The video game industry has cooled slightly since its heights during 2020, when people bought games and consoles in record numbers to help ease pandemic lockdowns. Games development was also affected, with several high-profile upcoming games being delayed until release in 2023 or even further.
But that hasn’t stopped the relentless firehose of game releases. We’ve gathered the CBC’s most passionate gamers and critics to put a spotlight on the best of the year, from big-time blockbusters to indie showstoppers to made-in-Canada standouts.
God of War: Ragnarok
It’s not easy raising a kid — now imagine doing it when you’re both gods. Ragnarok follows the sullen former diety Kratos and his son Atreus, who is trying to find his place in the tumultuous Norse pantheon. Sony’s late-year blockbuster offers moody and, at times, genuinely affecting ruminations on parenthood.
But it also comes packed with the bone-crunching combat and over-the-top violence that the series has been known for since its debut in 2005. It’s an old-school game that has, against all odds, grown up alongside its audience. —Jonathan Ore
PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Windows PC
Elden Ring is set in the Lands Between — a realm shattered, metaphorically and literally, by a war between demigods over the shards of the titular Ring. This is FromSoftware’s first foray into the open-world genre, after massive successes such as Bloodborne and the Dark Souls series. But it keeps the tight level design, incredibly challenging combat and haunting beauty of its predecessors.
Few things are as satisfying as exploring and surviving Elden Ring, and judging by its tidal wave of accolades — including claiming Game of the Year at The Game Awards — many gamers are up for the challenge. —Laura Marchand
24:26Elden Ring and an unlikely video game phenomenon
PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Windows PC
Tunic, developed by Halifax’s Andrew Shouldice, is a love letter to old-school adventure games such as The Legend of Zelda that is both delightful and devious in equal measure. Taking control of an anthropomorphic fox, you’ll uncover the secrets of a mysterious world while fending off ferocious monsters that rival the punishing enemies in Elden Ring or Dark Souls.
Players may bang their heads against the tougher challenges along the way but it’s hard not to appreciate such a carefully crafted puzzle box of a game. —Jonathan Ore
PlayStation 4/5, Windows PC
Stray is a puzzle-based game set in the neon-lit alleys of a decaying, subterranean cybercity. You play as an orange tabby cat, the only living creature in a world inhabited by robots. You and your robot companion B12 explore the city while ridding it of the rat-like monsters called the Zurks, in the hopes of learning what lies “Outside,” which no city-dweller has seen in years.
Stray is simple to play yet full of rich details, with a storyline that will tug on all cat owners’ heartstrings. —Danielle McCreadie
PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Windows PC, Mobile (iOS, Android)
Vampire Survivors feels like a game you’d find in a cabinet sitting in the corner of an 1980s pizza parlour — in a good way. It’s got 2D art inspired by games such as Castlevania, a jazzy soundtrack and simple two-button controls.
That doesn’t mean this is a leisurely stroll: be prepared to use your weapons and skills to fight off tens of thousands of skeletons, bats, zombies and more at a time. With a highly addictive rhythm set in levels that last up to 30 minutes, you’re going to lose a lot of time to this game. —Luke Williams
Gran Turismo 7
Polyphony Digital’s love of automotive culture can be felt every second of playing Gran Turismo 7, and you’ll learn to love it too. Every inch of the cars look real-to-life inside and outside, and driving gives you a nuanced sense of speed and control. The PlayStation 5’s controller shakes and rumbles based on your car’s horsepower or the type of gravel you’re drifting through.
Don’t expect the vast open worlds or Hot Wheels cars like Microsoft’s Forza Horizon series: Gran Turismo is only interested in the racing game’s fundamentals, and it largely succeeds because of it. —Jonathan Ore
The Case of the Golden Idol
You take on the role of an 18th-century detective tasked with solving a series of murders presented in pixel-art vignettes. Players explore murder scenes for clues in the form of keywords, which you then use to uncover details about the crime, learn suspects’ motives and more.
Golden Idol’s clever puzzle design gently guides you toward the solution, while being obtuse enough to make you feel like a genius when you finally crack the case. It’s grotesque but not gross, unsettling but not scary, and completely different from anything else I’ve played this year. —Mickie Edwards
Splatoon 3 doesn’t reinvent the series, but that’s a good thing since Nintendo set such a strong foundation with the first game in 2015. You control a mischievous kid (who can transform into a squid) to splatter maps with fluorescent coloured ink in frenetic four-vs-four online matches.
It’s a family-friendly take on the multiplayer online shooter genre, filled with a fresh attitude and fashion sense to boot, making it one of the most modern-feeling games in Nintendo’s library. —Jonathan Ore
Pokemon Legends: Arceus
Players explore the Hokkaido, Japan-themed Hisui region in Arceus, which is filled with distinct critters to catch and battle. Easy-to-learn improvements to the Pokemon formula accompany a sumptuous soundtrack.
Reviews have reasonably critiqued its dated visuals and early-game hand-holding. But if players give it time to show everything it offers, they’ll be treated to a satisfying adventure that stays entertaining for hours. —Sameer Chhabra
Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Windows PC
This Montreal-made retro throwback game follows a crusader who finds his homeland placed under a curse and invaded by monsters. It mixes the old-school action of games like Metroid and Castlevania with the exploration and mystery of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.
I also loved the accessibility options in Infernax. It’s not easy to find a retro game with multiple difficulty settings and the ability to remap your button controls. One cautionary note: the game is filled with pixelated blood and gore in a grindhouse horror style, which may not be for everyone. —Luke Williams
Nintendo Switch, Windows PC, Mac OS
Card Shark puts you in the buckled shoes of a poor, mute young man in 18th-century France. Early on, you encounter the charming, morally dubious Comte de Saint Germain, who sweeps you up in his scheme to swindle the rich by cheating at cards.
The game splits your time between learning devious card tricks and then deploying these tricks against (hopefully) unsuspecting nobles. I’d recommend this one to seasoned gamers looking for something quirky, but also to folks who are new to gaming and want to improve their controller-based motor skills. —Mickie Edwards
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge
Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, Windows PC
Developer Tribute Games have created a loving successor to the 80s arcade game starring the heroes in a half-shell for a modern audience. Shredder’s Revenge will hook you quickly with its pick-up-and-play nature, but you’ll soon find yourself playing for hours at a time with friends thanks to its colourful visuals and incredible retro-inspired soundtrack. It’s the perfect couch co-op experience that’s as nostalgic as an old-fashioned Pizza Hut restaurant decor. —Ryan Turford