Andy’s Top Games of 2023

I can close out 2023 safe in the knowledge that my game of the year is also the site’s game of the year. Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is a fantastic tactics game, and sadly the last one from developer Mimimi Games, which is closing down. Aside from that sad news, this has been a great year for tactics games and two others have made my top games of 2023. 

Aliens: Dark Descent is a surprisingly compelling tactical take on Jim Cameron’s 1986 film, and Miasma Chronicles is a satisfying spiritual successor to 2018’s Mutant Year Zero. My list of new games is rounded out by retro shooter Warhammer 40:000: Boltgun and the flawed but still thrilling strategy of Company of Heroes 3

As per usual, I’ve also compiled a list of the top five older games which I played for the first time in 2023. Earlier this year I immersed myself in the Mafia series, and the remasters of the first and third entries have made the cut. I have filled some gaps in my knowledge of strategy and tactics games with WarCraft III and Commandos 2, respectively. The older game which impressed me most this year, though, was the superb post-apocalyptic shooter sequel Metro Exodus.

New Games

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew

shadow gambit, mimimi games

I could hardly hear more saddening games news in 2023 than the closure of Mimimi Games. Over the last several years, the German indie studio not only revived the long-dead real-time stealth tactics genre, but also modernised and mastered it. Shadow Gambit was to be their self-published triumph, a follow-up to Shadow Tactics and Desperados III made entirely on their own terms. Sadly my game of the year will instead serve as their epitaph. 

It seems that the market for these wonderfully challenging and creative games is too small to sustain the company. The genre’s shaky future arguably rests on Claymore Games Studios’ revival of the Commandos series, due at some point in 2024. Shadow Gambit is a fantastic tactics game, with a novel ghost-pirate theme and a greater sense of flexibility and expression than even Mimimi had accomplished before. Ever the classy outfit, the studio even delivered two excellent DLCs. As swansongs go, Shadow Gambit is a brilliant one.

Aliens: Dark Descent

Combat in Aliens: Dark Descent

As 2023 began, we published a list of our most anticipated games for the upcoming year. Aliens: Dark Descent was included with some trepidation. Relatively little was known about it back in January, and licensed games have always been a fearful proposition. Happily, the French developer Tindalos Interactive exceeded all expectations. Their take on Jim Cameron’s brilliant 1986 movie is easily one of the best entries in an almost 40-year history of Aliens tie-ins.

Set on the harsh planet of Lethe, Dark Descent is a rock-solid tactics game which has players carefully manage resources and Colonial Marines in a desperate bid to outlast and outfight the xenomorph threat. It looks and feels the part, with some brilliantly tense missions packed with meaty decisions and a pervasive sense of dread.

Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun

Games Workshop have been almost comically liberal with their licensing in recent years. This has resulted in a glut of games based on the Warhammer 40,000 setting, which have proven to be a mixed bag. Right from its first trailer, it looked as if Boltgun was going to be a home run. British indie team Auroch Digital came up with a simple but inspired concept – make a retro-style shooter which puts players in the armoured boots of a Space Marine. Boltgun achieves this aim with some style.

Serving as a loose sequel to the 2011 game Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, it is a lengthy and splashy experience which pits one of the Emperor’s finest against a full-scale chaos invasion. The odds are about even. Auroch Digital knew exactly what they were doing and delivered a top-notch FPS.

Miasma Chronicles

Swedish developer The Bearded Ladies secured a cult hit with their 2018 tactics game Mutant: Year Zero. Spiritual successor Miasma Chronicles represents an effort to augment the same style of gameplay, and make it more accessible. In particular, this follow-up takes a much more measured and scalable approach to difficulty. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the Ladies’ third game involves building up a ragtag squad of misfits and engaging in numerous small-scale tactical scraps. The turn-based decisions, character progression, and story are all equally engaging and make for a compelling package.

