Best Games of 2021 So Far (July Update)
First Published: July 28, 2021
Janet Garcia

We’re past the halfway point of the year so it’s time to check in on what the best games of 2021 are so far. This is an evolving list with the first iteration being in April. Months have passed and many games have been released but one constant remains: there is never enough time to play it all.

Hopefully this list puts a game on your radar that you otherwise may have overlooked and if you see any omissions on our side please comment down below.

10. Operation: Tango

Though barely cracking the top 10 here Operation: Tango is hands down one of my favorite games of the year, reaching levels of fun and chaos that I haven’t felt since my time with Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.

Operation: Tango is a co-op mandatory espionage adventure where one person plays as the agent and the other plays as the hacker. You work together, but on separate screens, to tackle each mission with gameplay ranging from bringing a train to a halt to snagging items from the proper evidence locker.

Gameplay is fairly simplistic often consisting of looking or moving around a space, reading out information, or taking simple directions from your partner. The intrigue is in figuring out what to ask for/tell your teammate and the fun is in working together despite having an incomplete understanding of what your other half is working on.

It gets silly and stressful in ways that continuously delighted us as a unit. And while playing a second time in opposite roles didn’t have the surprise factor, the gameplay was novel enough to make it worth it. Plus it was funny to see what the hell was going on on the other side.

9. Hitman 3

While guided paths allow less versed players to get through missions more easily, Hitman 3 is overflowing with possibilities when it comes to taking down a target and isn’t afraid to be a little ridiculous when it comes to problems or solutions. If you have an idea in Hitman 3 chances are you can execute on it and that’s a great feeling to have.

Solutions are vast but so are the conflicts with AI that’s hard to shake and smart enough to spot you if you’re completely reckless.

It’s also just straight up beautiful in its environmental and in its detail which makes plotting out routes and exploring areas a joy.

8. It Takes Two

Brimming with creativity, It Takes Two is a mandatory co-op 3D platformer that controls smoother than expected while taking the mundane and making it fantastical.

But best of all, It Takes Two plays with genre briefly introducing you to everything from arcade style fighting games to action RPGs while keeping things mechanically playful despite the serious subject matter of divorce.

I never know what’s coming next with It Takes Two and that surprise keeps me entertained despite some areas shining brighter than others.

7. Before Your Eyes

Life can flash by in the blink of an eye and in Before Your Eyes it literally does. Intended to be played with a webcam that registers your blinks as input, this is the most immersive experience I’ve had outside of VR.

Played in first person, you’re a soul on the way to the afterlife who has to reflect on what brought you there by recounting your life. Before Your Eyes lets you sit in moments longer by interacting with objects in the world but also forces you to jump forward in time if you blink while the metronome icon is at the bottom of the screen.

The combination of lingering in places and being pulled out earlier than you’d like makes for fantastic pacing that will leave you with a feeling of longing few games can elicit.

Without spoilers, the further the story progressed the more compelling it became. Before Your Eyes is not only the most unconventional game on this but one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever played.

Content Warning: Before Your Eyes explores motifs such as death and illness.

6. Little Nightmares II

Horrific monsters, stunning visuals, and a some solid environmental puzzle solving, Little Nightmares 2 is leaps and bounds above its predecessor.

From being able to hold hands with your companion character to hunting for collectible hats you can use to change your look, there’s some serious personality to Little Nightmares 2.

Lore hounds will enjoying coming up with narrative theories for everything that goes down but, if you’re like me, you’ll find the story to be overly dense and not particularly worth the effort to pick apart.

Still, Little Nightmares 2 is a delightful fright that everyone should spend some time with.

5. Death’s Door

Cute, adventurous, and just a little unsettling Death’s Door has an enticing world and a simple yet satisfying toolset for combat that keeps me coming back.

The charm is in the details from bodies flopping to the ground upon being defeated to being able to slice and sign and half and read the sign in pieces, plus it’s all tied together with a fantastic soundtrack.

In terms of difficulty, Death’s Door definitely pushed back on players but decently fair checkpointing and an RPG element of leveling up by spending souls helps maintain morale.

4. Resident Evil Village

A slew of spooky secrets combined with environmental variety had me cherishing my time in Resident Evil Village despite the slight fear that underscored the experience because after all, it’s still a survival horror game.

While it never quite reaches the highs of Resident Evil 7, Village manages to stay clear of the lows by taking you on a fairly even keeled tour of horrors ranging from ornate castles with bloody basements to twisted factories of horrors.

3. Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart

Having played the bulk of the franchise including the first Ratchet and Clank back on the PlayStation 2, Rift Apart’s visual polish and detail felt like it could finally execute what it was always meant to be. Glimmering nanotech, massive cityscapes, and more, Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart is a visual feast and it has the performance to back it up.

This epic adventure’s only real fault is its inability to deviate from the franchise formula in a bigger way but it’s a formula that’s still fun.

2. Bravely Default 2

As someone who has tried time and time again to get into JRPGs, and failed each time, Bravely Default 2 blew me away in just the first few hours.

The combat system is turn-based and straightforward with an added layer of personality that comes from the returning Brave and Default system: with Brave allowing you to string four actions in one turn but costing BP and Default banking your action in exchange for BP.

Small but convenient design choices, like having your attack go to the next enemy upon defeating said enemy, are far from revolutionary but I have a dozen more examples of these miniscule smart decisions. The result is a JRPG that avoids a lot of common pitfalls and pain points.

From the cute chibi artstyle to the team customizing job system, I’m loving everything about Bravely Default 2.

1. Chicory: A Colorful Tale

Incorporating the DNA of so many games and genres that came before it, Chicory still manages to feel a bit unlike anything that has come before and that’s a good thing. It’s a coloring book adventure game that with a splash of metroidvania. As your bond with the brush grows, your abilities expand allowing you to visit new areas.

You can color entire frames with elaborate designs or speed through areas, painting the bare minimum. But while painting is an invitation to get creative, it’s also a means of traversal and puzzle solving.

The superb gameplay would be enough to get it on this list but the plot and dialogue are what make Chicory my current GOTY. Equal parts heartfelt, humorous, and thought provoking every NPC is worth talking to and each quest leads to something worthwhile. Chicory is an absolute must play.

Notable Omissions

Returnal seems lovely and intriguing but I’m not much of a roguelike player. That combined with the difficulty means I am unlikely to finish the game or get deep enough in that I can give a good assessment of it.

Its current absence on this list isn’t an indictment on the quality but with just 4 hours of playtime and very little progress made I don’t think I can assess where it’d belong on this list. Monster Hunter Rise is in a similar boat for me.

Hopefully I will return to it one day but it’s lower on my priority list due to the aforementioned reasons.

I think Loop Hero has potential to crack the top 10 but I need to spend more time with it. The same goes for Scarlett Nexus.

Here’s a list of games I played this year that didn’t make the cut on this round of Best Of edits.
Removed from the list: Maquette, Lemon Cake, Outriders, The Oregon Trail
Played but not included: Mario Golf: Super Rush, Pokemon Snap, Cyber Shadow, Emily is Away 3, Biomutant, Oddworld: Soulstorm, Pac-man 99, Knockout City, Dorfromantik.

2021 Backlog

  • Monster Hunter Stories
  • The Climb 2 (VR)
  • Qomp
  • Blue Fire
  • Curse of the Dead Gods
  • Gnosia
  • Nuts
  • Tiny Land
  • Boomerang X
  • Pokemon Unite
  • Fantasian
  • If On a Winter’s Night Four Travelers
  • Overboard! Get Away With Murder
  • Ender Lilies
  • Griftlands
  • The Forgotten City