Video Games of 2023

This year has flown by. Genuinely cannot think of a faster year for me.

2023 wasn’t just packed with movies again, with theatres recovering from the pandemic enough to be open, but also games!

It should be said that both industries have been hit very badly during 2023, however… The game’s industry suffering record amounts of layoffs post-pandemic.

But here is a list of all the games I played this year, with a mini-review (or a big review, as it happens!) you won’t find game reviews outside of these annual posts. These aren’t exclusively 2023 releases, but are the new games I played.

Listed in chronological order; no rankings or bests or worsts. Just thoughts! Enjoy.

Nier: Replicant (PlayStation 4) – Completed & Platinum

One thing can be said for certain: do not bother platinum’ing Nier: Replicant.
That said, there’s a lot of reasons to praise Nier: Replicant. A third-person hack and slash/shooter with elements of bullet-hell gameplay. It is a remake of an older game, called Nier (now called Nier: Gestalt) to keep it more in line with the extremely popular Nier: Automata, which this game is a prequel of. Understood?

Well, if not, the Nier series might not be for you. Featuring a post-apocalyptic setting, a flawed protagonist, required multiple playthroughs and secret endings, documents, and cutscenes that fully flesh out the story… Nier: Replicant is a modern Japanese video game with all the trimmings.
To do everything is to invite grind, very boring grind. But to play through all of the endings is to experience a nuanced story of despair, broken people seeking redemption, and the harshness of an inescapable reality.

Word of advice: do.not.sell.anything, if you want to get the Platinum trophy. Even if it is something called a “broken wristwatch”, do… not… sell… it.

Viscera Clean-up Detail (Steam)

We tend to play games we want to play, because you don’t want to pour hours of your life (or a reasonable amount of money) on something we dislike. Viscera Clean-up Detail was something I thought I would enjoy.
Ever wonder what happens after the butch, alien-blasting, wise-cracking, gun-totting hero has made their way through a level? What happens with all the bloody remains, explosive debris and corpses? Well, here you play an underpaid and underappreciated janitor who has to clean up the mess left behind!

It is a great premise!
Shame then that the game has “deliberate” design choices that make it absolutely insufferable.

Playing the game, you appreciate quickly the need to be methodical. You track blood and muck with your footsteps, for example, so you need to consider the efficient route to clean the sci-fi environment. However, the game’s physics are notorious! You’ll be carting bloody body parts safely to the incinerator, when one of them just flips out. Or, worse, the machine that gives you buckets of water (so generally a place you want to be clean first!) can… randomly… dispense bloody body parts instead! I mean… WHY? It is absolutely infuriating!

So I couldn’t play it further. Completed one level and got reprimanded from my boss anyway… No thank you.

Subnautica: Below Zero (Steam) – 100% Completed

The return to the ocean planet from Subnautica is bittersweet.

The original Subnautica was a gem polished over years, with a very simple story: escape the planet (oh and there are mysteries to find). How do you continue this narrative?
Perhaps the answer is: you accept that you do not continue it.

We play as Robin, who is looking for her sister who had been working on the planet with shady corporation Alterra. But during this, she is possessed by an alien presence, and needs to discover more about the architects (from the first game) to get them out of her head. So begins another survival experience in the ocean, diving deep into the dangerous darkness, but also exploring frozen landscapes above.

The sequel is much smaller than the original (roughly 2km across). The map is a labyrinth, though, with very small biomes crushed together. The initial moments are just as terrifying as the original, as you probe unknown areas. There are some new gadgets to build too, which are good fun.

But… the story was lost on me. Robin is a contemporary of all these quippy, wise-talking protagonists we currently see in video games. Having the character talking in Subnautica was something to adjust to, and while having the alien presence, Al-An, talking to her helped… the chemistry was not there. “Why do humans dream?” etc, is an example of the cookie-cutter sci-fi debates these two characters have. It amounts to a game “finale” that feels extremely uncomfortable; it feels like Al-An is just as likely to kill Robin as they are to befriend her.

Also the spy-pengling mechanic wasn’t very endearing, and the snowfox traversal on land was terrible and glitchy.

Banging soundtrack, though. Good synthy vibes!

