2023 is almost over, and there’s certainly an argument to be made that it may be one of, if not the best year in video games. That’s based on the number of quality games released over the last 12 months, of course, not the record-breaking number of layoffs – another area where it might also be a “winner.”
Because of the sheer number of game of the year contenders, thought-provoking indies, and smaller projects with unique mechanics or new perspectives, merely okay games that would’ve occupied more of our time in past years simply got overshadowed.
The list is entirely subjective, so this isn’t to say those games don’t have their fans. Some might even be playing one or more of them as they read this, but the point is that you’re more likely than not to hesitate to remember that yes, all those games did, in fact, come out in 2023.
So, without further ado, let’s get into it.
Forspoken – January
The reasons we remember Forspoken at all in December are all the wrong ones, but It’s very easy to forget that Square Enix’s latest high-profile failure was indeed released in January, 2023. It had somewhat of a last-minute delay last year (remember when it was initially supposed to come out around God of War Ragnarok’s launch?), so we tend to associate it more with 2022.
Forspoken is the sort of game that seemed forgettable just as it was revealed. The sort of game you have to wonder who it was really made for. I am not going to add to the overflowing pile of dunking on its outrageously off-putting, insincere dialogue – which by the way, did not start with Marvel – or its unlikeable protagonist. It just came across as a game that couldn’t do anything right.
Even if you could mute the dialogue and just play it for the action, Forsaken’s combat was just so busy, over-designed and lacked clarity. It didn’t help that it wasn’t especially fun or satisfying at its most basic terms, even before you get to the needlessly complicated character building.
So, let Forsaken rest in the bargain bin section of our collective brains, where it will inevitably be buried under far-better games, or the latest Final Fantasy.
Deliver Us Mars – February
I was a big fan of Deliver Us the Moon. It had a nice, compact narrative, and a clever twist. The game told its story well using what were sometimes wonky mechanics. I never felt like it needed a sequel, but I was still intrigued by Deliver Us Mars.
The follow-up just came and went without much fanfare. Coming out in a relatively busy February certainly didn’t help, and the worse critical reception it received (compared to its predecessor) was really the final nail in the coffin. In researching this piece, I genuinely couldn’t remember if Deliver Us Mars came out this year or last, and I doubt it’s on a lot of players’ lists of games to play over the holiday break.
Deliver Us Mars is a relatively short game, though, so perhaps it’s on your backlog already. It’s also the kind of game that really benefits from end-of-year sales, so maybe those will boost its stature a bit as we say goodbye to 2023.
Wild Hearts – February
EA has gotten pretty good at placing interesting bets, before quickly getting off the table the moment they don’t appear to be winning. That’s pretty much what happened with Wild Hearts, EA’s bold new take on Monster Hunter. Wild Hearts already started out with a lot of question marks.
It was published under EA’s Originals label, which has been mainly known for funding indie darlings and much smaller games. 2023 was the year that seemingly switched to, well, just any game the publisher saw potential in, regardless of size. Wild Hearts was developed by… a competing publisher, that being Koei Tecmo. The relationship of who’s responsible for which parts of the game and who owns what made it a little harder to predict what the future will hold.
Unfortunately, taking on something as beloved and well-established as Monster Hunter requires a lot of stamina, and though it was fairly well-received by players and critics (bar the wonky PC version) it was the first game in a young franchise, so its impact on Monster Hunter was always going to be slight.
When a newcomer takes a shot at a giant, it tends to stick in memory. But it’s clear that no one cared to stick with Wild Hearts long enough, and EA certainly appears to have cut its losses very quickly. Despite having been released in February, rumours of server shutdowns started appearing in September! At this rate, Wild Hearts servers may not even make it to a year, which certainly wouldn’t be new for an EA game.
Atomic Heart – February
It’s hard to believe Atomic Heart came out in 2023, and harder to believe it came out at all. Atomic Heart has been in development for so long it veered eerily close to vapourware status. Things started looking up for developer Mundfish after signing a publishing deal with Focus Entertainment, announcing a Game Pass release, and pencilling in a February, 2023 date.
