Despite a global pandemic, and a host of postponed releases, 2021 still provided so many genre-defining video games.

From alien wastelands and inter-dimensional travel to detectives, dinosaurs and deathloops, to unpacking boxes and collecting our Pokémon favourites, here's a peek at some of the gems that have kept us sane this past year...

Returnal (PlayStation 5)

Returnal is undoubtedly one of 2021's most difficult games, and if you’re itching for a considerable challenge, then you’ll feel right at home in Atropos.

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You play as space pilot Selene, who crash-lands on the alien planet. It’s a place where everything that moves wants to kill you, and the only thing more unnerving than the horrific monsters that will stalk you, are the various 'other’ Selenes littered throughout the game – all of whom are dead.

As a roguelike game, when Selene dies, she respawns back at the crash site with nothing to show for her efforts - except the foreboding knowledge of what’s to come.

Luckily for you, Selene is a trigger-happy pilot, and you will shoot endless amounts of florescent bullets at the world to defend yourself. My advice? Even if it looks dead, shoot it again just to be safe.

Read our full review of Returnal here.

Jurassic World Evolution 2 (PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC)

With unnerving graphics, innovative features, and Jeff Goldblum's voice, Jurassic World Evolution 2 has all the ingredients required for a dino-tastic game.

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Whether you want to play God and design the perfect dinosaur with superior genetic coding, build an expansive theme park that attracts roaring crowds, or simply want to watch your T-Rex escape and terrorize tourists, this one has it all.

Jurassic World Evolution 2 lends itself equally to console platforms as it does PC, ensuring that whatever controller you’re playing with, you can comfortably construct and manage the parks to your liking.

Whether it’s controlling the capture team to tranquillize wild dinosaurs or driving first-person into enclosures to take photographs, there’s a wide variety of ways this game keeps you in the thick of the action, letting you see your majestic creations up close.

And with story campaigns, missions that revisit some of the movie franchise’s most iconic settings, and a sandbox mode that lets your creativity run wild, Jurassic World Evolution 2 may be focused on prehistoric creatures, but it has a futuristic, innovative approach to gameplay.

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl (Nintendo Switch)

It's hard to believe that this year marked the 25th anniversary of Pokémon. And to end a year filled with celebrations, special events, new games, collaborations and more, comes two timeless classics remastered for the modern age.

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Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl makes the idea of time travel seem possible. Moments in, and you’ll be transported back to 2006, and the beautiful region of Sinnoh. From the iconic soundtrack to the dialogue, and the starter choices of Turtwig, Chimchar and Piplup, everything will reignite a Pokémon memory of some kind.

It’s textbook Pokémon, and one newcomers unfamiliar with the region will undoubtedly still enjoy. You play as a rookie trainer, setting off on an adventure to fill your Pokédex, collect gym badges, and challenge the Elite Four. There’s also the evil Team Galactic to contend with, who hope to harness a Legendary Pokémon’s power for their benefit.

The animations, whether they be in battle or as part of the game’s 'super contests’, are superb on the Switch and elevate the game to newer heights. The game’s ‘chibi’ art style, paired with its iconic soundtrack, links everything back to the original game’s roots and aesthetics.

For seasoned trainers who’ve already conquered Sinnoh in past games, there are some choice additions. The Underground is back and better than before, boasting new areas for you to explore. You can hunt for more powerful and varied Pokémon types much earlier now, too, addressing one of the drawbacks to the original’s condensed Pokédex. Some of the most welcome changes are simple in theory, like no longer needing to teach your team HMs to progress through the game (so long Bidoof!)

Taking advantage of everything the Nintendo Switch console has to offer, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl offers faithful recreations of what for me, were some of Pokémon’s glory days. They strike a perfect balance between nostalgia and modernity, reminding us what made Diamond & Pearl so iconic in the first place, and the perfect send-off for the anniversary festivities.

It Takes Two (PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Series X/ S, Xbox One, PC)

The truth is in the name – It Takes Two is an innovative game where teamwork and cooperation are instrumental to everything. In my view, it's an unmissable experience in gaming this year.

