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Monday, April 15, 2024

The 10 Best and Cruelest Games of 2022

In 2022, the best games were made for masochists.

After several years of boom times for wholesome stories and colorful worlds, 2022 reminded us that sometimes there’s no truer form of fun than failing horribly, repeatedly. 

FromSoftware often leads that charge, thanks to series like Dark Souls. This year, it rose to its own challenge. Elden Ring, maddening in its difficulty and unusually cruel in its creative ways to kill you, took center stage as players picked apart its every secret. Speed-runners found new ways to make the game even harder by racing against the clock. Not to be reduced to one punishing game, however, 2022 also brought with it a handful of roguelikes, pushing the genre while teaching players about patience and perseverance.

Was it all so dark? Not exactly. Bright spots in this year’s releases introduced massive, gorgeous worlds to explore and mysteries to unravel. They expounded the virtue of curiosity and taught us to find meaning in silence. Or they just let us be a very adorable animal. Here are the best games of 2022. 

Cult of the Lamb

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Series X|S, PC

Easily the cutest cult simulator you can play right now, Cult of the Lamb marries blood sacrifices and adorable woodland creatures in a religion-themed quest. Players are a nameless lamb who, after being resurrected by a powerful being, is tasked with building a following in his honor. 

Cult of the Lamb is a solid roguelike, where players venture into randomly generated levels as they gather supplies and unravel the game’s story of revenge. But it’s the mechanics that set it apart. Enemies can be indoctrinated into the lamb’s cult; players can alter their appearance and give them different tasks to better fit their roles. The social aspects of keeping a burgeoning cult in check—whether it’s providing food and shelter or performing daily sermons to keep followers faithful—add a welcome depth to your adventure. The stakes get higher as devotees mutiny or leave. Should you coddle followers with gifts or sacrifice them on your local altar? Being a cult leader is hard work. 

$25 on Switch$25 on Steam$20 on Xbox$25 on PlayStationElden Ring

Platforms: PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Series X|S, PC

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Elden Ring was my favorite comedy of 2022. Not because FromSoftware or cowriter George R. R. Martin wrote it that way—its fantasy lore is earnest and at times even gruesome. No one is very good at cracking a joke. But the game has a biting sense of humor: hidden bears that will murder you with a smack, off-kilter in-game messages from other players, or—my favorite—a deadly boss waiting for you at the top of a very long ladder

As with previous titles, FromSoftware created a notoriously difficult game where finishing is a feat few players will achieve. The world is expansive and built to kill you with each step you take. Boss fights are a dance of patience and skill every time. Every victory feels earned, even if it’s avoiding falling off the same cliff you did three times already. It’s a game that feels personal. You don’t need to understand Elden Ring’s cryptic story, or even be very good, to enjoy it. There’s pleasure to be found in creating these original, often asinine adventures of your own. Just be wary of enemies falling from the sky.

$50 on Amazon$42 on Xbox$60 on Steam$60 on PlayStationGod of War: Ragnarök

Platforms: PlayStation 4/5

God of War: Ragnarök has been one of 2022’s biggest crowd pleasers and award winners for good reason. Santa Monica Studio’s sequel to the 2018 God of War returns with Kratos and Atreus, who are now preparing for Raganrok, aka the end of everything.

The stakes are higher and the world is bigger in Ragnarök, as it expands into all nine realms of Norse mythology. Ragnarök also takes its predecessor’s storytelling a step further, giving characters like Atreus a chance to shine—no longer the child of God of War’s famous “boy” era, but a teenager growing into a man. Atreus’ father-son clashes with Kratos are layered with exploration into his own identity and autonomy and the friction it creates.  

Ragnarök’s gameplay is still as brutal and satisfying as the studios’ previous game, but it’s also been designed with accessibility in mind, a refreshing decision that led to more than 60 options for players to tailor their experience to their needs.

$70 on PlayStationHorizon Forbidden West

Platforms: PlayStation 4/5

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Aloy returns in the followup to the cranky-animal-robots-who-kill-people action-adventure game Horizon Zero DawnHorizon Forbidden West. After solving the game’s previous mystery of why the world is overrun with robot animals, Aloy, charming as ever, sets off to explore uncharted territory in the western US—or what remains of it.

If you’re looking for a richer experience, Forbidden West delivers. Its world is robust and teeming with enough quests and places to explore that venturing outside of the game’s main story is a welcome distraction. There’s a simple pleasure in exploring its vast wilderness, but the thrill of being a hunter can’t be beat. Aloy is more talented than ever, with new skills to tumble her metal foes. It’s hard to beat the satisfaction of lobbing a well-aimed bomb at a big, mean snake robot.

