The Finger Guns Games of the Year 2023

There are years of gaming excellence that live long in the memory. For those of us whose year of birth starts with ’19’, you might remember the heady days of 1996. It was a year packed to the gills with memorable games, many of which spawned franchises that are still kicking around today (Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, Super Mario 64 and C&C: Red Alert, to name but a few). For you young whippersnappers (‘stay off my lawn’), you might have fonder memories of 2013. This was the year of The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite, The Stanley Parable and Gone Home. Ah, what a year that was, as the PS3 and Xbox 360 played their swan song for us all to hear.

Throughout the history of gaming, there are years like this that stand out from all the others – 2002, 2010, 1994. Through an unseen design or simply fortuitous timing, we occasionally get a year when our glorious hobby of video games absolutely smashes it out of the park from beginning to end, raising the bar on video games as a whole.

I’m convinced that 2023 is likely to join that hallowed list of times gone by that we raise a glass to with glassy eyes and fond memories. I’m convinced of this not just because of the games that you’ll find on this list, but also because of the games that we’ve had to omit. At Finger Guns, we do our ‘Games of the Year’ slightly differently, with each writer picking a ‘favourite’. Critiquing video games is, after all, all about opinion, and if you asked us all to agree on just a single game, or even a handful of games, I doubt we’d ever publish anything (or even still be friends by the end of the process). So instead of just one GOTY, you get 10. Oh, how we spoil you.

Even by choosing 10 games that stand head and shoulders above the others we’ve played this year, we’ve had to leave some absolute bangers out. We’ve had weeks of deliberation about which games make the cut, and which don’t. Personally, every time I thought I’d cracked it, I’d remember another game that made the decision more difficult. But what about Street Fighter 6? Oooh, and Final Fantasy XVI? Assassin’s Creed Mirage? Baldur’s Gate 3? Mortal Kombat? Can we really have a GOTY list without Zelda? As you can see, 2023 has been a challenging year to choose just one game each.

But choose we have. And here it is, for all your reading pleasure. The Finger Guns Games of the Year. The 10 games from 2023 that we absolutely love move and think you absolutely should play, and what a glorious list it is.

As is tradition, Sean is gonna kick us off. Enjoy;

There has been a lot going on with Star Wars recently. While Mando, The Bad Batch & Ahsoka have continued to expand the borders of a galaxy far, far away on the small screen, the books have been committing the extremely interesting The High Republic period to canon. In terms of story, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor felt like the nexus which connected all of this newness together. The fact that these games take years to make, and this game landed at exactly the right time to capitalise on a new wave of quality Star Wars projects is either impeccable planning, or incredibly fortunate. I won’t spoil it for those that haven’t played it, but of all the games I’ve played this year, Survivor had me get up off the couch just to get closer to the TV through sheer excitement more than any other.

As for the actual game play, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor builds on everything that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order did well and further perfects the formula. Developers Respawn have honed in on what makes being a Jedi cool, and they’ve built systems and mechanics that leverage that into a thrilling concoction of fast paced traversal, challenging lightsabre battles and exploration that’s steeped in all things Star Wars.

When I think back through all of the brilliant games I’ve played in 2023, it’s Star Wars Jedi: Survivor that ultimately offered me the most pleasure. It’s open world design, it’s soulslike-y combat and some truly gorgeous visuals kept me coming back, night after night, until I’d completed everything it had to offer, rewarding those who stick with it past the story with some truly excellent lore nods. That’s why Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is my game of the year, 2023.

Yeah, I know. I get the feeling this probably wasn’t on my bingo card this year as my favourite game but here we are! To be completely honest, I absolutely adored Spider-Man 2. Insomniac brought a terrific story with wonderful characters back once again and turned it up to 11, with some fantastic set-pieces and visual flair unlike anything that we’ve seen before. The swinging as ever was delightful – with the added option of flying without wings but with wings – and I got completely suckered into the story.

By the end, as I’ve mentioned on the podcast, I don’t think the story ended much differently than the first game and the ending felt soft and unearned, but everything leading up to it was dazzling. I had a huge smile on my face throughout and there was so much excitement in the last half hour which felt epic in scale and glorious in execution.

Spider-Man 2 is without a doubt my game of the year, but I’ve had a weird year. I haven’t played a huge amount of games and I wish I had experienced a few more so I could have broadened my choices but ergo, the simple fact is, however straightforward this choice may be, I stand by it. I can’t wait to see what’s next from Insomniac – whether it be Spidey 3 or Wolverine – and I’m pumped for more Miles Morales. There’s so much more to explore in his story and I have every faith in Insomniac to bring it once again.

Let there be carnage.

Well, the year started off with a bang with the release of Hi-Fi Rush on Xbox, a reveal was shown at some game event with some world premier exclusive voice bellowing out before hand. What I saw blew me away, a 3D hack and slash platformer played to the rhythm of music! I had to have this game! The bad news was that I didn’t own an Xbox at the time.

