Stuart Scott
Games Developer
Senior Lead Designer

  • Category
  • Date

    3 March

Games of the year 2023

These are my top 10 games of the year for 2023. It was a standout year full of impressive new releases, but that doesn’t prevent games from previous years with post-launch updates appearing on my list. Sadly it was also a year of increasing layoffs across the industry, making 2023 a memorable year for games and those who make them for many reasons – good and bad.

Honourable mentions

In a year packed full of strong game of the year contenders it was always going to be difficult to find the time to play them all. These are the games I didn’t get much time to play in-depth before the year drew to a close, but what little I did play left a good impression – many of them I’ll be playing into 2024.

  • Baldur’s Gate 3
  • Cocoon
  • EA WRC
  • Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II (DMZ mode)

Now in ascending order, here are my top 10 games of the year for 2023.

10. RoboCop: Rogue City

When RoboCop: Rogue City appeared on the Steam Next Fest in the form of a free demo I thought I would give it a try. RoboCop versus The Terminator was one of my first games on the Sega Mega Drive, and I’ve not been this excited about playing the lumbering cyborg law keeper since I was a kid.

From the off, the demo was clearly hitting close to the mark with its returning characters and dystopian Verhoeven tones established in the original 1987 RoboCop film. Walking head-long through the hostage crisis presented in the game’s opening mission, with bullets harmlessly bouncing off my metal body as I violently dispatched the punks and with the RoboCop theme music swelling to a crescendo… this was everything I expected from a RoboCop game. So imagine my surprise when the game eventually opens up into the mundanity of regular police work around the station precinct – albeit with the darkly comic and bizarre incidents present in this world.

The presents a story that builds on the events and locations of the first film, with the level designers and artists showing a good attention to detail in recreating some of the film’s locations. This story is frequently interspersed with unexpected side quests and engaging characters which often prove to be the highlight.

With its comprehensive progression system, and overall enjoyable shooter experience this game turned out to be a great surprise which kept revealing more beneath the surface of this game at each turn. In that sense, it’s a brilliant companion to the original RoboCop film which showed the underlying humanity of Murphy beneath the surface of his gleaming cyborg armour.

9. Aliens: Dark Descent

Aliens: Dark Descent is another game that provides a brilliant companion to its original 80’s movie inspiration: Aliens. This franchise has seen many more games set in its universe compared to RoboCop, including Aliens: Fireteam which featured in my games of the year 2022 thanks to its multiplayer experience.

My Games of the Year 2022 video that featured Aliens: Fireteam in the Multiplayer category.

However, not since the fantastic Alien: Isolation has a game set in this universe encapsulated the true terror of the Xenomorph. Where Alien: Isolation focused on the individual survival horror present in the Alien film, Aliens: Dark Decent recreates the misplaced Colonial Marine bravado of Aliens that quickly gives way to panic and chaos as the squad faces a growing infestation of Xenomorphs on the planet surface.

In this top-down, real-time tactics game you must command a squad of Colonial Marines through labyrinthine compounds, avoiding patrolling Xenomorphs and rescuing the remaining inhabitants before the nest is alerted or your squad succumbs to the stress of the mission.

In many ways this game is riffing on the X:Com formula – a series I consider one of my favourites – complete with base upgrades and squad member progression. What it lacks in polish or visuals it makes up for in its real-time gameplay and mechanics that synthesise the terror and gadgetry of the Aliens universe into some truly gripping and engaging experiences. It’s a fantastically tense game of defensive strategy and pushing through the odds, using every tool at your disposal to complete each mission – or retreating to the dropship with whoever can make it as you lay down suppressing fire.

8. Dredge

Dredge offers some similar moments of deciding when to push through the darkness to risk it all for potential rewards, or retreating to the nearest harbour to wait for the dawn light to dispel the eldritch horrors of the night. The vibes in this game are one of its biggest appeals, and as the game reveals its story of forlorn life on the treacherous waters it pushes you to face these horrors head on in the pursuit of unravelling the mysteries of the sea.

Negotiating your humble shipping boat through the various island biomes and open waters is often serene, interspersed with moments of excitement at a new discovery or terror at the unexpected, particularly during night time. The fishing mini-games are similarly serene yet engaging enough to provide a fun challenge that helps them feel rewarding each time you land a catch.

The game is very open to players from the outset who can freely travel anywhere they feel brave enough to explore. The main limiting factors being the wealth and resources the player can accumulate which they use to upgrade their ship and improve its health or inventory space. Consequently in my play-through I spent a lot of time upgrading my ship before exploring the other major islands which had the effect of undermining the challenge and tension from the mid-point of the game onwards.

Nevertheless, Dredge was a brilliant game that presented a compelling world of fishing discoveries and cult mysteries that was great to regularly pick-up and play on the Steam Deck.

7. Grounded

After an early-access release in 2020, and the full release in 2022, Obsidian Entertainment’s Grounded continued to see updates through 2023 and it was at this time that I picked up the game to play with my partner and friends. What started as an initial curiosity and nostalgia for the clear movie inspiration for the game, quickly became an enjoyable co-op experience of discovery and hijinks.

