Somehow we’re here yet again. This little rock of ours has orbited our local fusion reactor again and Christmas is a distant memory. I’ve had a pretty varied year in gaming terms, picking up a load of older games to finally finish them, as well as a couple of new releases. It’s been a lot of fun dipping back into some games that I’d kinda forgotten about. So come with me now on a journey through time and space…
If 2022 was a bit light in terms of new releases, 2023 was a bumper year! We had new takes on existing themes, some genuinely exciting sequels and some interesting new IPs.
2023 started off with a bang (or at least a quiet “pffft” from a silenced PP7) as one of my most awaited games broke cover and infiltrated Xbox Game Pass. Sure, it was a 26-year old game, but I was ridiculously excited when it was announced that Goldeneye 007 was releasing on Game Pass at the end of January.
Muscle memory kicked in as I snuck through air vents, karate chopped unsuspecting soldiers, and dual-wielded my way through a tour of polygonal levels loosely based on the 1995 film. I never owned an N64 myself but spent many fun hours as a teenager playing Goldeneye with friends and this new release didn’t disappoint. It was a slight let down not to have multiplayer via Xbox Live but it was always one of those games best experienced within earshot of your competitors.
Goldeneye is an extremely dated game though. It may have made the case for FPS working on console but I remember even at the time finding the control scheme horrible compared to mouse + keyboard which I was using on PC titles. Console-based FPS has come a long way since Halo perfected the formula and Goldeneye is definitely showing its age. But what it does incredibly well is satisfy the nostalgia while scratching that “just one more go” gameplay itch.
A true classic, and I’m so appreciative that we’re able to experience it in relatively untouched form on current gen.
Shock! I’ve included the annual Destiny 2 release on my list. This year though it’s perhaps more of a suprise than others. In 2023 a lot of players have fallen out of love with Destiny 2, starting with the fairly vocal reception to Lightfall. Unlike the previous year’s release, The Witch Queen, which was praised for its excellent campaign and some of its core gameplay changes, Lightfall’s reception was lukewarm at best. There were complaints about the NPCs being annoying and generic, the story being a bit vague and pointless and there just not being enough big changes to the overall gameplay loop and aging seasonal content model. Personally, I had a great time with the campaign despite its pacing problems (gating the new Strand powers was annoying as hell) and hit the new content pretty hard through the first season of the year.
The new raid with Lightfall, Root of Nightmares was pretty good and had a stunning new aesthetic and some fun mechanics. Sadly our team hasn’t managed to finish it at the time of writing. We were struggling for time over the summer and a load of the team have just drifted away from Destiny since. I’ve found myself engaging less with the seasonal model as well, choosing to play other games instead. We haven’t even looked at Crota’s End yet…
Sadly, it seems to be a common pattern. Lots of players have drifted away from Destiny 2 this year and with The Final Shape being delayed until June it’s looking like a critical time for Bungie to pull out all the stops or see Destiny wither and die. I think the final straw for a lot of players was Bungie’s mass layoffs at the end of 2023, a move which saw many long-serving and/or well-known staff lose their jobs. It’s a pattern which was happening all across the industry but it came as a huge shock when it hit Bungie, given their efforts to portray the studio as a supportive, employee-first environment, and some of the stories about how the layoffs were handled are disturbing. It’s not a great look and doesn’t bode too well for the future of Destiny 2 or Bungie as a whole.
If the Destiny 2 grind felt like a chore at times and left me rather jaded, one game released in 2023 which brought the joy back to gaming for me all over again. That game was Starfield.
There’s been much debate about whether Starfield is a good game. In typical Bethesda fashion it launched with its fair share of bugs (I had one which prevented me finishing a major faction quest), weird graphical glitches and clunky, horrible UX around the menus and game systems. People complained about how empty it is, the lack of a decent map, the loading screens while switching from space to planet or system to system. In a lot of ways, Starfield is simply “ok”.
