Safe to say, it's been a tough couple of years for the games industry. Concurrent lockdowns, working from home, and the general malaise that has impacted us all have severely affected development cycles, in turn causing painful manufacturing and shipping delays.
Thankfully, though, the still ongoing global pandemic hasn't stopped game designers from innovating, investigating new ideas and rejuvenating old ones. To this end, here are 8 video game trends to look out for in 2022, as the recovery (hopefully) continues to roll out through the year.
A guild of Zelda-likes
When Zelda: Breath of the Wild arrived in 2017, it wasn't just massively popular with critics and players, it also inspired a generation of designers to think about open-world games in fresh and exciting new ways. Gone were all of those screen-hogging markers, item checklists, and cascading objectives, in favour of pure exploration and discovery. This year we're going to see the fruits of that. Not only is The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom on the way, but Sonic Frontiers, Pokemon Legends: Arceus, and Elden Ring all borrow ideas from the Switch classic, as do smaller independent titles such as Tunic and Xel. This is going to be the year the industry breaks away from the Far Cry/Assassin's Creed way of structuring open world games and toward something much more, well… open.
The league of extraordinary super hero games
For the last decade, the Arkham titles, followed by Insomniac's Spider-Man, have set the template for the super hero video game – a third-person action adventure with tonnes of melee combat. But this year, we're going to see developers diversify from this template and do different things with super-powered characters. Hence, Marvel's Midnight Suns, a tactical role-playing game from masters of the genre, Firaxis, and Gotham Knights, which promises to bring in RPG elements such as loot and character progression to add depth. And of course, we're getting Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League from Arkham developer Rocksteady, which promises a much more super-charged, extravagantly violent escapade with lots of shooting, diverse selectable characters and a four-player co-op mode. There will be some retro-tinged hero capers too, in the shape of TMNT: Shredder's Revenge, a side-scrolling beat 'em up recalling the classic Konami arcade brawlers of the early 1990s. Maybe, as the whole concept of the super hero game continues to open up, we'll get even more radical examples. Top of our wishlist? A Life Is Strange-style teen angst adventure starring the Young Avengers.
Phase two blockbusters
While the first generation of major console titles tend to hint at the possibilities of the new hardware, the second generation really starts to nail it. This year, Horizon Forbidden West, Gran Turismo 7, God of War Ragnarok, and Starfield are all likely to push physics, framerates and 4K visuals into new territory – but across the board we'll see developers using the benefits of their greater experience to explore trendy effects such as ray-tracing and AI-enhanced animation in interesting new ways.
Revenge of the reboot
In this unsettling era of technological transition and global market uncertainty (thanks Covid), we're going to see a lot of publishers playing it safe and sticking with beloved brands and experiences this year – hence: a ton of reboots. Dead Space, Saints Row, Advance Wars, and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time are all returning later this year, and we can expect more to follow. I think we're going to see a lot more announcements from the original PlayStation era – titles like Vagrant Story, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver or Bushido Blade – that will appeal to nostalgic veterans and newcomers alike.
Enter the Metaverse
Now that Facebook has decided that the metaverse is the future, we can expect to be swamped with games offering vast massively multiplayer worlds with a heavy focus on social interaction and shared events. Minecraft, Fortnite, and Roblox have all shown the way, but the expected arrival of new AR/XR headsets from Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Meta, as well as the PlayStation VR 2, is likely to bring a new dimension (literally) to the concept.
The cute-ification of games
With the constant widening of the video game audience, developers are beginning to experiment with new aesthetics, colour palettes and character types, attracting big communities in the process. The gigantic success of Animal Crossing: New Horizons showed that kawaii (the Japanese culture of cuteness) isn't a niche anymore – it's the main event. This year we'll see lots of genre games utilising cute visuals, including management sim Bear and Breakfast, cyberpunk adventure Stray, satirical RPG Goodbye Volcano High, and survival adventure Endling. Nintendo has been telling us for years that you can make lovely, bright games without compromising on depth, detail, or challenge, but now the message is finally getting through.
Brand new, you're retro
For the past decade, indie developers have drawn heavily from the 2D pixel art of the 1980s, but going forward, we're going to see a lot more designers looking at the early 1990s era, with its low resolution 3D visuals and darker, more adult themes. Retro first-person shooters are so hot right now: we've already seen Amid Evil, Dusk, and Cruelty Squad, and on the way are the HR Giger-inspired Hellscreen and fantasy-set hack-n-slasher Graven. In 2022 we'll also get the apocalyptic RPG Broken Roads, the FMV-based horror game Ghosts, and the Mega Drive-inspired platformer Berserk Boy. The future is, erm, 30 years ago?
Pulling the blockchain
There has been plenty of pushback against the idea of NFTs, blockchains, and crypto currency transactions sneaking into mainstream video games (see GSC Game World's climbdown over STALKER 2), but it is going to happen. This 'play to earn' genre is already transforming the mobile gaming sector, with crypto games such as Axy Infinity and Reward Hunters generating billions of dollars in revenue. This year will see many more including Illuvium and Star Atlas. Desperate for new revenue streams to replace much-maligned loot boxes, EA, Ubisoft and Square Enix have all announced their intentions to explore the possibilities of crypto mechanics. It's likely we'll see games that give players ownership of unique items such as skins, weapons, or characters, as well as titles that allow players to customise game elements, which they'll be able to sell on digital marketplaces. It'll be dressed up as a way for gamers to make money from their hobby – and their creativity – but as Roblox has shown, it's the publishers who'll likely gain the most.
All throughout January, GamesRadar+ is exploring the biggest games of the new year with exclusive interviews, hands-on impressions, and in-depth editorials. For more, be sure to follow along with Big in 2022.