When it comes to Game of the Year, we often get caught up in talking about the games themselves, rather than the development teams who made them. As such, we think it's important to stop and appreciate the hard working people who make our favourite hobby a reality.
As chosen by the Push Square editorial team, these are the developers that stood out in 2021.
Bronze Trophy: Hazelight (It Takes Two)
Spearheaded by the infectiously enthusiastic Josef Fares, Hazelight hit the bigtime in 2021 with It Takes Two — a delightful (and sometimes delightfully dark) co-op adventure game that actually ended up winning Game of the Year at The Game Awards. The thing is, it's quite easy to say that it was a well deserved victory. Hazelight has come such a long way in such a short amount of time, considering its last title, A Way Out, released in 2018. We can't wait to see what kind of crazy concept the team comes up with next.
Silver Trophy: Arc System Works (Guilty Gear Strive)
Arc System Works didn't just make the best fighting game of 2021 with Guilty Gear Strive — it pushed the genre forward in a way that many would argue is absolutely necessary. Strive has the best online netcode of any console fighter we've ever played — and it must be the standard from here on out. Arc System Works listened to fighting game fans and delivered on a promise long since broken by other companies — all while creating one of the most satisfying fighters we've ever played.
Gold Trophy: Ember Lab (Kena: Bridge of Spirits)
Relatively speaking, it's ridiculous that Ember Lab's first game is Kena: Bridge of Spirits. An immensely charming action platformer, it's the kind of title that you'd expect from a team that's been around the block — at least for a bit. But no, Ember Lab started life over ten years ago as an animation studio, and now here it is giving us a gorgeous PS5 and PS4 adventure — an adventure that Sony used to help sell its current-gen console, no less. There's no getting around just how impressive Kena is as a first attempt, and it really makes you wonder just how far Ember Lab will leap forward with its next project.
Platinum Trophy: Housemarque (Returnal)
2021 was a year full of success stories — as highlighted by this very article — but we think that Housemarque's rise to glory is really quite incredible. The Finnish developer has been making awesome arcade games for years — regular readers will know that Resogun remained one of our go-to PS4 titles for the entire generation — but Returnal saw the studio push beyond its perceived limits. Without sacrificing its arcade roots, Housemarque crafted a shooter that can stand alongside Sony's biggest hits in terms of quality. A huge achievement.
- Hello Games (No Man's Sky)
- Insomniac Games (Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart)
- Epic Games (Fortnite, The Matrix Awakens)
- RGG Studio (Lost Judgment, Judgment PS5, Yakuza: Like a Dragon PS5)
Which developer made your 2021 special? Have your say in our poll, and then sing its praises in the comments section below.
For me it’s Capcom. A glorious return to form with Resident evil Village. Looked beautiful and played brilliantly. There will definitely be another in the series based on how well it sold and how well it was liked
Housemarque and Insomniac take the cake
Looking at Resogun next to Returnal, it’s crazy to see just how far HM pushed themselves, and insomniac has pushed out R&C, new suits for Spider-Man Remastered, and just a little over a year ago, Spider-Man MM. all of that in 14 months is insane. ( I know the article said dev of the year)
AKA, the companies who made it through 2021 without historical or even current abuse being brought to light. Although I’m not sure even the honourable mentions are free from that.
If Kena didn’t have a ridiculous difficulty spike on Master difficulty, preventing me from getting the platinum (grrr), I’d be singing their praises.
I absolutely loved Kena Bridge of Spirits but that difficulty spike left the game on a sour note.
I felt the same way about Yooka Laylee and the Impossible Lair (that dev did eventually patch the actually impossible lair). I’m hoping Ember Lab do the same.
I don’t mind a challenge but not to the point of rage. It should still be enjoyable and satisfying but that game in Master difficulty was anything but.
My vote goes to Epic Games for their continued efforts with Fortnite. It’s crazy how many hours I’ve put into what is essentially a free to play game. Also mad props to their efforts with Fall Guys and Rocket League too.
Motion Twin should be in this list every year for Dead Cells.
My vote was for housemarque, looking at their previous games and the staff size compared to what they've done with Returnal is exceptional and Sony got a bargain with this purchase
Insomniac is like nas or jadakiss or rakim.your rappers favorite rapper or the rock the people champion.word up son
@kingbreww Out of all the large third party developers I think Capcom does least amount of bad stuff, they are certainly in a class of their own if you compare them to the likes of EA, Activision, Take-Two, Ubisoft, etc.
Eidos Montreal for me. Everyone seems to sleep on their accomplishments. Over the last ten years they made two great Deus Ex games, arguably the best of the recent Tomb Raider trilogy and now this year they made a GotG game that hardly anyone was giving them a chance over. And they delivered one of the most fun and heartfelt games of the year.
It's shows that they can adapt to different genres and IP while telling really good stories. And this year they mandated a 4 day work week for their employers.
Finally finished Master difficulty and it was deceptively tough and a huge increase in difficulty over normal for sure.
But it is very doable of course. At worst I only got snagged up in a few areas with 5 to 10 replays to break through. I like how it forces you to use ALL of the unlockable upgrade abilities. That last 6-stage boss fight though... yikes.
Still, I get you. Generally dislike games that lock difficulties behind beating the game - should just trust your players to choose whatever difficulty from the get-go. There were some old-school design decisions like that which show this was Ember Labs' first game. But very impressive overall for a first try.
@BritneyfR_ee i have to agree that the game got very hard rather unfairly in places but i have to say despite this ember labs were the number 1 devs for me this year..yeah capcom and housmarque are brilliant too but for such an accomplished and very well polished debut ember labs nailed it 100% and its a very strong statement of intent..other established devs should start worrying as the competition is starting to heat up..
@BritneyfR_ee also i only just noticed your very subtle change in user name..hats off for the play on words...respect 👊
Returnal blew my ever loving mind.
The only other Housemarque game I ever played was Resogun. After all early PS4 was slim pickings in early 2014 when I got mine.
But man was Returnal great. The story was good, the particle effects were amazing, the gameplay loop was literally crack cocaine. I couldn’t put it down for weeks. It’s easily my best game of 2021.
It felt like a retro arcade shooter like 1942 transported to 2021. But even better.
I'd just like to add a shout for Milestone, the devs behind the excellent Hot Wheels Unleashed game.
Housemarque for sure but Insomniac and Ember Lab are definitely deserving of high praise as well.
I don’t think it’s fair to insomniac though.
In addition to R&C Did you forget the updates for both Spider-man games AND what they showed off again in the PlayStation event with the 2 little games they are working on?
They are the top studio at Sony right now.
Housemarque truly is a great team, as of right now I have been way to busy to have sat down and played Returnal just yet but one of their PS4 releases, 'Nex Machina' is one of the most mechanically fun games I have ever played. It is such a joy to pick up and play in bursts for me between dry periods.
Whilst Insomniac are consistently knocking it out of the park and at the top there game I think Housemarque take 2021 as Returnal is more genre defining 3D bullet hell. Insomniac are making the best games even better which is worthy of it's own award.
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