Two children in an over sized garden are miming holding binoculars and looking at each other.
‘Peeping’ friends in the over-sized garden of Grounded.

The miniaturised fantasy and garden setting created a familiar, yet obtuse survival game experience that required a lot of experimentation and exploration to decipher the many crafting recipes and materials. However, this also contributed to frequently enjoyable discoveries that opened up more possibilities for playing in this world together that kept us returning night after night for weeks.

Although this type of survival progression system is not unique to this game, the setting provided a more compelling experience for us, and there is probably something to be said for eventually completing our personal goals of taking on the game’s spiders that for the longest time sent us running in fear. By the end of our time with the game we had established a vast network of zip-lines that spanned every corner of the backyard – thanks to the copious amounts of spider silk we were now able to collect unperturbed by the once fearsome spiders.

6. Dave the Diver

A cynic might look at Dave the Diver and say that it’s just taking the popular aspects of many other games and throwing them together to create its aquatic spin on the farming game. While not a wholly inaccurate assessment, there is an unmistakable craft and attention to detail in Dave the Diver that makes the collective offering of mini-games and familiar mechanics a brilliant package.

Much like the game’s culinary maestro, Bancho, who combines typical ingredients with a pinch of the unexpected to produce enticing sushi dishes, Dave the Diver takes these common gameplay staples and layers them to present a game loop that constantly invites you to play just one more in-game day.

The artwork and audio design really helps elevate the experience to provide a wonderful mix of chill vibes and wonder as you explore the depths of the ocean that is occasionally punctuated by brief encounters with new aquatic life – not all of it friendly. Returning to the surface, the restaurant management provides a different pace of gameplay as you create the perfect menu and serve your customers, eventually hiring staff and researching upgrades to remove some of the tension of the early game.

A restaurant with many diners waiting to be served sushi by the player.
Managing the dinner time rush in Dave the Diver.

This was a brilliant game to pick up and play in small morsels, or enjoy as a full feast during a longer gaming session. Dave the Diver is one that I still dip into every now and then on the Steam Deck when I’m looking for a low stakes yet engaging game on the go.

5. Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

As a follow-up to Breath of the Wild, Tears of the Kingdom was always going to have a high bar of expectations to overcome to be considered a success. The team at Nintendo evidently took this challenge literally and built on the success of Breath of the Wild by adding a whole new world among the clouds above the familiar Hyrule from before – that’s one way to overcome high expectations.

The team didn’t stop there though, providing a vast underground world to explore as well as reinventing the Sheikah slate powers to suit this much more vertical and expansive sandbox world. It’s in these new powers that the game really shines as an excellent toy that rewards creative solutions and experimentation. At times it feels like the player has access to developer cheats as they transport themselves vertically through the ground at the touch of a button using Ascend.

Other powers such as Fuse address complaints about weapon durability from Breath of the Wild, giving players a mechanism to combine elements in the world to make weird and wonderful improvised weapons with ease. Ultrahand gives the player the power to manipulate objects and fuse them together to create contraptions to navigate the world or solve puzzles with modular machinery components.

I only spent a little time playing Tears of the Kingdom this year, but the level of quality and design expertise on display was evident from the outset. It’s hard to deny that Tears of the Kingdom has surpassed the high bar of Breath of the Wild, in part by building directly on what made that game so successful. It’s only due to my limited time with the game that it sits at my number 5 for this year.

4: Darkest Dungeon II

In 2017 I spent a lot of time with Darkest Dungeon on PC; steeped in its dark vibes and punishing difficulty, it was a somewhat masochistic relationship that would continue when I picked up the game on Switch a few years later.

With the release of the sequel this year, I was once again eager to jump back on-board for this new challenge with familiar characters in a re-imagining of the roguelike structure of the original game. Moving out of the confines of the dungeons of the first game, Darkest Dungeon II takes the band of misfit adventurers on the road in a stagecoach, avoiding ambushes, helping civilians and doing battle with cultists and eldritch horrors.

This change is more befitting of a traditional run-based roguelike and removes a lot of the complexity in managing deep rosters of adventurers to ensure that you can field a group to complete the next excursion. However, there is still plenty of depth and strategy in defining your roster for each run which often applies modifiers that encourage you to adapt on the fly and experiment with new rosters or loadouts.

The combat and punishing escalation of stress on your characters is also refined from the first game, ensuring that the experience still hits the same punishing challenge as before with some new surprises and mechanics. Thankfully the frequent failed runs are now less exponentially punishing as each loop resets your roster with the lessons and items from previous runs to put to good use next time.

One of the best additions to the game are the character memory events which must be completed to unlock new skills for your heroes. In what is one of the finest uses of mechanical storytelling I’ve seen, these events present scenarios from the hero’s past in the familiar combat mode that have your characters perform actions to tell their backstory. It’s a fantastically inventive method of telling these stories in an agentic and engaging way.

