The video-game levee is about to break. After a long COVID slumber marked by dispiriting delays, botched launches, and the murky unreality of living through the aftershocks of a global pandemic, the first few months of 2022 are absolutely lousy with high-profile releases. The power brokers of the game industry admitted defeat last summer and hastily retreated from the 2021 Christmas season. That collective evacuation has led to a historic, panic-inducing bottleneck at the end of February. Horizon Forbidden West, Elden Ring, and a new Destiny expansion all come out in the same week. Smaller studios are actually pushing their shipping dates earlier into the year, just to eschew the onslaught. At long last, the stove is hot again.
Last year, we highlighted some of the more offbeat games catching traction in the void left behind by absconding triple-A publishers. That will remain true going forward — the indie scene is as vibrant as ever — but I’m thrilled that the Zeitgeist is back. I think the most fun I have playing video games is when everyone in the hobby is knee-deep in the exact same campaign. Titillating rumors, coded memes, and semi-concealed spoilers slowly build up pressure in the timeline as we all race to see the credits roll in order to join the conversation. We’re all going to have a lot of fun talking about games this year.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus (Nintendo Switch)
We ought to add the term “Breath of the Wild–like” to our genre lexicon. So many video games are looking at Nintendo’s 2017 masterpiece — with its rolling green fields and uncompromising emphasis on self-directed discovery — with the hope that they might reverse-engineer the magic for their own means. (Genshin Impact, Immortals: Fenyx Rising, and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla are some of the biggest culprits.) But the feeding frenzy will get downright cannibalistic in January, as another Nintendo property will proudly attempt to ape Zelda’s sublime sense of adventure. Pokémon Legends: Arceus casts the player as a Pokémon trainer in the untamed outback, hiding out among the creatures in their natural habitat like a Jane Goodall for Pikachus. You sneak across the verdant landscape with a trusty arsenal of Poké Balls that can be sprung on the unsuspecting specimens in your path. For the first time in the franchise’s history, a Pokémon RPG is not hindered by random encounters and resembles a genuine open-world experience. (Yes, in Arceus, an angry Gyarados can attack you directly, rather than your indoctrinated pets. Another franchise first.) Pokémon fans have been waiting for a less rigid take on this universe since roughly 1998. I can’t wait to see if Nintendo sticks the landing. Out January 28.
Life Is Strange: Remastered Collection (Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X)
Life Is Strange told its story episodically across a variety of games, so the idea of bundling the series’ two most important arcs together makes perfect sense in a way that a lot of other remasters do not. Simply put, Life Is Strange is the most successful piece of young-adult fiction ever deployed on a PlayStation. Without my delving into countless spoilers, these games blend scholastic coming-of-age foibles with a delicate sci-fi dusting, resulting in a universe that could be easily adapted to the CW. If you’ve never taken the voyage to Arcadia Bay, you may be surprised by how quickly you can fall in love with these tender characters. I tend to read kids’ books because I like the way they put me back in touch with my reckless youth, and Life Is Strange serves up that wistful feeling in spades. February 1.
Dying Light 2: Stay Human (PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X)
We live in a world where all zombie media is consumed with sorrow, pathos, and sepulchral drone shots of ruined cities. Thank God, we have Techland and its ceaseless commitment to the silliest apocalyptic sandboxes on the market. Dying Light 2 is the latest installment in a journey that began with 2011’s Dead Island; players are stuck in a corrupt, dilapidated metropolis — squeezed between psycho Mad Max war bands and the chittering mass of undead — and you will achieve regional superiority with blades, guns, and booby traps. As in the first game, Dying Light 2 takes place under a foreboding day-into-night cycle. When the sun tucks behind the hills, the horde comes out to feast. Keep that in mind as you’re scavenging through a gas station at magic hour. Techland has been optimizing its design praxis for more than a decade now, and I’m curious to see if it has finally put it all together. February 4.
Sifu (PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5)
Sifu aims to be the greatest martial-arts game of all time. The story is a slurry of warmed-over Hong Kong clichés — a kung fu student on a quest for vengeance with a zillion heavies waiting patiently to be knocked out cold in the neon streets — and the combat seamlessly chains together our blocks, kicks, and punches with an innately satisfying cinematic zest. Sifu needs to be seen in motion to be understood, which is perhaps the highest compliment anyone can pay a video game. The brawls syncopate with John Wick precision; developer Sloclap has managed to inject art into button mashing. If everything breaks right, maybe we’ll finally inherit that long-gestating beat-’em-up renaissance. Could a gritty remaster of The Simpsons arcade game be next? Let me dream. February 8.
