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Team Ukie's Top Games of 2023

It's been an incredible year for Team Ukie but it's also been an incredible year for new releases, with 2023 seeing the launches of some absolute titans. Take a look at the games Team Ukie and Digital Schoolhouse (DSH) have been playing this year, from the legendary triple-As to the acclaimed indie darlings.

Amen Tesfay, Policy and Public Affairs Officer: Hi-Fi Rush

Swinging through New York's skyscrapers in Spider-Man 2 and exploring Baghdad's historic alleys in Assassin’s Creed Mirage were thrilling, but it was Hi-Fi Rush that truly captivated me this year. Who could resist an electrifying rhythm action game with a rock soundtrack that's simply awesome?

Tango Gameworks has outdone themselves with this gem. The game combines a vibrant, comic-style art with fluid gameplay, creating a world that's not just immersive but visually spectacular. Nothing is better than battling evil robots to the pulsating beats of The Prodigy. The game's seamless integration of music and action elevates the experience, making every beat a crucial part of the gameplay. And to think this all came from a game that was both announced and released on the same day!

Unique, fast-paced and containing the fantastic vibes of a Saturday morning cartoon, it hits all the right notes and is easily my game of the year for 2023.

Yiren Ye, Event Co-ordinator (DSH): Baldur's Gate 3

This year is a hell of a year for video games. I’ve finished and enjoyed lots of new releases. It really pains me that I have to pick a favourite, but I have to give it to the long-waited RPG masterpiece – Baldur’s Gate 3.

Everyone in the office probably heard enough of me yapping about the game, but it has been such a pleasure playing it. It’s everything I wanted, a dynamic saga of sword and magic waiting for the player to write it out. The weekend 16 hours gaming sessions (which I have not done for a long time) were of course unhealthy, but totally worth it.

Honourable mentions go to the horror games of this year – saving the president’s daughter one more time in the Resident Evil 4 remake, returning to the dreaded USG Ishimura and getting killed creatively in Dead Space Remake, and exploring the dark secrets of Cauldron Lake and Sam Lake in Alan Wake 2. Thank you for keeping me awake at nights.

Helen Johnson, Membership Account Officer: Venba

My game of the year has to be Venba. As a big fan of the Cooking Mama games back in the day, it was great to see another title get to grips with an interesting cooking experience. However, unlike Cooking Mama, these recipes in the family cook book weren’t always easy to follow as life came through them via smudged ink, ripped pages, and translating Tamil. A touching, sad yet also optimistic story about migration, ties to family, the connection of food to culture and getting through life even though it may not always go the way you planned. Certainly worth a cosy afternoon on Game Pass (but make sure you have snacks otherwise you’ll come away craving food!)

Colm Seeley, Insight and Innovation Manager: Street Fighter 6

Street Fighter is my game. Like so many millennials, I fell in love with SF2 on the SNES, and since SF4 I’ve been an unrepentant tryhard. With apologies to Remnant 2 in a truly stacked 2023, I can’t give goty to anything other than Street Fighter 6.

This entry has avoided the pitfalls of SFV’s disastrous release, launching fully featured, including an innovative and goofy RPG story mode that I’ve witnessed lifelong sceptics enjoy. The Battle Hub is an online social space that miraculously captures the free-for-all vibes of an arcade, and private lobbies finally work the way they always should have. The game looks amazing in the versatile RE Engine with some best-in-series character design and animation. The mechanics are fast, aggressive and open. Street Fighter 6 feels like it launched years ago, such are its maturity and confidence. I have quibbles about the dominance of some system mechanics (maybe because I’m maining Manon, who barely benefits from them) but I’m excited to see where Capcom take the game as it evolves. Friends who haven’t played Street Fighter since the days of the OG Xbox have come back to this one, so it is doing something right.

Louisa Keight, Communications and Content Officer: Sea of Stars

I have to give an honourable mention to The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom because I've loved running around killing monsters, and finding new little outfits for Link to wear (which I then dye black to make him look even more like a techno he/they).

HOWEVER - I’m a sucker for a genre pastiche and Sea of Stars is the Edgar Wright movie of turn-based JRPGs. (Technically, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the Edgar Wright movie of turn-based JRPGs, but shhhh). Gorgeously retro in its design, both in terms of its pixel art style and the structure of its maps and worlds, it’s a real ‘love letter to the genre’ and seems to be an exercise in what happens if you put every possible RPG mechanic into one game. And yet it works!

I certainly don’t know enough about the genre to know if it’s common, but I’m a huge fan of Sea of Stars' particular battle mechanics (timing based boosts! Spell locks!) and I *will* be going back to play some of the golden-age of JRPGs that I missed due to being a child.

Lewis Kay, Programme Support Officer (DSH): EA FC 24

EAFC24 takes the glory for me this year. I just can’t stop playing ultimate team – the objectives, live updates and squad building challenges are so engaging and rewarding. I just simply can’t resist logging on every day just to see which new players I can squeeze into my team.

The addition of women into the ultimate team game mode is one of the best updates to a game EA has ever done. It’s one of those ones which make you wonder how it’s only just been added into the game… A testament to the growing (albeit extremely overdue) acceptance and power of women within football, which we love to see. Here’s to more growth in 2024!

When I’m not losing to random players on ultimate team, it’s also a game that brings people together. I love playing it against other people IRL or online with my friends through pro clubs. It covers all the bases for me.  

P.s can I also include a bonus shoutout to Modern Warfare 3, purely for the nostalgia of all of the original maps returning from 2009 with smooth, high-quality gameplay – keeping my inner adolescent teen self happy.

