2021 had fewer blockbuster video games released than any year in recent memory.
Big games are traditionally unleashed in a steady cadence; typically at least one to two a month. Maybe not a huge game, but something significant. This year has felt more sporadic, with major releases peeping out every other month at best. Not to say the games coming out are bad, in fact, I think many of the games coming out are incredible. It’s just not the echelon of epic games we’ve become accustomed to.
In 2021, many intended releases were delayed. As production (understandably) slowed due to COVID-19, developers were forced to change their work flows drastically to work from home. In some cases studios were completely closed or reorganized--further detracting from an opulent industry. As a result of these changes, Triple-A releases this year have been relatively sparse— and few had the same "must play" critical acclaim that a brand new Zelda, Uncharted or GTA game typically garners.
As we approach the end of the year there doesn’t seem to be many no-brainer Game of the Year contenders. This is a far cry from 2020 in which The Last of Us Part II was up against Ghost of Tsushima, Doom Eternal, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Final Fantasy 7: Remake, and Hades.
Now, listen here you Debbie downers. I don’t think this is bad news at all.
There are some sweet silver linings to be found.
Over half of the top rated games for 2021 on Metacritic are all remasters or re-releases of old games. Mass Effect got some modern love with substantial remakes of their beloved trilogy. Super Mario 3D World and Zelda Skyward Sword--criminally under-appreciated gems--both got ports to the Switch. Dozens of games that came out as recently as 2020 were enhanced and re-released on next-gen systems.
So the question is: what the heck came out this year?
I know it's a bummer to see the same ol' games instead of something new and shiny, but hear me out...
Many of these games are absolutely worth your time if you've missed any of them. In fact, I think most of these re-released games have become their respective definitive experiences. The original Mass Effect, in particular, is practically unplayable compared to its 2021 counterpart. And, Skyward Sword is lovely. Play it.
The gaming industry is feeding off of nostalgia more and more every year. Charging upwards of $60 dollars for a game that I potentially already own may raise some questions about ethical business practices, but it seems the majority of these remakes are getting substantial attention and care that helps ease the burden to my bank account. At least I don't have to dust off a Wii U or an Xbox 360.
I know you have them. Perpetual lists of games you wish you had time to play-- but let's face it, most gamers are well into adulthood and have increasing demands for our free time. Many of us are juggling careers, families, or...God forbid, other hobbies, and can't justify playing more than one or two games a month.
This is where having fewer new releases to tempt your itchy gaming fingers becomes a true blessing in disguise.
You can actually go back and play old games!
I am a sucker for sales and end up buying tons of indie games and older titles when they become heavily discounted--dreaming of a day when I'll finally have time to come back to them. 2021 has been that time.
I finally got to play Little Nightmares, Control, Persona 5 Royal, and The Messenger. It's amazing to give these games the time of day and to be relatively free from the pressure of finishing them before an impending anticipated new game release.
Sometimes trying to keep up with new games truly feels like work. That's a damn shame because gaming should be fun.
And, I think having less competition for your time helps you have more fun.
The best part of having Triple-A, big-budget video game releases pushed into 2022 is that smaller studios and less touted properties get more of the spotlight.
And let's be real, they frickin' deserve it.
Game development is hard, and human beings work really hard to create fun experiences for consumers. This takes years of dedication, time, and money to make even a simple idea into a playable game. It's deflating to see some amazing games fly under the radar because they were released within weeks of a blockbuster title.
This year has a different feel to it.
Especially with Xbox's Game Pass, indie games have gotten more attention. Hades has been ported all over the place and is reminding people why it was nominated for Game of the Year next to powerhouses like the Last of Us Part II.
Other games like Knockout City, The Ascent, Maquette, and Boyfriend Dungeon, have all garnered a larger share of attention from the gaming community than I think would have been possible in overloaded years past. Which is amazing, because while these games might not be masterpieces, they are a blast to play and are certainly worth your time.
Even in terms of Triple-A game releases, 2021 has seen more niche games come to the forefront. Hitman 3, Resident Evil Village, Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart and Returnal, are not games for everyone by any means. And, even though none of these games really ran away with critics' hearts with perfect ratings, they are rich with character and have a lot to offer their given genres.
Sometimes it's easy to focus on the bad things. You know, like when you're driving past a car wreck.
Even though the past two years have felt like exactly that (a very nasty car wreck), there's a lot to appreciate.
There's a lot to love about being a gamer in 2021. Classics are coming back in style. The best games of the last two years are more widely distributed with more polish. We have more time to play the things we want. And, the underdog games are getting a better shot at getting into the hands of hungry gamers.
Eventually, the blockbuster game releases will come--and in full force. Hell, barring any more delays, we still have games like Far Cry 6, Kena: Bridge of Spirits, and Halo Infinite coming out this year.
Regardless, I think we might actually look back fondly on 2021 as a beautiful, albeit unique, period in the history of gaming.