Peter Quill punching an alien in a screenshot from 'Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy' (2021)
Peter Quill punching an alien in a screenshot from 'Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy' (2021)
Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy (2021) Marvel
Stories & Ideas

Mon 13 Dec 2021

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Your museum of screen culture

Our resident gamers pick their favourite videogames of 2021.

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy

Eidos Montreal/Square Enix

The crew of the Milano - screenshot from 'Marvel's Guardian's of the Galaxy' (2021)

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy (2021) Marvel

After the dumpster fire that was the 2020 The Avengers game, I don’t think anyone was expecting much from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. However, what we got was a brilliantly written love letter to its source material that was perhaps the most fun I had with a videogame this year. Taking its cues from the comic book series (2008) rather than the Marvel films, you control Peter Quill, AKA Star-Lord, and his rag-tag group of space misfits as they try to save the universe. What makes this game a standout is the love shown to its characters; spending time with them was a pure joy and I would hang around a scene just to listen to the witty additional dialogue and interactions between the crew of the Milano. Added to this immersion are beautifully rendered environments and lavish set pieces that make Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy an action adventure you will want to play more than once. And don’t get me started on the soundtrack – there is nothing quite like blowing the ever-living hell out of slimy space monsters to the strains of Blue Oyster Cult’s ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’. A rip-roaring good time.

– Arieh Offman, Programmer and Videogames Curator

Resident Evil Village


Ethan pointing a gun at Lady Dimitrescu in a screenshot from 'Resident Evil - Village' (2021)

Resident Evil Village (2021) Capcom

Usually, once I finish the main storyline of any triple A game, I put down the controller and get on with my life. This is often to my detriment; for instance, I stupidly missed the post credits scene in God of War (2018) and only found out about Kratos' visitor about a year later. Resident Evil Village was one of those rare instances where I did a full playthrough twice in a row (the other was Half Life 2). I wanted to search every nook and cranny of its gothic world and couldn’t wait to return to learn more about its campy and creepy denizens.

The eighth instalment in the patchy yet always fun Resident Evil series, Village picks up the storyline from Resident Evil 7. You play as Ethan Winters, a regular guy with not-so-regular regenerative powers who crash lands in the titular village, located somewhere in a fictionalised isolated region of eastern Europe, frozen in time. In the game you battle hordes of Lycans (werewolves), cyborgs, Varcolacs (scarier werewolves), sword-wielding undead and sexy vampires. But the highlight is undoubtedly the four lords who defer to the main antagonist Mother Miranda, like some dysfunctional family unit: The giant, glamourous vampire matriarch Lady Dimitrescu; the silent, veiled Donna Beneviento who speaks through a tiny floating doll dressed as a bride; the grotesque and pitiful fish monster Moreau; and the obnoxious engineer with Magneto-like powers, Heisenberg. To quote the late Carrie Fisher talking about the new Star Wars sequel trilogy: “it’s about family”.

Fun and self-aware, Village takes all the elements of great past entries in the series – interesting puzzles, effective tension and jaw-dropping moments ­– while being accessible to players new to the franchise.

– Dilan Gunawardana, Website Coordinator

Disco Elysium: The Final Cut


A standoff in Disco Elysium - Final Cut (2021)

Disco Elysium: The Final Cut (2021) ZA/UM

It seems a little unfair that Estonian studio ZA/UM are so good that Disco Elysium, one of the most critically lauded games of 2019, is also one of the most critically lauded games of 2021, but Disco Elysium: The Final Cut is seriously that good. This redux of the studio’s 2019 debut title is essentially a detective mystery RPG – but it defies every stereotype that those genre markers might suggest. Revolving around a unique skill-check system inspired by tabletop RPGS like Dungeons and Dragons, the narrative of Disco Elysium is propelled not by combat encounters, but by conversation, impulse and instinct.

Although combat free, Disco Elysium is not for the faint of heart: the game’s narrative approach far surpasses the pale moral greys of a typical cop drama, delving into addiction, corruption and the violence people inflict on each other on a systemic and interpersonal level. The game progresses as the protagonist wars with his own instincts and reflexes, trying to solve the crime in a world of moral and political complexities and contradictions.

The Final Cut has over one million (!) words of voice acted dialogue, and combined with the painterly art style, it gives the game a theatrical edge. What would be a better word for this genre? Baroque-industrial-despairecore? A do-it-for-Kim-Kitsuragi simulator? Whatever it is, Disco Elysium: The Final Cut perfects it.

– Jini Maxwell, Assistant Curator


Witch Beam

Unpacking video game by Witchbeam

Unpacking (2021) Witch Beam

Having experienced the highs and lows of moving house four times in the last five years, the simple premise of Unpacking clicked with me: unpack your belongings from boxes and place them around rooms in a house. Thankfully, the game doesn’t include the more stressful aspects of moving like searching for properties or sorting out removalists. Instead, you’re given the Zen task of placing and rearranging beloved objects in various rooms to make your house a home. However, Unpacking is more than just a puzzle sim game.

