2021 has been a big year for Sony and its PlayStation consoles. The PS4 may have handed the baton over to the PS5, but the now last-gen device wasn’t ready to retire just yet. Proving that it still had plenty to give, 2021 was a year in which both PlayStation consoles functioned as a well-oiled tag team machine, easily handling the bulk of this year’s multi-platform releases.
Which games were the best though? We’ve rounded up the top games of the year according to critical consensus from GameSpot’s sister site Metacritic, with the results being a surprising mix of AAA blockbusters and indie darlings. We’ve separated PS4 and PS5 games here, but most of these games are available on both PlayStation platforms. We’ve listed these games from lowest Metascore to highest.
Best PS5 games
Guilty Gear Strive
If you’re ever in the mood for tightly-balanced fighting game action that’s amplified by anime-inspired visuals and further enhanced by a hard rock soundtrack, then Guilty Gear is usually your first port of call. For its latest entry in the long-running brawler series, Arc System Works focused on creating a game that was both technical and accessible, inviting to both newcomers and veterans with its eclectic selection of characters and gameplay mechanics that made each match a face-melting explosion of stylish attacks and risky finishing moves.
The end result? A new fighting game gold standard that creates an inviting environment and constantly pushes you to improve with each match you play.
Metascore: 87 | Read our Guilty Gear Strive review.
The Nioh Collection
For a different cut of samurai action, The Nioh Collection is action with a dangerous edge to its design. Team Ninja’s Nioh games look better than ever in this package that combines updated visuals, gameplay tweaks, and a rich selection of DLC. At its core, each Nioh game is a brutal ballet of fast reflexes and punishing consequences for any mistakes made, but on PS5 it’s smoother than ever with the extra hardware grunt that the console provides.
Each game’s collection of aggressive biomes and merciless demons will push you to the limit, but persevere and you’ll discover devilishly delightful action from the skilled hands of Team Ninja.
Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut
You couldn’t ask for a better console swansong than Ghost of Tsushima on the PS4, and just over a year later, one of the best first-party games ever produced by Sony was ready to unsheathe its blade on the PS5. Already a gorgeous game with striking art design, Ghost of Tsushima’s incredible visuals were only amplified on PS5. Its core gameplay was enhanced with quality-of-life improvements, the expansion added a substantial new area to explore, and the moment-to-moment combat felt sharper than ever before.
The Director’s Cut doesn’t just add a new technical dimension to Ghost of Tsushima, it expands on the lore of that feudal sandbox as well with a hard-hitting tale and more side-quests to engage in. It’s more of the good stuff that made Ghost of Tsushima so special, all bundled together in a package that makes it look and feel better than ever before.
Metascore: 88 | Read our Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut review.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
The PS5’s first year on the market has been a strong year of showcase titles available exclusively on it, and the latest adventure starring the duo of Ratchet & Clank has been one of the very best. Not just a thrilling adventure starring the fan-favorite tag team of Ratchet and his partner Clank, Rift Apart expanded on that universe with new dimensions, characters, and pitch-perfect DualSense integration. An absolute thrill to see and feel thanks to the haptic feedback of the PS5 controller, Rift Apart is a playable blockbuster that provides constant excitement.
It’s also a huge narrative step forward for the franchise, introducing a new duo in the form of Rivet and Bolt who embark on their own adventure to save the multiverse. A tour de force of jaw-dropping visuals, quirky characters, and quirky storytelling, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart stands tall as one of the best PS5 games of 2021. No small feat, considering everything else that debuted this year on Sony’s new console.
Metascore: 88 | Read our Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart review.
It Takes Two
It Takes Two isn’t just a heartbreaking story about relationships and family, it’s also one of the best co-op experiences of 2021. Developer Hazelight’s sophomore effort is a wildly-inventive mix of clever platforming and visual spectacle, cleverly using its format to create a unique adventure. It may be a done-in-one title that you’ll play with a friend or significant other, but it’s a game that leaves a lasting impression on anyone who goes the distance and absorbs a few lessons from a game that proves that teamwork does indeed make the dream work.
Metascore: 88 | Read our It Takes Two review.
With a reputation for excellence, expectations were high for developer Arkane’s next project. The eventual end result? It didn’t just meet those lofty expectations, it surpassed them with a gripping tale of action, suspense, and breaking an eternal time-loop with as much style as possible. Scoring a rare 10/10 in our own review, Deathloop is a stunning combination of strong writing, thrilling action, and an elegant art design that gives the game a unique aesthetic.
Beautifully weird, Deathloop is a game of trial and error that never feels punishing thanks to it encouraging players to be both brave and bold with their decisions. Even better, the island of Blackreef is a haven of secrets and hidden opportunities, while the (optional) hunt or be hunted multiplayer component turns a tense game into a white-knuckle ride that’ll have you sweating bullets. With an incredible soundtrack amplifying your path of destruction–either by stealth or with violence–across Blackreef, Deathloop is a modern masterpiece of action, mystery, and time travel.
Metascore: 88 | Read our Deathloop review.
