The 25 Best Video Games of 2021

The best video games of 2021 prove, if nothing else, that necessity is the mother of invention.

The Best Games of 2021
Photo: Fellow Traveller

Necessity is the mother of invention, and though many of the games on our list of the best video games of 2021 began development prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s hard not to see their final forms through that transformative lens. This is especially true after a year that found many people still unable to get their hands on the ninth generation of consoles (the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X). So while we celebrate the improvements in technology that have created gaming experiences that wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago, we also appreciate the new approaches to familiar franchises.

Pushing the technological edge are games like IO Interactive’s Hitman 3, which surpasses its predecessors in nailing the feeling of the living sandbox and Housemarque’s Returnal, which uses the haptic DualSense controller to make you feel as if you’re actually holding alien weapons. It’s even in the way that Before Your Eyes eerily uses a webcam to track your eyes and tell its story about a soul’s journey into the afterlife.

But technology is only half the story, and most of our favorite games this year aren’t beholden to 4K graphics or fancy ray-tracing abilities. A few smooth, ambitious co-op titles were content to emphasize the power of communication, which came to feel like a vital balm in the midst of an isolating pandemic. Other titles also caught our eye with their unique artistry, namely for the way they fully merged their narratives with their aesthetics: Loop Hero’s grimdark pixels portraying a world’s struggle against nihilism; Genesis Noir’s jazzy retelling of the Big Bang as a murder mystery; and Inscryption enhancing its deck-building conceit by framing it within a horror-themed escape room. As technology makes it easier for us to go anywhere, the journey itself, and the stories we choose to focus on along the way, become more important than ever. Aaron Riccio

Subnautica: Below Zero

25. Subnautica: Below Zero (Unknown Worlds Entertainment)

It might appear as though Subnautica: Below Zero has lost the thread of what made the ocean-scavenging survival of its predecessor so distinct. Its map is a little more condensed, and its story unfolds a little more conventionally, complete with another human character and a partner AI as your new, now-speaking protagonist searches for the truth about her sister. Considerable effort has also gone into expanding your options above sea level, in the long stretches of frozen wastes whose fluctuating weather and overall bitter cold might kill you, just like a dearth of oxygen in the unforgiving ocean. But Below Zero consistently demonstrates the solidity of its concept, measuring a measly player character against the formidable scope of an underwater world. Now, the freer movement and wider danger of the dominant swimming segments become a foreboding counterpoint to above-ground traversal, which leaves you less exposed at the steep expense of your underwater maneuverability and your established strategies in a game that readily preys on anyone who’s impatient and ill-prepared. The game somehow becomes about appreciating what you had, even when what you had was a daunting, airless abyss occupied by things big enough to eat you. Steven Scaife

WarioWare: Get It Together!

24. WarioWare: Get It Together! (Nintendo EPD and Intelligent Systems)

For decades, Wario’s been losing out to his childhood rival Mario. He doesn’t get the big adventures, the glory, or the loot that he so desperately wants, and that he continues to peddle microgames that are more or less considered shovelware isn’t going to change that. Which, of course, is the joke of the WarioWare series, and for those of us who’ve been along for the ride, WarioWare: Get It Together! is a fun and rewarding experience, namely for the way that it fleshes out Wario and his associates while also gamifying the fundamental unfairness of Wario’s being. The game’s randomness is a clear demonstration of the old adage that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. You never know what game or character you’ll see next, only that whether you’re temporarily playing as a hover-cab driver who can only shoot to the left or an overgrown kid who can only move by grappling between objects, you can make it something sweet, either in against-the-odds triumph or comic failure. Managing such chaos has always been a core tenet of the WarioWare experience, and in doubling down on the randomness of its microgames, the series has at last gotten its shtick together. Riccio



23. Moncage (Optillusion)

People have often spoken of time as a fourth dimension. Moncage takes things a poetic and delightfully puzzling step further by adding a fifth dimension that represents the intersectionality between the memories of a father and son. If that sounds complicated, the game is wordless and intuitive, asking players to zoom in and out and otherwise manipulate the cube’s five facets to help repair the relationship, drawing connections between similarly shaped objects in each surface’s scene. A bicycle wheel, rotated in one panel, might align its pedal with a U-lock in another to open a cabinet. Elsewhere, you might seamlessly send a package off a conveyor belt in a factory scene down a slide in the neighboring backyard pane. One must adopt both the child’s sense of wonder and the father’s technical expertise to move through these gently animated scenes, constantly finding new ways to join unique perspectives to carry forward the story. Though the title refers to a cage, the experience of gliding between these two worlds is always breathtakingly liberating. Riccio

