The ten good games that came out this year
And I will fight- I will FIGHT anyone who says 2022 was a bad year for games.
There were at least…ten good games that came out this year!
TOPPPP TENNNN GAMES OF 2022, SPONSORED BY CURIOSITYSTREAMMMMM
It was kinda a weird one, I admit. Lots of big
games got shuffled out, we still don’t have
Zelda or Silksong, Horizon continued its trend
of releasing simultaneously with one of the best
games ever made. But that room was more than made
up for by a suite of obscenely well-made indies,
games that are really honed to a razor’s edge. And
look, I played a lot of stuff this year- at time
of writing this, I’ve rolled credits on 50 games
in the calendar year 2022. That’s NOT including
games I replayed, or the…several battlepasses I
worked through in Fortnite.
Also in case you’re going to yell at me for not including something,
Check out this list (and then don’t yell at me anyway).
I’ve actually talked about most of these games already on the MinnMax podcast-
did you know I’m on a podcast?
MinnMax! [“it’s a game that dares to ask,
what if your arms were baseball bats?”] It was my favorite gaming podcast before I was regularly featured,
and I still listen to it every week
I’m not on. There’s a playlist in the
description. Anyway, I’ve
talked about these games as they came out, but the
value of a year-end list- for me, at least- is
to put into practice my oft-stated theory that
the best games are the ones that live in your
memory for the longest. So the following games,
the results of an incomplete sample and barely
in order, are that. My attempt to remember and
catalog my favorite experiences this year, and
throw them into a numbered list. There’s also a
whole separate list that will include my favorite
movies and books and honorable-mentions games, you
can watch that exclusively on Nebula after this.
But that’s enough hedging, let’s jump into it!
If you’re a fan of grimy sci-fi meditations
on capitalism and the gig economy, and also
video games, 2022 was a pretty damn good year for
you. Norco, a point-and-click adventure/detective
story, is one of my favorite kinds of science
fiction in that it feels set about five minutes in
the future. Robots are around, AIs are kind of a
thing, but the extent to which any of these things
have changed, let alone improved, day-to-day
life for the characters is up for debate.
In practice, the things you do in Norco are
often very pedestrian, even when your goals
are something like “invade a cult of men whose
names are all ‘Garrett’.” But through that
pedestrian-ness, the game world grounds itself
in the messy realism of its protagonists.
Norco is often a shockingly beautiful game, with
smoggy sunsets and evocative music and genuinely
moving pieces of writing. It’s also a game where a
detective admits that he missed a crucial suspect
because he has IBS, and then says “you gotta have
a clean ass to fight crime. Everyone knows that.”
On that note, Norco actually feels remarkably
similar to Hideo Kojima’s 1988 detective game
Snatcher (which still holds up and you
should play it!). Both have quirky,
holistic portraits of future cities, both are
often very funny, both have occasionally obtuse
puzzles. The difference between the two maybe
says as much about the eras of their development
as it does about the developers; Norco is harder
edged, more cynical, less conclusive. But it’s
also capable of an intimacy that Snatcher never
quite reaches, borne of a connection to the land
and people of neo-Louisiana. Despite being set in
the future, Norco is an incredibly 2022 game.
The thing about Signalis, moreso than its
horror or its cool PS1 aesthetic, is that
it’s ambitious. It’s ambitious on a thematic
level in a way I feel like we rarely see anymore,
where not only has there obviously been a ton of
thought put into the overarching narrative, but
every piece of it– every puzzle solution, every
boss, every scrap of paper you find on the ground–
is demonstrating some metaphor or parallel
or symbolism. It is a massively dense game,
one that takes eight hours to
beat but far more to untangle.
It builds the type of world where
the basements have basements.
But even if you don’t “get” Signalis on first
pass, and I don’t think many of us will,
what it still conveys is utter confidence
in its choices. The cutscenes are just…a
lot, with so many contrasting styles and flashes
of clarity obscured by mountains of other
information, and the music really hits throughout
the whole thing. One of my favorite bits,
even though I have not at all figured out what it
means, is there’s this recurring motif of “this
space intentionally left blank.” Like it flashes
that on the screen at you, and that phrase feels
so ominous amidst everything else the game is
doing, just “this space intentionally left blank.”
