2023 was a bit of a car crash of a year. On paper it was a cracking year for gaming, dare I say even… vintage; but if you look beyond the headliner games and glitz, it has honestly been a truly dreadful year. From countless studios closing and endless talent being made redundant, to the gaming media seemly imploding on itself as well. All of which also meant a few titles had let’s say had a couple of “major” bumps along the way – from AAA titles being held back, full price titles just not cutting it or even that one title that was a scam from beginning to end (you know the one). Then there was the gaming expo side of things, usually a real highlight on the yearly landscape but this year saw limp offering (looking at you EGX) and even news that the king of expos E3 is officially no more. So picking a top 10 of 2023 was harder than you may think. Although the standard of games this year were outstanding across the board (mostly), it’s all been tinged and tainted by the larger events affecting the industry just now. However, as the legend Freddie Mercury sang “The Show Must Go On”, so I have checked my list twice from the 159 games I have reviewed this past year and came up with my top 10 best games of the year that you really should play.
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun
Have you ever wondered what would happen if the original Doom (we are talking the 1993 version) got in a fight with the world of Warhammer 40k? Well Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is what would happen. An old-school shooter that is brutal, brash and in your face in the best sort of way and it’s clear to see just how much love Auroch Digital truly have for the franchise, from the care and time they have given it. Fans of classic arena-based shooters will love this through and through. While everyone else will delight in the visceral blood-soaked fever dream it delivers, with its perfect portal to a “what if” past.
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon
When it comes to Japanese studio FromSoftware, odds are high the first thing you go to is Soulslike games and then dying over and over. The studio is the master of the genre from Dark Souls, Bloodborne and Elden Ring. Many years before this legacy was forged, the studio were best known for a series based around mecha-combat – a series that hasn’t seen action for almost a decade…until now. Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon could be called a bit of a sleeper title this year, as the buzz around it faded too quickly, but it’s an extremely strong return to what was a truly forgotten series and is packed with action and customization along with a deep and intriguing tale, all while serving as the perfect jumping on point. To the point it doesn’t feel like FromSoftware are trying something different, but more the start of something much more.
OK, OK… this is a bit of a cheat as its technically not a game more of a launcher, but one of the hottest topics just now in the gaming sphere is archiving and being able to play games from the past. A shocking number of titles have been lost to time or are just unable to be played due to a number of different reasons. Antstream Arcade is just one hell of a service that gives you access to more games than you could ever want and that list is growing by the week. All while being an outstanding walk down nostalgia lane for the old guard, whereas youngsters are in for a real history lesson. It also shows of a way to actually archive past titles that really does work and will hold these golden oldies in playable shape for years to come.
Sometimes games come along that just land in the middle of a perfect storm with what’s happening in the world. Not For Broadcast by British studio NotGames is one such title, which made its way to the consoles this year after spending a bit of time on the PC – it throws a spotlight on not only the power the media has, but how they can abuse that power to affect people. This FMV is a true tongue in cheek look at the world we live in with a mind blowing 42 hours, 57 minutes of live footage to be seen, all performed by a cast of 155 actors. A title that is crafted with true love for the subject that has a strong point to make, but knows how to have fun while getting it over. Yes, its gameplay can be fast, frantic and extremely stressful at times, but it’s also a fresh spin on the FMV genre that is well worth your time… even if it’s a bit too close to the bone more often than not.
Street Fighter 6 / Mortal Kombat 1
I have been saying it all year but 2023 was a hell of a strong year for fighting fans, as a LOT of the cornerstone titles for the genre got new instalments. Two of which were Street Fighter 6 and Mortal Kombat 1 – which I am going to cheat and group together in my 6th spot (if you want to pick a better one, you can fight it out). In the red corner Capcom unleashed Streetfighter 6 on the world and it was bloody brilliant, hitting that sweet spot where casual fans will have fun, but also have the depth and systems that make the most hardcore fans foam at the mouth. A powerful return of a legendary series that delivers a tight and outstanding new brand of combat that is a blast no matter your level of skill. Plus, the game gives you enough things to enjoy no matter what you are looking for; from the Battle Hub, to the Fighting Ground and even the World Tour. Whereas in the blue corner, NetherRealm Studios came back swinging with a sort of reboot of their much-loved brutal scrapper – Mortal Kombat, called simply Mortal Kombat 1. A brawler that has been polished to a mirror shine with only a handful of small issues. Fans can expect to have a hell of a time with it, whereas newcomers found an engrossing tale that sets up weeks and months of brutal blood-soaked combat to come. Not even Megan Fox’s piss poor acting could stop this juggernaut series making a real impact with its return.
