Welcome to the Jumpys, Doublejump’s very own Game of the Year extravaganza. First up is long-time contributor and all-around nice guy, Ty Shortis!
Game of the Year: Alan Wake 2
Alan Wake 2 is Remedy Entertainment’s latest release and a long-awaited one at that. To be honest, it’s also a release that I had given up hope on entirely regardless of when it came out.
Insert 2023, a year chock full of banger new releases all competing in a crowded release schedule, where Remedy drops this absolute monster of a game with almost zero marketing, a digital only release, and exclusively on the Epic Games Store on PC. All to rave reviews to boot.
The critical reception that Alan Wake 2 has received is nothing short of well deserved. Almost every facet of the game – story, art direction, performances and mechanics – are presented with an unflinching confidence that you don’t often see in this industry (well, outside of 2023 anyway).
It’s a sequel that is distinct from its predecessor in significant ways, taking aspects from other games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill to build something wholly unique unto itself that’s dripping with personality. Remedy clearly wanted this to be a survival horror title, a genre that it only dabbled with in the original Alan Wake by being content with itsTwin Peaks inspired psychological/supernatural mystery. This follow-up fully explores the horror of Alan’s situation and the existentialism that it causes many of the supporting cast. Furthermore, being tied to Remedy’s little interconnected universe (i.e., the Remedy-verse) grounds Alan Wake 2’s story in a world whose rules cater to the unexplained.
It’s evident that Remedy had a rough idea for where it wanted to take Alan’s story despite the sequel’s on-and-off again development. In fact, the game’s troubled history only enhances what makes it special; Alan Wake 2 doesn’t shy away from what must have been a heavily re-written and course-corrected story but instead uses it to bolster the narrative.
Its frequent references to prior works in Remedy’s catalogue, both subtle and not so subtle, enhance the already meta narrative about a writer who can write things into existence, with nothing ever really being what it seems.
As for the minute-minute gameplay, where the original played like an action game whose mechanics were further refined in the pseudo sequel/spin off Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, Alan Wake 2 looks to its contemporaries in an attempt to really make this a true survival horror experience – complete with inventory management and unsettling enemies.
The game is self-indulgent at times and JPEG jump scares are, let’s be honest, extremely lame, but the atmosphere and tension on display pushes that to the wayside. I won’t say much more because the joy of your first playthrough deserves to be untainted, but I will say that Alan Wake 2 is the unexpected highpoint of 2023.
Runner-up: Baldur’s Gate 3
Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2 are timeless classics. That’s the long and short of that discussion honestly. So imagine the pressure that Belgian developer Larian Studios must have felt when creating a follow-up that I’m pretty sure no one expected; and all through Early Access to boot.
Much like the aforementioned Alan Wake 2, Baldur’s Gate 3 is a game dripping with passion. If it weren’t for its unfinished third act, Baldur’s Gate 3 very well would have been my game of the year. It’s a breath of fresh air to be playing a modern RPG that revels in letting you actually role play; all within a sub-genre that’s sadly become niche. It’s telling that discussion surrounding this game at release was about Larian setting an unfair expectation when it comes to the standards of modern video games.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is not just a role playing game. It’s an experience that has the depth of an immersive sim, the wildly unpredictable plot branches of its namesake, and a clear respect for players to navigate this level of freedom. I can’t remember a time where I could really do what I wanted in an RPG without it being confined to binary choices, but Baldur’s Gate 3 doesn’t shy away from letting you go off script and, instead, rewards you. The tagline “choice driven narrative” feeling less like hyperbole and more like an actual design philosophy finally realised after years of yes, no, sarcastic yes options being presented to players around the world.
That’s the word that best sums up Baldur’s Gate 3: freedom. Not just in the ability to explore an open world or create a character, but freedom to get lost in the life of someone you create and have that reflected over 150ish hours of one of the decade’s most unforgettable journeys.
“Rewind” pick: Pathfinder: Kingmaker
Much like Baldur’s Gate 3, Pathfinder: Kingmaker is an RPG that revels in the fact that it’s an RPG. Based on a campaign of the same name from the tabletop game, Kingmaker is a computer RPG (CRPG) of unrestrained ambition. Not just content with being a traditional CRPG but also playing its hand in Act 2 as a kingdom management sim, where those decisions also play into the story while also helping ground the adventure over a series of in-game years. During its campaign, you’ll watch your kingdom grow and companions develop, while shifting political lines throughout the game’s world in what becomes a saga by the end. It’s like an entire fantasy series contained in a single video game.
I picked up Pathfinder: Kingmaker as an attempt to recapture the days of tabletop sessions that I simply don’t have time for anymore, and it delivers that feeling in spades. While far from perfect – there are a lot of strange quest design choices and a fair few obtuse kingdom management mechanics leading to some very early game overs – that’s part of the fun of playing tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder.
If nothing else, it answers the age old question: “is real-time or turn-based combat better?” Just have a key bound to the toggle and enjoy the best of both worlds.