Guardians of the Galaxy

22. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (Eidos-Montréal)

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy feels quite a lot like a fast and loose Mass Effect game. For one, a minor scavenging mission in a quarantined zone quickly spirals out of control, leading to the Guardians getting arrested and, then, a heist in order to secure enough money to pay their fine. When you’re not neck-deep in fun and frantic third-person gunfights against eye-catching, deadly aliens, you’re choosing branching dialogue options for the best way to keep space’s most dysfunctional family in one piece. If nothing else, it’s commendable just how much your choices can change the course of the story, which version of a stage you get to play through, or who shows up to help you at a crucial moment. It’s hard to ignore that the developers clearly used Telltale’s relatively recent Guardians of the Galaxy series as a template. And yet, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy feels more like the perfected version of that template. This game doesn’t lack for jokes, fun banter, lighthearted bickering, and all sorts of wacky hijinks, but we never lose sight of how the characters need a stable support system to carry them through the pain. Justin Clark

Mind Scanners

21. Mind Scanners (The Outer Zone)

In Mind Scanners, you act from a position of power within an authoritarian government, The Structure, and are tested to see how far you’ll go to make your protagonist a Level 3 Mind Scanner and reunite him with his daughter. Fail to cure enough people of what your Book of Lunacy condemns and you won’t be able to afford The Structure’s daily maintenance fee, and you’ll be exiled to the Outer Wastes. Misdiagnose or recklessly stress patients and you may incur additional penalties, or wipe too many personalities in the process—accidentally or on purpose—and Moonrise, a rebel faction that opposes the rule of The Constructor, may take issue with your methods. The game isn’t interested in debating the efficacy of current pharmacology or medical devices, and further abstracts things by turning the tools at your disposal into wacky minigames. All of this frees the game to focus on the morality of diagnosis, and how this power can be abused either by feckless individuals or controlling governments. These character studies are creative and well-written, and they come vividly to life via the mind scans you perform before declaring a patient sane or insane. Riccio

Persona 5 Strikers

20. Persona 5 Strikers (Omega Force and P Studio)

The opening hours of Persona 5 Strikers feel like a family reunion. The series’s tightlipped protagonist, Joker, returns to the Leblanc coffee shop and to all his favorite people, the Phantom Thieves, a tiny bit older, a tiny bit wiser, and with an entire golden summer ahead. Regardless of whether or not you see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, it’s going to hit you hard to see these friends together and know that the world is open to them, but this one scene would be meaningless if the remainder of the game didn’t sustain the stellar character development and world building previously established by Persona 5. Strikers takes place six months after the original ending to Persona 5, and many of the rules of combat—in terms of how collecting and leveling up Personas, magic, weaknesses, technical hits, and stealth work—are virtually unchanged. The difference is having to execute all of this in real time, against legions of cannon-fodder Shadows, and dozens of tiny smart decisions have been made to not only make facing those hordes feel fast, fluid, and gratifying, but to ensure that each Phantom Thief is distinctly unique in their own way. Clark


Forza Horizon 5

19. Forza Horizon 5 (Playground Games)

It’s a party and everyone’s invited. That’s the approach that Forza Horizon 5 takes to the open-world racing genre, and it’s an ethos of inclusivity that offers the best in adrenaline-pumping video game racing to all. Forza Horizon 5 takes place in an endless festival where anyone is invited to take part in thrilling races across the most beautiful vistas that Mexico has to offer, from beautiful beaches to dense forests, with gameplay to suit any skill level. Advanced players can modify any of the hundreds of real cars and how they handle in realistic fashion before then taking to the road, whereas newcomers can simply choose a vehicle and go, with any part of the controls automated. The game is all about the fun, and if you’re not comfortable with manual transmission, or drifting, or even steering, the cars can practically drive themselves, allowing anyone to experience the rush of tearing down a highway at 300 miles per hour. It also doesn’t hurt that Forza Horizon 5 boasts a gorgeous open world where every road leads to something new, and that constant reward and engagement propels it past other modern racing video games. Ryan Aston


