Photos courtesy of their respective creators and publishers; photo illustration by Vulture
There has been a plethora of fantastic video games on PCs over the first half of 2023. Yes, some megatons like Bethesda’s Starfield are still out of range, however, spring and early summer have included, special indies; revered remasters; and long-gestating sequels. If you follow our advice, you’ll soon be commanding troops in World War II, racing through the streets of modern Japan in a Formula 1 car, and enjoying a bit of Hylian engineering with Link and Zelda. That, dear friends, is the best way to survive the summer heat.
The titles listed below are listed in order of most recent release date first.
We like independent games that are trying to do everything. Dave the Diver is an underwater adventure game with elements of a restaurant management simulator, a visual novel, and a 2-dimensional shooter. We are Dave, a plump scuba instructor who must guard his personal supply of sushi rolls. During the day, he fishes for bluefin tuna, and at night, he creates innovative maki rolls. Along the way, Dave becomes entangled in a ridiculous maritime conspiracy, which becomes more surreal and folklorish the deeper you delve, providing just enough framework to sustain some interest in the game. The game’s components seamlessly mesh to create an addictive feeling reminiscent of Civilization’s late-game grind. It’s now 3 a.m., but you’re not ready to quit saving and working until you buy that new oxygen tank you’ve been thinking about.
In the United States, Formula One is experiencing a boom right now. Family and friends are learning European surnames and obscure aeronautical details thanks to shows like Drive to Survive on Netflix. Perhaps it is not surprising that the primary video game spinoff of the company has become increasingly welcoming of newcomers. Braking Point, the game’s new story mode, puts players in charge of a rookie race car driver and his or her team as they attempt to make it big in the open-wheel racing world. Combine that with improved controls that make using a gamepad more intuitive than ever, and you might find yourself immersed in a serious racing simulation for the first time in your life (Mario Kart simply can’t keep up).
Amnesia: The Dark Descent’s emphasis on thick, spiralling anxiety revolutionised the horror genre in 2010. The gamer was little, frail, and constantly harassed by silent monsters; your best defence was to run and hide. The Bunker is the most innovative Amnesia game since the first, as it boldly departs from the series’ standard formula. In this First World War survival horror game, we play the role of a soldier holed up in a bunker to fend off a terrifying (yet light-sensitive) beast known only as the Beast. To keep the bunker functioning, we need supplies, which necessitates some resource management and an expedition to a series traditionally marked by long, frightening corridors. This is a huge step forward for Amnesia, proof that the inhabitants of this hellscape haven’t grown weary of it just yet.
Illustration by Blizzard Entertainment
Diablo III, a game that was widely criticised for being excessively colourful, was released more than a year ago. A couple of wandering patches of green garden were considered as an affront to the diehards because Blizzard’s grim series is covered in marauding undead, rivers of blood and tortured souls. The company finally released the sequel everyone had been waiting for. Diablo IV is one of the darkest video games Blizzard has ever created. In the name of loot, you’ll crawl through filthy dungeons to the sound of funeral dirges, slaying a mob of chattering demons with a single strike. Diablo IV has shifted direction slightly, taking the form of a true massively multiplayer online game, in which player characters can move freely about the world. Nothing brings people together quite like coveting someone else’s product. Even if it’s dark in hell, you might want to spend a long time there.
For a franchise that has never strayed too far from its minimalist game beginnings, Street Fighter 6 has taken on some formidable challenges. World Tour is an RPG in the vein of Yakuza in which you create a customizable protagonist and meet up with a variety of popular Capcom characters. This fits wonderfully with the new multiplayer beauty parlour, which functions like the capital city in a massively multiplayer online game. When you’re ready to rumble, you join the ranks of other up-and-coming Street Fighter players and take a seat at virtual (yes, virtual) game cabinets. None of these features would be useful if the basic fighting mechanics had lost their grace, and I’m happy to say that Street Fighter’s trademark nervy, pugilistic, feint-and-counterpunch magic is alive and well in the year 2023. In particular? With our new, simplified control scheme, even our arthritic thumbs can conjure up a Shoryuken.