Disco Elysium: The Final Cut
One of the best games of 2019, Disco Elysium’s unique mix of role-playing game mechanics and murder mystery storyline wasn’t without a few rough edges when it first launched. Fast forward to 2021, and Disco Elysium: The Final Cut was more than just a marked improvement which sanded over those lingering flaws, as it also enhanced the overall package with a full suite of voice-acting, new side-quests, and multiple quality-of-life upgrades.
At its core, it’s still an incredible whodunnit starring incredibly flawed people who have their own inner demons to deal with. The writing is as snappy as ever, the neo-noir art style looks as gorgeous as ever, and choices made within its world have actual long-lasting consequences in this definitive version of the gumshoe simulator. Plus, the distinctive art style looks gorgeous on PS5.
Metascore: 89 | Read our Disco Elysium: The Final Cut review.
Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade
Final Fantasy VII Remake was one of our favorite games of 2020, and thanks to a stunning upgrade package that arrived on PS5 earlier this year, it nabbed a spot on this list. The original game was a gorgeous blast of graphical excellence and nostalgia on PS4, pushing that console to its breaking point in 2020. Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade upped the ante, throwing a new standard of visual splendor into the mix for the PS5 while taking full advantage of the console’s unique technology to deliver a phenomenal experience.
Not just a vastly superior technical upgrade, Intergrade also added fan-favorite Materia hunter Yuffie through a dedicated episode that ran parallel to the main quest, offering a solid chunk of extra content to the game. If you’d been hesitant on returning to Midgar to revisit Cloud Strife and friends, then Final Fantasy VII Remake’s PS5 upgrade is an enticing way to head back to a familiar world that has a few surprises up its sleeve for the next part in this grand adventure.
Metascore: 89 | Read our Final Fantasy VII Intergrade review.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2
More than two decades ago, skateboarding legend Tony Hawk convinced the world that he was Superman with gravity-defying aerial tricks in his debut video game. Years later, the Hawkman and friends were back in a remake of the first and second games that he headlined, popping tricks and grinding rails in high fidelity. The beauty of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater remakes is that while they’re undeniably a gigantic leap forward in the graphical department, mechanically they’re as fine-tuned as you want them to be.
Developer Vicarious Visions took the DNA of the original games and gave it an extreme makeover, but they also made certain that veteran fans could flip back to how the games originally handled for extra nostalgia points. With most of its classic punk rock soundtrack intact, its levels given a fresh coat of digital paint, and a revitalized Jack Black cameo, Tony Hawk was back and better than ever in an enhanced PS5 package.
Metascore: 90 | Read our Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 + 2 review.
One of the greatest roguelikes of all time, Hades is a Greek tragedy wrapped up in immaculate action, constantly challenging environments, and sharp visuals. On PS5, the game runs without skipping a 4K beat thanks to the impressive horsepower of that console, but it’s the DualSense controller features that truly shine here and provide a wonderful sense of feedback with every slash of your sword or hard-hitting wallop from a set of legendary gauntlets.
Escaping the underworld may be a grind, but it’s one that is constantly rewarding and makes every run feel unique. Complex and confident, this brilliantly-constructed masterpiece is one of the best games in its genre and a must-have in any PS5 library.
Metascore: 93 | Read our Hades review.
Best PS4 games
Life is Strange: True Colors
Life is Strange can be hit or miss at times, but when the series lands on its mark, it’s a homerun of mature storytelling. True Colors is that hit for the franchise–a bleak tale yet pleasantly surprising story that earns its more uplifting moments. There’s a sincerity to the heavy subject matter that it tackles, a constant flow of surprises thrown your way, and big choices to make with consequences that feel like they truly do matter.
Easily the best-looking Life is Strange as well, True Colors completes that package with well-written characters and a rollercoaster ride of a story.
Metascore: 82 | Read our Life Is Strange: True Colors review.
Its full title may resemble a phone number for your nearest pizza joint, but Neir Replicant’s remastering of the 2010 game is the second chance that the flawed classic deserved. With a refreshed combat system and a graphical overhaul that adds more value and fun to the overall experience, Nier Replicant was finally given the breathing room it needed to tell a story that is both epic and emotionally devastating. With quality-of-life updates that were designed to attract a new crowd to its digital shores and plenty of nuanced tweaks that veterans will appreciate, Nier Replicant is the best version of this cult-classic that you could possibly hope for.
Metascore: 83 | Read our Nier Replicant review.
Persona 5 Strikers
Atlus has seen its stock rise in recent years, thanks in part to its incredible Persona series. Persona 5 was built on a foundation of forming strong bonds with friends, but Persona 5 Strikers took the Phantom Thieves in a different direction and tested just how strong the friendship between each member of that motley gang of misfits really was.
Just as visually decadent as Persona 5, Strikers flipped the script on the gameplay by introducing stylish musou-style action to its RPG core. While not every element may have gelled together perfectly, the sum of Persona 5 Strikers is still an engaging experience that’s energetic and easily stands shoulder-to-shoulder with its predecessor.
