2021! Fingers crossed, frankly. We hope you had a lovely New Year break. If you're like us, you're looking forward to a year that's filled with wonderful new things to play. Here are some of the games that we can't wait for.
As always, it's a pretty eclectic bunch, with big-budget stuff like Halo in with wonderful indies about squirrels and cyber cats. Time loops appear more than once, Hollywood talent turns up in unexpected places, and one game at least features everything from the big bang to the death of the universe.
This is games in 2021, then: familiarity and absolute surprise. Hopefully it will be a magical year for fans of the medium.
Release Date: TBC 2021.
Twelve Minutes is one of those press conference anomalies that manages to unexpectedly grab your attention amid everything else going on. Instinctively, you know it's different.
Maybe it's the top-down perspective showing a person's front room, where two people are sitting and where, shortly, one will probably be killed. Or maybe it's the time-looping element whereby the man who lives in the house re-lives the brutal passage of time over and over again, desperately trying to change things in order to alter the outcome.
Twelve Minutes has been a curious project from the beginning, and it has only gotten more alluring by adding the all-star cast of Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe and James McAvoy. Clearly, someone believes in it. Watch this space.
Release Date: First half of 2021.
Perhaps my most anticipated game of 2020 has now become my most anticipated game of this year, and I'm excited for it for all the same reasons I was then - the sequel to a metroidvania which proudly wore its influences on its sleeve but one that's much deeper and sinister than it first lets on.
News of the delay has brought with it a few more interesting details, including an expanded Address Disrupter tool - the original's secret weapon in more ways than one - which sounds like it'll allow you to glitch the environment and its foes in new interesting ways. Metroidvanias are at their best when you are discovering secrets by gradually unwrapping the layers of the world around you, and few have accomplished this better than Axiom Verge - and there's every suggestion the sequel could go even further.
Release Date: 22 June 2021.
More Left 4 Dead is a pretty easy pitch to like, even before you put it back in the hands of the people who made the original such a classic. Back 4 Blood doesn't seem to be too intent on tampering with the simple magic that made the first games sing.
Instead, just expect more and bigger, which, again, is a pretty easy pitch to like in a game about fighting off the horde. Maybe this time the chopper really will be made of chocolate.
Release Date: Likely late 2021.
I've tried not to play too much of Baldur's Gate 3 in Early Access, because I want to wait for the full thing. A huge two-thirds of the game (roughly) are not there yet, so if you're thinking, 'Oh it's already available, why is he writing about it?' Think again.
What I do know, though, from what I've played, is it's already brilliant. It's brilliant in the ways Divinity: Original Sins 1 and 2 were, with their broad, freeform, role-playing systems. And now with an added layer of cinematic BioWare-ness spread on top. You can zoom right up to faces and characters while they speak, to see what they're thinking from their facial expressions. It's a huge step forward in what Larian can do.
There's a lot to do, so there's a chance a full release could miss the autumn, which I imagine is the current target, but do not forget about it. This could be colossal.
Release Date: TBC 2021.
Bezier is a modern twin-stick classic, an arcade game built with style, wit, and a sense of mystery. It's wonderful, then, to see it arrive on Switch, in a version that promises to improve on the original while offering that same chaotic grace.
Just watching the trailer is enough to remind me of how many brilliant ideas this game has fizzing away in its head. This is a distinctly British kind of coding gem - one made in isolation and with great passion. All that on Switch? Yes please.
Release Date: Q1 2021.
This Anniversary Edition comes 13 years after the Xbox Live Arcade original, which is the perfect amount of time to forget the solutions to any puzzle game, even one which I picked clean at the time - speed run achievement and all - and I'm excited to discover it all over again.
When it comes to changes, Braid's remaster sounds pretty faithful to the original, focusing on a facelift fitting for modern displays. I'm a sucker for switching between classic and new visuals in remasters, a box this release ticks, as well as what sounds to be some elaborate developer commentary which will delve more into the story and explain how specific puzzles work on a technical level - so even if this remaster doesn't add too many surprises for those who remember it well, I'm sure there will still be a revelation or two.