$70 on PlayStationImmortality

Platforms: Android, iOS, PC, Xbox Series X|S

Sam Barlow and his studio Half Mermaid Productions are old hands at creating narrative-driven stories that straddle the line between video games and broader entertainment. Like his previous projects, Her Story and Telling Lies, Immortality uses full-motion video to tell a story one clip at a time as players try to solve the mystery of actress Marissa Marcel’s disappearance. 

How that story unfolds and what clues players pick up on is entirely up to them. The game relies on the player’s curiosity and discovery to move things forward. It’s a puzzle you put together piece by piece, and there is no one right way to do so. 

As for what that mystery is? The less said the better. 

$20 on Steam$20 on XboxFree on Android (For Netflix Subscribers)Free on iOS (For Netflix Subscribers)Neon White

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4/5, PC

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Angel Matrix’s Neon White is a slick love letter to anime in a quick trigger package. Every year, sinners from Hell called Neons are given the chance to compete in a demon extermination contest for the chance to stay topside—which is how White, an amnesiac Neon trying to uncover his forgotten past, ends up competing among friends and foes. 

There’s a satisfying learning curve to Neon White, where missions are timed ordeals, relying on fast reflexes and puzzle-solving. Each level has a specific number of demons you’ll need to kill within specific time limits before you can move on, but you can only do so by playing limited cards you pick up in that level; cards grant everything from the ability to jump higher to activating attacks. At first, it’s easy to feel clumsy. One wrong step or a missed swipe can ruin your entire run. Yet the brevity of each mission makes it easy to start over, meaning failing never becomes a slog, but a lesson. When you need a break, you can go spend time talking with Neons and build relationships. Each holds a piece of the puzzle that is White’s lost memory. 

Neon White has a surprising blend of speedy gameplay, anime influences, and an unabashed horniness woven into its relationships. It’s an oddball entry in 2022’s best games, and thank god for that. 

$25 on Switch$25 on PlayStation$25 on SteamPokémon Legends: Arceus

Platforms: Nintendo Switch

Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the world-expanding adventure players have been asking for for years. 

Set long before Ash Ketchum ever picked up a pokeball, Arceus introduces players to an early era of the beloved series, where humans are just learning to partner up with pokémon. 

Arceus trades the franchise’s well-worn formula of challenging gym leaders to be the very best for exploration. For the first time ever, pokémon encounters can be scary. Powerful creatures with quick tempers roam its open fields, and you are a dork in a silly little hat whose best defense is to frantically roll away. It’s a welcome addition to an otherwise unsurprising series that reminds us how rich the Pokémon universe could be.

$60 on SwitchStray 

Platforms: PlayStation 4/5, PC

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In Blue Twelve Studios’ postapocalypse, humans are gone and cats are left to roam the neon-lit ruins. Stray, a puzzle platformer where players control an orange tabby traversing a cyberpunk world, is straightforward in its approach: You are a lost cat. You can meow and scratch and be endlessly annoying, all while wearing a cute little backpack. Not having thumbs is hard. But what is ostensibly a homecoming story is a surprisingly emotional one, touching on themes like inequity and existentialism. There’s a certain loneliness to its world and its silence that sets Stray apart. 

Plus, being a cute cat is really fun. I can’t stress that enough. 

$30 on PlayStation$30 on SteamTunic

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PS4/5, Xbox Series X|S, PC

Tunic is heavy on old-school Legend of Zelda vibes. There’s little explanation to be found in its ethereal world, which instead challenges players to sort their journey with few clues. As a (very cute) fox, players will venture deep into woodlands, dungeons, and more, solving puzzles and battling foes while forging a path forward.

The game is a joy to explore. You’ll have some clear objectives—one of the first is to retrieve a sword hidden away, for example—and it’s even possible to finish the entire game in under an hour. Speed isn’t the point, however. It’s unlocking each new secret that the game’s clever design holds. Tunic isn’t big or bombastic, like many of 2022’s other games. It’s peaceful. Sit back, enjoy its dreamy soundtrack, and try to figure out how you missed that road during your first look.

$30 on SwitchVampire Survivors

Platforms: Xbox Series X|S, PC, iOS, Android

Luca Galente’s Vampire Survivors is 2022’s sleeper hit. While its initial early access period caused little fanfare, the game finally found its foothold early this year, followed by its full release in the fall. 

The game looks undeniably low-rent—think visuals befitting of a Super Nintendo—and pretty simple in its gameplay. You have a weapon and hordes of monsters to kill with it. A deceptively easy premise quickly gives way to chaos as the pace reaches screen-full-of-monsters levels of frenzy. As you level up, you can choose upgrades to make runs a little easier but no less hectic. 

Vampire Survivors is a perfect game to pick up and quickly play, though it can be hard to put down. Best of all, it launched for mobile devices just this month. 

$5 on Xbox$5 on SteamFree on iOSFree on Android

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