The year 2023 brought a lot of eye-catching titles in the video game industry. In our selection of the best games, you can explore an endless fantasy world, fight climate change or play as a crowd-moving god. Just look closely and you might see new connections – how many different ways one fantasy story can be taken, how to see hope for a worsening climate, or how to work with suspicion towards others.
Some titles have been talked about long before they were even released, and will delight every casual gamer and lover of proven quality. This is how Baldur’s Gate 3 captivated most people with the breadth of ways to interact with its world.
Other, less well-known titles will charm even a more demanding audience with fresh themes from our present, ambitious detective narrative, playing the god of a huge crowd or a dense atmosphere of cosmic horror. But we also have a great game gift for history lovers.
Last Train Home
The video game, which was released only a few weeks ago, has already charmed many gamers and gaming journalists. It was created thanks to the Brno developer studio Ashborne Games and in it you play as Czechoslovak legionnaires. Your task, at least according to the game’s creators, is simple: get back home.
The game, which collects positive reviews in all corners of the world, is based on the principle of realtime strategy, so it perfectly combines the need to think a few steps ahead with dynamics and action. In Last Train Home, you ride an armored train through frozen Siberia while civil war rages across the country. It’s not about winning anything, it’s about escaping, surviving, saving yourself.
Last Train Home attracts with the engaging atmosphere of the changing world, but mainly entertains with a number of diverse game elements. A little click shooter, a little survival strategy. And lots of fun.
(Charles Games; Android, iOS, PC)
The industry of the 20th century produces waste, but with each run of the wheel, dark clouds of emissions also emerge from it, which suddenly move to a counter filled with several tipping points that trigger, for example, the melting of glaciers, the collapse of food chains, or a long drought. Now what about that?
Solving the climate crisis is the basic challenge of the game Beecarbonize from the Czech studio Charles Games. It’s available for free, so it won’t put a strain on the family budget affected by Christmas shopping. At first glance, the simple cards and their “origin” in the sectors of industry, nature protection, society and science hide behind them detailed research on the most burning topic of today. This information is also available in easily accessible encyclopedic entries for each card. At the same time, the title simply, but not trivially, depicts the interconnectedness of the given areas. The industry earns coins, which are taken by the social sector after each round. If there are none left, hunger comes. In the same way, based on the number of overcoming turning points, events can usually occur in the form of various disasters.
Despite its educational level, Beecarbonize works brilliantly with the basic feature and appeal of computer games – discovering the possibilities by which a goal can be achieved. How quickly will you stop the climate crisis? And will you save the Earth with fusion reactors and the transition to 21st century industry, a return to pre-modern society, or will you abandon it entirely thanks to space exploration?
Baldur’s Gate 3
(Larian Studios; PC, PlayStation 5, Mac, Xbox Series X/S)
Baldur’s Gate 3 reaches massive proportions. Not so much in terms of the size of the game map, but rather the range of options that you encounter at every turn. The third installment of the famous series, which has been running since the late 90s, works with common elements of other role-playing games, some of which are already outside the mainstream. In particular, it is a system of turn-based battles and their evaluation based on various factors influenced by virtual dice rolls.
Like all RPGs, Baldur’s Gate 3 starts from the top – creating your own character. When the game was released in beta, Larian studio even encouraged the audience not to just create “boring” humans and half-elves, and to not be afraid to experiment with their character’s identity. And here you can already marvel at the richness of the game, which is only growing from now on. In the body of an avatar or avatars created from a selection of 11 fantastic races, ten possible professions and a total of 46 specializations, you set out to discover a story set in a typically medieval fantasy, where, unlike other titles with almost every character, you can experience a small micro-story or use almost everything displayed on the screen to some interaction. The complexity of the world and the controls can overwhelm stimuli at first, but over time you can find your way around the jumble of spells, abilities and characters thanks to the generally acclaimed script and acting.
Similar to this year’s Dungeons & Dragons-themed film with the subtitle Honor of Thieves, Baldur’s Gate revives the magic of the storytelling of all the Lords of the Cave into a multitude of solutions that can be used to solve the game situation. The game Baldur’s Gate 3 allows you to try the luck of the dice and proceed in the fight calculated and logical, but also absurd and unpredictable, when you notice the smallest details and loopholes in the established conditions in an effort to gain an advantage. What happens if I throw my party member at an enemy?
