2021: the year in games

New consoles that people couldn’t buy, huge titles delayed until next year — Covid wrought a strange year for gaming. Still, with player numbers booming and the continuing resurgence of the indie sector, the games industry looks set for a stellar 2022.

Metroid Dread (2021)

2021 draws to a close with gamers partying like it’s 2001 due to the triumphant return of Halo, but it’s undoubtedly been a year of ups and downs for the industry as whole.  

PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X consoles remained scarce throughout the year, with stock refreshes selling out in minutes. Sony boss Jim Ryan said “we understand the inventory constraints remain a source of frustration for many of our customers”, but with the company set to manufacture one million less consoles than originally planned, it seems like shortages will continue well into 2022.

Xbox head Phil Spencer also warned that the shortages will persist “through the end of this calendar year and into the next calendar year” for Microsoft’s console. With multiple Covid-related issues around chip shortages, supply chain woes and sky high demand, it may still be a while before most consumers can experience the latest generation in console gaming.

In July Nintendo finally revealed the long rumoured upgrade to its massively successful hybrid console with the announcement of the Switch OLED. Despite the updated hardware boasting a larger screen and a crystal clear OLED display, it’s fair to say that initial enthusiasm was muted and the unveiling was a distinct disappointment for many. Rumours had persisted that the new machine was going to have more raw power and a 4K output, so a slightly nicer screen and the addition of a wired LAN port was never going to meet expectations. However, the hardware reviewed very favourably and it has continued to impress in sales. It seems the Switch isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

The year saw two of Nintendo’s big hitters took one step close to their middle aged years, with The Legend of Zelda and Metroid both celebrating their 35th anniversary. Although not as extravagant as the birthday celebrations afforded to golden boy Mario in the previous year, fans were still treated to more footage of Breath of Wild 2, and the surprise unveiling of Metroid Dread – a title rumoured since 2005.

Delays were a common theme in 2021, with big hitters such as Gran Turismo 7, Gotham Knights and God of War: Ragnarok shunted into 2022. But the year still turned up some fantastic titles. Forza Horizon 5 showed that the open world racing game still has wheels, while Deathloop delivered a 60s-style world infused with Arkane’s trademark tight gameplay mechanics. Expectations for Psychonauts 2 were at fever pitch after a 16-year absence, but developer Double Fine still managed to impress.

Psychonauts 2 (2021)Double Fine

On the indie front, Disco Elysium finally arrived on consoles to the expected critical acclaim (despite some initial technical hiccups) and Devolver published another hit with Death’s Door – a deep isometric adventure in a beautifully bleak world. Heart Machine delivered a stellar follow up to Hyper Light Drifter with Solar Ash – an absolutely eye-popping action title. Other notable titles from the year include Sable, The Ascent, Axiom Verge 2 and the beautifully haunting Mundaun.

Following on from Cyberpunk 2077’s disastrous September 2020 launch, the release of Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition proved to be this year’s biggest surprising critical bomb. Complaints ranged from overpowering rain effects to bizarre textures and spelling errors, and although the game is slowly being patched, it may well be too late to restore confidence in this misjudged remake of a trio of legendary titles.

Disco Elysium (2019)ZA/UM

Google’s Stadia platform also continued to struggle in 2021 with the format failing to gain traction with consumers and new games being added to the library at a snail’s pace. In February the company shuttered its first-party Stadia Games and Entertainment studios, cancelling its plans to develop exclusive first-party games. Game streaming is still something of an unknown and it appears that audiences prefer a subscription service like Xbox Game Pass, which offers a mix of streaming and game downloads so people can dip their toes in streaming tech as opposed to diving in at the deep end.

So what could 2022 hold? One thing’s for sure, it seems that game subscription services will continue to grow exponentially. Microsoft announced Xbox Game Pass had 18 million subscribers in January 2021, and with more and more large titles added to the service throughout the year we can be sure that the number is much higher now. Rumours are circulating that Sony plan to expand and merge their PS Now and PS Plus services into something to take on Microsoft while also exploiting their expansive back catalogue of games from PS1, PS2, PS3 and PSP. Netflix are also beginning to move into video games, so it seems likely that subscription service models will become more commonplace in the games industry throughout the year.

There’s undoubtedly some huge titles due for release in 2022. Elden Ring, FromSoftware’s ambitious collaboration with George R. R. Martin, is already racking up massive hype after a successful network test. Horizon Forbidden West from Sony continues to astonish with each new showcase, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 is the follow-up to one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time.

With these titles in addition to a large group of games that were due for release last year but delayed until 2022, players can look forward to an expensive, exciting year with prolonged stretches of game backlog anxiety. I can’t wait.

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