Best of 2021: Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, and Tom's other GOTY picks
Plus It Takes Two, Forza Horizon 5, and the most underrated multiplayer game of the year.
I sat and thought about my favourite game of the year, cycling through games like an old fashioned slideshow in my mind - maybe I'd played too much of the Alan Wake remaster. In truth a lot of the slides were blank or at best out of focus; games I played for a bit but bounced off or just didn't find the time to explore properly. That is all the slides except for Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart (and a couple of others, but that doesn't make this intro as interesting)..
I've finished Rift Apart three times and also watched my son finish it. It's fair to say that I enjoyed it a lot. A lot of this is no doubt down to the fact that Insomniac's game was one of the first proper PS5 games. It wasn't also built for PS4. It was a PS5 game. And it shows.
There have been plenty of great looking games released in 2021, but I don't think any of them can match Ratchet's PS5 debut in terms of delivering that coveted animated movie-like experience. It's such a wonderful game to look at, its environments as colorful as they are diverse, and the explosion-filled combat takes things up another notch. Gorgeous.
Of course, visual splendor only goes so far. Rift apart is a delight to play, too. Ratchet's (and Rivet's) move-set this time around allows him to tear across worlds at speed, and the platforming and gun-play is as solid as ever. It's tight.
If there's a negative it's that the collectibles aren't all that hard to locate. I just wanted more of a reason to keep playing beyond New Game + and mopping up a few things I missed on the first runthrough. I did a 60 FPS run, too, but now I'm done. That's fine. Games can be finished without an endless supply of new content. But I wish there was more. A lovely DLC area full of things to find. I can dream.
In a year when I've barely turned on the PS5, Ratchet stands as its greatest achievement to date. To my surprise, that's two years in a row I've picked a PS5 exclusive. Maybe there's something in this "Sony first-party games are the best" lark. Let's see how the competition gets on next year.
It Takes Two - Xbox One/Series consoles, PS4/PS5, and PC
This brilliant co-op adventure from Hazelight was incredibly close to being my favourite game of the year. It goes without saying that your enjoyment will largely depend on who you played through with (I did the whole thing sat next to my son), but with the right person It Takes Two is a brilliant, memorable game - albeit one with some dark moments.
Part of what is so wonderful about It Takes Two is how varied the whole game is. New mechanics are introduced all the way through, which is pretty remarkable for a game that is by no means short. Game mechanics being created for relatively short sequences of gameplay aren't the norm, which made the constant surprise of discovering something new all the more special - and it's perfect for kids who always want something different to what they were doing five minutes earlier.
Forza Horizon 5 - Xbox One/Series consoles, PC
Forza Horizon 5 has become my quick fix game. If I've got 20 minutes to play something, I'll fire it up and do whatever event I'm closest to. There's a chance this might end up being my favourite racer of all time (but I won't know for sure until I've slowly played a lot more of it over the next six months), although I reckon the lack of more built-up areas might hold it back slightly when it comes down to the ultimate verdict.
I love you, Forza Horizon, but I do miss pure city racers. You know which one I'm talking about.
Knockout City - Everything
I've not played this much myself, but I feel like this original multiplayer effort from Velan Studios and Electronic Arts deserves some praise. My son is addicted to this competitive dodgeball game, and I can see why. It's different.
Knockout City is all about learning the maps and your ability to time catches properly. Players can hurl balls back and forth, and with each catch the throw gets faster. It's great to watch, and makes a change from the usual gun-based multiplayer efforts that are usually the most popular.
For more on our picks for the best games of the year, head over to our GOTY 2021 archive page.