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james debate

Thursday 13 January 2022

Hello and welcome back to the Hot List. This week we will turn our attention to the videogame industry, previewing for you loyal readers the most exciting videogames set for release in 2022.

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If 2021 will be remembered for something in gaming, it is the release of the Playstation 5... even though it actually came out in 2020. Yes, unfortunately the global chip shortage continues to wreak havoc, leading to skyrocketing prices on even second hand hardware. There are signs that governments are beginning to take steps to alleviate the crisis, but we shall have to wait and see. Otherwise it has mainly been a year of slowly regaining normalcy, with pandemic-related delays easing up and most industry events returning in at least some, mostly still remote, form. 

One area that has thrived this year is the indie game scene, as well as published games from new developers, new voices. An abundance of good development, funding and delivery resources, as well as a thriving market for escapism, means that there has rarely been a better time to get into the industry for those so inclined, and 2021 saw a remarkable slew of high quality games from unexpected sources. I am excited to see what new feats of creativity and design 2022 has to offer in this increasingly democratised space.

So here it is, the 15 key videogames to keep an eye on in the coming year (trailers linked in the title where available), starting with number 15:

15. Homeworld 3 (PC)

homeworld 3 best games 2022 pcThe original Homeworld was an extraordinarily hyped title back when it launched in the late 1990s. A massive, bombastic space opera with cutting edge graphics and presentation, not to mention pioneering 3D gameplay unlike anything other developers were putting out at the time. 

While critically acclaimed at the time, the series pretty much vanished after 2003's Homeworld 2, due in part to the IP kerfuffle in the wake of original publisher Sierra's collapse. Homeworld went on to form something of a legendary cult status and has seen a revival in recent years with a prequel spin-off and remastered versions of the original games finding release. The announcement, finally, of Homeworld 3 may have been somewhat inevitable in retrospect, but still a very welcome surprise. 

Little is known so far, but it can be presumed that Homeworld 3 will follow its predecessors in gameplay and style. This has been tentatively pencilled in for a Q4 2022 release.

Release Date: Q4 2022

14. Hogwarts Legacy (PC, Xbox, Playstation)

hogwarts legacy harry potter best game 2022When Hogwarts Legacy first leaked a few years back, it created about as much of a stir as one would expect. A massive open world RPG based on the Harry Potter franchise is the stuff of many gamers' dreams, not to mention the closest thing to a money-printer you can find in the entertainment industry.

Following its official reveal at the end of 2020, we have learned a few more things about this title. Players will control a student at Hogwarts in the 1800s, attend classes, explore the environs, and presumably embark on some grand adventure. The game looks to be extremely customisable, with players able to design their character in quite specific detail, choose their House and wizarding proficiencies.

I predict this will be a big deal when it releases, barring some unprecedented botching. We do not yet have a release date, but it has been said to be due during 2022.

Release Date: TBA 2022

13. Oxenfree II: Lost Signals (PC, Mac, Xbox, Playstation, Switch)

oxenfree 2 II lost signals netflix 2022 best gameThe first game was an acclaimed indie darling, a surprise hit that delighted with its smart design and accomplished writing. The sequel, Oxenfree II: Lost Signals comes with rather more auspicious trappings; the weight of expectation from its forebear and the status of being the first major acquisition in Netflix's new push into interactive media.

But that new expectation is also driving greater ambition. Oxenfree II is bigger than its predecessor, more open ended, more personalised. The aesthetic and tone may be familiar for fans of the developer, but it is clear that with this next release they are trying to mix things up a bit in surprising ways.

While an official release date has not yet been provided, it has been confirmed to be out in 2022, and leaked data suggests February.

Release Date: February 2022

12. Harold Halibut (PC)

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Taking inspiration from the likes of Wes Anderson and Aardman Animations,
Harold Halibut is the culmination of ten years' painstaking work in perfecting a unique and, frankly, stunning hand-made claymation art-style. The result is one of the most striking games in recent memory, which from early appearances seems to have the humour and narrative flair to match. 

Looking past the aesthetic flair, one finds a fairly traditional point-and-click adventure game in the style of Monkey Island, Sam and Max, or for more recent gamers the various output of Telltale Games. Set on a marooned space ship some 250 years in the future, players must help unravel the mysteries of their new home and find a way to return their ship on course before time runs out.

Harold Halibut is currently due for release in 2022. The only reason it isn't higher up this list is my skepticism that it will actually manage to meet this target.

Release Date: TBA 2022

11. Star Trek: Resurgence (PC, Xbox, Playstation)

star trek resurgence telltale best game 2022 pc xbox ps4 ps5And speaking of Telltale Games (I think I mentioned them above. If I have since deleted this reference then please disregard), we have Star Trek: Resurgence.

So this isn't actually a Telltale Game, but the debut project of a team of 20+ former Telltale developers cast adrift by the company's recent turmoil. A third person adventure game crafted very much in the mold of a Telltale game, with dialogue driven point-and-click adventure gameplay familiar to fans of the genre.

