It's January 21, 2024, which means it's the perfect time to do a wrap up of some of the content I enjoyed in 20231. I'm going to start off with video games, because they're on my mind. I don't really play a ton of games, and when I do, I have some perhaps unusual things I look for:
- Xbox or Switch strongly preferred. I don't have or want a PC in the house, and I don't currently have a PlayStation. Once in a while I'll play games on a Mac laptop (either natively or via NVIDIA GeForce NOW), but usually it's console or bust.
- Single-player only. No interest in interacting with other people while playing video games. Been there, done that, had enough trolls, cheats, and "gamerz" for a lifetime.
- Story matters at least as much as gameplay
- Short is better than long; most days I have 0 hours to play video games, and even when I can eke out some time, it's usually only measured in minutes. A 40-hour game is a huge investment, and a competitive grind-fest that takes hundreds of hours to get to the "good part" isn't even an option.
With that being said, I think I might've played more games in 2023 than any time in the previous 5 or so years! Neat! Let's talk about them!
As always, all trademarks and copyrights are the property of their respective owners.
Geometric Interactive, played on Xbox. A
Cocoon is the newest game from director Jeppe Carlsen, who previously created Limbo and Inside. Fun fact: the reason I own an Xbox is because I played Limbo at my friend Brett's house and it was the most incredible game I'd ever played. So much emotion in so little! Anyhow, Cocoon shares a lot with its predecessors: silent protagonist, mind-bending mechanics, horrifying and mostly-unexplained world, tricky puzzles. You play as a... bug person? who has to solve puzzles using magic orbs. Also, the orbs each contain entire universes, and sometimes contain themselves.
It took about 5 hours to beat this, and I know there are more hidden details. Definitely worth picking up.
Motive, played on Xbox. B-
I never played the original Dead Space, but I've been known to enjoy atmospheric horror entertainment. The remaster is extremely high-quality (I find it hard to believe that they were able to reuse anything from the original game other than the plot and the audio), but it definitly suffers from being a remake of a 2008 video game. The combat is plodding when it should be fast and fast when it should be intentional; the RNG controls way too much; the plot has been referenced by a million other games (such as 2022's the Callisto Protocol). I'll play the remakes of Dead Space 2 and Dead Space 3 when they come out, but this game didn't inspire too much in me.
Indeed, I didn't even take a single screenshot when playing.
Respawn Entertainment, played on Xbox. B+
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is the sequel to 2019's STAR WARS Jedi: Fallen Order2. It's a moderately-hard lightsaber combat game set in the Star Wars universe in the time period between Revenge of The Sith and A New Hope, starring Cameron Monaghan as traumatized Jedi Cal Kestis. The combat is supposedly inspired by Dark Souls, which I've never played. It's definitely hard — there are a lot of one-hit kills, and some fights took me quite a few attempts3.
I did 100% this game, and it was fun, but also sometimes had that "feels like work" slog. Took 53 hours to 100%4, which is past my comfort level for how much I want to invest in a game. I mostly played with the crossguard and double-bladed stances. I stuck with it because the plot hit all the right emotional notes, and, while it was still written for children, was still better than almost everything Disney has turned out recently5.
Croteam, played on Xbox. A+
Without a doubt, The Talos Principle 2 was my favorite game of 2023. It follow directly from 2014's The Talos Principle and is a puzzle game about robots and philosophy. It mixes extremely difficult puzzles (some of which took me hours to figure out) with philosophy lectures and long digressions about the nature of consciousness. The writing is snappy and infuses humor and melodrama appropriately; you'll come to care deeply for these characters, even (especially?) those you disagree with.
The game is also gorgeous to look at; all of Croteam's games have a hyper-real quality to them, and this one is no exception.
I didn't 100% this, but I did play about 27 hours and finished all of the primary content. You do yourself a disservice by not reading every terminal, listening to every audio log, and talking to every character.
Bethesda Games, played on Xbox. D+
Bethesda has been promising a sprawling new game since 2015's Fallout 4, and released the first trailer video five years ago. What we got was... Starfield. I played through all the main questlines for each faction and most of the sidequests and the main emotion I felt was... boredom. It feels like they had a lot of great ideas on what to do with this game, but somehow weren't able to implement any of them for some reason. There are a bunch of mechanics around weight and fuel and stealth and base-building that don't do anything at all. The combat is somewhat better than Fallout 4 but at the end of the day, all the guns feel pretty much the same and it's mosly just a matter of having a bigger number.