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You and a friend will play as May and Cody, two warring parents going through a bitter divorce. Their constant fighting has had a big impact on their daughter Rose, and when a mysterious spell transforms both parents into clay dolls, they finally realise the error of their ways.

Working together, the parents navigate their house to try and restore themselves to human form. But travelling around your house as a clay doll is risky business, and it’s this premise that lends itself beautifully to the hilarious, imaginative and downright whimsical nature of It Takes Two.

You’ll spend as much time watching your partner’s side of the screen to hypothesize what needs doing next, with gameplay that has easily redefined what co-operative gaming means. And to sweeten the deal, the game’s Friend's Pass requires only one of you to own a copy of the game – now that’s what I call teamwork.

Read our full review of It Takes Two here.

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart (PlayStation 5)

With jaw-dropping graphics, hyperactive combat, and the world's favourite Lombax taking centre stage again, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is the quintessential game to play if you want to see what the PlayStation 5 is capable of.

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You play as the lovable Ratchet, who alongside sidekick Clank, must do battle with Dr. Nefarious once more, who this time is exploiting rifts in dimensions.

In true Ratchet fashion, it's dealer’s choice in what you use to face off against Nefarious and his goons. Lob bombs at them, fire saw blades, shoot missiles, or transform them into plants with a sprinkler – creativity is at the core of every face-off.

What’s possibly the most exciting about Rift Apart is the introduction of two new playable heroes, a Lombax named Rivet, and her companion robot, Kit. Both fit into the series perfectly and arguably hold some of the game’s most memorable stories and levels.

Speaking of levels, each one is littered with high-octane action, taking you from grinding rails under gunfire, to 'lassoing’ yourself behind enemies for sneak attacks. All loaded in an instant, every pixel on screen will have out-of-this-world levels of detail.

Read our full review of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart here.

Resident Evil: Village (PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC, Google Stadia)

Set in a monstrous Transylvanian world, Resident Evil Village is a survival horror game that will delight and terrify you in equal measure. It is one of the shining stars of 2021, where gigantic vampires and werewolves are the least of your worries.

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You play as Ethan Winters, arguably one of gaming's unluckiest of characters. In the opening scenes alone, he’ll go through some pretty horrific ordeals that sets a firm tone to the game – it is the one in control, do your best to survive.

Unfortunately, things will only get worse.

Awakening in the Village, your mission is clear – rescue daughter Rose from four mysterious Lords, and their head honcho, Mother Miranda. All the while, the game will feed off your paranoia, constantly threatening you with 'what could be’ in the next room.

Sometimes, routes are empty and you’ll have spent an incredible amount of time tip-toeing through emptiness. Other times, however, you are well within your rights to be scared, with gnarls, snarls and roars coming from above, behind and below.

In true Resident Evil fashion, the game’s bosses take centre stage and are equal parts camp, and horrifying. From the 9ft 6" vampire Lady Dimitrescu, (who undoubtedly deserves her own spin-off), to terrifying puppets, mermaids, and every other staple from horror fiction you can think of, boss fights are zany and part in parcel of why this game has commanded so much love and adoration from gamers this past year.

Read our full review of Resident Evil: Village here.

Sherlock Holmes Chapter 1 (PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC)

Elementary and exemplary, the latest Sherlock Holmes game transports players to the very beginning of the detective's career, and has a host of fun, challenging and intricate cases for you to solve.

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Equipped with a keen eye for clues, a gun and your imaginary friend Jon, Sherlock travels back to his childhood home to visit his mother’s grave. However, at every turn, are a series of crimes (usually involving murders) where Sherlock can’t but help to be in the thick of it.

Reconstruct crimes in your mind, link evidence together to make plausible scenarios, and thrift through crime scenes to leave no stone unturned. Chemically analyse evidence to extract deeper meaning, or shoot your way through waves of criminal gangs and make arrests like the vigilante that you were born to be.

There is no guidebook to follow – accuse and convict whoever you see fit; let the person go, or seek justice for them. The power is all in your hands. And as an open-world game, you’re free to explore the gorgeous city for yourself, picking up side-quests and steering Sherlock towards the world-class detective he’s destined to become.

