The games industry has a knack for chasing the worst trends possible, from live services to battle passes to bloated open worlds to what have you, but like anything in life, things aren’t always all black on this front. Every so often, the industry collectively adopts certain practices in great number that actually end up working out for the best, and in 2023, there was plenty of that going on. Here, we’re going to talk about a few gaming trends of the last dozen months that we’d love to see more of in the future.
SURVIVAL HORROR DOMINATION
The survival horror genre has been on a steady upward climb since Resident Evil 7 gave it a shot of adrenaline several years ago, and that culminated in what might actually be one of the best years the genre has ever seen. Obviously, we saw some spectacular megatons in the form of the likes of Dead Space, Resident Evil 4, and Alan Wake, games that will go down in memory as some of the best survival horror experiences of all time, while beyond that, other, less prominent games impressed in their own right as well, including System Shock’s remake (which might not be outright survival horror but has plenty of the genre’s DNA), Amnesia: The Bunker, and more. Meanwhile, horror fans have plenty of other spooky experiences to dive into as well, from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and World of Horror to Lethal Company and Resident Evil Village’s PS VR2 version.
EXCELLENT REMAKES AND REMASTERS
The games industry has always harboured a special love for remakes and remasters, but though it isn’t necessarily a new trend, we were nonetheless pleasantly surprised to see the number of excellent titles that we got to revisit in different forms this year. There was Resident Evil 4, of course, which was one of the year’s standout releases, while EA and Motive Studio’s Dead Space, too, probably ranks as one of the best games we’ve played all year. In January, we also got Retro Studios’ excellent remaster of Metroid Prime, which turned out to be a much more thorough and technically impressive upgrade than most would have anticipated, especially given Nintendo’s track record with remasters. Add to that the likes of Star Ocean: The Second Story R, Risk of Rain Returns, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, Super Mario RPG, Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp, and Like a Dragon: Ishin!, and there was no shortage of classics returning into the limelight in spectacular fashion.
SHORTER, CONDENSED EXPERIENCES
Complaints about games becoming bloated and unwieldy to the point of being off-putting have grown increasingly louder in recent years, but in 2023, though there was obviously still an abundance of massive, multi-dozen-hour experiences, at the same time, there were also plenty of pleasantly shorter and more condensed ones. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 serves as a perfect example of that- a big-budget AAA blockbuster, set in an open world map no less, that somehow manages to satisfy all your needs and wants for excellent content within the space of just 20-25 hours? Yes, please. Do more of that, games industry. And it wasn’t the only game to do something along those lines. We also had Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name, which was very much designed as a shorter, interquel of sorts, while many of the year’s other highlights were also decidedly more compact experiences without being unsatisfyingly short, from The Talos Principle 2 and Pikmin 4 to Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon and Hi-Fi Rush.
There’s nothing gaming fans are more annoyed by than overly long pre-release marketing cycles for games. The general rule of thumb is, the shorter the gap between announcement and release, the better. And you know what’s even better than that, even if it often flies in the face of business logic? Shadow drops. And sure, because they fly in the face of good business sense, we don’t see too many of them, but there were quite a few in 2023 that caught the eye. In January alone, for instance, we saw both Metroid Prime Remastered and Hi-Fi Rush being announced and released on the same day (both of which turned out to be incredible games), while a few months later, Nintendo also shadow dropped HD remasters of Pikmin 1 and 2 for the Switch, as well as the excellent F-Zero 99. Meanwhile, in August, Nightdive Studios and MachineGames’ stellar re-release of Quake 2 also came out the same day it was announced.
Many have found it frustrating that developers and publishers have kept on releasing games for PS4 and Xbox One even this deep into the generation (many of which have actually been some of the most major releases around), but in 2023, we finally started to see that flow beginning to slow down. A number of major titles that came out over the last several months were playable only on current-gen consoles. Dead Space, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, Starfield, Forza Motorsport, Baldur’s Gate 3, Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, Alan Wake 2, Final Fantasy 16, and many others were not released as cross-gen titles, which, after the last couple of years, was certainly a nice change of pace. Hopefully, this’ll be the norm going forward, because it’s about time we get to see what the current-gen console hardware is really capable of, and what it can empower developers to make.