Ten points for knowing what film this is

Borderlands 3 (Steam)

I played so much Borderlands when I was in university. We had a team of friends, who even went into Borderlands 2. But the first game was played… as they say… to death.

Borderlands 3 took a while to release, and the team has changed, but the appeal to play remained strong. However… something felt off.
The graphics are still that same timeless cell-shaded look, the characters are still all wise-cracking mercenaries and are each distinctly unique in playstyle. We even get multiple planets to visit, and our own spaceship to call home!

So why is it not hitting the same? Has too much time passed?
The game certainly isn’t as easy to read anymore; enemies blend in with their surroundings more. Game is visually… muddier than before.

Still, it is a fun experience with friends. We’ve not finished it yet, the story feels… too familiar. People looking for the Vault that is full of incredible power. Sirens are super super important. Etc etc.

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (PlayStation 4) – Completed

Ohhh, Final Fantasy XII. Sometimes you really annoy me. But other times, I was having a good time!

As of writing, I have played in the franchise: VI, VII, VIII, IX, XIII, XV, VIIR, and now XII. It is fair to say that this game was… a little daunting even after playing so many of the games already. Following the online game Final Fantasy XI, this game has a very MMORPG feel to it. You control one of your party members, the others can be controlled remotely, directly, and on their own. The world is quite “open”; with instanced areas, monsters and loot drops respawning as you enter and exit.

A misfit group of heroes are united, not only by their own struggles against their personal pasts, but by opposition to a tyrant seeking to rule over all the lands of Ivalice.
That is mostly the story! A robust, familiar story for the franchise. We have a party of six characters, with each applied with professions that you can choose (from twelve professions). The leveling system involves the License Boards of each profession; you unlock upgrades, weapons, and abilities as you progress, each Board being different. Coupled with that, you must find these weapons and abilities in the world to be able to use them. It is quite complex, but ultimately rewarding and quite fascinating. What else can your characters learn?? How will a new ability affect your party’s performance??
After all, the characters operate in combat via “The Gambit System”, a series of commands that you personalize which allow your party members to act independently. Again, complex but fascinating!

Final Fantasy XII is perhaps one of the few of the series that I felt compelled to explore further than just the main story. The world of Ivalice is rich, and even without airship travel it feels vast. The characters are, for the most part, pleasant folks to be around. They have good banter and scenes as the story progresses.

All of this is great, this needs to be stressed, before going into negatives. Final Fantasy XII is designed to sell Guide Books. Fundamentally. From the ground up. It is disgusting, really. At the eve of the Internet, this game had the gall to: Not have a quest log, so you have no idea what you are doing or where you need to go in a vast MMORPG style world. It has hunts (which are a massive part of the game’s content) where the monster you need to find only appears at certain times of day, or certain weather conditions. It has special items locked in a merchant’s bizarre that only unlock when you sell a specific number and specific combination of items at one time. It has treasure chests that give you end game weapons only if you don’t open other specific and unrelated treasure chests. I stopped with side content when a particular hunt was impossible without one specific spell, even though I was hugely over-levelled and “killed” the hunt several times over.

That was a rant… But it was important.

This game is good. It was a good time. Exploration. The hunts (until they got stupid) the character progression, and AI customisation systems are excellent and intriguing. The story is decent, the characters are endearing. It had moments when it reminded me of my favourite Final Fantasy game… Final Fantasy IX. Genuinely.

But goddamnit why did they design so much of it to sell Guide Books??

Me “playing” Final Fantasy XII

Hades (Steam)

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Hades is a hard game.

But not immediately. Immediately, Hades is a flashy, addicting roguelite game, where you play Zagreus, Son of Hades, attempting to escape from the underworld and reach the surface. On the way, you will gain powers and boons from the Olympian pantheon, Zeus, Artemis, Ares, etc. These boons are lost upon death, and your progress reset, but you gain stat increases over time and… ultimately… your own skill increases.

It is a beautifully crafted game, genuinely quite faultless in its execution (once you plug in a controller, do not use keyboard and mouse) and the gods are, as the Internet has elaborated on already, very hot. The art is beautiful, the dialogue is charming and witty in a subtle way.

