Welcome, one and all, to The Loadout Awards 2023. The incredible new releases from the past year have made 2023 a truly unforgettable year for videogames. Here, we’ll be celebrating the very best of them across several categories, including our all-important Game of the Year award. Elden Ring (unsurprisingly) walked away with the prize fairly unchallenged last year. However, the competition is much spicier in 2023, with several viable contenders.
Over the last couple of weeks, The Loadout team has collectively nominated their best PS5 games and best Xbox games from 2023 and voted across our serious (and not-so-serious) categories. Now, all that’s left to do is pop on our finest evening wear, lock the doors before an insufferable celebrity can waltz in and take up far too much time with a boring anecdote, and get right into things. Enjoy!
Surprise of the Year: Hi-Fi Rush
This award focuses on the pleasant surprises of the year that we didn’t expect to wow us (more on the unpleasant surprises later), and the team has overwhelmingly voted in favor of Tango Gameworks’ Xbox exclusive, Hi-Fi Rush. While we’ve also been blown away with how unexpectedly fantastic the likes of Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 and Remnant 2 have been this year, it’s hard not to give this to Hi-Fi Rush.
This is a game that is a surprise in almost every way you look at it. It is a complete u-turn from the kind of games Tango has made in the past. It stealth-dropped out of nowhere in February without (many) leaks. And most importantly, it was surprisingly excellent to play, as our Hi-Fi Rush review attests; addictive rhythm-based combat, high energy, gorgeous visuals, and epic soundtrack all combine to create a memorable experience that stands out from the crowd.
In what was certainly a mixed year when it comes to the quality of Xbox’s first-party games, Hi-Fi Rush rises up as one of the highlights of 2023.
Live service/ Ongoing Game of the Year: Fortnite
This was a close one, with votes spread across Destiny 2, Apex Legends, and even Battlefield 2042. However, Fortnite comes out on top. It’s been around a while now, but Fortnite continues to innovate and remain relevant – this year, its return to the original Season 1 map and its remarkable spin-off experiences like LEGO Fortnite have put it in a league of its own. We didn’t have a full blown Guitar Hero/Rock Band revival on our 2033 bingo cards, but with developer Harmonix onside to create yet another spin-off mode for the game, Fortnite is so much more than what lies on the surface.
On top of this, the content, crossovers, and combat have all remained fun and engaging, and have avoided becoming stale. Fortnite is no longer just one of the best battle royales, it is now one of the best platforms for gaming experiences.
While it’s been ramping up to this point for a while, in our books, 2023 is the year where it’s fully earned that title. Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess.
Console Exclusive of the Year: Marvel’s Spider-Man 2
Both Xbox and PlayStation players have been blessed with some great platform exclusives in 2023, and for this category we pitted two of the biggest from the blue team (Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 and Final Fantasy 16) against two excellent titles from the green team (Starfield and Hi-Fi Rush). As you can see, there’s a lot of competition for this award, but it’s Insomniac’s web-slinging PS5 masterpiece that comes out on top.
Spider-Man 2 may have been done dirty at The Game Awards, but we’re happy to see it walk away with an accolade here. The expanded recreation of New York, the new gameplay elements, and the ability to switch between Peter and Miles, the abundance of amazing encounters and characters, plus the great storyline, make it one of the best console exclusives ever. While it doesn’t necessarily innovate or push boundaries, almost everything it attempts is exceptional. Our Spider-Man 2 review gave it a confident 10/10, and called it a must-play PS5 exclusive.
Most Anticipated Game for 2024: Star Wars Outlaws
Even with the amount of amazing games dropping in 2023, there’s been plenty of time to get hyped and excited for future games too. With GTA 6 politely leaving 2024 wide open, this was actually quite a hotly-contested category, with members of The Loadout team vouching for games like Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, Dragon’s Dogma 2, and next year’s Call of Duty title from Treyarch. However, it’s Ubisoft’s next open world adventure, Star Wars Outlaws, that’s walking away with the award.
Not only did the reveal of an open-world, multi-planet Star Wars title from Ubisoft catch us by surprise earlier this year, but we’re genuinely impressed with the early gameplay and information we’ve seen about the game. The introduction of a new protagonist Kay Vess, her adorable companion Nix, and droid ND-5 (who was met with a surprising amount of thirst from Star Wars fans) got us excited about this new story, and the gameplay looked excellent too.
