Jump Dash Roll's Best Video Games of 2023
And so we bid farewell to 2023. A year which saw a tremendous number of fantastic games released at the same time as multiple studios faced closure or were forced to lay off staff. The industry both boomed and busted simultaneously, and nothing symbolised this more than the demise of E3 after almost three decades. It wasn't the only big news this year. With Microsoft buying Activision Blizzard after protracted legal wrangling, Unity temporarily imploding after trying to strongarm developers into paying more (ultimately failing, with the scalp of the CEO offered in penance), and Epic beating Google in an antitrust battle, the scene is set for a very interesting 2024.
But let's get back to this year and, more importantly, the games which ticked our boxes. There are many, and they all deserve a place in this list. More importantly, it's wonderful to see such a stellar mix of games from both AAA developers and indie studios. Long may it continue.
While there were plenty of top indie and AAA games released this year, the casual market shouldn’t be overlooked. One title proved that you don’t need to gouge players with microtransactions for them to have an enjoyable experience (although they exist if you want them), nor did it skimp on making the most of its licensing. That game is Marvel Snap, a collectible card game for PC and mobile released late 2022 and based around the simple idea of using Marvel characters – using a deck of twelve built from hundreds – to amass more power on two of three locations than your opponent.
It’s typically played over six rounds, unless a location effect makes it more or less (hello Time Variance Authority and your damned pruned timelines). Each character has an energy cost to play it, and associated power, plus maybe an effect. Hulk is just brute power, Thanos has his rings and Wolverine can’t be destroyed. Building a deck with synergies across it, to give an advantage in-game is great fun, as is the climb to infinite ranking each month. With new cards every week, and month-long seasons, the game keeps people engaged. It’s changing all the time, which can be frustrating, and the devs often break things way more quickly than they can fix it, but it still works. Now, please excuse us whilst we go and use our Thanos Lockdown deck with support from Loki and Professor X…
For sheer depth, breadth and utter commitment to making a truly playable D&D video game, nothing can hold a dancing light to Baldur’s Gate 3. Larian Studios took almost three years of Early Access feedback from its players to craft an RPG experience which dares bravely, and mostly succeeds. The game is fully voiced which, given the sheer number of characters and NPCs, is simply staggering to comprehend. Add into the mix a wonderful selection of companion quests, plot threads both big and small which spanned its three acts and some familiar faces from the previous game, and the result is a testament to fan service that will sate almost every roleplaying appetite.
Though the momentum tapers off as the main story progresses, the dynamic combat is a joy to play. Near party wipeouts avoided by a last roll of the digital dice prove to be as memorable as anything that the story beats offered. This is a developer starting to really hit their stride off the back of two great RPGs, so we can only imagine what their next offering might be. In the meantime, fans of the original two Baldur’s Gate entries and newcomers alike will find much to love in this threequel.
Did we need a remake of a fifteen-year-old game which is already considered a classic? Dead Space answers that question with an emphatic “yes”. This isn’t just a remaster with updated visuals, although the graphical update courtesy of the Frostbite engine certainly doesn’t hurt when it comes to depicting the horrors on board the USG Ishimura. No, EA Motive went further and gave the protagonist — Isaac Clarke — a voice. In doing so, the entire game becomes immediately attractive even to those who’d explored every nook and cranny of the original. You now control a character with thoughts and feelings, rather than some mute extra who’d wandered into an Alien set. His actions matter, and as such, they matter to you.
Other plot tweaks and gameplay balancers help to hone Dead Space into the game it was always meant to be, although the standout feature is the dynamic intensity director, which promises a unique playthrough of random events to keep you on your toes, no matter how many times you played through. As space horrors go, Dead Space is yet to be toppled — and this year’s polished upgrade only cements that position.
Ready or Not
It’s no small secret that, for better or worse, there are certain topics that video games don’t discuss: The United States’ mistreatment of veterans, mass shootings, the actual effects of the War on Drugs, and anything relating to the abuse of children. These aren’t just things that the industry collectively considers taboo to bring up, they’re things that will get a title an adult-only rating if the folks at the ESRB aren’t in an especially good mood when they look a game over. It’s effectively a miracle, then, that Ready or Not — a game where you play as an officer with a Special Weapons and Tactics Squad who has to stop a mass shooting, raid a child porn studio, clear a cartel tunnel and go on 20-odd missions that all discuss very serious issues through amazing environmental storytelling — managed to get released at all.
