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The Best Games With Female Protagonists Of 2021

Though once dominated by male leads, a growing number of video games have pivoted to feature a diverse range of female protagonists in recent years. From the polarizing revenge story of "The Last of Us 2" to the thoughtful exploration of relationships and mental health issues in "Celeste," the last decade has produced a wealth of important gaming characters. Both indie and AAA developers have begun to acknowledge the rise of the lady gamer and the importance of highlighting different perspectives and identities.

Despite the many games delayed by the coronavirus, 2021 managed to continue this trend and deliver a memorable, if modest, lineup of new female main characters. These enterprising women find themselves in a variety of genres, careers, and environments. While, on the surface, each title presents different challenges, they share several common threads. This was a year about self-reflection, finding new ways to connect, and overcoming obstacles. To build a brighter future, you must first let go of the damaging beliefs of the past — a message each leading lady drives home in a unique way. Here are the best games with female protagonists that rose out of 2021.

5. Life is Strange: True Colors

The "Life is Strange" series tells the stories of highly relatable, "everyday heroes" who find themselves in possession of unique, supernatural abilities. "Life is Strange: True Colors" continued this trend in 2021 with the introduction of Alex Chen, a young woman who wields the "psychic power of Empathy." Part blessing, part curse, Alex can manipulate and experience the emotions of those around her, a skill she uses to the unravel the mystery of her brother's murder after moving to Haven Springs, Colorado.

"Life is Strange: True Colors" received high marks from critics, who praised its characters, setting, and core gameplay loop. As a queer, Asian American woman, Alex also brought some much needed diversity to the 2021 lineup, though, as pointed out by Shannon Liao of The Washington Post, the game spends little time addressing its lead's race or sexuality. While this can leave the experience feeling "a little hollow," Alex still shines as a down-to-earth, accessible protagonist. Her diary entries and interactions with the supporting cast bolster this connection, resulting in an emotional and memorable journey.

  • Release Date: September 10, 2021
  • Available On: PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Stadia
  • Genre: Graphic adventure
  • Game Modes: Single-player only
  • Metacritic Score: 81 (PC), 82 (PS4), 81 (PS5), 84 (Series X)

4. Returnal

Science fiction roguelike "Returnal" takes advantage of the technological advancements of the PlayStation 5 to deliver features that were never possible before. From ray tracing at 4K 60FPS to lightning speed load times and custom tailored haptic feedback and adaptive trigger utilization, the shooter shows off the true power of next-gen. Players experience the wonders and dangers of an ever-shifting alien planet through the eyes of Selene, a space scout who defies her superiors to search for the truth and ends up trapped in a time loop.

Portrayed as a middle-aged woman with a practical haircut, Selene represents a demographic rarely seen in video games — especially in the role of protagonist. Beyond this, "Returnal" weaves a haunting tale steeped in adrenaline, madness, and horror. It's easily one of the best video games of 2021, especially since developer Housemarque rolled out a save system that allows players to take breaks during their cycles. You can still complete marathon sessions if you desire, but it's no longer necessary to play for hours at a time to take in all that "Returnal" has to offer.

  • Release Date: April 30, 2021
  • Available On: PlayStation 5
  • Genre: Third-person shooter, roguelike
  • Game Modes: Single-player only
  • Metacritic Score: 85

3. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

"Rift Apart," the long-awaited sixteenth installment in the beloved "Ratchet & Clank" series, did not disappoint when it hit the PlayStation 5 in mid-2021. In addition to reuniting players with the titular duo, "Rift Apart" offers up a fresh, co-protagonist: female Lombax Rivet. Though designed to serve as Ratchet's interdimensional counterpart, the resistance fighter is far from a carbon copy. She stands on her own as a beacon of courage and compassion — despite growing up in a world plagued by oppression, suffering, and misfortune.

Critics sang the praises of "Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart," identifying Rivet as one of its most likable characters. The surprisingly jacked Lombax stands out in a number of ways, offering up an engaging backstory and a strong female lead who manages to escape the trope of being defined by her past trauma. "That's the trick about Rivet," voice actress Jennifer Hale explained to Game Rant. "She's definitely got a heavy history and a heavy heart, but she doesn't live there." By the events of the game, Rivet has lost a great deal — including her arm. Yet, she maintains her determination and optimism, always fighting for a better tomorrow.

  • Release Date: June 11, 2021
  • Available On: PlayStation 5
  • Genre: Platform, third-person shooter
  • Game Modes: Single-player only
  • Metacritic Score: 88

2. Metroid Dread

"Metroid Dread" serves as a return to form for the franchise, deviating from the 3D, first-person trappings of "Metroid Prime" and its ilk to provide a classic 2D side-scrolling experience. Players once again find themselves in bounty hunter Samus Aran's Power Suit as she investigates the planet ZDR. Despite spending 15 years in development purgatory, "Dread" surpassed the expectations of most critics, delivering excellent pacing, challenging fights, and even a new stealth-based system. Though not a revolutionary title, it captures the heart of what makes "Metroid," well, "Metroid."

Samus has a long history within the gaming world. When she made her debut back in 1986, she was one of the first badass female video game protagonists, managing to evade the role of damsel in distress to which most women had been relegated at that time. While her portrayal has encountered a few bumps along the way, such as her confusing characterization in "Other M," she still stands as one of the industry's original trailblazers when it comes to representation. This legacy makes watching the seasoned veteran reach a whole new level of power in "Metroid Dread" especially satisfying.

  • Release Date: October 8, 2021
  • Available On: Nintendo Switch
  • Genre: Action-adventure
  • Game Modes: Single-player only
  • Metacritic Score: 88

1. It Takes Two

"It Takes Two" is a special game. The brainchild of Hazelight Studios' co-op king Josef Fares, it is one of the rare titles that you can only experience by playing with another person. The story centers on Cody and May, your typical, middle-aged married couple on the brink of divorce. When their daughter, Rose, attempts to keep the family together, the pair find themselves trapped inside two dolls and at the mercy of an anthropomorphic relationship self-help book hellbent on repairing their connection.

As whacky as the premise sounds, "It Takes Two" strikes a deeply personal note, weaving a tale about love, identity, and lost dreams. It also does an excellent job of smashing traditional gender roles to pieces. May serves as the overworked breadwinner crumbling under the pressure of providing for her family financially. Meanwhile, Cody, the stay-at-home father, often feels insufficient and underappreciated by his partner, who dedicates most of her time to her job. Forced to work together to solve puzzles and navigate dazzling and often nostalgic landscapes, the pair rediscover core aspects of themselves and their relationship. The beautiful and bittersweet adventure sticks with you long after the final credits roll.

  • Release Date: March 26, 2021
  • Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
  • Genre: Action-adventure, platform
  • Game Modes: Co-op only
  • Metacritic Score: 88 (PC), 89 (PS4), 88 (PS5), 89 (Series X)