2023 in gaming: Roller coaster ride of hits, misses, anticipated releases

Describing 2023 as a kind of up-and-down year for video games is putting it mildly. The whole scene swung between really awesome moments and pretty disappointing ones.

Some seriously cool games came out – both new ones and follow-ups to old favorites. But, on the flip side, there were some real duds too, like The Walking Dead: Destinies, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum and The Day Before. That last one is asking for $40 even though it’s one of the lowest-rated games on Steam, the PC game store. Tough break.

Meanwhile, dozens of game companies cut thousands of video game-related jobs and canceled projects galore, including Redmond-based Microsoft, Renton-based Wizards of the Coast, Bellevue-based Bungie, and Seattle-based Amazon.

It was an up-and-down year, but when things went right, they went very, very right. It was a blockbuster year for fantastic game releases, no matter your preferred genre: From horror to platforming, low-stakes to life-or-death, a great game was released last year for just about everyone. And we even got news about a trailer for the long-awaited Grand Theft Auto VI (due in 2025, it’s the sequel to the second most-sold game ever)!

So, as the year is behind us, we raise a glass to the ultimately strong gaming year that was 2023 – and the tremendous games that made the year worthwhile.

Alan Wake 2

Fans of Remedy Entertainment’s 2010 Alan Wake have been waiting a long time for a proper sequel. Now, 13 years later, Alan Wake 2 is here – and it was worth the wait. Leaning into its survival horror genre, AW2 brings back the best of the original game, terrific writing, stellar cinematics (particularly the live-action scenes), haunting environments, and amps it all up to a pulse-pounding crescendo. If you’re eager for a horrifyingly mesmerizing story, replete with interesting twists, AW2 has that in spades.

Baldur’s Gate 3

BG3 leans heavily into its Dungeons & Dragons source material, and the result is worth the dozens of hours you’ll sink into it. (Why will it take you that long? Because you can advance your quests in almost any order you want). The writing and dialogue – and there’s so, so much of it – are top-notch. Care was given to each character’s design. And your choices truly matter throughout. A master class in innovative, captivating world-building, BG3 is simply sublime, and a prime example of what a role-playing game should be.

Dead Space

What a way to kick off 2023: Released in January, the remake of the 2008 game of the same name retains all the terrifying (and thoroughly enjoyable) atmosphere while adding much-needed quality-of-life improvements (no more valuable Power Nodes opening locked doors!) and plenty of gruesome touches of its own. The main character Isaac Clarke gets a glow-up here, actually getting a personality rather than being the silent protagonist he was in the original. And the game is a looker, too, thanks to DICE’s Frostbite Engine: Every area of the starship USG Ishimura, where the game takes place, is stunning and creepy and oh so dark and dank.

Final Fantasy XVI

Square Enix’s latest addition to its nearly 40-year-old Final Fantasy franchise is a wild blend of modern gameplay mechanics, breathtaking action sequences, and a story that, while never shying away from its announced “Game of Thrones” inspiration, is stunning in its depth and attention to detail. FFXVI forgoes the current craze of open-world environments with their massive explorable settings for a well-paced and enthralling linear experience instead. It takes its time (a bit to its detriment in some places) to create an engrossing world brimming with fully realized characters, well-detailed locales, and story beats – love, grief, identity, loyalty, fate – that keep you coming back even when you feel emotionally drained.

Killer Frequency

Team17’s retro slasher horror (the game takes place in the 1980s) casts you as a late-night radio host whose station becomes inundated with panicked calls from listeners about a serial killer on the loose. The twist? You have to solve the whodunit mystery from the confines of the radio booth. You’d think this would be restricting, but between the clever and humorous dialogue and the pulse-pounding tension of trying to keep the callers alive, you’ll never be bored.

Marvel’s Spider-Man 2

There’s a larger world to explore, a second primary character (Miles Morales, who returns from the first game and the spinoff game bearing his name), the introduction of memorable villains (Kraven the Hunter, Venom) and, once again, a humanizing story centered on the trauma of grief that anchors it all.

Resident Evil 4

Much like with the Dead Space remake, whether we needed a Resident Evil 4 remake was an open question. The original RE4, released in 2005, is considered one of the best games of all time, and it’s gotten plenty of love over the years with high-definition releases on current consoles. But worry not: With this remake, Capcom has delivered a survival-horror tour de force worthy of its predecessor. Protagonist Leon S. Kennedy and his boy band hair return looking better than ever, ready to save the president’s kidnapped daughter from a parasite-worshiping cult. The action is crisp, the visuals are stunning, the dialogue is still as silly as it was in 2005, and there are enough differences and additions to make it fresh for those of us who played the original more than a few times.

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