The plot is sort of interesting, but also every single twist is predictable if you've ever watched any science fiction television or movies or read a single book. The characters are mostly dull and lifeless, and those that aren't (like Andreja) never get a chance to really explain their backstories.
Space combat is extremely dull once you get a Class B ship. Building spaceships is fun, but also stupid because you can't control basic things like where the ladders are going to be between rooms. Making a ship that doesn't look butt-ugly takes hours and costs hundreds of thousands of credits, which are easy but boring to get more of due to the low sell prices of everything and the trademark awful inventory management.
And, of course, everything is buggy. Everything! I can't finish the game because the last mission of the main questline is totally broken. There are hundreds of other reports of this online. Bethesda hasn't addressed it in any of their patches. I have two or three other side-quests that are similarly broken.
I've played dozens of hours of Skyrim over the last 12 years, but I really don't see Starfield holding up. Maybe I'll re-examine if a plot-heavy expansion pack comes out, but no promises.
Chimeric, played on Mac. B+
What if Asteroids were a bullet hell roguelite? That's the fundamental idea behind Nova Drift, a game from solo developer Jeffrey Nielson available on Windows/Linux/Mac. Gain points to get randomized unlocks; reach new high scores to unlock progression upgrades that apply between runs. Blow up thousands and thousands of little shapes. Bright colors! Fun electronic music! It's an ideal arcade game.
It's also a little buggy (I've gotten some really annoying crashes late in a long run), and it's unfinished. I'm always a little skeptical of "Early Access" and paying to beta test something. However, this game is straightforward enough that I don't feel like I'm missing out on too much.
Fun fact: I originally found out about this game when people were talking about it on Mastodon!
Hello Games, played on Nintendo Switch. A-
Another great game that I played for the first time this year (but which came out 2020). You play as Ember, an adorable little blobby character who has to explore a metaphor for death to help lost souls recover a spark of hope and move on. The narrator (who also voices all the characters) really makes this game.
The puzzles are pretty easy and this game took about 7 hours to beat.
Supergiant Games, played on Nintendo Switch. A
Speaking of games about death, Transistor actually came out in '14, but it never came out for Xbox, so I didn't play it. I do adore Supergiant Games and have played through Bastion many times, and still play Hades regularly. Transistor is an isometric hybrid between a hack-and-slash game and a turn-based RPG. Even if you hate the gameplay6, it's worth playing just because everything with Darren Korb and Ashley Lynn Barrett is worth listening to.
Only takes about 5 hours to beat, and smooth as silk on the Switch.
Brace Yourself Games, played on Nintendo Switch. B+
This is another great Switch game, and I'm cheating here because it came out at the very beginning of January 2024. Close enough! It's a "deck-building low-fi roguelite", and the closest comparison I have for it is 2012's FTL: Faster than Light. It's a turn-based space combat game, but the twist is that the actions you can perform are based on a deck of virtual "cards" that you acquire through the game. This is a great game to play while doing something else (like watching TV, if you've got as poor of an attention span as I do. It's also quite frustrating; like a lot of roguelikes/roguelites, the game is hugely dependent on the RNG, and it's frustrating to get 20 minutes into a run and realize that you have no change of success because the next boss is only survivable if you have a certain card.
In 2024, we've got Hades 2, Homeworld 37, Star Wars Outlaws coming out that I'm interested in so far. Plus, the whole reason I got a Switch was to play Breath of the Wild, which I haven't done yet. Hopefully, it'll be as good of a year for games as 2023!
I know, I know, a lot of people do their yearly wrap-up review posts in December. But then what about the games I played in December, eh?
What the hell is going on with capitalization and colon placement at Electronic Arts? When is it STAR WARS and when is it Star Wars? Why is it "Jedi: Survivor" in promotional material, but "Jedi Survivor" in the menus? Who knows!?
For comparison, STAR WARS Jedi: Fallen Order took about 39 hours to 100% a couple of years ago.
Except Andor, of course. Go watch Andor!
Which I did not, to be clear
Probably the most hyped game for me in many years? I've played hundreds of hours of Homeworld and Homeworld 2. I didn't love Deserts of Kharak, but I'm tentatively hopeful for Homeworld 3. Even though they were initially promising Mac support, they haven't mentioned anything about Macs in the last few years, so I'm really hoping this one runs on GeForce NOW.