The 15 best games of 2022

The 15 best games of 2022

From mobile Marvels to indie darlings to one very Elden Ring, we run down the 15 best video games of 2022

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Clockwise from left: God Of War Ragnarok (Image: Santa Monica Studios); Elden Ring (Image: Bandai Namco Entertainment); Case Of The Golden Idol (Image: Playstack); Citizen Sleeper (Image: Fellow Traveler). Kirby And The Forgotten Land (Image: Nintendo); Pentiment (Image: Xbox Game Studios); Neon White (Image: Annapurna Interactive)
Clockwise from left: God Of War Ragnarok (Image: Santa Monica Studios); Elden Ring (Image: Bandai Namco Entertainment); Case Of The Golden Idol (Image: Playstack); Citizen Sleeper (Image: Fellow Traveler). Kirby And The Forgotten Land (Image: Nintendo); Pentiment (Image: Xbox Game Studios); Neon White (Image: Annapurna Interactive)
Graphic: Rebecca Fassola

Despite what the baying hounds of fandom might lead you to believe, best-of lists aren’t just about establishing hierarchies, stoking competition, the endless bouts of one-upmanship, and “My multi-billion dollar pop culture franchise can lick your multi-billion dollar pop culture franchise.” Their real purpose is far richer: To sketch the shape of a year, to find the fascinating outliers and consensus joys of this arbitrary little span of time, to understand what a medium was trying to say about itself.

As viewed through the lens of The A.V. Club’s ranking of its best games, 2022 turned out to have been a damn fine year: one where big-budget gaming and indie strivers alike pushed to explore the far reaches of what gaming can do. Our ranking of 2022's best consequently runs the gamut, from veteran developers to first-time efforts, mobile games to PC juggernauts, huge and ambitious adventures to tiny, personal stories. (And also, Kirby was there.)

Ranked via ballots from The A.V. Club’s staffers and some of our regular freelance contributors, this list of 15 games paints a picture of a medium continuing to push at the outer edges. Strong consensus formed around a few stand-outs at the very top of the list: Our No. 1 pick was the only title to appear on every ballot, for instance, dominating here, as it has pretty much everywhere else in 2022, while the No. 2 was a surprising dark horse winner on a number of contributors’ lists. And beyond that, there was still plenty of room for other, more individual picks, highlighting a diverse, beautiful year in gaming.

But, enough preamble: Presented for your perusal (and subsequent internet rage): The A.V. Club’s 15 best games of 2022.

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15. Sifu

15. Sifu

Sifu
Sifu
Image: Sloclap

Sloclap’s martial arts mayhem-maker Sifu burst onto the scene back in February, bringing with it a bracing blend of arcade combat and roguelike progression that made it an early addiction in the first half of the year. And while the game had a nice little story, and some clever twists (including one of the central conceits, i.e., that your character could revive themselves after each inevitable death, aging them into a more powerful but fragile master each time), its real draw was in the fluid brutality of its combat. No other game could make players take it in the teeth as hard—or allow them to feel so effortlessly badass, vaulting over countertops and kicking chairs into assailants’ faces before gracefully disassembling the next ill-fated opponent to try to get in the way of their unstoppable quest for vengeance. [William Hughes]

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14. Ghostwire: Tokyo

14. Ghostwire: Tokyo

Ghostwire: Tokyo
Ghostwire: Tokyo
Image: Bethesda Softworks

Rather than depict mythology as something from a vanished past, Ghostwire: Tokyo wrenches it into the present, filling a post-apocalyptic city with the recently departed’s moaning spirits and legendary entities returned to substance. Flying over neon-drenched rooftops and spinning banishing spells from outstretched fingertips as these figures unveil themselves is a good enough time in its own right. But Ghostwire’s take on the collapse of the living world and the revival of the supernatural offers something beyond aesthetic pleasures. Its assertion that death is not the end of anyone’s existence—that the folk and ghost stories we tell again and again resurrect the past by closing the gap between what has been and what is—is a welcome message, a salve for the grieving. [Reid McCarter]

