Despite its minimalist graphics, Citizen Sleeper conjures one of the year’s most compelling game worlds in its sci-fi future of scrappy communities living on the margins of a galactic tech dystopia. Largely a showcase for superb writing and characterisation, the game offers meaningful choices that allow you to grapple with political and philosophical questions worthy of the best speculative fiction.
Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC, Mac
In the future we will probably be able to divide gaming history into the time before and after Elden Ring. It’s brilliant and bold is its design, from the complex combat system to its wilfully obscure storytelling that asks you to fill in the blanks: open-world games will surely be borrowing Elden Ring’s innovations for a long, long time.
Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, PS5, PC
God of War: Ragnarök
Who would have expected that a series that started as one of gaming’s bawdiest and most irreverent would turn into such a powerful meditation on fate and family? Following 2018’s God of War reboot, this game pairs white-knuckle combat with snappy writing and a colourful cast of Nordic gods and mortals.
Horizon Forbidden West
If Elden Ring paved the way for a new generation of open-world games, Horizon Forbidden West is a beautiful swansong for the last one. Your interest in the game’s involved sci-fi storyline may waver, but there is no denying the stunning vistas of its rendering of the American west in the distant future or the brilliant fun of its inventive clashes against robot dinosaurs.
Indie gaming auteur Sam Barlow’s games have always shown a cinematic flair, favouring filmed sequences with real actors over computer-generated graphics. This brilliant oddity takes it a step further by placing players in the editing suite of the recipient of tapes that detail the life and mysterious disappearance of the magnetic film starlet Marissa Marcel. What happened to her? Spooling through the footage will provide clues, but it’s up to you to make sense of them.
Mobile, PC, Mac, Xbox Series X/S
No other game this year captures the pure joy of movement like Neon White. A bizarre mash-up between shooter, platformer and card game, each of its levels lasts little over a minute and demands a perfect strategy to shave seconds off your best time.
Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, PC
On paper, Pentiment could hardly sound drier: an intellectual murder mystery set in Bavaria during the Reformation, inspired by medieval illuminated manuscripts. You’re really going to choose this over shooting space vampires? When you dig in, though, what unravels is an ambitious and fascinating experiment in video-game storytelling which weaves a rich tapestry of history with writing full of heart and humour.
Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Stray never needed to be more than an adorable ginger cat simulator. People would have loved it just for its superbly accurate feline animations and the simple pleasure of napping on a cushion or knocking paint pots off the roof. But it is so much more, offering a stunning cyberpunk cityscape and a thoughtful meditation on humanity in a world without a single human to be found.
PC, PS4, PS5
So popular that it was snapped up by the New York Times for “an undisclosed price in the low seven figures”, this word game’s genius is in its simplicity. Its single puzzle every day offers a satisfying challenge and brings language nerds together, as it did during the toughest winters of the pandemic.
It might not look like much, but Vampire Survivors is a perfect game. In bite-sized levels, you face off against teeming hordes of skeletons, ghosts and bats. Since your character fires their weapons automatically, all you control as the player is movement, turning the experience into something more akin to sheep-herding than monster-slaying. It’s strangely soothing and incredibly addictive.
Mobile, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC, Mac
Case of the Golden Idol — a brilliant detective game that offers a deep challenge in lateral thinking
Cult of the Lamb — this surprising hybrid of dungeon-crawling battles and cutesy cult management makes for an unexpected gem
Kirby and the Forgotten Land — Nintendo’s best game of the year features one of its lesser stars in a marvel of level design perfect for families to play together
Norco — this narrative journey into a sci-fi American South is memorably rendered by gorgeous pixel art and superb writing
Pokémon Legends: Arceus — finally the Pokémon Company tries to offer something new, an open-world adventure that succeeds far more than it fails
Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe — the zaniest excursion into postmodern game design returns for another brilliant bite of the apple
Tunic — a cute fox is stranded in a strange world where every puzzle he solves just reveals another, deeper mystery