Not even its developer’s controversial link to Russian state-owned companies (uncovered following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine), nor the fact that it never received ray tracing support, despite being one of the first ray tracing demos Nvidia used in its marketing all the way back in 2018 when the company debuted the RTX 20 Series GPUs, were enough to keep its memory alive.
What ended up releasing was, by most accounts, an OK first-person shooter that flirts with BioShock’s mechanics, and trades its Americana aesthetics for retro-future USSR. Oh, and a lot of awfully-structured, poorly-translated phallic jokes.
Atomic Hearts will live on as a game that knew it needed to wink and nudge, but kept making that weird face because it never knew how to do either.
Company of Heroes 3 – February, May on consoles
Company of Heroes 3 is the first game on this list to have two release dates, and fail to make an impact on either. One of the largest strategy and tactics series in the business deserves more than for us to question whether or not it came out in the year when it was released – twice.
It certainly deserves better than its Mixed Steam review rating and an okay, but nothing special 78 rating on OpenCritic. It is especially eye-opening when you compare its player numbers vs Company of Heroes 2’s on Steam, and the sentiment that game had vs CoH 3. Today, it’s another Payday 3 situation where the old game has more active players than the new one.
I will admit, I was never the biggest Company of Heroes fan. The games require a certain level of finesse, and an active tactical mind I simply do not possess. My RTS brain can only handle the Command & Conquer variety of ‘select all’ and attack. I know many others who feel the same way, so it’s worth keeping in mind that CoH 3 is a niche within a niche, but the numbers don’t lie.
The console release followed in May. We even did a sponsored video on it, where Connor and Jim seemed to enjoy themselves. But none of that really helped raise its profile in our collective mindshare.
One really has to question where Relic’s future lies. Owner Sega has already taken a financial hit when it cancelled Creative Assembly’s shooter, Hyenas, so the publisher sent CA back to the strategy game mines. With one strategy studio already established, and certainly more successful than Relic, I have to wonder what Sega has planned for it.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty – March
This is the one that perhaps hurts the most. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty was one of my most-anticipated games going into 2023. I played the alpha/beta like I usually do with Team Ninja games, and I was lucky to get access to the game ahead of release.
I wrote guides for it, and called it one of the most accessible Souls-likes. I even praised how the game does exceptional use of its limited levels by borrowing a page from the Elden Ring book, and doing it without an open world.
Despite all the (now expected) performance issues on PC, and the sometimes inconsistent difficulty, I very much enjoyed my time with Wo Long. Life got in the way and I never finished it, but I would definitely go back – especially now that it seems Team Ninja has made so many fundamental changes to gameplay systems, exploration incentives, and even added some endgame content.
All of that is well and good, of course, but it doesn’t change the fact that I – and many of you – forgot Wo Long was a 2023 game. March wasn’t that far off, and so many games that released during that month are very much still in the conversation today, but not Wo Long.
Crime Boss: Rockay City – March, June on consoles
Crime Boss: Rockay City is very much the game you may have hallucinated after trying a weird strand of weed a friend said would “take you places.” Unfortunately for us, it’s a real game that came out this year, twice.
Rockay City first launched in March on PC, before coming to consoles in June. Despite its cast having a cavalcade of many old and irrelevant celebrities, the game simply could not make a dent. Everyone just made fun of the poor writing, and the inexplicably bad voice acting (considering those names).
Rockay City’s gameplay was just poor man’s Payday, so there was never really any chance it was going to stick around. Though you and I may have forgotten it came out this year, or no longer remember it existed at all, developer Ingame Studios never stopped working on it. The game received both a Halloween update, and a Christmas update just recently.
My only question is, ‘why?’ Is there a Rockay City community out there that plays enough to justify it? You might remember Rockay City, but only because of all the fun we all made of it, and not because it’s a game that came out in 2023.
Crash Team Rumble – June
After the success of the N. Sane Trilogy, Crash 4, and the Crash Team Racing revival it felt like Activision was on somewhat of a right track with the series. At least, it seemed profitable enough to justify pulling developers away from the company’s all-in approach to Call of Duty.