There are eight ‘levels’ that each encompass a stage in the life of a young woman – our protagonist. I won’t reveal too much about these stages as they form the narrative of the game which isn’t stated in dialogue or lengthy text but unfolds gently in your mind as you move books, toys, toiletries and appliances around your house.

There's one stage in particular that sums up the genius of Unpacking. You move in with what appears to be musician, although the dark, sterile, yuppie aesthetic of his apartment betrays a conflicting personality. In this stage you must wedge belongings and your identity into his life and even hide away your accomplishments. It’s heartbreaking to speculate on the compromises our protagonist has made to end up in such a cramped place.

Clinching the Game of the Year trophy at this year's Australian Game Developer Awards, Unpacking is a charming, slow paced and poignant experience, and yet another example of Australian devs leading the way in engaging and innovative game design.

– Dilan Gunawardana, Website Coordinator


Arkane Studios/Bethesda

Colt and Julianne face off in 'Deathloop' (2021)

Deathloop (2021) Arkane Studios/Bethesda

Arkane Studios have been developing a formula over the years that becomes more refined with each game; with Deathloop they have the core gameplay loop almost perfected. The game is set on the isle of Black Reef which is stuck in a time loop that resets at the end of each day. Taking control of Colt Vahn, the player is tasked with taking down eight ‘visionaries’ in order to end the loop – however Julianna, the game’s vocal antagonist is there to stop you. Known primarily for their work on the Dishonoured franchise, and the underrated and brilliant Prey reboot, Arkane's games are renowned for offering players a variety of ways to approach each situation. Want to walk in guns blazing? Sneak your way in like a ghost? Deathloop has you sorted. What makes the game so interesting is the unique way that problems can be approached through the time loop mechanic. Learning the routines of different characters is key, as this presents endless opportunities for inventive and satisfying solutions. It also has one of the more interesting uses of multiplayer in recent times, with other players able to jump into the single player campaign to oppose you as Julianna. A wickedly fun game that oozes replayability.

– Arieh Offman, Programmer and Videogames Curator

Hitman 3

IO Interactive

Agent 47 standing on a tower above the clouds - screenshot from 'Hitman 3' (2021)

Hitman 3 (2021) IO Interactive

In Hitman 3, you play as Agent 47, an assassin tasked with eliminating targets in exotic locations around the world – each with a healthy dose of the unexpected. One level starts in the woods at night and eventually leads to a rave at a nightclub set in an abandoned nuclear power plant. The game is filled with moments like these. Its gameplay is great (and morbidly hilarious), it has surprisingly high mission variety and amazing visuals. However, I nominated Hitman 3 for this list for different reasons.

Amid the fifth (or sixth, or seventh?) lockdown, my partner walked past as I was wandering around a high-end seaside locale in the Maldives looking for a target. At this point I was burning out on the game, because there was little else to do in lockdown. She sat down, asked what I was doing, then asked if we could visit the in-game spa. What was initially a game about finding the exact moment and method to kill someone became one of exploration. It was a transient and imperfect respite from our 5km radius limit, but a respite, nonetheless.

Over the last two years, our familiar interactions – workplace meetings, trivia nights, classes – had to be rjigged for the same screens that pre-pandemic society always told us to avoid in favour of the real world. That little moment on the digital sands of the Maldives encapsulated the issues, complications and – yes – the joy that videogames brought during ‘unprecedented times’, and made Hitman 3, already an amazing game, even more memorable.

– Mar Cruz, Digital Preservation Technician


Daniel Mullins Games/Devolver Digital

Holding a deck of cards in first person view in a forest dungeon setting -  screenshot from 'Inscryption' (2021) Daniel Mullins Games/Devolver Digital

Inscryption (2021) Daniel Mullins Games/Devolver Digital

The best thing you should know about Inscryption before you play it is… absolutely nothing. Don’t read a review, don’t listen to a podcast, don’t even keep reading this. Go download it. Of all the games to play blind, this is one of the best.

If you need a little more convincing, Inscryption is one of the most surprising games I’ve played in years. You start with a simple yet intriguing deck building game with roguelite elements and end up neck-deep in a narrative that explodes past the limitations of genre. It’s a wild ride.

Thrilling in its willingness to get weird, Inscryption feels like a playable version of an early 2000s creepypasta, with all the spookiness of a campfire ghost story (hats off to the impeccable audio design for this one) but none of the scariness of an actual horror game. Designer Daniel Mullins mixes and matches genres with confidence, and even when these monumental shifts in genre or narrative didn’t 100% gel with me, the sheer daring was enough to keep me engaged. I feel like I’ve already said too much. Don’t read any further. Go play it.

