Games of the Year — 2022

Mike Kelly
8 min readDec 21, 2022

It’s been a long road out of the dark times, but 2022 was the first year in a long time that felt like normal. So what could be more normal than playing a ton of video games?

One note: I didn’t want to put it on my list this year (it was on last year’s), but special note has to be given to Destiny 2’s new expansion, The Witch Queen. It was both a narrative and mechanical triumph, and secured Destiny as my go-to game all year. Bungie’s really come into their own.

10. Expeditions: Rome

Game Pass introduces games to me that I never otherwise would have heard of, let alone played. Expeditions: Rome is a wonderful game burdened by an utterly generic name. The elevator pitch is “Baldur’s Gate set in the Roman Republic.” It deals in actual history - you navigate the political machinations of the optimates and populares, conduct an expedition to Egypt to restore Cleopatra to the throne, and go to war against the Gallic confederation. Your party members are embodied persons from all walks of life — A Greek slave, an ex-gladiator, and a Scythian horse warrior. It’s a simple, novel concept, but executed exceptionally well.

9. Elden Ring

FromSoft doesn’t miss. It seemed inevitable that the Dark Souls formula would be adapted to an open world, but Elden Ring elevates the open world concept with its worldbuilding. Everywhere you explore has its own distinct character, from Limgrave’s verdant fields to the decaying plaguelands of Caelid. Every dark corner of the world hides something, be it a natural cave, lonely NPC, or a terrifying beast. The freedom of the world also extends to your character, granting extraordinary freedom to your adventuring builds, merging the melee/magic dichotomy into a character that can step into both roles with ease. Aside from some late-game difficulty spikes, it’s a near flawless adaptation of the Souls formula.

8. Power Wash Simulator

Look, I’m as surprised as you to see this here. “Simulator” games rely on placing simple mundane mechanics in a repetitive mission-based framework. And power washing is a fun mechanic! Who among us hasn’t stared at satisfying videos of things being power washed late into the night? But Power Wash Simulator actively shuns the repetitiveness of its forebears by giving you an astounding variety of targets to clean — Skate parks! Ferris Wheels! Statues buried in the desert! A house that looks like a shoe! Each one of these stages are beautifully rendered, and the inventiveness on display is staggering. If you spend the time to clean them, you are rewarded with an area freed from muck and restored to a beautiful state. It’s remarkable for a game to evoke such satisfaction once, but Power Wash Simulator does it with every completed job.

7. Hardspace: Shipbreaker

There’s been a trend in games lately to glamorize blue collar work. Hardspace: Shipbreaker puts you into the role of a wage-slave space ship salvager, breaking hulks down into component parts to reclaim value for corporate overlords. You wheel about in zero-g environments, surgically disarticulating support struts on a retired space truck, attempting to delicately remove the most valuable parts — engines, computer consoles, power sources. There’s a deep satisfaction in skillfully practicing precise destruction to optimize the value of the ship you are salvaging, making those extra credits to put into your account. Hardspace: Shipbreaker elevates the value of that work, and criticizes the capitalist ideology that comes between you and your ability to excel at a hard job, celebrating dignity, solidarity, and purpose.

6. Marvel Snap

When I heard that members of the core Hearthstone team had formed their own game company, I already knew I’d love their next offering. Their outreach to the community always showed a deep enthusiasm for gaming, a genuine excitement to do fun and crazy things and share that energy with others. Marvel Snap is a head-to-head deckbuilder that thrives on mobile. Each game is only a few minutes, but you build a deck from a roster of hundreds of heroes. There are big names and deep cuts, multiple art variants, and an unobtrusive monetization scheme that shows tremendous confidence in the game’s core gameplay. It might be the best mobile game I’ve ever played.

5. Pentiment

Obsidian creates narratives that stun in their creativity. Pentiment is a murder mystery set in a monastic illumination house in 15th century Bavaria. A game like this shouldn’t exist, let alone be good. You follow the life of journeyman artisan Andreas Maler as he gets embroiled in the social dynamics of a small Alpine town. It is a gorgeous, utterly authentic portrayal of a time and place on the cusp of religious and political upheaval. The people are no mere caricatures, but living, breathing exemplars of their moment in history, complete with the customs, ideas, and idiosyncracies of their milieu. It’s a fascinating tableau of a world whose legacy colors our current reality, but never much explored in fiction.