CrossfireX (Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X)
Remedy has made a habit of taking on the wildest projects it can find. The studio has built an Über-meta horror game around a Stephen King stand-in with Alan Wake, stuffed a limited TV serial into Quantum Break, and beat Mulder and Scully on their home turf with Control. CrossfireX is its latest cockeyed endeavor. It’s an adaptation of a first-person shooter that’s hugely popular in Asia, and Remedy has been tasked with creating its single-player portion while leaving the multiplayer to the original developer, Smilegate. Nobody knows what to expect. Crossfire is about as staid as a gray-scale military shooter can get, but Remedy has carefully cultivated a legacy filled with phenomenal genre subversions. Can it parachute in and create something special with such a standard list of ingredients? I’m keeping the faith. February 10.
Horizon Forbidden West (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5)
Horizon Zero Dawn (2017) blessed us with one of the most unique settings in video-game history. A prehistoric North America dominated by … roving bands of cybernetic dinosaurs? A balkanized confederacy of bitter tribes who stitch together hatchets and slingshots with Ethernet cable and computer chips? Developer Guerrilla Games took a huge risk with a heady sci-fi tale, and for the sequel, we’re moving to the edge of the Pacific and the cracked ruins of Yosemite, Malibu, and the San Fernando Valley. Horizon Forbidden West will provide plenty more mechanical T. rexes to topple, but personally, I’m most excited to see how Guerrilla continues to flesh out its fascinating world — where the epochal descendants of humankind pay for the apocalyptic sins of modernity. February 18.
Elden Ring (PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X)
Elden Ring’s interminable march to an elusive release date has become a cherished meme in the gaming community. The Japanese studio responsible for Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and several other classics, FromSoftware has nurtured something of a Terrence Malick cult appeal; both embark on projects that take years to complete, and nobody really knows what their art is trying to say until they’ve endured several hundred repeat viewings. Elden Ring was announced in 2019 with the auspicious news that FromSoftware was collaborating with another prodigal genius, George R.R. Martin, on its story. The game vanished immediately afterward, leaving no trailers, screenshots, or leaks in its wake. (This blackout caused a minor revolt. Last year, I reported on the Elden Ring fans who were literally inventing their own lore for the game due to the lack of updates.) But at last, in late February, the public will finally get the chance to see what these two auteurs are cooking up. Elden Ring appears to be a bold, open-world interpretation of the deliberate dungeoneering pioneered by the Souls series, which could represent a revolutionary new chapter for the studio. The release dates for From games are treated like national holidays, so consider keeping your schedule flexible. February 25.
Gran Turismo 7 (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5)
With Playground putting all its chips on the gloriously casual Forza Horizon games, Gran Turismo is one of the last franchises wholly committed to luxurious gearhead nirvana. Polyphony Digital has offered up debauched doses of greasy, sexy car porn for decades and has never been particularly interested in expanding the umbrella to fit anyone else. Gran Turismo 7 is made for the sickos who get weak-kneed at the rumble of a V12 engine and who will negotiate a Nürburgring left turn over and over until they shave a stubborn millisecond from their lap time. The career mode is basically a race-car RPG; instead of earning sharper swords, you’re being rewarded with tauter brakes and an imported Maserati. Be careful: With Gran Turismo, you can fall down the rabbit hole very, very quickly. March 4.
Triangle Strategy (Nintendo Switch)
Triangle Strategy will forever thrive in the pantheon of bad video-game titles. That’s a shame because I think Nintendo could have something special on its hands. Triangle Strategy was forged in the tradition of Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics. You’ll be presented with a quadrilateral grid of wetlands, mountains, and valleys, all waiting to be claimed with martial prowess. This is the sort of game that’s built for short doses on a Switch — who doesn’t love a subway-commute-length skirmish? — and Square Enix is bringing the heat with some spellbinding particle effects that look incredible when superimposed on the pixelated 2-D battlefield. Ideally, Triangle Strategy’s name will be its only major drawback. March 4.
Weird West (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One)
Wolfeye, the company behind Weird West, is composed of migrants from the beloved Lyon-based developer Arkane Studios. Unsurprisingly, there is a distinct Dishonored-esque philosophy coursing through the systems of its debut game. Weird West puts you in control of a lonesome bounty hunter on the prowl in a disturbed Lovecraftian interpretation of the American frontier. As you confront the deranged cultists, feral wildlife, and cruel outlaws in your way, you’ll slowly become more comfortable with a versatile suite of combat options. Interactivity is key here. Weird West rewards creativity. Do you barge through the front door of a saloon, Rambo style, with both revolvers drawn and a stash of health potions on your holster? Do you take careful aim at the dusty gunpowder in the corner and hope to spring an explosive trap? Or do you interrogate a prisoner for crucial intel and uncover a secret passage that bypasses most of the resistance through the bottom of a well? Wolfeye is abandoning Arkane’s staple first-person perspective in favor of a top-down isometric aesthetic that brings to mind some of the classic PC games of the ’90s, and that seems to be Weird West’s artistic true north. There is no better gameplay sensation than solving a vexing problem cleverly. March 31.