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PlayStation Year in Review: Sony focused on exclusive, but players will want more in 2022

PS5
(Image credit: Sony)

If you actually managed to buy a PS5 in 2021, your persistence and fortitude in the face of empty virtual shelves and crashing checkouts were some truly impressive exclusives that likely left Xbox owners Microsoft green with envy. There was the return of iconic PlayStation duo Ratchet and Clank in Rift Apart, looking better than ever, and Returnal challenged us with its time-twisting tale. Deathloop was the shooter that made your frontal lobes work as hard as your trigger finger, while Kena: Bridge of Spirits brought adorable monsters in hats and magic. 

It might not have felt that way at first though. In the dreary, 'how is COVID still a thing' days of January we had burned through the launch titles and were staring down the ultimately forgettable barrel of PS5 exclusive Destruction All-stars, a game that my editor insists I include, but which barely deserves a mention. 

Time for an exclusive

Returnal

(Image credit: Housemarque)

It wasn't until April that things felt exciting again thanks to Returnal, a punishing but fascinating mix of rogue-like and shooter that made brutal use of the trend for time loops. Our reviewer called it "one of Sony’s most beguilingly weird blockbusters in a long time," and it did feel like the perfect example of the kind of weird and wonderful exclusives PlayStation has a particular sense for. It wasn't for everyone, but even those who bounced off its gameplay had to admire its ambition. 

In the meantime, PlayStation executives were busy building hype for its fans, with Jim Ryan promising, "we have been quietly but steadily investing in high-quality games for PlayStation, and we will make sure that the PS5 generation will have more dedicated software than ever before," in an April interview, and PlayStation Studios boss Hermen Hulst revealing in May that 25 first-party PS5 games were in development at that time, and almost half of them are brand new IPs.

Time and space 

Deathloop

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Deathloop felt like the biggest 2021 win for PlayStation in terms of console exclusives and was a beautiful swan song for Bethesda. Now the Starfield and Fallout publisher is owned by Microsoft, we're unlikely to see many Bethesda games make it to PS5, at least not on day one of release. Developed by Arkane, Deathloop was released in September and took place in a world that managed to be strange and utterly coherent all at once, giving you the chance to shoot and slay, but also to think and experiment and bend the rules of time travel to your whims. Our reviewer gave it top marks, stating "it's different, it's stylish, it's new. You won't play anything else quite like Deathloop for a very long time."

In that same month Kena: Bridge of Spirits targeted another audience, one that wanted to dress cute magical creatures in hats. The first game from Ember Lab, it used the power of PS5 to build a lush and visually impressive adventure, and most importantly, an emotional experience for the player. "Thanks to its storytelling and visual design there's just something warm and alive in Kena: Bridge of Spirits, which is perhaps fitting for a game that is so focused on death."

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

(Image credit: Insomniac Games)

The Ratchet and Clank series has always been a flagship title for a new Sony console, its brightly colored world and crazy weapons are the perfect showcase for the evolving graphical capabilities of the machines. In November, Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart proved it was continuing the tradition, combining animated blockbuster movie looks with snappy and satisfying gunplay, all given an extra twinkle with the DualSense's haptic feedback for rail grinding the trigger tickling. It scored top marks from our reviewer, who called it "one of those rare games that bring back the feeling of being up early on a Saturday morning, binging your favorite cartoons, and high on sugary cereal."

Future proof

Horizon Forbidden West

(Image credit: SIE)

Where does PlayStation need to go in 2022? With Horizon Forbidden West locked in for February, Gran Turismo 7 for March, God of War Ragnarok due at some point in the year (and Spider-Man 3 to get hyped for in 2023) it has plenty of must-play games in its exclusive portfolio to rival Xbox's Starfield. Now Sony should focus on finding a way to compete with the baffling generosity of Microsoft's Xbox Games Pass, which has everything from indies to day-one access to big hitters like Halo: Infinite. Adding Bethesda games to the line-up will only strengthen the draw for gamers, for whom a monthly subscription that delivers all their entertainment at a set price is becoming the standard thanks to Netflix, HBO, Spotify, and Apple. 

As stock increases and we get to hear more about all the game deals Sony has been hinting at, it'll also be interesting to see what Sony does with PSVR for PS5. While virtual reality remains a niche interest for a lot of gamers, the world's obsession with the metaverse could spur big studios to return to the medium with some exciting new ideas.  

Don't forget to check out our picks for the best PS5 games so far

Rachel Weber

Between Official PlayStation Magazine, GamesIndustry.biz and Rolling Stone I've picked up a wide range of experience, from how to handle the madness of E3 to making easy conversation with CEOs and executives of game companies over seafood buffets. At GamesRadar+ I'm proud of the impact I've had on the way we write news, and now - as managing editor in the US - the huge traffic successes we're seeing. Most of all I'm proud of my team, who have continued to kick ass through the uncertainty of 2020 and into 2021, and are what makes GamesRadar+ so special.