CONTINUED RESURGENCE OF PORTABLE GAMING
Portable gaming has gone through some major changes over the last decade, and though the road for it looked like an incredibly rocky one at the tail end of the 3DS and PS Vita era, the Nintendo Switch injected it with life in a way that no one could have expected. 2023 has, in fact, only seen it grow stronger. Not only has the Switch continued to impress with both its slate of releases and the hardware and software sales it has posted – all of which has been far beyond what you would expect from a Nintendo system in the seventh year of its life – the Steam Deck, too, has picked up increasing momentum as it moves from strength to strength, with Valve recently even having released a Steam Deck OLED model. Beyond that, other players have thrown their hat into the ring as well, from the Asus ROG Ally to the Lenovo Legion Go, which has further strengthened portable gaming’s position in the market. And with rumours circulating that the Switch 2 is set to launch in the second half of 2024, things are very likely to keep on improving even further.
90+ METACRITIC GAMES
It’s rare to see games that get the kind of unequivocal and universal praise from critics that’s required to breath the 90 mark on Metacritic, but 2023 has seen an overwhelming number of titles that have accomplished just that. In fact, with 26 games that have a Metacritic score of 90 or higher on at least one platform, 2023 has the highest ever number of 90+ Metacritic games. And that group has a quite a varied spread, too. You have major megaton releases like The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Baldur’s Gate 3, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, Super Mario Bros. Wonder, and Street Fighter 6. You have smaller indie titles like Sea of Stars, Videoverse, Turbo Overkill, and Cocoon. You have remasters, remakes, and releases with the likes of Resident Evil 4, Metroid Prime Remastered, Quake 2: Enhanced Edition, and Tetris Effect: Connected’s PS VR2 version. Even some expansions have enjoyed that level of widespread acclaim, with Xenoblade Chronicles 3: Future Redeemed and Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty (specifically, on Xbox Series X/S) both having hit the 90+ mark on Metacritic.
EA’S RENEWED FOCUS ON SINGLE PLAYER
Live service and multiplayer-centric trends have sparked the ire of many over the years, and there was a time, of course, when EA was the biggest offender on that front, to the extent that the company was frequently and explicitly outright hostile towards the idea of making single player-only games. And though EA faced plenty of (deserved) backlash over that for a long time, we need to give credit where credit is due- because the company’s renewed focus on single player, narrative-driven games has been a joy to see. In 2023 alone, EA released Dead Space, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, and Immortals of Aveum, and looking ahead to what the company has in the pipeline across a number of studios, there’s more to come down the line. Not only is BioWare working on new instalments in its Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises, single player action-adventure games based on Iron Man and Black Panther are also confirmed to be in development at Motive Studio and Cliffhanger Games.
CONTINUED PUSH TOWARDS ACCESSIBILITY
The games industry has collectively made great strides in its continued push to be more accessible in every way possible, and though there’s still plenty of room for growth here, 2023 has been another year where we’ve seen some major games implementing a vast smattering of accessibility options. Games like Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, Forza Motorsport, and Hi-Fi Rush (to name a few) deserve special praise for how they’ve gone above and beyond to include the widest possible array of accessibility features, but there have been plenty of smaller examples as well- like, say, Jusant adding a healthy amount of accessibility options in a dedicated post-launch update. Meanwhile, earlier this year Sony also released the PlayStation Access controller, which is exactly the kind of steps we want to see from our industry’s leaders and platform holders.
Terrible film and TV adaptation of games have been such a fact of life for so long that many of us had all but completely lost hope that that would ever change. In recent years, however, slowly but surely, the tide has been turning, and 2023 in particular was a big year for gaming properties finding success beyond the boundaries of gaming itself. The most prominent success was, of course, HBO’s The Last of Us series, which is probably the best adaptation of a game to date, while The Super Mario Bros. Movie, another stupendous success, was pretty much exactly the kind of movie that Mario fans had hoped it would be. Then there was Castlevania: Nocturne, which continued the incredible form of animated Castlevania adaptations on Netflix, while even Peacock’s Twisted Metal show turned out to be better than most had expected.