Back 4 Blood (PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC)

With gory, action-packed gameplay, with hints of strategy and cooperation, Back 4 Blood is a clever first-person shooter that suggests the end of the world isn't so bad... So long as you have some friends and a gun.

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Playing as a 'Cleaner’, your task is to get rid of these ‘Ridden’ creatures by any means necessary. Usually, a hail of bullets will suffice, but as more hordes set upon you, you’ll fight, slash, stab and run your way through it all.

This game throws everything and the kitchen sink at you, in levels where even the smallest noise can trigger an avalanche of undead beasts hungry for your blood.

The best part of Back 4 Blood is undoubtedly its co-op mentality. Group with friends to ensure each one of you survives the ordeal, can strategise your powerups, share equipment, and give the undead everything you got. You may even feel secure enough to challenge some of the game’s most difficult modes, where friendly fire is turned on and you’ll have to consider every shot you take.

Clever, addictive and with horror, fright and delight all around, Back 4 Blood proves there’s plenty of fun to be had surviving the apocalypse. Just don’t trigger any car alarms or birds while you’re at it!

Read our full review of Back 4 Blood here.

Deathloop (PlayStation 5, PC)

One of the favourites to nab the top spot at this year's Game Awards, Deathloop is an action-packed assassinating extravaganza, with a never-ending time loop that never ceases to entertain.

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Set on the island of Blackreef, you’re destined to experience the same day on a loop. Play as Colt, and your mission is to break the time cycle by besting eight of the island big-wigs. But play as Julianna, and you’re determined to preserve the loop, and entrap Colt in the repeating day indefinitely.

With every run Colt experiences, he has new information to piece together to better his chances of survival. Whether you favour the calm and steady approach or want to burst through all guns ablaze, it’s your choice. But since Colt must execute eight individuals in a single day, some ingenuity is required and every risk should be measured considerably beforehand.

And just when you think you’re making traction, then Julianna appears to dismember you; especially the case if controlled by another player who entered your world just to torment your progress.

With clever gameplay, a twist on PVP and roguelike elements thrown in, Deathloop is a cacophony of fun, delight and genius, whose hype and critical acclaim is more than deserved.

Far Cry 6 (PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC, Amazon Luna, Google Stadia)

Hollywood's favourite villain Giancarlo Esposito (AKA Breaking Bad's Gus Fring) is back, and this time he’s a tyrant named Antón Castillo. If you’ve ever fancied yourself a guerrilla warrior, then you’ll feel right at home facing up against him in Far Cry 6.

The island of Yara is in political turmoil, and it’s up to Dani Rojas, a military dropout, to settle the odds against Castillo. Putting your dreams of emigration aside, you’ll take up arms in a game that allows you great creative freedom as to how you go about your business.

An abundance of guns, weaponry and vantage points ensures that combat is always fresh. You can further scout enemies with your handy mobile phone to spot their weaknesses, and dispatch them in true guerrilla warrior fashion – or simply go in all guns blazing and hope for the best.

If you’re feeling eccentric, you can also summon a host of sidekicks, including a man-eating crocodile – because, why not? With DLCs aplenty planned, expect your stay in Yara to be lengthy, gory and above all else, highly entertaining.

Read our full review of Far Cry 6 here.

Unpacking (Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC)

Unpacking is one of the most deceptively fun games of the year, and has been praised across social media for its unique, understated storytelling mechanics.

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A zen puzzle game, the aim is to simply pull out possessions from boxes, and find a place for them in your new home. No two players will perhaps play this game the same way.

All the while you'll learn new clues about the life you’re unpacking; from their triumphs and celebrations to more nuanced objects. Every item has unique sounds and despite it being a 2D game, it feels incredibly tactile and interactive.

Novel, simple yet innovative, and with story-telling at its heart, Unpacking is calming, rewarding and - ultimately - a moving gaming experience.

Metroid Dread (Nintendo Switch)

A triumphant return to classic side-scrolling, Metroid Dread is an action-packed, science-fiction horror thrill ride from beginning to end.