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13. The Quarry

13. The Quarry

The Quarry
The Quarry
Image: 2K

Nailing the interactive horror movie formula—a balance of cinematic narrative and meaningful interactivity that the medium had aspired to for decades—may be Until Dawn creator Supermassive Games’ most impressive achievement. But it hardly suffices to make a great game, and so, The Quarry’s accomplishments are, accordingly (and ironically), highlighted by the flaws of its immediate follow-up. Where Supermassive’s other major release this year, The Devil In Me, happily regurgitates tired generic tropes, The Quarry takes a sledgehammer to them; where one’s dialogue drowns in boring exposition and backstory, the other brims with endlessly quotable one-liners; where one’s relationships remain static and forgettable, the other’s threaten to erupt into interpersonal chaos at any moment, each potential tangent for intrigue a perfect reason to revisit this brilliant piece of bubblegum-horror. [Alexander Chatziioannou]

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12. Kirby And The Forgotten Land

12. Kirby And The Forgotten Land

Kirby And The Forgotten Land
Kirby And The Forgotten Land
Image: Nintendo

Kirby games are usually good, with the developers at HAL Laboratory quietly using the series as a masterclass in satisfying design. And Kirby And The Forgotten Land is no different: What starts as a weirdly adorable take on the moss-covered post-humanity world of Nier Automata gradually expands into a sci-fi epic about animal experimentation and alternate universes… and Kirby just happens to be there, eating bad guys and stealing their powers to save the day. And when he does, Forgotten Land turns into a hardcore gamer nightmare that truly tests Kirby’s mettle—but since he’s so cute, it’s actually fun and nice![Sam Barsanti]

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11. The Case Of The Golden Idol

11. The Case Of The Golden Idol

The Case Of The Golden Idol
The Case Of The Golden Idol
Image: Playstack

Good detective games are hard to find; great ones come around only once every few years. The Case Of The Golden Idol, from Latvian sibling duo Andrejs and Ernests Klavins, is a great detective game. Presented as a series of gorgeously gross art panels and a slew of accompanying fill-in-the-blank puzzles, the game tasks players with unwinding an increasingly complex series of deadly incidents, mostly wrapped around a mysterious statue with improbable magic powers. Rather than fall back on “a golden idol did it,” though, Case requires players to puzzle through the mechanics of magic and murder alike, building an increasingly robust (and gruesome) picture of tragedy, conspiracy, and sheer dumb happenstance, creating one of the most satisfying brainteasers of 2022. [William Hughes]

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10. Saturnalia

10. Saturnalia

Saturnalia
Saturnalia
Image: Santa Ragione

Out of two excellent folk-horror games in 2022 (shout-out to The Excavation Of Hob’s Barrow), what distinguishes Saturnalia is how genuinely terrifying getting lost in Gravoi’s labyrinthine alleys feels, fleeing the masked entity that stalks outsiders stranded on the Sardinian village during the festival of St. Lucia. Pathologic’s Southern-European cousin, Saturnalia similarly employs a hallucinatory logic to structure its nightmarish open world, and eschews hand-holding to instill a profound sense of disorientation. The mood of unsafety is facilitated by a perfectly implemented permadeath option taking advantage of a roguelike core: failure is a harrowing but worthwhile experience, and subsequent visits to that Mediterranean hellscape are just as compelling as the first one. [Alexander Chatziioannou]

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9. Neon White

9. Neon White

Neon White
Neon White
Image: Annapurna Interactive

The pithy line on Neon White is that it’s the best first-person shooter/platformer/card game/dating sim ever, the joke being that it’s the only first-person shooter/platformer/card game/dating sim ever. But that undersells just how well that bizarre combination sings. This isn’t chocolate and peanut butter, this is like magic space chocolate and peanut rainbows, plus two additional ingredients that are also wonderful. Neon White can be obtuse, but when it clicks, the feeling of playing your cards properly and shaving a whole second off of the time it takes you to complete a level is among the best things in gaming. [Sam Barsanti]

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8. Sephonie

8. Sephonie

Sephonie
Sephonie
Image: Analgesic Productions

The genre-hopping Sephonie, from Anodyne creators Melos Han-Tani and Marina Kittakas, is an awakening to the possibilities of video games. It is at once a 3D platformer that actually cares about the ecosystems that you jump through, a puzzle game about the friction between observation and truth, and a set of startling and sharp character portraits. Centered on a trio of explorers diving deep within a mysterious cave system, Sephonie leans into the rhythm of levels and plot beats to pound out a beating heart. All of Sephonie’s verbs are familiar to video game vernacular, but they’ve never been used quite like this. It’s a dazzling manifesto of environmental urgency, with one of the best soundtracks of the year. [Grace Benfell]