You do need to like roguelites, of course. Which will be the only sticking point. Relentlessly playing the same levels over and over again and hitting the same wall an hour later can be very defeating for some (a drug for others!) and Hades does tweak its difficulty as you go… not letting you get too overpowered for the earlier and mid-level stages.

Knowing nothing about roguelites, it is a hit but also a slight miss for me. Recommended for anyone who doesn’t know what a roguelite is; I doubt there’s a better, more finely tuned example than this!

Zool: Redimensioned (Steam)

As an Amiga fan, through and through (look, I have a YouTube channel where I play old Amiga games: check it out if you like!) getting a port of Zool on Steam was rather charming!

Zool was, arguably, the Amiga’s mascot (Nintendo has Mario, SEGA had Sonic) and this port is a pleasant addition for my Steam library. It is… however… a port of the SEGA Genesis version, rather than the Amiga, which means it does have some little differences. But hey, it is basically the same game, and there are achievements! So even as a veteran player (playing the Ultimate Ninja difficulty because… well… it is the same as the original game!) I’m actually finding things I never knew about as a kid, guided by the achievements.

It is a fond little jump into nostalgia. Now I just need to play my Mini Amiga 500 console some more!

Edit: Ultimate Ninja is not the same as the original game, at least not the same as the Amiga version. This port is MUCH more kind to the player: with the controls, with enemy spawns, even with the amount of health!

SpiderHeck (Steam)

This game is such my aesthetic.
Bright neon lights on a black background, manic little spiders zipping around florescent platforms, trying to kill each other with laser swords and guns that fire glowing discs and beams of energy!

SpiderHeck is an insane game to be played with friends. The controls are a little complicated to get used to at first; you have the ability to fire weapons, swing weapons, jump around platforms, and web-swing. The art of projecting yourself across the level and brutally cleaving another spider in half with your swinging light spear is tricky but immensely fun.

It is a good little time waster. Will you be the best neon Jedi-spider you know??

Typing of the Dead: Overkill (Steam)

What better way to test a new keyboard you’ve just purchased?

Typing of the Dead has been around for a long time. Appearing as a modified version of SEGA’s House of the Dead first-person Arcade shooter, the game saw the player survive the zombie horror classic by typing words via keyboard as quickly as possible!

It is a novel idea! Overkill is the most recent addition to this weird offshoot, with improved graphics, new characters, and new stories. The style is very much taken from Tarantino and Rodriguez movies, such as their Grindhouse experiments: Planet Terror and Death Proof. Expect lewd cutscenes, blue language and a narrator who treats everything like a movie trailer.

It is a silly distraction, and definitely a good way to test your new keyboard.

Hardspace: Shipbreaker (Steam)

If you had said to me in the mid-90s, while I was playing Batman Returns on the Amiga, that one day I would be “happily playing a video game were you methodically cut spaceships apart and carefully dispose of the pieces”, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Indeed, the memorably-named Hardspace: Shipbreaker expects exactly that. You find yourself in the employ of an unfeeling corporation that recycles and disposes of old star ships, working off your billons of debt (which was almost entirely acquired through signing up with the company in the first place, evil as they are) the game is surprisingly mellow and addicting.

With a story mode and other less talkative modes, if you like the idea of being in zero-gravity and taking part in a sci-fi blue-collar job of dismantling different ships, this is for you. It isn’t all chill out vibes, though. You do have the dangers of explosive decompression, oxygen depletion, fire and electrical hazards, and of course disposing of power cores.

But so far these dangers are fairly minimal. If you just work methodically, the dangers are not worrisome. The consequences (in story mode) is that death adds to your debt.

The music is blissful Americana goodness. But of course, you could just listen to a podcast while playing, instead.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (Switch) – Completed

Tears of the Kingdom is a lot of things.

This direct sequel to the franchise-changing Breath of the Wild in 2017 is receiving massive GOTY-level praise from all sides, citing it as being even better than its predecessor and fixes a lot of its problems.

Certainly, there are quality-of-life improvements. Our protagonist Link can now climb terrain more easily, or can attach any material item to arrows and weaponize them. The world is fuller, with tonnes of added content, filling the otherwise “barren” world from BotW.