It's also a Star Trek game, which is frankly a rarity these days and a surprising treat for fans of the series. If the team can craft a solid narrative in this universe, drawing on the thought-provoking sci-fi and optimistic, character-driven adventuring of classic Trek, then that will make it one of the potential standouts of 2022.

Release Date: TBA 2022

10. Stray (PC, Playstation)

stray best pc ps5 playstation game 2022 cat kittyIn Stray, you play a cat, and you do cat things. What's not to like? More specifically, Stray is a gorgeous platformer set in an open world that is dripping with personality. The gameplay is focused on exploration and puzzle solving with the help of your drone buddy as you try to uncover the mysteries of this world and return home.

This is the latest title from Annapurna, who in recent years have established themselves as one of the most consistent marks of quality in the gaming industry, with excellent releases such as What Remains of Edith Finch and The Artful Escape.

Stray is set to launch towards the end of 2022 on PC and Playstation.

Release Date: Q4 2022

9. Victoria 3 (PC, Mac)

victoria 3 iii paradox grand strategy europa universalis crusader kings best game 2022Grand strategy is a blossoming genre in gaming, and Paradox Interactive are the undisputed kings of that genre. Victoria 3 is the Swedish developer's latest in the Victoria series, a strategy game focused on the 1836 - 1936 period that saw the advent of colonialism and the rapid escalation between global empires that gave rise to the wars of the 20th Century.

The Victoria series is somewhat unique among strategy titles in that is blends traditional strategy gameplay with more political elements. Nation management involves deft handling of demographics and class strata, with minutely detailed pops each with their own needs and wants. As befits the era, international competition depends as much on alliances and influence as brute strength.

Release date is TBA but rumoured to be early 2022, perhaps as soon as the end of February.

Release Date: February 2022

8. Nivalis (PC)

nivalis cloudpunk lifesim best game 2022 pcIon Lands' debut title Cloudpunk placed them as one of the new darlings in indie gaming. But while the cyberpunk taxi simulator was blessed with smooth driving mechanics and surprisingly capable storytelling, what really elevated tie game to prominence was its world, a stunning voxel cyberpunk dystopia oozing with atmosphere. Follow up project Nivalis builds on that strength. A slice of life sim set in that wonderful setting.

Precisely what that means is still shrouded in mystery, but we do know that Nivalis will feature business management, social simulation and home decorating. Like a cyberpunk version of Stardew Valley, with more life-sim features. dexter new. Whatever they come up with, I could not be more excited about returning to this world.

Release date is still very much TBA, but the suggestion is that Nivalis has been in production since before Cloudpunk launched, and could be due for a surprise release before the end of 2022.

Release Date: TBA 2022

7. Fermi Paradox (PC)

fermi paradox indie best game 2022A 4X game the likes of which you have never seen, Fermi Paradox is one of the most exciting indie titles I have seen in some time. While it would be easy, from a glance at the game's star-map, to draw comparisons with the likes of Stellaris and Master of Orion, this is something else entirely. 

An exploration of the paradox between the age of the universe and the lack of life we see elsewhere, this game is very much about the hard science. A choice-driven narrative strategy game in which players guide a number of different species across the galaxy through their evolution, from primordial stew to the space age and beyond. Each choice you make (as well as the decisions and actions of each species) can potentially doom their civilisation, or lead them to colonise the far reaches of space. All the while you are constrained by the harsh realities of physics, providing a surprisingly excellent illustration of the difficulty in exploring and understanding the universe. 

This is one of the smartest strategy concepts I think I've ever seen. Currently in early access, Fermi Paradox is expected to see full release towards the end of 2022. 

Release Date: Q3 2022

6. Triangle Strategy (Switch)

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It may have the worst name for a videogame since "Returnal", but Triangle Strategy is shaping up to be a very exciting prospect. This is the newest project from the Square Enix team behind Octopath Traveler. The 2018 JRPG was highly praised for its modern twist on retro aesthetic and its character-driven storytelling that hearkened back to the glory days of genre classics like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger. 

Triangle Strategy, by contrast, takes its inspiration from the like of Fire Emblem and the Final Fantasy Tactics series and the subgenre of tactical strategy that those games exemplify. That genre, combined with Octopath's graphical style and storytelling, is a home run if ever I saw one.

Triangle Strategy will launch in March.

Release Date: March 2022

5. Bomb Rush Cyberfunk (PC)

bomb rush cyberfunk jet set radio hideki naganuma best game pc 2022I'm a 90s kid. That means I inherently love Sega. But Sega are an objectively bad company. How else can you explain why a company that always appears to be on the verge of collapse is allowing an astonishing catalogue of classic intellectual properties and franchises (arguably matched only by Nintendo in depth) to just collect dust in a warehouse somewhere? Chief among these is the great Jet Set Radio series of games. Frustrated by their intransigence, a group of indie devs (and apparent fans of the series) have taken matters into their own hands by crafting their own spiritual successor to the long dormant franchise. The result is Bomb Rush Cyberfunk.

Fans of Jet Set Radio will find much of what they love here. Bright, cell-shaded visuals, the funky musical stylings of the brilliant Hideki Naganuma, and the same mesmerising neo-futuristic urban setting. Featuring a colourful cast of characters, you will skate around a dizzying cityscape full of gangs, graffiti and rebel-spirit. So far it looks great.