It does stumble into some of the more
frustrating elements of the genre as well,
some puzzles and a lot of inventory management.
But I am so excited to see what other people do
with Signalis, because more than anything else
it’s a game that begs to be pulled apart.
There were a couple games this year that had
“wow, I’ve never done that before!” moments,
but none half as much as The Last Clockwinder.
This is a VR game about automation,
but rather than setting up conveyor belts or
other machinery, you’re automating…yourself.
Say you’ve got an apple tree, and that tree grows
apples every 10 seconds. You could stand there
yourself and pick the apples as they show up,
taking them off a branch and putting them in a
basket. OR, in the last clockwinder, you could
record your picking motion on a 10-second loop
and then set an automaton to take your place,
your motion and results perfectly replicated
every time. BUT THEN, you see, there’s also an
apple tree across the room. So you set another
automaton to pick from that tree as well, but
the fruit basket is over by the first one,
so you pick both apples and toss them towards
the first one, and then you go over and re-record
the original loop so instead of simply picking
apples, your first automaton picks two fruits,
puts them in the basket, turns and catches
the two that your second automaton has tossed,
and drops those in the basket as well.
But then there’s a THIRD tree, and-
You see how this could get very complicated
very fast, and it does, but always in a way
that’s manageable because you yourself are every
part of the machine, you’ve worked every part of
the line to set it all up. Do you remember
that scene from the original Fantasia, with
Mickey and the broomsticks? That’s effectively
what this game offers you the chance to do,
and it’s both amazing and a little uncanny to look
down at a room full of a dozen mechanized yous,
all moving in ways that are, recognizably,
you. And one of my favorite bits of The Last
Clockwinder is it becomes a sort of effortless
commentary on the difficulties of automating
human behavior. Inevitably, I would realize one
of my recorded selves was a little awkward- I
didn’t throw the fruit well, I picked the apple
less than perfectly- and would have to decide
if I wanted to start the whole automated chain
again, or simply work around the awkward movement,
improvising fixes than would, of course,
create even more problems later on.
The Last Clockwinder’s scale stays far smaller
than something like Factorio or Infinifactory.
Because of how involved the setup is, it
basically never grows beyond the size of
a room. But within its rooms, what it’s doing is
absolutely, wonderfully unique. I really hope the
developers continue to play with this concept,
because The Last Clockwinder feels like it’s
only scratching the surface of what’s possible.
Some games surprise you. I might watch a trailer,
think nothing of it, then only through word
of mouth hear that a game is actually worth
another look. And then there are games like Neon
White. Immediately, Neon White presented itself
as one of the flashiest, coolest-looking,
most Machine Girl-scored games of the year,
and it doesn’t drop that mantle for a second.
The game is style as substance, and its
genre invention is more than just an excuse to
show off some truly rad graphic design. There are
a half dozen video essays on how this game teaches
you to speedrun and they’re all correct, there
are presumably five million pieces of fanart for
each character and they’re all deserved. And in
this final, year-end discussion, I am also here
to stick up for its story.
Partially, I think Neon White’s gameplay is
so fun that people lose patience for the visual
novel sections that break up the speedrunning.
And that’s fair, and you unlock plenty of marathon
modes after the game finishes to skip right to it.
But I’ve seen so many takes talking about how
uncool the characters of this game are, and I
just have to say- you think Neon White doesn’t
know that?? You think they did it by accident??
There’s this section of the
Polygon review I like that goes
“White and his found family of other damned
souls are truly, wonderfully cringe. White
is an unabashed sword weeb. Violet belts out
karaoke renditions of My Chemical Romance. No
one wears fewer than three belts. The characters
of Neon White aren’t supposed to be cool — they’re
posturing, insecure dorks, and the joy of the
story is helping them gradually drop the mask.”
That really sums up my feelings here-
probably because I wrote that review. Of
course it’s cringe! We’re all cringe, it’s
2022. Get over it. Aim for the heavens.
Nine years ago, when The Stanley Parable first
released, it was immediately one of “those” games.
