Twenty-Twenty-Three. What a year you have been for gaming. With each passing year the gaming industry continues to push the boundaries of creativity, storytelling and innovation. Gamers are continuously presented with experiences which captivate and astound. 2023 has been a banner year for gaming with some incredible titles released. After much hand-wringing, soul-searching, blood, sweat and tears, here are ESGR’s top picks for the greatest games of the year.
Resident Evil 4 Remake
The Resident Evil series has seen its fair share of remakes, but none quite as remarkable as the upgraded version of the series’ pinnacle, Resident Evil 4. Capcom has been on a streak of successful Resident Evil remakes, and RE4 takes the crown as the best among them, even though its more action-oriented gameplay somewhat diminishes the fear factor present in earlier entries.
The core narrative remains intact—players step into the shoes of U.S. Agent Leon S. Kennedy, tasked with rescuing the President’s daughter, Ashley Graham, from the dual threats of the Los Illuminados cult in Spain and the insidious Las Plagas virus. However, the remake introduces several enhancements to the gameplay. Leon can now move and fire his weapon simultaneously, adding a new layer of control, and he can even block with his knife. The game’s map has received a facelift as well, featuring additional areas and more menacing foes for Leon to contend with. One of the most notable improvements is the transformation of Ashley into a more capable partner, alleviating the previous burden of constantly safeguarding her. These enhancements and additions collectively elevate RE4 into a more captivating and contemporary survival horror experience.
Capcom’s knack for remaking games is evident in their track record. The original Resident Evil remake set a high standard back in 2002, refining controls, enhancing graphical details, and introducing new areas within the iconic Spencer Mansion. The Resident Evil 2 remake successfully shifted the perspective of its source material while preserving the focus on horror and survival. Even the Resident Evil 3 remake, though somewhat forgettable, faithfully brought the design elements of the original game to a modern audience. Now, with Resident Evil 4, Capcom has delivered another outstanding remake.
In this reimagined version of the 2005 action-survival-horror classic, Capcom has managed to erase many of the blemishes that might have tarnished one of the most beloved games in the series and, indeed, in all of gaming history. The remake is brimming with new details and enhancements across its three sprawling areas, making it feel like more than just a remake—it’s a profound reinterpretation. Moreover, the Resident Evil 4 remake has successfully integrated even more survival elements into the original’s action-focused combat without sacrificing the campy charm and cheese that have endeared it to fans over the years. Many games would have faltered when faced with the daunting task of remaking such a legendary title, but Resident Evil 4 remake masterfully strikes the balance and emerges as a resounding success.
Available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC, Mac, iPad
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, one of this year’s most hotly anticipated games and the sequel to Insomniac’s Spider-Man and Spider-Man: Miles Morales, delivers an epic and emotionally charged journey that continues the themes of its predecessors, allowing both the characters and the city they inhabit to undergo significant evolution. In this instalment, players assume control of both Peter Parker and Miles Morales, each with their own character arcs that brilliantly reflect their respective life stages. The reappearance of Harry Osborn and the introduction of Kraven the Hunter disrupt the dynamic between Miles, Peter, and MJ, while the arrival of Venom poses a grave threat to the city.
Despite the already exceptional gameplay of the previous titles, Insomniac has managed to enhance the experience even further with the introduction of web wings and a revamped gadget and power wheel. These additions make taking down enemies smoother and more immediate. Although Spider-Man 2 may be slightly shorter than its predecessor, the side quests are more substantial and better integrated into the game’s overarching theme of the finite nature of time. Ironically, it’s a game that players won’t want to see conclude, leaving them with what can be hailed as the greatest superhero game ever created.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 builds upon the narrative successes of the first game while also delivering immensely satisfying gameplay. The story explores the classic Spider-Man trope of friends becoming adversaries, injecting new twists and developing captivating villains, thereby enriching the game’s universe and creating more demanding foes. In a welcome departure from the previous installment, Spider-Cop antics take a back seat, allowing for a deeper connection between the Spider-Men and the city they protect, immersing players further into the heroes’ worlds and their struggles.
The joy of swinging through the vast expanse of New York City as Spider-Man remains unparalleled in gaming. It was a delight in the early 2000s and remains so today. With an even larger map to explore and the addition of web wings for soaring through the skies, the fun knows no bounds. The transition between the two protagonists, Peter and Miles, is seamless, and their distinct playstyles bring unique stories and motivations to the forefront. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 stands out as an open-world game that avoids the pitfall of excessive missions and side quests, leaving players yearning for more Spider adventures.
