'Tis the season... to share highlights of the year, and suchlike.
Damn, it's been a year. Looking back over my History page, I've played a LOT of video games this year. When you consider as well that that list is only of games I finished rather than an exhaustive list of everything I've played... well, I guess the amount of time I've spent in front of games consoles has been pretty extensive. Yep, this was the year that "xBoX gOt No NeW gAmEs," and yet here I am - 25 games finished so far with a danger of a couple more being crammed in by midnight on 31st December. That doesn't include any mention whatsoever of a couple of others that had plenty of time poured into them. Halo Infinite. Dorfromantik. Hades. Sea of Thieves. Again.
With a couple of notable exceptions (yeah, Elden Ring and Dark Souls 3 - you know I'm talking about you guys...) my video gaming habits this year could probably best be described as low impact. Less than intense. This year has really been the year in which I've embraced games to calm me down and change the gears of the engine inside my head. This isn't a traditional 'game of the year' list, really. It's more like a kind of highlight reel that I wanted to sling out into the world for posterity and future reference. So, without further ado and in no particular order... these are the games I'll remember 2022 for.
My relationship with this one has been through the ringer this year. The campaign, which I played through in the early part of the year, was very good. The move to an open world suited Halo surprisingly well - but it was the multiplayer that really reached out and grabbed me. It took me by the hand and showed me just how much fun a competitive first person shooter could be when all the players in a match moved in the same way and started with the same weapons.
It's become maligned since its launch - with lots of people (quite reasonably) arguing that there should simply be more to it by now. As a live service game, players have come to expect a content cadence that is considerably quicker than 343 have managed to reach. Forge mode has just arrived, along with several new maps - but overall it feels a little neglected. And yet... launch me into a game of Tactical Slayer, and I'm just going to grin from ear to ear the whole time - because it just plays that damn well. Halo Infinite is a game that got the basics SO right that I find myself having fun because of them and in spite of everything the game is still missing after all this time.
Fingers crossed, 2023 is the year that starts to get the love it deserves.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Season One
I've gone from being someone who never felt any desire to engage with horror games to someone who really quite enjoys them. That transformation began with Until Dawn in the early months of last year, and then Dead Space stepped in and stole my heart and sealed my fate. Since then, I've played through the whole of the Dark Pictures Anthology - and The Quarry is sat on my pile of shame awaiting an install.
I've long been a fan of anthologies generally - give me a bunch of stories by different authors centred around a single theme, or even a bunch of stories by the same author - and if I enjoy one I'll likely enjoy 'em all. That's been the case with The Dark Pictures - although my mileage has varied a bit across the various episodes. Man of Medan was OK, Little Hope not so good. The last couple though - House of Ashes and the most recent entry The Devil In Me were both really good tales. There's a bit of an over-reliance on jump scares and dank creepiness going on here - but they all nail an atmosphere.
Without spoiling too much, the end of The Devil In Me included a trailer for the first episode of season 2 - in which the series is heading into outer space. Sign me up. I've enjoyed all of these enough to be pleased to see that Supermassive Games will be in a position to make more of them, and I'll carry on picking them up at launch. 5 or 6 hours of good spooky storytelling will never fail to float my boat.
This one actually made my list in 2020... and I'm still playing it. I've migrated from the Switch to the Xbox as being my main platform, and I just find it a game that's really difficult to walk away from.
The progression loop that Hades offers is simply perfect - and that's not a word I use lightly. Every single attempt to escape the underworld teaches you something. Sometimes that something is a valuable epiphany regarding how to engage with a particular boss, other times it's something as simple as a line from an NPC that further expands the scope of the game's world and the characters within it. As soon as death happens (which is frequently at first, and then gradually less and less frequently as you gain power and experience), you're thrown back into the hub world and tempted to try again - and you will. Endlessly. Eternal damnation has simply never been so much fun - or had such a wonderful soundtrack.
A sequel to Hades was announced at The Game Awards - the first time developer Supergiant has ever made a direct sequel to one of its games. Quite simply, it's that good.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge
This one hit my nostalgia bone HARD when it launched back in June - and it's been installed on my Xbox ever since. It's one that I go back to regularly, usually when I'm between other games and fancy bashing through something that will offer me some easy fun for little effort.