Metascore: 83 | Read our Persona 5 Strikers review.
Guilty Gear Strive
Arc System Works has made a name for itself as one of the top-tier developers when it comes to fighting games, and with Guilty Gear Strive arriving earlier this year, it’s not hard to see why. A landmark moment for the Guilty Gear series, Strive established new benchmarks for online accessibility, the lifeblood of any fighting game that remains active for years.
Jaw-dropping visuals, sick heavy metal riffs, and face-melting special attacks are par for the course with Guilty Gear, and yet they’re turned up to 11 in this brilliant brawler. At the same time, Guilty Gear Strive nailed a balance between inviting gameplay and a suitably-steep learning curve, making it the perfect fighting game for both newcomers and veterans.
Metascore: 84 | Read our Guilty Gear Strive review.
Castlevania Advance Collection
Castlevania’s formula of whip-cracking action is one that works perfectly on almost any platform, but the Game Boy Advance era is arguably the series at its very best. The Castlevania Advance Collection is a reminder of just how great these games were–Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, Aria of Sorrow, and obscure remake of the SNES gem Dracula X thrown in for good measure. Not just a brilliant collection of vampire-slaying games, the Castlevania Advance Collection features neat tweaks, solid emulation, and synth soundtracks that are still certified bangers.
The World of Assassination Trilogy that began with 2016’s Hitman finally reached its final stop this year. Hitman 3 not only lives up to the lofty expectations set by its predecessors, it exceeds them to create the best sandbox assassin game of Agent 47’s career. IO Interactive expanded on the sturdy foundation and executed something truly special. Each of the massive sandbox levels are loaded with opportunities and a dizzying number of ways to approach each objective. On top of that, the people who inhabit the levels feel far more alive than ever before, making the moment to moment interactions all the more gripping.
More than just a grim sandbox of homicidal creativity, Hitman 3’s wrapped up its main story arc and lingering plot threads in an elegant fashion, providing a satisfying conclusion to Agent 47’s lethal saga.
Metascore: 84 | Read our Hitman 3 review.
Disco Elysium: The Final Cut
One of the best games of 2019 got even better this year, as Disco Elysium: The Final Cut smoothed some lingering rough edges from its design and also added some substantial new content to its frame. Mechanically, it’s still the same game that mixes classic RPG mechanics with a murder mystery plot, witty banter, and fine art visuals.
Beyond that noir-detective storyline and crafting a character who’s a unique failure of a human being in every way possible, The Final Cut enhances its appeal with new political vision quests, full voice-acting from its main cast of characters, performance upgrades, new music, and a dedicated mode just for streamers. New gameplay features make getting to the bottom of this whodunnit feel more organic.
A hard-hitting blend of homicide, hangovers, and internal strife, Disco Elysium: The Final Cut is a memorable adventure that’ll stick with you long after the credits have rolled.
Metascore: 86 | Read our Disco Elysium: the Final Cut review.
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition
Pure bang for your buck value, Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is a gargantuan reminder of just how good developer BioWare is when it’s firing on all cylinders. Not just a hefty package that bundled all three games in the sci-fi epic together with tons of downloadable content, Mass Effect: Legendary Edition went the extra step with sweeping visual improvements and quality-of-life enhancements. Some of the content–such as the black and white approach to morality–may not have escaped the gravitational pull of time, but the overall result is a package of excellence that preserves the trilogy and introduces it to a new audience that has yet to experience Commander Shepard’s iconic odyssey across the stars.
Metascore: 86 | Read our Mass Effect: Legendary Edition review.
A sequel to a cult-classic game that was years in the making, Psychonauts 2 was a prime example of how developer Double Fine is one of the best when it comes to crafting heartwarming stories and imaginative worlds. More than just an engaging platformer with its own sense of psychically-enhanced action, Psychonauts 2 is a deep dive into the minds of flawed characters that is breathtaking to behold.
At the same time, Psychonauts 2 approaches these situations with warmth and understanding, ultimately delivering a message about the power of forgiveness and redemption in a story that is riveting from start to finish. A tale of second chances that delivers emotional haymakers in its execution, Psychonauts 2 is an essential experience.
Metascore: 87 | Read our Psychonauts 2 review.
It Takes Two
Video games are always better with company, and developer Hazelight’s quirky journey through marital strife is an unforgettable adventure that leaves a lasting impression behind. It Takes Two is more than just one of the biggest surprises of 2021, it’s a pitch-perfect platformer that doesn’t hold back any of its emotional haymakers and regularly throws new mechanics into the mix, which makes it an incredibly varied and fresh experience throughout. It Takes Two’s themes and set-piece moments will remain with you long after the end credits have rolled on this incredible co-op masterpiece. Whether you’re playing it together on the couch with a loved one or online with a friend (only one person needs to own it), It Takes Two is one of the most satisfying co-op games ever. And to be clear, It Takes Two really does take two people; you cannot play it solo.
Metascore: 89 | Read our It Takes Two review.
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