- Bionic Commando
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Ultimately, SteamWorld Build was a lot of what I like about the original IP and city simulations. It smartly mixes concepts from throughout the SteamWorld series into your management such as mining and monster control. Between overseeing the mines below and the town above, you’ll have a lot on your plate trying to make sure all the robots are happy and safe as you dig deeper and deeper to find the tech you need to escape the planet. That said, it’s a good blend, fit to please anyone who likes SteamWorld and city builders alike. Make sure your robots are oiled and happy and they’ll gladly venture into the unknown where mysterious discoveries await in this unique city sim.
Alan Wake 2 builds upon a foundation that I felt was effective, but missing something in the original. In narrative, atmosphere, and gameplay, this sequel captures the sense of a self-aware, fictional world that’s always contorting itself in real-time to move forward, and the result is a surreal horror/thriller masterpiece.
I’m not really upset that I went back to Gargoyles to re-explore some fun childhood memories. This game was special to me as a huge fan of the cartoon series, and I really liked how they adapted the old graphics into a new art style that was so much closer to the animation. I also like that the old graphics and sounds are still here and you can switch back and forth between them as much as you wish. I find it hard to credit Gargoyles Remastered for having a rewind button, because I think it’s simply a necessity to alleviate the frustration of a ridiculously difficult game. It also doesn’t fully alleviate that frustration because of its limitations. Gargoyles Remastered is an interesting and pretty walk down memory lane, but you’d better be ready to have any rose-colored glasses shattered by its unforgiving gameplay if you take that walk.
As unfairly challenging as I could find Lords of the Fallen to be, I also appreciated its creativity. The Umbral world and mechanics surrounding it made for an extremely compelling and risky adventure where I often rode the line between safety and death. I feel like the game could have done better at making the threat of Umbral more than escalation of foes up to an unkillable pursuer that could one-shot me, but I can’t deny I was tickled by the possibilities and always curious of what was on the other side. Mix its intertwined-worlds mechanics into good melee, magic, and archery in a beautiful gothic setting and 2023’s Lords of the Fallen feels like something I’ll more than remember for what it did right and how it set itself apart. The duality of this game’s settings is both dastardly and dazzling.
What impressed me the most about Cocoon throughout much of the adventure was the sheer intuitive nature of its puzzle-solving. You might think that with no dialogue or hints, jumping into worlds within worlds and carrying them around would be hard to wrap your head around, but this game does an incredible job in its presentation, making you aware of what you can do and what you want to accomplish. Just as well, it’s a beautiful and ambient game that drew me into its mystery and made me want to unravel more through the sheer joy of cracking each layer and digging into another. The team at Geometric Interactive made something truly compelling, mind-bending, and immersive in Cocoon, and though it can prove difficult to handle all its tools, solving its mysteries is an absolute delight.
Lies of P was an interesting adventure. I really liked the blend of the classic tales of Pinocchio twisted into this strange and interesting world of puppets, rebellion, classism, and secrets. Being able to mix and match weapons and Legion Arms were delightful twists on my expectations of soulsborne combat mechanics. It's a shame the smaller enemies don't have more personality, and I also wish Pinocchio had more character to make playing him more enjoyable. That said, Lies of P is more than just a wooden facsimile of a soulsborne game. It gets the foundational stuff right and tweaks it just enough in combat and exploration to make things more interesting. For that much, it’s a tale worth exploring all the way to the end, wherever your lies may take you.
Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon truly feels like a surprise treat this year. I’ve played a lot of good mech games, but few have ever given me the sheer depth of customization in both cosmetics and functionality that we have here. It’s like a dream come true. Certainly, it’s not the easiest game to beat and there are bosses that turn that dream into a temporary nightmare. However, when the answer is always just build a cooler, stronger mech, there’s little I can complain about beyond replaying missions to get there. It took a long time for Armored Core to come back and show a new generation why we loved these games back in the 90s and 2000s, but I couldn’t be happier it’s here. Maybe I’ll see you in the field and we’ll see who’s the real ace. I look forward to it.
I really like this niche that Mimimi has taken on in their games, and they seem to do it better with each go. Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew takes the character-driven stealth tactics I loved in Desperados and applies a ghost pirate theme to it in ways that are nearly always fun to play and beautiful to look at. It’s tough as nails and I wish I could experiment more before big choices, but I also think the concept allowed Mimimi to do some silly and spectacular things with its gameplay. Shadow Gambit sets a new standard for this studio, and I’ll be playing it until we get to see how they top themselves next.