I wrote about this one shortly after it first launched - and six months on, my opinions on it are largely unchanged. It's a fun and undemanding slice of laser-targeted nostalgia, and it's as fun now as I remember the arcade games that it's an unabashed homage to being when I was a kid. A therapist told me several years ago that sometimes, you have to look after the inner child. Well, it turns out my inner child still REALLY loves the Ninja Turtles - and judging by how many people I know who've enjoyed this game as much as I did, I don't think my inner child is alone in that.
What place does a Gameboy game from 1989 have on this list, I hear you ask? Well, I'll tell you - there are two main reasons. Firstly, it's because I've played absolutely TONS of it this year, and the second is that I get to make the rules on what I include and why.
That Gameboy in the picture above is the same one I've owned since late 1989 or early 1990. It was brought back from Tokyo for me by a family friend, and I've had it ever since. It sits on my desk - easily accessible at any moment that I need it. Tetris is the game that sits in it, although I've got numerous others for it. For as long as I can remember, Tetris has been the thing I go to to snap myself out of a mindset. Whether it's frustration with a colleague, analysis paralysis... whatever. I found some time ago that a quick round or two on Tetris just has a way of giving me a minute to step back from a problem - and when I go back to it, I can usually see another angle or perspective that I lacked a couple of minutes previously.
The game itself has been remade and re-launched on countless different platforms - but for me, the original black and green version remains the pinnacle; unsurpassed for 33 years at this point. I think a big part of that is the device itself that I play it on. That 'ping' sound on start up teleports me back to a childhood classroom - and the day that sound gave me away for gaming when I should have been learning. I ended up in detention, and that very device ending up in a teacher's desk drawer for several weeks. It's a simple pleasure from a simpler time - and that little grey rectangle is the closest thing to a time machine that I own.
Power Wash Simulator
This game scratched a really bizarre itch that I never really knew I had - offering up a feedback loop of immediate satisfaction that no other game has really matched this year. Or possibly ever, now that I come to think about it.
Power Wash Simulator does exactly what it says on the tin - giving you the opportunity to clean a bunch of filthy places or objects with a power washer. Pick a grimy spot, blast at it until it 'bings' indicating that it's clean, rinse and repeat until you can bask in the glory of a spotless place that was previously covered with dirt. There's a curious metagame bolted on top of it, that deals with a corrupt mayor, an alien invasion, and the lost city of Atlantis... but to be honest, I paid very little attention to any of it - as all it needed to do to keep me occupied was give me bigger and bigger things to clean and more and more powerful kit to do it with.
If someone had told me at the start of the year that I'd be looking back extremely fondly on a game that let me spend my quality time cleaning a subway station, I'd have laughed my ass off at the craziness of it. And yet... here we are.
This was the one game I played this year that reduced me to tears. There's always one... and this year, it was Gris. It's the game I finished most recently, so it's still fresh in my mind - but, damn. This one's made that short and distinguished list of rainy day games that I'll go back to.
That list is made up of what I consider to be very special games. Firewatch is on it. Abzu is on it. What Remains of Edith Finch is on it. I'll admit that I came for the watercolour visuals - I ended up staying for the feels. The tale it tells feels intentionally jumbled and confused, a reflection of the mental state of the protagonist. A quick Google reveals that it's based on the five stages of grief - which is not really what I took from it, but... fine. The best pieces of art can be interpreted in different ways. The single thing I loved about it the most is how you can somehow navigate its levels correctly without ever really being sure about what you're following or why. At no point did the game ever really tell me where to go, and at no point did I ever feel lost or get stuck - the whole game played out so seamlessly that I could have had a map in front of me. It flows, and it's achingly beautiful, and it absolutely stole my heart.
So, there we have it. I've played a big old variety of stuff this year - and I look forward to doing more of the same next year. My master plan currently consists of Death Stranding, Bayonetta 2, and The Quarry - starting as I mean to go on.
See you all on the other side, peeps. Have a good set of holidays, wherever you are.