But games are meant to be fun, and Starfield just has that special something about it. The sense of scale and wonder I got when blasting off into space for the first time, or landing on a new planet evoked memories of the first Mass Effect (incidentally another game that is technically clunky and awkward but just works) and the first time I stepped onto the Citadel. The world building is spectacular, and some of the chance encounters in space make it feel like a bigger universe than it perhaps is. In saying that, it took me around 15-20 hours for the game to really get its hooks into me, an amount of time I would normally reserve to play through an entire campaign. But when it hits that tipping point and the game clicks, man does it click.
Add to all this a genuine narrative reason to do New Game+ and Starfield really brought a whole new enjoyment to gaming that I’ve been missing of late.
I can completely understand anyone who gave up on Starfield, or was disappointed there wasn’t more to it, but I can certainly say that for my part, I had an absolute blast. I’m looking forward to see what new content the game gets throughout 2024.
As usual, I missed a load of big releases this year. I’m still working on clearing my 2019 Bean Dive (I think 2024 is the year I put this to bed) and getting through my backlog. Add to this the fact that 2024 saw loads of decent releases (versus a rather empty 2023) and there are a load of 2024 releases that I’m itching to play:
As I drifted a little away from Destiny 2 in 2023 I decided to put some effort into clearing some games off my backlog.
I started the year by polishing off Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and had just finished it at the time of writing my 2022 update. I spent the time while waiting for Lightfall to drop finishing the campaign in the superb Gears Tactics (one of my favourite games in 2020) and knocking about in Battlefield 2042, which has been hugely improved since its problematic launch and is in a much better state these days. While it’s not going to win over many long-term fans of the series it’s an absolute blast to play nowadays.
Following a couple of weeks of nostalgia with Goldeneye 007 (see above) which took me into February, I decided to get my Games-as-a-Service fix with Tom Clancy’s The Division 2. I really enjoyed the first game but honestly struggled a bit with the second one. DC didn’t have the sheer atmosphere of a virus-stricken, snowbound Manhattan, but once I spent some real time with it I really appreciated the quality of life improvements of the sequel, even if I am so far behind everyone else (I guess I now know how New Lights feel in D2)! I tempered the weightiness of The Division 2 with some drop-in sessions on the incredible mountain-biking game Descenders and the utter nonsense of Crackdown 3. Lightfall also released, so I ramped up my D2 time as usual as I blasted through the new campaign.
Rolling into March I decided to wrap up the Crackdown 3 campaign for good and then dived headfirst into the foul-mouthed toilet humour of South Park: The Fractured But Whole. While I don’t think it was overall quite as funny as The Stick of Truth, TFBW was still laugh out loud funny all the way through, and as completely offensive to everyone as we’ve all come to expect from South Park, thoroughly recommended (as long as you’re not easily offended).
My South Park adventure continued through April, and in May I went full on into Destiny 2: Lightfall for pretty much the entire month.
Into the summer months and I decided to take a break from D2 to wrap up Matchpoint Tennis Championship before it left Game Pass at the end of June. I discovered this game last summer and really enjoyed its pick up and play gameplay. I also decided to go back and finish Ubisoft’s charming RPG Child of Light. An interesting take on Sleeping Beauty, I’d started it about 6 years prior but ultimately drifted away. It’s a surprisingly fun turn-based RPG that appeared round about the time Ubisoft was popping out loads of nice little indie-feeling titles like Valiant Hearts. In what was a busy month for gaming, I also polished off Ace Combat 7, although I must admit to having zero fucking clue what the hell was going on with that story. It was complete and utter madness, although the end of the final mission was hugely reminiscent of Starwing, flying around an enclosed circular hub room, trying to blast the big boss! Keeping up my drive to clear my backlog, I double-jumped, wallran, and mantled right into Titanfall 2. I was a huge fan of the original Titanfall, despite its online only “campaign” but for some reason the sequel never really grabbed me. Many people refer to the Titanfall 2 campaign as one of the best FPS campaigns of all time, which I don’t really get. Sure it was fun for the most part, and has some great level design, but I don’t think it reaches the heights of games like Half-Life, Halo 3: ODST, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault or Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, among others (I never played Bioshock, so can’t comment on that one).
