I easily spent five hundred hours playing new video games this year. In that time, I discovered many personal favorites, some potential all-time favorites, and found myself invested in genres I had reflexively avoided in the past. Despite this, I’m hesitant to call 2023 a great year for gaming. The games were great, the times were fun, but it’s more apparent than ever that this industry is in dire straits.Read more: Jon’s Top 10 Games of 2023
Nine-thousand people have lost their jobs this year through several waves of layoffs and studio closures across dozens of companies — some of which even occurred the week leading up to the holidays. Budgets have ballooned to grossly irresponsible amounts, making profits ever harder to achieve. All the while, executive salaries remain larger than most industry workers could hope to earn in a lifetime, and billions are pushed into corporate mergers.
This industry exhibited both a relentless lack of humanity and horrid fiscal irresponsibility throughout the year making it a conflicting time to be someone who enjoys video games. I can’t shake the feeling that the industry — at least on the AAA side — is in for some sort of reckoning. The house of cards that the industry is built on will collapse sooner or later, and I fear for the rank-and-file workers who will be the first to suffer as the foundation buckles.
While the business of the game industry left me with mostly a bad taste in my mouth in 2023, the light in the darkness proved to be the games themselves, many of which sought to push the industry forward creatively in different ways. The effort, drive, and vision apparent in these titles served as constant reminders of the humanity inherent to them — a desire to create a work of art and share it with the world. A drive to create video games, even when the industry doesn’t seem to care about you. There are few things as human as the creation and sharing of art.
The industry doesn’t deserve these people; they’re too good for it, and I hope one day the powers that be wake up and realize that. I figure the least I could do to honor these people and their works is catalog the titles that truly made my year.
10. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 (PlayStation 5)
It’s not incorrect to say that Spider-Man 2 is more of Spider-Man (2018) with a few more bells and whistles, but that’s not entirely a bad thing. The combat and stealth are as solid as ever, and Insomniac sets a new standard for web-swinging gameplay that succeeds on two fronts: Enabling you to go faster than ever before, and allowing you to fail in hilarious ways à la the physical comedy of Toby Maguire’s Spider-Man thinking he’s got the whole web-swinging thing down, before hilariously slamming himself into a billboard. It confidently delivers on being the open-word Spider-Man simulator.
9. Final Fantasy XVI (PlayStation 5)
While not a perfect game by any means, Final Fantasy XVI is one that I’ve frequently thought of throughout the year since beating it. I remember it for its over-the-top combat, its mindblowing setpieces, its stellar score composed by Masayoshi Soken, and the memorable performances of its central cast. It’s not just these individual components I dwell on, but how masterfully the game brings them together throughout its runtime to create some magnificently moving moments.
8. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (Nintendo Switch)
When I play this game, I am amazed. I’m awestruck by both the systems and physics at play within, and even moreso at what it allows you to get away with. “I can do that?” was a refrain I uttered internally many times while playing, and I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible.
Tears of the Kingdom is an absolute feat of an open-world game. It reuses largely the same map from Breath of the Wild, but hardly feels like a rehash. Within the first few moments of hitting Hyrule, you recognize the passage of time and how the land has changed — even flourished in some parts — since the events of the last game. Its layout is the same, but it feels like a new Hyrule. It’s like when you revisit your hometown after moving out of your parents’ house. You know the area well, but it’s clear that a lot has changed since you’ve left. Nevertheless, it’s good to be home.
7. Resident Evil 4 (2023) (PC, PlayStation, Xbox)
Resident Evil 4 is arguably the best action-focused Resident Evil that Capcom has developed — a statement I believe holds true whether you’re talking about the 2005 original or the 2023 remake. I feel both reach equal amounts of greatness in different ways.
Like the original, the remake took hold of me and would not let go when it launched in March of this year, compelling me to play it five times in a row before spending hours in its time-attack Mercenaries mode. As I write this, I’m inspired to reinstall it just to immerse myself in its dynamic combat system once again — maybe even for a sixth playthrough (maybe even a seventh).
