I’m going to go ahead and rip the Band-Aid off right now — my game of the year lists are always a bit strange. As a guide writer, I get far too into a couple of games per year (many of which never end) and spend five to ten hours in a few more. That usually means I reach the end of every year with remarkably few games completed during that calendar year. Because of this, I gave up on trying to play all of the biggest games and instead opted to highlight what games I did play, even if, in some cases, they’re three years old.
So, what does that look like? In 2019, my Game of the Year was Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, which joined the likes of Prey (2017) and Yakuza Kiwami (2016). This time last year I crowned Persona 5 Royal as the best game of 2020, but at least that was joined by the likes of Microsoft Flight Simulator which actually came out that year. It makes weird situations like Assassin’s Creed: Origins not even making it into my top ten. I think that makes my lists more fun, but to each their own.
10. Unpacking (2021)
One of the best things about PC Game Pass is being able to quickly download something and give it a shot. If the game is only about three hours long and you can finish it in two sittings, it becomes one of the best use cases I could ever share with someone. Just last month I randomly decided to check out the hubbub surrounding Unpacking. Turns out it’s a great experience, even if I needed a break halfway through because organizing things causes me stress over extended periods of time. But that’s a small drawback in comparison to the excellent soundtrack and fantastic environmental storytelling from house to house. Take some time over the holidays to download this and try it out. You’ll find out very quickly if it’s your kind of game.
9. Hitman 3 (2021)
The newer Hitman games from today are ones I wish existed when I was growing up. They have lots of secrets to discover, gear to unlock, and in-game achievements to chase. Now, as an adult with a backlog that is far too big, I can only dream of spending the time to 100 percent each and every level that IO Interactive so expertly crafts. Instead, I completed the game once, spent some time clearing the beginning levels, and put the game aside. It’s super fun, but in an age where every game demands my constant attention, Hitman is one that can never manage to keep me. I come back to it from time to time, but I wish I could dedicate the effort to mastering what is clearly a very amazing game.
8. Slay the Spire (2017)
Rogue-lites are a weird genre for me. As a guide writer I’m a huge fan of discovering, learning, and mastering different systems. I also happen to love card games and deckbuilders. Slay the Spire is all of these in a package where you can complete a single run in under an hour. If I was more of a pick up and play kind of person, Slay the Spire probably would have been much higher on my list. But as someone who would rather sit down and make some real progress, the game’s progression was a tad too slow and frustrating with so much dependent on randomness.
7. Cyberpunk 2077 (2020)
People are going to be mad I put Cyberpunk 2077 this high and honestly, I had to convince myself it didn’t deserve to be even higher. Can you imagine my coworkers’ chagrin if I had ranked Cyberpunk higher than Hades? Hades? Finally a game filled to the brim with hunks Hades? People really want to date each and every one of these gods Hades? Fanbyte’s 2020 official Game of the Year Hades?
Listen, I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m surprised too. Cyberpunk is not without its issues. Hell, the game got removed from the PlayStation Store! The writing is bad, full of harmful stereotypes, and the game was a buggy mess. Our own Staff Writer Kenneth Shepard talked about the rose-tinted glasses he’s experienced and recapped his plethora of writing on the games many issues far better than I ever could.
Almost any other year I couldn’t imagine a game managing a spot on my top ten list when I wasn’t even able to beat it. After about 82 hours with the game and spec’ing out my character to go all-in on hacking and technological skills, I lost access to them. They bugged. While doing a random mission I was faced with the choice of replaying from my last save in another slot (about eight hours ago) or just stop playing altogether until they fixed it. It may very well have been fixed. I don’t know. I never went back. But I was sad to stop playing.
I can’t even tell you what exactly resonated so well with me in Cyberpunk. I largely focused on side quests and map clearing rather than mainlining the story missions which I knew didn’t have too fantastic of an arc. Maybe it was just being in the world? Maybe it was the visuals? Maybe it was my obsession with taking screenshots and sending Featured Contributor Natalie Flores multiple deliveries of Judy screenshots. Looking back at that thread now, I still have almost nothing but good feelings and memories. The only thing I know for sure is it took me 34 hours to get further than one main quest after the prologue.
In retrospect, I’m still kind of upset I never got to complete the game. Cyberpunk is honestly the closest thing I’ve had to my high school days where I would binge through an entire game after my parents bought me it for Christmas. That Twitter thread is nonstop from December 18 through to January 2. And then it just stops. My game bugged. And despite that, or because of that, Cyberpunk is still here among the best games I played this year.
6. Hades (2020)
For me, Hades was a game which suffered from its own success. As someone who didn’t play it last year and was told for months on end about how damn good the game is, it changes your expectations and how you view things. The gods? Fantastic. The environments? Look great. The music? Flawless as always. Even the mechanics and systems are good.