A game that was as fun to write and talk about as
it was to play, a whole big silly meta-narrative
on choice and storytelling and agency within the
limitless and incredibly limited medium of video
games. It’s also one of those experiences that is
essentially one “bit,” and once you know the bit,
that’s kind of it. Stanley Parable was
never a game that I really returned to,
and so the somewhat confusing development of
The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe Edition as
an…expansion? Remaster? DLC? wasn’t something I
was eagerly awaiting. But BOY WAS I WRONG.
The most important thing the Ultra Deluxe Edition
does for the Stanley Parable Experience is just
expand the bit. The game is so much wider, and
so much weirder, than it was nine years ago.
There is, to be clear, an entire new game’s
worth of content in this thing. And the new
stuff is hilariously reflective and self-aware,
as you would imagine, but also unexpected and
abstract and sometimes really, deeply ominous.
What I never expected to say to you in 2022 is
that I enjoyed playing this version of the Stanley
Parable more than I enjoyed the original in 2013-
and I already knew the bit! If the original
is many variations on one very solid joke, the
Ultra Deluxe Edition is less concerned with the
punchline and more interested in what happens to a
setup when it’s tortured into a thousand different
versions of itself. And also, there’s a bucket.
Hey, do you like haunted houses? Do you? Do you
like representations of our precarious position
on the planet and with each other?? Well check
this out!! Yes, I admit, this isn’t about games
specifically. Earlier this year, I commissioned
the incredible artist Kaylee Rowena to draw me a
haunted house and she freaking DELIVERED, and
now you can buy it too. This poster is on sale
at my merch link in the description. It is so so
cool. There you can also find this hat which isn’t
afraid to tell the truth- namely that Fish Fear
Me and I Fear Everything. You can find this mug,
telling everyone that you think about it a lot
while “cracked” in the exact pattern of Andres
Serrano’s Piss Christ for no particular reason.
There are patches and pins too. Chanukah is
late this year! You still have time! Anyway.
I played some lengthy games this year. Giant
open worlds, sprawling narratives, far too
much Fortnite. But at the beginning of 2022,
I never would have guessed that I would pour
dozens and dozens and dozens of hours into
a game like Vampire Survivors. This game
could, and might, take over the world.
Vampire Survivors’ tagline is “be the bullet
hell,” which is a catchy and pretty apt
description. It is a game built out of exponential
power escalation, where single whips and fireballs
turn into a screen-filling, bitrate-demolishing
spectacle within the span of 30 minutes. And that
30 minute time limit is part of the reason why I
spent so much time with Vampire Survivors. Almost
every day, I would hop on my exercise bike and
play a round of this game while pedaling away,
guaranteed to have a fun breezy time with
still enough variety to keep me coming back.
One of the best parts of my experience with
Vampire Survivors was that I started playing
in its early access period, and the game
updated near constantly- new characters,
new weapons, new achievements to chase.
Vampire Survivors does not have lofty
narrative ambitions, but what it does have
is a series of immensely satisfying mechanics
that build on each other and allow different
permutations on the same amazing formula, over and
over and over. And can we talk about how amazing
it is that this game is not predatorily monetized?
Low bar I know, but when every other aspect of its
design resembles the world’s best slot machine,
I do feel like I have to give it credit
for costing one amount of money, once.
Also, one of the secret characters is a tree.
I do have to say- from this point on,
any of these games could be my game
of the year. Easily could be. I’ve had an
incredibly hard time deciding on an order,
and I reserve the right to change my mind at any
point. All of them get trophies in my heart.
You know, it is kind of incredible to go back
to Her Story, Sam Barlow’s first experimental
project with FMV video clips. Because Her Story is
a great game, but it’s also a game that consists
entirely of one actor sitting in one room
for a few hours. And then, jump forward a
couple years and out comes Immortality, a game
that is effectively THREE FULL MOVIES. Sets,
costumes, film styles, crew members, music,
makeup, for THREE FULL, SEPARATE MOVIES.