The story has more hallmarks of a “Legend of Zelda” game, while also being complete with some very unorthodox moments that will surely be remembered. Something the franchise as a whole is very good at. The music is incredible! From the familiar pianos, to jazz, to massive orchestrated bonanzas, to synth. The score is its own beast here, and is extremely good.

But… the game is poorly designed. Echoing BotW too far; TotK strips us of all our gear and gives us another (ambiguous) amount of lost time, allowing the world to be “unfamiliar” once again. All the items we had, as fans who collected most if not everything, are scattered around senselessly. Gone are the fun little riddles from the previous game; just do this quest I guess, here’s your bit of armour again.
In BotW, the openness was an invitation. “What’s that over there? Go and find out!” In TotK, the world is full of NPCs and people living in the land of Hyrule. People with quests to give you. Immediately, the game becomes Decision Paralysis: the Game. A nightmare for sufferers of ADHD. Go over there? Sure… if you can ignore the twelve other things in the way asking for your attention.

The shrines in BotW were vital to character development and progression, and they still are. Often involving the game’s unique selling point: Zonai Devices and the Ultra Hand ability. The gameplay “loop” of building vehicles and contraptions to solve puzzles. These devices potentially blow the game even more open; allowing players to do literally anything they want.
The problem is… if you can do anything at all, most of the time players will break your puzzles. Which I did, regularly, and not always intentionally. It is fine to an extent, only unlike BotW I didn’t feel like I was learning anything by doing it.

The Zonai devices just become a gimmick. You will have one or two traversal devices (a balloon for vertical, a Wing for horizontal) that you use regularly and that’s it. To experiment is to invite wasted time. A car instead of your faithful horse? Sure, if you don’t mind it running out of fuel, or constantly getting stuck on terrain, or disappearing when you walk too far from it.
The game suffers further in that… it doesn’t teach you the mechanics needed for the final act. It prefers to slap you very hard in the face for not playing properly and just building laser turrets. “How dare you.” it seems to say. “What gave you that idea?”

It has beautiful moments and beautiful ideas. It has massively missed opportunities and jaw-dropping spectacle. It has cute characters and shallow forgettable ones. It has areas of intrigue and vast areas of nothing. Ultimately, I’d rather play Breath of the Wild again, and personally, I hope the next Legend of Zelda game doesn’t take wholesale from this one.

Pikmin 4 (Switch)

I kinda love Pikmin 4.

Pikmin has been a favourite series since I played a demo of the first game in a games’ store. A charming “strategy” game where the player commands up to 100 small flower-topped creatures called Pikmin. The games all have puzzles to solve and fun (sometimes downright terrifying) monsters to battle.

But all of this is taking place in a miniaturized space. Pikmin, and your character, being little more than a centimetre in height. The levels you explore are rich with details; magnification of gardens, beach fronts, and rock pools. You collect treasures which are all items we recognise, but are gigantic to the tiny Pikmin.

I could be describing any game in the franchise so far, such is the strength of the series’ identity. Pikmin 4 harkens back most to Pikmin 2, and rightly so: the second game was the strongest entry up to this point (Pikmin 3 was… flawed). Back is the two-player battle mode, but it also becomes part of the main game, with the player entering caves to battle AI opponents in what are called Dandori Battles. Battles that are designed to improve your Dandori skills (read: playing the game better)

The game wants you to improve, and gives you lots of gentle ways to learn on your own.

The story of the game is more elaborate this time: the player is part of a rescue team and has a “rescue pup” companion called Oatchi. Oatchi operates like the second character Louie in Pikmin 2, only he has a vast array of unlockable abilities, allowing you to execute more complex commands and operations.
The player character and Oatchi must find castaways, including more Rescue Corps members. In doing so, the story progresses but you also gain more abilities and items. Indeed, the game adds an entire RPG element that does take a moment to appreciate, even for veterans. The buttons are a little confused (Nintendo seems to enjoy putting a LOT of context commands onto the A button these days)

The game is a lot of fun and is highly recommended for… frankly anyone. A charming little escape! Plus the series deserves more recognition.

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