This has been a really weird year for me and video games. I spent loads of my free time playing a laughing stock. I bounced off two of 2022's biggest blockbusters, certainties on so many other people’s GOTY lists, because they’re just not for me. And I found, in the unlikeliest of places (some old games and expansions), some of my favourite experiences in years.
I’d say that was weird, but then we’re living in weird times. A global pandemic, shifting goalposts and a market (or the top end of it, at least) that is locked into a death spiral have all combined to reshape video games from top to bottom, changing the way we play games, what we pay for them and the kinds of games we end up getting our hands on.
So yeah, it’s a little odd that out of the hundreds of games I played in 2022 my list of favourites includes a game released in 2020, a game released in 2021 and not one but two major expansions. But hey, that’s video games in 2022, baby.
Below you’ll find a list of the nine best games I played in 2022, accompanied by relevant excerpts from the reviews or impressions I wrote about them. They’re in no particular order (but if you must know my 2022 GOTY, it’s the one I called “GOTY” back in May, and played nothing afterwards that changed my mind).
This was an expansion, not a game, which may disqualify it from a lot of lists, but not mine!
Basically, everything here is the same as Lost Judgment, a game I loved. There’s just less of it. I wasn’t expecting a new Yakuza experience so soon after the last, so to get a chance to dip back in briefly for a refresher—and enjoy almost every second of my brief time with it—was a lovely surprise. More Yakuza side orders, please!
Most games here were a known commodity, stuff I had been looking forward to or otherwise expecting to be good. Signalis came out of nowhere.
It’s plodding, it’s brutal, it’s unnerving without venturing too far into outright horror, and I’m absolutely loving everything about it. I love the animation, as your android paces cautiously through the hallways, or smoothly loads another clip into her firearm. I love the way the world design somehow presents Japanese sci-fi with an East German twist. I love the writing, which sees the story unfold in the traditional “fragments of notes left throughout the world” kind of way, only done to perfection. And I love the sound design, some of the starkest you’ll come across this year, making it an absolute must to play with headphones.
I don’t often deal in extremes here in my end of year lists, but this game had the worse name of 2022. As confusing and impenetrable as the series’ lore it is based on. Yet it’s also one of the absolute best games of 2022, one of the most polished and enjoyable turn-based tactics games you can enjoy this side of XCOM (a game this borrows from heavily)
I’ve had a better time with Daemonhunters than I have in a long time with 40K, maybe even since Space Marine, its combination of tactical brilliance—no matter how much of it is borrowed—and an understanding of the license making this a great game for 40K fans, a great game for turn-based tactics fans and perfection for anyone finding themselves trapped at the point those two venn diagrams overlap.
This game first came out in 2020, then left Early Access in 2021, but didn’t land on Steam until 2022, so I used that as an excuse to write some impressions of it back in May. I’m using that same excuse now to put it on this list.
We’ve seen a number of big 4X releases in recent years. Civilization VI, Endless Legend and Humankind, just to name a few of the most prominent. Old World is better than any of them. It’s focused, it’s confident, it’s smart and builds on the 4X genre in ways that are some of the most interesting I’ve seen in years.
I loved almost every second I spent with Stray, not because you were a cat, or for any of its frustrating stealth and action sequences, but because it was the best adventure game—with one of the most fully-realised worlds—of 2022.
The joy here comes in their craft, in their design. While all three are part of a single world—one that is itself walled-in, and which we glimpse at the game’s conclusion in a wonderful, “I can see my house from here” moment—they’re presented to us in a way that makes them feel whole unto themselves. Like we’re wandering around a collection of snowglobes. Run through Stray’s streets and you’ll usually circle back around to where you started, making you forget all about the walls keeping you trapped in this area until you’re done, convincing us that this is a realised, liveable space because we’re only ever shown what is in this world, not what’s being kept from us.
This is another expansion, but that word grossly undersells what was on offer here. In many ways Immortal Empires is the culmination of not just Creative Assembly’s Warhammer series but their entire, decades-long work on the Total War games themselves, offering a campaign battle as enormous, complex and dramatic as fans could ever hope to dream for.
I’m sorry there wasn’t much more to add here other than “the map got bigger”, but hopefully I’ve got across the point that yes, the map got bigger but that also means something for a Total War campaign, and that the end result, something fans have been waiting years for, is everything you would have expected (except for the fact it actually runs pretty well, which might be the biggest shock).
I know what you’re going to say! This is a 2020 video game! And it is! But in 2020 my PlayStation 4 was dying and I didn’t have a PlayStation 5, so never got the chance to play this. Now that I have a PS5—and a PlayStation Plus subscription—I could finally circle back around in 2022, and holy shit.
This game is everything. You know that bit in Two Towers where Gandalf comes back and says “I am Saruman... or rather, Saruman as he should have been”? Replace “Saruman” with “Assassin’s Creed” and we’ve got Ghost of Tsushima. This game fucking rules. Jin just glides around, the world is staggeringly beautiful, the combat is maybe the best in this style of game I have ever encountered and playing it in Japanese is one hell of an experience.
One of my absolute favourite types of game these days are the ones that set themselves simple goals then just absolutely nail them. Railbound is a puzzle game about moving little trains along tracks, and it stars cute cartoon dogs. That’s it! And it’s perfect!
This game is wonderful. The puzzles are nice and taxing, and ramp up in complexity at just the right speed, but it’s the presentation that sets it apart. The trains don’t just move, they lurch. You don’t just put tracks down, they pop on landing. Everything is cute and fun and has a real sense of tangibility to it, as though we were messing with a board game, or a chunky children’s toy.
I may have seemed pretty critical of Ixion in my impressions recently, but know that those knocks came from a place of frustration, because everything the game did right it did very right. This game blends city-building with deep space exploration in such a seamless way that it truly makes you feel like the captain of this doomed voyage, and if the devs ever release a freeplay or sandbox mode, free of the story’s overly-guiding hand, then it may well be making an appearance on my 2023 list as well.
Ixion’s art and writing are surprisingly slick for a game of this profile, with fantastic designs and a story that had me eager to unravel its mysteries from the opening minutes. It also looks and sounds incredible; the city-building sections let you zoom right in and see individual workers doing their thing, while the single best part of the whole game is watching a ship inch across the stellar map from the strategic view then zooming into the station to see it enter a docking bay in real-time. Which doesn’t sound like much, but it’s very cool to watch!
And that’s it! Thanks for sticking around this long. Don’t bother asking any questions as to why certain games aren’t on here, because the answer will be either a) I didn’t play it, or b) I didn’t like it enough to put it here, and maybe didn’t even like it at all!
If you want to see some previous instalments of this, here are my top games from 2021, 2020 (an absolutely vintage year for my particular tastes) and 2019. And with that, I’m out of here for 2022! See you all in the new year, and happy holidays!