The computer game System Shock is among the most important of all time. Released in 1994, at the height of the first-person shooter genre, System Shock stands in stark contrast to the schlocky-meathead run-and-guns of games like Doom and Duke Nukem. Instead, it is a patient, atmosphere-heavy endeavour in which a cold science fiction story slowly emerges through a mosaic of audio logs and text clippings. It has also, sadly, not aged well, so it is a true blessing that the remake auteurs at Nightdive Studios have actually assembled a to-the-studs conversion that replaces the clunky controls, doubtful voice-acting, and lightweight graphics with a sparkling modern sheen. The game’s ethos, it turns out, has always lived on. A new coat of paint was all that was needed for the video game.
Photo: Focus Features
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun is the polar opposite of System Shock, a first-person shooter so macho and sterile that it might have been plucked from the shelves of a video store in 1998. Boltgun eschews futuristic aesthetics in favour of a retro 2-dimensional sheen, a la a supercharged version of Doom. Your character is a Space Marine straight out of the Warhammer lore, and he or she is armed to the teeth with ridiculous weaponry like chainsaw swords and leg-length shotguns to dispatch the cretinous cosmic devils in their path. Boltgun does not feature a great deal of nuance, nor should it. This is a flashback for players who are sick with Call of Duty level grinds and empty battle royale battlefields. Take up arms and cause mayhem.
Breath of the Wild (2017) marked Nintendo’s full departure from the tried-and-true Zelda template in favour of a more grounded, contemplative experience in an open world rendition of Hyrule. There was no longer any need for Link to advance incrementally through dungeons by solving mechanical puzzles. Instead, once you’ve oriented yourself, you can choose a direction from the horizon and go explore. The expansiveness of Breath of the Wild is doubled by Tears of the Kingdom. There are floating islands in the sky and benthic caverns beneath the ground to explore in the sequel, and all of them can be reached by combining karts, flying gadgets, and hot-air balloons, all guided by an unexpected instinct. Twice in the past six years, Nintendo has reimagined Zelda from the ground up, and each time, a new classic has emerged.
In the early 2000s, the first Advance Wars campaign appeared on the Game Boy Advance as an entirely portable strategy game. You deployed an army of Fisher-Price-style tanks, planes, and soldiers over a grid-based battlefield, capitalising on your advantages and exploiting your opponents’ weaknesses according to the tried-and-true rock-paper-scissors formula that ultimately settled the turn-based combat genre. Restart Camp, available on Switch, pulls those two classics into the present day, allowing Advance Wars to once again dominate our train commutes and waiting-room visits. Does anyone get it? Maybe this year will be the year when Advance Wars 3 finally arrives.
Behaviour Interactive Image
Behaviour Interactive, the Canadian developer behind the absurdly successful horror-movie pastiche Dead by Daylight, has created Meet Your Maker, the company’s first full-throated new release since 2019. Meet Your Maker is an intimidatingly high-concept game, but Behaviour has earned a name for itself by creating inventive, unequal multiplayer devices, so no one should be surprised by this. You play as a robotic scavenger in a post-apocalyptic world where there is only one rule: loot other players’ bases. Those outposts are created by other players who have signed into the Meet Your Maker servers, so you can be sure they’ll have unique hazards like mazes and death traps set up for you. You will spend your time when not travelling working on an airtight, highly effective complex. Getting caught in someone else’s trap and having it inspire your own cunning ingenuity is hilariously childish.
