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Game of the Year 2023


2023 seemed to be a big year for most forms of media, not just films; the video game industry had quite a year, producing some of the highest rated games of the past decade, at an alarmingly quick rate. I am way behind on releases for this year, only having played four: Dead Space, Resident Evil 4, Star Wars: Jedi Survivor, and Spider-Man 2. I’m disqualifying Dead Space from this list because, while it’s fantastic, it’s a direct remake of the original, while Resident Evil 4 is more of a reimagining of the classic. I completely missed out on The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Alan Wake 2, Super Mario Bros. Wonder, and Pikmin 4, and while I honestly have no interest in trying Diablo 4 or Baldur’s Gate 3, I’m sure they’re great. I will eventually get to Zelda and Alan Wake, but for now, I’ll focus on the three current contenders for my 2023 game of the year, discuss each of their strengths and shortcomings, and choose my favorite of the three.

Star Wars: Jedi Survivor

Every now and then, it’s nice to be reminded why I like Star Wars. Recent years have produced a lot of mediocre to genuinely bad films and shows, and through the sludge, we occasionally get something like The Mandalorian season one or Andor, and now we have Jedi Survivor, which is easily the best Star Wars game ever made. I enjoyed 2019’s Jedi: Fallen Order, but it was far from perfect. The gameplay was fun and the story was satisfying, but game-breaking bugs and glitches were abundant, and the map was impossible to navigate. I wanted to play more post-game content since I did enjoy the story, but moving around the map was so frustrating that I just gave up. Every single complaint I had with the first is fixed in Jedi: Survivor, and it even improves upon things that were already great in the first. As opposed to just having a single or double-bladed lightsaber as your only options, you can now use a variety of different stances, each with their own unique attacks and benefits; my personal favorites are the blaster and crossguard stances; the blaster stance allows for quick chip damage and crowd control, and the crossguard is great for dealing with tougher enemies. The increased amount of stances changes up the core gameplay a lot, now giving you several different ways and play styles to approach enemy encounters with. There’s also a far bigger variety of enemies; in Fallen Order, you essentially only had the Empire and some wildlife every now and then. In Survivor, you still have the Empire to fight, as well as the Bedlam Raiders and a much larger volume of hostile wildlife. While the first game was a solid attempt at putting a more accessible spin on a Dark Souls-type game, Survivor refines it to the max, and is just a dream to control. This is the best lightsaber combat in any video game, and the new traversal mechanics allow for a lot of fun parkour and puzzle-solving scenarios.

The story took several characters in a lot of new directions, and I loved seeing how it played out. It takes place five years after the first, and Cal and the original Mantis crew have changed a lot- they’ve spread across different planets on their own journeys, and are all able to bring several new skills to the table once they reunite. Cal has become much more jaded in this time, having put so much effort into the fight against the Empire, only for nothing to pan out; he goes through a lot of development, and shows true growth when he realizes he can still be a Jedi even if he breaks the code every now and then. Cal has always had a lot of survivor’s guilt, and he finally seems to move past it in this story once he comes to this revelation. The plot takes some pretty daring turns, but I think it ultimately ends up working very well; if it was not handled in the exact way it is, I would have some problems, but it plays it straight enough while blending in the usual Star Wars charm to end up working pretty well. I was very invested in what was happening, and the late game difficulty spikes made me want to beat the game and see the story through that much more. There’s also a significantly larger amount of side content present, spread across several different planets, but mainly Koboh. A home base is set here in the form of Pyloon’s Saloon, which you can fill with different characters and minigames as you complete more and more of the map. There’s a lot to discover in this game, and the side content has never gotten boring; it’s always fun to control Cal and explore a new environment. I wasn’t expecting to like this game as much as I did, but I ended up falling in love with it. I know that many shared my issues with the first, but I would still strongly recommend Jedi: Survivor to anybody as a worthy sequel. I hope they cap this series off with a trilogy, as there are a lot of possibilities for where the story could go, and I’ll be there day one to see what finishes Cal’s story.

Marvel’s Spider-Man 2

Spoilers for this one.

