The 2021 Player 2 Awards – Best AAA Game

As is always the case, The Player 2 team just can’t come to any sort of consensus regarding end of year awards so it is just easier to let everyone have their say. Join us for the 2021 Player 2 Awards and find out which titles kept the team happy during the hell that was this year. 

The 2021 Player 2 Awards - Best AAA Game

Paul James - Metroid Dread

It had been way too long since we’d enjoyed a great Metroid game, and then, out of nowhere Metroid: Samus Returns appeared. Proving their chops with a remake meant that MercurySteam was deemed worthy of a new title. The long-dormant Metroid Dread was sent their way, and it went on to become exceptional. The design is amazing, the difficulty curve spot on, and the plot is incredibly engaging. In an age where so many Metroid inspired have emerged and raised the bar – it’s good to see that the queen of the genre is back atop her throne.

Matt Hewson - Psychonauts 2

Psychonauts 2: Hands-on Preview

There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that is quite like Psychonauts 2. On the surface, it may seem like any other 3D platformer but those superficial impressions barely scratch the surface of what the game offers players.

This is a game that approaches issues like mental health and diversity in a way that no other game before it has done. There is a story here that is unparalleled in the genre and the art direction is perhaps the best I have ever seen.

But most of all, more than anything, Psychonauts 2 has that indescribable intangible that we simply refer to as heart. It brings joy, sadness and laughter in equal measure and carries a message that no one is above redemption. It is a game of healing and the game that the world desperately needs to pay attention to in 2021.

There were many great games this year for me. Hitman 3, Forza Horizon 5, Halo Infinite and more, games that deserve a mention. But Psychonauts 2 is beyond that. It has firmly moved into the best games I have ever played list and will be remembered for decades to come. 

Dylan Burns - Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart

Rift Apart is, so far this year, the only game that makes me feel like I’m actually playing on a new console. And I don’t see that changing. It is a showcase title, a jaw-dropper. It oozes colour and design and smoothness and absolute triple-A focus. I’d even say it’s almost worth the ridiculous RRP.

It’s not even about how you can portal into completely new dimensions/levels. It’s about the design, the effects, the animations, and the insane detail when you go into Photo Mode. Even the writing is good, natural and breezy and just enough to tie objectives to characters. Each environment is the right size – some huge, others less so but still packed full of secrets to find and bolts to collect. And those crazy weapons – when they level up during a boss fight, well it’s just awesome!

I even like the levels that are clearly there to slow proceedings down – the puzzle Clank ones and where you enter computer circuits to literally hunt down viruses. They are fun, light and offer a perfect break from the almost overwhelming feast presented by the rest of the game. Integration with the DualSense is also impressive, with triggers that offer an almost disconcerting amount of resistance for some guns and haptic rumblings that deepen your connection with what is happening on screen. I’m still working through Rift Apart with my wife. It is just as enjoyable to watch as it is to play. Therefore, I have no qualms giving it my vote for this category.

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart - A Ripping Adventure

Stephen del Prado - Psychonauts 2

Reflecting on the entirety of 2021, a year in which I was fortunate enough to be playing across not just one but two new consoles, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat disappointed. Sure, there are several well-made titles for both PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X that launched in 2021, but there was only one game that truly felt like it had exceeded my expectations.

Double Fine’s Psychonauts has had a long journey from financial flop to cult classic, with few expecting a sequel would ever materialise let alone be of such high quality. What the Double Fine team managed to achieve with Psychonauts 2 is nothing short of remarkable, realising the promise of the original via many refinements and improvements in gameplay.

While this would be enough for many sequels which could quite comfortably ride on the goodwill from fans alone, Psychonauts 2 goes further, incorporating a narrative arc that is light years beyond the original’s depiction of mental health issues and highlights just how rapidly societies’ understanding and attitude to these problems has shifted.

Emotional, impactful and brimming with character, Psychonauts 2 was just what I needed to help make 2021 a smoother ride – bonus points for once again showing how much of a win Xbox Game Pass is for Microsoft to boot. 

Chris Lawn - Nier Replicant Ver. 1.22474487139

There are games, and then there are Yoko Taro games. The former are pretty great; the latter are something truly special.

Nier Replicant’s remake isn’t just a fresh coat of paint – it was a chance for the original, with its limited budget and scope, to shine once more. For it to be revised and tweaked, for its legacy to be brought back around on itself. It’s not just a ten-year-old game being brought forward to a current generation of consoles and people, but also a chance to examine what the story, and the characters in particular, truly mean to us.

Despite not being the character you control all game, Kaine is the protagonist of Nier Replicant. She was one of a kind when Nier first graced our PS3’s, and even today, there is no one out there like her. The way Ending E wraps around with Ver. 1.22474487139…, along with other added content throughout the game, only elevates her further to an all-time greatest character across any medium. 

Nier Replicant does a lot of things that elevate it as an all-time classic game, but the one thing that will stick with me always is its characters. Weiss, Emil, and of course, Kaine. There’s no one out there like them. And I would hazard a guess that there may not be again for a good long while.

Rob Caporetto - Mass Effect Legendary Edition

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking it, but 2021 certainly ended up being quite a year. So I guess it kind of makes sense that what I enjoyed the most from the AAA space wasn’t a new release, but rather a new version of an iconic series with Mass Effect Legendary Edition. 

Returning to the Normandy felt like coming back to a place that happened to be incredibly special, and it’s a strength to the series in general that the characters are as memorable all these years later. Particularly as it was the first time I revisited the series since I had played it a good 10 or so years ago. 

What makes it stand out from the crowd is the work done to improve the first game, which was always my favourite of the trilogy. Removing the rough edges here made it a joy to experience again, with less of the painful inventory management which dragged the experience down. 

If you’ve ever been curious about the series, the Legendary Edition really brings the series into the modern-day. This hopefully means more folks can enjoy

Jess Zammit - Psychonauts 2

The first Psychonauts was good, and it’s undeniable that it made an impact on the gaming landscape when it gathered its cult following. But Psychonauts 2… wow. I didn’t expect it to be as incredible as it was, mostly because no game has ever quite managed to do the things it managed to not only do but absolutely knock out of the stratosphere. Its representation and treatment of mental illness is not something that I even believed could be done this well until I saw it happening in front of my eyes, in a way that conveyed warmth, compassion, respect and an understanding that can only come from really take the time to listen and learn from people’s experiences and expertise. 

Psychonauts 2 is a self-proclaimed game about healing, and I think that’s what really made it shine. It wasn’t a game about making mental illness into something horrifying, or turning it into the butt of the joke. It was about recognising that we all deal with our own inner demons, in our own ways, and really, that we are all unique in the way we view the world. These are huge, huge concepts to tackle, and to see a game do it so well was something incredible. I’ve already talked at length about why I loved this game so much, and I’m sure I’ll keep doing it for years to come. The story it told, and the diverse and authentic way in which it told it, isn’t something we’re likely to see again. I could talk about the gameplay, yes – the use of mechanics that uniquely tie into the game’s premise go a long way towards making it so great, and so does the level design. It’s an excellent platformer. But even if it wasn’t, it still would have affected me. 

It’s been a good year for games. Less than two weeks after Psychonauts 2 came out, we had Life is Strange: True Colours, and it was maybe the best two weeks of game releases for me… ever. So I want to give that an honourable mention, too. In any other year it probably would have been my number one. I also enjoyed The Medium really early in the year, and Resident Evil: Village, but nothing else hit me in quite the same way Psychonauts did. 

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