Company of Heroes 3

company of heroes 3

There is no doubt about it – the launch of Relic’s eagerly anticipated real-time strategy game could have gone better. When Company of Heroes 3 was released back in March, it was in a state that was far from perfect. In the months since, the Canadian genre specialists have made a concerted effort to get their battle plan back on track. Augmented multiplayer options, tweaked visuals, and numerous patches have all served to boost the community’s flagging morale.

Fundamentally, Company of Heroes 3 is a worthy addition to one of the few RTS series still standing. The novel Italian setting, flexible campaign, and strongly differentiated factions all help to deliver a solid strategic experience that may yet be in the fight for years to come.

Honourable Mentions

A few sequels nearly made the cut for me this year. Once again, Call of Duty mostly satisfied me with this year’s entry, Modern Warfare III. Its campaign may be brief, but the rock-solid multiplayer and excellent visuals go a long way. I wasn’t quite as enamoured with Jagged Alliance 3 as Eduardo was, but it is an impressively solid return for an old-fashioned tactics series that appeared to be conclusively dead. Finally, a surreal and easygoing highlight of the year was Sludge Life 2, a game very much outside my usual wheelhouse.

Older Games

Metro Exodus (2019)

After playing the first two games in the series, I was eager to move on to Metro Exodus. Getting around to it in January 2023, I was taken aback by what a superb shooter it is and I didn’t play a better older game all year. 4A Games’ sequel isn’t perfect – its delivery of story is banal and pedestrian – but it is wonderfully accomplished. The real masterstroke is the addition of a series of open environments, linked by linear sections which more closely resemble the first two games.

Exodus adds the perfect dash of realism to the post-apocalyptic shooter, and its transcontinental journey invites the player to explore a variety of harsh but beautiful environments. 4A’s own proprietary engine renders all of this in stunning detail, especially in the Enhanced Edition.

Mafia III (2016)

I tackled the remasters of all three Mafia games in 2023, and to my surprise the one I enjoyed the most was Mafia III. To be fair, Hangar 13’s open-world crime game is every bit as rigidly structured and repetitive as the naysayers would have it. That didn’t matter to me, though, because I loved its core gameplay and believable world. Set in a fictionalised New Orleans in 1968, Mafia III is an 80-hour revenge mission, in which African-American war vet Lincoln Clay schemes to burn down the mafia clan that betrayed him. I was totally hooked by systematically destroying every racket and vice den in New Bordeaux, and can’t wait to see something of the upcoming fourth game.

Mafia: Definitive Edition (2020)

While it didn’t quite equal Mafia III for me, I also thoroughly enjoyed Hangar 13’s remaster of the 2002 game that kicked off the series. Developed in the Czech Republic by Illusion Softworks, Mafia is unusual in that it is essentially a linear game which takes place within the backdrop of a large, open city environment. The remaster is an accomplished piece of work, which greatly increased the visual fidelity while remaining true to the excellent narrative, which was the original game’s main appeal. The overwhelming impression that the Mafia trilogy leaves with me is that these games, linear or not, are so much more interesting than GTA.

WarCraft III: Reforged (2020)

For some reason, WarCraft III had long been a blind spot in my otherwise strong experience of real-time strategy games. This was despite having been a very regular StarCraft II player for some time. When the Reforged remaster was released in 2020, it was met with howls of anger from the long-established WarCraft III community. Three years on, there is little to complain about. The famed quality of Blizzard’s campaign design still shines through, as do the idiosyncrasies of the four diverse factions. Looking back, it is startling to think that the company has not made another WarCraft strategy game in the 21 years since then.

Commandos 2: Men of Courage (2001)

Here is another of the blind spots I have rectified in 2023. While I had tinkered with Commandos 2 before, I had never taken the time to see it through to the end. Doing so recently, it strikes me all over again what a loss it was when Pyro Studios were reduced to mobile game development, and then shuttered altogether. The Spanish studio took real-time stealth tactics to new heights with this startlingly ambitious sequel. Over 20 years on, the extremely beautiful 2D isometric environments are arguably unmatched. Mimimi Games transformed this genre, but Commandos 2 is still a worthy entry.

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