james debate
james debate

Sunday 15 January 2023

Hello and welcome back to the Hot List. This week we will turn our attention to the videogame industry, previewing for you loyal readers the most exciting videogames set for release in 2023.

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It's a strange time in the gaming industry. Whether it's as a result of the inherently long project gestation periods, or the sheer number of multidisciplinary moving pieces that require coordination, it's clear that this form of media has felt the effects of the pandemic longer and harder than others. While other forms of entertainment production have largely returned to normal levels of productivity, gaming remains beset by delays and setbacks. 

In many ways, 2022 feels like a year of gaming that never happened, with most of the major releases being pushed back into 2023. From last year's Hot List, a whopping 12 out of 15 expected 2022 releases ended up being delayed. The result of this is that 2023 is, on paper, one of the most fully stocked years of videogame releases in recent memory, with all the expected 2023 releases plus the many various delayed 2022 releases. 

It's a daunting task to whittle this down to just the usual 15. As a result, I briefly considered expanding the list to 20 for this year but, frankly, even I would struggle with that many games. So instead, I've decided to just be ruthless. Any game with a vague, uncertain, or otherwise tenuous release date is off the list. Got a game coming out "winter"? I'm going to assume that's early 2024 and it's off the list. What we are left with is a bullet proof list of the heights of 2023 gaming, a strong mix between smaller independent projects and the big, blockbuster releases.

So here it is, the 15 key videogames to keep an eye on in the coming year (trailers linked in the title where available), starting with number 15:

15. Oxenfree II: Lost Signals (PC, Mac, Xbox, Playstation, Switch)

oxenfree 2 II lost signals netflix 2023 best gameThe first game was an acclaimed indie darling, a surprise hit that delighted with its smart design and accomplished writing. The sequel, Oxenfree II: Lost Signals comes with rather more auspicious trappings; the weight of expectation from its forebear and the status of being the first major acquisition in Netflix's new push into interactive media.

But that new expectation is also driving greater ambition. Oxenfree II is bigger than its predecessor, more open ended, more personalised. The aesthetic and tone may be familiar for fans of the developer, but it is clear that with this next release they are trying to mix things up a bit in surprising ways.

While an official release date has not yet been provided, it has been confirmed to be out in 2023, and leaked data suggests sometime in spring.

Release Date: TBD 2023

14. Octopath Traveler II (PC, Playstation, Switch)

octopath traveler 2 ii switch playstation square final fantasy best games 2023 pcThe first entry in the series is remembered as the Nintendo Switch's first great JRPG. A promising, if flawed reimagining of the classic Final Fantasy formula that innovated through its impressively flexible combat system and a stunning 2.5D graphical style. 

In 2023 a sequel will be released, Octopath Traveler II. The signs so far are promising, with early release materials quick to emphasise the ways in which Square Enix have listened to fan feedback. This sequel will feature a new setting and characters, but with greater emphasis on the story and party interactions that make JRPGs such an enduring and compelling form in gaming. 

Octopath Traveler II will release for Switch, Playstation and Windows at the end of February.

Release Date: February 2023

13. Marvel's Spider-Man 2 (Playstation)

marvel spider man spiderman 2 ii playstation ps5 best games 2023 pcWhile the superhero genre thrives in cinema (too much so), gaming is another story. The very nature of these stories and their superpowered characters poses an extreme challenge in terms of balancing, while the high cost of production and licensing leaves less budget to actually make a good game. The history of videogames is full of expensive superhero flops.

One of the rare exceptions to this trend is Sony's recent adaptation of the Spider-Man series for Playstation and its more recent Miles Morales spin-off. These were excellent games, giving players the freedom to feel like they had the powers of Spider-Man, without breaking the game or making it too easy. The fully explorable New York is a joy to explore, the interpretation of characters and lore stands out among the best of the franchise, and the game as a whole is just full of references, bonuses and unlockables that make it a treat for fans.

Marvel's Spider-Man 2 comes out this year, a full sequel that will bring together Peter and Miles, along with a fan favourite character I won't spoil here (but is pretty obvious if you watch the trailer). It is expected to come out sometime in the latter half of the year.