Pikmin 4 almost always had fun surprises in store with me for each day’s adventures. Every biome, cave, and challenge brought about new threats and surprises, and my versatility between my own upgrades and those to Oatchi and our Pikmin made sure we almost always had new and fun ways to approach each situation. Pikmin 4 does a good job of retracing steps in the series, bringing back features that players liked, and making them feel good in the new setting. It also keeps the new adventure compelling with fun objectives and loads of secrets. Oatchi is a clear contender for Shacknews Best Pet of 2023, and Pikmin 4 might just be the best blend of charming and intense that I’ve played all year.
I had my doubts about if Jagged Alliance 3 could really tap the joy I felt in commanding mercenaries back in Jagged Alliance 2. This is a series that predates most tactical strategy we know, but it’s had some bumps along the road. Jagged Alliance 3 can’t be counted among those bumps. It’s a proficient and beautiful return to form for this franchise with a wealth of options inside and outside combat. It’s also a tough game to overcome, but with all of the options at your disposal, finding your path through the breathtaking landscapes of Grand Chien should be an exciting and varied blast every time. I’ll have a hard time putting anything else in the strategy category above this when the year ends.
I’ll give AEW Fight Forever this: When I was playing actual matches, many of my problems faded into the background. The actual wrestling is a good time and up to four players can throw down in a massive variety of ways with a huge roster or their own created characters. It’s when I came away from the squared circle and had to look at other parts of the game that its flaws were hard to ignore. Even so, I think THQ Nordic, Yuke’s, and AEW have a good start here. They’ve made a game that is at least fun to play and feels good in the ring, which is arguably the most important part. If there’s another AEW game, I’d like to see Create-a-Wrestler, crossplay, and the overall presentation of the game rise to meet the gameplay. For now, I’ll just try not to spend too much time outside the squared circle in Fight Forever.
This new version of Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective was a surprising delight to see out of Capcom. We’ve seen plenty of the Phoenix Wright games make a return, but Ghost Trick is quite the interesting spinoff. It offers a compelling narrative, a rather fun mystery-unraveling and time-twisting gameplay loop, and solid original and arranged soundtracks to accompany the journey. It doesn’t add much in the way of new content to visually and aurally upgraded package, but if you’re looking for another romp, or your first, through Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, then this is an fantastic way to go about it.
I had my doubts about two Riot Forge games coming out in such proximity to one another, but Riot Games is proving to be good at picking great developers to give new and interesting life to its League of Legends universe. Double Stallion didn’t just flesh out another corner of League of Legends lore with Convergence. It also built a metroidvania that I feel would be considered innovative and enjoyable whether it had the League of Legends name on it or not. I wish the enemies had more variety to them, and the time-shifting effects on voiced dialogue are sometimes very silly, but I would dare to say that whether you enjoy LoL or not, you’re in for a treat if you choose to spend time with this game.
Despite the stark lack of context, Hello Neighbor VR: Search & Rescue has an interesting house to explore with fun environmental puzzles, an unnerving persistent threat, and an interesting dynamic between the kids all working to help each other move forward in the house by degrees. It’s just all gummed up in unreasonably janky interactions and contrivances. I’m also not thrilled that it does nothing to ease you into the game, making it an utterly confusing experience for anyone who hasn’t been on board with Hello Neighbor already. I would like to think this can be a starting point of what to do and what not to do for tinyBuild and Steel Wool Studios if they go for a VR Hello Neighbor again. The puzzle and environment design is good, but they need to put a lot more time into what makes both a comfortable and responsive VR experience.
Firmament was an extremely meditative puzzle solving experience. I applaud Cyan Worlds for continuing to design these games without flashy ruckus, time limits, or deaths to speak of. It’s a peaceful journey through vast and mysterious lands full of wild and interesting machinery built into beautiful natural surroundings.
Mageseeker is perhaps my favorite thing to come out of Riot Forge publishing yet. Digital Sun has already proven that they have a good grasp of what makes an action-RPG fun, but they put their chops to great work here, bending a highly interesting corner of League of Legends lore to their style. Sylas fits them well, and they make his story sing in turn. Between compelling ability-stealing combat, chain-flinging traversal, an ever-expanding and upgradeable arsenal, and a beautiful musical score guiding another awesome visual and narrative interpretation of League of Legends, Mageseeker is an incredible time. Whether you’re a fan of League of Legends or not, this is a journey worth seeing through to the end.
It’s a decent enough arcade shooter, and if you look at it that way, the length and mood of the game make sense. However, it doesn’t make as much sense as a game with the Dark Pictures moniker. As widely varied as the quality of those games have been, they take the time to tell a story. Switchback doesn’t. It focuses on the gunplay, action, and thrills. While it does a decent enough job of that, the performance issues bring even that end down a bit. If you’re a fan of Supermassive’s brand of horror, it would be hard for me to recommend this over their other games. If you want to play something more like a modern light gun horror that makes decent use of the PS VR2’s technology, then you could do worse than Switchback, but you could also do better.