Jump Dash Roll's Best Video Games of 2021
You know when people couldn’t wait to see the back of 2020? And then 2021 came along and people started getting nostalgic for the old days? Well, ignore all that. This is about games and if there is anything we can guarantee about the gaming industry, it’s that over the course of 365 days it never fails to throw out umpteen gems to play and then ultimately pick one from as our favourite. A enjoyably tough annual decision, yet pick we must, and indeed, have.
Among our highlights are indie gems, a co-op masterpiece and some phenomenal storytelling from numerous studios. This was a year where it felt like AAA sequels from the usual suspects felt muted, where players decided that they would rather veer to something a bit different than yet another CoD or Battlefront, and where the resurrection of old franchises (including Psychonauts, Crash Bandicoot and Ratchet and Clank) made for far more compelling experiences than one might have hoped.
Here we are then: the JDR team’s picks of 2021. If adversity fosters creativity, we can expect an even tougher choice next year.
It Takes Two - Rob Kershaw
For me, it’s been a year to forget in the real world thanks to “you know what”, which is why it’s been so encouraging to find the digital landscape continues to serve up cracking escapism at a time when we need it most. There were plenty of stellar options for me to choose from this year, including a wonderful continuation of the Life Is Strange series (which Jesse covers below), another solid Jackbox Party Pack to get us through some lockdown blues, and a bold space opera in the OPUS series that almost got my nod thanks to its lovely writing and light-touch melding of different game mechanics. Then there was Growbot, an indie gem that really warmed my cockles with its Samorost-style weirdness and cutesy art, but far gentler puzzles.
However, it was a co-op game that made me punch the air in delight this year. It Takes Two felt like something of a cult hit, a weirdly pitched title about an arguing couple who are miniaturised and then have to work out their differences for the sake of their daughter while navigating their (now huge and dangerous) house. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons remains one of my all-time favourite gaming experiences, but Josef Fares’ follow-up in his new studio Hazelight didn’t quite hit the mark. A Way Out had its moments and it outshone pretty much all of David Cage’s back catalogue, but the co-op felt janky at times.
It Takes Two fixed pretty much every issue of Fares’ previous effort. It was an incredible and relentless explosion of creativity and colour, buoyed by near-perfect asynchronous gameplay, puzzles and bosses that left me shaking my head. It was also far, far longer than a game like this had any need to be — and for once, I was happy for it. Discovering what creative madness lay around the next corner proved a weekly highlight for me and my buddy during a(nother) difficult pandemic-riddled year. The best part? Knowing that each of the two characters had completely different abilities meant that It Takes Two provided not just one amazing gaming experience, but two. On value for money alone it’s pretty unbeatable, but even at half the length It Takes Two would be an essential co-op purchase — a truly worthy winner at this year’s Game Awards.
Not for Broadcast — Derek Johnson
I’ll be honest, 2021 wasn’t a great year for gaming, at least for me. It’s possible that I missed this year’s indie darling, or that I’m getting too old to enjoy games, but over the past 12 months, I didn’t play any titles that screamed “game of the year”. In 2019, there was Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, 2020 had The Last of Us Part II, but this year’s only properly good game was Hitman 3…I guess?
The closest I came to actually enjoying a new release this year was when I snuck through Hitman 2016’s levels in 2021’s title, but I don’t think that really counts as the best game of 2021 (unless anyone has a DeLorean lying around). So, I’m going to be a contrarian and give my 2021 pick to Not for Broadcast, a Steam Early Access title that came out at the start of 2020, and yes I know this doesn’t really count either.
I have no idea why I waited so long to play the game, as it checks every box that I have on my Jump Dash Roll profile. It’s a short, depressing Papers Please-esque title where you play as a TV producer instead of a passport checker. It’s cheap as far as games go, insanely addictive, and the story doesn’t pull any punches, especially during the final chapter of its in-development campaign.
As an “actual journalist”, I spent most of this year taking pictures for an area paper in the United States. I’ve covered tragedies, press conferences and the opening of a dog park, and Not for Broadcast is the only game I’ve ever played that accurately portrays my experiences doing that. So when it launches soon™, I have no doubt that it will be my game of the decade.
But until then, I love it to death and cannot recommend it enough to anyone who’s had the same strange experiences that I had over the past 365 days. And yes Rob, I’ll get around to writing my impressions of it, well, soon™.
Disco Elysium: The Final Cut - Matt Jordan
The original release of detective RPG Disco Elysium was limited to PCs in 2019, but an extended and updated version for the PlayStation and Xbox families, alongside the Switch, was released this year: The Final Cut. With new quests, content, and quality of life updates — not to mention the fact that all characters are now fully voiced — Disco Elysium is even more of an unmissable delight.
