As 2022, the year that brought us such hits as Babylon’s Fall and Saints Row,  comes to a close, our staff wanted to take a look back at the best of the best in gaming this year. This Top 10 list was chosen by votes from our entire staff and we couldn’t be more thrilled to share them! These entries are in no order. Let’s get to it!

Neon White

neon white screen rock paper shotgun
The stylish Neon White is blaring and brilliant (pic: Rock Paper Shotgun).

Speedrunning is cool. First-person action games are cool. Anime is cool. Neon White is… very cool. It’s a game that oozes style, and yet never falls into the traps of style over substance, because it realizes that sometimes style is substance. Neon White simply wouldn’t be the same without all the bold aesthetic choices it makes. It’s flashy, it’s fast, it’s loud. It embraces edginess and cringe so wholeheartedly that it comes around to not being cringy anymore. Because yes, contrary to popular opinion, I think the writing in Neon White is actually pretty solid. You will regularly roll your eyes at the stupidity of some of the dialogue, but they knew exactly what they were doing here.

The thing is, even if you don’t vibe with the writing, you will more than likely enjoy Neon White regardless. Because the gameplay, the real meat of the game, is phenomenal. It feels so good to control and to zap through the levels at lightspeed. Because beyond just being a very good card-based FPS precision platformer, and yes it really is all of that, it’s also essentially an introduction to speedrunning. And while there are small rewards for beating a certain time on every level, the game probably doesn’t even need that. The nature of the gameplay and the level design already encourage you to go as fast as you can, and you’ll find yourself wanting to replay levels over and over again in order to beat your own time, or more importantly other people’s times, before you know it.

Of course, we can’t forget about the all-killer no-filler soundtrack from Machine Girl that’s bumping in the background at all times, causing adrenaline to rush through your body the moment the first note starts. Throw all of that together and you have yourself one of the most exhilarating game experiences of the year.

– Nairon Santos de Morais

Stray

Stray screen
Exploring the post-apocalypse as a cat has never been so fun, with Stray’s excellent environments and puzzles.

In 2022, BlueTwelve Studio gave us the ability to roam around a cyberpunk-style walled city as a cat. Armed with a backpack robot, our goal was to help a group of robots still faithful to their human ancestors, escape to the Outside—the world beyond that they once believed to be devoid of life. In an environment where neon lights spilled into the creeping fog, we controlled our stray cat as they traversed across the rooftops, solved puzzles, met a wide variety of characters and, of course, stopped to knock over the occasional tin of paint.

Stray’s effortless navigation puts fluid exploration at the forefront. You are able to squeeze through hidden passages to find vast libraries that are perfect for a cat nap, climb the rooftops to find interesting inhabitants, and hop in the nearest bucket and zip-line back down to the streets. Stray weaves puzzles into the gameplay and allows you to explore large areas to find clues, as well as allowing you to work them out without too much assistance. Although combat is limited, it still sometimes proves a challenge as you work with the environment to protect your feline friend.

Due to its feline protagonist, Stray became widely anticipated when it was first released during a Sony State of Play in 2020. However, players discovered themes of loss as well as hope in an environment that had been lost to time. In daily life, you only have to stick your head out of the window to see what humanity is doing to the world and the destruction it is causing, but it is games like this that remind you that people (or in this case, robots) still hold out hope for a brighter tomorrow. Overall, this third-person adventure game was a huge amount of fun to play and will definitely make even the most stoic of people let out a little ‘aww.’

– Angharad Redden

 

Pentiment

Pentiment screen RPG Fan
Telling a story through Renaissance-inspired art got Axel hooked on Pentiment (pic: RPGFan).

Sometimes, it’s not the big blockbuster games that grab your mind and evoke powerful emotions.  The smaller titles, the so-called “passion” projects which people casually dismiss because they’re not filled with GPU-melting visuals and an Academy Award-loaded roster of voice talent, often end up being the sort that really moves the needle towards genuine art. So it is with Pentiment.

At its heart, Pentiment is very much an adventure game in the tradition of classic Sierra and LucasArts titles like King’s Quest or The Secret of Monkey Island.  But while those titles often went in on elaborate puzzles and clever comedy, Pentiment is very much a dramatic piece. It does have puzzles, it does have moments of humor, but the tone is almost literary, which isn’t surprising considering the place that books and their place in early Renaissance culture are depicted as occupying. At the same time, it also explores an artistic niche which many people overlook when discussing Renaissance art: illustrations in books. Pentiment takes place at a time when beautifully hand copied and illuminated books are becoming replaced by movable type and woodcut plates, which not only causes books to become more accessible, but also makes radical changes in rigid hierarchies and social institutions.

