Soapbox EA Originals

Electronic Arts gets a very bad rap these days. While I'd agree that the publisher isn't quite what it once was — and it certainly has made a bundle of mistakes over the last five years or so — it isn't quite as negative as all that. I'm not here to defend it for any missteps or misfires; that's a conversation for another day. Instead, I wanted to focus on something the publisher has gotten right this year: EA Originals.

It's a fair observation that, for the PlayStation 4 generation, EA has taken very few risks, sticking largely to properties and franchises it knows will do well. You might be tired of hearing about annual sports games like FIFA and Madden, but these are extremely popular with a more casual crowd. It makes business sense to focus on Battlefield and Need for Speed, of course, but the end result has been a frankly boring array of software from the publisher's in-house teams.

It Takes Two PS5 PS4

EA Originals doesn't totally solve this, but it has gone some way to adding flair and creativity to an otherwise predictable lineup. It's an indie publishing label, sort of like Take-Two's Private Division or Square Enix Collective, which affords smaller teams the chance to be pushed by a major company. EA Originals has been around for a few years now, founded in 2016, but I think it knocked it out of the park in 2021 with a trio of fantastic titles.

Of course, there have been some good games to come out of the label in the past — A Way Out, Unravel, and Fe, for instance. However, when you look at what's released this year, it's absolutely its best lineup so far.

Knockout City PS5 PS4

Firstly, we had It Takes Two, the co-op game from Josef Fares and his team at Hazelight. This game shouldn't need much of an introduction; it released back in March to wide critical acclaim. It's a truly wonderful action platformer with near-endless creativity and constantly changing gameplay, keeping both players engaged and smiling at all times. The only weak link is its narrative, but push past the iffy writing and you have yourself one of the year's best games. It even won multiple categories — including Game of the Year — at The Game Awards, for goodness sake!

The second EA Originals release this year was Knockout City, and regular readers will know how we feel about Velan Studios' dodge-brawler. Personally, I haven't enjoyed an online multiplayer this much since Rocket League arrived on the scene. It's a very well presented game that nails its fundamental gameplay, and I've loved dipping in and out of it since its arrival in May. I get that this type of game isn't for everyone, but I know I'm not alone in my love for it; you only need to take a look at other reviews to see it's enjoyed a great reception among the press.

Lost in Random PS5 PS4

EA Originals' final game of 2021 was Lost in Random. While this unusual action adventure is a bit more of a wildcard, developer Zoink Games brought us a fascinating world ruled by the roll of a dice. Its Tim Burton-esque visuals, memorable characters, and unique combat system all lend the game a quirky quality, and we really enjoyed it.

When you look at EA's output as a whole for 2021, I'd argue that these three titles are among the best the publisher had to offer. At the very least, they're the most interesting ones, from my perspective. All those EA Sports games are pretty uniformly great, including Codemasters' F1 2021, but the Originals label has brought some much-needed variety and life to the publisher's slate. If we can expect games of this level of quality — or possibly better — going forward, I think EA Originals will continue to be an important part of the publisher's identity.

Do you agree that EA Originals has smashed it in 2021? Have you played one or two of these games this year? Discuss in the comments section below.