18. Griftlands (Klei Entertainment)

With Griftlands, the Klei Entertainment streak of mirror-polished early access games shows no signs of flagging. Griftlands takes the card-based roguelike to new heights by seamlessly building a more authored, narrative-driven RPG around it. Alongside the by-now-standard decisions for what cards to include in your deck and what number constitutes too many for your play style, you take on quests and make story choices that manifest allies and enemies in equal measure whose feelings will, in turn, confer bonuses and penalties on the card battles. The game’s masterstroke lies in how it realizes that, by abstracting different mechanics into cards, negotiation becomes an arguably more complex “battle” in its own right, complete with its own health indicator and a second deck of cards with similar yet separate rules. As a result, the violent and nonviolent options in Griftlands evolve beyond simple player preference into calculations made out of desperation and necessity, where you weigh what energy you might wish to conserve against how long you think you can hold out and what can be gotten away with under the noses of your ostensible allies. Scaife


17. Cookies (Stef Pinto)

Imagine if Cosmo D, creator of surreal first-person adventure games Off-Peak and The Norwood Suite, was less interested in musically driven narratives than Lynchian, nightmare-inducing dark comedy. Such is the tonal register Stef Pinto’s Cookies, which astonishingly puts the player in the mind of a paranoid drug dealer wandering the walls of his dilapidated apartment building after evading the cops, seen here as literal trigger-happy pigs. The setting forms a unique open world where exploration leads to one of 10 different, and equally appalling, narrative threads, including working for a snuff film production company, escaping a psychotic meth-addicted clown, and discovering the secret behind a fast-food chicken restaurant’s mystery meat. A permanent VHS filter and confined field of view (adjustable to avoid motion sickness, though that physical response is far from undesired) adds to the sensation of paranoia and nausea. Cookies is filthy, and not just in terms of its PSX aesthetic and grimy hallways. Every individual the player encounters is exploiting others or being exploited, cogs in an uncaring capitalist machine that despises outsiders and the lower class. Aston

Hitman 3

16. Hitman 3 (IO Interactive)

Agent 47 arrives at Thornbridge Manor tasked with taking out aristocratic matriarch Alexa Carlisle, only to find that one of the Carlisles has already been murdered. Fortunately, the PI investigating the matter is a bald white man, about the same height as 47. What a coincidence. A little bonk on the head and quick outfit change later and you’re down to more than just the business of whodunit. Hitman 3 doesn’t substantially change the tried-and-true World of Assassination formula, but it subverts the gameplay within fresh and unique scenarios that take the series outside the box. The game’s triumph is a level set at a Berlin nightclub, throughout which 47 is pursued by multiple assassins. Having 47 be the prey is an inventive twist, and with no Diana to guide them, players must use their wits and ingenuity to identify and take out his would-be killers. And Hitman 3 brings the trilogy to a close without losing sight of its organizing thematic conceit: that the elite rulers of the world may think that they’re safe regardless of where they go, but they can’t evade a bald, seemingly invisible arbiter of justice who knows how to weaponize their (and his) isolation against them. Aston


Death’s Door

15. Death’s Door (Acid Nerve)

Death’s Door is a game of paths that have never been taken before. Not just in regard to the travels of its plucky little hero—a tiny, sword-wielding crow working for a bureaucratized office for grim reapers dealing with the harvesting and processing of souls—but also in the way that it points to all the directions that the top-down action RPG could have evolved in over the years. This is a game of modern complexity accomplished with minimal fuss. Its world suggests the desolation of the Soulsborne universe, and blatantly steals a few familiar touchstones here and there from that series of games. Still, there’s far more Terry Pratchett influence in its blood, as well as a clever absurdity and gallows humor. Everything in this Swiss clock of a game is about single units being given or taken, binary paths leading to safety or secrets, but like a Souls title, progress happens through repeated failure. It wants you to succeed and see this grim little fairy tale play out, but the point of that tale, and the game that it’s built around, is that even a simple life has death waiting at the end. Clark


14. Adios (Mischief)

In one of the earliest conversations in Adios, a slice-of-life game made up of 17 short, lightly elegiac scenes, a hitman (D. C. Douglas) and a pig farmer (Rick Zieff) philosophize about whether or not pigs know that they’re going to be killed. The game doesn’t answer this question. It does, though, invite you to draw your own conclusions about how such ponderings affect the farmer. Over the course of the day you spend with him, it becomes clear that his choice to quit the mob’s corpse-disposal business will lead to the deadliest of severances. And in a nod to this inescapable fate, the game largely restricts your options. With no control over your final destination, you find yourself fixating on the smallest of details. At one point, the hitman asks the pig farmer why he keeps a horse on the farm, and the farmer tells him that it’s because he couldn’t imagine a farm without a horse. The biggest compliment one can pay Adios is to say that after an hour in the farmer’s shoes, this statement—which isn’t about a lack of imagination—makes perfect sense. Riccio

