The nights are short, the Johns long, and there’s nary a gray whale to be found north of Mexico. This can only mean it’s the end of the calendar year. That, or lucha libre has branched out in strange new directions.
PCGamesN traditionally celebrates this time with a few round-up articles – look out for our newswipe on New Year’s Eve and our Games Of The Year tomorrow – but today we pay tribute to 2022’s big landmarks via the PCGN Awards. We’ve got many familiar categories where sincerity is warranted, but since this hobby is all about fun, we’ve always believed we can’t do it justice without a few ‘alternative’ awards to celebrate the sillier moments.
Like an emotionally repressed family at Christmas, we start with our more sincere reflections on the year just gone before the release of finally talking about our feelings drags us down a rabbit hole of increasingly lurid and bizarre confessions. Seriously, if for nothing else, stick around for this year’s thirst-trapping award. In our corner of the internet at least, Hades has a lot to answer for.
Winner: Iron Fist Alexander from Elden Ring – best character
Runner-up: The cat from Stray
As it turns out, the best characters in games in 2022 aren’t even human. We had a lot of love for the adorable kitty in Stray, who just wanted to reunite with their feline friends. They remind us of our own little furbabies, with our hearts melting as the cat finally escapes the confines of its dystopian prison. Not all of us are cat people, though, and we united over the fact that the best character we met in 2022 is none other than pot-chad himself – Iron Fist Alexander from Elden Ring, one of the best open-world games ever, let alone just 2022.
When you first meet this portly porcelain pot, he’s gotten himself in a bit of bother. If you decide to help him, you soon realise he’s one of the kindest souls in the land, becoming one of your closest allies throughout your journey across the Lands Between. He’s at the Radahn Festival, hoping to prove himself in battle. He can be summoned to help you fight against the now-corrupt Radahn, and he’s a reliable ally since he doesn’t bugger off as Patches does. You can even find him in the aftermath of the battle, scooping up fallen warriors to buff himself.
However, things take a turn after you free him once again, and he assists you in beating the Fire Giant. You’re soon transported to Crumbling Farum Azula, where he waits for you on a floating island. He feels that his time has come to prove himself as a mighty warrior by fighting against the best fighter in the land he knows: you. This is a bittersweet moment as he shatters into pieces upon defeat. However, he thanks you for the duel and reminds you that he wanted this. With his dying breath, he proclaims that “the great Alexander lived as a warrior to his last”. We’ll miss you, pot-chad, and we dedicate this award to your kindness.
Whether we’re talking about its heart-wrenching opening, quieter moments equally punctuated by despair and sweetness, or its tearjerker ending, Stray feels special. While much of the game’s appeal naturally lies in playing from the perspective of one of our feline friends, there’s much more to it than that. BlueTwelve Studio has crafted a bleak and beautiful posthuman world to explore (and destroy, as cats do), with a mystery so enticing you can’t help but unravel it like a spool of wool. It’s backed by an absolutely banging soundtrack too.
Stray is in its element when it allows you to leap between the alleyways and rooftops of the walled city at your leisure, undoubtedly making it one of the best indie games on PC. There’s much to find and uncover beneath your paws, be they cryptic clues to the whereabouts of mankind amidst this colony of robots with colourful personalities or basking in the cityscape’s neon glow. Despite the perpetually dark circumstances both you and the citizens find yourselves in, there’s always a warm corner for you to curl up and snooze in (our favourite being the one next to a musician).
You’ll need all nine of your lives at your disposal, though, if you’re to see Stray to the end. Swarms of Zurks, think Half-Life’s headcrabs that seem cuter but are just as dangerous, putting even seasoned players’ agility and puzzle-solving skills to the test. Here’s hoping that we can see more small-scale projects like Stray, so that more indie games like it can land on their feet. Purr-use our Stray review for our opinion on this kitty’s adventure.
Best level or side quest
Winner: Starscourge Radahn boss fight – Elden Ring
Runner up: The Cathedral from Tunic
Big man, little horse. Need I say more? Turns out I actually do, and Elden Ring’s Starscourge Radahn boss fight and side quest isn’t just one of the best this year, it’s all-timer.
