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The Comenian

The student news site of Moravian University

The Comenian

The student news site of Moravian University

The Comenian

Comenian Game awards 2023

Photo courtesy of Make a Gif
Photo courtesy of Make a Gif

2023 was a year of many ups and downs for the gaming industry. On one hand, this year saw some of the highest-quality games we’ve seen in the last decade. On the other hand, the industry has experienced mass layoffs across the board despite record profits across the entire industry. 2023 was a fantastic year for game releases, but the industry itself has undergone some troubling growing pains. So, while we may celebrate the amazing games that came out over the past year, it ultimately feels like a pyrrhic victory due to the tremendous loss that has come to the people who made these games and are struggling to find jobs in this market. 

That said, 2023 was an all-time great year for new games, with consistently great games coming out at every corner. It is very rare to find a year where it is legitimately difficult to say which games were the best because 10 other games are just as good. This year had some truly special releases, with many setting the industry standard for years to come. Without further ado, these are The Comenian’s 2023 game awards!

Best soundtrack: Alan Wake 2 

This year saw fierce competition for the best soundtrack. From the relaxing melodies of Baldur’s Gate 3 and The Legend of Zelda Tears of the Kingdom to the haunting synthetic tunes of Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty, this year showed some fantastic soundtracks to grace the ears of gamers. Ultimately, we have to give this to Alan Wake II. This soundtrack is incredibly diverse, with tracks that range from pop, electronic, and indie to metal, emotional ballads, and even Viking shanties. This game even has a 15-minute-long rock opera dance number. The soundtrack is not only excellent, but it is baked into the very fabric of the narrative with each song representing an aspect of the characters and their development through the story. It’s rare to find such an engrossing and varied soundtrack that leaves a strong emotional impression long after the credits roll. In particular, Poets of the Fall knock it out of the park with the myriad of songs they produced for the game under the fictional moniker of Old Gods of Asgard. 

Best Direction: Alan Wake 2 

Alan Wake 2 blew us away with how it was presented. From the beautiful “We Sing” section to the unsettling short film that you can watch, there is no shortage of expert direction in this game. The developers, especially under the creative direction of Sam Lake, put every bit of care into crafting this gem, and it shows. We especially like the juxtaposition between Saga’s campaign and Alan’s campaign. Despite both dabbling in darkness, they had their own unique identities, which made us feel like we were playing two different games mashed together. This game also incorporates multiple modes of storytelling. The mixture of live action within the game is nothing short of extraordinary. The game also upends your perception of horror. You shouldn’t be scared of what’s in front of you. Rather, you should be scared of the unknown. We think that the game was made in a way that perfectly encapsulates this psychological horror, which just goes to show that the developers were constantly thinking about making this game the best it could be.

Most Surprising Game: Baldur’s Gate 3 

Baldur’s Gate 3 was a game that flew under most people’s radars. Hardcore fans of Larian Studios have been hotly anticipating this release ever since it went into early access years ago, but the final release brought mainstream attention that even Larian was not expecting. This game performed well beyond all expectations and broke numerous sales and concurrent player count records on Steam, and garnered universal critical acclaim. No one expected this game to be as big as it is, and we certainly didn’t expect this game to be as good as it is. Baldur’s Gate 3 is clearly one of the shining stars of 2023 because of its intricate and well-designed gameplay, along with the highly mutable narrative that is excellently written while also allowing the player to determine the trajectory of the story. This game exceeded any and all expectations and continues to do so to this day with its steady stream of new content updates that range from quality-of-life updates to improved reworked story elements.

Most Disappointing Game: Fire Emblem Engage

How do you manage to take a follow-up to the best game in a particular series and produce something that fails to reach almost every aspect of its predecessor? Fire Emblem Engage, despite being a beautiful-looking game (for switch standards), was a disappointment in every sense of the word. Not only did the writing bore with its predictable plot and mediocre character development, but the game never hit any highs, at least compared to Fire Emblem Three Houses. To go from a game that forced you to consider the consequences of choices in an unstable political climate to a game that has a tedious story that drags on for too long is wildly upsetting. While the gameplay produces a golden opportunity to try different builds and experiment with characters, it sometimes gets a bit overwhelming, leading to some players just not using features to their full potential. It may not be fair to compare both Nintendo Switch Fire Emblem games; however, it can’t be ignored that Fire Emblem Engage, ironically, doesn’t keep us engaged. 