Available on PlayStation 5
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
Tears of the Kingdom, the eagerly anticipated sequel to 2017’s Breath of the Wild, initially started as planned DLC content for its predecessor but evolved into a monumental gaming experience that showcases Nintendo’s ambition and dedication. Once again, players assume the role of the iconic hero, Link, as he embarks on a quest to locate the missing Princess Zelda and thwart the nefarious Demon King, Ganon, from wreaking havoc upon the world of Hyrule. This installment of the Legend of Zelda series expands upon the open-world concept, introducing new elements such as subterranean caverns and floating sky islands to explore.
One of the standout features of Tears of the Kingdom is the seamless fluidity of Link’s movement and combat, coupled with exciting new power-ups, which make traversing the expansive world of Hyrule both enjoyable and challenging. It’s easy to become captivated by the game’s breathtaking visuals and immersive world, prompting players to wander off the beaten path. However, a compelling narrative intricately woven into Hyrule’s ancient history ensures that players remain engaged in the central quest and motivated to uncover the mysteries that await.
At first glance, Tears of the Kingdom might not appear to offer anything groundbreaking. It’s a sequel to one of the most beloved Zelda games, originally conceived as DLC, and reuses the same game map. Yet, it defies expectations in spectacular fashion. This game represents not just a refinement of Breath of the Wild but a culmination of the entire Zelda series’ evolution, offering players a fresh and exhilarating experience in the fantastical world of Hyrule.
The sheer ingenuity of Tears of the Kingdom is evident in its mechanics, exemplified by the Ultrahand, a tool that lets players manipulate the game’s physics in unexpected ways. While initially expecting to focus solely on the storyline, players will soon find themselves immersed in engineering feats, from constructing bizarre contraptions to crafting elaborate bridges that span the skies and conquer towering peaks.
The game’s sense of wonder is most palpable when delving into the Depths, a hidden world beneath the familiar surface of Hyrule, teeming with eerie skeletal horses and menacing Bokoblins. Moments of revelation, such as uncovering Princess Zelda’s true location, are masterfully woven into the gameplay, creating a sense of discovery that keeps players engaged for hours on end.
Tears of the Kingdom is an unforgettable gaming experience that beckons players to explore, experiment, and imagine new adventures. It possesses the unique ability to captivate, leaving players yearning for more, even after putting down their controllers. The year 2023 has spoiled gamers with a plethora of exceptional titles, but Tears of the Kingdom stands out as an enduring masterpiece that lingers in the minds of players long after they’ve completed their journey. With its enchanting storytelling and innovative gameplay, it feels like an intimate secret whispered by a friend, promising a wild and unforgettable ride that will make you laugh and cry. It’s a testament to the ever-evolving world of Hyrule, leaving players eagerly anticipating the next instalment, confident that it will bring something entirely different to the table.
Available on Nintendo Switch
Alan Wake II
After 13 long years, the cult-favourite game Alan Wake has finally received its much-anticipated sequel, and it doesn’t disappoint. Alan Wake II is not just another video game; it’s a celebration of art that weaves together meta-narratives, musical numbers, and connections to Remedy’s previous titles like Control and Quantum Break. It’s also a spine-tingling and sophisticated exploration of the world of writing and the consequences of putting one’s words out into the universe. As if that weren’t enough, it stands as one of the most chilling survival horror experiences of the past decade, practically daring players to leave the lights on.
The game’s narrative is split between two protagonists and their intertwined journeys. The first character is FBI Agent Saga Anderson, who finds herself drawn to the enigmatic town of Bright Falls, Washington, tasked with unravelling a mysterious cult linked to Alan Wake’s novels. The second protagonist is Alan Wake himself, trapped for 13 years in the unending darkness of the Dark Place, desperately seeking an escape. As the story unfolds, their seemingly separate paths converge, revealing deeper connections than either of them could have imagined.
Both protagonists are compelled to question the nature of their reality. For Agent Anderson, it’s a matter of detective work and case files, collected through exploration and interactions with Bright Falls’ residents. Alan Wake, on the other hand, possesses the power to reshape the Dark Place and the world beyond it through his writing. Despite their expanded arsenals, players are consistently kept on edge and never allowed to feel entirely comfortable or well-prepared. Alan Wake II is a richly layered narrative, a trademark of its director and lead writer, Sam Lake. It’s a game that rewards revisiting to uncover additional clues and connections, but players must remember to stay in the light to fend off the encroaching darkness.
The game’s story unfolds like a puzzle, scattered fragments of a narrative that has gone awry in the past and may well do so again. It challenges players to piece it all together, even when it seems destined for a bleak outcome.
Alan Wake 2 is a world of disordered geography, inhabited by people who seem out of place, in rooms that defy logic by changing each time you enter them. It’s a disorienting experience, urging players to restore order to the chaos if they can.
