Here are the five games I played the most in 2021, all on the PC. Two were bought from Steam but the rest are from Xbox Game Pass, which continues to represent excellent value.
As I mentioned in my review of Halo Infinite, I don’t get much time to play these days. I have a large queue of games I’m itching to try this year, including Control and Death Stranding.
Elite Dangerous (Steam)
My gaming origin story begins in the 1980s and my touchstone is the original Elite for the BBC Micro, written by Ian Bell and David Braben and published by Acornsoft.
I’ve played most of the sequels over the years, but Elite Dangerous is the first to have the engagement I felt in the original. There is much to praise - a huge one-to-one scale galaxy, multiple game careers, and longer story arcs which add to the sense of a living civilisation.
In 2021, Frontier Developments released Odyssey, a major expansion which brought on-foot mechanics to Elite Dangerous. It’s fair to say that this effort met with a very mixed response. To those like myself who primarily enjoy the ship-based mechanics, the ability to stretch my legs in stations and on planets was a nice benefit. Those looking for a high-quality FPS experience were disappointed.
I’m not sure how much time I will spend in the Elite Dangerous universe in 2022. Parts of it - such as grinding for engineering upgrades - are very frustrating. And there exist significant gaps in the sense of immersion, such as the ability to walk through your own ships. Although such features are probably a lot of work to implement for limited apparent benefit, they can make a big difference, and are something that other space exploration games like Star Citizen have embraced.
Flight Simulator (Xbox Game Pass)
The other game I’ve dipped in and out of through 2021 was Microsoft Flight Simulator. The modelling of the entire globe is a pretty amazing achievement, and the quality of that rendering has continued to improve with time.
I love that you can choose the fidelity of the flying experience - it’s easy to just drop in to the game with a plane and location of your choice. But if you want all the realism and complexity of commercial flight, it’s all there.
Like Elite Dangerous, I use a HOTAS setup for Flight Simulator from Virpil. This was a big investment, but really enhances the sense of immersion in both games.
One small frustration are the regular giant updates - often I have sat down to play and found a 30GB patch must be installed first. I guess that is the price of continuous improvement.
Cyberpunk 2077 (Steam)
I loved all things cyberpunk as a teenager, and was tracking the development of this game. Then it launched with major issues so I didn’t get around to playing it until nearly a year later (and it was on sale).
Although there are still glitches and areas of very poor frame rates, it is a fascinating environment and very playable. There is a huge level of detail in the large playing area which is great to explore.
I’m really just getting started with the campaign, but I’m already looking forward to the mooted expansions to this world.
Doom Eternal (EA Play via Xbox Game Pass)
So this was a bit of fun. I played many of the original id games back in the day so was curious about Doom Eternal. It’s okay. It certainly has that gonzo feel, but I got stuck towards the end of the campaign and gave up after a few attempts to make progress. There are better alternatives out there.
Halo Infinite (Xbox Game Pass)
Of the games I played in 2021, Halo Infinite was the standout.
As I mentioned in my earlier review, Halo Infinite apparently had a troubled development with large pieces of content being excised. What remains feels very coherent, with a rich, detailed environment and enough of a story arc to keep you engaged.
I haven’t played any of the series preceding Halo Infinite, so I am catching up a little with the backstory.