Subscriber OnlyCulture

The 10 best video games of 2023, from big-budget releases to unexpected indie gems

This year gamers were terrified by Alan Wake 2, dazzled by Sea of Stars and tickled by Super Mario Bros Wonder

Dave the Diver

PC, Nintendo Switch

Playing as the rotund scuba-diver Dave, you spend your days exploring a lush, vibrant underwater environment – fishing, finding treasure and solving mysteries. By night you prepare what you’ve caught that day to serve in your sushi restaurant by the beach. It’s an incredibly satisfying gameplay loop, and the contrast between the relative underwater calm and the manic restaurant scenes as you rush to keep all your customers happy means the game never feels stale. In fact, it’s constantly introducing new things to keep you busy, such as farming, upgrading weapons, hiring staff and researching flora and fauna. There’s so much to love, from the bright pixel-art style to the great soundtrack and hilarious characters, that you might find this initially unassuming little game fast becoming your favourite of the year.

Alan Wake 2

PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S

If the first instalment was a mix between Twin Peaks and the novels of Stephen King, Alan Wake 2 is more like a combination of True Detective series one and Resident Evil. And while its influences are obvious, the Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment has created something unique. Players assume control of both the tortured writer Alan Wake and the FBI detective Saga Anderson, who has been sent to the small town of Bright Falls to investigate his disappearance. You’re soon chin-deep in a horrifying world of ritualistic murders, cults, psychological trauma and possession. And despite all the disturbing scenes you’ll play through, it’s impossible not to pause every couple of minutes to marvel at how beautiful it all is. If not taking your time to admire how detailed the world is, you’ll absolutely be taking your time out of pure fear. This game is terrifying. One level in particular has you exploring a creepy nursing home at night. It’s almost unbearable.

God of War Ragnarök

PlayStation 4/5

There was a lot of pressure on God of War Ragnarök. The 2018 reboot is often hailed as one of the greatest games of all time, winning countless game-of-the-year awards and loved almost universally by fans and critics alike. A rare feat, and one that makes any follow-up a daunting prospect. For the first few hours of Ragnarök, you might think they fluffed it. It really does take a while to get going, and on the whole it’s overlong. But by about the halfway mark you’ll forget any minor gripes as the story ramps up and the action kicks into a higher gear. Amid huge set pieces and brutal fights you might feel surprised at how much you’ve come to care about these characters. The pay-off for that drawn-out opening is immense – this is a big-budget, bombastic game where the smaller moments of emotional connection hit harder than any hammer (mythic or otherwise).


PC, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch

Cocoon is an extraordinary game. You play as a little winged bug in a strange land who has to ... Well, at first it’s not quite clear. This is a puzzle adventure game with no dialogue, instructions, text or speech of any kind. You soon find an orb with a whole other world you can jump into. Then another. You discover if you hold one of these orbs you can bring it with you into another orb, creating mind-bending worlds-within-worlds solutions to problems. It’s such an unusual and visually led game that there are times when you can almost feel parts of your brain you never even knew existed being exercised.


Sea of Stars

PC, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch

Creating a game where nostalgia is one of the key creative drivers is a risky proposition. Anyone who has ever replayed GoldenEye on the N64 as an adult can attest to the benefits of letting some things rest in the past. Let them remain glorious in our memory. But with Sea of Stars, Sabotage Studio has pulled off the near-impossible – they’ve created a retro-inspired game that looks and feels just as good as your favourite childhood turn-based RPGs. Special mention must also go to the soundtrack by Eric W Brown and the legendary composer Yasunori Mitsuda – as soon as you stop playing you’ll be sticking a few of these tracks on your Spotify playlist.

Super Mario Bros Wonder

Nintendo Switch

Who saw this coming? One of 2023’s most innovative, surprising and downright delightful games is a 2D Mario platformer. You might ask (and nobody would think any less of you for doing so), “So what’s the big deal? It looks nice, sure. But we’ve had plenty of 2D Mario games before. What makes this one so special?” We have two words for you, my friend: wonder flowers. In each of the many, many brilliant levels there are these little wonder flowers to discover, and when you get your white-gloved plumber mitts on them they change the level in some unexpected and often hilarious way. One might transform Mario into a giant elephant or a Goomba. Another might switch the perspective to a top-down view. They all change the level in some fundamental way, and most are best left as a surprise.


PC, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch

What’s this? Surely not another fishing game. Well, yes. Technically this is another fishing game, although Dredge is an entirely different beast from Dave the Diver. With beautiful cel-shaded graphics, you take control of a beaten-up old fishing vessel as you become the newest fisherman in a mysterious archipelago. The townsfolk seem to be holding something back. Why is it so dangerous to venture out after dark? And what exactly happened to the last fisherman? You’ll fish, you’ll upgrade your boat, you’ll fiddle with your increasingly cluttered inventory, and you’ll uncover the Lovecraftian mystery binding this strange, isolated community. It’s a relaxing, intriguing game, but as the sun begins to set, and you catch a glimpse of some otherworldly shadow pass beneath your humble trawler, things quickly take a terrifying turn.

Baldur’s Gate 3

PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S

This is it. The big one. The game everyone is talking about. Set in the universe of Dungeons & Dragons, it is a game so rich in story and character that you could play it for years and still not uncover everything it has to offer. Developers have always struggled to adapt the D&D formula, because, if you think about it, what video game could possibly match the endless imagination of the player? Baldur’s Gate 3 comes closer than any other game yet. With thousands of hours of branching dialogue and countless ways to approach any given situation, it gives players an astonishing level of freedom. Games like this don’t come around very often – no wonder people can’t stop talking about it.

Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty

PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S

In terms of expectations versus reality, not to mention financial ramifications, Cyberpunk 2077’s original launch was arguably the worst in gaming history. It was an unmitigated disaster, leaving fans fuming and tanking CD Projekt Red’s reputation and stock price. The game was barely playable on release, a glitch and bug-ridden mess. But after pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into it, plus countless patches to fix things up, the game is now where it should have been at launch. That is to say it’s fantastic. The huge Phantom Liberty DLC is an espionage thriller that improves so much about the base game. A reworked skill tree, new weapons, vehicles, activities, side missions, plus great new characters, including Idris Elba’s Reed, all combine to finally make Night City a place you’ll want to spend more and more time in.

Spider-Man 2


If you were asked as a child to design your ultimate video game, you might have come up with something pretty close to Spider-Man 2. It might not be as groundbreaking as the 2018 original, but it refines everything from that joyously fluid sandbox, as well as the 2020 Miles Morales follow-up, to create a superhero game that puts fun above all else. Despite some incredible set pieces, the story is fairly dull, but that’s not really why we’re here. We’re here to leap off tall buildings, bash some bad guys and leave them hanging from a rafter in a spinning net of webbed justice. It really is hard to exaggerate what a thrill it is to swing through the streets of a beautifully rendered New York, this time including Brooklyn and Queens. The closest any game has ever come to making you feel like an actual superhero.