Speaking of Battlefield, in July I wrapped up my final achievement in Battlefield 1943. This was the game that got me into Battlefield, so it was nice to go back and finish it off before the servers were shut down forever! I spent the rest of my summer hunting down peggies in the wilds of Montana in Far Cry 5. By this point in the series it’s needing some fresh innovation as the formula is becoming stale. I still had fun roaming the open world but it just doesn’t feel as ambitious and exciting as it once did. I reckon I’ll skip Far Cry 6 and give the series a rest until they come up with something really new.
I spent August finishing the fight with Master Chief in Halo Infinite. The campaign in Infinite gets a fair bit of bad press for not doing the open-world well but I really enjoyed it. The vehicles are fun and well-balanced, and there’s a good selection of weapons and different activity types to keep things interesting. Traversal using the grappling hook is great fun, and certainly helped cheese a few tricky sections of the campaign. After dealing with war boss Escharum and the Harbinger, I had great fun wrapping up some of the collectible achievements, exploring the world and using some of the special weaponry I unlocked by defeating High Value Targets.
I closed out August by jumping back into Sunset Overdrive for some big, loud, stupid fun. Despite a few annoying platforming sections, this was such a fun game, with great humour, equally happy to make fun of itself and wider video game industry tropes.
One word: Starfield. With a little bit of D2 peppered here and there, but mainly I spent my time blasting through the galaxy, building ships and outposts and shooting Crimson Fleet pirates (see above for more on Bethesda’s controversial new IP).
As I wrapped up Starfield late in November I decided to jump back into Remedy’s superb Control. Back in 2016 (seriously, how was that over 7 years ago?!) I had loads of fun playing Quantum Break, calling it one of my games of the year. When Control released in 2019 I was excited to give it a shot but somehow never quite got round to it. So it was November 2023 when I finally settled down to really give it a go. And boy, did it deliver. Picking up from the time-based powers of QB, Control took it a step further, imbuing protagonist Jesse Faden, the new Director of the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC) with all kinds of abilities (how about the power of flight, that do anything for you?) to fight the paranatural Hiss, an invading race of body-snatching things intent of taking over the FBC. The art direction is stunning, with all sorts of weird isometric shapes and floating objects. Something about the whole setup massively reminds me of the (excellent) TV series Fringe (before all the bald guys showed up).
At the time of writing, I’ve completed the main campaign and Foundation DLC, and am working my way through the Altered World Events (AWE) DLC, a crossover/prequel with Alan Wake. If the vanilla game is Fringe, this is definitely Twin Peaks. Bringing in the Darkness from the Alan Wake games, Remedy are building a connected universe and it’s something really unique.
As I usually do at this time of year I signed up to TrueAchievements’ 12 Days of Christmas annual event. This is a fun way to finish off the year, providing daily challenges that increase with each of the first twelve days of the month. You then have until the New Year to complete them all. This year’s challenge seemed harder than usual and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t manage to complete it. I realised late on I wouldn’t get there and decided to switch back to playing Control instead. My kids also got a Nintendo Switch for Christmas, which was a nice addition for the whole family. I’d toyed with the idea of getting a Switch Lite a few times but never bit the bullet. Although the rumours are flying around about the Switch 2 (Super Switch?) being released later this year, I must say I’ve no regrets at all. The kids absolutely love it, and I had a great time playing Mario Kart with them over the holidays. The old skills came back immediately and at the time of writing, I’m still undefeated in our house, despite my nephews running me close a few times! It really is an excellent family console, and on the plus side, it means the kids are downloading less shite from Game Pass onto my Series X.
Looking ahead to the new year (we’re already half way through January!) I have my eye on a few games for the Switch, as well as a couple on Xbox that are due out. My daughter bought Super Mario Odyssey with her Christmas money and we’ve been having an absolute blast playing through that together, either taking turns or in two player mode where one controls Mario and the other his hat, Cappy. It’s a beautifully designed game and despite some frustrating camera behaviour (especially in 2 player when you don’t have dual sticks) it’s really fun to play. I may try and pick up one of the Zelda games as well, which are always great.
Back to Xbox though, and there are a few titles I’m keenly waiting for:
If you made it this far, thanks for reading! I’d love to hear what you’ve been playing over the last year or so and what you’re most looking forward to in 2024. Leave it below.