The 12 Best PlayStation Games of 2021

Some of you might wonder if the PlayStation 5 actually exists. Sony’s latest console launched in 2020, but has remained almost impossible to find in stores due to shortages and supply chain issues. I can confirm that the PlayStation 5 is real, and that over 13 million people have been fortunate to get their hands on one at this point. That number will continue to rise, and hopefully as we float face down out of the pandemic the damn thing will become easy to buy—like, hopefully one day you’ll be able to just walk into a store, pick one up, and take it home. (After paying for it, of course.)

That’s not what’s happening right now, though. And perhaps that’s why very few games made exclusively for the PlayStation 5 came out this year. Most of the games on the list below are playable on both the PlayStation 4 (ps1 bios) and PlayStation 5—the past and the present. We’ve made a note of which ones have dual citizenship like that, and which ones require the hard-to-find big boy in order to enjoy. That’s literally only three games out of 20, although one of those three sits at the very top of our list. For all the other games, some have unique editions made specifically for each console, whereas some are PlayStation 4 games that are playable on the PlayStation 5 due to its native backwards compatibility. For instance, you won’t be able to buy a physical copy of Psychonauts 2 for the PS5; that’s technically only on the PS4, although both physical and digital versions of the PS4 version will run on the PS5. It sounds confusing, we realize, but once you’re actually set up with a PS5 it’s a lot smoother than it sounds; you just slip in a disc or click download on the icon in the PlayStation Store and the hardware handles the rest.

Even though the PlayStation 5 is over a year old now, and solidly the current generation at this point, it feels like the future is still on hold, due to those shortages and the lack of games made specifically for its hardware. Games like Deathloop and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart show us what the PS5 can do that the PS4 can’t, but it feels like we’re still in the launch window for the new system, not even beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible. Still, that doesn’t mean 2021 wasn’t full of great games you could play on your PS5 or your PS4. In fact, here are our picks for the 20 best PlayStation games of the year, with a few PS5 exclusives and then 17 games playable on either system.


As an action shooter, Returnal is a competent enough game. The weapons are interesting if a bit underwhelming at times, though some of the alt-fire moves are truly fantastic and show off the much vaunted power of the PS5—watch as those teraflops go to work orchestrating the particle effects and physics of a dozen balls of deadly blue light bounding and ricocheting like the Mega Millions Lottery Machine bringing death to an entire arena. And the various random powers you’ll accrue can be neat; remember bunnyhopping in Quake? Returnal lets you turn every landed jump into a kinetic blast of death—the ultimate in forward momentum. I don’t like having to retrain my fingers and brain to make sense of the alt fire on the haptic feedback L2 (there’s bumpers, just let me use those), or the impossibly slow recharge time between alt-volleys. It’s the best use of the haptic triggers I’ve experienced on the PS5, but also pulling back like you would in literally every other game since the invention of controller triggers is a muscle memory that gets you killed in Returnal. The alternate fire options are sick as hell, though, and one of the few areas the Housemarque I remember peeks through.—Dia Lacina

2. Little Nightmares II

Little Nightmares II’s best moments outshine even those of the original, especially while utilizing new mechanics such as using blunt objects for light combat sections and a particularly fun Portal-like mechanic added in its penultimate act. Its varied environments and encounters definitely scared me more than the original and one moment near its conclusion made me audibly gasp. When Little Nightmares rolled its credits after just around four hours, many players were left asking, “That’s it?” Multiple times before Little Nightmares II rolled its credits, I thought, “That’s not it?” When producer Lucas Roussel shared that the game would be “definitely longer” than the original, I was at first worried they’d take previous feedback the wrong way and make the game too bloated. Fortunately, the only things bloated in the game are its monsters.—Joseph Stanichar

3.Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy

A deep sense of familiarity clings to the entirety of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, from how it plays, to how it’s structured, to (obviously) the major intellectual property it’s based on. Guardians sticks close to what has proven to be popular and successful in the past, eschewing inspiration and ambition for competence. It’s very competent. I kept chugging along through its story and its battles without either ever feeling like much of a chore. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t have the ingenuity or spark of James Gunn’s movies, but it should do just enough to keep you interested on a lazy afternoon when you don’t have anything else to do. That’s a perfectly fine role for a game to fill, and this game is perfectly fine with filling it.—Garrett Martin

4.It Takes Two

Two-player co-op game It Takes Two’s mundane settings are an opportunity to get wacky with mechanics and gameplay features, which the game will just fling at you. Every level explores a gimmick or series of gimmicks before casting it aside for the next, so it manages to stay remarkably fresh almost the entire way through. One second you’re playing a shooter and the next you may be playing a hack and slash. I don’t want to spoil my absolute favorite, but the amount of ludicrous things that come together to make it happen is nothing short of magic. Little of it makes any sense with or without context, but also It Takes Two comes across as a videogame for the sake of being a videogame, and while I respect that, it does mean the game shoots its own story in the foot often. The game’s simultaneously asking you to care about this impending divorce and the effect it’ll have on their daughter and the ludicrous task to gun down wasps or murdering plushies often! It forces the player to either try and reconcile these nonsensical aspects, or focus on a thing at a time. By the time I reached anything I’ve mentioned, I’d long since shut off my brain and decided to bask in the vibes rather than the story. “Head empty, no thoughts” is the perfect way to enjoy It Takes Two.—Moises Taveras


