The biggest award show of the year!
Yes, folks, we’re back! Thank you for being patient whilst we dealt with that unpleasantness just now. We told Lara to lay off the scotch. Multiple times. We’d like to apologise to Kratos and assure him that we’ll cover his medical bills until Lara’s sober enough to pay us back. Which could be a while. Anyway! It’s time for this year’s awards for the best games that have come out since January 2023!
To preface this, I’ll point out that I haven’t played Baldur’s Gate 3 yet, but I fully expect it would be my favourite game this year seeing as the previous entry is my favourite game of all time. That’s not to put down the games that follow, but it’s worth mentioning its absence. For now, onwards!
Perhaps not the most consistent game, but certainly one of the most unique. Viewfinder allows you to take photos of the world, and then place that photo elsewhere, creating an entirely new part of the 3D world. It’s hard to describe, but the first time you make an entirely new space in the world is really quite an experience.
The story isn’t the greatest element here in spite of it being a major feature, but the mechanics really do carry the game. There are some really creative puzzles here too, especially in the optional challenges. You can even find images that wouldn’t fit into the world, like birthday cards, that react to the space you’re in. It’s an impressive piece that seemed to come and go in a flash. If you missed Viewfinder, go back and give it a look.
D’Avekki Studios makes some really special FMV games, with the underrated Dark Nights with Poe and Munro being one of my favourites in the genre. Murderous Muses takes a bit of a different approach, offering you a 3D environment to explore that changes depending on the time of day. You’re tasked with finding the culprit in a murder case, by working your way through video clips that incriminate or exonerate several quirky residents of a mysterious island.
There’s an interesting rogue-like element, with each run being different and new features to discover each time, revealing a greater mystery. After a few runs, you tend to start seeing the same things over and over, but learning about the characters and their pasts is enjoyable thanks to fun writing and well-acted scenes. There’s very little like this and it’s well worth your time.
Alan Wake 2
I feel like I say this every year, but even though Big Boss Battle is all about smaller games, I always have to pick out a big name. This year is Alan Wake 2, a sequel I never thought I’d see and I couldn’t be much happier with it. Maybe a couple of bug fixes, but beyond that, this is an excellent survival horror game. Admittedly, you kind of need to have played Alan Wake, its semi-sequel American Nightmare, and Control to even have a chance to understand what the hell is going on, but even if you haven’t the gameplay still shines through.
The combat is ridiculously tight, the world fun to explore, and the visuals downright beautiful. Then there’s how the world instantly switches between environmental layouts when you make certain changes, which strikes me as technical wizardry. And that’s not to mention the glorious music-themed levels that throwback to that classic stage defence battle from the original game. The ending leaves things open for the inevitable Control 2 and Alan Wake 3 and I couldn’t be more excited to see what comes next.
Max Payne with vampires, demons, and biblically accurate angels. It’s a pretty easy win as far as I’m concerned. You’ll fight your way through fifty floors of a three-floor motel, shoot dodging, blasting through monsters, and working out just what the hell this motel actually is.
There’s an interesting story revolving around — of all things — reconciling previous relationships, but this plays second fiddle to the light-speed combat and interesting world design. Fights are brief and brutal, but good checkpointing means death isn’t too frustrating. Then there’s the stellar soundtrack that pounds throughout every stage, pushing you on to the next fight as soon as you’ve wiped out the last array of foes. It might look old-fashioned by today’s standards, but El Paso, Elsewhere is worthy of a playthrough by anyone looking for an arcade-style shooter.
I was torn between this and Darkest Dungeon 2 for the final slot, but I’ve gone with the game that feels more unique. I can’t think of any other game that feels the same as this utterly bonkers roguelike. World of Horror is an adventure game with some turn-based combat wrapped in a visual style made entirely in MS Paint. It’s filled with brief stories each having multiple endings that guide you towards defeating an eldritch god.
The visuals are the star here. Super simple but incredibly effective in that simplicity. Making monochrome monsters scary is an impressive feat and the dev really should be commended for managing it. The volume of stories means there’s plenty to come back to, and the difficulty assures that your victories will be few and far between. But you’ll want to come back and try again, as success means new characters, new stories, and new items, just like in any roguelike worth its salt.
A couple of honourable mentions before we unlock the doors and allow you to go home and see your families. The aforementioned Darkest Dungeon 2 is a really solid sequel that doesn’t do itself that many favours with the overly randomised runs. Still, the combat is as amazing as ever. Then there’s Atomic Heart, which was incredibly ambitious and didn’t quite hit the mark. Its combat’s fun and the story is interesting, but it does go on longer than it needs to. The visual design needs a lot of praise though, as there hasn’t been a world this well designed in an FPS since Bioshock.
Anyway, we’ve cleaned up after Lara’s little escapades now, and security seem to want us to start paying them, so maybe it’s about time for us all to go. Until next year! Happy gaming!