Loop Hero

13. Loop Hero (Four Quarters)

This ingenious, craftily addictive RPG asks us to manage what your hero accumulates through his journey, from the expected rewards of better equipment to cards that represent memories of the world that once was. Placing a mountain card on the blank map will create one from the ether and boost the hero’s health. Placing a grove on his path will let him harvest wood on each pass, one of many resources to be used in the slow rebuilding process when he returns to camp and the world beyond once again darkens and empties of everything you’ve built. By mingling the familiar setting of the fantasy roguelike with mechanics that emphasize a detachment and repetition, Loop Hero functions as a statement of persistence in the face of the seemingly insurmountable. Through repeated trials, you experiment and intuitively figure out some way to manage an ever-evolving situation. Loop Hero is a curiously hopeful game of adaptation and reaction, where you struggle to optimize a thing that rebels at the very concept of optimization: the world itself. Scaife

Resident Evil Village

12. Resident Evil: Village (Capcom)

Where Resident Evil 7: Biohazard owed much of its concept and aesthetic to the down-and-dirty grindhouse nastiness of films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, Resident Evil: Village is indebted to a more classical brand of horror: Grimm fairy tales, Universal monster movies, and Japanese ghost stories, even the Hammer films and gialli of yore. A lot of ink has been spilled about Village’s breakout antagonist, the nine-foot-tall glampire Lady Dimitrescu. Her sheer popularity, charisma, and unique physical presence obscures what’s actually a delightfully freaky ensemble of horror villainy, allowing Village to vary its approach to the supernatural throughout the campaign. This is a game that never stops feeling like it has such sights to show you. No callback to a horror subgenre is allowed to outstay its welcome or become rote, which works to fix a long-running Resident Evil problem. By hour 10 of most of the games in the series, you’re already sick of the zombies. By hour 10 of Village, we’ve moved into gonzo Tetsuo: The Iron Man terrain. Clark


Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye

11. Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye (Mobius Digital)

An air of menace permeates every trip into The Stranger, the derelict setting of Mobius Digital’s Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye. A side story running parallel to the main narrative of 2019’s triumphant Outer Wilds, this DLC preserves the original title’s inventive exploration-based gameplay while taking a vastly different thematic approach: Where Outer Wilds’s extinct alien race, the peaceful Nomai, were driven by investigation and a sense of awe in understanding the wonders of the world, the inhabitants of The Stranger were consumed by zealotry and fundamentalism. They feared the unknown, and in the face of oblivion fell to their worst instincts. As it leads the player through a harrowing experience to uncover the truth of their demise, Echoes of the Eye reveals itself to be about finding light in darkness, and in the process it amplifies Outer Wilds’s celebration of intelligence and compassion. Here, knowledge is currency, and every discovery is an achievement that paves the way toward a triumphant and heartfelt sense of closure. Aston

Metroid Dread

10. Metroid Dread (MercurySteam)

Samus has never moved with more grace than she does in Metroid Dread, with the jump and slide buttons on the controller further honing Metroid’s traversal system. Here, as you amass power by exploring alien architecture and arcane puzzles, you’ll feel as if you’ve been thrust into an extraterrestrial parkour arena. The precision aiming and parry mechanics from Samus Returns have been refined here into a more organic and thrilling element of combat. Complementing the stellar portrayal of her physicality and prowess, Samus’s characterization in Metroid Dread represents an incredible course correction after her depiction in 2010’s Metroid: Other M. The typically stoic Samus has a lot more swagger in her step this time around. And while the game doesn’t make room for her to mope around, it frequently finds her taunting her enemies, even expressing fury during particularly difficult battles. The game isn’t without its tonal shortcomings, but they’re eclipsed by all the ways that it perfects the 2D trappings of Metroid’s mechanics and hands players so much freedom when it comes to exploring its environments. All the while, the game is deliberate and quite devilish about taking that freedom away and picking the right time to dare you to fight to regain it. Clark


9. qomp (Stuffed Wombat)

Atari’s video game classic Pong necessitates that the player control one of the two paddles, bouncing the ball between them. Stuffed Wombat’s qomp also simulates table tennis, but here the player controls the ball, which is on a fed-up mission to escape the confines of the dreaded paddles and the simplistic gameplay that was holding it back. Using only one button, the player can change the vertical trajectory of the ball to steer it through clever mazes and arenas while relying on walls to bounce off of and move horizontally across levels. Despite its minimalist approach, qomp boasts an incredible amount of gameplay variety, wordlessly introducing dozens upon dozens of new mechanics across its campaign, such as traps, keys for locked doors, and underwater areas, then building on these as players move their ball closer and closer to freedom. qomp is an addictive trip that ends on a note more satisfying than most AAA blockbusters. Aston

