is what makes Psychonauts 2 so special — wrapped between all of the fun one-liners, dazzling visuals and satisfying platforming is a genuinely touching story about mental health.
- Psychonauts 2 is also available with an Xbox Game Pass subscription.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart ($49.99, originally $69.99; bestbuy.com)
The PS5 already has a nice stable of exclusives, but none of them show off what Sony’s new console can do quite like Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. Insomniac’s gorgeous, Pixar-esque shooter-adventure is a true technical showpiece, as you can literally hop between entire dimensions in an instant with no loading screens to break up the action. But the latest Ratchet & Clank game has more than slick 4K graphics and a cool next-gen party trick — it’s also simply a great 3D platformer, with lovable characters, a range of fun weapons and some of the best storytelling of the entire series.
Splitgate (free; xbox.com, playstation.com or steampowered.com)
One of our biggest gaming surprises of the year, Splitgate rose from relative obscurity to become one of the hottest first-person shooters you can play right now. It’s easy to see why — this arena combat game brilliantly combines the weaponry of Halo, the speed and movement of Quake and the unique ability to create portals on the battlefield for all kinds of menacingly creative tactics. The moment we first outsmarted an opponent by strategically shooting them through a portal, we were hooked for good. While we originally got into Splitgate to hold us over until Halo Infinite, its distinct gameplay and frequent updates will likely keep it in our rotation for a while. Better yet, it’s completely free to play on PlayStation, Xbox and PC.