It combines a brilliant set up: a festival dedicated to a general who just wants to die, a plethora of AI from the open world, and one of the best boss fights in FromSoftware history. It’s the perfect example of a shock moment, you don’t expect to see lots of NPCs milling about in a location where you’ve already defeated a boss, and you expect being able to summon them all at once to take on a big guy even less. Couple that with an engaging boss fight, and you’ve got perfection.
Starscourge Radahn is on this list because of how it shows FromSoftware is still willing to get weird, and push the boundaries with its boss fights. The bottleneck of Ornstein and Smough and the challenge of the Nameless King are joined by this boss because of how he’s set up. The festival build up and how it folds in other mechanics, like summoning, make it another one of Elden Ring’s many surprises that can be encountered after over 100 hours, and that makes it special. This, along with good ol’ Iron Fist Alexander, are just some of the reasons that our Elden Ring review gives it that coveted 10/10.
Best mod award
Winner: Half-Life 2 Episode 3 but garbage
Runner-up: Doom: The Fall of Tei Tenga
Everyone admires Valve’s commitment to quality, but fifteen years after Half-Life Episode 2, and there’s still no official word on the various cliffhangers regarding the Borealis, Aperture Science, and Gordon Freeman. Somebody had to do something, even if that something was composed using the Source engine equivalent of cocktail sticks, bubblegum, and duct tape.
Nevertheless, you can, now, in theory, play and complete Half Life 2 Episode 3. It exists. It’s out there. And it’s good. It’s good in the same way that Bing would be good if Google suddenly disappeared – if this is all there is, you’ll take it, while wishing miserably for the better alternative. If you want to see what Half-Life 2 Episode 3 might look like if one day Valve said “yeah, whatever, ship it,” this is the mod for you.
Alternatively, if you’ve ever played Doom and thought it could do with a bit more Half-Life in the narrative department, Doom: The Fall of Tei Tenga might be for you. It’s a restoration of all the ideas id Software abandoned when making the first draft of the FPS game, such as its story-based approach, recreated into a single game. It’s a fantastic work of preservation, bringing a fascinating chunk of gaming history to vivid, playable life.
Winner: Return to Monkey Island
Runner-up: Plague Tale Requiem
Reviving an adored series from the early ‘90s is no mean feat at the best of times, but to come anywhere close to how revered the original was is a nigh-on impossible task. If anyone can do it, however, it’s Ron Gilbert and his team at Terrible Toybox with 2022’s Monkey Island return – sorry, Return to Monkey Island.
And what a return it is. The series is known for its wit and Return to Monkey Island continues this in top form, with hilarious dialogue and puzzle solutions that are so far outside of the box but never so nonsensical you’re left scratching your head for too long. The story is set years on from the previous instalments, with Guybrush Threepwood – the keen-eyed, bushy-tailed pirate protagonist – telling his son the tale of the time he finally uncovered the secret of Monkey Island.
Most of the game takes place during this flashback, but pivotal moments are broken up by returning to Guybrush and Boybrush – yes, seriously – sitting on a park bench, with the young pirate wannabe keenly asking questions. Point and click adventures rely on the narrative because without a compelling story, there’s nothing to keep the player coming back, and Return to Monkey Island smashes it out of the park like never before.
Best ongoing game
Winner: Genshin Impact
Runner-up: Final Fantasy XIV
It’s fair to dislike aspects of Genshin Impact, but an area where you can’t fault the game is its incredible content cycle. Every six weeks, Mihoyo (Hoyoverse?) releases a substantial update to Genshin Impact which typically features two new characters, several events, and a new location to explore. In the past year alone, the map has expanded to add an underground mining system known as The Chasm, and Sumeru, a landscape filled with both forests and deserts. On top of that, the 3.0 update finally introduced a new element called Dendro which has encouraged a lot of experimentation when it comes to forming teams.
Of course, when you’re earning the money Mihoyo does from each banner sale, the devs have plenty of resources to keep the cycle going. The only other developer that consistently manages to pump up this amount of content throughout the year is Epic Games with Fortnite. There are plenty of publishers out there earning millions through microtransactions that don’t use the money to improve the game, but it’s clear just how much time and effort goes into each Genshin Impact update.