A woman attempts to placate her drunken husband. The player has an option to poison his drink.
Gravedigger Audrey dispatches an abusive husband during her memory event in Darkest Dungeon II.

Given my deep enjoyment of the original, I was initially sceptical that this sequel could present something new and interesting in the Darkest Dungeon world. In shifting the format and structure of the game the team at Red Hook Studios may have smoothed off some of the spiky edges of the first game that made it a particular favourite of other masochistic gamers looking for that extreme challenge. For me, they’ve refined everything I enjoyed about the first game and the new additions here are still providing that hook that keeps me cursing the failed fortunes of my heroes before setting off another run with excited anticipation.

3. El Paso, Elsewhere

I didn’t know a thing about El Paso, Elsewhere when it released in September, but upon hearing Max Payne – one of my all-time favourite games – mentioned as inspiration for the game it immediately piqued my interest. Sure enough, from the first moment with El Paso, Elsewhere I felt like I was playing as Max, albeit by his new name of James Savage, shoot-dodging through doorways, chugging painkillers and monologuing at every opportune moment.

It was pure distilled Max Payne gameplay, presented in an ethereal dream structure of vampires and the end of days that actually reminded me of the weird, sporadic vibes of Hotline Miami. This was heightened with the music that would mirror the pace and crescendo of the action to give the experience a great rhythm as each level flowed from one to the other. This was also complemented with some great needle drops as the sequences ratchetted up in the story.

A man in a hotel corridor armed with 2 pistols fires at vampire ghouls rushing towards him.
Dual-wielding and ‘slo-mo’ gunning monsters in El Paso, Elsewhere.

And then there is the story – one of love, breakups and self-reflection told brilliantly through some great performances by Game Director Xalavier Nelson Jr. as James Savage and Emme Montgomery as Draculae. It was a deeply effecting tale that embodied the joy and pain of being open with someone you care for and the fallibility of relationships that were never meant to be.

El Paso, Elsewhere packed a powerful punch for me as a fantastic homage to some of my favourite gaming memories from the 2000’s, but also surprised me with an emotionally resonating story and performances that made the whole game fascinating at every step.

2. Hitman World of Assassination (Freelancer Mode)

I consider the latest incarnations of the Hitman series to be some of the finest games in recent years. This has been reaffirmed with the release of the Freelancer Mode and the rebranded World of Assassination collection that brought the 3 previous games under a single umbrella of Hitman goodness in 2023.

Freelancer feels like the perfect culmination of everything that the current series has been building towards, creating a whole new experience for players new and old to interact with the systemic playgrounds of the previous games. I was so fascinated by how the team at IO approached the creation of this new mode by repurposing the design and mechanics of the base games to produce a gameplay experience that was fresh, yet familiar.

My design analysis video of Hitman’s Freelancer mode looking at how IO repurposed their design concepts to create the new mode.

The result was a highly replayable and enjoyable experience that also gave me a deeper appreciation of the foundational design and systems of play in the Hitman games. The Hitman series is definitely one of my all-time favourites and this collection of games will continue to be something that I will happily play again and again for years to come.

1. Viewfinder

As highly as I regard Hitman World of Assassination, my number one slot for game of the year 2023 had to go to the brilliant puzzle game Viewfinder. Where Hitman was a fantastic iteration and collection of previous games in the series, Viewfinder was a surprising, innovative, and compelling debut from a small team that deserves to be recognised for its excellence.

The game is a finely honed package of mind-bending puzzles that has you playing with the reality of your surroundings through a blend of 2D media in a 3D space. Each collection of levels in the game’s story introduces you to a new way of viewing and manipulating your surroundings to make progress through its simulated worlds.

Playing with each new mechanic is quick and easy to intuit, and the escalation of how these toys need to be combined to navigate the obstacles in each level is inventive and highly rewarding to discover. As you begin to feel that you have stretched the limits of what it is possible to do with the current mechanic, the game moves on to another set of levels that provide a fun new toy to play with. This ensures that the experience is engaging throughout, but also manages the complexity of the puzzles presented to the player ensuring that the solutions are never too intangible or debilitating to the player’s progress or enjoyment.

The laid-back aesthetic of the game has an element of wonder and idyll, often presented by the calming AI companion, Cait, who guides the player on their journey through these virtual worlds in the guise of a smiling cat. This idyll is juxtaposed with the dark underpinning of the game’s story, which has you navigating this simulated world in the hope of discovering the secret to revitalising the Earth’s plant-life in the wake of a climate crisis. This was a deeply resonating story that reveals itself through the data and journals left by the simulation’s creators as you draw closer to the solutions hidden in the research program.

Viewfinder was such a wonderfully enticing game to play together with my partner, pondering over the puzzles and marvelling at the inventiveness and pure creativity on display. It was a technical work of art and the whole experience was a joy from start to end. A thoroughly deserved and memorable game of the year!

A virtual cat sits smiling on a bench next to a watermelon.