A week later, I purchased an Xbox and downloaded Hi-Fi Rush. What I was treated with was a tour-de-force for the senses. I’ve never played a game that had me grinning from ear to ear the entire time. I didn’t care if I died, I’d just happily go again and again, enjoying every rhythmic slam, jump, punch and special move.

Those who know me know I’m a bit of an impatient grump when it comes to gaming (and life for that matter). If I get stuck, or die too many times, I just give up (ask any Assassin’s Creed or Souls game) so for me to buy a console to play a game that was harder than Muhammad “I’m hard” Bruce Lee is testament to how damn good this game really is. The design, the timing, the colours, characters and the entertaining and genuinely funny script all deserve praise, but most of all the developers Tango Gameworks need a pay rise or something because they have worked pure gaming magic here.

It’s been a year that’s been different for me due to various circumstances I’ve been able to play more games than I usually would, in a year with all the amazing games you see on this page, that one of the first games I played this year is still my game of the year is no mean feat.

I think I ended up foreshadowing my final decision for Hogwarts Legacy to be my GOTY in my own review of the game when I claimed it was already an early contender.

February seems to be a bit of a magical month of releases in game history recently, we’ve had the likes of Elden Ring, Horizon Forbidden West, Dying Light 2 to name but a few, drop in that month in the last few years.

Hogwarts Legacy ended up having no nods in The Game Awards this year and that surprised and saddened me. Despite being shrouded in controversy due to she who will not be named, the game itself was a feat of wonder. Any HP fan would tell you that their pie in the sky game would be a Harry Potter open world game. Portkey Games, in my eyes, delivered this. It’s an extremely difficult task to create a world within an already beloved universe without involving any of the characters from the original story and still be a big hit among the fan base. Many try to have to spin off’s in the same universe in television series. We see it all the time and 9/10 times it’s a swing and miss.

Hogwarts Legacy is the one in ten that didn’t. Yes when there’s so much time behind a world there will be some things not everyone’s in love with, but come on. Exploring beyond the brickwork of Hogwarts, flying across The Great Lake and trudging into the forbidden forest is and was a wonderous experience that many have craved for so many years.

The visual art, the attention to detail; from the wand wielding to potion crafting to wearing your favourite ensemble outfit. Being in a Harry Potter house has become somewhat of a personality trait in the last ten years and Hogwarts Legacy allows you to embody and don it proudly.

Whilst I have played many fantastic indie games this year (honourable mention to Dredge and Dave the Diver), I can’t possibly not tip my wizard hat to the experience I’ve yearned for for many years in Hogwarts Legacy.

Just like the reanimated Necromorph creatures that terrorised our younger years, Dead Space was resurrected for the modern age in January. The return to the USG Ishimura was wonderfully – and terrifyingly – nostalgic, with masterful spatial audio and a nerve-shredding score reminding us of why this title was held in such high esteem.

More impressively, the team at Motive Studio revitalised the entire experience with fantastic additions and welcome improvements. Despite my qualms, voiced Isaac felt like a surprisingly faithful inclusion. Overhauling the design of the ship to accommodate backtracking, fast travel points and new items or areas of interest was brilliant, while losing none of the immersive appeal of the original vision.

Even stripping away the welcome content additions and phenomenal graphical redesign, Dead Space is just a superb video game. The tension is notched to 11, the combat is gratifying, gory and visceral, the scares are expertly crafted and the story has been fleshed out to match the limbs you’ll be dismembering at will.

In a year comprising a slew of ridiculously high quality games, Dead Space was the one that got the ball rolling at the beginning of 2023 for me. I’ve played dozens of titles this year, but just like Isaac and the Marker, I just can’t get its captivating influence out of my mind. Game of the year in 2008 and now 2023? Dead Space is some game.

I was going to go with Resident Evil 4, but that’d be too predictable, and we already know it’s great. Instead, I’ve gone for something that tickles my retro pickle: Sea of Stars.

Sea of Stars is an Illusion of Time/Secret of Mana-inspired JRPG. Well, JRPG-lite, if you will. A throwback to retro stylings with a combat and inventory system on par with a Paper Mario, Sea of Stars ticks all of the nostalgia boxes for me.

It’s got a somewhat standard framing, fated heroes and all that, yet does add some modern twists in there too. Couple that with some great and funny writing (especially the pirate that calls out tired RPG tropes) and you’re on to a winner. That, and it looks beautiful in a simplistic way.

It’s from the team behind The Messenger, another game I will praise from the rooftops. So, expect the attention to detail and sharp writing from that in Sea of Stars, and you’ve got my game of the year. I might even finish it one day too, who knows.