I remember asking Senior Managing Editor Steven Strom about the game a few times and they weren’t exactly positive questions. For about ten runs I banged my head against Hades, unable to beat him. Steven promised me that I’d eventually get through him as I got stronger with each run, but then after that is when the game would really start. And honestly? The game not really starting until that point didn’t excite me all that much.
My favorite thing about Hades is the characters and building my relationships with them. Everything else is just a means to an end. The gameplay is fun, sure, but it’s also frustrating at times and I’ve never been one to get satisfaction out of finally overcoming a challenge. Instead, I’m just left with the negative feelings of how much time I wasted. I know how good Hades is, and I enjoyed what I played, but I never felt the urge to dive as deep as my coworkers did.
5. No Man’s Sky (2016)
What a year for No Man’s Sky, huh? I got further into the game than I have at any other point in the game’s history and the darn thing has been out for five years. This year we got companions and breeding, expeditions, planetary settlements, overhauled building, updated UI, and an entire update focused on bringing the game’s visuals up to snuff. At this point, you could play No Man’s Sky just like you could Destiny 2 or Warframe. The number of systems available to master is hard to keep up with. One day I’ll get around to it all. I only managed about 65 hours this year, but I can’t wait to spend more time among the stars.
4. Superliminal (2019)
I like to say that Superliminal is rude. The comparisons to Portal and The Stanley Parable are obvious, but manipulating the size of objects based on perspective is magnitudes harder for my brain to grasp. And then the game goes and includes segments which somehow manage to approach the realm of horror before also diving into topics like your brain and what our perception of reality is. Things get really, really weird and existential. This was another great PC Game Pass title for me. It’s hard to talk about without spoiling, but the experience is only two to four hours long. Give it a shot if you’re curious.
3. Little Nightmares 2 (2021)
I’m with Guides Writer Collin MacGregor on this one. Little Nightmares 2 is one of the best games this year that everyone has forgotten about or is sleeping on. I didn’t even really appreciate the first game, but the second installment is such an experience. It’s a little hard to follow, especially if you aren’t super well versed in the game’s lore, but that’s easy to set aside once you play the game for yourself. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had such a visceral reaction to some of the bosses in this game. The first one, in particular, harkens back to my days of discovering the Flood in Halo: Combat Evolved. I would say everything about Little Nightmares 2 is a joy, but there’s so little of that in this game. It’s a nightmare, but one that I hope you choose to experience.
2. Control (2019)
The best part of Control is the constant, random weird shit. No matter the medium, my favorite thing in any experience will always be mystery and discovery of new things no one understands. Naturally, that means Control is right up my alley. From the mirror sequence to cleansing the flamingo and mannequins, this game is essentially dozens of little packages gift wrapped specifically for me.
Playing the PC Game Pass version definitely didn’t do me any favors here, though. At the time, the game was a bit of a mess, crashing up a few times per hour some nights. It was frustrating, but I look back at my time with Jesse and Ahti with a bunch of fond feelings.
1. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart (2021)
Welcome to the part of the program where I once again yell from the rooftops about how The Game Awards came and went without Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart taking home a single award. Despite being nominated for six awards including Game of the Year, Rift Apart somehow didn’t win a single one. It’s always a bit weird to me when everyone agrees something is one of the best, but it’s not the best in any single category.
I had never played a Ratchet & Clank title before. As someone who owned an original PlayStation, skipped all of the PS2 era and almost all of the PS3 era, I haven’t exactly had a ton of time with Sony exclusives. Rift Apart is a perfect place to start for someone unfamiliar with the franchise. I say that as someone who thinks Rivet is leaps and bounds better of a character than Ratchet. I could honestly go on and on about the game’s graphics, environments, and story, but that one fact says more about Rift Apart than anything else will.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is the first game I’ve 100 percent’d since 2009’s Modern Warfare 2. It’s only the fifth game I’ve ever completed like this joining the likes of the aforementioned Call of Duty title alongside Halo 3, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and the original Modern Warfare.
I don’t have time to explore everything in a game like I used to in high school, but completion in Rift Apart is something that snuck up on me. Before I knew it, I had just a few things to check off my list and I had experienced everything the game had to offer.
Games That Missed the Cut
Now it’s time to talk about the things I did play that didn’t quite land. Since my list includes more than just the games that came out this year, it’s not really possible for you to know what got snubbed so I always try to include the list of titles I played. Here’s everything that didn’t make it:
- Resident Evil: Village
- Doom Eternal
- Outer Worlds
- The Medium
- AI: The Somnium Files
- Little Hope: Dark Pictures
- Elder Scrolls Online: Blackwood
- FFXIV: A Realm Reborn
- Fall Guys
- Mass Effect: Legendary Edition
- 12 Minutes