Release is confirmed to be sometime during 2022. Can this indie team succeed where larger studios have failed and emulate the success of this classic title? We shall see.

Release Date: TBA 2022

4. Kerbal Space Program 2 (PC, Xbox, Playstation)

kerbal space program 2 jebediah best game 2022The original game remains one of the greatest gaming surprises of recent years. Created by one amateur coder during his lunch break, the concept was fairly simple: build rockets and try to launch them into space under realistic physics and orbital mechanics. The deceptively deep toybox-like design tools proved such good fun that you could sink hours into just getting that one perfect spacecraft into orbit before even realising you had other planets to visit. Now a full team of professional designers are bringing a full-blooded sequel, Kerbal Space Program 2.

The goal of this sequel appears to be to take the successful foundations of the original and just build on it. More parts, colony building, multiple star systems. It's the type of feature list that fans and modders have been dreaming about, but the key will be to get the basics right. The physics system has to feel as solid as the original, the building tools need to be as intuitive. It won't be enough to just slap a coat of Kerbilish paint on a pale imitation.

Originally revealed back at the end of 2019 with an expected 2020 release date, it has to be a concern that we have seen so little since then. The team has evidently been hit bad by the pandemic, but two years' worth of delays appear to finally be on the verge of bearing fruit. The recently returned series of dev diaries doing much to allay fans' fears. KSP2 is now set for a 2022 release.

Release Date: TBA 2022

3. Haunted Chocolatier (PC)

haunted chocolatier stardew valley best game pc 2022The story of how Eric Barone (aka ConcernedApe) made Stardew Valley has become the stuff of legend in the gaming industry. Newly graduated and unemployed, Barone decided to create his own game, based on a niche and mostly forgotten genre. Over four years, he did just about everything himself. He did the coding, the artwork, the music. To say that people were skeptical of his life choices would be an understatement, but Stardew Valley went on to sell tens of millions of copies and become one of the decade's most celebrated releases.

After Stardew, Barone could have gone anywhere and done anything, but he has chosen to stay true to his roots and take on another niche solo project of questionable marketability, and it looks amazing. Haunted Chocolatier is the new project, and unlike Stardew it has no clear genre parallels or influences. This is something entirely original. Players take on the role of a haunted chocolatier, living in a haunted castle and running a chocolate shop staffed by adorable little ghosts. The concept is fascinating and original, but let's remember that Stardew didn't succeed simply on the basis of its gameplay, but on the quality of its world and characters. This will be the magic dust that HC needs if it is to achieve similar success.

Haunted Chocolatier currently has a strict TBA release date and I wouldn't be surprised if it slips until next year, but it just looks too great not to mention.

Release Date: TBA 2022

2. Starfield (PC, Xbox, Playstation)

starfield bethesda fallout best game 2022 pc xbox ps4 ps5For many, this is the biggest game coming in 2022. Starfield promises a grand space opera in the style of a Mass Effect or Star Wars, with open-world exploration built around the same concepts as Bethesda's tried and tested Fallout and The Elder Scrolls series, only set over a series of star systems and multiple worlds. 

Bethesda games often get a lot of flack, sometimes deservedly, but their track record speaks for itself and includes some of the most celebrated titles of the past 20 years. Engrossing world-building and lore, moddable to an unprecedented extent. Open world RPGs are incredibly complex beasts and few developers have ever managed to create such immersive and flexible examples as Bethesda. While there may be valid criticisms over some of their recent decisions and business practices, they truly are one of the grand masters of the genre.

It is also notable that Starfield comes in the wake of 2019's The Outer Worlds, a similarly spacefaring RPG created by rivals and original Fallout creators Obsidian. That title met with moderate initial success, and it will be interesting to see how a competing effort from the current Fallout stewards compares.

After many years of speculation and delay, we do finally have a release date. Starfield is due out in November this year.

Release Date: November 2022

1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 (Switch)

legend of zelda breath of the wild 2 sequel switch best game ever 2022But as hyped as I am for a new Bethesda RPG, there are few things in any part of the entertainment industry that catch the spotlight as much as a new entry in Nintendo's fabled The Legend of Zelda series.

How do you follow up a game that is often considered to be one of the greatest ever made? That is the question Nintendo will be asking now as they craft The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 (presumably a working title). In fairness, it is a position in which they have found themselves before in following up the Ocarina of Time. The result on that occasion was Majora's Mask, a game considered by many to be even better than its predecessor. So no pressure then.

We know precious little about this game. BotW2 will apparently make use of the same open world as its predecessor, with some added verticality judging by the most recent trailer, and will feature some form of time manipulation. Otherwise all we have to go on is speculation. One of the major boons in Majora's Mask's development was the fact that the engine and assets were already there, which meant that the developers could use their time more for adding finesse and character. If they pull the same trick this time around then we could be in for something special.

Release Date: TBA 2022

So there you have it folks: 2022 in videogames. Tune in next week for the most exciting new novels and literature coming this year!

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