Each patch has enough story mode content to keep you busy throughout the whole month, and there’s plenty of opportunities to score free primogems when you want to add characters to your roster. While there are valid concerns about the gacha system, if you choose not to spend any money in the game, Mihoyo gives players a chance to unlock characters on banners if they’re willing to put the time in. Genshin Impact’s creative combat system and cast of stylish characters can hook you in after only a few hours of playing, and before you know it, you’ll be waiting for the next update to drop so you can spend thousands of primogems on the latest character banner.
Surprise of the year
Winner: Vampire Survivors
Runner-up: Trombone Champ
Looking at Vampire Survivors, you might wonder what people see in it. Even being thrown in for the first time – a Castlevania-esque vampire hunter with an auto-firing whip slaying bats in a field – you’ll probably query if this can possibly be the game everyone was telling you that you ‘have to try.’ It isn’t a game that makes a big first impression; instead, it’s a roguelite delight that gradually worms its way under your skin, endlessly teasing you with that next upgrade, a little taste of true power, the promise of one more run.
Each of those runs brings something fresh – another character to try, a weapon upgrade that turns your puny axe throws into a ring of whirling scythes, or even whole new mechanics that completely overhaul your strategic potential. While the auto-attack systems might at first make the game seem like it plays itself, truly excelling at Vampire Survivors is all about careful movement and positioning to optimise your weapons’ output and farm foes as fast as feasibly possible. This is made all the more satisfying thanks to its driving, old-school soundtrack; living up to Castlevania’s music is no small feat, but it performs admirably.
Vampire Survivors masterfully blends idle games and roguelikes to create something new and exciting. It was a bargain at its initial beef burger price, but even with the cost of entry raised for the full release you’d be hard pressed to find something that offers more bang for your buck in 2022. Our honourable mention goes to Trombone Champ, for turning everything from DragonForce solos to Prime Ministerial resignations into an even more delightful mess.
Lawbreakers Legacy Award, presented by Anthem
Winner: Saints Row
Runner-up: Dying Light 2: Stay Human
It was clear from the outset that Saints Row had an impossible task: rebooting a wildly irreverent open-world game series that kicked off in the mid-2000s, maintaining the raucous comedy spirit but updating it for a modern audience. While the modern Saints Row ticks a lot of the boxes that would appear on a list titled ‘cool things about Saints Row games,’ that never quite comes together into anything more than a game that oddly feels aged in an unfamiliar, lifeless new town.
Let’s be clear about something here. Saints Row wasn’t a dud because it’s ‘woke,’ whatever that tiresome term is supposed to mean today. Try to imagine Saints Row the Third coming out in 2022 – the humour, the references, and the gameplay itself would all feel woefully dated, and Kanye West’s ‘Power’ kicking on as you parachute onto a skyscraper to shoot up a mafia pool party wouldn’t be the same at all.
The world has changed while the Saints have been away, and if anything, Saints Row failed to change enough to keep pace. There’s a quaintness to playing this year’s Saints Row that’s at odds with its gestures at zoomer relatability. The result feels like a game you’d see in a TV show, without a clear audience of its own.
Winner: Metal: Hellsinger
No matter what you hear, 7/10 is a good score. 7/10s are good games. And moreover, the thesis behind our long-running ‘best 7/10’ award is that a 7/10 can sometimes be, if not exactly better, then more fun than one burdened with the particular expectations of higher scores. Whether it’s an occasional bug that’s more amusing than irritating, or a modesty of ambition that lets you know you don’t have to approach it with the same kind of terrified reverence that Red Dead Redemption 2 demands, you can relax with a good 7/10. For 2022, PCGamesN gives that accolade to Metal: Hellsinger, the demonic FPS game with a musical twist.
Troy Baker’s soothing southern drawl and a stunning metal soundtrack alone are enough to put Metal: Hellsinger in this category’s top spot. The rhythm-game aspect really sets this game apart though, encouraging you to deal damage on the beat to increase your hit streak – and thus your chances of survival – adding to Metal: Hellsinger’s charm, and making your dark journey through hell incredibly fun.
