HeadStuff Picks | The Best Games of 2023
Was 2023 the best year for video games? That’s a question that can’t really be answered here but in terms of the sheer variety and quantity of great games released this year 2023 is certainly up there with the best of them. Even if you only play fishing simulators then you were covered by Dave the Diver and Dredge. Cyberpunk 2077 came back from ignoble beginning with its fascinating Phantom Liberty DLC. Baldur’s Gate 3 was not the only CRPG of note released in 2023 but it was the best one released this year (or maybe any year). Horror had its best year in at least a decade with the release of the Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space remakes as well as Amnesia: The Bunker. Players could step into the exoskeleton of Robocop or the spandex of two Spider-Men this year proving that licensed IP games aren’t quite dead yet.
Unfortunately 2023 was also one of the worst years for video game developers. Mass layoffs and studio shutdowns seemed to hit the industry every month. Decisions made by the likes of Microsoft, BioWare, Telltale Games, Epic Games, Bungie, CD Projekt Red, EA, Amazon and more left tens of thousands out of work. Many of these people will not secure a job in the games industry again if this kind of consolidation continues. This leaves studios with a dearth of talent, both new and experienced, and may ensure that we never have a year quite like 2023 ever again. It may also guarantee the kind of industry crash not seen since 1983. We can’t do much but raise awareness of this and perhaps celebrating these games is a small part of that. So here’s to the games of 2023 and, especially, to the people that made them!
Amnesia: The Bunker
You are alone in the dark. Your torch gives off little light. There is no fuel for the generator. There are no bullets in your gun. You are being hunted. So opens the latest in the long-running Amnesia series. Amnesia: The Bunker sees you play as Henri Clément, a French soldier trapped in a bunker during the First World War. Your comrades and commanders are either dead or fled leaving you at the mercy of the nigh-invulnerable Beast that stalks the corridors and rooms of the labyrinthine bunker. With only the tools you can find to aid you and limited fuel to keep the beast at bay Amnesia: The Bunker is one of 2023’s most stressful gaming experiences.
There was a point about halfway through playing it that Amnesia: The Bunker took me completely by surprise. Usually in the Amnesia games if you hide it means you’re safe until the snuffling, growling creatures that chase you have scuttled off to look elsewhere. I was hiding under a table confident I was safe. Things took a turn as the Beast methodically destroyed every piece of furniture in the room before smashing the table and me beneath it. You can’t just run and hide anymore you have to think on the fly because the Beast is faster, stronger and often smarter than poor little Henri. Sometimes that means hiding, other times it means turning and fighting or lighting precious gasoline to drive the Beast off temporarily. What Amnesia does maintain is the sense of discovery that has come with every game in the series. Finding out who Henri is and why he’s being hunted is as entertaining as the running and gunning. You just have to survive the dark long enough. Andrew Carroll.
Baldur’s Gate 3
Where to begin? Across two playthroughs so far I have put 160 hours into Baldur’s Gate 3. That’s after the 100 hours I played in Early Access. That’s more than most but it’s chump change compared to others. Such is the depth of Baldur’s Gate 3 that no two runs will ever really be the same. You could pick the same exact character with the same stats as another player and have a totally different experience. Due to the need to roll dice for every passive and active check in the game either in the background or via a nifty overlay the game’s AI or Dungeon Master, if we’re considering the game’s origins in Dungeons & Dragons, no player’s adventure will ever truly be similar. That makes an already interesting adventure centered around removing a mutating alien tadpole from your character’s head even more interesting.
Over the course of its long runtime Baldur’s Gate 3 can be played as a straight up CRPG, an immersive sim, a serial killer simulator or speed ran through a technique known as “shadowboxing“. Player choice and freedom is often a lie told to sell more copies but it comes as close to the truth as it possibly can in Larian Studios’ game. You will fight a lot in Baldur’s Gate 3 from goblins to inter-dimensional monks to the squid-headed Mind Flayers but the combat is only one fun part of this huge game. As with any role-playing game two-thirds of the fun of this RPG is in it’s role-playing. Whether you’re set on building a great hero, a sadistic servant of a murder God or one of the game’s six Origin characters the choice, once again, is yours to make. With those choices come the relationships you forge or sunder with these characters each one as well written and performed as the last. Want to help Astarion become the Vampire Lord of Baldur’s Gate, free Shadowheart from the clutches of her cult or remove an engine from the barbarian Tiefling Karlach’s chest? By all means go with the Gods. The game won’t judge you for it but your friends might. Andrew Carroll.