Release Date: Autumn 2023

12. Final Fantasy XVI (Playstation)

final fantasy xvi 16 ffxvi best games 2023 playstation
In what promises to be a big year for Sony releases, few franchises command the kind of status that Final Fantasy enjoys. A new entry in the series is always a big deal and Final Fantasy XVI feels particularly significant.

It's an odd time for the franchise, with every recent release plagued by crisis and drawn out development periods. Square Enix have inexplicably spent most of the past fifteen years trying to expand the world of Final Fantasy XIII, probably the most poorly received title in the series, with various sequels and spin-offs. FFXIV was an MMO spin-off rather than a mainline title, which went through a calamitous release (and, in fairness, a miraculous comeback) and had to be redesigned from the ground up. Leading us to the most recent title, FFXV, which was itself a repurposed spin-off from the FFXIII era ultimately transformed into a standalone title following more than a decade of development hell. Through this entire period, the only out and out success story for the developers has been its remake of FFVII.

So there is a lot riding on FFXVI. Fortunately, the game appears to be in sound hands, with Naoki Yoshida, the man credited with FFXIV's turnaround, at the helm. The title will see a return to western medieval-inspired high fantasy, with a completely original setting and cast of characters. The title releases this summer. 

Release Date: June 2023

11. A Highland Song (PC, Switch)

highland song inkle 80 days overboard heaven vault 2023 best gameInkle might just be the most underrated indie developer in the industry. Primarily known for their mobile titles, including 80 Days, arguably the greatest travel game of all time. Their first major home console title, Heaven's Vault, was well received for its originality and unique linguistics-based gameplay. 

A new Inkle game is cause for celebration. Their latest, A Highland Song looks to be another joyful and original twist on gaming formulas: a musical survival platformer set in the Scottish Highlands. Visually, this looks like one of Inkle's finest works, with a hand-drawn watercolour aesthetic and liquid smooth animations. 

Set your expectations for a light and serene side-scrolling adventure when A Highland Song releases for Switch and PC in 2023. Date still to be confirmed.

Release Date: TBD 2023

10. World of Horror (PC, Playstation, Switch)

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Sticking to the indie theme we have World of Horror, the long-gestating debut project from Polish gamedev and full time dentist Paweł Koźmiński. 

World of Horror is a love letter to 1-bit pixel-art games. An adventure game with turn-based combat inspired by the horror of Japanese folklore, as well as the works of horror authors H.P. Lovecraft and Junji Ito. World of Horror employs semi-randomised roguelike elements, which sees players explore various locations and fight otherworldly creatures in a series of constantly changing modular stories, which are set for further expansion after launch.

After three years of development and a pro-longed early access period, World of Horror will release in summer of 2023. 

Release Date: Summer 2023

9. Homeworld 3 (PC)

homeworld 3 best games 2023 pcThe original Homeworld was a title that carried a great amount of hype when it launched in the late 1990s. A massive, bombastic space opera with cutting edge graphics and presentation, not to mention pioneering 3D gameplay unlike anything other developers were putting out at the time. It was a game of unprecedented cinematic flair for the time, which went on to greatly influence the genre and industry as a whole going forward. While critically acclaimed at the time, the series has laid dormant since 2003's Homeworld 2, due in part to the IP kerfuffle in the wake of original publisher Sierra's collapse. 

Homeworld went on to form something of a legendary cult status and has seen a revival in recent years with a prequel spin-off and remastered versions of the original games finding release. The announcement, finally, of Homeworld 3 may have been somewhat inevitable in retrospect, but still a very welcome surprise. 

Little is known so far, but it can be presumed that Homeworld 3 will follow its predecessors in gameplay and style. This has been tentatively pencilled in for a summer 2023 release.

Release Date: Summer 2023

8. Alan Wake II (PC, Xbox, Playstation)

alan wake 2 ii best game 2023
At long, long last, after many years of rumour and speculation, and the longest cliffhanger in history, Remedy is bringing us their sequel to Alan Wake. Us old fogies will remember the notorious ambition and hype that surrounded the original title throughout its long, delayed development time. So it seems fitting that Alan Wake II has taken an equally extravagant amount of time to reach us.

