In the first days of 2021, the 12 months ahead looked like they were going to be an incredible first year for a console with Sony’s PlayStation Studios firing out exclusives left right and centre for the PlayStation 5 and (though they’ve been loathe to admit it at times) for the PlayStation 4 as well.
While the year has still been chock-full of great games to savour, it’s not lived up to those initial plans as Horizon Zero Dawn, Gran Turismo 7 and God of War: Ragnarok all slipped to 2022. That just means that next year is going to be amazing, be we shouldn’t overlook what developers have accomplished in 2021. There’s still signs of just what the new generation of consoles can do and of how modern gaming hardware can truly empower developers to realise their vision. It shouldn’t really be a surprise that our winner in this category gave us an early glimpse of just what this new generation is capable of.
It’s fair to say that both the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S launched without a must have game, a title that really showed what the console could do, but it took just eight months for Sony to deliver an explosion of colour, ray tracing and silky smooth action that just was not possible on PlayStation 4. I am, of course, talking about Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.
So much of Rift Apart is familiar – rocket boots, rails to grind, multiple worlds and hundreds of enemies to defeat with increasingly silly weapons – however, it was the power of the PS5’s SSD that pushed the franchise to the next level, loading detailed environments almost instantly, allowing our two heroes to warp through worlds in the blink of an eye.
The gameplay is similar to that the 2016 reboot, albeit with a few new weapons to battle enemies with and the inclusive addition of Rivet, a playable female character. Rift Apart also brought back many fan favourites from previous games and expanded the cast, again adding in more female characters. Clank also gets to shine in his own Lemmings inspired mini puzzles and he is joined by robotic spider Glitch for some wall crawling shoot ’em up action.
The core gameplay remains brilliant, but the added PS5 goodness elevates the series like never before. The amount of incidental detail is ridiculously impressive, the DualSense buzzes to the bass of a nightclub, haptic feedback allows for smoother gunplay and the 3D audio brings the world to life.
A showcase title for PlayStation 5 and the potential of the new generation, and a damn good game as well.
Returnal – Runner Up
With no more lands to conquer in the realms of the top-down bullet hell shooter, Housemarque have spent the last few years finding a new direction for their future games. The eventual fruits of that labour? A bullet hell shooter that feeds off a new third person perspective and weaves a mysterious story into a roguelike form. It’s a game that’s incredibly satisfying to play and overcome the challenges it throws your way, but it’s fair in how it doles those challenges out and measures the way it uses procedural generation.
Returnal is a style of game that’s eminently possible on the last generation, but it really shines as a PlayStation 5 exclusive. There’s obviously the visuals that are thrown up on screen and the steady 60fps it achieves at the same time, but Housemarque got to pioneer and showcase some of the ways that 3D audio can envelop you in sound with headphones on and really push the nuances that haptic feedback and adaptive triggers can offer through the DualSense controller. These are areas that other developers will surely master in the coming years, but Returnal had the chance to be among the first and it took it.
– Stefan L
Kena: Bridge of Spirits – Runner Up
You’d be forgiven for not realising that Kena: Bridge of Spirits is developer Ember Lab’s first ever video game. From the sumptuous Pixer-esque visuals, to the glorious orchestral score and rock-solid gameplay, this game is as shiny and professional as they come. Admittedly, there are few new ideas to be found in Kena – this is a potpourri of tried and tested game mechanics that mashes together Zelda-style dungeon puzzling, God of War-like combat and Lara’s rock climbing – but who cares when it’s delivered in such a wonderfully playable fashion?
Both on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5, Kena: Bridge of Spirits shows the potential of the coming decade of games, for smaller studios to create fantastic experiences that punch well above their weight. This is also the start of what could be a glorious series of games, Ember Lab having constructed a fantastical fantasy world of forlorn spirits, ridiculously cute creatures and dependable heroes. We cannot wait to return for another adventure in the future.
– Ade B
Honourable Mentions (in alphabetical order)
To catch up on the Game of the Year awards we’ve handed out so far, here’s a handy list!
- Best Ongoing Game
- Best Remake/Remaster
- Best Multiplayer Game
- Best Visual Design
- Best Original Soundtrack
- Best Independent Game
- Best Gameplay
- Best Narrative
- Best Single Player
- Best VR Game
- Best PC Game
- Best Nintendo Switch Game
- Best Xbox Game
With a year of PlayStation 5 under our belts, and with the PlayStation 4 still showing what it can do, what PlayStation games have really stood out for you this year?