Cyberpunk 2077 – Phantom Liberty
At first I was on Songbird’s side. Then I was on Solomon Reed’s side. Then I didn’t now whose side I was on until the very last second. That should have been the thrill of Cyberpunk 2077 all along. A sci-fi RPG in the Mike Pondsmith mould featuring the digital ghost of a terrorist played by Keanu Reeves stuck inside the player character’s head sounds like a homerun right? Well we all know that wasn’t true but over three years Cyberpunk 2077 got there. In 2023 – the year Keanu Reeves’ rockerboy character Johnny Silverhand commits atomic terrorism and dies in game appropriately enough – CD Projekt RED fulfilled its promises of a living, breathing cyberpunk megalopolis. At the heart of that fulfilled promise was Phantom Liberty a tightly wound spy thriller full of uncertainty, rogue AI and Idris Elba. A perfect metaphor for our day-to-day lives irl.
Phantom Liberty’s ironclad story, furious action and espionage thrills ironically made me wish for a smaller game overall. Night City is a fun place to goof off, jump around and shoot gangoons in sure but I imagine CD Projekt RED would have benefited from a smaller world and smaller promises still. Coulda, woulda, shoulda as they say and for what it’s worth I’m happy with what Cyberpunk 2077 turned out to be. It may not have the grace or subtlety of Neuromancer but it has the explosiveness, sex appeal and nightmarish gore of Altered Carbon and that’s no bad thing. It’s an unsubtle game for unsubtle times. As our governments race to tame climate change, global conflict and runaway technological innovation Cyberpunk 2077 – Phantom Liberty shows us what happens when we let these things run unchecked and, in AI’s case, unshackled. Andrew Carroll.
Dave the Diver
Life can be difficult and stressful no matter who and where you are. Luckily a game came out this year where you play as a fat guy who scuba dives during the day and manages a sushi place at night. That guy is Dave and he’s a diver. Dropped into the deep end by his friend Cobra who recruits him as the supplier and manager of Bancho Sushi Dave must sink or swim in his pursuit of ever more delicious fish. From there Dave is drafted into defeating a group of false flag waving militant marine activists, saving a village of sea people and helping his colourful group of new friends with their personal problems. All in a day’s work at the Blue Hole.
Dave the Diver has a relaxing aesthetic. Sunnily charming pixelated graphics and a humorous script recited in auto-tuned yelps, mumbles and gasps complimented by some really entertaining animation and a smooth soundtrack make Dave the Diver the most vibed out game of 2023. That said, it is very involved. Not only is it both an adventure game and a management sim it’s a farming game, visual novel, rhythm game, cooking sim and (briefly) a tactical espionage action game as well. None of these parts of Dave the Diver feel bolted on though. No matter how brief they feel cared for and well thought out. Even if it’s betting on sea horse racing or facing off against TV chefs as the stoic chef Bancho Dave the Diver has a little something for everyone. Andrew Carroll.
Remakes were popular this year and more than that they were good. Ideally a remake will improve on its initial incarnation and that’s what Motive Studios did with their remake of Visceral Games’ Dead Space. Though the original 2008 game still plays perfectly well and, arguably, didn’t need a remake at all I’m still glad we got one. With vastly improved graphics, lighting and animation Isaac Clarke’s story aboard the USG Ishimura comes to dripping, gory life. Ostensibly employed to help repair the stranded planet-cracker starship Isaac and the crew of the repair ship Kellion soon find themselves in a fight for their lives against the gruesome remains of the resurrected crew. As Isaac progresses, repurposing mining tools to take the so-called necromorphs apart piece-by-piece, a high level conspiracy coupled with his growing psychosis force Isaac to take drastic action to stop the spread of the necromorph virus.
Dead Space still has all its old nightmare fuel with plenty of extra stuff hidden away in reserve as well. Even outside of its cut scenes involving mad scientists, flayed ghouls and Isaac’s own crumbling psyche Dead Space knows how to shock and thrill. Necromorphs slither and smash their way through vents and over railings. Whispers in the dark keep Isaac on his toes. The tight maneuverability of zero gravity combat often had sweat coursing down my spine while the unforgiving oxygen counter routinely left me watching Isaac’s lifeless corpse drift off into the void. Dead Space maintains the tension of the original and upgrades it in all the best ways namely visually and aurally but it also remixes that damn asteroid sequence near the mid-game that had me tearing my hair out so often. Some will say that Motive Studios hewed too close to the game’s original design and story for comfort and it’s hard to disagree but when the game looks this good and plays this smoothly it’s easy to ignore. Here’s hoping for a more adventurous treatment for the seemingly inevitable remake of Dead Space 2. Andrew Carroll.
The Night Angler. The first time I accidentally let it get too close – after ignoring the warnings the game obviously wanted me to ignore about fishing after dark – and the creepy music rose, that strange black ship sped towards me and the jump scare that follows made me fully flinch at my Switch in handheld mode… that’s when I knew this game was something special.