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7. Marvel Snap

7. Marvel Snap

MARVEL SNAP | Gameplay Trailer

Marvel’s latest effort to dominate the mobile gaming market, Snap is straightforward on the surface. (You want to play cards worth more points than your opponent, onto a trio of locations culled from across the Marvel universe.) What makes it special, though, is the care and craft that have been put into the special abilities granted to the game’s roster of Marvel characters, which work together in interesting ways—so you could play a Squirrel Girl card that summons squirrels, then a Venom card that eats the squirrels and becomes stronger. The best part is coming up with weird combinations and trying them out, like a Magneto card that pulls your opponent’s best cards together, paired with a Kingpin card that kills enemy cards that move at the wrong time. It’s a great game, and a great toy box for Marvel characters to interact: Truly one of the best mobile games in years. [Sam Barsanti]

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6. Perfect Tides

6. Perfect Tides

Perfect Tides
Perfect Tides
Image: Three Bees

Meredith Gran’s beautiful, vulnerable retro-adventure game Perfect Tides features heartbreak in abundance, whether it’s the teenage angst of watching a beloved character get a sword through her chest in your favorite RPG, or those brutal moments when the endless possibilities of first love condense down into something more human and mundane. But more than that, it’s a game about joy, and hope, qualities that do not simply spring, magically, from our hearts, but which must be cultivated and grown like seeds in a garden. It’s a gorgeous game, visually and emotionally, and one that lingers in the spirit for months after completion. [William Hughes]

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5. Horizon Forbidden West

5. Horizon Forbidden West

Horizon Forbidden West
Horizon Forbidden West
Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Like many other post-apocalyptic stories, the Horizon series is only focused on the present moment out of necessity. It’s more concerned with what came before, and what comes after. Namely: how did this happen, and how do we get out of it? 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn dealt with the former question; Horizon Forbidden West deals with the latter.

In Forbidden West, Aloy (voiced by Ashly Burch) has to scramble to put the benevolent AI tasked with maintaining the Earth’s biosphere back together. And, yeah, there’s a lot of fighting metal dinosaur robots in between. New types of machines mean new weapons, too; if you weren’t a fan of the bow-based combat in Zero Dawn, there’s likely something in Forbidden West that will work much better for you. The map is much better balanced, with the density of machines—though not the difficulty of fighting them—significantly reduced. And that’s a big relief, because Aloy’s got a lot more shit to deal with this time around.

It’s not just the specter of megalomaniacal tech bros who caused the literal destruction of the entire world that looms over this game, as it did the previous one; this time, it’s the actual megalomaniacal tech bros, who fucked off to outer space and made themselves immortal as every living thing on Earth became extinct. The reason why they’ve returned to Earth is so insidiously twisted—and so perfectly emblematic of the callous disregard the ultra-rich often have for anyone other than themselves—that it borders on farcical. But Horizon Forbidden West is just grounded enough, thanks to Aloy’s inherent goodness, and how easy it is to root for her, to stick the landing. [Jen Lennon]

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4. Citizen Sleeper

4. Citizen Sleeper

Citizen Sleeper
Citizen Sleeper
Image: Fellow Traveler

Let’s get this out of the way at the top: yes, dice-based sci-fi RPG Citizen Sleeper is clearly influenced by ZA/UM’s Disco Elysium. No, that doesn’t make it any less good. The interface and the dice system are similar in both games, but the crucial thing that sets them apart is that, in Citizen Sleeper, the multiple die rolls you do at the start of each day at least give you a choice about what you’re going to suck at—which makes your chances of surviving just a little bit better.

Because, at its heart, that’s what Citizen Sleeper is: a game about survival. But your enemies aren’t hordes of undead or sentient machines; instead, you’re going up against a socio-political structure that’s designed to keep the less fortunate down—and you’re starting from scratch. At the beginning of the game, you’ve survived an escape from corporate servitude that has killed many more before you. But, now that you’re out, you have to build a whole new life out of exactly nothing while living in a shipping container in a junkyard. And that’s before the bounty hunter catches up with you.