This Remedy Entertainment masterpiece transcends traditional storytelling and delves into the realm of dreams. It captures the capricious nature of dreams, how they can shift from terrifying to absurd in an instant, and how we can become lost in them, learning from our experiences or succumbing to our inner demons. It mirrors the shapelessness of video game narratives, where repetition plays a significant role, and we seek meaning by revisiting stories, people, and places, questioning whether we’ve changed or if they have.
In Alan Wake 2, every character’s story unfolds concurrently, branching in countless directions, and the true genre may remain elusive until it’s too late. It’s a hypertext mystery, an ergodic game that adapts to an audience raised in the online era, although there are few computers in sight. It’s a game for a world caught in a perpetual second act, where never-ending conflicts, live-service games, franchises, and infinite scrolls leave us in ceaseless pursuit of a conclusion.
Available on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Baldur’s Gate 3
Larian Studios has delivered a monumental addition to the Baldur’s Gate franchise with Baldur’s Gate 3, raising the bar for RPG experiences. Set within the expansive world of the Forgotten Realms and rooted in the Dungeons & Dragons universe, this game offers players a chance to craft their own character from 12 diverse classes and embark on an epic journey alongside a party of pre-generated companions. What sets Baldur’s Gate 3 apart is its seamless transition between solo and multiplayer modes, allowing players to switch between them at will. Whether you prefer solitary exploration or teaming up with friends for specific missions, the game accommodates your preferences.
While many fantasy RPGs share the common elements of turn-based combat and strategic party dynamics, Baldur’s Gate 3 distinguishes itself through the depth of character interactions and relationships. Players will find themselves engrossed in developing connections and romances with their companions, each of whom boasts a well-rounded personality reminiscent of BioWare’s golden era. This game caters to those in search of the intricate character complexity found in the Mass Effect trilogy and Dragon Age: Origins.
Unlike some RPGs that limit players to predetermined paths, Baldur’s Gate 3 champions freedom and creativity. There are multiple ways to vanquish foes and complete quests, and even key NPC characters can meet their demise without obstructing the overall story progression. With a gameplay duration surpassing 100 hours, there’s an abundance of content to explore, whether you choose to venture alone or with friends. In this regard, Baldur’s Gate 3 stands as a gift to gamers that keeps on giving.
The timing of Baldur’s Gate 3’s release couldn’t have been more perfect. In an era where computer role-playing games had largely remained a niche interest since the early 2000s, this game arrived on the scene as the genre was experiencing a resurgence. Dungeons & Dragons had undergone a renaissance, thanks to popular actual-play series like Critical Role and Dimension 20. Moreover, Larian Studios had the advantage of two years’ worth of player feedback to craft this masterpiece. Upon its launch in August, it garnered widespread acclaim, attracting both old-school CRPG fans and the newer generation raised on the Mass Effect franchise. D&D enthusiasts found in it a remarkable digital adaptation of their beloved tabletop game, which they could enjoy alone or in cooperative mode with their friends.
Baldur’s Gate 3, like a skilled Dungeon Master, weaves a narrative that feels tailored to each player’s choices, drawing them into experiences that seem uniquely personal. Every chapter unfolds with memorable character interactions and tension-filled battles that arise organically. The game faithfully captures the essence of Dungeons & Dragons, where the thrill of the unexpected is ever-present.
In a year filled with innovative storytelling methods in video games, Baldur’s Gate 3 takes experimental storytelling to new heights. Every decision and twist in the narrative hinges on a simple roll of the dice, offering outcomes of success, failure, or critical success. Each roll can lead players from the wreckage of a Nautiloid to the bustling city of Baldur’s Gate itself.
In a gaming landscape rich with beautiful narratives and impactful moments, Baldur’s Gate 3’s reliance on the d20 system stands out as the defining element of video game storytelling in 2023.
Available on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PC, Mac
The year 2023 has unfolded as a symphony of creativity and innovation in gaming, showcasing the immense talent and dedication of developers worldwide. The titles that have graced our screens throughout the year have entertained and enthralled us whilst demonstrating the power of interactive storytelling and the limitless potential of video games as an art form.
As we bid farewell to 2023 and look ahead to the future of gaming, it is clear that the industry is in the midst of a golden age. The greatest games of 2023 have set a high watermark for excellence and have left us eagerly anticipating what lies ahead on the gaming horizon. They serve as a testament to the enduring magic of video games, their capacity to move us, thrill us, and immerse us in worlds beyond our imagination.
Let’s celebrate the achievements of these remarkable games and embark on the next adventure, knowing that the world of gaming is as vibrant and promising as ever.