– Jini Maxwell, Assistant Curator

Video World

Things for Humans

Interacting with a ghostly Halloween pumpkin - screenshot from 'Video World' (2021)

Video World (2021) Things for Humans

Video World is a short, yet gorgeous game that combines elements of rhythm games and narrative. A companion to the EP of the same name by Australian synth-pop band Monster Mansion, Video World places you in a haunted video store during the 1990s. The player must complete a series of tasks while keeping time to the soundtrack in order to get the shop ready – and defeat a malevolent spirit along the way. As a fan of rhythm games, I have never played anything quite like it before. The art and character designs are lovely and perfectly match the vibe of the game and soundtrack. Video World won ‘Excellence in Emerging Game’ at this year’s Australian Game Developer Awards, and I will be eagerly watching to see what this talented team will be crafting in the future. Play it for free on Steam.

– Arieh Offman, Programmer and Videogames Curator

Death's Door

Acid Nerve/Devolver Digital

Death's Door - WNBGC

Death's Door (2021) Acid Nerve/Devolver Digital

If Inscryption is the most surprising game I played this year, Death’s Door might hold the opposite honour. Instead of branching out and sampling a wide range of genres or narrative techniques, this charming adventure game is just that: ridiculously charming. You play as a little crow who works for the bureau of death, collecting wayward souls in the thorny wilds between worlds, and delivering them onto the afterlife. After a soul collection goes horribly awry, you’re tasked with collecting three giant souls that have long-evaded death’s grasp in order to rectify your mistake. Much of the game is spent exploring the beautifully designed mini-worlds that house each major soul – and unravelling the bureau’s secrets along the way.

The best thing about the game is how it feels: I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed just spending time in a 3D world the way I enjoy being in Death’s Door. The little corvid reaper blinks and fluffs out like a real bird, and every action swinging a sword, rolling to dodge, even slipping accidentally off a platform edge feels tactile and fun.

Each dungeon is a tiny gem, perfectly designed to encourage curiosity and exploration, with environmental details leaf piles to run through, mysteriously cracked stones to revisit – that keep you absorbed. The game isn’t easy, but it doesn’t overburden itself with a maudlin narrative or punishing death states. It also always feels fair – the bosses can be tough, but there’s a pattern to their movements that you can learn; if you get lost in a dungeon, you can retrace your steps. This means that even when the challenge is frustrating, it stays fun – and overcoming those obstacles shoots serotonin into your brain at the speed of light.

It’s easy to pick yourself up and get back on track when a mistimed dodge puts you in the path of a fireball, or a forest beastie’s ambush. If you like the environmental puzzles of old-school Zelda games and don’t mind a game that challenges your reflexes, Death’s Door will charm your socks off, guaranteed.

– Jini Maxwell, Assistant Curator

Neo: The World Ends with You

Square Enix

Running through the city - screenshot from 'Neo: The World Ends With You' (2021)

Neo: The World Ends with You (2021) Square Enix

Neo: The World Ends with You is the sequel that fans of the cult classic original (2007) thought they were never going to get. Released 14 years after the original's debut on the Nintendo DS, Neo transports players to a stylised and lovingly rendered version of Shibuya in Tokyo and tasks them with playing the deadly Reaper’s Game. I cannot overstate what a joy it is to spend time in this alternative and ultra-hip reimagining of this iconic real-world environment. What made the original groundbreaking was its unique combat mechanic that had players controlling multiple characters at the same time over both DS screens. How do you update this mechanic for current systems with a single screen and still manage to make it feel fresh? Excitingly, developers h.a.n.d. and Square Enix found a way. This time around, players can control up to six characters simultaneously through inventive button mapping that allows for surprisingly deep strategy in combat sequences. With a cast of lovable characters, an engaging narrative that keeps pace throughout its runtime and one of the best game soundtracks in recent years, Neo: The World Ends with You is a must play for any fan of the JRPG genre.

– Arieh Offman, Programmer and Videogames Curator

Heavenly Bodies

2pt Interactive

2 Astronauts floating in space - screenshot from 'Heavenly Bodies' (2021)

Heavenly Bodies (2021) 2pt Interactive

Late in the year, my favourite game of 2021 has arrived: Heavenly Bodies by 2pt Interactive. It’s hard to reduce a game like this to genre signifiers; I could describe it as a ragdoll physics puzzle game, but that falls far short of describing the meditative, transcendent experience it offers.

In Heavenly Bodies, you play as a cosmonaut who navigates the stunning interiors and exteriors of a Soviet spacecraft completing tasks set by mission control. The game offers three movement styles: assisted, classic, and Newtonian, whose more realistic approach to zero gravity is more challenging on one hand, but also requires a kind of precision that feels truly serene. Negotiating the game’s immaculate interiors in zero gravity commands your full attention; so much so, that the experience of caring for the craft, unfolding solar panels and assembling telescopes, feels incredibly tender.

The tenderness comes partly from the game’s source of inspiration, soviet space architect Galina Balashova, whose interior designs softened the military machines of the space race, bringing a sense of the domestic to space shuttles and capsules. That sensitivity and humanity comes through here: at one point I opened a cabinet looking for a wrench and, when I found tennis rackets instead, I burst out laughing. I can imagine this would be doubly true while playing cooperatively with a friend, though I’ve been playing solo. It’s just sublime.

– Jini Maxwell, Assistant Curator

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