Sometimes you don’t need an engrossing story or an epic adventure when you sit down for a half hour of gaming fun, sometimes all it takes is a solid gameplay loop and a leaderboard to tackle. French studio Dream Powered Games delivered just that with Warstride Challenges, a fast-paced FPS that is as much about pulling the trigger, as it is beating the clock and totally took me by storm this year. Easily a hidden gem of the year Warstride Challenges is what its name says – a true challenge and a fast-paced adrenaline high-octane rapid-FPS fuelled few hours of power, that will have you battling leaderboards while power sliding around corners and landing the perfect headshot in slow-mo.
Under the Waves
If a game makes you truly cry then it most definitely makes the list and this year one game above all others truly left its mark on me with its heartfelt tale, all new beginnings and ultimately loss. As most games turn their sights to the stars and beyond, French developers Parallel Studio are set to take us on an equally epic journey a lot closer to home. Under the Waves drops you in some diving gear and throws you in the deep end of the North Sea, where you have to explore the depths to find the truth as well as yourself. A truly hard game to say was enjoyable at times, as its journey is a heartbreaker. However, getting to the conclusion was a joy; from exploring the unknown deep blue, to befriending a sea lion or just floating there watching the world go by for a moment. If you are looking for something a bit different from the norm that has real heart, it’s well worth getting your feet wet for.
Cyberpunk 2077 has been a real roller-coaster ride since its (let’s be honest) less than stellar release, but to CD Projekt’s credit they have never stopped believing in it, tweaking and changing it to be a much better game now. Nothing shows this more than the first chunk of DLC for the game Phantom Liberty, which not only added a new area and tale to the game… but also adds a 2.0 update to the game as a whole, that changes a load of things for the better. The free 2.0 update totally changes things up; while refining it in others, to create a much more engaging title that feels like anything is truly possible. Which saw even more additions a few months later with the release of the Cyberpunk 2077: Ultimate Edition. Phantom Liberty can be played post-game or folded into your current play-through, which makes it a bit more of an interesting adventure as you play it alongside the core tale. Having just said above that Under the Waves made me shed a tear this year, the only other game to really get me in the feels like that is this, as the new ending to the whole game is a true gut punch that shockingly resonated with me more than I honestly would have thought. There are rumours afoot and if true… this will be the only “big” DLC that Cyberpunk 2077 will really get, as CD Projekt turns their focus to the next instalment in the series. If it’s true, then it’s safe to say they have gone out with a real bang (the road may have been long and full of twists and turns, as well as having more than a few huge potholes). Now some three years on from its release, Cyberpunk 2077 is a truly stellar title that needs to be played.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
Nintendo have had one hell of a year, releasing banger after bang from Super Mario RPG, Pikmin 4, Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot, Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland Deluxe, Fire Emblem Engage, Metroid Prime Remastered and Super Mario Bros Wonder to name just a few that have scored 5/5. I could have had a top 10 list that was filled with Switch delights, but there was no Nintendo title that ruled them all… quite like The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. The sequel to what some say is the greatest game of all time and single handedly helped Nintendo ship a tonne of their new consoles, but also capture the minds and hearts of long-time fans and newcomers alike. Tears of the Kingdom not only matches its predecessor point for point, but goes far beyond it in every way. Crafting a bigger world, tale and adventure filled with endless possibilities and delights for the most curious of minds. If The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was the greatest game ever made, Tears of the Kingdom betters it on every front and then some, making it the new king… long live the king.
Alan Wake 2
Now it was going to take something truly special to stop The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom for taking this year’s top spot and something special has. Good things come to those who wait, and if you are an Alan Wake fan, that has been a wait and a half to be honest. It has been thirteen years since the first game and although everyone’s favourite tormented writer has popped up in spin-offs, cameos and Easter eggs, a true sequel was for most a pipedream even though it’s been teased over the years. Finally Finnish studio Remedy Entertainment have given the fans of this cult series what they want. Alan Wake 2 is a tour de force for Remedy; that has been thirteen years in the making and every one of those years along with all the lessons learned (both good and bad) are visible in its incredibly well woven adventure. Fans already love this through and through, as it gives them what they have been longing for. Whereas newcomers are being gripped and thrilled by a title that isn’t afraid to take its time telling its tale. This is easily my Game of the Year; I just truly hope we don’t have to wait another 13 years to see Alan and co. again.
In memory of…
This victory for Alan Wake 2 is also marked by sadness for me, as a few weeks ago we lost James McCaffrey after a fight with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. James was a talented actor starring in films and tv shows, but he was best known as the voice of Max Payne throughout the series, as well as working on other Remedy titles over the years like Control. He’s most recent role was voicing Alex Casey in Alan Wake 2 who was played by Sam Lake as well, like the duo did with Max Payne, before James was fully motion captured for the role in Max Payne 3. Mine and the team’s thoughts are with James’ family, friends and loved ones.