“So it’s Christmas, and what have you done?” Another year has ended, new has just started, ”sings John Lennon from supermarket tannoys as we try to stock up on holiday essentials without having to think about our worth or our mortality. But a select group of game developers, they can feel pretty happy with themselves when they hear it. Because what they’ve done is make one of the best PC games of 2021.
It’s been a good year for the solo here in the personal computing arena, even among triple-A’s. The races did well too, but the real booty belongs to that PC genre, the strategy. Not only are we honored with one of the most legendary names back in the field, we get a new take Civ who threatens to steal the show.
How many of these beautiful copies of the 2021 vintage have you played? If it’s less than 10, now is the time to fix it.
How many times have you heard a driving game describe itself as that perfect, mythical blend of arcade accessibility and simulation depth? It’s like hearing one F1 driver say it was someone else’s fault. This independent runner sort of achieves just that, and we’re still not over it. Race lines swell as tires degrade, smart drivers lift and move to save fuel, and its vehicles reward smooth, momentum-based driving with minimal steering action. And all the while, it looks like Pixar’s reboot from Micro-machines. What rare and special achievement from Original Fire Games – can we get more of you, please?
No wheel was reinvented during the development of this new Mexican set Horizon. The model presented and then refined over the previous four games is intact to the point of being identical. Manipulation of familiar models, festival playlist activities intact. And yet we are all there, playing in the millions, figuring out the most effective way to earn billions in credits and sniper Forza Editions at the auction house.
This is how the level of Forza Horizon was in the first place. Presented with little more than a new location and the chance to rebuild our garages and our fortunes, we’re all in it.
Every backdrop in SpineThe rainy city of cloaked animals is worth stopping by and enjoying. There is pixel art, and then there is pixel art. Beyond its retro-chic beauty, however, lies an old-fashioned point-and-click adventure game with one eye on the mechanics of the past and the other on a weird and singular future vision. A walled city, populated by anthropomorphized furry mammals, a bar where people disappear, and rumors of the rich with a taste for cannibalism. Beats another rehash of Black hawk down Where Aliens.
The puzzles are very light but involve just enough to keep you engaged. These are the characters and the wild twists and turns you remember about Eggnut’s black adventure long after the credits roll.
The cyberpunk game we’ve all been waiting for, albeit in an isometric form. There is such density and misery in Ascensioncity on many levels, and one that really communicates the William Gibson-style vision of the future upon which this whole genre is founded. The Sleazeballs offer you missions in bars out of Blade runner, and in some dark alleys nearby, others that are slightly more user-friendly offer upgrades to your internal circuits. One level above, the gangs are waiting for you. And they will bring tears to your eyes with their sheer ruthless aggression. But that’s what updates are for. Ascension is a sleek, single-player or co-op action RPG endless loop.
Did someone say cooperative? Because the senses of Hazelight founder Josef Fares bristled. No one makes a two-player co-op game like this studio, which tracks the 2018 prison breakout Output with a puzzle-adventure on divorce with a talking book. Cody and May are carried inside the bodies of two dolls when their daughter Rose learns that they are planning to go their separate ways. What follows, of course, is a platform game with separate mechanics for each player and a succession of puzzles solved by combining them. We think he’s trying to tell us something. Work together… well?
Everyone’s favorite spreadsheet is coming back, and like Ronaldo and Messi, she’s still in good shape after all these years. More than just a management game, Football Manager 2021 simulates the whole world of football and does it with worrying precision thanks to its database. A database that real scouts now use to identify their shortlists. The work has grown exponentially in complexity over the years, and now includes getting stubborn players to get along, making sense of the absolute quagmire of sports data analysis tools that real teams do. now use and deal directly with blood-sucking agents, but at its core the drawdown is still the same. Take a team from obscurity to triumph and recruit players who transform the fortunes of the team.
From the austere shrubs of Dartmoor to the upper floors of the kneeling skyscrapers of Dubai, Hitman 3 always has an eye for cinematic flair. Now you know the formula – enter a lair of corrupt guys wearing suits and frowns, listen to the people and collect an incredible number of vials of emetic rat poison, stalking your targets and eventually making your move. Leave wearing so many humiliating outfits, having thrown, shot, clubbed, unscrewed, stabbed, hacked or pushed a number of objects with fatal consequences. What’s really impressive is that Io Interactive always finds new premises and even more complex puzzle box machinations inside that rock its new levels.
No, you didn’t accidentally switch tabs and start reading an archived “best of 2006” list on Wayback Machine. It’s really been so long between installments of Microsoft’s truly iconic version. Age of empires RTS. That’s if you don’t count all the spin-offs and remasters, anyway. What a fourth has given us is a campaign that spans history, introducing new units and strategies for each period, and online play that is balanced enough that a competitive scene immediately develops. Despite many intentionally anachronistic touches designed to infuse this warmth AoE fuzzy, it’s not your father’s RTS.
what if Dishonored 2 but time and time again, Arkane has asked us. And we responded in bewilderment because that’s how we’ve played its masterful immersive simulation since launch. Then Death loop arrived and cleaned everything up. In most immersive sims, all the routes and approaches you don’t take stay invisible to you and it’s a bit of a mess. But looping the same day endlessly until you run through all of your targets, this one ensures you see every ledge, alleyway, and hiding place. And more than that, it rewards that knowledge, allowing you to use it to improvise and iterate until you dance in space.
Of all the great franchises to face and beat and their own game, The civilization of Sid Meier is up there with the most intimidating. Its subject is all human history, even the pieces that we have not yet covered. Its mechanics cover city building, turn-based combat, resource management, diplomacy, and nuclear warfare, and the last one included Sean Bean. Anyone want to give it a try? Ah yes, a hand springs directly from the specialist 4x Amplitude. Don’t ask us how, but Humanity seems to capture the scale and grandeur of Civ, but also inscribe a different and distinct identity on the 4x ‘all human history’ subgenre. Cities spill over from their hexagonal tiles, societies are shaped by moral decisions as much as technical innovations, and the end of the game is not to paint the map your color. One more turn syndrome is real with this one, and we’ve wasted weeks of it already.
Written by Phil Iwaniuk on behalf of GL HF.