Genesis Noir

8. Genesis Noir (Feral Cat Den)

Developer Feral Cat Den’s Genesis Noir is impressive not just for the way that it gives expression to cosmological ideas through a non-verbal, intuitive point-and-click framework, but for how it has made hard science so visually compelling. The game liberally adapts minimalist animation styles in a way that disproves, or at least challenges, its own epigraphic note that the reality of the Big Bang was too complex for visual perception. Genesis Noir never talks down to players who don’t know about, say, abiogenesis or the Big Crunch, framing these events in the context of an accessible noir. The “Big Bang” here is a bullet fired by a jealous musician, Golden Boy, at a nightclub singer, Miss Mass. The game’s hub world, so to speak, is Miss Mass’s studio, the bullet frozen in time as you, No Man, attempt to prevent its fatal collision by manipulating pivotal moments throughout time. Cosmic background radiation manifests itself in this world as the faint audio cue of a jazzy riff that No Man trails through the elevated trains and streets of Harlem, New York City, and the Penrose process by which energy is extracted from a black hole comes to life in a psychedelic flurry of love-making. In the world of Genesis Noir, science isn’t just a fact, it’s a whole damn mood. Riccio



7. Returnal (Housemarque)

Returnal is meant to be unfair. Life and, by extension, death often are, and there’s a sense that ASTRA space scout Selene Vassos’s time on the forbidden planet of Atropos is a punishment. That’s hardcoded into every element of her journey across the campaign. And it’s a credit to the developers at Housemarque that regardless of what weapons you find yourself equipped with, it always feels pleasurable to strafe around neon-bullet-filled arenas, taking down turrets, Groot-like fungal monsters, dive-bombing bats, and so many tentacled monstrosities that you may think you’re living inside an H.P. Lovecraft novel. The game is so immersive that it’s viscerally hard to walk away from it—and not just because it eschews a title screen and uses the haptic feedback of the DualSense controller to let you feel the patter of raindrops and fully-charged weapon abilities. The more you learn about Selene across the game’s gripping campaign, the easier it is to relate to or, at least, agree with her observation that “I deserve to be here.” That line is also more than a little apt, as it perfectly sums up just how simultaneously rewarding and punishing it is to live in the world of Returnal. Riccio

Cruelty Squad

6. Cruelty Squad (Consumer Softproducts)

The biggest obstacle to appreciating Cruelty Squad is also its unexpected selling point: the singularly abrasive, off-putting aesthetic that seems to grow outward, infecting the game’s very framework. Lo-fi textures render the game’s biopunk dystopia in clashing colors amid blaring, jagged music and a user interface that walks right up to the edge of inducing eyestrain. This is a game that you can almost taste and feel, hanging heavy in the air like suffocating humidity, though it contains a deceptively solid mechanical core. Only violence quiets the narcissistic, antisocial pain in the protagonist’s soul, and thus the tools to enact it are largely uninhibited by the strangest, most prankish elements of the game design. As a first-person, vent-crawling immersive sim, Cruelty Squad’s levels are full of secrets and multiple entry points, given to replay value and experimentation. As you accumulate absurd new weapons and organic powers, you’re pushed to engage with ugly systems like an organ-trading market, selling not only your own humanity but everyone else’s too. Equal parts bizarre, angry, and hilarious, Cruelty Squad is one of the year’s most transportive experiences, taking us to a world we emphatically don’t want to inhabit but nevertheless contains prominent, painful echoes of our own. Scaife

Chicory: A Colorful Tale

5. Chicory: A Colorful Tale (Greg Lobanov)

Every design choice made by the developers of Chicory is earned. Though it follows a familiar Zelda-like template—travel an overworld, gain new puzzle-solving powers to progress, defeat a growing darkness—there isn’t a single mechanic that isn’t speaking to the game’s emotional, earnest exploration of the pressures of being an artist. You don’t slay monsters with your paintbrush here, but rather help to bring color back into the lives of those beset by a colorless, crippling ennui. And you won’t have to take sidequests out of obligation, but because it’s a relief—given the protagonist’s imposter syndrome—to be able to help them. Every character matters here: When a meditating bug notes that when he first came aboveground he had to get used to the way you looked, that’s not a joke so much as the game once again reminding you of the importance of perspective. The through line of this artistic adventure is that “you don’t have to be perfect for anyone to care about you,” and it’s true. Chicory could’ve had puzzles that were half as clever, characters half as personable, and far cruder hand-drawn environments and it still would’ve earned our affections. As it is, it demands our love. Riccio