But what’s even more of a miracle is that the game is not only good because it addresses societal problems in a way that isn’t edgy or in your face, but that it’s without a doubt the definitive tactical first-person shooter on the market. With its hyper-advanced and realistic AI, phenomenal gunplay, amazing audiovisual design, and great levels well…we can’t say that we necessarily enjoyed playing through the title because of how bloody depressing and emotionally draining it is, but we can say that we firmly believe it’s a near-perfect game that advances the industry in a way that literally no other piece of interactive entertainment has before, and one that we’ll be very reluctantly booting up again once we feel like drinking ourselves to sleep and engaging with some stupidly good shooting mechanics.
We here at Jump Dash Roll will, based on our initial coverage of Cyberpunk 2077, be the last people to admit that back in 2020, the game was not exactly great. But because everyone else has already admitted that was the case, we’re fine with saying in hindsight, well, yeah, the title left a lot to be desired, the bulk of which we overlooked because of its phenomenal narrative. But y’know what? With the launch of Phantom Liberty, and its accompanying Patch 2.0, literally every single issue with Cyberpunk has been addressed, and now not only is it the game it was always destined to be based on pre-release trailers, but is without a shadow of a doubt one of our favourite RPGs of 2023 (and, depending on which one of our reviewers you ask, of all time).
The expansion’s star-studded cast and interesting narrative, when accompanied by a whole host of gameplay improvements and bug fixes to the base Cyberpunk 2077 mean that, at least for the foreseeable future, we can not only see ourselves spending a lot of time in Night City, but also comparing every roleplaying game we play to CD Projekt Red’s shiniest crowning jewel.
Visual novels have always existed in a somewhat strange space within the gaming industry. The medium, somewhat obviously, exists almost solely because it allows players to interact with game worlds instead of reading about them or seeing them in film, and so titles that don’t allow you to do that to any real extent are a little bit off-putting to say the least.
But Torn Away, a visual novel wherein you play as a little girl trying to survive World War Two, isn’t off-putting because it lacks any real gameplay. It’s off-putting because it has a story that depressed us in a way that we thought was only possible after watching All Quiet on the Western Front. That may not sound like praise, but trust us when we say that it is when it comes from a reviewing staff who really like to analyse anti-war sentiments in video games, and hate how much they love depressing video games that make us question real-world events.
Okay, look, there’s no good way to say this, so we’re just going to say it: the modern multiplayer first-person shooter genre in video games fucking sucks. The likes of Battlefield, Call of Duty and Halo are effectively live-service garbage that have anti-consumer mechanics, mediocre gameplay, bugs and features that nobody ever asked for, and that’s assuming that they’re even playable at launch…which many aren’t.
So, it’s somewhat ironic that Battlebit: Remastered, a game in Early Access, is not only more polished than Modern Warfare III, but is also a much better game overall despite being made by three developers. Even setting aside how it doesn’t have microtransactions or anything that could be vaguely considered to be predatory, it’s still one of the best multiplayer FPS games to launch in recent memory. By taking the core elements of the likes of Battlefield 4 (fully destructible maps, tons of guns and gadgets, an in-depth levelling up system and character classes), and adding proximity chat, it’s without a doubt the most fun way to kill and consequently teabag teenagers in a virtual environment, and is also the way our reviewer who covers shooters sees himself spending many, many more nights as the game continues to be updated at a regular pace.
Some of us here at Jump Dash Roll love Soldier of Fortune Magazine. Don’t get us wrong, we’re well aware that it’s a disgusting pro-military propaganda publication, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not fun to flip through an issue of it while enjoying an especially cheap alcoholic beverage and daydreaming about becoming a mercenary and/or while looking at fully automatic firearms online.
