All the video games shortlisted for the 2023 Game Awards – reviewed by experts

Posted on: 12 December 2023

David Stevenson, Trinity College Dublin is one of six academics to write a review of the games shortlisted for game of the year at the 2023 Game Awards – the industry’s equivalent of the Oscars. 

Resident Evil 4

Platform: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PC via Steam

This remake of Resident Evil 4 had much to live up to. The 2005 original represented a substantial departure from the atmospheric horror of its forebears towards action-driven gameplay. And what action! Our hero, Leon, rampages his way across a sepia-drenched Spanish village, in his quest to rescue the president’s daughter from the hands of a diabolical cult leader.

Resident Evil 4 trailer.

Leon’s gung-ho intervention is assisted by a splendid armoury of handguns, shotguns and the occasional heavy ordnance. No mere shooting gallery, Resident Evil 4 updates the visceral combat with considerable aplomb, where combat arenas demonstrate highly dynamic and escalating scenarios. Firearms and their corresponding upgrades provide nuanced choices with regards to power, precision and clearance. Understanding the intricacies of combat guides the player’s journey – first fearful, then fearless. All told, Resident Evil 4 is an unforgettable Spanish holiday.

Reviewed by David Stevenson, assistant professor in the school of film

Marvel’s Spider-Man 2

Platform: PlayStation 5

Modern life is tough. Maintaining the perfect work/life balance, managing your bills and other priorities – it’s complicated stuff. Add saving the world to that list, and Spider-Man has quite the calendar to manage. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 brings us two Spider-Men – Peter Parker and Miles Morales – as they balance the challenges of life with being superheroes.

Trailer for Marvel’s Spider-Man 2.

There have been countless superhero games, but few like this one. It balances a rich story with classic and complex villains such as Kraven the Hunter and Venom. The fast-paced combat is almost balletic – webbing up a manhole cover and flinging it at a villain feels oddly beautiful. Then there’s the open world, a near-perfect replica of New York densely packed with people, life and – of course – super-villains.

It feels less like you’re playing a game, and more like you’re entering someone else’s world for a short period of time – and I love it.

by Theo Tzanidis, senior lecturer in digital marketing

Super Mario Bros. Wonder

Platform: Nintendo Switch

Super Mario Bros. Wonder is the first traditional side-scrolling Super Mario game since New Super Mario Bros. U. in 2012. A side scrolling game is one where the player is seen from a side-view camera angle and the screen follows the player as they move from the left to the right of the screen – the classic Mario format.

Wonder, however, is not a reinvention but a remix, crystallising the gameplay of the original Mario Bros. arcade game (1983), the experimentation of New Super Mario Bros. U (2012), with nods to 3D World + Bowser’s Fury (2021).

With 40 years of muscle memory accumulated, playing the latest 2D platformer will instantly feel familiar. However, skill, memory and mastery quickly give way to impulse and adaptability with the activation of Wonder Flowers – in-game tokens that alter the game mechanics. Wonder is brilliant – a return, an extension, an update that mixes and remixes its history in ways that are, well, wonderful.

by Michael Samuel, lecturer in digital film and television

Baldur’s Gate 3

Platform: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Windows, macOS

Baldur’s Gate 3 is a computer role-playing game set in the world of Dungeons and Dragons – the fantasy tabletop role-playing game where players choose their adventure and dice rolls determine outcomes. The game features a rich narrative that explores themes of mass displacement, religious fanaticism, political corruption and the allure of absolute power.

While players are free to choose their own moral pathways through this thorny terrain, the team mechanics and the dynamic ensemble cast imply that interdependence, solidarity and trust are the compass points that should guide us.

Players recruit a diverse band of adventurers to aid them on their travels and each ally has their own compelling backstory, beliefs and goals. Forming friendships – and potentially romantic relationships – with these brilliantly written characters makes every narrative decision feel meaningful and every dice roll feel fraught.

The strengths of Baldur’s Gate 3 are its deft oscillation between immersive role-playing, strategic turn-based combat and careful resource management – in conjunction with its beautiful, expansive gameworld. I don’t really have anything bad to say about it. Having completed a single-player run, I am now hugely enjoying playing in local co-op mode with my partner and I can see myself replaying Baldur’s Gate 3 several more times.

By Emma Reay, lecturer in games studies and game design

Alan Wake 2

Platform: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PC

Alan Wake 2 marks a significant shift from the original game’s action-adventure mechanics to a narrative-driven survival horror. Players alternate between Alan – trapped in The Dark Place since the first game – and new protagonist, FBI agent Saga Anderson, who is investigating the enigmatic town of Bright Falls. The game oscillates between the two characters, balancing Saga’s investigations with Alan’s nightmarish experiences in the surreal New York of The Dark Place.

While the original game’s combat returns in a refined form, Alan Wake 2 focuses more on puzzle solving, aligning with the game’s mysterious tone. Enhanced by stellar audiovisual design, the game firmly immerses players in an unsettling atmosphere which constantly sees them question reality with the game’s frequent interplay between gameplay and live action cut scenes. Modern game development techniques like ray-tracing and asset streaming further support this immersion, allowing players to fluidly switch between protagonists and settings at will.

Alan Wake 2 not only surpasses its predecessor, but also pushes the survival horror genre’s boundaries, with game studio Remedy proving once again its dedication to creating polished, haunting and memorable gaming experiences.

Reviewed by Adam Jerrett, lecturer in computer games technology

Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

Platform: Nintendo Switch

Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is the Terminator 2 of sequels. It takes everything its predecessor, Breath of the Wild, did right (vast exploration, diverse combat and compelling story) and enhances all of them. The addition of the highly contrasting Sky Islands and Hyrule Depths, as well as the difficult to manage Gloom debuff, adds a whole new challenge to exploration never before seen in a Zelda game.

Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom trailer.

Alongside this come old enemies with fresh new looks and combat styles, along with the multitude of new monsters to discover as you run, swim and glide through Hyrule. The game does suffer from the same occasional frame rate issues as its predecessor, but not often and it does very little to detract from the spellbinding gameplay. Do not just take my word for it, this game is well worth picking up and experiencing for yourself.

Reviewed by Henryk Haniewicz, game developer and research fellow

Theo Tzanidis, Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing, University of the West of Scotland; Adam Jerrett, Lecturer, Faculty of Creative & Cultural Industries, University of Portsmouth; David Stevenson, Assistant Professor in the School of Film, Trinity College Dublin; Emma Joy Reay, Lecturer in Games Studies and Game Design, University of Southampton; Henryk Haniewicz, Game developer and research fellow, University of Southampton, and Michael Samuel, Lecturer in Digital Film & Television, Department of Film and Television, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.