Sam Collins, Co-CEO: Pokémon Go

By no means a new game but still my favourite game of 2023. Being a collector and completist by nature this appeals to my very core. I am embarrassingly excited by the discovery of a new character and the acquisition mechanics, although simple, add to the whole experience. This has become my perfect accompaniment on walks to the office or to meetings. If you want me to come and see you, just tell me there is a Poke gym next to your building.

Leo Harvey, Membership Account Officer: Darkest Dungeon II

Red Hook Studios’ second release, and sequel to their Darkest Dungeon debut thoroughly floated my boat in 2023. As a big fan of RPGs, strategy and unknowable cosmic horror, this game really did tick my boxes with its special mix of tactics, resource management and esoteric maths. As a roguelike, I found it both delicately balanced and mercilessly punishing, with frequent failures inching along meta-progression and minor character arcs, before giving way to real, well-earned progress and strategic mastery.

In its later stages, I enjoyed the rewards of unearthing unique synergies between different characters and their individual “paths”, testing out various play-styles and adapting on-the-hoof to escalating challenges and party-member losses. Darkest Dungeon II is a beautiful, albeit shadowy game, with excellent character design and a brilliantly stylised aesthetic, perfectly suited to plumbing the depths of madness and despair. A particular highlight was Wayne June lending his distinguished dread baritone to the narration, scattering notes of curiosity, unease and disgust at every step along my party’s journey.

Amii Oldham, Digital Schoolhouse Programme and Communications Manager: Tears of the Kingdom

No hesitation from me. Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom was my favourite game of 2023.

I didn’t play many Zelda titles as a kid but Breath of the Wild had me hooked straight away when it came out in 2017 and I sunk so many hours into it. Needless to say, after years of waiting, there was so much riding on Tears of the Kingdom and how it would live up to the expectations of its predecessor. How would they innovate on a game that was already renowned for pushing the boundaries on open world gameplay?   

But within minutes of booting it up, I was captivated by the new settings, the characters and the plot (one of the key elements that I believe was improved upon from BotW). There was both freshness and familiarity to the world and I found myself spoilt for choice on deciding where/who to visit first on landing back in Hyrule. Not to mention the incredible creativity available to the players on how to utilise your new powers to build machines, solve puzzles and of course, transport those hopelessly lost Koroks back to their campsites (yes, it’s usually via a rocket for me).

With 160+ hours played so far, I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s on offer and I’m nowhere near completion so I look forward to snuggling up this winter and finally taking down Ganon over the holidays!

Daniele Schmidt-Fischer, Policy and Public Affairs Manager: Tears of the Kingdom

Although Baldur’s Gate 3 deserves a shout out due to the game being an incredibly achievement and shows how immersive story telling in video games can be, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is my Game of the Year.

It is incomprehensible to me how Nintendo managed to improve on perfection, especially on a dated handheld hardware. But here I am, having again spent over 400 hours in the  sprawling expanse of Hyrule, building a serene lake house so that I can dwell on my decision to shoot Korok’s off a cliff on a wooden plate equipped with 17 rockets. In my opinion, Breath of the Wild redefined the foundations of open-world design, and TOTK made its predecessor look like a draft.

The game utilises just about every great idea the medium has ever had, coalescing them with so many new ones. Every direction leads to progress, which culminates in the most epic boss battle I’ve ever encountered. It is all very, very big, but is entirely driven by the intricacies of little moments and decisions.

Dom Shaw, EDI Co-ordinator: Marvel's Spider-Man 2

Swinging into my life at a much needed time, Spider-Man 2 is my game of the year. It built upon what the first game did amazingly like exploring New York with your friendly neighbourhood acrobatics and webs, alongside easter eggs to the wider Marvel Universe and real life locations. While adding brilliant elements massively appreciated from big additions like the introduction of Venom and the Symbiotes into the canon of Insomniac’s Universe, to small additions like alternative colours for costumes and different Spidey symbols in the subtitles and captions to show which Spider-Man is talking.

There are changes too from the first game like the reduction in selfie poses with your chosen Spider-Man and the focus on combat is more towards using abilities than building combos, but nothing for myself at least that takes away from how great the game is. This is more amplified for me personally by Insomniac Games dedicated to accessibility and representation in the game, which makes me wish they had an office in the UK so I could work with them; luckily I got to meet a member of their team recently!

I have platinumed the game and now I wait to see whether we get DLC that explores (Insert spoilers), a new spin-off game in the shoes of (Insert spoilers), or whether we see more in the next Spider-Verse film <3

Siân Mayhall-Purvis, Education Programme Coordinator: DREDGE

DREDGE is a Lovecraftian horror fishing game, which means it’s both soothing and unsettling to play. It reels you in with a dark and murky mystery and keeps you on the line with captivating exploration and perfectly formed gameplay.

At its core, there is a tight fishing game loop: set out at dawn, catch fish, sell your haul, upgrade your boat, repeat. At sunset, DREDGE’s terrific panic mechanic (which is fun to say) kicks in, filling your ears with whispers and playing tricks on your eyes. I played through maybe 20 in-game days before I braved venturing out at night. Emboldened by my first hallucination being a very small rock, and my progressively powerful eldritch gear, each day I dared to go further into the unknown and stay out later into the night.

Exploration is moreish. The game’s five (now six) environments each have their own distinct atmosphere and mounting horrors, and there are over 120 wonderfully weird and finely illustrated fish to find in the strange waters. The music is also beautiful and haunting; even the fishing sound effects are chillingly scored. Starting with its literally perfect name, I think every element of DREDGE is spot on.