Release Date: 21 May 2021.
Deathloop feels like a transition game for Arkane, trading Dishonored's sober sneakiness for a vein of showy improvisation reminiscent of Bulletstorm. Everything about the trailers screams pace: the bright, flapping colours, the 60s spy-fi freeze-frames, the snarling blues-rock score, the cavalier use of telekinesis to set up aerial takedowns. You can play this way in Dishonored (and I suspect most Deathloop playthroughs won't look nearly this flamboyant) but the ambience doesn't encourage you to revel in it. Deathloop wants you to swagger. Helpfully, failure means little - this is a time loop game, so if at first you don't succeed, die, die again.
The emphasis on speed isn't just a question of style. If death is inconsequential, you do have to worry about a deadline: just 24 hours in which to nobble eight bosses, dotted around an island. Assaulting each target one by one may not be practical - in a nod to Hitman, you can exploit or meddle with the day's running order, looking for opportunities to bring your victims together. All of which assumes you're playing as leading man Cole - there's another assassin, Julianna, who is controlled by the AI or a second player. Her only job is to take Cole out. Better get your skates on, then.
Release Date: TBC, likely 2021.
Oh dear. There goes productivity. Diablo on phones is such a brilliantly terrible idea. Brilliant because this is the one Blizzard game that really feels perfect for a touchscreen and a - sigh - bus journey. Terrible because I will miss my stop and miss the next stop and the next one. Diablo on phones is the reason I will end up back at the depot when it comes time to lock-up, still nose-down in the screen.
Diablo Immortal's 2018 gameplay trailer.
It works, too, according to Oli, who was equally delighted and petrified at the prospect of all this on a smartphone. Will we get Diablo 4 this year? Possibly. But Immortal seems oddly perfect in its own way.
Release Date: March 2021 on some, summer on others.
I'm embarrassed to admit I only played Disco Elysium for about an hour. Throw your tomatoes, shame me. It was everything I ever thought I wanted in an RPG - deep, bizarre, philosophical - and I didn't play it. But I've been given a lifeline.
The lifeline is The Final Cut of Disco Elysium, which not only brings the game to consoles, but also adds full voice acting, quests and unseen areas to explore. In other words, it's the definitive edition of the game (and you can upgrade for free if you already own it). So I suppose good things do come to those who wait. That's what I'm telling myself anyway.
Release Date: Not a clue, but we can hope!
Beating Dark Souls 1 was a lockdown project of mine. What started as a cynical exercise in box-ticking morphed, predictably, into a full-blown obsession. Even now as I write these words I can feel a little fish hook in my heart tugging me back to Lordran. Solaire of Astora lives rent-free in my mind.
Ten years late to the party, but here just in time to get excited for Elden Ring, the latest From Software game created in collaboration with author/wizard George R. R. Martin. It's an exhilarating teamup - not just for the name recognition, but because Martin's work is so often about perseverance in the face of despair. Bring it on!
Release Date: Early 2021.
I am not sure I could be more excited about Genesis Noir. For one thing, it's one of those Activity Bear games, where you prod things and pull at things and interact in dozens of different ways as the story unfolds.
For another, it's a jazz space odyssey, an epic tale of music and people and the life and death of the universe. It's Ralph Ellison and Warner Bros animation and Einstein and Ella Fitzgerald and New Yorker line cartoons and Close Encounters and a hundred other things that are perfect for video games. I have watched it from afar for years. Hopefully soon I will get to experience it.
Release Date: TBC 2021.
It's not a real PlayStation until it has a Gran Turismo on it. I have no scientific basis for this belief, or any basis at all really, but I feel it to be true. As much as Kazunori Yamauchi may exasperate the Sony board and appear to go off-script with his quixotic, inevitably delayed and vastly overproduced automotive odysseys, they are pure PlayStation: authentic, image-conscious, ambitious almost to a fault, with a personal heartbeat beneath the polished surface.
