Welcome to 2022 Favourites, our look back at a great year of gaming. Whether they’re brand new or just new to us, these are the games we’ve most enjoyed playing in 2022.
On Tuesday, Tom gave us an insight into his favourite games of 2022. Like Tom, I’ve poured countless hours into some of the AAA titles this year, but the games that have made a lasting impression on me are, by and large, smaller indie affairs. So, in no particular order, here are my top gaming picks from 2022:
I was lucky enough to review Citizen Sleeper when it released in May this year and it still stands firm as one of my favourite games of 2022.
In Jump Over the Age’s narrative PRG adventure, You take control of an unnamed Sleeper who has sold themselves to a corporation in an attempt to pay off their debt. As your body lies in suspended animation, your emulated consciousness slaves away for the company in a mechanical body. After somehow escaping their clutches, you flee into space and find yourself aboard a half-derelict Space Station, Erlin’s Eye.
Taking inspiration from TTRPGs, every interaction on the Eye uses a set of 6 dice to perform skill checks. The higher the dice roll, the better chance of a positive outcome. Some actions require a certain skill level, while others will negatively affect you if you roll a low number. And as with any good Capitalist system, your major concerns are your health (Condition) and where your next meal is coming from (Energy). The lower your Condition, the fewer dice you have to interact with. If your bar is completely empty, you breakdown.
In Citizen Sleeper, everything revolves around cycles – from the Eye turning through ink black space to the story clocks that indicate your progression. Some of these clocks fill up when you perform a series of successful tasks via skill checks, while others count down as timers or warnings. When you wake up to the news that a Corp Hunter is hurtling towards the Station, a menacing red clock begins ticking toward your doom.
Ultimately, Citizen Sleeper is the constant ticking of clocks, a cycle that starts anew each day. Whether that’s your Condition deteriorating, your Energy waning, or a Hunter on your tail, it is relentless. In essence, you’re just one unlucky dice roll away from nothing: the perfect metaphor for the precarity of life under Capitalism.
Pentiment is a historical narrative-driven game focusing on choice-driven storytelling and character building. Playing as a young artist, Andreas Maler, you find yourself caught up in a series of murders plaguing the 16th Century town of Tassing (and the surrounding Kiersau Abbey) over the course of several decades. As you begin conducting your investigation, each choice you make has real, lasting consequences for both your fate and that of the community.
To be honest, I found the sheer amount of choice to be overwhelming at first. There are so many people to speak to, so many leads to chase, and with only a limited time before you must return to bed and prayers, it’s impossible to do everything. But that’s what makes Pentiment so great.
When you eventually get over your FOMO, it’s entirely down to you to decide how you make your time count. You could enjoy a bowl of fresh pottage with the local baker and pick up some village gossip along the way, or go hunting in the mountains with the suspicious town miller in the hope that he might implicate himself. Whatever you do, know that each choice you make drives an engrossing story that is personal to you and the character you’ve become.
Although I’ve given it a good go, Pentiment is quite a difficult game to pin down. But perhaps everything we need to know is staring us right in the face. It’s title, for example, is the anglicised version of the Italian noun ‘pentimento’, which is defined as:
An underlying image in a painting, especially one that has become visible when the top layer of paint has turned transparent with age. From the verb pentìrsi, meaning to repent.
Fitting, then, for a game that chips away at the righteous veneer of Christianity in 16th Century Europe, to reveal something more sinister beneath.
It’s no secret that I’m a major Stray fanboy. Ever since it was first announced back in 2020, the idea of being able to play a game as cat blew my mind. As gorgeous screenshots were drip-fed to us in the intervening years, I couldn’t help but get caught up in all the hype. And although I may be a touch biased, by and large, Stray lived up to it. That’s not to say it isn’t without fault, though.
Let’s start with the pawsitives… playing as a cat rules, obviously. But it’s way more than just a gimmick. BlueTwelve Studio nail the sense of scale you’d feel as a little floofball running in between imposing alleyways and towering buildings. Despite not being able to jump freely (instead, an X button prompt indicates a pathway) I still found it enthralling when scrambling among the ramshackle rooftops of the Dead City in search of a hidden nook to sleep in.
Exploration then, is Stray at its best, while the light combat and occasional stealth were weak in comparison and didn’t quite fit the tone. I’d have happily taken more platforming and puzzles in their place. That being said, it’s disappointing that the Robot inhabitants of each area all have similar lines of dialogue. It feels like a missed opportunity to add further depth to the rich, mysterious world BlueTwelve created.
Despite its shortcomings, there’s something special about this game. Whether it’s the beautiful art style and richly detailed world, the evocative score or the heartstring-tugging ending (you’ve been warned), Stray is simply the cat’s pyjamas.
Norco is a point-and-click narrative adventure in the Southern Gothic style that lands you right in the heart of the industrial swamps in a distorted Louisiana. Its real-world counterpart and namesake, Norco, Louisiana is home to a major Shell Oil refinery (as well as some 3,000 residents) – the land originally purchased by the New Orleans Refining Company (NORCO).
You begin in search of your brother, Blake, who has been missing since your mother died. With the help of your adopted security Cyborg, you journey through the beautifully bleak refineries, strip malls and drainage canals in search of answers. Wherever you end up, each scene is realised in exquisite pixel-art that’s drenched in the melancholic dusk of smoke stacks and oil fire.
There’s a similarity here to Kentucky Route Zero. Both games use magical realism to examine social class and those living on the outskirts of society. Both are partial to esoteric musings on occasion, too. And in parts, Norco’s writing is as sharp and poetically crushing as ZA/UM’s Disco Elysium. But it’s most definitely its own game.
Like the bayous that cut through the town, the story meanders a little towards the end. But despite that, I was left with a profound sense of hope in a world that’s carved out by geography, climate change and the self-interest of global corporations.