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TheGamer Game Of The Year Editor’s Pick, 2022 – Harry Alston

2022 has been a bumper year for video games, despite what your favourite streamer says. I didn't really play any massive triple-A bangers, because I died six times to the horse guy in Elden Ring, don't own a PS5 (fake gamer), and am totally sick of massive, never-ending open world games with three thousand side quests to complete. Instead, here's a list of charming indie games that stole my heart.

10. V Rising

I played V Rising for 30 hours straight when it came to early access this year, and if it wasn’t still in beta its place on this list would be even higher. This vampire top-down PvP, PvE survival game ticks multiple boxes, and sucking the blood of your enemies to empower your abilities, the sunlight mechanics, and base-building elements are all top class. Grab this on Steam when you get a chance, and try to get a group together. It’s brilliant fun, and I can’t wait to see where it goes in the future.

9. Cult Of The Lamb

Cult Of The Lamb was praised across the board, and while I enjoyed my time with my rabid cult followers and its unavoidably enjoyable roguelite combat, I haven’t returned to play the game since. I would, however, recommend the game to pretty much anyone, because everyone will experience it differently – will you raise your cult with warmth and love, or will you force them to eat each other? Cult Of The Lamb blindsided me because I thought it looked like Happy Tree Friends, and then it turned out to be actually quite a lot like Happy Tree Friends – massacres included.

8. Norco

I hadn’t played a point & click game before Norco since Simon The Sorcerer. That’s not a joke. Maybe that little magic prick and his unfathomably difficult puzzles to solve as a ten-year-old really put me off. I couldn’t resist Norco, though, because of the art style, setting, and its pertinent themes. It oozes details with its witty writing and heavy-hitting punches of philosophical thinking that, for once, didn’t leave me wanting to chop my ears off.

7. Lost Ark

Lost Ark might seem like the odd-one-out on this list, but I spent four-hundred hours with it this year. That makes it my most played game by some margin. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an excellent, excellent game, but it does its job of hooking you up to that MMO IV drip of endless, constantly grindable content brilliantly – it’s stylish and developed side-by-side with its community, but I’ll probably never play it again. You never complete a game like Lost Ark, and I just ain’t got time for that anymore.

6. Stray

Stray blew me away. When I finished it, I was certain that it would find its way into my top five, but it’s been beaten out by some seriously stiff competition. In Stray, you play as a cat. We all know that by now. The cat is excellently designed, but it was the greater world and style of Stray I loved. I felt inspired by the game at the time (I wrote lots of pieces on it), and yet looking back, I feel like its potential was never really hit. That’s not to take away from Stray’s brilliance, and, cat-lover or not, you should play it and get lost in its soft, furry underbelly of androids and gasoline soup.

5. Hardspace: Shipbreaker

My colleague Eric Switzer has been asking people to play Hardspace: Shipbreaker all year. So I did, and I loved it. These sorts of simulation games are never really my bag (Lawnmowing, Powerwashing, etc., I just don’t really get it), but when it involves pulling apart a derelict spaceship with a jetpack and an array of tools it’s pretty fucking cool. Hardspace had me living the life of a little space mechanic, and I’d do it all over again, even though you get paid like total shit, live in a coffin, and will never, ever pay off your debt. Sounds a bit like real life. Talk about escapism.

4. Dome Keeper

Dome Keeper appeared out of nowhere and ate up an entire week of my life. It is exactly the type of game I love to play in short bursts: replayable, simplistic, but with a difficulty curve that means you don’t get easily bored. The premise is simple: go mining for resources, then defend your base from a hoard of attacking aliens. I love the sound design, the mechanics of your jetpack defender, and the roguelite development of your dome. Keep the dome safe and everything’s gonna be alright.

3. Dwarf Fortress

Dwarf Fortress is the greatest game of this century, if you can get past its sheer impenetrableness. Like the surface of the mountains you send your dwarves to tunnel into, the game is damn inhospitable if you don’t know what you’re doing. Once you’ve cracked the code of this colony simulator, though, there is no other experience like Dwarf Fortress. The organic storytelling is unparalleled, and its inspirations shine through in most modern games in the colony sim/city-building genre, and fall like dwarves' beard hairs into every other genre.

2. Citizen Sleeper

Citizen Sleeper made me weep. Games don’t usually make me weep, and neither do books, nor films. Citizen Sleeper is one of those rare experiences that just gets you. You have some impossible choices to make, but that’s part of the brilliance – you can make any choice you want, because in the world of short, sharp, indie games, you can always return to make up those broken promises to characters you abandoned, and trust me, you’ll want to, because they’ll break your damn heart. The space station and its host of lovable, brilliant characters wooed me completely.

1. Vampire Survivors

Vampire Survivors represents everything I love about video games. Vampire Survivors is the reason I work in games media. This game cost me less than a pint, and I live in Scotland, where a pint of crispy Tennent’s will still only set you back four pounds. This is absurd, this ridiculous, old-school, incredible value-for-money video game, because I’ve played Vampire Survivors for 90 hours. I feel like I’m in an arcade whenever I play it, and each run costs me one single pence.

No one really understands Survivors until they play it. Then it grips you, and it doesn’t let go. Even the biggest skeptics will find enjoyment in this game. It is brilliantly simple, but has those dopamine hits down to a steady metronomic beat. Upgrade, get powerful, kill a boss, die, go again, find a new weapon, unlock a new character. Tick. Tick. Tick. At the start, you’ll play for several hours, guaranteed. Then it’s a game you will find yourself returning to in short, 30-minute bursts, just enough to get your fix, to complete one more run. You don’t need triple-A budget and ray-tracing to make a brilliant game – you just need some dedication, a good idea, and a whole lot of heart. Cheers Poncle!

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