While I do think that there’s a lot to criticize about this game, there’s still plenty to praise, so I’m going to start with what is by far the best aspect of Spider-Man 2: the gameplay. Everything just feels so smooth to pull off; I’m continually impressed by how Insomniac is able to improve the swinging in each game, giving both Peter and Miles very distinct upgrades in their traversal. The detailed animations never get old as you swing through New York, weaving between buildings and dodging through obstacles. I love that you now have the ability to do a loop-de-loop with your web to gain speed, and that you can hold the dodge button to give yourself an easier time turning corners. The sheer speed that you can achieve is mind-blowing, and I’ve found myself getting distracted from the story or side content and just swinging around the city for ten minutes. The combat is pretty much the same as the first two, but with some minor improvements here and there; parrying is a welcome addition, and even if Peter and Miles’ abilities can be pretty over-the-top, they’re still fun to pull off. I am of the opinion that this version of Peter shouldn’t have all of this insane tech, since he’s supposed to be broke, but it’s something I am able to forgive for the sake of gameplay. All in all, I still believe that Insomniac has nailed the essential Spider-Man controls down to a tee, and we’ll never see another Spidey game that achieves this level of polish and cleanness. If I had one complaint about the gameplay, it’s that a lot of the bosses can feel quite repetitive; the 2018 game set every boss in a completely different environment and made each one to challenge specific aspects of the player’s ability, while every boss in its sequel ends up feeling the exact same. The parry mechanic is relied on far too much in these bosses, and they manage to make Kraven, Scream, Peter, Lizard, Li, and Venom feel like the same boss.

Now, while I had a blast playing as Peter and Miles again, my worst fear for this game ended up being true: it continues Miles Morales‘ trend of having a pretty lame and rushed plot. Spider-Man 2 does not deliver a story with half the emotion, characters, or memorable moments of its predecessor, and I find it to feel very messy and downright lazy a lot of the time. Before I get into the many problems present in the plot itself, it must be noted that the characters are not nearly as interesting as they once were. 2018’s Spider-Man gave us a Spidey fairly deep into his career, surrounded by a lot of characters that we already know the basic backstory of, and set them in a fresh scenario that allowed for new and interesting things to happen while still retaining what makes the characters so iconic. In Spider-Man 2, the characters have absolutely zero chemistry, and watching them interact can be very cringe-inducing at times. The carnival level in particular stands out to me as a particularly rough example of this; Peter, MJ, and Harry literally laugh to themselves and say “I needed this” multiple times. They never seem to have any issues getting around problems; if they need to figure something out, Ganke or Peter are sure to have some gadget that they he created in twenty minutes that will save the day. Any and all nuance or subtlety seen in these characters has vanished, and they are instead replaced by lifeless husks that serve the sole purpose of moving the plot forward. In addition to this, I just did not care about anything Harry did throughout the entire story. Making him Venom is an interesting choice, but why should I care if Insomniac makes no effort to give him a personality outside of “Peter’s best bud who’s been with him since highschool”? Aside from Harry and Venom, I found it strange how little screen time Kraven has in this game. He really doesn’t have much to do, and is really only there to give you another faction to fight, since Venom kills him when there’s still many more hours of the game left.

Now that I’ve explained my issues with how the characters are handled, I can explain why I find the overall plot to be quite lacking: it jumps the shark. If you’re not familiar with this term, it essentially means that a story introduces continually bigger and crazier plot elements for the sake of novelty, regardless of how much it affects the quality of the story. In short: Spider-Man 2 bites off more than it can chew. A very strong comparison is that of Insomniac’s two mainline Spider-Man games and the recent MCU films, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From HomeHomecoming is a very typical and grounded Spidey story that combines a lot of classic characters and ideas with new plot elements to create something that satisfies the both the desire to see classic Spider-Man respected, and also a new direction for the character. Far From Home completely forgoes this approach to instead create a flashier and more epic plot, which consequently makes it a very mediocre film.

Now, I’m not saying that Spider-Man 2 is in any way mediocre, but there are a lot of connections that can be made between these two examples. The brilliantly written and performed story is sacrificed for the sake of scale and action, and I wish that Insomniac had taken the Sam Raimi approach to this as opposed to the Jon Watts one. The emotional core is no longer here, and it’s been replaced with mindless action and destruction. I found the degradation of New York in the first entry to be pretty neat; once the Ryker’s breakout happened and things got really serious, it felt as if you weren’t safe anywhere, as there seemed to be a criminal on every corner. The Symbiote takeover just doesn’t have the same effect, as the level of destruction and carnage is so extreme that I just can’t take it seriously. I also really don’t like how Venom was handled; he’s simply too powerful. He should be a part of the Symbiote hivemind, not the center of it; making Venom the ‘leader’ of the Symbiotes just makes the entire plotpoint of Venom less interesting. He’s basically unstoppable, and when Harry and Peter are in control of the Symbiote, they are able to basically anything with it. The powers you use as Symbiote-Peter can be pretty ridiculous, and take away from the feeling that I’m playing a Spider-Man game. When there are no limits to what can happen, all tension is erased, and I stop caring as much. The seemingly endless amount of hunters and advanced technology that Kraven brings with him is an easy flaw to point out, as well; I understand that this is because of gameplay purposes, but I’m sure they could have created some other faction of bad guys to beat up to even things out a bit.