While all these large sweeping changes are happening, albeit slowly, we also see the personal costs. We see the monks whose skills demand so much of their bodies that they become unable to do anything more once their hands and sight are destroyed while creating beautiful works of art. We see the artists whose desire to create is constrained by power struggles and petty vanity. And where the search for truth, both spiritual and historical, is hindered by those who fear what the consequences of revealing those truths might bring about.

Pentiment is very much a piece of art, while discussing the role of art, and doing so in such a subtle manner that you don’t really notice either of those facts till the credits roll. It moves the player not by overwhelming the senses, but by teasing the player to dig deeper: to reveal the layers hidden beneath.

– Axel Cushing

 

AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative

Somnium Screen push square
AI: The Somnium Files.- nirvanA Initiative delivered a sequel that stands distinct from its predecessor. (pic: Push Square).

Developer Kotaro Uchikoshi is known for his devilishly tricky mysteries and twisty plots, which keep players on the edge of their seats until the credits roll – and sometimes beyond. In 2022, he more than delivered with his latest offering: hybrid puzzle-mystery-visual novel-escape room game AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative.

This sequel to 2019 title AI: The Somnium Files reunites players with ABIS, a specialized detective agency whose members possess the ability to dive deep into the brains of witnesses and suspects to discover their innermost secrets. Players step into the shoes of two protagonists, troubled veteran detective Kuruto Ryuki and enthusiastic young investigator Mizuki Date. Along with their “AI-ball” partners, Tama and Aiba, the duo investigate the bizarre “Half-Body Killings,” in which bodies are found cut perfectly in half and distributed throughout the city. The mystery is one of Uchikoshi’s best, and will leave even veteran mystery fans guessing until the very last moment.

Although AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative is technically a sequel, it was designed to be completely accessible to new players (although the first game is definitely worth playing, and available on multiple platforms). A “Spoilers Off” mode removes any references to the first game’s plot and allows gamers to start completely fresh as they experience nirvanA Initiative’s characters and plot. Gameplay is divided between visual novel-inspired segments, where players question witnesses and suspects, and the titular “Somnia,” escape room-like puzzles created from the characters’ consciousness. Players jump back and forth in time as they experience Mizuki and Ryuki’s investigations.

The addition of a second protagonist makes the investigation segments feel more distinct, as both characters have unique personalities, methods of exploring a Somnium, and interactions with their AI partner. The story blends humor and tragedy. This is a murder mystery, after all, and not every character is going to make it to the end unscathed. AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative is a thrilling experience from start to finish, the kind of game players won’t be able to put down until the final mystery is at last unraveled. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll come away feeling that Kotaro Uchikoshi is an evil genius—and you love him for it.

– Kate Mitchell Jewett

 

ELDEN RING

Elden Ring two characters fight on horseback
The majesty of Elden Ring is a gaming experience to be treasured.

Having been borne and bred by FromSoftware, the team behind Dark Souls and Bloodborne, with a dash of George R. R. Martin’s immense fantasy writing abilities thrown in there too, let’s be honest: there was no doubt that Elden Ring was going to be a hit.

Elden Ring sets you in The Lands Between. Unlike previous Soulsborne titles, this setting is open-world. This is complete with your beloved spectral steed, Torrent, who is enough of a reason to fall in love with this game. I described Elden Ring as Skyrim and Dark Souls‘ love child, and I stand by that.

The events of Elden Ring take place after the titular ring, which is the foundation of the Erdtree, is shattered by Queen Marika, leaving her demigod children to feud over and claim the pieces. You can explore so many unique locations, follow heartbreaking NPC storylines, and of course venture across these lands in the hopes of repairing the Elden Ring and becoming Elden Lord. That is easier said than done, however. To repair the Elden Ring, you must encounter Marika’s now-mad offspring, and… Well, let’s just say they’re not exactly pleased to see you.

The gameplay requires you to think tactically and learn enemies’ movement to a tee. It is punishing at times but forces you to step out, explore, and level up your character so that you are ready to take on the next obstacle. Luckily, there are so many incredible sights to see! Much like Dark Souls, Elden Ring completely instills a sense of complete and utter triumph over conquering the bosses, especially a certain blade of Miquella… The bosses, especially the demigods, are memorable, atmospheric, beautifully designed, and boast a fitting soundtrack for their characters. But it’s not just the bosses that blow you away. Though you will inevitably dislike some, the regions of The Lands Between are so distinct from each other, each complete with their own theme; they truly wrap you in a sense of awe and wonder. The NPCs are so distinct, and likeable, and you become captivated by their storylines and helping them see their goal through. It can become incredibly emotional at times, so Elden Ring certainly doesn’t sacrifice on a payoff that tugs at the heartstrings.

