It has been 12 months, or as some might say a year, and there have been video games. In fact, looking at Eurogamer's top 10 of the year as well as your own top 50, it's clear there have been some mighty fine video games too, undermining the impression that 2021's been something of a lull for the industry.
Yes, there might not have been so many big ticket titles, and yes we're having to wait until next year for the likes of Breath of the Wild's sequel, Starfield, Elden Ring and Horizon Forbidden West, but we've not been short of crowd pleasing headliners.
For those who like to leaf through turn-of-the-century issues of Edge and believe the golden age of gaming was the early noughties - hello, welcome to the club, take a seat and sorry about the smell - we had the triumphant return of both Samus Aran and the Master Chief. For those with more contemporary tastes, there was Deathloop and Returnal proving lavish single player productions can still find plenty of space to innovate.
For those who are drawn to the more experimental it's been a golden year, from the musical extravagance of The Artful Escape to the soothing strategy of Dorfromantik. The abundance of more modest productions in both our own and the reader's list is encouraging to see, and their prominence is down to a handful of factors. Of course, the relative paucity of tentpole games and the delays of some of the year's biggest prospects into 2022 play a part, but so too do services like Game Pass which make it that much easier to broaden your horizons.
And what breadth this beautiful medium has. Going through the votes, counted from the Eurogamer staff and its contributors, it was fascinating to see how little consensus there was. No two lists were alike, each one seeming to present five entirely new games, so splintered and specialised video game tastes have become. I personally love that shedding of homogeneity. Games are too vast, our experiences of them too different, for that, and they can't be contained by a simple list.
But a simple list we have for you here, giving a snapshot of what we enjoyed and valued these past 12 months. It's been quite the year - thanks for being with us throughout it, and here's to all the excitement that 2022 is sure to bring.
10. Forza Horizon 5
It's quite possible that, five games into Playground Games' open world racing series, we've started to take Forza Horizon for granted a little. So dependable is the action, so quick it is to get its hooks into you and so smooth is the experience that maybe we don't take the time to appreciate what's not just an outrageously good racing game - it's one of the best, most accessible and outright enjoyable examples of the genre ever.
9. Hitman 3
Another series we might be guilty of taking for granted, IO Interactive's reboot trilogy closed out with what could be justifiably tagged an elaborate expansion pack. It'd be fair enough, but you'd also have to point out it's an expansion pack to one of the all-time great stealth action games. IO executed the fundamentals first time around with the efficiency of Agent 47 with piano wire, so all that was needed after was more murder pens to play with. Hitman 3's are some of the best - that it also folds in an incredible VR experience too only underlines this run of games' legendary status.
8. The Artful Escape
Sometimes it's enough for a game to be pure joy and colour and enthusiasm. As is the case with The Artful Escape. Is it a great music game? Not really. It's something much better: a great game about what music can do. And music can transform your world, your surroundings, and your sense of who you are and what you might do with your life. Wrap a theme like that up with a wonderful touch of humour and Annapurna's sense of taste and elegance when it comes to picking battles, and you have something pretty much unforgettable. Bowie would be proud. So would Ziggy.
Wildermyth does so much with what at first seems like so little. Simple - if artful - illustrations, standard turn-based battles and a fantasy world that's wonderfully familiar. But out of this it creates incredible stories of heroism and cowardice, triumph and disaster, and brilliant set-pieces as your heavy turns into a wolf or a boss gets blown up by a magic wardrobe. All of this with wit and ease and a lovely sense of pace. Wildermyth is one of those games that makes you think that this medium might have some truly great dungeon masters in it after all. Play it and be dazzled by what rules can do.
A simple tile matching game becomes something truly intoxicating in Dorfromantik. Lay down hexes and match rivers and forests, towns and fields, and then...suddenly the whole thing is transformed and you've passed through the clever ruleset and are hovering over a world of your own creation. We don't want to think about how many hours have been lost here, trying out new strategies, carving up territory, and struggling with twin ribbons of water and train track. None of that lost time was wasted though - it was spent somewhere properly magical.
5. Metroid Dread
They kept us waiting, but after a years long wait made all the more unbearable for its various stuttering starts, Samus properly returned. Metroid Dread's a conservative thing in some ways, a return to the straight 2D action of old, but the execution is near spotless. There's a style and sophistication to developer Mercury Steam's efforts that makes Metroid Dread stand out, while there's a renewed swagger to Samus that makes this stand head and shoulders above the series' many pretenders.
4. Death's Door
What do crows do when you're not watching them? They travel to a strange parched world and do combat with hideous beasts, apparently. Death's Door is the latest game from the creator of Titan Souls, and it's the kind of evolution of themes that you dream of. The former game's stately boss run has become a proper fantasy land that Zelda would be proud of. Memorable locations involve cliffs riven with secret passages and a haunted manor with some truly diabolical crockery. This is what games should be like, isn't it? Characterful, odd, and ingeniously wrought. A precision charmer.
In a perfect world all video game exclusives would be like this: focused, distinct, shot through with the personal preoccupations and obsessions of its creators. To say that Returnal is not for everyone, then, is to pay it a high compliment. This is a big budget Roguelike filtered through murky 1970s sci-fi and developer Housemarque's love of arcade attack designs and laser bursts. It's brutally hard and at times astonishingly oppressive, but you won't see a game crafted with more obvious love and enthusiasm all year. Nice work!
2. Halo Infinite
Somehow, against all odds, 343 Industries landed this one. Expectations were high - as you'd expect when we've been waiting this long for an instalment in a series so revered - and the shaky early showings suggested that Halo Infinite was on unsteady footing. What 343 Industries delivered - okay, a little shakily at times - was its best take on Halo yet, respecting the series' roots while returning to the freeform chaos that made it so beloved. In showing such a deep understanding of Halo's core appeal in reinstating it, 343 has proven with Infinite that this series has got one hell of a future.
The framed diploma. If you've played Unpacking, you'll know it. Not so much the gun on the wall as the picture frame placed - well, I won't spoil exactly where it goes, though how one of the most powerful story moments of the year came by way of an inanimate object should tell you something of Unpacking's strange, brilliant power.
The work of small Australian outfit Witch Beam, Unpacking is an irresistible thing. Here's a puzzle game, at surface, about tidying things away, a premise that's compelling enough alone. There's something soothing about the fundamentals of neatly folding away t-shirts and socks while proudly stacking books on once empty shelves.
Match that with the melancholy of a life packed away in cardboard boxes, the slight voyeuristic thrill of poking through someone else's possessions and the potency of a life's story told through the objects one person chooses to carry with them through the years and you have something truly potent. I've never played anything quite like Unpacking: I've never come across such human storytelling in a game that's remarkably absent of them. What an achievement this is.
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