GT Sport was actually great, but there's no getting away from the fact that Kaz's scheduling cock-ups (GT6 came out on PS3 after the PS4 launch) left PS4 without a traditional GT game for its entire lifespan. Expect GT7 to make up for that with a full-fledged solo campaign mode to grind through. Used Honda Preludes to the ready!
Release Date: Autumn 2021.
If Halo Infinite really lives up to its potential, I reckon you could argue that it should be the sort of game that is all but impossible to demo. Besides all the other problems with the game's disastrous 2020 showing was the squish-factor: a game that is meant to live in huge expanses had to be squeezed down to a parking lot in order to give viewers a glimpse of everything in it.
Hopefully the finished Infinite will feel a bit more roomy. And what a game that would make for: huge expanses of nature with the landscape curving overhead. Familiar weapons on your back and a Warthog waiting for you. A world to save, but also a world to just savour. Halo Infinite's first reveal promised a return to everything that makes this series sing - sonorous, outdoorsy sci-fi with a grand vision. For now I still have hope.
Release date: 20 January 2021.
By the sounds of it, Hitman 3 is just more Hitman and Hitman 2 - which is exactly what we're hoping for. The series, which is mostly about plonking you into sweeping great sandboxes and letting you stuff people into bins or whatever, has carved out a superlative little nook in the stealthy immersive sim genre since the 2016 reboot, and with the third entry coming at a pretty desolate period of high-budget games at the start of 2021 we're rather excited.
Interestingly, it's also doing some clever stuff with how it structures its sequels. The levels from Hitman and Hitman 2 will be backwards-compatible from within Hitman 3, if you already own them, with some swishier graphics, and your progression also carries over into 3, too. Neat.
Release Date: TBC, likely 2021.
If you've played much of the original Hollow Knight, you've already met the protagonist of Silksong: Hornet, the poised and deadly wielder of needle and thread. What an intoxicating thought: Team Cherry's worldbuilding seen through the lens of someone far fleeter and more aggressive than before.
Silksong began life as DLC, but has expanded in the making as the best games do. Alongside its new hero it promises an entirely new landscape and over a hundred new enemies. Given the richness it draws from this is likely to be a classic.
Release Date: TBC, likely 2021.
New Zelda games typically come with the promise of a clean (Sheikah) slate - a fresh version of Link, a unique set of puzzles and a new world to explore. But I'm looking forward to Breath of the Wild 2, or whatever it ends up being called, for completely the opposite.
We know this will be continuation of Nintendo's Switch masterpiece, with the same main character, story and likely many of the same mechanics. And while I'm sure we'll visit new lands beyond the borders of Breath of the Wild's well-trod Hyrule, I'm expecting a relatively familiar feeling there as well. But just as Super Mario Galaxy 2 was a better game than its predecessor, this Breath of the Wild sequel will surely build upon and expand the original's enormous sandbox of possibilities - pushing one of the best Zelda formulas of all time to new heights.
Release Date: Spring 2021.
I don't think we'll ever see a project like the original Mass Effect trilogy ever again. Three games you can carry all your choices and consequences through. It was ridiculously ambitious. There's no way BioWare would have done it had it known how hard it would be. But it did, and that's the point. We have those games, and that they were so complex only makes them more remarkable.
Perhaps it's something to do with the new consoles which puts me so in the mood for a remaster, I don't know. Maybe it's the sighting of a new Mass Effect. But it's not so much for me to replay them. It's for me to share something so special to me with someone else. To see them play through it, to see what they do, while I sit and bask in the music and memories.
Release Date: 26 March 2021.
Monster Hunter comes home! Well, it's not as if Nintendo's hardware is where Capcom's series found its fame, but portable play is where the heart of Monster Hunter has always seemed to reside, and with this all-new Switch entry we'll once again be able to meet up with friends in the wilds to rag on some beasts (Covid restrictions notwithstanding, of course).
Monster Hunter Rise - Game Awards 2020 trailer.
