Welcome to my first selection box for Rock Paper Shotgun, where I get to pick my favourite games of 2023 that didn’t make it into our Advent Calendar draw. In anticipation of your judgment incoming, I’d like to preface this list by saying I didn’t play nearly as many games as I should have this year (something echoed by other RPS staffers). My pile of shame is ever-growing, but here are a few games I did play and actually liked.
Dead Island 2
Although Deep Silver’s hotly anticipated sequel received a middling reception, I found it good fun, especially once I perfected the art of switching off my critical thinking for a few hours. You travel through “Hell-A” as one of six preset slayers, trouble inevitably ensues as you fight to escape the zombie-infested city and find out what’s behind your immunity to the virus. This is all while being shadowed by a mysterious cult-like group of fellow immune people. I can’t speak to the other slayers, but rock chik Dani and motorcyclist Carla offered the same cheesy dialogue that I loved from the original game. The whole of Dead Island 2 felt like a budget horror flick, complete with over-the-top drop kicks and nonsensical plot points.
Being honest, Dead Island 2’s story is mediocre and predictable, but I firmly believe that not everything has to be original or revolutionary. Sometimes you just want to sit back and hack at some zombies with buddies. On that note, Dead Island 2 does zombies extremely well, and perfects a “more of the same, please” design approach for a solid sequel. If you loved the original Dead Island, you’ll get a real kick out of this one. By that same token, if you didn’t, well, you’ll probably hate Dead Island 2.
System Shock remake
At this point I may as well continue the horror train. The System Shock remake left many players overjoyed, and a few frustrated. I fell somewhere in between. Made on the blueprint of the original 1994 cult classic – which contributed to the popularisation of sci-fi horror games as a genre – the remake’s plot centres on defeating a rogue AI called Shodan. Shodan has taken control of a space station and transformed the crew into monstrous mutant-machine hybrids. As a hacker recruited by a shady tech corp, it’s your job to stop her and her nefarious plans for humanity.
The remake is a faithful recreation of the original, whilst streamlining controls and updating visuals. This means you can enjoy a classic immersive sim without the nightmare of tank controls. You unlock new sections of the space station as the game progresses, collecting parts of a code to deactivate Shodan. Although the theme of humans willingly surrendering themselves to AI control is nothing new in 2023, we can forgive this in a remake, especially one with an antagonist as iconic and sadistic as Shodan.
It can get a little frustrating at times, mostly when trying to hack into cyberspace. During these sequences you go inside computer terminals and physically battle computer viruses, and while this sounds interesting, it quickly becomes tiresome after a few failed attempts. Perhaps I’m spoiled by modern game design, but I found myself just wanting to return to shooting mutants in space. Beyond that slight irk, the game offers a fun romp through space. If you never played the original, want to challenge yourself, and enjoy retro-feel games, System Shock is definitely worth a play.
Disney Dreamlight Valley
Although I could talk about horror games all day, I do feel like I need to inject some much-needed cosiness back into Christmas. Disney Dreamlight Valley is just the game to do that. I’m unashamed to say I’m a Disney fan, and that hasn’t changed in adulthood. In fact, it’s not uncommon to catch me singing my heart out to I’ll Make A Man Out Of You, The BEST Disney song ever and I’ll hear no different. [This is correct, and furthermore I think Mulan is underappreciated as a film. Take, for example, how the track A Girl Worth Fighting For cuts out mid-line as the troops discover the scene of a battle, at which point the film ceases to be a musical and transitions into- -ed]
Due to this, the thought of my favourite characters from childhood living together in one valley fills me with joy. The game allows you to see bizarre cross-overs between different Disney stars, who are all suffering from amnesia thanks to a phenomenon called The Forgetting. It’s your job to restore their memories and slowly unlock new biomes for them to live in. As a Sims-like meets a life sim, you can also create your own avatar, build a home, garden, craft, cook and fulfil other activities you’d expect in a cosy game. All while using Disney-themed items from the catalogue of films!
I have, of course, completely broken the economy of the game by mass-farming onions and then selling them at a premium. Although I can now buy anything I want in the game, the frequent updates to add new areas, quests and characters make the game feel fresh, even after all the time it has spent in early access. If you’re a Disney fan then you can’t go wrong with Disney Dreamlight Valley, and if you’re a life sim fan then you shouldn’t turn your nose up straight away. Embrace it and become an onion farmer too.