With a purported million-plus words in the full script, the way that smaller asides are described with the same detail and experience as big plot points is spectacular. Lengthy forensic reconstruction of a crime scene might be expected in a detective game, but the writers put the same amount of depth and humour into the most disparate of subjects: a company collapsing under an unsustainable Agile framework; the fervent insistence of an invisible cryptid; the full histories and motivations of the world’s saintly figures; the pseudo-esoterica of hardcore electronic music. It’s a staggering, sometimes overwhelming, body of writing, and I was rapt throughout.
Read JDR’s original 10/10 review here, or, for the already converted, JDR’s in-depth discussion with ZA/UM Studio about their world-building and writerly approach to the project.
It will be a long time before anything matches the sharp wit and political bite of the world explored by Lt. Kim Kitsuragi and his hungover disgrace of a partner.
Hitman III - Luciano Howard
For a multitude of reasons 2021 has been a tough year for me personally. Thinking cause and effect, my opportunity to play games - and desire - has dwindled to never-before known levels. Despite co-publishing a gaming website, I just have not had the time (because: reasons) or the energy (because: more reasons). But at the start of the year I did pick up and play Hitman III. This is my game of the year, and even had I been able to play more, having seen what’s come in the weeks and months since, I find it statistically unlikely anything would have made me make a different choice.
I scored it a 9 when I reviewed it, but as I mentioned at the time – it’s a perfect ten, really, as whilst it did more of the same, it did it brilliantly well. I got to play one whole level like Daniel Craig in Knives Out; in another level I pretended to be interested in learning about wine purely for the chance to press a human being in the wine press. Marvellous – and only one of myriad ways to dispatch my targets throughout each sizable location, full of labyrinthine passages and hideaways.
I played the game to completion, and then I played some more by going and doing previous levels I’d missed from Hitman II’s DLC or similar. If you haven’t danced with Agent 47 through this Hitman trilogy, I implore you to do so. It’s quite possibly the most fun you’ll have in any game.
Deathloop — Anthony Barlow
Deathloop is one of the most enthralling games I’ve played in years. In a subgenre as crowded as the roguelike, Arkane Studios has managed to create something that stands out both technically and stylistically: fine-tuning the immersive sim and merging that with a 1960s meets grindhouse aesthetic.
Deathloop is a game that gives you enough freedom to explore each scenario how you want, whilst also providing a guiding hand for the moments that you’re lost. Pulling off the perfect run to get that new power-up or chaining together a series of blockbuster moments never once got old. And in a game all about repetition, that deserves all the credit in the world.
I’ll admit, this pick came down to the wire. It was either Deathloop or Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart — both fantastic games doing vastly different things on the subject of time — but Deathloop might be the most I’ve thought about (and recommended) a game in years. That’s why it's my game of the year.
Life Is Strange: True Colors — Jesse Gregoire
Picking a favourite this year was tough. The games I thought would be good like Battlefield 2042 turned out to be less than stellar, while other titles came out of nowhere to pique my interest. For a while, I thought my pick of the year would go to Echo Generation. It has problems, sure, but Game Pass served up this unexpected 1990s synthy sci-fi adventure and something about it just clicked.
Then I played Lost Judgment. It garnered mediocre reviews from critics, but damn did it take the Yakuza series in a new direction. Helping kids at the local high school solve their problems against the backdrop of investigating a pervert for a murder? I’m in. And did I mention Halo Infinite’s multiplayer? Fine, I’ll stop.
When it came down to it, Life Is Strange: True Colors was the only possible pick. Not only because it’s a much-adored franchise, but because it’s an evolution for the series; it’s Life Is Strange’s coming-of-age story. Many felt the teenage tone of the previous games failed to resonate, but True Colors fixes that with a firm eye on bigger, more adult issues. Not to mention a more open world, better graphics, and the ditching of the series’ episodic structure.
Put simply: the continuance of the Life Is Strange universe in small-town Colorado’s Haven Springs can’t be missed.
Sable - Pete Taylor
Well, that’s 2021 in the bag and, well, it’s been quite the year hasn’t it. Almost as if, after last year, this one told it to hold its beer. Thankfully, gamers have not only had ample opportunity to partake in their pastime over the last twelve months, but developers have thrown us some rather amazing games to whisk us away to far off places whilst most of us were locked up at home. Picking one out as the best is always a very subjective exercise since one person’s Game of the Year may be met with bemusement by others. This year at least, I’ve been pretty set on mine for a few months now.
Whilst I didn’t give Sable top marks when I reviewed it back in September I was, and still am, appreciative and in awe of what was attempted. Here is a game with a very unique art style that has absolutely no combat and is purely reliant on your own inquisitive nature. It didn’t hit every mark but for me, it stood out among the crowd of sequels and tie-ins as something truly original. Even after completion I spent a lot of additional hours exploring and wandering the open world in Sable because, quite frankly, it was just so relaxing to do so. Given the year we’ve had, something like this to escape into was absolutely timely.
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