If 2023 were to end today, it would still be remembered as a historic year for video games. That’s how good it’s been.
After a few mixed years filled with COVID-induced delays, the first half of 2023 has given players a non-stop avalanche of hits, keeping their backlogs eternally filled. We’ve gotten major entries in beloved franchises like Zelda and Final Fantasy, seen some bar-raising remakes for some of gaming’s best horror games, and been treated to some truly original projects from both indie developers and larger studios given a freedom we rarely see nowadays. And it’s only been six months.
With an equally loaded six months to come, you might want to use this slower summer to catch up on the must-play games of 2023’s first half. To help build (or ruin) your backlog, we’ve put together a list of 10 of our favorites we’ve already played this year. It’s a list that you can expect to see radically change when we make our official game of the year list this December, as heavy hitters like Starfield, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2and Alan Wake 2 are still on the horizon. Make sure to check these out before you find yourself buried this fall.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
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Creating a sequel to one of the best games of all time is a daunting task, but leave it to the Zelda team to rise to that challenge. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is an extraordinary follow-up to 2017’s Breath of the Wild, turning Hyrule into an even stronger open-world sandbox. The secret to its incredible success is its wildly powerful Ultrahand tool, which lets players create anything from mechs to Korok torture devices. In just a few short months, we’ve seen players push the limits of what’s possible in the game – and it still feels like the community is just getting started. It’ll be a hard game to beat come game-of-the-year deliberations, but there are some serious contenders lying in wait this fall.
Street Fighter 6
Street Fighter 6 is an astounding achievement for fighting games. While the genre is incredibly popular with competitive players, modern fighters have become a bit intimidating in the online era. A lot of fighting games have a very high skill ceiling and don’t necessarily do a great job of teaching players how to reach it. Street Fighter 6 solves that problem with a genius single-player mode, World Tour, that acts as the most practical fighting game tutorial ever developed. The effective solo campaign goes to great lengths to teach players the ins and outs of one of the genre’s best and most stylish titles to date. That alone makes it one of 2023’s most memorable titles, and we’ve yet to see how far the competitive scene takes it. The sky’s the limit.
Resident Evil 4
We’ve seen several great remakes this year, from Dead Space to System Shockbut none are as expertly done as Resident Evil 4. The 2005 action-horror classic got a makeover this year, but Capcom didn’t simply touch up the original’s visuals and call it a day. Rather, it’s a full reimagining of one of gaming’s best games, one that reexamines it through the lens of the 20 years’ worth of games it’s inspired since its release. That makes for a remake that feels like a true evolution that stands on its own apart from the original, trading in its campy tone and dated mechanics for a more fluid, blockbuster action game that’s once again showing the gaming world exactly how it’s done.
These days, we don’t get many surprises in the video game world. We’re inundated with obvious sequels that are marketed years ahead of their release. That’s part of what made Hi-Fi Rush so special when it got a surprise announcement and release at an Xbox showcase earlier this year. Tango Gameworks’ excellent rhythm-action game is unlike anything we’ve seen from a major game studio in recent years, mashing up the frenetic action of Devil May Cry with Guitar Hero. Miraculously, that pairing ends up being a perfect match, making for a stylish rock and roll anime with some of 2023’s most satisfying combat.
While PS5’s biggest game is still to come this fall, PlayStation currently has one of this year’s best exclusives — and I’m not talking about Final Fantasy XVI. Humanity is a visually mesmerizing puzzler that has players directing rows of wandering humans by strategically placing tiles down. What begins as a simple puzzle game about organizing crowds soon becomes more complicated when those humans gain the ability to fight, almost morphing Humanity into a dark tactics game. It’s one of those games that you need to experience for yourself. And if you’re going to do that, I’d recommend trying it out with PlayStation VR2 if you’re able to, as it’s currently the platform’s best game by a mile.
Fishing is usually presented as a cozy activity in video games, but that’s not the case in Dredge. The psychological horror game has players guiding a commercial fishing boat through an ocean filled with Lovecraftian horrors. Rather than relying on cheap jump scares, though, Dredge is all about building an uneasy atmosphere, as players slowly uncover the secrets of an eerie archipelago while fighting off madness. It’s a unique experience that’s both unsettling and relaxing at once, creating a fishing game that’s unlike anything you’ve ever played before.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
Though it launched with some unfortunate bugs, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor still deserves its flowers. The sequel to 2019’s standout Fallen Order builds on its predecessor in all the right ways. From slicker lightsaber combat to more rewarding exploration, Respawn Entertainment really nails down its formula here to create one of the best Star Wars games of all time. Though what stands out most of all is an emotionally resonant story that explores what it really means to survive in times of intense political turmoil. That story leads to a surprising conclusion that’s stuck with us more than any game this year.
If you’re done with Tears of the Kingdom but want more of that Zelda formula, you don’t want to miss Bye. Inspired by New Caledonia, the indie open-world game is a sunny, joyful experience that has players transforming into animals, playing the ukulele, and gliding around a gorgeous island. It’s a rare glimpse into another culture that we’ve never seen in video games before, presented with the same freeform exploration hooks that made Breath of the Wild such a lasting success in 2017.
Dordogne is the kind of game I’m confident I don’t need to say a word about to convince you to play it; one look at its beautiful watercolor art style should do the trick. But in case you need convincing: Dordogne is an emotional indie about a woman trying to recover her repressed memories associated with the summers she spent in the French countryside. It’s a reflective coming-of-age story about a girl finding freedom for the first time as she explores a picaresque Dordogne with her grandmother. It’s a touching tale that unlocked some long-lost childhood memories of my own.
Season: A Letter to the Future
If our civilization were to crumble tomorrow, what would we save for explorers to find centuries from now? That’s a question at the heart of Season: A Letter to the Futurea meditative indie about preserving memories. Set in a world where on the brink of a potentially apocalyptic change, players bike through the countryside and fill up a notebook with as many sights and sounds as possible before a new era begins. Despite the high stakes, Season is a Zen experience that encourages players to simply stop and listen rather than rush to the ending. It’s all about soaking in the natural beauty of the world while you still have time with it and preserving that as best as possible so others may know what it was like later.