With Olija it all comes down to the aesthetic—the muted color palette, the hushed tones when characters speak, the overarching sense of loss and despair that permeates the game. And most notably, those archaic visuals that look like they’re from the latest Sierra game you and your friend play on his Tandy computer every afternoon after school. Olija roots its mysteries in the ever-distant, increasingly forgotten past, with all the warmth and sadness that implies.—Garrett Martin

6.The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles

Chronicles is Ace Attorney at its absolute best because it contends with not only its own history as a series but the greater mystery genre that informed its genesis. Moving the point-of-view from a lauded white celebrity to a Japanese man out of his depth is a bold move, and one that shows the glaring flaws in the court system and the inherent racist sentiment that guides it. There’s not a single case that feels like a throwaway—each serves as a chapter in Naruhodo’s path to understanding his own drive for his profession, and carts the player along a grand adventure that overcomes the somewhat static nature present in the original trilogy. It’s an absolute must play for any mystery fan out there.—Austin Jones

7.Lost in Random

Lost in Random is a joy, not just in its shockingly easy-to-grasp amalgamation of gameplay mechanics, but in the entire world Zoink Games has created. Although it lacks the breadth and fidelity of its big budget counterparts, Lost in Random is just as, if not more, immersive and engaging, and it does so within a gameplay system that looks unwieldy but plays like a dream.—Joseph Stanichar


Mundaun’s greatest strength is its source material, Swiss folklore. The format, which relies on exploration and puzzle-solving, isn’t particularly innovative, but the story it facilitates is cryptic and compelling enough to give it momentum. Its pacing is also wonderfully supported by how well the game blends together its exploration and scripted moments, balancing the two so fluidly that its bizarre events come together in a way that feels almost dreamlike. Its darker moments do not feel cinematically imposed on the player, but rather, that they are something that happens to—or with—them. The visuals, for example, often play on light and shadow in a way that relies on the player’s position in the room to progress the scene. Style-wise, its black and white color scheme, often used in similar games to soften rough visual edges (think 2014’s Betrayer), combined with hand-sketched textures (reminiscent of Disturbed from back in 2016), evokes the folksiness of a children’s storybook but channels a grim sparsity that supports its themes well.—Holly Green

9. Knockout City

Multiplayer dodgeball game Knockout City is an absolute blast to pick up and play. It’s inexpensive to boot and simple to keep up with, making it markedly less of a chore to log into, have fun with for an hour or two, and hop back out of unlike most service games. It’s got a fun style and look to it that makes it all the more inviting, and solid enough mechanics to master that I feel satisfied coming back to practice. Straight up, it’s also just fun as hell to play something that isn’t so grim or serious, making Knockout City a success in my eyes.—Moises Taveras

10.Solar Ash

Despite the comparisons it might draw to Shadow of the Colossus, Jet Set Radio or Hyper Light Drifter, Solar Ash delivers a wholly unique experience that combines a smooth, unparalleled sense of speed, incredible level design, and a gorgeous art style. Even if the same can’t be said about its narrative or controls, Solar Ash skates in at the last minute to become one of the year’s most interesting games.—Charlie Wacholz

11.Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi

On its face, dungeon crawler Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi is a game about low-level managers and the employees they supervise. It’s setting is the chaos of job sites. The real evil isn’t the monsters you face—it’s the depravity of the c-suite, holding companies, and puppeteering shareholders. The promise of shares. But also an absence of OSHA protections, a lack of equipment, training, and support. Undernauts is both the body horror of Upton Sinclair and Screaming Mad George. The story beings with a description of the boom period of Yomi exploration, the big corporations and all the money made, and then it bottoms out. That’s where the game itself starts and stays—with a small company trying to make it big by going into the less safe areas of the giant hulk. Big risks and no guarantee you won’t die. Who would take this job? Here it’s “derelicts” who can’t get jobs elsewhere—kids fresh out of college and young women in the middle of an economic downturn, ex-cons, and the disgraced. When the Yominan boom bottoms out greedy companies stretch their already thin ethics to the breaking point and prey on the desperate.—Dia Lacina

12.Black Book

At first, Black Book feels familiar. Its card-based battle system borrows from the explosion of deckbuilding roguelikes, most obviously Slay the Spire. The way the game structures itself around gaining new cards and expanding potential strategies will be familiar to anyone who has played games like this before. However, rather than using a slight narrative framing to hold up a number crunching strategy game, Black Book’s combat feels like the metaphor of a JRPG. It is a system that deepens its themes of people living in a dying ancient myth. Black Book is interested in a world beyond the material, beyond its mathematical parts. Even as it uses math to represent the ephemeral, it tries to ground the numbers in the mythical.—Grace Benfell

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