I am obsessed with the idea of “blank check”
games- shoutout to Griffin and David-,
games where it seems the developers get to spend
a lot of money on whatever incredibly specific
things they want. Although Immortality does not
have the biggest game budget at all, I can’t help
but look at this game and be absolutely astonished
they were able to create this volume of footage at
such a consistently high level of quality. I want
more developers to be able to think of an idea for
a game as weird as Immortality and then be able to
actually go for it like they were able to here.
You might notice that I’m not talking
so much about the game itself- that’s
partially because I just released a video going
into all of my very emotional emotions about
it- watch that if you haven’t! What I didn’t say
about Immortality in that video that I’ll say here
is I haven’t had this much fun conferring
with friends about a game in ages. Playing
Immortality alone is an experience that kind
of makes you feel like you’re losing your mind,
and talking to other people about it doesn’t make
you feel not like that, but it will inevitably
reveal that your friend is also losing their mind,
and probably in an entirely different direction
than you! I said on MinnMax a while ago that
this might be the most “mature” game ever made,
and even though it has lots of “adult content,”
I moreso mean that this game basically requires
a book club to pull apart. I think I’d find
this game absolutely impenetrable as a kid,
and I love that about it.
It feels strange to say about
one of the biggest AAA releases of 2022, but
I don’t think any game surprised me this year
as much as God of War: Ragnarok. As someone who
both really likes the old games and is fairly
disenchanted with dad narratives, I was not really
a fan of 2018’s reboot- it felt predictable and a
little monotonous, an effort to be “mature” that
just didn’t really work FOR ME, IN MY OPINION.
So with all that said, I am so happy to report
that Ragnarok knocked my freakin’ socks off.
What’s interesting about this difference in
enjoyment between the two games is not that much
has changed. It’s still the prestige-y behind the
shoulder viewpoint, Kratos still has very serious
thoughts and conversations about fatherhood, you
still have to ring three bells to open a chest
to get a new set of gloves. But the difference in
the narrative here, where the characters end up vs
where they started, is just kind of remarkable.
Ragnarok is an enormous game, full of so many
varied relationships and landscapes and twists and
turns, and so so many of those new choices work.
What I consistently admired about the game is its
ability to zag when you expect it to zig, make
decisions that undercut your expectations of what
might happen next. I mean Odin, the all-father,
played essentially like an old Jew? Incredible!
Every interaction with Thor is an A+, Heimdall?
Hoooo buddy. Also, man did I enjoy the
combat here. It is a true credit to the
game that I spent probably a dozen hours
just working on optional endgame bosses and
found it more fun than frustrating.
But the best thing about the game is it
delivered what I didn’t get from 2018, an arc from
Kratos that feels tough and thoughtful and earned.
The realization of what the game is ultimately
about, a realization that comes something like
35 hours in, hits like a goddamn truck. It’s
not just dad stuff. It goes so far beyond.
The second entry in our list of this year’s
fantastic games about sci-fi gig economy
dystopias has arrived. It’s Citizen Sleeper and
it’s f***ing stunning. Whereas Norco is a more
traditional adventure title with few ways to “game
over,” Citizen Sleeper pairs its beautiful prose
and world construction with a relentless series
of gameplay timers that constantly push you to the
brink of desperation. Your hunger ticks down, your
money ticks down, your ability to even function
within your own body ticks down. And through these
countdown clocks, this forced lack of stability,
Citizen Sleeper makes your choices feel
painfully meaningful. I missed out on
things I cared about because I needed to work,
or eat, or run from debt collectors. And yet,
because of how harsh the world is, moments
of compassion in Citizen Sleeper are amongst
the warmest I’ve seen in years. The characters in
this game are so well-written, the art is so good,
the soundtrack is probably my most
listened to album this year.
I started playing Citizen Sleeper on May 13 at
about 3am. I couldn’t sleep and figured I might
as well get a start on this new game I had been
meaning to try. And I am not a marathon gamer,
I do not tend to play things in long sessions,
but I barely moved until I finished that game,
I finished it on May 13 as well- and it is
not short! It just casts that kind of spell.