So why only 7/10? Sure, Metal Hellsinger is a great game with brilliant mechanics and a unique feel, but it still doesn’t belong with the likes of Stray and Elden Ring. The gameplay itself is pretty basic, barely changing from level to level. The bosses get more difficult, but even that doesn’t feel smooth thanks to a couple of steep, mid-level difficulty spikes. Following the story of Unknown – told by Troy Baker as talking skull Paz – provides a false sense of accomplishment to keep you going through the repetitive levels, and there’s a degree of replayability with global leaderboards after every Hell, but it’s just not enough. That said, Metal: Hellsinger is a perfectly enjoyable game for a short time, but could have been an eight or nine if the story were developed more through gameplay than a simple narration, and if the Hells and the creatures that dwell within them were more varied. As a fun, visually-appealing, rhythm-FPS for fans of metal music though, Metal: Hellsinger is worth a playthrough, and is perfectly placed as 2022’s best 7/10. Dive into our Metal: Hellsinger review for more.
The ‘You’re Still Not Bloodborne’ Award for best PlayStation exclusive that actually came to PC
Winner: God of War 2018
Runner up: The Last Of Us Part I
Don’t get us wrong: after decades of platform holders using their IP as a main selling point, we PC gamers are thrilled that the true console exclusive is an increasingly rare sight. Xbox now treats Windows as an extension of itself, and most of the latest Sony exclusives – generally of a rare quality that proved key to the PlayStation 4’s success – have come our way. In 2022 alone, we’ve had God of War 2018, The Last Of Us Part I, Marvel’s Spider-Man and Miles Morales, Persona 5 Royal, and Uncharted 4 via the Legacy of Thieves Collection.
But to quote Mr Burns contemplating his birthday presents, though they include a fist-sized diamond, genie lamp, and unicorn, we won’t get what we really want.
God of War 2018 is a fantastic game and The Last Of Us – in the unbiased opinion of Craig Mazin, who is directing and will profit from its TV adaptation – has the “open and shut” greatest story ever told in videogames. But they’re still only the best PlayStation exclusives that aren’t Bloodborne.
Close but no potato award
Runner up: Gotham Knights
Stepping out from the shadow of the Arkham series was always going to be a herculean task for Gotham Knights; after all, it’s a Batman game that kills off the caped crusader in the first couple of minutes. Developer Warner Bros Montreal gets a lot right, with a story worthy of its predecessors and a delectably sassy Alfred acting as the glue that binds the Bat family through their grief. Unfortunately, the superhero game also proves that bigger isn’t always better.
We see the largest Gotham to date, but even the Batcomputer isn’t immune to frame rate stutters when zipping through the city. It’s chock full of new RPG mechanics that attempt to add a Diablo-like flavour, but earning new tiered gear feels almost meaningless when the next set’s just around the corner. And there are more collectables than you can shake a stick at – Batarangs, graffiti street art locations, and landmarks – but the paltry rewards for completing each set make you feel more cheated than the last. I mean, come on, even basic gliding skills you start with in previous entries are locked behind a gratuitous skill tree. Check out our Gotham Knights review for more.
The Hades Legacy Award for Achievements in Thirst Trapping
Runner-up: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 close-ups
Big, long bones. Glistening curves. Soft, fleshy orifices that you can repeatedly enter. Ignore all the blood, cartilage and exposed muscle tissue, and in many ways, Scorn becomes a protracted, fully interactive allegory for sexual intercourse. It’s confusing, frustrating, you’ll probably need to check online for what you’re meant to do, and at the end of it you feel like it both went on too long but was also, somehow, too short.
‘Playable sex’ is the dream of many a game player and game designer alike, and Scorn, in its own immensely grotesque and unremittingly bleak way, delivers on that dream. The whole game is a bewildering mess of parts and fluids, and if someone walked in while you were in the middle of it, you’d probably struggle to explain yourself. Scorn stars. ScornHub. Hardcore Scornography. The opportunities for puns are endless. It’s not the sexiest game, but mirroring a lot of people’s – especially formative – congressional experiences, it might be the game that’s the most sex-like.
To a lesser extent, the various close ups of Valeria in Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 are an admirable runner-up in 2022. It starts with that interrogation scene, where she’s leaning right into Soap’s face. After that, CoD never misses a chance to have a good leer at Valeria, something to which the subsequent social media cult, simping for Valeria, will testify.