Dig up is unlike any other video game ever made.A fishing management simulator with a shiny cel-shaded exterior and… a thumping sense of cosmic foreboding beneath? A video game in which the player must gather the ocean and resist the Call of Cthulhu? What? Find a way to dig up all the different strands and tie them together. You’ll experience the same kind of repetitive but ultimately rewarding work as in Stardew Valley or Spiritfarer as you faithfully transport cargo between ports and eventually outfit your ship with wonderful stuff. However, just like in those games, you’ll be kept hooked by an elliptical primary purpose. Obviously, the opposite of “dig down” is “dig up,” as you unravel the faults of this quaint New England archipelago. Take care with where you wet your hook.
The Homeowner Evil games from the 1990s were notorious for their rudimentary controls, tedious backtracking, and mind-numbingly convoluted puzzle design. Although it wasn’t easy, playing the franchise’s earliest antiques required an atmosphere that was terrifying, steely, and corporate-occult. In 2005, with the release of Citizen Evil 4, Capcom shifted to a modern over-the-shoulder video camera perspective, ushering in a golden age of zombie slaying.The hugely acclaimed game maintained the world’s dark, cursed atmosphere while giving one of the best action games of the past twenty years. Our protagonist, Leon Kennedy, uses nervous, tight gunplay to fend off water leviathans, psychopathic cults, and hordes of the undead; you will never have to struggle with an awkward analog-stick orientation again. Homeowner Evil IV has been remastered in stunning 4K for anyone who may have missed out the first time around. The moment has come to discover the source of all this bother.
Bayonetta is a tall, eight foot woman who can conjure monsters from her jet black, waxy hair. In Bayonetta Origins, we see how a young Cereza developed into the woman we know and like today, proving that even Amazons have humble beginnings. This new Switch game moves away from the flashy combo-heavy excess of the mainline titles and instead adopts an isometric perspective. Diorama depiction of Link’s adventures in The Legend of Zelda Future Bayonetta Cereza, who is equipped with a book of spells and looks like a typical moody witchy teen, is controlled with a single analogue stick. The second one allows us to take control of Cheshire, a ragdoll cat possessed by a diabolical power that does much of the grunt work. You’ll need both of their skills to solve puzzles and, yes, to defeat numerous enemies from other dimensions. As a result, Bayonetta Origins is slow, methodical, and reflective. Whoever said Cereza lacked variety was obviously wrong.
Even with help from Facebook, Google, and other fake tech industry heavy hitters, the virtual reality revolution never quite burst into the masses. PlayStation VR2 is Sony’s newest virtual reality headset, released earlier this year, and it’s a fantastic piece of hardware supported by a rich library of games and other content. High-concept post-apocalyptic fiction’s Horizon trilogy takes place in a world where humans have regressed to the Stone Age and cybernetic dinosaurs roam the reborn United States’ flowering plains. Call of the Mountain gives players the opportunity to explore this kind of world on their own terms. You can look forward to a streamlined collection of cameos from a handful of the franchise’s popular faces while weaving primary bows with your calloused fingers and pondering the craggy protrusions of a granite peak. Virtual reality is still in its proof-of-concept phase, but Call of the Mountain may convince anyone of its potential.
The Like a Dragon label is based on the huge Japanese media brand Yakuza, which has been hugely successful in Japan for years despite failing to break through in the English-speaking world. As more and more Americans have fallen in love with the franchise’s cockeyed humour and truly stirring storytelling, this chasm has begun to narrow during the past five years. For Instance: Originally released in Japan in 2014, Like a Dragon: Ishin! has recently had a westernised localization for the growing number of Westerners that are interested in the Yakuza subculture. Ishin! is an inexcusable riff on spaghetti westerns set in the latter decades of Japan’s shogunate era. Everything you’ve come to enjoy about Yakuza is there here, from profound monologues probing the meaning of revenge and loyalty to bizarrely developed minigames including chicken racing. In today’s market, the release of a new Yakuza game can cause a temporary halt in sales. The rule of law usually wins out.