Having played a little, I can safely say this one's going to be a treat - a shake-up of the formula as profound in its own way as that found in Monster Hunter World, with some of that old character coming back. Oh, and thanks to the RE Engine's debut on the Switch it looks absolutely splendid. What's all this about Breath of the Wild 2? Monster Hunter Rise could well be the Switch game of the year.
Release Date: Summer 2021.
Let's return to Shibuya to play the Reapers' game one more time. The World Ends with You is a glorious DS folly, an urban RPG enlivened by vivid teens and a manic back-and-forth combat system. The sequel - it is a thrill to be able to type that - keeps the setting and the basic scenario, by the looks of it, but opts for 3D environments that bring back perfect memories of Jet Set Radio.
It's going to be fascinating to see what happens with the distinctive combat system, which was entirely built around a machine with two screens, but whatever happens, Neo has already earned a place in my heart - it sent me back to the attic to find the original game, and I'm delighted to say it's every bit as good as I remember it being.
Release Date: TBC 2021.
True story: a friend of mine was once savaged by a squirrel. It made the local paper. Other worrying squirrel factoids: the word "squirrel" stems from "shadow tail" in Greek, and squirrels are able to rotate appendages by 180 degrees, like the girl from The Exorcist. Clearly we should keep squirrels under close surveillance, and look, here's a game about doing precisely that.
NUTS is an eerie, flat-shaded mix of photography sim and 80s conspiracy thriller. You set out from your cabin at dawn and position cameras around small forest environments according to an objective faxed over by a professor, such as tracing one squirrel to its nest. Then you wait for nightfall (but wait - aren't squirrels daytime creatures?) and play back the footage in 30 second wodges, printing and pinning up stills as you work out your quarry's route. Tracking squirrels takes cunning. See how they dart under logs and spiral round trees! See how they, er, meet in clearings. See how they hide strange bells near ruined churches. The developers swear this isn't a horror game, by the way.
Release Date: TBC 2021.
I'm a massive fan of Open Roads' developer Fullbright, who has also made Gone Home and Tacoma. To me there is simply no one who writes dialogues quite like they do, painting a well-rounded picture of a character with relatively little. I knew they were working on something from stalking their recruitment page, but since the "walking simulator" genre is pretty much dead, I was always excited to see what kind of game Fullbright would make next.
Open Roads teaser trailer.
Open Roads sounds like an interesting character study, and it looks gorgeous with its autumn colours and 2D characters. In it, you will go on a mother-daughter roadtrip, and I like the idea for being a cool gateway into what will hopefully be the new mother-daughter genre. I wonder what I will get to do and see?
Release Date: TBC 2021.
Is it cheating putting a piece of hardware in here? Probably, but screw it - Playdate looks like it's set to be one of the highlights of 2021. Yes, it's an achingly hip thing, a boutique console for players with the most discerning tastes, but what's the point in getting hung up on all that when the one-bit promises one-shots from the likes of Zach Gage, Bennett Foddy and Keita Takahashi.
I had the briefest of glimpses a couple of years back at Kyoto's BitSummit, and even the prototype was a strikingly beautiful thing; esoteric ideas executed via some exquisite engineering. What will we eventually be playing on it? Well, we don't entirely know right now and that's part of the thrill - here's a device that promises a genuine surprise on a scheduled weekly basis, the perfect little antidote to all the excess found elsewhere in the industry.
Release Date: TBC 2021.
Raz Aquato is one of gaming's great underdogs: a plucky circus escapee with a talent for psychic parkour, overlooked by villains, grown-ups and publishers alike. What underdog story would be complete without a heroic comeback?
The original Psychonauts was an absurdly imaginative action-platformer about breaking into people's minds and rummaging through their baggage, balancing a macabre tone with some of the funniest setpieces in history ('Good day to you, Officer O'Lungfish!'). Fifteen years of anticipation is a lot to live up to, but if Psychonauts 2 is just more of the same, I'll be happy as a clam. Second helpings, please.
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