Alan Wake 2
(Remedy Entertainment; PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S)
While the first volume of Alan Wake focused on the main character of the writer of dark detective stories, the second deviates from the beginning and introduces the title character – police officer Saga Anderson, who comes to a small town to investigate a strange, according to all the indications of a ritual murder. In the investigator’s head, her logical mind can gradually build and connect various clues leading to the discovery of the case. Only later in Anderson’s body do you find a limp Alan Wake tossed by sea waves, who becomes the second avatar and whose consciousness, in contrast to the policewoman, takes refuge in the so-called dark place, the otherworldly, chaotic space.
Alan Wake 2 is based on the genre of so-called survival horror, games that combine action passages, horror elements and increasing fear stemming from dwindling supplies. The second part only takes something from its genre characteristics, its primary effort is to tell novel, strange, intricate stories and to use the interactivity of computer games as much as possible. One protagonist (unknowingly) influences the world of the other and vice versa.
Although the basic premise of Alan Wake 2 arouses the expectations of a more or less ordinary occult detective story, it also develops a remarkable meta-plane within the play with the narrative. As part of the main character’s writing profession, the game deals mainly with writing, i.e. the creation of fictional worlds that can get out of the author’s hands, and asks questions about how the stories we create ultimately shape us as well.
The Finnish studio Remedy also released the paranormal shooter Control a few years ago. Alan Wake 2 hints that its heroes inhabit the same reality with this game set in a mysterious brutalist house. After all, in addition to the mysterious mood, they also have some visual elements in common, combining computer graphics with film material. Different worlds meet in Alan Wake 2 not only in the narrative, but also in the form itself.
(FakeFish, Undertow Games; PC, Mac)
During the pandemic, the game Among Us was a massive success, connecting known and unknown people over the Internet and letting them search for traitors and saboteurs of the space expedition in their ranks. Finnish title Barotrauma features a similar motif, however, it goes beyond the usual Palermo-style snooping. The developers also put the source code of their game on the Internet to facilitate fan mods and modifications of the original game.
Barotrauma, in addition to paranoia towards teammates, sometimes also causes fear of the unknown – the game takes place under the surface of the ocean on Jupiter’s moon Europa. Sometimes it is necessary to go into the dark depths for exploration, or, conversely, to stay aboard the home submarine. And both can be similarly terrifying, whether it’s the risk of contracting a cosmic parasite or a malfunction in life support systems. Even the grotesque movements of individual characters, reminiscent of rag dolls, can arouse terror from things beyond ordinary human experience. Paradoxically, interactions with other crew members – other people who may or may not fulfill their tasks – add another dynamism to the feeling of isolation. Or they just fail at them. The stories of each expedition are created in real time.
Mood reference points? Alien and Thing.
(tha; PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC)
The inspiration for the game Humanity was said to be the huge crowds that creator Jugo Nakamura saw at a Japanese festival. His visitors became a human river: controlled and regulated, patiently waiting. From the original experiment, how many human characters can be displayed on the screen at once, a game was gradually created that creates puzzles, usually in the spirit of how to get a mass of people from place A to place B through various platforms, chasms or terrains. Just add movement and the experiment is born into a remarkable game that you just have to watch and be mesmerized by the swarming on the screen.
There’s something both satisfying and terrifying about watching an endless river of humanoids blindly follow the instructions of the white-glowing Shiba-Inu dog, your avatar. At the same time, its flow changes in different ways. Sometimes, like fate, you set all the steps of the crowd forward, other times, the infinite crowd will get their hands on weapons and go to war with the gray opponents. At that point, step-by-step problem solving turns into quick clicking and primitive ordering of where to move an endless army.
The diversity of its puzzles offers the game several lenses through which it can be read – it opens up space for different interpretations of the whole and individual puzzles. It remains absolutely obvious that Humanity is fascinated by the contrast between the individual and his inclusion in the multitude of other similar people, in which he becomes imperceptible, indistinct. In the mass of people, they can blindly follow any instruction. Perhaps even the one who – whether on purpose or not – will lead him and thousands of others into the abyss.