Most Underrated Game: Alan Wake 2 

Now, you may be saying, “What the heck? This game was showered with praise and awards,” and you would be right. Alan Wake II undoubtedly was a critical darling but we feel that this game did not get the attention it deserved amongst the wider gaming community. In a year where titans like Spider-Man 2, Tears of the Kingdom, and Baldur’s Gate 3 took over the industry, it feels like Alan Wake II has been left in the dark (pun intended). In a time where every creative industry is wrought with trend chasers and corporately mandated sludge, Alan Wake II is a shining beacon of light that gives us hope that there is still room for true authorship. As great as this year was, a lot of the games played were very safe, with pretty conventional stories and gameplay design that built on stuff that was already there. Alan Wake II, for lack of a better term, is out of this world. At every corner, this game pushes the boundaries of what a video game story could be. For its impressive strives for innovation and creativity, Alan Wake II is a game that many more gamers should experience to see the untouched potential that this artform has to offer.

Most Overrated Game: Spider-Man 2 

Sorry, Spider-Man fans, but it’s true: Spider-Man 2 is far from the best game of 2023. Out of any frontrunner, this was the least deserving of the coveted “Game of the Year” award. Don’t get us wrong, this game is great, and we gave it a 9/10 but there are a litany of problems that hold it back from reaching its full potential. The Achilles’ heel of this game is its unfocused narrative, which has a lot of excellent ideas for commentary that aren’t given the proper time to develop. In a sense, this game is very much just more of the same as, it just reinforces what already worked in previous games. As it stands, the game is still unfinished, with significant bugs in the later portions and no new game-plus mode. This game just needed some more time in the oven. 

Most Innovative Gameplay: Tears of the Kingdom 

Tears of the Kingdom caught us off guard with its ultrahand ability. We were truly shocked when we came to realize the potential of structures and vehicles that could be built with it. It, coupled with the fuse ability and recall ability, made for some really impressive and sometimes goofy moments. You could build a tank and watch as it obliterated anything in its path, or you could make a giant stick and use recall to have it smack around overworld bosses as you pose for a picture. While much gameplay was carried over from Breath of the Wild, the new aspects were truly fantastic, especially for the environment it takes place in. With a multi-layered map with no loading screens and physics that stumped developers, this game continues to stand as Nintendo’s magnum opus. Even today, we still see photos and videos of people making awe-inspiring things, which is something we hope is here to stay.

Best Game For Rookies: Mario Wonder

For those who are new to gaming, Super Mario Bros. Wonder is a great place to start. While it may not have as many fundamentals as other modern games, it introduces many concepts and gameplay elements that can be found in gaming. There are a lot of segments in the game that include different elements, like action, platforming, rhythm, etc. It also allows you to play with friends and family, which is a nice way to get comfortable with multiplayer. You’re even able to play with random people online, giving you a glimpse into the communities that can spawn from different video games. While other games released this year are objectively better, Super Mario Bros. Wonder provides the perfect entrance ramp for anyone who may be new to gaming as a whole.

Most Meme-Worthy Game: Baldur’s Gate 3 

Baldur’s Gate 3 might very well be the funniest game ever made, both intentionally and unintentionally. This game is half an engrossing fantasy drama and the other an off-the-wall comedy that will leave you slapping your knees and cackling like a hyena. In this game, you can kick trash-talking squirrels, be turned into a roll of cheese, and have … uh … let’s just say intimate relations with a man who may or may not turn into a bear. Beyond that, this game’s cast has some of the best comedic delivery you will ever see, especially when your party is feeling a little silly *wink wink nudge nudge*. The sheer amount of possibilities this game presents just naturally lend themselves to hilarious moments born of the player’s own choices and curiosity. 