A brand-new Crash game came out this year, however, that you likely don’t remember at all. It’s not a sequel to any of the recent games people loved, it’s something new that… clearly no one wanted. Crash Team Rumble only launched in June, and it’s a… competitive 4v4 multiplayer game about collecting Wumpa Fruit.
It has one foot in MOBAs, and another in competitive multiplayer games. Judging by its middling-to-poor critical reception, and the fact no one talks about it today. It’s fair to say this one was a failed experiment. And, yes, one you couldn’t convincingly say you remember actually came out in 2023.
Exoprimal – July
The modern Capcom has reached a level of success and fan adoration practically no major publisher has anymore. It’s even gone beyond anything the company previously achieved in its long and storied history. Sometimes, however, it can miss.
Exoprimal is Capcom’s latest new IP, a game that we’d seen plenty of before release – with betas, gameplay showcases at various shows; you know, the whole thing. It always looked fine. Who doesn’t like shooting dinosaurs for a few minutes and wreaking havoc on the environment?
It even launched into Game Pass, ensuring maximum exposure on PC and Xbox. And yet, it seemed like a non-starter from the getgo (maybe because it wasn’t a new Dino Crisis). Even at release, everyone was already wondering whether it had any staying power. It didn’t help that it was designed with a PvP component that many didn’t much care for. The game ended up getting an endgame PvE mode, and later offered a variant of its main mode without PvP, but still keeping the race for points against the other team.
You can easily find matches in Exoprimal to this day, so it’s not like this is a dead game. It’s just that it’s been overshadowed, sometimes even by Capcom’s stellar work elsewhere, like Resident Evil 4, Street Fighter 6, and even Monster Hunter Rise/Sunbreak’s Game Pass releases.
The game continues to receive updates, but I doubt it has captured enough of the mindshare to justify a sequel. And I very much doubt you remember it came out this year.
Atlas Fallen – August
This is another one that stings a bit. Atlas Fallen was poised to be Deck13’s biggest mainstream hit. The developer cut its teeth on niche takes on Souls-likes, with their quality ranging from poor (OG Lords of the Fallen), to pretty good in The Surge and its sequel. Deck13 decided to move away from Souls with its next project, the open-world action game Atlas Fallen.
From the very beginning, you could tell that combat was its core asset. The game had an interesting and unique combo system whereby landing more successive hits unlocks more moves or adds buffs to your character mid-fight. It always looked great in trailers, but the cracks started showing once you got your hands on the game.
One of the most popular complaints in Atlas Fallen reviews was that it suffers from the worst part of open-world bloat. You know, barren world, uninteresting quests, nothing to particularly chase or discover, and limited enemy variety. Sure, you could skate across the sand, but that, too, quickly lost its lustre.
Even the combat, the once-thought to be its ace in the hole, was itself a bit of a bust. It wasn’t precise enough to be satisfying, and it really needed more enemies than it had. It was also challenging in the wrong ways, with poor readability and inexplicable animation locks.
You have to remember, too, Atlas Fallen came out in August, a relatively quiet period in the summer, so it had a real shot. Suffice it to say, Deck13 deserved better, though I do wonder whether the studio will return to its Souls-like roots with its next project.
Fort Solis – August
You should never root for something you don’t like to fail, but Fort Solis was one of those games that, from the moment of its reveal, was very clearly a case of trying so hard to be headline-grabbing (star voice talent, big appearances on shows etc.) that you could see it vanishing from our collective memory the minute it’s released.
Fort Solis came out in August. I could tell that it was a game ashamed of being a video game, telling a story that’s more fit for a Netflix show (one you start and never finish). Reading the game’s reviews confirmed all my suspicions. Slow walking, plodding pace to a narrative that has little to offer, and gameplay that relies mostly on waiting around while actors, well, act – all the hallmarks of one of those.
