Best of 2022: Top 10 Gaming Moments

As long as there are new games, there are moments within those games that will come to define the year in which they first appeared. Future mentions of that year will hurtle these immortalised blends of digital art and human experience to the forefront of the mind like tiny, delicious morsels of nostalgic goodness, transporting the player back to a crystallised slice of time when experiencing this medium felt truly worthwhile.

Actually, that may just be me.

Here are my top ten favourite moments I had with videogames in 2022. Big ol’ spoilers ahead, particularly for a fair few story endings.

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VR BEST OF 2022 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is as likely as avoiding MCU fatigue. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

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10. Exiled – Pokemon Legends: Arceus

Raise your hand if you thought the cel-shaded Pokemon spin-off about rounding up historical versions of fan-favourite creatures in steam-powered Pokeballs was capable of an affecting story moment putting you in the shoes of a shunned outcast after an entire town turns on you during a crisis, forcing you to perform a silent walk of shame as everyone judges you for something that isn’t your fault. Yeah, I’m not raising my hand either.

9. Mammoth – Horizon: Forbidden West

Even more than the first game, Horizon: Forbidden West is built on interlocking systems; we’re not talking obscene Breath of the Wild physics shenanigans here, but we are dealing with a richer suite of combat options that builds on Zero Dawn‘s greatest strength to cook up a veritable buffet of viable attack angles in most situations. After throwing you into a handful of scenarios designed to tease out some of these options, the game’s first encounter with a resting, fully decked-out robotic mammoth (or at least the first one I found) is an absolute peach. I almost beat it once with the head-on approach, then after reloading the save tried a completely different combination of weapons, weak points and environmental hazards to chip away and take it down. It’s a sensational spectacle, especially once you factor in all the gorgeous particle effects and the electronic/symphonic hybrid battle music – which goes hard.

8. It Gets Serious – Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands

The reputation of the Borderlands series hasn’t exactly been on an upward curve in terms of writing over the last decade (whoah, has it really been that long since Borderlands 2? Yikes). So when the cast for Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands came to light – Samberg, Arnett and Sykes in tow – it initially felt like a bit of a publicity stunt and nothing more. But then the game gets going, the jokes are flying around with far better delivery than the last few times, and hints of a darker undercurrent to this ridiculous tabletop game begin to flicker through the script. But Will Arnett’s piss-taking villain is still definitely at the whim of the DM, Ashly Burch’s always-great Tiny Tina – until he suddenly, inexplicably isn’t. The shiny, bubbly mascot of the adventure is suddenly no more, and the tone takes a quick trip off a cliff.

7. Thor the Genre-Savvy – God of War: Ragnarok

The Adventures of Kratos in Scandanavia: Part II is absolutely packed with standout moments enriched by delicious visual variety – more of them than its vaunted 2018 predecessor, even. But I can’t seem to shake the feeling that the game’s amazing first boss fight is the most memorable – and important – of them all. Blasting off barely an hour into the game, Kratos’ heavily-teased first clash with Thor himself isn’t just visually spectacular and pulse-racing, it’s also a critical opportunity for God of War: Ragnarok to showcase the largest tonal difference between itself and the last game: this time the gloves are off when it comes to both the most famous Nordic gods and Kratos’ past, which was understandably hardly referenced at all last time around. Ryan Hurst lends Thor a taunting edge as he nearly smashes down the fourth wall, essentially reading off a Kratos character bio with bloodthirsty bellows. A rather different status quo is on the cards from this moment on.

6. The Fire Giant – Elden Ring

Despite how good Elden Ring can be, it’s difficult to single out one moment to separate from the crowd when each new enemy and environment is so artistically arresting. The moment I caught up with my brother and realised I had accidentally reached the second major area without even fighting the first couple of bosses was pretty cool, as was the discovery of the world’s entire underground layer via the longest elevator ride in history. A few bosses also stand out, but none more than the Fire Giant. A towering inferno given limbs and angry sentience, this late-game battle was the first one I tackled in co-op with a mate who hadn’t fought it yet, and it was tough. Working out the optimal distance and timing to maximise our combination of short and long-range attacks while staving off the salt of myriad losses felt like nothing else this year – especially after the titan finally fell.

5. The Crater – Pokemon Scarlet

Two Pokemon story moments in one year? What a time to be alive!

Despite all its technical shortcomings, the new pair of Pokemon games make some serious moves in the realm of storytelling. That starts with the decision to split the overall plot into three concurrent narratives, but while the enforced variety is all well and engaging while its happening, the design choice is elevated even further when it’s revealed each narrative thread actually served as the audition tape for a slot in your de facto JRPG party – because the final stretch is going to get real Xenoblade on you.

