I’m not going to lie to my audience.
I spent a whole chunk of 2022 playing Elden Ring.
Specifically, I spent 184.3 hrs out of 6696 (from the day of the game’s release) playing Elden Ring. However, that leaves me with 6511.7hr and once we deduct the average amount of time for Personal Activities (sleeping, eating etc – together coming to 2358 hrs) and then the 2 days of part-time work I did weekly over that time period we end up with 4338 hours left.
What could I possibly do with 4338 hours, or 180.75 days? I could have done a lot of things, and I’m not going to pretend I *solely* played indie games, but a significant portion of my time was spent in front of my computer and of that time, some was spent playing indie games.
This furnishes me with the knowledge to create My Top Five Independent Games of 2022. My top 5 here does not and can not reflect the full spread of the games released this year, but all have merit in sound design, gameplay, and animation, and you can take that from me, “guy on the internet with an opinion”.
Honestly these are experiences I am glad to see exist within gaming, I found them fun, and after the past few years we could be doing with a little bit of fun.
1 – ULTRAKILL
ULTRAKILL is *not* complete yet, so why am I including it in a Best of 2022 list? Well, although it’s not complete (still awaiting Act III) it is the best iteration I have personally seen of the attempting-to-be-as-fun-as-DOOM-was-in-the-late-1990s FPS currently on the market, and for that it deserves a spot.
You can buy Act I + II on Steam, it’s fully controller supported, or you can play it with keyboard + mouse. Now, I know that DOOM, Quake, and Blood were played with keyboard + mouse and plenty of people asked me “Controller bro?” in my publicly broadcasted playthrough of Act I + II, but I am fully of the opinion that the controller Actually Is The Best way to play FPS on PC.
A keyboard was designed with word processing in mind, a controller was designed for games. Consequently, any game that is unable to respond to a controller in the contemporary era of game development is making a mistake. ULTRAKILL does not make that mistake.
The game is exactly what you want an FPS to be – you jump 12 feet in the air and run absurdly quick (with dash for even faster). The guns have enough variety that you don’t feel bored, but I also didn’t feel forced to switch or stick with any particular weapon.
You can punch guys – and then, they explode!
There’s a bunch of blood. The soundtrack is also fantastic – and takes its lesson from DOOM well: soundtrack is integral to these sorts of games
I really enjoyed my time with ULTRAKILL and am super interested to see what the developer does for Act III.
2 – Vampire Survivors
Informationally speaking, Vampire Survivors is a pixel art autoshooter with retro aesthetics and level design. It plays similarly to old arcade shooters in the way that when you inevitably die, you are Dead, in a permadeath way, dead. However, unlike an arcade game, your coins and upgrades persist.
This allows you to unlock and upgrade characters.
This creates tangible, trackable progression even before you’ve unlocked stage 2.
The game describes itself as ‘’minimalistic gameplay’’ in its Steam description, and although this is – again informationally speaking – correct, experientially the gameplay is anything but minimal. Experientially, the game is a two-sided Bullethell in which you have the ability to Bullethell the monsters who are Bullethelling you. (?)
At the height of the power, I have pushed my personal favourite character to, the sheer adrenaline of mowing down waves of enemies is something that I haven’t yet found matched in another title.
The game presents insurmountable circumstances, then you surmount them, then it doubles down, then you either Do or Die and if you die, then you start it right back up again with a muttered “One more run’’.
It wormed its way into my brain, and sits crouched over my dopamine reward system, whispering that I really should really be unlocking the next stage, and it’s been a good long while since a game has done that.
3 – FAITH
In technicality, FAITH is an 8-bit game which explores an investigation in the 1980s by two priests into demonic possession.
If you’re a person like me, that’s enough reason to buy it
FAITH somehow manages to be truly unsettling whilst looking like something from the Atari 7800.
You walk from dark screen to dark screen, attempting to gain some sort of understanding of what to do, holding up your cross occasionally to get some information with creeping, discordant, sharp music lends your experience a sense of unease.
The Vatican apparently hasn’t approved what you’re doing, but by God it must be done.
Even if it feels like hovering, suspended at the top of a roller coaster track that only ever goes down. The style chosen, this DOS like 8-bit with occasional rotoscoped animation, plays into this idea for me with the animated attachment to the horrific creatures laid out before you.
I’ve never seen The Exorcist, but this game is what I assume watching The Exorcist feels like for the first time.
4 – Save Room
Remember inventory management in Resident Evil? Well, if you don’t, it was a system in which you had a constrained space in which to arrange all your various weapons, ammo and items. Each item took up a set amount of space, and you had to “Tetris” them around, trying to find the most efficient arrangement.
Well, Ratalaika Games decided to create an entire game based on this.
Save Rooms in older games were places of sanctuary and relief from whatever monsters were chasing you down outside. A place in which you could take a minute as you saved the game, calming yourself down and maybe assessing your tactics for what happens after you go out the door and back into the fray.
The Save Room wasn’t a place danger couldn’t touch you.
Sometimes you’d idle by the door, not necessarily wanting to go back out there and engage with whatever suspense filled, cinematic, tank controls nonsense lurked behind the door. You’d click through your inventory menu. You’d maybe think about some stuff, read about the different types of guns, combine some items together to free up some space. Even back then, it had a sort of meditative effect.
I’ve now played it through on my Switch three times and find myself going back to it and running through its 40 levels just as a way to wind down.
It’s always really nice to be able to slot that egg into that one little square.
5 – OlliOlli World
Much of this list has been horror, or horror adjacent, however we all know that indie games are much more than one or two genres, and OlliOlli Word Illustrates this well.
OlliOlli World is all about skating. Crucially though, unlike Tony Hawk Pro Skater, the mechanics are less centric on button pressing, and combos, instead more focused on rhythm, along with your ability to maintain a ‘clean line’.
Between the ages of 10 to 19 I was culturally positioned in proximity to skateboarding, spending my free time down by my local skatepark. Attempting to learn how to skate, mostly taking photographs.
I have some understanding of what skateboarding is meant to feel like, and what any visual medium concerning skateboarding is meant to communicate. The big two concepts to my understanding are: momentum and improvisational spirit.
A good skateboarding image captures the speed and spirit of the trick and the skater. Good or Bad are unrelated concepts and the image should show the skater performs the trick for the love of it. This is obviously untrue, with every single skater attempting to look Good whilst performing their trick, but when you’re 16 you believe the hype.
This game seeks to make you believe in it again, except this time you are directly impacting whether your character looks Good and gets the clean line of tricks down or not.
This game is just engaging enough to hold your attention, but relaxing enough that it doesn’t tax it. After getting a handle on the controls, it does adequately ping the motor neurons in your brain, telling you that it’s sort of like moving, really. That you can feel each curve of the various tracks under your character’s feet.
It feels satisfying to land a trick, and sufficiently annoying when you smack into the ground at speed, that you want to run it over again for that just-one-more-time to get-it-right vibe. I actively enjoyed playing this game, appreciated that it wasn’t just another Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater like, and that it had enough commitment to stand behind its own feel.
I may have spent an inordinate amount of time this year playing Elden Ring, but 2022 was not a bad year for independent games and me, with new challenges to the form, including old interesting concepts seeing a fresh new take.