The original Octopath Traveller received a lot of praise for its stunningly heavenly art design, which made the game seem to glow from within as the papered world’s vistas layered upon one another into the distance. Its critics were less impressed with the film’s formulaic fights and gloomy narration, so it was clear that the writers of the sequel would have their work cut out for them. Square Enix really came through for us. The eight-pronged narrative significantly improves upon the foundational elements of the dream RPG genre. (You’ll take command of a dancer honing her craft in tribute to her late mother or an exiled prince striving to reunite his band.) These people live in a world with its own traditions, rituals, and beliefs. Finally, Octopath Traveller is a place to call home rather than just visit.
By 2002, the Metroid recipe had matured significantly. The 1980s and 1990s 2D games centred Samus Aran, a galactic bounty hunter with a penchant for unwittingly unleashing a universe-destabilizing infection, as she slowly unearthed a large, interconnected, Easter egg-laden map. The unpleasant task of translating a Metroid experience to the GameCube, where we’d browse Aran’s eyes in a first-person 3-D environment, was given to Retro Studios, and they aced it. Today, Metroid Prime is remembered as a gloomy classic and perhaps the best embodiment of the isolating isolation that is essential to the Metroid character. In anticipation of a sequel that seemingly will never be made, Nintendo released a high-definition remaster of the game on Switch last month.
Back in the far and distant past, when megapublishers like EA still allowed such things, Dead Space arrived. It was a straightforward, single-player survival horror dirge, with no meta-progress grind or DLC packs to extend its life expectancy. The Dead Space series has been dormant since 2013, thus this revival comes as no surprise. To ensure that the writhing, shining parasites of this cursed, run-down spaceport station can inspire white-knuckle dread in zoomers and millennials alike, the 2023 edition of Dead Space is a stripped-down copy of the original video game, updated with new textures and animations. Take pleasure in the bloodshed and gore, as well as the well-paced, compelling narrative. The likes of this are no longer produced.
Most of the time, the finest indie designers will base their theories on a video game they spent many hours with as a kid. The Wario Land games, which served as the console for many Game Boy Colours in the mid-1990s, serve as the switchboard for Pizza Tower. The games replaced the nimble platforming of the parent Super Mario Bros. franchise with a left-to-right plod; Wario does not dive over the challenges in his course; instead, he lowers his shoulder and smashes through. Pizza Tower replaces Wario with a madcap pizza chef who is lost in a garish, hand-scrawled world reminiscent of Ren & Stimpy. The development team, Tour De Pizza, drew on a remarkable amount of polish for a relatively twee project, and the book-Wario Land sense of momentum is far more impactful with our modern processing power than what the Game Boy can with its modest eight-bit CPU. For my part, I can’t wait until they take on Wario World.
Photo: Bethesda Game Studios
Hi-Fi Like a Beyoncé album, Rush came out of nowhere; the game’s unveiling and release occurred on the same day.The depressing mind torment of games like The Evil Within and Ghostwire: Tokyo are where Tango Gameworks is best known.Here, it’s been transformed into a dazzlingly colourful Devil May Cry action game, complete with cel-shaded fineline cartooning reminiscent of the Dreamcast’s heyday.The soundtrack is a sharp, Y2K-flecked pop-punk scenario, and the conflict is choreographed to its rhythm, giving the chaos a modicum of order.When the bass drum drops, that’s when I know it’s time to stop my combination..
Fire Emblem: Three Houses, released in 2019, breathed fresh life into the series by presenting its turn-based methods in the style of a teen soap opera. You played a professor who, for some reason, was still a teenager, and you helped a group of cute outcasts get a martial arts education before they all caught the cruelty of expansionist warfare. Engage discards these chit-chatted iterations in favour of Fire Emblem’s traditional gameplay. Engage is about repositioning troops on a map, whereas 3 Houses was about enjoying a thoughtful tea date with wonderful friends. Nintendo has answered the prayers of those of us who have longed for a tactical puzzle game in the Fire Emblem series that can be played comfortably during the monotony of a train ride.
The Best Video Games (So Far) of 2023