It’s that time of year again, when we all tell you which of the games that came out over the past 12 months we like the best. It’s my turn, and I hope you weren’t expecting some out-of-left-field pick; an artsy indie game you never heard of that I’ll try to convince you is 2022’s game of the year.
That’s not me, unfortunately. Someone more cultured will probably have more interesting picks, but I am a man of simple pleasures. And so, without further ado, here are all my game of the year picks for 2022 – starting with the game that secured its spot all the way back in February.
Elden Ring – PC
There was little chance Elden Ring wasn’t going to be one of my favourite games of any year it’s released in. I love the work of FromSoftware so much, they’ve pretty much ruined most other games for me.
The idea of ‘Dark Souls with a horse’ was appealing, but it had me worried my favourite studio would go down the dark path that ruined many others. I was afraid we’d get a massive game that offers multiples of its first ten hours, one with more map than you could conceivably explore, and icon barf to ensure you never run out of things to do without any of it feeling compelling.
Elden Ring ended up not having any of those problems, and it’s all because of two guiding principles. Elden Ring is an open world game that justifies being open. You’re free to go anywhere, and the game will even toy with you and send you to areas you won’t organically visit for a dozen or so hours later – teasing you about what’s to come.
That freedom is consistently rewarded, even if just by growing your power. Elden Ring does this by constantly showing you things over the horizon that are bound to catch your eye and tempt you to go after them. Even if you ignore that allure, you’ll quickly find that straying off the beaten path has other clear benefits.
The other thing that makes Elden Ring’s open world so compelling is that, for all the work it does to make you want to explore it, it’s okay with you missing out on a lot of it. You’re allowed to fail and get stuck. Elden Ring is perfectly fine with you getting lost because it trusts you to find your way eventually.
Most open-world games are so terrified of players missing out on content that they completely sap out all the discovery of their massive playgrounds. And for that, Elden Ring deserves my admiration.
Sifu – PC
I’ve often talked about needing to feel cool in a video game. For me, that’s almost always achieved through mechanics. If a game lets me do a cool thing, and gives me as much agency as possible within its framework to do more cool things, I’ll be content.
It is no surprise, then, that Sifu was one of my favourite games of 2022. Sifu is the type of action game that romanticises – almost fetishizes – a real practice you and I will never be good at in the real world. In this case, that’s Kung Fu.
There’s nothing quite like mastering a game’s mechanics, but it’s especially satisfying when your moves are rooted in tangible martial arts. You feel like you’ve transcended the medium, enough to keep you in that trance until you turn the game off.
Marvel Snap – iOS
Okay, look. I am not a card game player. In fact, I’d say that adding cards to anything is a sure-fire way of lowering my interest in it considerably. But as I’ve discovered this year, that rule is not as hard or fast as I once thought.
I started playing Marvel Snap on a whim, because when you cover video games for a living, you tend to be more open to checking out popular games even if you’re not interested in them yourself.
I thought that once I got Snap’s schtick, I’d be done with it in a day or two. But here I am weeks later, still playing it daily. Snap is the perfect phone game. It doesn’t try to recreate the visuals or gameplay of big-boy console games. Its success is part brilliant utilisation of the device it’s designed for, but also in how it plays within player expectations of what games can and should be on those devices.
There’s a time and place for games pushing those boundaries, but I am rarely interested in playing them on a phone. The thing that makes Snap so easy to return to is that you trust it to not waste your time or suddenly turn so complex that you’d have to dedicate more attention to it than you should a phone game.