Even if Rogue City had started to rust a little towards the end of its lengthy campaign, its surprisingly in-depth shooting and roleplaying mechanics, love of the source material, and keen understanding of what makes RoboCop so great in the first place has made it one of the biggest surprises of 2023 for me. In a year full of absolute bangers, make sure you spend some time in Detroit.
Despite its uninteresting story and occasional jankiness, Ghostrunner 2 still manages to be a great successor by understanding why the first game was such a success, sharpening nearly every mechanic, and building upon them with the addition of the bike and wingsuit. It might not be the most innovative sequel in the world, but considering how great the original Ghostrunner already was, that’s no bad thing.
The endgame hides a few new stages and some cool minigames, but you are more or less dropped onto the map and asked to scour the place for everything you missed. I’m excited about playing with friends and family to snoop out the remaining paths that alluded me, and it feels like a game of this ilk would really come alive as four friends are causing maximum chaos together. Alone, its whimsical spark is sadly only surface level, fading away much as the petals on a Wonder Flower wilt under Bowser’s influence. The magic is there, and very tangible in all the right places, Nintendo just needs to take a look at the foundations and reinvent them alongside this luscious new aesthetic. Do so, and we’d have a masterpiece.
I have a love/hate relationship with Endless Dungeon. When it’s good, it feels excellent. The early-game progression is incredibly satisfying, filling out quest logs and completing pages of upgrades is rewarding, and it looks and sounds sublime. On the other hand, the lengthy runs take a toll, and once you get into the late game, the rate of progression doesn’t cut it anymore. Suddenly, the time invested doesn’t match up with the strength of the upgrades you can acquire, and the game feels very much like a Sisyphean task as originally intended, a punishment.
Spider-Man 2 feels like it’s right in the centre of Sony’s blockbuster sequel design philosophy. Where Horizon Forbidden West did the same thing but bigger, The Last of Us Part 2 elevated itself technologically, narratively, and most importantly, ambitiously. Spider-Man 2 falls between these approaches - it has some of Horizon’s safety, but with a slice of the elevation The Last of Us brought. Spider-Man 2 is the future of polished, competent, elevated sequels, and brings with it so many technical flourishes and a perfect execution of the formula that it stands in a class of its own. Like Miles’ own motto, Spider-Man 2 can be itself, and be greater.
Sonic Superstars isn’t holding back the series after the positive reception to Frontiers. It’s more than enough to keep it trucking along. Sega is sensible to be cautious about shedding too much of Sonic’s retro identity, but it needs to realise that none of us have hung around this long for Knuckles’ terrible recovery speed, or the strange instances where a single hit reduces our ring count to zero. Sonic Superstars brings us so agonisingly close to the definitive 2D Sonic game, but for now, it’s a good foundation to build on.
Overall, despite its shortcomings with performance and AI pathing, Total War: Pharaoh has been one of the most enjoyable Total War games I’ve played for quite some time. Its refined focus on a smaller period of history has allowed for experimentation elsewhere, with dynamic weather and terrain, resource generation on the campaign map, and a wave-based invasion system with the Sea Peoples that constantly keeps you guessing. I hope that some of these mechanics can be taken and expanded on for future, main series releases for Total War.
Forza Motorsport is a beautiful and fast experience, but one that slows itself down to the pace you need while still keeping you solely behind the wheel. You can opt for as little or as much assistance and realism as you desire, and players of all kinds will find exactly what they want from the game. Whether it’s a simulation that you will have to master, or something where you just want to hold accelerate and feel the thrill of racing in a high-speed competitive sport without having to think too much about it, Forza Motorsport is prepared to suit those needs.
The Fabulous Fear Machine is a metaphor, but not really. The propaganda machine that shapes society is very real, and it's used to tell us what to believe, what to buy, who to hate, and how to behave, all to benefit and enrich those of us who deserve it the least. The titular Fear Machine is based in power dynamics, class consciousness, and the susceptibility of society at large, but after playing, I’m not sure if Fictiorama Studios understood how its own machine actually works.
While Cocoon didn’t connect with me on the same level as other indie puzzlers, I had a great time venturing through orbs to solve mind-bending puzzles and explore alien worlds. The game also succeeds when it comes to giving you a great WTF ending, which is a requirement for this genre. It’s nice to see that even after leaving Playdead these developers are still able to deliver another fun albeit utterly baffling experience. All that's keeping it from being a true masterpiece is a little more child danger and an appearance from the Quaker Oats man himself.
Mineko’s Night Market is a delightful journey that explores childlike storytelling and themes of tradition and friendship in a way that captivates players. Its beautiful style and emphasis on Japanese culture draw you in, but the compelling and varied gameplay makes you stay. Its slow and simple start may be off-putting for some, but if you’re starting a cute little life sim game like this and expecting fast-paced drama, you’re at the wrong market stall.
It’s a shame that Invasions and the snail’s pace progression drag Mortal Kombat 1 down a little because, if it wasn’t for them, this would easily be the best Mortal Kombat to date. Even with those problems, MK1’s excellent gameplay and story mode make it a much-needed breath of fresh air for the series and a great first step into an exciting new timeline.
Even if it can be a little too easy and was over far before I’d have liked, Gunbrella’s incredible movement options, surprisingly intriguing mystery, and punchy gunfights quickly made it one of my favourite indies in recent memory and a universe I’d love to see more of in the future. Just remember, there’s a 100 percent chance of blood raining from the sky, so you better bring a brolly.
The Isle Tide Hotel is an uneven game. It delivers in its goal to tell some compelling stories about very interesting people and a cult that’s up to some incredibly odd behaviour, but the inarticulate efforts to gamify the experience may prove too frustrating for those not already enamored with the concept or the genre.
There are parts of this game that are highly relatable. You can scroll through social media and see what are essentially Tweets (or Posts, thanks Elon), mostly about the impending meteor impact, that capture Twitter (sure, X) culture with hilarious accuracy. The third act also shines, with tensions between characters finally bubbling over and leading to huge blowouts that feel very true to the nature of teenage friendships. Fang’s relationship to their parents and brother Naser also feel very complex, more than any other relationship they have with the other characters. But none of this is enough to carry the weight of the game’s slow first acts or make up for the game’s unrealised thematic potential, and that’s a shame. What could’ve been a meaningful meditation on the importance of community turned out half-baked. The seeds of something great were there, but it never quite had the payoff it deserved.