Game of the Year
A1. Forza Horizon 5 - I played Forza Horizon 4 to death and the fifth entry into the series does not disappoint. A huge map with loads to see and do, and perfect to play for 15 mins or hours at a time. Mexico makes an amazing setting and the game let's you play it whatever way you chose, whether it be as a straight up arcade racer or just your own playground to powerslide, kangaroo hop or combo around till your heart is content. It's essentially started with all the extras and improvements that were added to FH4 over time and used that as a base point. I'm in no doubt this will be supported just as well and I look forward to seeing what will be added in the future to this already superb game.
A2. It Takes Two - A late entry into my list as only started playing it this week with my daughter, but what a game!! A fantastic story (even though most of the forum seems to hate it!) with bags of character and more innovative Co op gameplay than I've seen for ages. One level of this has more imagination in it than the majority of 2021 releases. It's genuinely funny as well without resorting to lazy wacky humour and memes. A modern classic and a welcome return for couch Co op!
A3. Echo Generation - The spirit of an 80's/90's adventure movie wrapped up in a more basic Final Fantasy type skin. Brilliant from start to finish and doesn't outstay it's welcome. Went in blind with this thanks to gamepass and was genuinely hooked from start to finish.
A4. Mighty Goose - It's Metal Slug with a space exploring goose. Solid old school action and a nice surprise to find on Gamepass (see a theme here?)
A5. Unpacking - This is sneaking in due to the new template and the fact I just played it over the last 2 days. A lovely wee game with a lot of emotion which is a miracle as there is no real plot to speak of. I'm sure everyone has their own interpretation of what every level represents but it was an experience which will stay with me for a while.
Game of the Year (premiered anywhere pre-2021)
B1. Monster Train (The Last Divinity DLC) - The DLC for this already amazing game made it even better. No game has claimed so many of my spare hours for a long time, and even a year later since original release I'm still playing it daily.
B2. Streets of Rage 4 (Mr X Nightmare DLC) - I already think highly of this game, but the new survival mode, new characters and new moves meant just when I thought I was out...
B3. Hades - my first time playing it (again thanks to Gamepass) and the perfect title to slot in a shot between nappy changes (as my daughter was born as it came out). Kept me sane in all the chaos.
Biggest Disappointment of the Year
Z1. Psychonauts 2 - against my better judgement I got sucked in by the hype (even though I don't rate the 1st one) and gave it a shot. Unfunny attempts at humour, a game that thinks it's some narrative masterpiece and some dull unintuitive gameplay (for when the game actually lets you control something). Not my idea of fun at all.
Z2. The Artful Escape - Saw the hype. Tried it out but something really rubbed me up the wrong way about this game. Beyond basic gameplay and an annoying pretentious first year university style smugness stank up this poor excuse for a title.
Z3. Back 4 Blood - It's Left 4 Dead! Except not. And shite.
Sound Design of the Year
S1. It Takes Two - some genuinely good voice work that doesn't make me want to reach for the skip button and a nice soundtrack.
S2. Forza Horizon 5 - setting aside the lacklustre music choices on the soundtrack, every other audio aspect of this is superb. I'm no car nut but even I can appreciate the differences in the engine noises and the effort that has gone into this.
S3. Echo Generation - loved the music in this. Evocative of the 90's but distinct in it's own right.
Visual Design of the Year
V1. It Takes Two - it's like a really good animated movie with a lovely visual style and bags of personality.
V2. Forza Horizon 5 - Stunning landscapes and plenty of visual flair.
V3. Echo Generation - Retro styled without looking crap. Too many games look sub Sega Master System these days, but this took the retro aesthetic but makes it look worthy of a game released in 2021.
Writing of the Year
W1. It Takes Two - I usually leave this category as game writing is almost universally terrible, but this is a heartwarming tale and has some genuine funny moments. Actually better than the majority of animated films in the last while!
W2. Unpacking - Less is more. Wish more would take heed.
Format of the Year
F1. Xbox - Gamepass continues to win the day for the format and it's an embarrassment of riches. More added to BC too means the Xbox Series X is genuinely one of the best machines I've ever owned.
Publisher or Developer of the Year
Skull Commander's Special 2021 Award
Monster Train - Started playing this Christmas week 2020 and didn't slot it into my games of the year last year, but I've played this more than any other game this year and I'm still enjoying it. Almost perfect as a game and the DLC released this year gives it even more longevity. I love everything about this game and some days my Xbox went on only to play the daily challenge (followed by "just one more game").
*edit* it's allowed into the new template now, but leaving my original text.