Little is known of this title other than that it will be a survival horror game, picking up where Alan Wake's story left off in the first game. It will be interesting to see what angle they take given the sticky situation in which Wake found himself at the end of the previous game. It will also be interesting to see how, if at all, Remedy intertwines the worlds of Alan Wake with that of their more recent hit title, Control. 

The Remedy Connected Universe is ripe with spooky storytelling opportunity and this will undoubtedly be one of the titles to keep an eye on in 2023.

Release Date: TBD 2023

7. Hogwarts Legacy (PC, Xbox, Playstation)

hogwarts legacy harry potter best game 2023When Hogwarts Legacy first leaked a few years back, it created about as much of a stir as one would expect. A massive open world RPG based on the Harry Potter franchise is the stuff of many gamers' dreams, not to mention the closest thing to a money-printer you can find in the entertainment industry. It would have been easy for Avalanche Software to rely on this fact and simply put out something safe and sufficiently fan-servicey. But the more we have seen of this title, the more ambitious it looks. 

Players will control a student at Hogwarts in the 1800s, attend classes, explore the environs, and presumably embark on some grand adventure. The game looks to be extremely customisable, with players able to design their character in quite specific detail, choose their House and wizarding proficiencies. Players even have access to their own room of requirement and beast vivarium, all of which can be customised down to the smallest detail.

Hogwarts Legacy looks to be the ultimate experience for fans of Harry Potter, allowing players to live within this world and enjoy all it has to offer in a way never seen before. I predict this will be a big deal when it releases, barring some unprecedented botching. After much delay, this title is due for release in February.

Release Date: February 2023

6. Deliver Us Mars (PC, Xbox, Playstation)

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2018's Deliver Us the Moon was perhaps the most underappreciated title of the past five years. An atmospheric, hard sci-fi puzzle adventure that sees players explore an abandoned lunar base to discover what led to its downfall. Think Everybody's Gone to the Rapture mixed with Gravity and you have some idea of the experience. A very impressive storytelling experience for an indie title.

With the sequel, Deliver Us Mars, everything is bigger and more ambitious. The success of the original has allowed for a much expanded budget and development team. The result is more action-adventure gameplay, fully animated cinematic cutscenes. If this manages to capture the thrill and mystery of the original, combined with its higher production values and the increased expertise of its developers, then it will be one to watch in 2023.

Originally planned for release last autumn, Deliver Us Mars will now be out in February 2023.

Release Date: February 2023

5. Skate Story (PC, Mac)

skate story sam eng blood cultures best game pc mac 2023Sometimes a project will sell you on the tagline alone: "You are a demon, made of glass and pain. And yet you must skate." The Devil has given you a skateboard with a simple deal: Skate to the Moon and swallow it — and you shall be freed.

Skateboarding games have long fallen out of fashion since the halcyon days of Tony Hawk and Skate. Perhaps what they've needed is something more than just generic urban grit. Such is the thinking of Sam Eng, the one man band behind Skate Story

There's a lot to love about this project. It is visually absolutely stunning, with great music to complement the lonely, wistful themes. The story is just daffy and over the top enough to work. If they can nail the feel of the controls, this looks like it will be solid gold. A baffling, brilliant original.

Release Date: TBD 2023

4. Bomb Rush Cyberfunk (PC, Mac, Switch)

bomb rush cyberfunk jet set radio hideki naganuma best game pc 2023I'm a 90s kid. That means I inherently love Sega. But Sega are an objectively bad company. How else can you explain why a company that always appears to be on the verge of collapse is allowing a vast catalogue of classic intellectual properties and franchises (arguably matched only by Nintendo in depth) to just collect dust in a warehouse somewhere? Chief among these is the great Jet Set Radio series of games. Frustrated by their intransigence, a group of indie devs (and apparent fans of the series) have taken matters into their own hands by crafting their own spiritual successor to the long dormant franchise. The result is Bomb Rush Cyberfunk.