I was already a massive fan of the team at Mimimi Games, and had I played them or been here at Finger Guns in prior years, they might have already had a GOTY from me. Shadow Tactics is one of my faves of an entire generation. So for them to bow out as a studio this year, and with their best game to date was a tragedy and a blessing all at once.

Shadow Gambit The Cursed Crew manages to bring cursed pirates and the stealth genre together in such harmony, you wonder why it hadn’t been done before. Bringing Mimimi’s signature saving mechanics into the centre of an adventurous tale of high-seas plundering and magical stealth abilities was an inspiration. And it was incredibly fun, relentlessly replayable, bursting with options, freedom, abilities and top-notch quality. It’s also the one and only game that earned a full 10 from me this year, so it was a shoo-in for my GOTY pick.

Nothing else has had me quite so entertained with a fun story and quirky characters, quite so enthralled with meticulous planning, or quite so satisfied when I clear a map or find that tiny chink in between overlapping viewcones to exploit and bring down a whole island full of badduns. It’s glorious gaming at the absolute pinnacle of the stealth and real-time tactics genres alike.

It is with a bittersweet argh/aww that I bid farewell to the great ship Mimimi. I wish every developer on that team success in future, and I hope it’s easy to follow their endeavours and contributions to future games from other studios or a new reborn studio.

If you’d have told me this time last year my game of the year would be a puzzle game in 2023, I’d have thought I was trapped in the Dark Place, with my very own Mr Scratch playing all the video games in my place. Fortunately enough, it has actually been me, and this year more than ever has been the most games I’ve played but the least I’ve finished.

One game I finished the multidimensional hell out of, was Geometric Interactive’s debut, Cocoon. With Jeppe Carlsen at the helm who previously designed Limbo and Inside for PlayDead, the pedigree of execution was tangible from Cocoon’s reveal trailer – despite it making no sense at all. I’m not a puzzle guy, as my anecdote suggests, so the concept of travelling with multiple worlds on your back was palpably daunting.

Cocoon is an isometric puzzler where you assume the role of a cicada-like creature born into a desolate world. Multiple worlds are all contained inside these orbs that you can carry on your back to power up machinery to progress or travel between, layering worlds within worlds by placing the orbs inside. Can you see why I was intimidated? Upon playing, however, I was absolutely floored by the game’s execution.

Puzzle games with a truly unique concept usually come with a few technical issues, but this is the most flawless debut I have ever played. The game is unbreakable, the puzzle mechanic of using the orbs to power up platforms, doors and other dimensions is exceptionally intuitive, the story is aloof but impactful and the audio/visuals are otherworldly. If I wasn’t playing it, I was thinking about it, visualising the mechanics to beat the puzzle I was stuck on which rewarded me with incredible a-ha moments. Cocoon, simply put, is a perfect game and isn’t just game of the year for me but an all-timer.

If you had asked me a couple weeks ago, I would never have been quite sure what to pick this year for my Game of the Year. I’ve played a few titles, including some big releases such as Starfield which is unusual for me, and there have been some really good strategy games released as well such as Age of Wonders 4 and Xenonauts 2 which are both stellar entries this year. My feelings on the matter have changed, however, and a very recent release has seated itself uncontested at the (golden) throne of my game of the year; Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader.

An incredible story woven from the very fabric of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Rogue Trader is a sprawling RPG which is a triumph of storytelling and an authentic, rich and deep experience. Despite the (many) bugs, Owlcat Games have quite possibly made my favourite game of the last several years, never mind just 2023, and I cannot wait to see what they do with the game moving forward.

I’ve played multiple games this year that could’ve been Game of the Year, like Baldur’s Gate 3, Hi-Fi Rush, and Lies of P; I was at a loss because I had at least five genuine contenders for the title. And then Alan Wake 2 launched, and my choice was cemented.

Alan Wake 2 was my most anticipated game of 2023, and not only did it meet my expectations, it surpassed every single one of them.

With 2019’s Control, Remedy established that each of their franchises connects into a shared universe, with that game having an expansion that laid the groundwork for Alan Wake’s Return. The way that Alan Wake 2 toys with the idea of that shared universe is a core of its narrative, and it handles it flawlessly. It takes massive risks with its storytelling in a way you don’t see in most AAA games. It’s also hands down one of the best-looking, most atmospheric games I’ve ever played.

Combat is tight, single enemies pose a genuine risk, and with resources being much more scarce than the action-focused combat of its predecessor, choosing to engage in combat becomes more meaningful.

This is Remedy Entertainment firing on all cylinders. It’s an utter triumph in every department. When I rolled the credits, I knew there was no other choice but this. Alan Wake 2 had to be my Game of the Year.

So yes, it’s been quite the year and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be slowing down at all. Why not join the team for an extended Game of the Year chat on this weeks Finger Guns Podcast?

To 2024. See you there? You bet.

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