As we storm through the final days of 2021, surrounded by big releases like Halo: Infinite and Battlefield 2042, plus major updates like Call of Duty: Warzone Pacific, it’s not a bad time to take a look back at the massive flood of games that came earlier in the year. A moment’s thought brings to mind the huge successes of 2021, like Valheim, Hitman 3, Forza Horizon 5, Chivalry 2, Back for Blood, and Deathloop, and plenty more.
Despite the many game delays of 2021 (creating what feels like an overstuffed 2022 on the horizon), it was a pretty great year for games. But there’s only so much room in our organic RAM to remember everything that came out this year. Here’s a look back at a few games that launched in 2021 you may have forgotten about.
The Medium – January 28
Lady Dimitrescu towered over the horror genre this year, and not just because she’s over 9 feet tall: Resident Evil Village isn’t just a great horror game but one of the best games of the year. But don’t sleep on The Medium just because it came out way back in January. The stealth horror/puzzler has some of the sharpest writing and acting seen in years, and it’s full of complex heroes, monsters, and themes. It’s an outstanding third-person horror game any horror-lover should play, and it’s Bloober Team’s most ambitious effort yet.—Chris Livingston
Balan Wonderworld – March 26
More like the game that Square Enix hopes you forgot, Balan Wonderworld is one of the strangest things to come out of a big publisher in years. It’s a 3D platformer with a pair of big names behind it: former Sonic Team boss Yuji Naka, and Sonic character designer Naoto Ohshima. Excitement over Naka making a big-budget 3D platformer, a rarity these days outside Mario, pretty much evaporated once Balan Wonderworld’s demo hit, revealing a one-button control scheme that drove players mad. The rest of the game is full of baffling dance numbers and other weird ideas that don’t really pay off (like charging a full $60), earning Balan Wonderworld an average critic rating of 50. If you remember it, it’s probably because you watched a YouTube video about how bad it was.
Naka left Square Enix just weeks after release, saying he might retire. Oof. —Wes Fenlon, Senior Editor
Outriders – April 1
Oh, boy, Outriders. That was a fun week of my life. I remember there being confusion about whether or not it was a service game that carried into its release. It was never designed to be a “forever” game with seasonal updates, though you’d be forgiven for the confusion thanks to Outriders’ many similarities to Destiny.
I thought the whole thing was pretty dull, but Outriders enjoyed a surge of popularity in April largely because the first half of 2021 was incredibly dry for non-indie games (it also launched on Xbox Game Pass). The campaign had pretty skyboxes, making it all the more disappointing that every level is a series of narrow corridors. It also has some pretty cool guns, most of which you could only get after you’d played 90% of the game. It feels like a game pulled straight out of 2006, like it was supposed to be the sci-fi alternative to Gears of War. Outriders also had major loot bugs and server problems at launch that probably dwindled interest in the game faster than People Can Fly hoped. —Morgan Park, Staff Writer
Cozy Grove – April 27
We’re still waiting for a true Animal Crossing competitor to arrive on PC, and Cozy Grove isn’t quite it. But it is a charming and gentle life sim that’s absolutely worth your time, and pleasantly enough, it’s optimized to be played for only an hour or two a day, so it won’t deliberately suck up all of your time. You play as a camper on an island full of ghosts of friendly animals like bears and foxes. You help them out with little tasks and chores and discover their interesting stories, while bringing life back to the camper’s paradise. Cozy Grove has a lovely art style and enough quests and sidequests to keep you busy for months—in little bite-sized daily sessions. I’d hate to see it get overlooked in the pile of games that arrived this year.—Chris Livingston
NieR Replicant ver. 1.22474487139… – April 23
NieR is the very definition of a sleeper hit, with an initial tepid response in 2010 getting a well-deserved reevaluation in the wake of its hit sequel, Automata. Replicant ver. 1.22(etc.) is the first time Yoko Taro’s strange and emotional action-RPG has been available on PC outside emulation. It features a new ending alongside a younger version of the titular protagonist, previously only seen in the Japanese PS3 version of the game.
This remaster of a beloved seventh-gen RPG was followed with another just a few weeks later with Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, and I haven’t seen a lot of buzz about NieR Replicant since, outside some recognition at the Game Awards for its OST. I’ve finally come back to have this old favorite rip my heart out again, and I encourage anyone even slightly interested to join me. —Ted Litchfield, Freelance Contributor
Scavengers – May 1
When Scavengers dropped in May, it felt like it might be the next big thing in battle royale. It’s got a dynamic open world and is more accessible than something like PUBG, and there are ways to win that have more to do with surviving and exploring rather than killing every last player on the map. Plus, it’s got a bizarrely intriguing multiplayer mode that can cram thousands of players into a game at once. On its first day of Early Access, demand was so high it actually ran out of keys. Things looked bright.
But after that big start, many players didn’t stick around for long, citing bugs, hackers, an unbalanced progression system, and an issue with the finale of matches. “Every game comes down to the last 5 minutes or less, where it’s a first-come-first-serve rush to the ship to see who can set up first,” read one Steam review. It’s still in Early Access, though, and it’s free, so hopefully, there’s still time to right the ship and bring players back. —Chris Livingston, Features Producer
Chicory: A Colorful Tale – June 10
Chicory slid into the middle of this year, and despite not having huge amounts of competition, it didn’t get as much attention as I thought it would. This Zelda-like game weaves burnout, self-doubt, and imposter syndrome into a story about a dog with the power to paint things around them. It’s a little vibrant world with a plucky cast of characters all named after food. It’s creative, resonant, playable in co-op, and has both a jubilant and touching soundtrack. There’s really no reason to skip it. —Tyler Colp, Associate Editor
Grime – August 2
It’s tough releasing a game smack dab in the middle of the year—and perhaps even tougher making yet another Metroidvania stand out from the crowd. Despite strong reviews and a Dark Souls feel, Grime had a pretty quiet launch in August, and you may have simply missed it. But it’s an excellent action-RPG with challenging combat and platforming with some neat twists, like living weapons that mutate to take on new forms and functions. A killer soundtrack and a bizarre and surreal world sets Grime apart from the pile of Metroidvanias released every year.—Chris Livingston
Deltarune Chapter 2 – September 17
Undertale was a phenomenon, a (largely) solo project that delighted fans in 2015 and whose cultural footprint boggles the mind. Toby Fox and a small team have been pressing forward on a follow-up, Deltarune, and its second chapter released for free back in September. Deltarune offers the same offbeat humor and surprising, moving storytelling that has been Fox’s specialty, alongside more polished and substantial JRPG-style gameplay. Deltarune’s gotten some well-deserved attention, but it’s still a work in progress and has gotten a bit lost in the shuffle of a loud and eventful fall release season. —Ted Litchfield, Freelance Contributor
F.I.S.T.: Forged in Shadow Torch – October 3
Perhaps releasing a Metroid-inspired game so close to Metroid Dread wasn’t the best idea. F.I.S.T. was quickly overshadowed by the series that inspired it, but by all accounts it’s a real good time. And wow, is it a looker. 2D indie Metroidvanias with pixel art come and go on PC every month, but I’ve never seen one that looks like this. F.I.S.T. uses Unreal Engine 4 and includes some Nvidia-specific tech like DLSS and RTX ray tracing. The novelty of a Metroidvania with graphics this nice could carry me a long way, but this Steam reviewer has an even better pitch for why you should give F.I.S.T. another look: “Cute Bunny Pulling Off Piledrivers.” —Wes Fenlon, Senior Editor