Best Gaming Moment: We Sing

Sorry GTA VI, We have to give this to Alan Wake 2. Early on in the game, players are treated to a 15-minute musical rock opera straight out of a Broadway play. To say this moment is unexpected would be an understatement. This game is masterful in building suspense and tension throughout its runtime and leaving the audience questioning what will come next. For the game to shift from an oppressive and suspenseful horror to a goofy dance number sounds so ridiculous, so preposterous that it’s hard to imagine any creator actually thinking about pulling it o … wait, it works? Somehow, some way, Remedy Entertainment discovered the secret sauce to pull off this tonal shift while still feeling consistent with the rest of the game. Not only that, but the song itself is just awesome. It excellently recaps the first game and clues new players into the history of the character in a fun and interesting way while giving old players a blast to the past. There’s a reason this was performed at The Game Awards in a way it was always meant to be. This is one of those moments that should be recorded in the history books for accomplishing the impossible.

Worst Gaming Moment: Insomniac Hack

Without a doubt, the hacking and release of confidential information from development studio Insomniac Games was one of the most disastrous the industry has ever seen. There have been leaks and hacks before such as with GTA VI, The Last of Us Part II, and most recently, Suicide Squad Kill the Justice League, but no other has reached this scale and magnitude. The entire slate of games until 2032 was revealed, along with unfinished footage of the upcoming Wolverine game. Along with that, personal details and home addresses of Insomniac employees, both past and present, have been exposed through this hack. To say the least, this has been disastrous for the studio. A hack on this scale has never been seen before within the industry. While it’s awful that Insomniac was not able to show off their future projects on their own terms, the worst part of this is how the safety and security of talented and loving developers have been put at risk.

Best Narrative: Alan Wake 2 

This category is surprisingly hard to choose. Between fantasy epics like Baldur’s Gate 3 and sci-fi espionage thrillers like Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, 2023 was a year full of genre-defining narratives that pushed the boundaries of what stories could be told in this medium. That said, we believe that Alan Wake II is a revolutionary step forward for storytelling in gaming. It’s a mind-bending narrative that will leave you both confused and intrigued as to what will happen next. This is a game that is not beholden to specific genre conventions which makes the horror-mystery all the more engaging as you truly cannot tell what will come next. The intertwining stories of Alan Wake and Saga Anderson consistently push the boundaries of what a narrative can be by combining literature, film, music, and gaming to present a triumphant work of fiction that redefines what a AAA game story can be.

Best Performance: Cherami Leigh as V 

The performances in Baldur’s Gate 3 were fantastic, and Yuri Lowenthal really showed his range in Spider-Man 2, especially when he wore the black suit. However, if you’ve played Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty, you’d know that Cherami Leigh as V and Idris Elba as Solomon Reed were just on a completely different level. Idris Elba is truly an excellent actor, and he gave one of the best performances we’ve ever heard from him. However, Cherami Leigh just stands above anything we’ve heard in a video game. The amount of emotion she expresses, especially in the final missions, is unparalleled. In every instance, she portrays very human responses to what’s going on around her, which plays directly into one of the major themes of the game. The sheer amount of detailed fluctuation within her voice gives you the sense that Leigh put her all into this performance, and it paid off wonders. We cannot get over how Leigh responds in every situation, and she deserves to be praised for having one of the best performances we’ve ever heard in a game.

Best Expansion/DLC: Phantom Liberty 

Phantom Liberty is a great step forward with video game expansions. It could, honestly, serve as its own game. Taking place in a section of Night City called “Dogtown,” it follows V as they uncover an espionage-ridden government conspiracy. The story is fantastic. Not only are all the performances spot-on, but the missions never get too dull. If our engagement ever began to waver, there was always something that grabbed our attention back. Not only that, but the soundtrack is amazing. The credits song, titled Phantom Liberty, captures the feeling of each of the four endings perfectly. Speaking about the endings…they’ll really smack you in the face. We still think about the endings from time to time, as they force you to consider your place in the world and how you respond to authority. It pairs very nicely with the themes of the main game, which already had a lot to say. It’s no stretch to say the future game expansions should take notes on Phantom Liberty, as it elevates the main game extensively.

