Xbox has had a surprisingly quiet start to 2023, with only a handful of surprise gems making a real impact in the broader video game scene. But if you look beyond the disappointment of Redfall, there have been some very good releases on the platform – led by the vibrant and stylish Xbox and PC exclusive, Hi-Fi Rush, which stole our hearts earlier in the year.
And between excellent third-party multiplatform releases like Dead Space, Resident Evil 4 Remake, Dead Island 2, and Diablo 4, there’s certainly been plenty to keep Xbox players occupied.
Over on the PC gaming front, there’s been a blistering kick-off for 2023, largely helped along by a phenomenal array of independently-developed games with unique storytelling twists and fresh takes on genre traditions. Between both platforms, there’s been a buoyant array of excellent and worthwhile adventures.
Here are the best Xbox and PC game releases of 2023 so far.
Our Top Picks
‘The undercurrent of Dredge is impressively ominous. The eldritch undertones only lightly brush the surface of the game, leaving enough of a mark to give you a faint sense of what might be going on, but not enough to let you in on the secret, let alone burden you. There’s some incredibly tantalising worldbuilding here – your conversations with various townsfolk and inhabitants of the world, as well as the writing that decorates items, events, and things you come across in the world are brief but evocative. Enough to keep you hooked. Enough to keep you going.
Dredge is a masterclass in atmosphere, worldbuilding, tactile mechanics, and game flow. Like all good sinister stories, by the time you get to the end of the line, you might wish you had never kept going. But in Dredge, it’s impossible not to.’
Lego 2K Drive
‘Lego 2K Drive manages to demonstrate a real sense of personality in a genre that has long been controlled by big, prestigious names. With the talent of Visual Concepts behind the wheel, this adventure slides onto the scene as a fully-formed, and surprisingly beautiful journey – with plenty of opportunities to explore its Legofied world at length, in great races and rivalries.
At times, the game devolves into weirdness, but that’s part of its charm. As a colourful and creative entry in the racing game genre, it’s bursting with fresh ideas that keep its engine humming with every boost-powered turn.’
‘Many people on social media have remarked that it feels like a video game from the late 1990s and early 2000s that’s somehow made its way to the modern age, something that would have felt right at home on the Sega Dreamcast or Nintendo GameCube – and they’re absolutely right. The vibrant art style and attitude are in-line with games of the time like Jet Set Radio.
Maybe it’s because it’s the right time for 2000s nostalgia. Maybe games have been long overdue for a title from a major publisher that feels so carefree and exuberant. Maybe it was just nice to get a really good surprise to kick off the year. Whatever the reason, the existence of Hi-Fi Rush is a blessing. It’s a game that’s easy to love, difficult to put down, and just an utter delight to spend time with. What a great way to start 2023.’
A Space for the Unbound
‘For being a game inspired by small-town life (specifically Surabaya, where Mojiken Studio resides), A Space for the Unbound doesn’t shy away from its roots, nor does it parade them with overly complicated descriptions and explanations. It’s unafraid to just be Indonesian, and trusts you to either roll with it, or Google the words you might not understand.
A Space for the Unbound only looks pixels deep, but it is a masterpiece for its breadth of storytelling, its authenticity, and how it tackles difficult topics, from cultural expectations to mental health. As the game ended, it left me with a beautiful feeling of closure, accompanied by a hankering for cherry-chocolate-flavoured cake and Indonesian food.’
‘Dead Space (2023) has hung on to the lessons of the original Dead Space well, with the vast majority of what’s new here being a completely overhauled visual engine, a deeper and more intricate approach to sound design, and minimal changes overall to the layout of the Ishimura itself.
It can’t be overstated just how much a Dead Space remake always seemed like a sure thing, and after my time with it, that perspective hasn’t changed. It’s easily one of the best modern horror games, and the fresh lick of paint to really bring its grimy, snarling interpretation of sci-fi horror into sharp new relief is very welcome, especially when it maintains such faith in the source material.’
‘The storyline of Diablo 4 itself is captivating, with main characters well fleshed-out, and the cinematics visceral in their visual and sound design in a way that at times made my skin crawl, amping up the feeling of fear and urgency in bringing the world to equilibrium once more.
Diablo 4 is a behemoth of a game, boasting a gothic world that goes beyond the engaging hack-and-slash gameplay loop, and brings Sanctuary well and truly to life. With the joy of constantly discovering new and exciting little details, quests, and locations on my journey, Diablo 4 might’ve converted me from game abandoner to completionist.’
‘Slow pacing, while uneven, is deftly deployed in the game’s opening to draw parallels between childhood freedom, and the realities of adulthood. Meanwhile, flashbacks form a mystery backbone that heightens each of the game’s quieter moments – when The Only Child Club goes cloud gazing, or fishing. Even in these moments, there’s a pressing sense of time running out.
Minimalism breeds great impact in this adventure, with a sparse narrative approach allowing the game’s inner mystery to grow deeply as the corners of its story darken. Its lack of interactivity renders players largely as passive observers of an unfolding tale, but this powerlessness strengthens Varney Lake. As summer dies, you can only watch in horror as each story beat unfurls.’
Resident Evil 4 (Remake)
‘Knowing the original game well, a good deal of the enjoyment I had was seeing both minor and more obvious deviations at work. The remake purposely messes with the expectations of those who know the game inside and out.
This contributes to a deeply satisfying reimagining of the classic game. The Resident Evil 4 remake features several smart choices that help it feel true to the original, but also shapes the adventure into something that overall feels more cohesive, modern, and thrilling than ever. It’s a stellar example of how to revitalise a classic.’