With more than 160 hours invested, I can truly say Elden Ring left me wishing I could experience it for the first time all over again.

– Holly Hammond

 

Horizon Forbidden West

Horizon Forbidden West Aloy gliding down a cliff
Horizon Forbidden West goes above and beyond the original game (pic: For The Win).

Sequels are tricky things to deal with under the best of circumstances. Make it too familiar, you risk being criticized for rehashing the same old characters and storylines.  Make it too different, and you risk losing the fans you made with the first title. Guerrilla Games saw the tightrope they had walked with Horizon Forbidden West and stepped out with the care and panache of a master aerialist.

If Horizon Zero Dawn could be likened to the original Star Wars, then Forbidden West rightly holds the same place as The Empire Strikes Back. The stakes are bigger and yet at the same time more personal. The villains are more despicable, the looming threats more ominous, and the big damned heroes more heroic. More importantly, most of the characters actually have noticeable growth. There are serious character arcs for the “companion” characters that spend most of their time in a bunker getting a crash course in pre-Faro Plague technology and disciplines.  Even one of the major antagonists gets a shot at redemption, if you make the right choices. There are definitely a couple characters who fall into the “irredeemable” category, and knowing their backstory doesn’t help much.

Horizon Forbidden West also expands the world in ways that feel organic. The different cultures existing in the titular region have evolved in very different ways, and it shows in everything from their behaviors to the artifacts they create.  They feel “alive” in a way that a lot of games don’t really capture very well.  That very well may be the best thing you can say about Horizon Forbidden West.

– Axel Cushing

Scorn

Scorn screenshot
Scorn filled Nairon with a wonderful combination of disgust and delight.

From the very first time footage of Scorn was revealed, it was clear that this was a game to keep an eye on. I mean how couldn’t you? Scorn stands out from the crowd with a distinctly gross art style. One that we rarely get to see in the medium of video games. Of course, when I say that, I mean it in the best way possible. Scorn mixes together imagery from David Cronenberg, H.R. Giger, and Zdzisław Beksiński to create this beautifully disgusting dream of a nightmare. I realize this might make Scorn sound like a rather derivative piece of art, frankensteined together from pieces of greater works. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While Scorn wears its influences on its sleeves, and liberally takes from them as it pleases, it also manages to make something that feels entirely new out of it.

Body horror and cosmic horror are two subgenres of horror that, in my humble opinion, we desperately need more of, and Scorn neatly fits into both. The walls pulsate; machinery has limbs with no discernable purpose; flesh covers every inch of the environment. It’s hard to say where inanimate objects end and living organisms begin, because in some way, everything seems to be alive. That doesn’t stop you from tearing things apart though—nor does it stop them from doing the same to you. Mutilation is just another way of interacting with your environment in Scorn, and every action physically hurts to watch. The game creates a truly alien world, one that feels impossible to comprehend. All you know is that you need to move forward and escape the nightmare that you’re in, even knowing that it’s impossible. Dread and uncertainty are your only companions on the journey.

I can only imagine that the team at Ebb Software realized early on that this was never going to be a game for everyone. Instead of pushing against that, however, they seem to have embraced it. Scorn is filled with bold artistic choices from beginning to end. Each of them could, and will, alienate some players. The game is deliberately obtuse, refuses to lend the player a helping hand, and is arguably more frustrating than fun in some moments. But it all comes together to create a singular vision, the likes of which we rarely, if ever, get to see in the gaming space.

– Nairon Santos de Morais

God of War Ragnarok

God of War Ragnarok Kratos and Atreus stand near a wolf led sleigh
An evolution of its predecessor, God of War Ragnarok takes the series to stunning new highs.

Reinventing the wheel is a tall order. So much so that we literally have a phrase warning against doing so. And even if you manage to reinvent the wheel—where do you go from there? How do you iterate upon the next big thing? With God of War (2018), Sony Santa Monica fulfilled that initial tall order. With God of War Ragnarok, the studio proves that the second question was never truly a concern.

Ragnarok expands the scope, combat prowess, and emotional depth of the first game. The world is bigger, as all Nine Realms are open to explore and wander between. Fights are more complex, as more combat options and depth have been added. The story goes to far greater places with the end of the world looming, yet never fails to retain that striking intimacy that made 2018’s father-and-son outing so special. Sony Santa Monica’s latest is not just an iteration, it is an evolution of an already grand departure from what this series was most known for.

Add to this cornucopia of changes a heap of brilliantly written dialogue throughout, sweeping vistas and detailed environments, an iconic soundtrack, sound design that lives up to the PlayStation pedigree, and set pieces that will leave you breathless. Wrap it all in a story that will shock, sting, and ultimately uplift, and the result is an incredibly immersive, unmissable experience in God of War Ragnarok.