Area Zero is a massive, otherworldly crater that forces you to run on foot alongside three chatty companions while an ethereal banger of a track plays in the background; I mean, come on. It’s a stunning change of pace for an already refreshing story – then a time-traveling triple twist hits as you descend and you end up face-to-face with a bloodthirsty glitching cyborg you thought was your version-exclusive Pokemon professor, forcing you into a battle you cannot win without a Bravely Default-style UI trick. Main series Pokemon games haven’t ended this strongly single the fifth generation – or maybe ever.

4. The Cross – Tunic

This is such a brilliant piece of meta game design I’m still reeling from it months after finishing Tunic. One single doodle in the margins of one of the game’s collectable manual pages unravels a mystery that, depending on the exploration route the player has taken and how often NPCs have been overheard talking in garbled tones about a mysterious cross, may have been anything from a tantalising mystery to a frustrating enigma. Is this cross a magical weapon? Is it an unlockable skill with a punishing cooldown? Nope, it’s the d-pad on your controller. And while a clever UI-level sucker punch like this could have easily had its moment in the sun and faded away, Tunic instead asks you to strap in, because if you want the story’s true ending this is only the tip of the iceberg.

3. The Finale – Splatoon 3

After two brief single-player story modes that no-one would confuse for the series’ main attraction (albeit each packing some fun Nintendo-quality level ideas), the Splatoon series shocked every longtime fan with a truly exemplary DLC adventure a year after the second game’s release. This left questions hanging over Splatoon 3‘s offering, but the choice to keep campaign cards close to the chest throughout its entire pre-release marketing cycle paid off in a major way once the game was out.

3 starts with a structure deliberately echoing the first two main games but then quite literally pulls the rug out from under the player, plunging into a more open area packed with hidden secrets and level design that hews closer to the anything-goes brilliance of the Octo Expansion. That bait-and-switch itself could have made this list, but the final hour of the campaign somehow manages to exceed the ludicrous scale of 2018’s previous high point by – there’s no other way to say this – inflitrating a rocket ship, going into space and fighting a giant bear with a vacuum cleaner. It’s as breathtaking as it sounds.

2. The Last Sling – A Plague Tale: Requiem

The older I get, the easier I find that a good film can draw real tears from me with as little as a well-executed moment of triumphant teamwork or strong portrayal of a familial bond. But though I’ve definitely welled up with emotion on a handful of occasions at the crescendo of a powerful videogame, I can’t say any of them had actually made me cry – until 2022. The realisation of how A Plague Tale: Reqiuem’s harrowing tale would reach its climax hit its protagonist at around the same time it did me – just about the very last moment – and the deliberately slow, shaky animation that followed really hammered everything home. Even before the harsh cut to black, I had dropped the controller and began to weep.

1. M – Xenoblade Chronicles 3

Traditionally, the longer and more Japanese the game, the more hesitant I tend to be to go into full-on spoiler territory regarding an incredible moment from said game. But while Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is indeed very long and very Japanese, it also released in the middle of the year and comes from a franchise that has become kind of a big deal over the years. So I’m a bit less worried than usual that I’ll ruin things for someone this time around.

However, it’s also almost impossible to spoil XC3′s crowning story moment for anyone who hasn’t already played 20+ hours of the game, as it would take another 4-5 paragraphs to explain the in-universe rules that make it so shockingly powerful. So I won’t. Instead I’ll just say that the game somehow manages to justify a full gameplay momentum crash at the end of its fifth chapter, essentially to present a full anime episode’s worth of sheer drama, despair and heartache that feels chillingly wrong until it suddenly, triumphantly doesn’t. At this point, a videogame story that has already raised the bar for fight choreography and hype character moments also raises it for that delicately difficult golden trope: the mid-game JRPG twist.

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Honorable Mentions

–Recon & Fire – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II

The newest Call of Duty campaign seems hell-bent on returning to the well of hits from older campaigns, but that doesn’t mean some of those hits don’t still kinda hit. “Recon & Fire” is an unquestionable callback to Call of Duty 4’s “All Ghillied Up” sniper mission, but it mixes up the straight-up copy sequences with a bit of fun infiltration spice.

–Dragon v Dragon – Bayonetta 3

Just one of several times Bayonetta 3 changes up its visual presentation or even its genre, this titanic kaiju battle chases up a particularly chaotic level by turning Bayo’s oldest inter-dimensional pet into a fighting game character for a surprisingly tense game of high-stakes scissors-paper-rock.

–Extraction – Scorn

A full-on hazing ritual no doubt designed to test the stomach of its players as early as possible, this shot of Cronenbergian body horror in Scorn’s very first area still makes my skin crawl thinking about it.

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