The 20 Best PlayStation Games of 2021

Games Lists
The 20 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 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.

20. Returnal


Platform: PlayStation 5

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

19. Little Nightmares II


Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5

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

18. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5

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

17. It Takes Two


Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5

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

16. Olija


Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5

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

15. The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5

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

14. Lost in Random

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5

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

13. Mundaun


Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5

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

12. Knockout City

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5

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

11. Solar Ash

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5

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

10. Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5

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

9. Black Book

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5

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

8. Chicory: A Colorful Tale

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5

Chicory is filled with contemplative moments on the purpose of art and how it relates to the mental and spiritual health of the artist. The protagonist soon falls into the dangerous pit of comparing themself to other artists—previous wielders, their sister (a talented artist in school for her craft, while they’re just a novice), and others aspiring to become the wielder someday. There’s a lot of doubt that comes with being “the chosen one” here, and it’s even more salient given the wielder can step down at any time and pass The Brush to whoever they want. It’s enough to make the player question their own biases about art; do they value education and skill over enthusiasm? What is the function of art if it’s grown to only make us unhappy?—Austin Jones

7. Dungeon Encounters


Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5

Dungeon Encounters might be the greatest dungeon crawler of all time. Bringing together veteran Final Fantasy director Hiroyuki Ito (creator of the Active Time Battle system), rockstar composer Nobuo Uematsu, and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance artist Ryoma Ito, this game is an ATB love letter to Original Dungeons & Dragons. Throw together a party of a Panther-man, a single mom with a medieval shotgun, a golden retriever, even a robot, and go exploring actual graph paper mazes littered with hexadecimal encounters. Dungeon Encounters is the genre stripped to its bones, and made to dance with charm, mirth, and the sharpest approach to combat the genre has ever seen.—Dia Lacina

6. Resident Evil Village

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5

Resident Evil Village goes to great lengths to instill an ominous atmosphere with an odd undercurrent of lightness—there’s a ton of dread, like in Resident Evil 7’s early moments, but there’s an added layer of goofiness that seriously cuts the tension. I love that. Resident Evil has always been goofy; horror games in general are filled to the brim with cheese and insane situations, from UFOs in Silent Hill to dorky dialogue in Until Dawn. Something about allowing the audience to participate in the horror directly through controlling the game’s central victim creates hilarious moments, intentional or otherwise. I’ll always remember fondly the first time I played Alien: Isolation with a friend and learning the hard way that you aren’t actually safe while crawling in a vent. The comedy of horror, derived from inconsistencies in tone and questionable choices no human would make, is an integral element that’s simply not acknowledged enough. When I remember a horror movie, I should laugh about my naïve experience sitting through it. I should be eager to terrify my friends with it, to grin as they jump out of their seats.—Austin Jones

5. Hitman 3


Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5

Playing Hitman 3 feels like being thrown into a random improv scene. You’re constantly switching parts, objectives, and wardrobe, making sure never to break character before you eliminate your target. Every stage is a performance, and they’re all incredibly distinct and fun. You play as world-class executioner, Agent 47, and due to his occupation there’s a thick cloud of intensity and death that follows him around every corner. Each contract sends you to varied and visually striking locations all over the globe, setting up flexible environment-specific boundaries while simultaneously encouraging you to push against them (or even throw it all out and do it your way). Both the plot and general premise of IO Interactive’s Hitman 3 are straight-faced and sober, yet it somehow manages to be one of the funniest games I’ve played in a minute due to clever prop comedy and witty, well-written NPCs. After spending a bunch of time playing around in its charming and compact world, Hitman 3 has proven to be a well-constructed assassination sandbox full of tension, fashion, and possibility. —Funké Joseph

4. Deathloop

Platforms: PlayStation 5

At the end of the day, the loop is all that matters. Deathloop leaves it all out on the table, reconstructing the immersive sim a few different ways in order to pull you under. Luckily for the game, it’s a damn marvel and works like a charm. While I can nitpick about Deathloop’s shortcomings, I’d rather just point you to a game that’s a joy to play, confident in itself, touts two wonderful Black leads, looks wonderful, and rewards you for thinking outside the box. While it doesn’ quite feel like an evolution of the formula, it’s almost assuredly Arkane’s most feature-complete and refined take on it. Deathloop is countless things, and most of them are great.—Moises Taveras

3. Death’s Door


Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5

Death’s Door implicitly argues something the entertainment world at large needs to understand: Nostalgia doesn’t have to be shameless or oppressive. It doesn’t have to be the summation of a game’s (or a movie’s, or a TV show’s) ambition. It doesn’t have to be splashed all over the cover and title screen, or the full extent of the marketing campaign. Death’s Door deeply evokes the spirit of some of the most beloved games of all time, and does it well enough that anybody familiar with those legendary games will no doubt recognize and appreciate it. And it does all this with a context and presentation that makes it feel new and vital and not just like a calculated imitation of the past. It takes so much of what made the original Zelda and A Link to the Past into timeless classics, but makes them into their own. Nostalgia can be part of the package, but it shouldn’t be the whole point, and Death’s Door’s cocktail of mechanical nostalgia and narrative creativity is something we don’t see enough of in today’s IP-crazed business.—Garrett Martin

2. Psychonauts 2

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5

Psychonauts 2 feels like a game made by real people who care about real people. Many games have come down the pike the last several years with a focus on the psychological state of its characters, and thus its players, but too often they lack any tact or any legitimate insight into how people think and feel. They use sorrow and violence as shortcuts, relying on cheap scares and easy provocation. It’s like they’re made by machines, or the board room, or some algorithm that slightly rearranges previous AAA hits into something that’s supposedly new. Too many of these games fall into that witless trap of thinking something “serious” and “important” must also be humorless and dark, unrelentingly grim and fatalistic. Psychonauts 2 reveals that for the nonsense that it is, showing that you can more powerfully and realistically depict emotion when you use warmth, humor, humanity—the whole scope of emotions that make us who we are. Psychonauts 2 asks “how does it feel to feel?”, and then shows the answer to us—and the games industry at large—in brilliant colors.—Garrett Martin

1. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

Platform: PlayStation 5

The first real reason to own a PlayStation 5, Rift Apart is an embellishment on a formula that’s worked for 19 years. It’s splashy and charming. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it absolutely will dive into talking about trauma and disability, and tackle questions of belonging and imposter syndrome in ways that are simple enough to speak to children, but honest enough to resonate with adults. And at times, it manages to be surprisingly funny despite being entirely predictable, knitting trope to trope in a tapestry wrapped in more tropes. It’s a simple but surprisingly earnest and compassionate game. What carries this big flashy sci-fi romp along and helps elevate it from a simple farce is this charm and humanity. Rift Apart has the heart that Guardians of the Galaxy could never find.—Dia Lacina

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