– Sarim Irfan

Kirby and the Forgotten Land

Kirby and the Forgotten Land kirby and waddle dee swimming in floatable rings in the water
The fully 3D debut of the Pink Puffball was a delight in Kirby and the Forgotten Land.

I’ve been told I can’t just say “Kirby is the best boy and so is his game” so let me try and explain why Kirby and the Forgotten Land is so good. Kirby games, as a rule, are simultaneously incredibly chill and completely epic. They are very simple stories, but are presented in such a masterful way and with epic climaxes. Forgotten Land, the first fully 3D game in the series, is no exception. The game begins with a very simple premise—Kirby has fallen into a new world and Waddle Dees have been kidnapped, so Kirby and his new friend Elfilin have to rescue them. The game manages to pull on your heartstrings, make you care about Elfilin, make him part of your team in just a few short levels, and then pull a one-two punch of story and gameplay subversion to snatch him away, leaving you deeply worried about his chances of safety. And then it makes you even more worried about him after you finally rescue him. The ending of the main plot is also a natural climax and callback to lines from the very beginning of the game, as well as the Mouthful Mechanic Kirby’s been using this entire time, including an amped up version of his first Mouthful mode item.

And that’s only the first ending, of three. Because Kirby games do not end with saving the world. You have to save people who were manipulated and hurt, too. Because Kirby is the best boy. In addition to the straightforward but emotionally hard hitting plot, the game is also just a dream to play, with every single one of Kirby’s copy abilities, their improved forms, and all of the different Mouthful abilities having a role to play, alongside at least one level to showcase each in. The game even has a sort of achievement system that’s tied into unlocking more of the game to play.

Oh, and there’s Multiplayer. Bandanna Waddle Dee can’t use copy abilities, but he has his own ability set that he cannot lose and which Kirby cannot Copy, so there’s no reason you and your lover/siblings/coworkers/etc. can’t join you in basking in Kirby’s delightfulness. Everything about Kirby and the Forgotten Land is everything I could have wanted for Kirby’s first Foray into 3D. I hope HAL Labs keeps making more of them, with the same amount of creativity and polish going forward.

– Tim Jewett

Xenoblade Chronicles 3

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 characters walk past a gigantic creature in the sand
Monolith Soft delivered with Xenoblade Chronicles 3, a satisfying JRPG that reignited Shaz’s passion for the genre.

At best, I was tentative before going into Xenoblade Chronicles 3. Where the first game stood (and still stands) firmly as one of my all time favourite JRPGs, the second game not only failed to recreate that same magic but, for me, genuinely felt like a departure from what makes a Xenoblade game special. From a combat system that felt sluggish and overbearing, to a bloated narrative that lacked the intimacy to form any semblance of heart; it all made for a disappointing experience.

Well, thankfully, Monolith Soft have returned to not only make a game that once again feels like Xenoblade, but have cultivated an experience that is both mind-bendingly expansive, as it is carefully thoughtful and intricate. The world of Aionios is rich, both in terms of its scale and variety in landscapes, and in the narrative that looms over it with stories and characters percolating in every corner, waiting to be discovered. Monolith Soft have wrung every drop of performance from the aging Nintendo Switch to build a world that is densely beautiful. Some less-than-stellar textures and minor visual hiccups are intermittently present, though at this point, I feel that’s par for the course for every Nintendo title.

The gameplay takes a while for all of its mechanics to become accessible, and strategy can seem like an afterthought during the first dozen or so hours. But when everything comes together and you’re flinging through the menu tabs switching out arts, changing classes, and becoming a wizard in combat as you constantly shift between characters and whiz through art combos, the result is some of the most visual and tactile satisfaction I have ever felt with any game within this genre. It’s genuinely awe-inspiring just how much customization and control you have over your playstyle. To have all of these options at your disposal to tinker with, yet still never feel that a certain mechanic or ability is underdeveloped or unbalanced, with everything working the way you expect it to— it’s a programming marvel, to say the least.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 reminded me of why I love JRPGs as much as I do, and reignited my passion for the genre. It’s a game that doesn’t shy away from the quieter moments, or the darker topics. It tells its story confidently without relying on past titles, with a gentle and hopeful melancholy that never fully leaves you, even after the credits end. The story exists within a world that is vast and gorgeous, and one that you should take your time to explore as you take part in the ever-modulating combat, and learn about each of your cast members—all of whom are written with care and bring a somber intimacy not often found in a game such as this.

– Shaz Mohsin

 

What did you think of our selection? What’s your favorite game of 2022? Comment below or hit us on Twitter @GameLuster!

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