2021 was an odd year for video games, with more delays than Apocalypse Now and plenty of controversy, but there were still a lot of excellent titles released this year. Across all three first-party companies as well as other AAA publishers and indie studios, we saw game developers adapt to remote working environments and deliver tremendous experiences. They include returning favorites, innovative small-scale narrative games, and a whole lot of time looping. Seriously, there are three different games with time-loop mechanics in our top 10 alone!
Below are GameSpot’s top 10 games of 2021, in alphabetical order. Keep in mind that there are light spoilers for a few of these, and the games listed were chosen after deliberating with the GameSpot staff. And now that some time has passed since this article has published, we’re also ready to reveal our Game of the Year of 2021: Deathloop.
Before Your Eyes
Available on PC, Mac
In the final moments of Before Your Eyes, there’s a line that’s delivered with such authenticity and such sudden candor that it’s haunted me all year. The 90-minute narrative-adventure game made headlines initially as “the game you play by blinking,” but it not only justifies its novel gameplay mechanic, it also pairs it with such beautiful writing that it breaks new ground in the medium.
Before Your Eyes’ basic concept is apparent in its title: What if your life were flashing before your eyes? What would you see, and what would you choose to see if you could control it? How long would you linger in a moment of happiness, flee from a memory of guilt, grapple with dormant traumas out of some sense of catharsis? In Goodbyeworld Games’ magnificent debut, this is gamified by a webcam tracking your real-life eye-blinking. You’ll blink to advance time, and it won’t usually be clear whether that means by a few minutes or a few years. This gives every moment a sense of urgency, but even those who can withstand blinking for several minutes at a time will have no choice but to fall in line eventually to see how the twisting drama unfolds.
Tauntingly, it’s a game with such a throughline of sobering sadness that it often plays in hard mode, as tears sit at the edge of one’s eyelids and beg for blinking. Other times, it subverts its own premise by instead asking players to keep their eyes closed, which gives the dialogue extra weight as the only sensory input during some of the most dramatic moments. Led by some brilliant character actors, the small cast shines in bringing the tightly written story to life in every vignette of protagonist Benny Brynn’s life. His early crush, petty fights with his parents, his career mishaps–we see it all, but just like in real life, we can’t see how it ends until we get there ourselves.
Before Your Eyes is a game that wants you to feel safe in its premise so it can pull the