I know that I just tore this game to shreds, but I’ve had these opinions for a few months now, and I wanted to get them out. I still loved my time with Spider-Man 2, and I only complain this much because I care; the first one is a favorite of mine, and I hate to see such strong writing and ideas wasted on entertainment value. But, at the end of the day, the game is still that: entertaining. I had fun playing through it, and I’m sure that I will fully complete the map at some point. I just find myself frequently looking back on what could have been- the game could have very easily outclassed its predecessor if some more effort had been put into maintaining the level of story and character writing I’ve come to expect from this series. It’s like if God of War: Ragnarok had retained its incredible combat system, but lost all of its emotion and depth for the sake of making it more epic than it already was. My memories with Spider-Man 2 are positive, and I’d probably give it a strong 8 or a light 9 out of ten for the gameplay alone, but I will hold strong on my claim that this is not a masterpiece, but could have been one.

Resident Evil 4

Like many others, the original Resident Evil 4 is one of my favorite games of all time. I’ve always loved a lot of games in this franchise, but there’s always been something special about 4 that just barely edges out the 2 remake for my favorite. Capcom has been on fire with this series since 2017’s release of Biohazard, and while I assumed this game would be incredible, I doubted that they’d be able to match the genuine masterpiece that is the original. However, I should’ve known better than to doubt Capcom; they’ve proven many times in recent years that they still know what they’re doing with this franchise, and created a game that is genuinely as good as the one it’s remaking. This is a lot closer to the original product than something like the Resident Evil 2 or 3 remake, but it still changes enough to be considered a reimagining of the story as compared to a straight up remake. I was very impressed with the story in this one; Resident Evil often has laughable cheesy plots with charming characters, and don’t get me wrong, this continues that trend. But, certain entries like 2 have plots that, while still corny, can be very unsettling, and play it straight enough to work. This game is still completely ridiculous, but it’s presented in a similar way to that of the second, and I ended up caring what happened because of it. Plus, many of the characters now feel like real people, which is a very welcome improvement; Leon is still the action hero we all love, but Luis and Ashley are almost indistinguishable from their original forms. They now serve a greater purpose than just existing for gameplay’s sake and to moving the plot along, and I really enjoyed seeing the banter between them and Leon.

Just like the other two games I’ve discussed, Resident Evil 4 feels incredible to control. It’s the perfect evolution of the original’s play style, which was very tanky and difficult to get the hang of; it felt very natural once you did, but it definitely took an hour or two. Even when I go back to it, I have to get back into the swing of things, and I’ve beaten it several times. Everything about this remake’s controls just feels right. Weapon switching is now instantaneous, which is probably the biggest improvement- you no longer have to open the attaché case whenever you want to use a different gun, and this helps so much in preventing the shooting to feel too sluggish. You can also now move while shooting, but it’s a lot more action-oriented than the Resident Evil 2 remake; think of it as a blend of that game and Uncharted 4. You can also now parry with Leon’s knife, which is probably my favorite new mechanic; parrying is something that will never get old no matter what game it’s in, and it’s so fun to dodge around a bunch of enemies, parrying axes and grabs with your knife. There is also a stealth mechanic, and while it is neat and useful every now and then, I generally prefer to just go in guns blazing, as stealth kills do a lot of damage to your knife. However, it’s still a nice option to have, and the takedowns are neat. This is without a doubt the best controlling Resident Evil of all time, and I find myself going back to it pretty frequently to play a chunk of the story or a few quick rounds of Mercenaries.


While I loved my time with all of these games, I simply have to give my game of the year to Resident Evil 4. Capcom was able to create a game that matches the greatness of one of my top ten favorites of all time, and I just had way too much fun with the game to not make it my favorite of the year. The other two improved many things over their predecessors, but just weren’t the same as Resident Evil, and in Spider-Man‘s case, wasn’t nearly as good as it could have been. While I loved a lot of things about all three of them, my favorite is definitely how well they all control. These three games contain some of the smoothest and most fun traversal and combat mechanics of any game in recent memory, and are great examples of how AAA games can balance production and deep, involved gameplay. 2023 was a very special year for film and video game fans, and I’m almost happy that I missed out on so many games last year, since 2024 is shaping up to be a pretty mediocre year. I would strongly recommend all three of these games and believe that all three can appeal to a lot of different people, but Resident Evil 4 was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had with a game released in the 2020’s, and I simply cannot pick one of the others over it.

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