EGM’s Best of 2021: Matthew Bennett’s Picks

EGM’s Best of 2021
Matthew Bennett’s Picks

I didn’t expect the intro of my 2021 picks to reflect that of 2020, but here we are.

The year started with such promise thanks to a number of big releases on the schedule. Sadly, one by one, they all slowly got pushed to 2022. However, on a more positive note, it means that 2022 is shaping up to be one hell of a year with Horizon Forbidden West, God of War: Ragnarok, Gotham Knights, and more on the way.

It’s not been all bad though, as game developers still managed to get out a number of impressive titles—some of which made this list. There was also the continued growth of Xbox Game Pass, which is still a ridiculous value and has kept my Xbox Series X very busy throughout the year. Being able to play the likes of Forza Horizon 5, Halo Infinite, Back 4 Blood, and more at launch continues to amaze me, and I cannot wait to see what Microsoft has lined up for the service next year. 

So, here’s to 2022. Hopefully it’s a good one.

05 Lost Judgment

Following Yakuza’s Switch to turn-based combat, the Judgment series is left to keep the action combat Yakuza was known for alive, and I’m glad about this. As much as the new turn-based direction is fun, I missed the fast pace and heavier hits that action combat offers. No matter how many times I see Yagami throw up an object and kick it into some poor thug’s face, it never gets old. The addition of the new Snake Style further helps spice up combat over the original Judgment by offering quick options for disarming enemies. 

Lost Judgment has improved on the original game in a number of other ways, with much-needed changes to tailing, the addition of the skateboard, being able to use stealth, and School Stories offering a nice distraction from the main story. However, it wasn’t all good, and that’s why it’s sitting in the final spot on my list. The story felt weaker than the first game and Yagami still comes across as a very bland protagonist compared to Kiryu and now Ichiban. I’d still like to see a third game though. 

04 Psychonauts 2

In a gaming landscape filled with gritty first-person shooters and massive open-world adventures, Psychonauts 2 stood out this year. It offered me a relaxing, fun time with just enough stakes and intrigue to keep me wanting to see it through to its conclusion.

I jumped into the game fresh, having let the original pass me by, so this was my first introduction to the delight that is Razputin “Raz” Aquato. By the end of my trippy journey through various minds, Raz had cemented himself as one of my favorite gaming protagonists. In fact, Psychonauts 2 easily has (for me) the second best cast of characters this year, with Ford Cruller and Hollis Forsythe being standouts. I loved how backstories were slowly revealed while exploring their minds, and it really made me see them as individual characters, rather than just extras in Raz’s story. 

03 Hitman 3

The final entry in the World of Assassination Trilogy was the perfect send-off for Agent 47. The team at IO Interactive took what it had learned in the first two games and built upon those lessons to create a fun murder romp across the globe.

Two things really stood out for me in Hitman 3 and secured it a place on my list. The first was the levels. From the beautifully lit Dubai with its impressive art gallery, to the dark and dingy streets of Chongqing, each level was a step up compared to anything in the first two games. Second was how satisfying it felt to deliver that final blow on the target after successfully pulling off a carefully laid-out plan. I don’t want to spoil much, but I did learn just how much damage a grape press can do to a human body.

02 Phantasy Star Online 2: New Genesis

Had you told me in 2020 when Phantasy Star Online 2 originally released that it would be in my top five games of the year, let alone in the number two slot, I’d have laughed at you. The aged look of the base game always put me off trying it, but with the release of New Genesis, I decided to finally give it a try. Suffice to say, I was impressed.

The combat feels incredibly fluid for an MMO and the new open-world setting is fun to explore, with plenty of verticality. From the first time I was sliding around the feet of one of the game’s giant Veteran bosses and firing my rifle, I was hooked. Fast forward more than 300 hours and I’m still logging in every day to farm N-Meseta (the in-game currency) so I can afford the myriad fashion options Sega offers. Every MMO player knows that fashion is the true endgame, and PSO2: NG has plenty of it.

With the recent release of the massive Retem region, I foresee this game continuing to take up a lot of my time in 2022.

01 Persona 5 Strikers

With how I gushed about Phantasy Star Online 2 New Genesis, you probably thought it should be my game of the year. However, my love for everything Persona 5 prevailed.

Despite technically being a spin-off, Strikers is the perfect sequel to Persona 5. It gave me a chance to see how the gang has grown following the events of the original game and also continued progressing their relationships. The new characters of Sophia and Zenkichi slot into the group seamlessly, with Zenkichi being a personal favorite of mine due to some excellent voice acting and the way he brings a more mature outlook to situations.

Of course, I can’t talk about Strikers without bringing up its battle system. I’ll admit, the thought of losing the turn-based system from Persona 5 worried me. However, I liken it to the switch Yakuza made, only going in the opposite direction. On paper it seems like a risky move, but in practice it just feels right.

All I can hope is that this isn’t the last time I get to journey with the Persona 5 gang.

SP The “Time Waster” Award
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War

Surprisingly, I spent most of my gaming time in 2022 in last year’s Call of Duty. The gunplay feels excellent, the maps are fun, and the continued support from Treyarch with multiple maps, modes, weapons, and events is top notch. I wracked up hundreds of hours in the game across its six seasons and never really got bored at any point—even when trying to get those damn launcher gold camos. I only wish that Treyarch had been able to offer another year of support, because Vanguard doesn’t interest me at all.

SP The “Didn’t Quite Make It” Award

A small part of me wanted to sneak FIFA 22 into my top five list due to the amount of time I’ve spent playing it, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Each minute of fun I had was met with an equal one of frustration due to the same old issues that have plagued other entries in the series. Even with the animation and graphical improvements, FIFA 22 still feels like an iteration rather than a new entry. Still fun, but not ground-breaking.

SP The “Old Faithful” Award
Final Fantasy XIV

That’s right. For the second year in a row Square Enix’s MMORPG has continued to be my drop in, drop out title of choice. Despite playing the game on and off for years, I’m still a long way away from reaching the end of the available content. Hundreds of hours of fun await me in the world of Eorzea, and I look forward to experiencing them all eventually.

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