4. Inscryption (Daniel Mullins Games)

Video games offer ways in which to look at an artificially created world. Inscryption, a delightfully creepy genre-bending mindfuck from Vancouver-based indie developer Daniel Mullins, presents layers upon layers of such perceptions. The game is an unholy hybrid of a roguelike deck-builder and first-person escape-room experience that reveals itself to be a grand reflection of and meditation on lives lived within a bubble. You have to really pick up the rules—and literally so, as you’ll have to grab a rulebook and flip through every page to find the clues hidden within—so that you can build upon them and exploit them, similar to the way that Mullins’s earlier Pony Island played into and against expectations. It’s true that the game’s card-based randomness may allow some players to stumble through boss encounters without properly solving them. But the proper way to come at most things is a social construct. Allowing players to find their own, occasionally lucky, way through it is a brilliant way to demonstrate Inscryption’s cards-as-life theme. There’s no one right way to live, and despite all your preparation, sometimes you may draw an unlucky hand. Riccio


It Takes Two

3. It Takes Two (Hazelight Studios)

Though It Takes Two focuses on two people trying to repair a broken relationship, there’s no unlockable achievement for doing so. The trophies earned in-game tend to be rewards for completing optional activities, a subtle bit of reconditioning that will have you focusing less on big-picture “winning” and more on the journey itself. After all, a good relationship isn’t something you can “beat,” but rather a feat that requires constant care. Though it has a lot in common with Hazelight Studios’s prior A Way Out, the game’s fantastical setting sets it apart. A visit to a pillow fort that doubles as a space station’s mission control introduces anti-gravity mechanics, and a sequence within a broken cuckoo clock adds time-warping powers into the mix. Each of the metaphorical levels in It Takes Two offers players the opportunity to practice the different ways—among them communication, collaboration, and respect—in which two people can work together to sustain a friendship, let alone a romance. In short, this genre-bending co-op platformer uses a smorgasbord of gameplay techniques, buttressed by a lot of attentive small touches, to set us adrift in the field of couples therapy. Riccio

Psychonauts 2

2. Psychonauts 2 (Double Fine)

Psychonauts 2 excels at spinning strange new worlds that invite you to investigate their every inch and then move on to the next one. There’s a city of fatalistic germs, a chain of desert islands overtaken by alcohol bottles with plants growing inside, and even a moment that milks horror from the seemingly innocuous act of knocking over a large water container. And without sacrificing its sense of kooky, inventive humor, the game more freely engages with the darker and sadder facets of its premise than its predecessor. The ability to dive into a person’s mind comes with the expectation that you won’t breach that trust and start breaking things, and that trust isn’t always upheld. We see realities constructed and twisted in order to cope, images of friends and family warped by insecurity. The game clearly respects our intelligence, too, using its exceptional imagery in implicative ways—that is, without simply spelling out all the meaning in explanatory dialogue. In short, it lets players either do the work of connecting the dots or simply sit back and absorb the broad strokes. If so much of Psychonauts 2 is a reiteration of what worked about the first game, it functions as a reminder for just how much of the medium is still catching up to Psychonauts. Scaife

Before Your Eyes

1. Before Your Eyes (GoodbyeWorld Games)

FOMO has never been more palpable in a video game than it is in Before Your Eyes, which uses your webcam to literalize the notion “blink and you’ll miss it.” Players step into the disembodied shoes of one Benjamin Brynn, a lost soul who’s been fished out of a vast, limbo-like ocean. Your guide and savior is a boatman, a wolf, who offers to speak on Benny’s behalf before the afterlife’s judge, and what follows is a series of memorable slice-of-life vignettes from Benny’s birth to death. This is a quiet, contemplative game, but behind even the most mundane moment is the powerful uncertainty of what may come next. Is the phone call from Benjamin’s mother a routine one, or is it the last time you will hear her voice? There comes a point where you may start to dread the act of blinking, and while there are a few narrative choices that feel irrelevant throughout, that’s only because the past is always beside the point here. There’s only the present, and so when Before Your Eyes reveals its final trick—convincing you to close your eyes—it will leave you shook. Riccio

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