Games of the Year: 2022

Five-star all-time classics. And four-star almost-greats. Our books & culture editor has picked his 10 favourite games of the year

December 22, 2022
Image: Prospect
Image: Prospect

Star ratings are my albatross. Because I review a couple of games a week for the Mail, I’m followed by a bunch of star ratings I’ve given in the past. You might think that this makes the job of an end-of-year list easier: just select the games I awarded five stars to, right? But that’s not the case: often it’s the four-star games, the interesting almost-greats, that stick with me longer and that I cherish above the big-budget, big-selling, big-garlanded games of the year. So what to pick?

The list below is a fudged answer to that question. It’s a mix of indisputable greats (and this year really did produce some all-timers, such as Elden Ring and Immortality) and the games I’ve fallen for despite their shortcomings. This means that some four-starrers have been elevated above five-starrers (sorry, God of War: Ragnarok), and I even… ah, I’ll stop going on now. You shouldn’t be put off by my constellatory talk: these are all fantastic video games.

In release order…

Elden Ring (PlayStation, Xbox, PC)

Gosh, it’s unavoidable. Elden Ring is on practically everyone’s list and has won practically every award, and it felt as though that would be the case even when it was first announced. Here, after all, is a game that unites the rewardingly brutal die-and-try-again combat of Dark Souls (perhaps the most influential game of the last decade) with the open-world design of Skyrim (the other most influential game) and throws in some story-work by George RR Martin, the author of Game of Thrones, for good measure. Yet for all its distinguished provenance, the best thing about Elden Ring is how new it feels—it turns out that an open world, full of incident and menace and places to roam, is all we needed to make Dark Souls surprising again.

Gran Turismo 7 (PlayStation)

“Aw! How adorable!” This is not what I expected to be exclaiming at a high-performance racing game with a couple of supercars on its cover, but here we are. Gran Turismo 7 genuinely is one of the sweetest, most endearing games of the year—possibly ever—and that is a large part of what makes it great. It’s just utterly head-over-heels about cars. This shows in the actual races, of course, which are finetuned to perfection, but it’s particularly noticeable in the downtime between, when you’ll hang out in a café and your fellow customers (car nerds all) will breathlessly tell you facts about your latest set of wheels—whether it’s a Lamborghini or a doughty little Toyota. Even if, like me, you’re no racing-game addict, it’s an infectious experience.      

Triangle Strategy (Switch, PC)

Triangle Strategy is a wonderful example of what can be achieved when a old genre—in this case, the Japanese tactical RPG, as exemplified by 1997’s Final Fantasy Tactics or 1995’s Tactics Ogre (which got rereleased this year)—is revived for modern consoles and modern sensibilities. The graphics are a pixelated throwback, but are much prettier than old machines could manage: here, you move your tiny soldiers around beautifully lit 3D areas that almost look like models in your hand. The gameplay, which still revolves, in an almost chess-like way, around positioning and different types of attack, is much smoother than in the classics. And then there’s the narrative, which is plump and luxurious, perfect for settling into on a winter’s evening.

Tunic (PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Here is another game on the list that takes existing elements and makes something new from them. In Tunic’s case, the influences are older Zelda games, such as A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening, and—yes, of course—Dark Souls, and it doesn’t really try to cover this up. Its main character looks like Link from the Zelda series, wears the same green outfit, carries a similar sword and shield… except he’s a fox. But if this makes Tunic sound unimaginative, then be assured that it’s not. The imaginativeness is in all the individual components of the game, from its intricate world design to its electronic soundtrack, from its colourful graphics to its varied monsters. This is probably my overall favourite of the year.   

Ghostwire: Tokyo (PlayStation, PC)

And so, after months of advance publicity and collective excitement, Ghostwire: Tokyo just seemed to vanish… like a ghost. I’m still trying to figure out why. Perhaps it’s because the overarching gameplay is just like a thousand other recent games: wander around an open area, clear it of baddies, perform little tasks for people, upgrade your skills, and so on. But that’s also being unfair to Ghostwire. Its moment-to-moment gameplay, as you weave shapes with your hands and blast away at leering spectres with your psionic powers, is utterly fantastic. And the same goes for its glitching, rain-sodden version of the Japanese capital. No game with this much flair should be exorcised from popular culture.     

Hardspace: Shipbreaker (PlayStation, Xbox, PC)

In truth, Hardspace: Shipbreaker has been around a while—since 2020, in fact—but it was only this year when it emerged from the beta-ish phase known as “early access” and achieved a final release. The trailer does a fine job of capturing its distinctive allure: this is a game that mixes the majesty of space and space travel with the distinctly down-to-earth experience of salvage operations, as you cut and contort your way through a series of derelict spaceships. It’s extremely relaxing—until it’s not. Mishandle a ship’s reactor and you’ll soon learn that, in space, no one can hear you file a health and safety report.  

Card Shark (Switch, PC)

Card Shark is my latest go-to recommendation for people who don’t consider themselves gamers. It has so many fine Gallic qualities, even though it was made by the British studio Nerial. It’s clever; it’s elegant; it’s witty in a similar way to, say, the Asterix comics; and it’s set in the gambling dens and salons of 18th-century France. It also involves a less fine quality, not necessarily Gallic: cheating at cards. You are an assistant to a conman who is trying to defraud his opponents of their money, and you don’t need to know anything about card games in order to do your job. You just need to follow along with Card Shark’s own games of dexterity, memory and poise. Mon Dieu, it’s fun.

As Dusk Falls (Xbox, PC)

There’s very little that’s revolutionary about As Dusk Falls. It has the same mechanics as the choose-your-own-adventure books from the 1980s: do you placate the guy in front of you or punch him in the face? It borrows innovations from other recent video games in the same genre, such as the Life is Strange series: there are, for instance, percentage tallies that indicate what choices other people around the world have made. And it tells a pretty standard, cross-generational crime story: a family is trapped in a motel office with a bunch of felons-on-the-lam… and then things get really bad. But it’s the sheer quality of As Dusk Falls’ writing and voice-acting that makes it stand out—and imparts greater weight to your decisions. That’s the revolution.

Arcade Paradise (PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Conceptually speaking, this game shouldn’t work. It brings together two incongruous things and makes you constantly hop between them. One of these things is explicitly fun: building an amusement arcade out of the back of an old laundromat, with machines you can actually play. The other is not: running the laundromat itself. Just as you’re settling into another game of air hockey—no!—quick!—stop!—there’s a customer who needs their socks drying. Ugh. And yet I soon started enjoying moving to Arcade Paradise’s rhythms, not least because the laundry work is peculiarly calming and the early-1990s vibes are utterly charming. Besides, isn’t this what life is? Fleeting moments of fun, but only once you’ve done your chores.  

Immortality (Xbox, PC, Android, iOS, Netflix)

A game? Sure. But Immortality is also something else. Its creator Sam Barlow, whom I interviewed for the latest issue of the magazine, has brought together interactive fiction, cinema history, cinema itself, Lynchian dream logic, phantasmagoria, sex, lies and videotape to create something that is somehow both apart from popular culture and inextricably a part of it. But perhaps the greatest mystery—ahead of even the central question, of what happened to the missing actress Marissa Marcel—is how, for all its depth and darkness, Immortality remains compelling throughout and even… fun? Immortality does indeed beckon.