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In true Metroidvania fashion, you'll guide intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran through a labyrinth of futuristic monsters and creepy creatures, gradually gaining power, momentum and powerups to unlock further crevices of the game. Her goal? To investigate the re-emerged X parasite. But to do that, she first needs to recover her gear – and fast.

As you progress throughout the game and unlock more abilities, Samus’ combat prowess well and truly shines. She is a hell of a fighter, and in time will make mince of anyone (or thing) in her path. Sometimes, however, the game requires a different approach, like stealth and subterfuge, or simply seeing if you can outrun enemies long enough to escape.

Altogether, Dread rewards creative thinking, quick reactions and pattern-spotting to succeed. A myriad of puzzles and hidden collectables will keep your exploration hat firmly on at all times. And with a fleshed-out story, beautifully designed levels, the long-awaited continuation of Samus Aran's journey has well and truly been worth it.

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)

We're now in an era of remasters and remakes, where the gems of games gone by are revisited with a fresh lick of paint. And if you’re looking for a textbook example of how it’s done properly, look no further than Mass Effect: Legendary Edition.

Perfect for fans of the series to revisit, and even more so for newcomers, this game contains a generous helping of the first three games, alongside DLC content. Expect more than 100+ gameplay – minimum.

Your choices in Mass Effect matter. Decisions you make in the first game will come about as late as the third, providing a seamless experience from start to finish. So too is the level of customization on offer, where you choose from appearance and skills to a personalized arsenal, to romance options and much, much more.

If you fancy a meaty helping of action RPG, and are curious about the story of Captain Shepard, now’s your best chance to relive the Mass Effect magic.

Battlefield 2042 (PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC)

Set in a futuristic war ground filled with high-tech gadgets and outright mayhem, Battlefield 2042 is a multiplayer with enough carnage, chaos and comradery to potentially become your go-to squad game.

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Whilst there's no singer player campaign, there are three multiplayer modes you can choose, each of which has even further customization. 'All-Out Warfare' allows you to play two different setups; 'Conquest’ for large-scale battles to secure strategic locations until your enemies run out of reinforcements, and ‘Breakthrough’, where you capture points and force the enemies to retreat further and further back.

With up to 128 players in the lobby, you can expect high-octane, frenzied fire at every turn. That’s not to mention the beautiful landscapes you’ll shed blood on, each of which has their own distinctive tone, and whom can fall victim to tornados and storms, heightening the mood and disorder of every match.

'Hazard zone' is a brand new PVPVE mode with battle royale elements. You fight against an enemy team and AIs to secure data drives, before escaping the map. It’s best enjoyed over comms with mates, as there’s a minimum level of coordination required to succeed.

Lastly, Portal mode is arguably where Battlefield 2042 puts its best foot forward, by ironically revisiting its past. In Portal, you can relive and replay previous Battlefield instalments, including 1942, Bad Company 2 Rush, and Battlefield 3 Conquest. You can also host custom lobbies, change specific rules to your liking, and create your own game within a game with all the bells, whistles, and guns you’d ever want.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits (PlayStation 4/5, PC)

Ever wondered what a Pixar video game would look like? Well, Kena: Bridge of Spirits fits the bill. It's a charming, whimsical and unquestionable gorgeous game that disguises classic platformer mechanics with futuristic levels of graphical detail.

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Playing as the titular Kena, your work as a spirit guide sees you traverse across a corrupted forest. Along the way, you’ll collect the Rot, tiny minion-esque creatures who will no doubt appear on plushie toy aisles in months to come.

With the help of the Rot and her trusty spirit weapons, Kena cleanses areas of the forest one by one, restoring it to peak health. There’s something incredibly satisfying about watching Kena do this, where a simple button press transforms an entire area into an explosion of flowers, grass and life.

With unnervingly beautiful graphics, magic, whimsy and heart at its core, Kena is a delight from start to finish and above all else, a very promising debut from studio Ember Labs.

Read our full review of Kena: Bridge of Spirits here.