6. Dredge (PC, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, Xbox)
Fishing in video games is a traditionally relaxing experience; a usually optional pastime that can net you some extra in-game items while providing some personal satisfaction. But not in Dredge. Here, fishing is not a pastime but your job — a dangerous one at that. Your jobsite, the sea, is rife with Lovecraftian horrors that will drag you down to the sea floor if you’re not careful.
Dredge is simultaneously captivating and repulsive. Its mysterious setting and story compelled me, its horrid aberrations disgusted me, and the monsters lying in wait scared the hell out of me at times. All said, after selling my haul of fish and getting my ship suped up at the shipwright, I never hesitated to sail back into the game’s corrupted waters. I just can’t get enough of the nervous thrills this oppressively moody game provides.
5. Super Mario Bros. Wonder (Nintendo Switch)
Super Mario Bros. Wonder is a breath of fresh air for 2D Mario games, which have almost exclusively consisted of New Super Mario Bros. sequels and re-releases since 2006. As expected for a 2D Mario title, the game is a pretty wonderful platformer built on some rock-solid foundations that go decades back. It can be a frustrating, difficult experience — especially in some of the later levels. But the game always feels fair. Your failures are deserved, but so are your successes, which make the latter feel all the more great when you finally earn them.
The new art style makes the game a joy to look at, especially when the game takes its style to extremes during the Wonder Flower segments. Veteran Mario composer Koji Kondo’s score also goes hand-in-hand with the visuals; the game is a feast for both the eyes and ears. The only negative thing I have to say about Wonder is that by the time I put it down, I hated that there wasn’t more to play.
4. Street Fighter 6 (PC, PlayStation, Xbox)
Street Fighter 6 is the game that got me into fighting games, and I have to commend it for that. I have very surface-level experiences with Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, and a few other big-name fighters from time spent playing any game under the sun that I could as a kid, but I think this was the year I finally understood fighting games — or at least Street Fighter.
I’ve spent 130 hours playing this game. I’ve climbed the ranks to Diamond 1, learned the nuances of classic controls and motion inputs, hit the lab when I plateaued, and have had countless memorable matches filled with both great wins and embarrassing losses. No matter the result of a match, I always had a blast competing against someone, learning something about my playstyle in the process, and improving where I could. It’s been a while since I’ve played a game with the intention of continuously getting better at it. Street Fighter 6 reminded me how much fun that could be.
3. Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon (PC, PlayStation, Xbox)
FromSoftware’s decision to revisit its bread-and-butter franchise from before Souls games took off has given rise to one of the year’s best action games. Armored Core VI is fast-paced, ruthless, and unapologetic — it asks that you respond in kind with your own brand of unrelenting violence. I think that’s what I love so much about it.
There’s a lot of narrative substance to chew on, too. The story deals directly with a lot of heavy themes: Exploitation of land, displacement of people, revolution, ethics in science, war economies, etc. I still think a lot about how many of the game’s battles are set in cities that you or your enemies can easily destroy in the course of combat — and the congratulatory messages you get from your handler once your mission is completed.
2. Baldur’s Gate 3 (PC, PlayStation, Xbox)
Baldur’s Gate 3 is a triumph of a video game. I knew this game was going to be something special from the moment my under-leveled monk shoved an unsuspecting swamp witch into a bottomless pit, bypassing a boss fight entirely. That’s a microcosm of what Baldur’s Gate 3 is all about: Open-ended gameplay and creativity in problem-solving.
What’s even more stunning is how this game somehow accounts for virtually every choice you make in its narrative. This game is an all-around tremendous feat, and I feel lucky to have been able to experience it firsthand.
1. Alan Wake 2 (PC, PlayStation, Xbox)
There has not been a game, at least in the AAA space, in the past 10 years that has demonstrated half of the storytelling ambition that Alan Wake 2 proudly puts on display. For years, the industry has sought for games to be more “cinematic,” and an unfortunate byproduct of that has resulted in some games over-relying on cutscenes or other non-interactive elements in telling stories — “movie games,” if you will.
Alan Wake 2 is a game that is proud of its medium; it confidently believes that embracing interactivity is the key to unlocking the medium’s untapped storytelling potential. Alan Wake 2 is the best story that has been told in the past 10 years of video games. Full stop.