The five best Xbox games of 2021

One of Xbox’s best years yet delivers unforgettable titles in almost every genre.

Image via Xbox Game Studios

The story is part of Gamepur’s Best of 2021 round-up.

It wouldn’t be hard to believe if video game historians one day look back at 2021 and mark it as one of the best years for Xbox ever — if not one it almost entirely dominated. Not only did the Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One receive a wealth of stellar third-party titles, but a majority of its first-party studios collectively gave reasons as to why one should journey into Microsoft’s gaming ecosystem. Despite the year lending so many memorable and original experiences on Xbox, there are five that have truly reinvigorated the brand for the long haul.

5. MLB The Show 21

Image via San Diego Studios
  • Released on April 16, 2021
  • Developed by Sony San Diego
  • Published by PlayStation Studios

After facing a draught of quality baseball titles for the better half of a decade, the unimaginable happened when Sony San Diego gifted Xbox fans an installment of their MLB The Show series. It is one of the few sports franchises that has flirted with perfection since its inception and MLB The Show 21 continues that hot streak. From the game’s in-depth Franchise Mode to its RPG-inspired Road to the Show portion, there is just so much Xbox users must catch up on after all of these years. 

Most importantly, what makes MLB The Show 21 a standout sports game is its first-time inclusion of a Stadium Creator feature. Some may huff at the idea, but the developer added so many tools for customization. The possibilities aren’t just endless — they’re addicting. Want to play ball in a park surrounded by alien spaceships and dinosaurs? You got it. How about one that allows for ridiculously easy home runs where the average score per team is in the 20s? Consider it done. Even if you dread the sports genre with every fabric of your being, MLB The Show 21 is certainly worth a try. 

4. It Takes Two

It Takes Two Snow Globe
Image via EA
  • Released on March 26, 2021
  • Developed by Hazelight Studios
  • Published by Electronic Arts

If you were to tell us earlier this year a puzzle platforming game funded by Electronic Arts would win Game of The Year at The Game Awards, we would have imagined Ty the Tasmanian Tiger returned in the most redeeming sequel of all time. In actuality, it was the innovative folks at Hazelight Studios who constructed one of the most unconventional games seen in a long time with It Takes Two.

The cooperative-only title has players taking the role of a disgruntled married couple ultimately transformed into toys to mend their collapsing relationship. Although the transition of its rather weighty plot being turned into a fairy tale can be uncomfortable, its whimsical and out-of-the-box gameplay makes it manageable to disregard. As this couple has been shrunken down, each tight section of their home becomes a behemoth of a level, with the smallest of items becoming the biggest components for progressing through the stages. This sort of eccentric and detailed level design doesn’t come around often, thus making It Takes Two such a fascinating outlier. 

3. Halo Infinite

Screenshot by Gamepur
  • Released on December 8, 2021
  • Developed by 343 Industries
  • Published by Xbox Game Studios

As several shooters came up short in 2021, 343 gracefully picked up the slack with Halo Infinite. Although it has been slow to transform into a full-fledged mode, the franchise’s beloved multiplayer still finds its prime once again with gorgeous maps, a diverse collection of balanced weapons, and reworked player movement. It is evident Infinite’s multiplayer is special when you cannot help but go back to it for its flawless gameplay rather than for its leveling system and cosmetics.

The most anticipated feature of this sixth installment is surely the introduction of a semi-open world within the game’s campaign. Despite a somewhat awkward narrative, Halo Infinite prides itself on knowing players will spend hours enjoying less significant tasks like finding ways to destroy enemy towers or attempting to take over the Banished’s heavily guarded strongholds. As you unlock new guns and vehicles the further you get into the world, it is incredibly fulfilling when you continuously discover pieces of equipment that help you succeed in your next endeavor. So, no matter which mode you decide to dive into, expect to be enthralled for far too long with Halo Infinite.

2. Forza Horizon 5

Image via Turn 10 Studios
  • Released on November 4, 2021
  • Developed by Playground Games
  • Published by Xbox Game Studios

It is no understatement when calling Playground Games’ Forza Horizon 5 a work of technical achievement. At its core, the comprehensive racing game pays homage to its over 500 licensed cars through satisfying audio design, fluid driving mechanics, and without question, the high level of graphical detail added to each one. Of course, there’s a campaign that will fill your desire to compete, but the heart of the game really lies in unlocking and driving each vehicle to experience its diversity. 

To complement its savory gameplay, the massive areas of Mexico the title takes place in are delights to the eyes of those on both Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One. From touring the bright metro area of Guanajuato to dirt racing past Mayan temples in heart of the jungle, the game setting is a character all of its own — one you’ll surely enjoy the company of. Aside from these headliners, this installment features even more car parts than ever before and a multiplayer portion that holds dozens of hours of its own competitively intense content. In total, Forza Horizon 5 is Playground Games’ best game to date and undoubtedly the greatest racing title one can find on Xbox.

1. Hitman 3

Hitman 3
Image via IO Interactive
  • Released on January 20, 2021
  • Developed and published by IO Interactive

Hitman 3 is, in almost every fashion, tiers above its two charming predecessors. This is apparent when diving into each of the game’s massive, yet well-crafted locations. Almost every nook and cranky offers unique items and characters, with each wildly changing how you go about every main and side mission. Make no mistake, these distinct places are still limited sandboxes like in previous installments, but the liveliness of each begs that you stick around for more than just the objective. 

More importantly, the title also pulls off a more touching, yet darker narrative than Hitman fans are used to. With the campaign reaching themes one wouldn’t normally expect from the franchise, the trilogy’s drawn-out story comes to a satisfying close when Agent 47 emotionally wrestles with the hardships of being an assassin. Altogether, from its campaign to its multitude of side challenges, IO Interactive caps off the end of an era with one masterpiece of a stealth game.