‘Terra Nil is a contemplative experience, providing food for thought about our own climate situation. While it’s naive to assume that everyone will pack up everything and completely re-terraform the planet for the benefit of nature any time soon, Terra Nil serves to put nature at the forefront of your mind and in its design.
Even though it’s described as a reverse city-builder, I’m inclined to describe it as the anti-city builder, too. By its very nature, Terra Nil shows that games in the genre don’t need to be focused on rampant urban expansion to be engaging.’
Shadows of Doubt
‘A few rough edges don’t prevent Shadows of Doubt from being incredibly unique, interesting, and utterly enthralling.It’s a game that manages to pull off a level of depth and complexity of simulation in the service of generative gameplay and storytelling that few other games have even attempted, and without any smoke and mirrors, too – it simply does the thing at an incredible scale.
When the inevitable conversations about the most innovative games of 2023 begin to happen, Shadows of Doubt will be the first words out of my mouth.’
Dead Island 2
‘Dead Island 2 is a satisfying, perpetual cycle of gory combat, and its sunny surroundings are just inviting enough to keep that momentum going.
Like a music video, that extraneous colour and flavour don’t really need to make complete sense. Both are an attractive but ultimately cursory facade for the flesh and blood of Dead Island 2 – the constant, thumping blur of feverish hacking and bashing, of gore and viscera, that all swirl together in a cocktail of extreme queasiness. Dead Island 2 is fulfilling in that respect. By the end, it leaves you teetering on that precipice between wanting a little more and feeling satisfied enough. And that’s a good place to be.’
Honkai: Star Rail
‘With the knowledge of how Genshin Impact handles its ongoing content, there are some pitfalls that Star Rail might still run into – the ancillary gacha of farming for items to find one with the right stats and substats you’re looking for will likely rear its punishing head, once the game and the players hit more advanced strides. But as this genre of mobile game becomes more refined, perhaps a more relaxed version of these games will become something the playerbase can accept as well.
Honkai: Star Rail is just that – a beautiful and highly appealing game to be played while waiting in line or while commuting. And there’s certainly something romantic about escaping your own boring train ride in exchange for the Astral Express, voyaging through the stars, planets and the great unknown.’
Street Fighter 6
‘In allowing you to actually hit the virtual streets, Street Fighter 6 opens itself up to exploring a whole new philosophy about its existence, exploring the reason why we fight and work to get stronger. In doing so, Street Fighter frames one-on-one fighting not as an antagonistic or violent act, but one of collective self-improvement. Jumping into World Tour or the Battle Hub online is exciting, and uplifting. Their paths are lined with positivity, neon graffiti, and catchy uptempo jazz and hip-hop tracks.
Street Fighter 6 is an exceedingly good fighting game. But more than that, it’s an excellent training tool. It’s a fulfilling adventure. It’s a lively community gathering place. It’s an endearingly idealistic and inspiring world of appreciation for martial arts and friendly competition, exceptionally executed in every respect.’
Planet of Lana
‘The story requires observation and is told (almost entirely) without dialogue, text or explanation. Some questions will remain unanswered. Apart from one song, which is pretty, but jarring because it’s in English, the only words you will hear are Lana giving commands to Mui, either spoken aloud, or whispered urgently when danger is near. The ending relies on your understanding of what these few (imaginary) words mean, learned by repetition. The story is elegant, rich and cleverly told.
I thoroughly enjoyed Planet of Lana, from the nauseating chomping noises when Lana and Mui get eaten (again), to the many more aesthetic details that are also mechanical, like how Mui can run slightly faster than Lana, and so can be used to push a further away button, as well as to bound away joyfully, towards an interesting secret.’
Harmony: The Fall of Reverie
‘It’s not surprising when you look at how much experience DON’T NOD has in creating story-rich games, but the depth of narrative and level of choice is tenfold here. There’s an abundance of context and backstory to delve into, characters to converse with, and complicated topics to unpack.
Harmony: The Fall of Reverie near-expertly combines rich storytelling and detailed decision making to create an epic tale of worlds colliding. Behind the beautiful exterior, there’s a fully actualised universe with exciting mechanics, compelling story arcs and characters truly worthy of your emotional investment. If you put in the work, it’s an experience unlike any other.’
System Shock (Remake)
‘The System Shock remake feels both quaint, a primitive product of an earlier, more innocent era, and cutting-edge, keenly attuned to a mode of player-centric design that is back in fashion. Attitudes towards its defining qualities have come full circle. In its willingness to embrace systems-driven immersion and its reluctance to heavy-handedly guide the player, what was once celebrated as complex and granular, then derided as convoluted and obtuse, is now once again met with acclaim. In this sense, it’s a game whose moment has vanished yet one that has never felt more relevant.
It helps that the source material was ahead of its time. By paying the 1994 original the utmost respect–retaining core systems, quirks and all, while changing on peripheral aspects entirely for the better–Nightdive Studios has rebuilt a classic game into something significantly better.’
‘In Amarantus, anything can happen. I don’t mean this in a Game of Thrones kind of way, like a main character being suddenly toasted by a passing dragon. It’s more like you’re playing dolls with a friend, have eaten too much sugar and are ready to go all the way off script.
The goofy animations also add to the feeling that I’m playing dolls with a particularly silly friend. This story may be her favourite to enact, over and over, but I have no idea what crazy twist she’ll introduce next time, just that she’ll properly let me make decisions, too.’
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