2022 was an amazing year for narrative games

immortality sam barlow trailer pc gaming show fmv

This is the stuff I live for

The horizons of my video game tastes have broadened pretty significantly over the past few years, but my undying love for narrative games first and foremost has never wavered. While 2022 has been a great year for games in general, from heavy hitters like Elden Ring and God of War Ragnarok to indie darlings like Cult of the Lamb and Vampire Survivors, I think this past year has been one of the best we’ve seen for narrative games in a good while due to the breadth of stories that were told both thematically and mechanically.

Whether those stories were rooted in lighthearted, optimistic sentimentality or a grounded, gritty introspection, I was reminded time and time again why I’m so excited for games to continue paving the way forward as our youngest and most dynamic storytelling medium. Here are some highlights of what I consider to be some of the most compelling narrative games to have come out in 2022 — if you’re interested in interactive storytelling and haven’t played through these yet, I suggest adding them to your backlog ASAP. Keep in mind that I’m only touching on my absolute favorite narrative games of 2022 with this short list, so if I missed a truly groundbreaking game narrative this year, make sure to let me know down in the comments!

Stray

I was so pleasantly surprised by Stray. It’s a game I excitedly jumped into as a cat lover, but I’ll admit that I didn’t expect much more from it than some cute yet vapid interactions and some run-of-the-mill gameplay. While I actually found myself enjoying the platforming mechanics that helped me see the world from a cat’s perspective (especially in the game’s most open hub section, The Slums), it was its story that I found to be unexpectedly poignant and uplifting.

I certainly didn’t expect to come to care for a tiny AI robot whose introduction at the time seemed to only be for tutorial purposes, or that a game with a cat as a protagonist would provide one of the most delicate and thought-provoking stories about the end of the world that I’ve seen as a fan of apocalypse fiction.

For me, what really worked for Stray was more in its minute, subtle interactions with NPCs and the environment than in its overarching narrative itself, but the game managed to keep its hold on me the entire way through to my tearful conclusion of its story. This is a game I’ve thought about a lot over the months since I played it, and I look forward to returning to it sometime in the future.

NORCO

NORCO console release

I’ve followed NORCO since it was previewed at Tribeca’s Games Festival back in 2021, and while it was absolutely snubbed at this year’s Game Awards, I’m still so pleased that it’s gotten the love that it has. Being from the South myself, I’m partial to southern gothic storytelling, and NORCO did the subgenre proud as the best to delve into the American South since Kentucky Route Zero.

Also similar to Cardboard Computer’s modern classic, NORCO leaned hard into surrealism and used it to deliver some truly unforgettable commentary about capitalism and our connection to the land on which we live. NORCO‘s writing is poetic and sometimes downright hilarious, and it has some of the most beautiful pixel art I’ve ever seen in my life. Some of the gameplay elements weren’t exactly my favorite, but it’s overall a good time if you like point-and-clicks, and its storytelling should certainly not be overlooked.

Signalis

Signalis

Signalis is a game I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to play at all on account of my aversion to horror, but I’m thrilled that I was able to push through. Signalis‘ story is told in a less traditional manner, and in more of a way that I can only describe as “vibes” outside of its journal entries scattered around the map, and I think it was brilliantly done. I love a story that poses a lot of questions, and while Signalis provided many more questions than answers, it succeeded tremendously at exploring the lengths we’re willing to go for the people that we love, especially when we have nothing to lose.

As you make your way through a ruined space station, the story of Signalis almost feels like it’s already happened, with the player left to wander around in the aftermath wondering how it all could have gone down differently. It leaves you with this sense of futility, and yet somehow still hope. It’s a story you feel more than think your way through, and in that sense, it has more heart than any game I’ve played in a long time.

Pentiment

Pentiment

I feel like there are two types of gamers in the world: those who like Pentiment, and those who don’t. Point-and-click is already a polarizing genre, but I feel like when people saw the game’s authentic medieval art style, they decided right then and there that the game was or wasn’t for them. To those who were quick to write it off, I’m begging you to reconsider, because this is one of the most compelling murder mysteries I’ve ever played in a game, which is also helped by the streamlining of some of the more cumbersome point-and-click conventions.

Pentiment is a game that surprised me again and again in the absolute best ways, but what really stands out the most is how it refuses to give the player definitive answers, which not only re-contextualizes the whodunit genre, but also how a lot of us think about video game storytelling in general. This is a game that has incredible replay value, so I’ll likely be starting another playthrough before the year’s out just to see how much everything changes on a different path.

Immortality

Immortality review

To me, Immortality is not only the best narrative game of the year, but also a milestone of the medium’s continued innovations in storytelling, following in rank with Disco Elysium and The Last of Us as one of my favorite interactive narrative experiences of all time. It explores its themes so intimately and in such compelling ways, and I can’t get over how well the three “movies” of Marissa Marcel play off of each other. This game has some of the most incredible acting performances of recent years as well, and the gut-wrenching twist is one of the gaming moments that will truly stick with me for the rest of my life.

When people talk about video games as art, especially a storytelling art, Immortality needs to be at the top of that list. It’s a narrative that could truly only be told through an interactive experience. I feel like I could write volumes on the depth and complexity of this game, and I likely will in the future after subsequent playthroughs. For now, though, I’m still kind of basking in it — and of course, going back, again and again, to try to find every last clip that I’m missing.

Noelle Warner
After a few years of working in game development, Noelle joined the Destructoid team in 2021. She particularly loves interactive storytelling and cuddling with her cats!