Fans of Jet Set Radio will find much of what they love here. Bright, cell-shaded visuals, the funky musical stylings of the brilliant Hideki Naganuma, and the same mesmerising neo-futuristic urban setting. Featuring a colourful cast of characters, you will skate around a dizzying cityscape full of gangs, graffiti and rebel-spirit. So far it looks great.

Release is confirmed to be summer 2023. Can this indie team succeed where larger studios have failed and emulate the success of this classic title? We shall see.

Release Date: Summer 2023

3. Kerbal Space Program 2 (PC, Xbox, Playstation)

kerbal space program 2 jebediah best game 2023The original game remains one of the greatest gaming surprises of recent years. Created by one amateur coder during his lunch break, the concept was fairly simple: build rockets and try to launch them into space under realistic physics and orbital mechanics. The deceptively deep toybox-like design tools proved such good fun that you could sink hours into just getting that one perfect spacecraft into orbit before even realising you had other planets to visit. Now a full team of professional designers are bringing a full-blooded sequel, Kerbal Space Program 2.

The goal of this sequel appears to be to take the successful foundations of the original and just build on it. More parts, colony building, multiple star systems. It's the type of feature list that fans and modders have been dreaming about, but the key will be to get the basics right. The physics system has to feel as solid as the original, the building tools need to be as intuitive. It won't be enough to just slap a coat of Kerbilish paint on a pale imitation.

Originally revealed back at the end of 2019 with an expected 2020 release date. The team has evidently been hit bad by the pandemic, but two years' worth of delays appear to finally be on the verge of bearing fruit. The recently returned series of dev diaries doing much to allay fans' fears. KSP2 is now set for a 2023 release, initially in early access.

Release Date: February 2023 (early access), TBD (final)

2. Starfield (PC, Xbox, Playstation)

starfield bethesda fallout best game 2023 pc xbox ps4 ps5For many, this is the biggest game coming in 2023. Starfield promises a grand space opera in the style of a Mass Effect or Star Wars, with open-world exploration built around the same concepts as Bethesda's tried and tested Fallout and The Elder Scrolls series, only set over a series of star systems and multiple worlds. 

Bethesda games often get a lot of flack, sometimes deservedly, but their track record speaks for itself and includes some of the most celebrated titles of the past 20 years. Engrossing world-building and lore, moddable to an unprecedented extent (for a AAA game). Open world RPGs are incredibly complex beasts and few developers have ever managed to create such immersive and flexible examples as Bethesda. While there may be valid criticisms over some of their recent decisions and business practices, they truly are one of the grand masters of the genre.

It is also notable that Starfield comes in the wake of 2019's The Outer Worlds, a similarly spacefaring RPG created by rivals and original Fallout creators Obsidian. That title met with moderate initial success, and it will be interesting to see how a competing effort from the current Fallout stewards compares.

After many years of speculation and delay, Starfield is due for release by summer of 2023.

Release Date: Summer 2023

1. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (Switch)

legend of zelda breath of the wild 2 sequel tears of the kingdom skyward sword switch best game ever 2023But as hyped as I am for a new Bethesda RPG, there are few things in any part of the entertainment industry that catch the spotlight as much as a new entry in Nintendo's fabled The Legend of Zelda series.

How do you follow up a game that is often considered to be one of the greatest ever made? That is the question Nintendo will be asking now as they craft The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. In fairness, it is a position in which they have found themselves before in following up the Ocarina of Time. The result on that occasion was Majora's Mask, a game considered by many to be even better than its predecessor. So no pressure then.

TotK will ostensibly make use of the same open world as its predecessor, with some added verticality and a new time manipulation mechanic. Lore-wise there appears to be some form of connection to a previous title in the series, Skyward Sword, but is otherwise a direct sequel to the events of BotW. No question about it, no other game in 2023 will command as much attention as this.

Release Date: May 2023

So there you have it folks: 2023 in videogames. Tune in next week for the most exciting new novels and literature coming this year!

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