Citizen Sleeper excels at emulating what it’s like to start over with no resources: the side jobs, the hustles, the indignity, and the too-little pay. But it’s also profound and joyous, celebrating small moments when you realize that you have agency you didn’t have in your previous life. And even when you’re dealt a bad hand through no fault of your own, the possibility of turning it around into something better—well, it’s more than enough to keep you going. [Jen Lennon]

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3. God Of War Ragnarök

3. God Of War Ragnarök

God Of War Ragnarök
God Of War Ragnarök
Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment

If 2018’s God Of War was about Kratos, the titular God Of War, learning to deal with his feelings after more than a decade of serving as gaming’s angriest deity, then this year’s Ragnarök was all about him learning to express those feelings at last. (In one codex entry, written about his son, Atreus, Kratos manages to put into words sentiments it was hard to imagine him speaking aloud even toward the end of God Of War: “I see the compassion in [Atreus’] heart and I am proud of the man he is growing into, but I must keep him focused if he is to be ready for the dark days ahead.”) Crucially, though, Atreus doesn’t just get sidelined in service of Kratos’ growth. Nor does he exist solely to further Kratos’ character development. Instead, much of the game’s story revolves around Kratos supporting Atreus’ journey, instead of the other way around.

That voyage, much like in the previous game, involves traveling to multiple realms based on Norse mythology and butting heads with other gods, including Odin, delightfully voiced by Richard Schiff, and Thor, voiced by Ryan Hurst, possibly the only person who can give Kratos actor Christopher Judge a run for his money in a “gravelliest voice” contest. There are a few others we’ll avoid spoiling, but they’re all beautifully realized, as is the combat system you’ll inevitably employ when facing off against them. It’s all great fun—and still wonderfully bloody and violent—but it’s also one of the most touching games of the year. [Jen Lennon]

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2. Pentiment

2. Pentiment

Pentiment
Pentiment
Image: Xbox Game Studios

In Pentiment, the latest adventure from veteran studio Obsidian Entertainment, you are caught in the agonizing churn of history. Although the grand arcs of the Reformation swing over the head of the player character, journeyman artist Andreas Maler (and, through him, the player), both are actually bound by the monastic hours of each day, which tick away relentlessly as you desperately try to uncover the truth behind a series of mysterious deaths in a 16th-century Bavarian village. History in games tends to be massive, with great men, or at least great systems, taking up all the focus, emphasizing strategies that encompass nations. In contrast, Pentiment is fascinated by the marginalia of its medieval setting: Forgotten, hysteric visions; petty peasant grievances; noble, religious greed. But ultimately, its interest is in the unrelenting march of time, and how it makes fools of us all. [Grace Benfell]

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1. Elden Ring

1. Elden Ring

Elden Ring
Elden Ring
Image: Bandai Namco Entertainment

FromSoftware, creators of Elden Ring, have long made games whose myth-enshrouded worlds carry a promise that something more always waits just beyond the player’s viewpoint—vicious, half-living gods, caverns emptying out into ruined hidden cities, strange, otherworldly vistas all waiting around every gloomy corner. With the studio’s latest, From has created the most lavish expression of this design ethos to date. Elden Ring is a labyrinth comprised of labyrinths, a staggeringly detailed fantasy land that rewards the player’s insistence on venturing into the perilous unknown by providing them with sights of wild beauty and menace that etch themselves into the mind almost as deeply as real-world locations. [Reid McCarter]

At the same time, From has crafted an action-role-playing game as fine as any in the company’s long history, adding texture and verticality to its signature, hyper-tense style of thoughtful but brutal combat. And it’s at the intersection of these two triumphs—the vast, obscure, horrifying, beautiful world on the one hand, and the expressiveness through which you craft and control your hapless Tarnished as they navigate it in search of greatness on the other—that From has achieved the apex of its craft. Elden Ring is the game FromSoftware has been threatening to make for more than a decade now; it’s the sort of masterpiece that a studio can only create at the very heights of its creative power. [William Hughes]

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