Creating an authentic feeling, Lovecraft inspired game can be difficult even in a massive AAA title (unless you’re FromSoft), so it should by rights be impossible to do so in what is essentially a fishing mini game combined with an inventory management sim that also features a commute. Yet here we are.
Dredge is first and foremost fun to play and gorgeous to look at. The fishing is simple and addictive and the sailing feels satisfyingly weighty. This is all sufficiently engrossing to warrant its existence. But it’s deceptively well crafted mood is what really makes it stand out. Once night falls and the calming yet notably melancholic score gives way to more ominous tones, while the visuals become distorted and you understand how truly dark the open ocean really is when you’re alone out there after midnight… Richard Drumm.
Resident Evil 4
Another game for which a remake seemed both desperately wanted and completely unnecessary. The original Resident Evil 4 took survival horror in a completely different direction and remains one of the defining games of the 2000s. Still playable in its original form Capcom’s third-person shooter stands the test of time nearly twenty years later and yet it’s remake will likely do the same. Secret Service agent Leon Kennedy – older, wiser and embittered after his experiences in Raccoon City six years before – arrives in Spain to rescue the daughter of the US President. There he comes up against the cult of Los Illuminados, their megalomaniac leader Osmund Saddler and old flame Ada Wong but who cares about that we’re here to shoot some “zombies”!
Resident Evil 4 is a stunning upgrade over the original using Capcom’s RE Engine to perfectly animate the feathery bangs on Leon’s boy band pretty head as well as all the horrifying monsters he has to shoot, suplex and sucker punch to get to the princes- ahem President’s daughter. Though it’s gotten a visual upgrade the game maintains it’s most irreverent moments from it’s pirate-themed shooting galleries to its B-movie one liners: “Nighty night, knights”, “Where’s everybody going? Bingo?” and “I am flattered! But I’m a one-lady type of guy!” Beyond its homage to the past Resident Evil 4 also shows that Capcom is certain about its future. It takes real chutzpah to not only remaster one of the best games ever made but to also do it so well that the arguments against it are minimal. Now if we all light our prayer circle candles and chant Resident Evil – Code Veronica remake together maybe it will happen. Andrew Carroll.
Robocop: Rogue City
RoboCop: Rogue City is a sip of wine as the sun sets, a stolen kiss on the last day of Summer, a sting of red ramrod by the simmering glow of a cathode ray tube. There are those who will scoff at its dated mechanics and its creaky details. Others still will turn their nose up at its skeleton first draft of a story and its occasionally stilted performances. It remains one of the best licensed videogames ever made however, and I loved absolutely every second of it.
Further Reading | Robocop: Rogue City is Part Game, Part Glitch, All Great Fun
The attention to detail in this game is genuinely arresting. Sauntering through an Old Detroit shanty town besieged by the evils of Capitalism or the crumbling police department or even the OCP boardroom will respark the circuits of any faulty unit. Shooting people in the nether regions and watching their sweet cry of agony just like the guy in the movie is one of life’s great gifts. For all its creaky hinges, the game deftly walks the line between wish fulfillment power fantasy fun while still being somewhat challenging and while the lack of a New Game Plus is a bit of a
groaner, it also invites the kind of min/max RPG experimentation that comes with far more sophisticated games. Much like Murphy in the film, your ability to embrace your humanity brings a magic to the game lacking from great AAA blockbusters.
Chief among RoboCop’s charms is its ability to remind us of the halcyon days of PS2 supremacy, when there was a licensed game out for every IP in the audience, games that we would fall in love with for their reverence and their sense of fun, if not always for their innovation. I’d buy that for a dollar. Rob O’Connor.
Spider-Man 2 continues in Insomniac’s tradition of (here we go again) making you feel like Spider-Man, and this time it’s two for the price of one as the game effortlessly shifts between the stories of nice-guy-with-problems Peter Parker and younger-nice-guy-with-problems Miles Morales. A satisfying sequel with more than enough bang for your buck, there are caveats – presumably in an effort to keep up with Miles’ ever-expanding Emperor Palpatine electricity
powers, Peter is saddled with the boring Iron Spider arms in lieu of the pick-n-mix toybox of the first game.
The later stages double down on the Venom of it all, with wonderfully slimy new abilities and badass upgrades that make you wonder why this Jack of all Tentacles should be so bothered associating himself with Spiders (I haven’t even mentioned that web wings that let you basically fly like Superman). The story does the whole black suit business the same as the Tobey Maguire film once did, albeit without the wicked sick dance moves. It isn’t as fresh as the
first and there’s an argument to be made that it isn’t as fun either, but there’s still more than enough blockbuster banter here to count this among the AAA greats of the year. Rob O’Connor.