4. Norco

Named after the real-life distressed oil town in Louisiana, Norco shows a magical realist future of communities ground down by oppressive capital, and how they cope with lives restricted by the yoke of corporate interests. Some are the cranks and yahoos for whom insanity is the only response to a mad world, while others seek to reform community under the aegis of cult-like political authority. People fragmented in mind, body, and environment seek to create whatever order is available to them, whatever can fly under the radar of the oppressive forces that constrain them. It is a game about the banality of an evil future, but with a deep examination of how humans strive for connection in an environment that robs them of their selfhood.

3. Immortality

Immortality is the apex of Sam Barlow’s attempt to blend filmmaking and games. You are presented a single question — What happened to Marissa Marcel? To answer this, you explore video clips from three unreleased movies. Clip quality varies — perfect hi-def final masters, rough shots from clapboard to “cut!”, and even table reads and rehearsals. It’s a celebration of filmmaking, but one that contains a deeper examination of the human soul.

Beneath the surface of these clips lies deeper mysteries that provide an unflinching look at the nature of identity, art, and the different faces we put into the world. Layer by layer, as the veils of artifice are peeled away, you are forced to confront the nature of human performance, both on screen and not. It examines the question of what we put into our work, and where the line between our expressions and our selves blurs. It asks what we give to the world, and if immortality is worth that price.

2. Citizen Sleeper

Video games have long shared a heritage with tabletop games, but Citizen Sleeper applies those rulesets to a fantastically-told story. You are a Sleeper, a digitized human mind placed into a robotic shell that lives on the edge of poverty on a massive space station. It is a futuristic dystopia of the gig economy, as you grind at any number of small jobs to keep your body alive — delivering for a noodle shop, unloading freighters, and other hard labor handled by otherwise unseen members of society.

And it is that society where the beauty of this game comes out. Not just in the character art and deep synths of its soundtrack, but in the interpersonal connections that define this downtrodden community and the needs and drives of the kindred souls you meet. There’s a mid-level functionary trying to preserve order. A laborer who wants nothing more than a better life for his child. Even rogue AIs who stare in silence while confronting the void of their own existence. Your own path with them can be just a point in space, or a deeply held memory that you bear with you for eternity.

1. Tunic

Tunic deceives. The first impression is that it is a modern adaptation of Link to the Past — prettier, smoother, and with a cute fox protagonist. On the surface is a high fantasy adventure, complete with goopy enemies and ancient structures buried in the earth. But there are some things amiss — there is no tutorial or help system, and nearly all the game’s text is displayed in an incomprehensible, otherworldly language. It’s not unlike the experience of firing up an obscure SNES RPG that never got translated. There is no indication of the role you play in this world, so you just start poking at the corners of it.

Then little things start biting at the edges of your mind. Why am I collecting pages of an old game instruction booklet, complete with pen marks in the margins? What is this design that I see everywhere? How do I even save my game? It soon becomes apparent that this is a meticulously crafted puzzle box. Each clue points you to a new area to explore, whether it’s an ancient ruin or something hidden in your inventory screen. And the rabbit hole keeps getting deeper.

Video game puzzleboxes are hard — players are observant, and tend to poke at everything. But multiple times after I had gained the ability to lift the veil from my own eyes, I stumbled across utterly mundane locations and exclaimed “Oh, you god damn geniuses.” So much is hidden in plain sight, in innocuous vistas, character models, and the combinations of items you use. And it all culminates in the final grand puzzle, the core of what you have unknowingly spent hours searching for.

Tunic is an absolute masterclass in showing what can be done with games, evoking the experience of exploring a world that cannot exist anywhere else. This world was made to be known, and the joy of knowing it surpassed anything else this year.

--

--

Mike Kelly

I’m trying to find a good place to scream into the void about video games.