One wonderful thing about the game is
its approach to endings- there are many,
and they are relatively clearly marked, and they
all represent different paths your character could
ultimately walk down. And I ran across virtually
all of them over the course of my playthrough
and thought each time, “I don’t think this is
the one for me.” And then the final opportunity
it gave me was also the one I realized I wanted
most, and I was able to be sent off by the game
in exactly the way I needed, its spell over
me broken in a way that still felt magical.
I truly adore Citizen Sleeper. It is a
special game, and maybe the one on this
list I most want you to try if you haven’t.
The thing is, sometimes when a thing is really
really incredibly good, you can find yourself
talking about the negatives more just because
that’s the most interesting point of discussion.
For example: I love replaying the Souls games,
and those replays are typically where I really
nail down my fascination and understanding of
their world structure. However, when your
game is potentially a hundred hours long,
replays get more unwieldy and the world
gets harder to hold in your head at once.
Or the fact that there are probably too many
spells for non-magic users, or that sometimes
bosses get repeated, or, blah blah blah.
But here’s the long and the short of it.
There’s only one game this year that I thought
over and over while I was playing it, “this
is one of the best games I’ve ever played.” And
that’s Elden Ring. Elden Ring does so many things
so well, so effortlessly, that I find it hard to
even nail down what that je ne sais quoi is. Maybe
it’s the amount of time spent tiptoeing along the
crumbling edges of vast pieces of architecture,
every step feeling like you’re finding your own
path. Or maybe it’s the sky painted red when you
emerge from a long journey underground, or a
falling star streaking across the map, or the
fifth massive city you find after you were sure
you had seen all the game had to offer. Maybe it’s
the underground cosmos or maybe it’s the decaying
noble animal you find there, maybe it’s the
turtle pope or the tiny horse or the stranger you
summon that kamehamehas a boss into oblivion.
When I was a kid, I’d daydream about what
I wanted games to be in the future- what
if in Zelda you could also do this, what if
this game had never stopped making bosses,
what if what I thought was the end had barely
scratched the surface. And Elden Ring is,
effectively, the game I was daydreaming about.
Elden Ring is such a monumental achievement that
it kind of feels like it comes from another
dimension of development, where the ability
to create is uninhibited by all the factors in our
world that hold it back. What more can I say? It’s
a game where you can wield a massive pizza cutter
and use it to cut through some primal dragon god.
Personally, I think it’s very good.
What a year, huh? Good, bad, weird,
a continued slide towards entropy.
I do have to say though that I am…happy, I’m
genuinely happy, and that’s due in huge part
to being able to do stuff like this. This became
my full-time job this year, and it’s the support
of patrons and community members and discord
moderators and friendly coworkers and everything
that’s made it possible. The year started with
the cold, swung through a whole mad scientist arc,
read through almost all of Zelda, plunged
underwater…I have a couple ideas for next year,
I think we are going to get into some wacky
stuff, but most of all I am just grateful to
have the opportunity to talk about whatever
fascinating idea gets stuck in my brain.
And speaking of! There are more games than this
that came out this year. More importantly, I saw
one of my favorite movies maybe ever this year and
read possibly my new favorite book, AND watched
one of the best seasons of television maybe
ever made. This and more I’ve put up on Nebula,
in a video that’s chock full of recommendations
and thoughts and all that stuff too disorganized
for this main vid. Nebula is a streaming platform
that I am constantly putting extra videos on-
if you sign up now, you’ll get access to every
exclusive I’ve ever put on there, and everything
I’ll upload next year too, early, extended,
uncensored. And hey, listen, I know you’ve heard
me talk about this before but right now there is
a holiday sale going on, meaning that it’s even
cheaper than normal. Sign up right now and it is
less than one dollar a month. Think about if you’d
even notice one fewer dollar a month, and then
think about if you’d notice hours of exclusive
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And you also, of course, get CuriosityStream,
so you can pair my exclusives with countless
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best deal you’re gonna find on these services,
and these services are legitimately in the game
if you like this thing that I do. Buy yourself
a year of bonus videos from me and hear all my
thoughts on RRR, Bayonetta, Severance and more,
by following that link in the description.