Best Adaptation: Last of Us 

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone not living under a rock and above the age of 12 (sorry Mario fans, go do your homework or something). HBO’s The Last of Us is one of the best direct video game adaptations ever made. So often, it feels like game adaptations are made by studio mandates and executives rather than lovingly created works that respect the original material. The Last of Us is one of the few to break this trend. This show not only lovingly adapts the original 2013 game that pioneered cinematic storytelling in video games, but it also expands on it in meaningful ways. By no means does it eclipse or surpass that original game, but the third episode alone places this show among the all-time greats of video game adaptations.

Most anticipated game of 2024: Final Fantasy VII Rebirth

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is going to take what was already established in Final Fantasy VII Remake and amp it up to 11. When remaking an already established game, and a widely beloved one at that, it becomes imperative that the developers stay true to the original while also expanding in a way that makes it feel like a new experience. The first game did a good job setting up the new world, but this game now has to take what was already established and run with it. Almost doubling the size of the party, introducing new lore and gameplay, and creating new locations are all aspects that the remake will include, which is not easy in a world most people have known. This game is shaping up to be a massive deviation from the original, and I cannot wait to see how the developers are planning to mix old with new. I truly cannot wait to get my hands on this game.

Biggest Takeaway of 2023: Single Player Games Are Here to Stay 

Take a look at what we said in this article. While some of the games we’re mentioning can be played in multiplayer, all of them, at their core, are single-player experiences that remind us just how important they are in the games industry. Deep narratives, exciting gameplay, and loads of content continue to be important when designing games. That’s not to say that multiplayer games are bad, it just goes to show that single-player experiences are stronger than they’ve ever been and that these experiences are not to be ignored in favor of mass online multiplayer games. We think this is an opportunity for developers to take notes. Multiplayer games are fun, but in many instances, single-player campaigns will just work better. The single-player experience lets us visit and swing around New York City, make choices that personalize the narrative, and explore a vast kingdom where the limit is your imagination. We see a bright future for single-player games, and I can’t wait for what 2024 brings!

Most Important Game: Baldur’s Gate 3 

This is a time when the games industry seems to be completely obsessed with unsustainable live-service games that try to gauge every last dollar from the pockets of gamers. This is now an industry where CEOs of large companies will have no reservations saying, “Get used to not owning your games.” For many, it feels like gaming is on a collision course and will quickly enter into a dark age because of the corporatization of the industry. Baldur’s Gate 3 is a rejection of all those practices. This is a 100+ hour-long turn-based RPG with incredibly complex mechanics that won’t be fully realized until dozens of hours into the game. This is a game that should not have become a darling and superstar of the industry, and yet it has exceeded any and all expectations. This game is a firebrand in the industry, breaking numerous records and becoming a critical darling. Not only does this game show that single-player games are not going anywhere, but it also shows that games like these are what gamers are clamoring for. Players are sick of battle passes, overpriced cosmetic items, and lousy nickel and diming that diminish the value of games.

Game of the Year: Alan Wake 2

After seeing all of our other awards, this should absolutely be no surprise. Alan Wake II is a game that reminds us why we play video games, and why we fell in love with the art form to begin with. This is a game that is so compelling, so innovative, so unique that we cannot even find a place to properly begin discussing this game. As great as 2023 was for gaming, most of the games played it very safely with relatively minimal innovation on what was already there. In that regard, Alan Wake II is completely different. It refuses to stay confined to specific genres or tropes and through its unique and innovative fusion of narrative, gameplay, and story, Remedy tells one of the best stories to ever be told both in and out of the world of gaming. After an agonizing 13-year wait, fans of the original finally have closure on that original game while new fans get a taste of what games with unified visions under one auteur can look like. Let’s also take a second to consider the amount of care that was put into this game. In every aspect, Remedy put its soul into crafting an experience that would have narrative significance in every aspect. That’s right, everything you experience in the game is directly tied to the narrative. It isn’t a stretch to say that Alan Wake 2 brings a new way to tell stories in media. To have a game that directly puts you, the player, into the role of a character is not easy, yet it works so well here. This game deserves to be praised in every way possible, and it’s why Alan Wake 2 is The Comenian’s pick for game of the year!

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