You might find the term ‘walking simulator’ derogatory, but Fort Solis boldly goes beyond. Perhaps this new sub-sub-genre should be referred to instead as plodding or ambling simulator. No one cared about Fort Solis in August, and no one remembers it in December.
Forza Motorsport – October
Leave it to Microsoft to release two of the biggest games it ever launched in a single year, and have them both land with all the clatter of a wet piece of paper. Starfield, and the Forza Motorsport reboot both came out this year. The Starfield horse has been beaten to death (and everyone certainly remembers that game came out this year), so we don’t need to rehash that topic.
But Forza? Now, that’s a big bummer. Forza Motorsport came out in October, that’s just a little over two months ago, not exactly long enough to forget about. I could tell this was going to be a troubled launch from the constant delays, and how little gameplay was being shown ahead of launch.
Once we got very close to the October 10 release date, previews started coming out and it became clear just how forgettable this one was going to be. The game was clearly coming in hot, with such iconic mainstays like the Nurburgring circuit missing at launch, the seemingly late decision to drop split-screen, and the state of the PC version.
The on-track ray tracing Microsoft and Turn 10 made such a big deal about ended up looking nowhere near as good as the initial showings, mainly due to the much reduced scope of ray tracing in the final build – particularly when it comes to reflections.
Keep in mind, this is Xbox’s premier racing franchise, which really does not bode well for the next Horizon, or any other major franchise that’s getting rebooted – such as Fable, and Perfect Dark.
The non-annualised sports/racing block
UFC 5 – Oct
Did you know that a sequel to the not-very-popular UFC series from EA Sports came out this year? UFC 5 did indeed come out at the end of October. My first question when I saw that was, did we have a UFC 4? The answer is yes, obviously – this isn’t a Goat Simulator 3 situation.
But that reaction should really tell you why I don’t believe anyone remembers UFC 5 came out this year. It’s not that this was a stealthy release or anything, either; EA had been showing the game off in trailers and such since as early as the summer.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am the last person on Earth you could convince to watch MMA of any kind, so I am predisposed to not give a flying quack about an MMA game. But looking at how many reviews there are for UFC 5 compared to UFC 4, and UFC 3 illustrates quite clearly that interest is on a decline. Even turning to user reviews on MetaCritic, it’s clear significantly fewer players care about UFC 5 compared to UFC 3, and especially UFC 4 – though there’s an element of dogpiling in that case because of some terrible monetisation decisions.
So is it just a dying sport? Is it one whose audience just doesn’t have many gamers (vs, say, professional wrestling)? Am I losing my mind and there’s a sizeable community somewhere playing this game every day? Can you quickly tell me when UFC 5 came out without shifting your eyes to the top of this segment?
WRC – Nov
As a longtime Codemasters fan, I question the company’s decision to sell to EA in 2021 with every new game the storied racing house puts out. Codemasters releases used to be considered events, and though that prestige evaporated somewhat in recent years (before the sale), a new Codies game has always been worth paying attention to.
Consider the love the Dirt series has in the racing community. Dirt Rally 2.0, in particular, is perhaps the most realistic rally game out there, and yet it was recommended to me (a non-rally/non-sim fan) and to many others as the sort of ‘Dark Souls of racing games.’ It worked.
Now, Codemasters is part of EA. Dirt is dead, but EA has the official licence to WRC, so instead of that we get… another WRC game, that’s sure to join the yearly releases of F1 games, turning Codies into another exhausted studio forced to push out sequels of its games annually.
I knew the studio was working on a rally game with the WRC title, but it genuinely felt like it had come out in the summer or thereabouts and I missed it. It didn’t, it launched in November! Surely, such a recent release would have made more waves? I am sure the racing game community has its own takes on the game, and those Mostly Positive Steam user reviews and the generally favourable critical reception certainly tell me it’s worth playing, but what about people who only got into it with Dirty Rally 2.0, or even the casual fans who love the more accessible sub-series?
I do wonder, however, whether the cultural impact of Dirt and Dirt Rally is simply gone. Because if I have to check whether a Codies game came out in the year it did, something is not right.