And Jagged Alliance 3 is the video game version of doing that, except instead of browsing our online gun store of choice, you play through an assortment of levels in an open world with turn-based combat that’s arguably better than Baldur’s Gate 3. Does that make it one of the best games of all time? Of course not. Does that make it one of our favourite CRPGs of the year because we’re a bunch of somewhat weird people who only occasionally fantasise about leaving our lives behind and donning berets in the jungles of some made up foreign country? Absolutely.
Video games, unlike books or movies, are, in our humble opinion, the best entertainment medium because regardless of how much brain power you have on a given day, you can always find a title to enjoy. If you live an easy life and have more energy than a sugared-up 12-year-old, there are plenty of games on the market that let you expend that energy either by engaging in high-stakes shooting or going on an adrenaline-filled adventure. If you’re a white collar professional who is mentally exhausted after a long day at work, you can always play the likes of Counter Strike to unwind. And if you are, like some of our writers, a perpetually underpaid and overworked working-class individual who rarely has the energy to do more than boot up your favourite shooter and drink beer until you pass out, there’s Starship Troopers: Extermination.
Although the horde-based first-person shooter doesn’t reinvent the genre’s wheel, or do much that Left 4 Dead didn’t do a decade ago, it was our favourite way to zone out and rattle off lines from Robert A. Heinlein’s jingoistic masterpiece/Paul Verhoeven’s misunderstood classic while we mindlessly killed bugs and consumed plenty of Guinness this year. Don’t get us wrong, that may not make it one of the best video games of all time, but after playing the bulk of the games on this list, it was a superbly welcome addition to our list of video games that we only play when we had an especially tough day in the not-office, and that’s only somewhat in part because it never forces you to use a throwing knife in a nuke fight.
In our humble opinion, the gaming industry has been a tad too serious as of late. For as great as the likes of The Last of Us or Spiderman 2 are, sometimes you just want to boot up a first person shooter that lets you turn your mind off as you gib goons with guns without worrying about whether or not those goons had families or what the moral repercussions of you killing them are. And since Doom: Eternal, fans of single-player-only first-person shooters haven’t been able to do that, at least not really, and even if they could in whatever their favourite boomer shooter was, that boomer shooter almost certainly wasn’t half as good as Trepang2.
The title, much like the aforementioned iD Software IP, has all of the hallmarks of a phenomenal FPS: super-satisfying gunplay, strong level design, great graphics, a solid soundtrack, and a somewhat serious storyline. Although it doesn’t redefine its genre by any means, that’s also not a bad thing by any means; Trepang2 is amazing both as a spiritual successor to F.E.A.R and as the latest and actually greatest “mindlessly using a shotgun against satanic cultist” simulator, and proved to be the most enjoyable title we played this year that didn’t require us to think about anything but when to press the reload button.
At this point, we think it’s fair to say that we all know The Last of Us is one of the best video games ever created. It has a deeply gut wrenching narrative, phenomenal visuals, a great cast of characters, and perhaps most importantly of all, solid gunplay that combines stealth, shooting and resource management in a way that actually makes sense for a title that’s set in the end of the world. The game has won more awards than our site has given out since we were founded in 2018, and anyone who wants to argue that The Last of Us didn’t deserve all of those is clearly a contrarian who very likely has more hot takes than you can shake a Twitter thread at.
So why are we giving it an award this year? Because it launched on PC, and…that’s all we have to say. The port of the game does literally nothing different than it did when it was ported to PS5 except allowing players to play with a keyboard and mouse, but it doesn’t need to; it’s still one of one of the few titles that almost everyone can agree is the pinnacle of the medium, and at this point, if Naughty Dog released a version of it for a smart watch, we’d still give it a 9/10 and tell you to buy it, because it’s just that good.
A splendid collection of games to pick through, then. Looking back, it's crazy to think that these were all released in a single year. Hopefully the industry shake-up and uncertainty around jobs won't affect next year's release schedule too badly, but it certainly feels like a lot of the stellar titles we saw in 2023 came through despite the odds. We're crossing our fingers that 2024 will prove just as brilliant, and with games including Hellblade 2, Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, Still Wakes The Deep and Little Nightmares 3 all planned to hit digital shelves, it may well be.
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