We’re still yet to get a firm Star Wars Outlaws release date, but it is destined for 2024. However, as with any game these days, there is some underlying fear that this gets nudged back with delays, given how big the scope seems to be. As of right now though, it’s our most anticipated game for next year, and we can’t wait to play it.
The Loadout’s Game of the Year 2023
This is our fourth annual awards, and this is without a doubt the most stacked Game of the Year vote we’ve ever had. Our four stellar nominees were Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, Alan Wake 2, Final Fantasy 16, and Baldur’s Gate 3. And the winner is…
Alan Wake 2!
While we’ve also given out 10/10 scores to FF16 and Spider-Man 2 this year, Remedy Entertainment’s scintillating psychological horror game has the most perfect 10 of the bunch.
Alan Wake 2 is a transformative experience, but not just for you as the player. Remedy Entertainment’s long-awaited sequel genuinely elevates the medium into a bold new realm, where huge creative strides are executed flawlessly. Remedy has always been at the forefront of pushing the envelope, whether it was bringing slow-motion Bullet Time to Max Payne or the superpowered antics of Control. By combining the worlds of cinema and gaming together, Alan Wake 2 dares to go where no one else would. Challenging just how comfortable the borders of the storytelling are, the game re-arranges them into a cacophony of horrifying realities.
It really is one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ games, and we’re still in awe that it even exists. As you can tell from our starry-eyed Alan Wake 2 review, it is a more than worthy winner of our Game of the Year award for 2023.
Whether as a nominee or an award-winner, we’ve already name-dropped several incredible titles. Normally, that’s where we’d wrap the main awards, however this is an exceptional year when it comes to the volume of great games, and there are some really incredible games that deserve a mention.
The Finals, for its novel spin on the competitive FPS experience and addictive gameplay loop; Assassin’s Creed Mirage, for a majestic return to form for the series that avoids being outdated, despite calling back to its roots; Dredge, for the expert way in which it straddles the wholesome and the haunting; Mortal Kombat 1 and Street Fighter 6; for spoiling fighting game fans this year with scintillating new entries; and Star Wars Jedi Survivor, for building and improving on every aspect of its already excellent predecessor to provide what is arguably the best Star Wars game we’ve seen.
That’s the more serious prizes sorted, now it’s time to head into our alternative categories. 2023 will go down as one of the best years for critically-acclaimed blockbusters, but these awards focus on the games outside of the GOTY discussions.
The ‘Flop of the Year That’s Not Called Redfall’ Award: The Lord of the Rings Gollum
Redfall is certainly this year’s most high-profile and disappointing flop, there’s no questioning that. But if you remove all the context and focus just on the product, it looks like a solid experience compared to the mess that was The Lord of the Rings Gollum.
The game was terrible from a technical standpoint, with bugs at every turn and horrendous performance. It was terrible visually, with graphics that wouldn’t look out of place two console generations ago and basic placeholder fonts for the UI. And it was terrible from a general gameplay perspective too. So yeah, pretty terrible.
We’ve seen wretchedly-bad games before, but it feels all the more disappointing and crushing when you consider the magnitude of the IP and the potential a character like Gollum has to create something memorable. Well, we suppose it was memorable. But for the wrong reasons.
The Most 7/10 Game of the Year: Exoprimal
We’ve already celebrated the very best and very worst 2023 has thrown at us, but what about a game that was just… good? A solid 7/10 game usually flies under the radar, but there’s often a lot of enjoyment to be had with them, even if they aren’t going to be sweeping awards. Our pick for this year’s best 7/10 game goes to Capcom’s live service dino-shooter, Exoprimal.
Exoprimal’s premise lends itself to hours of fun with your friends. Blasting dinosaurs in mech-suits using giant guns and even bigger swords? That’s the stuff of dreams, at least ours anyway. It has some caveats that keep it from realizing it’s full potential, mainly because of the game’s particularly grueling grind that makes Destiny 2 look like child’s play. But if you can get past that, you’ll find an enjoyable hack n’ slash title that is easily one of the best Xbox Game Pass games you can take a chance on right now.
The ‘Wait, that came out in 2023?!’ Award: Dead Space Remake
We’ve been spoiled with some stellar horror games this year, and the exquisite remake of the original Dead Space is one of those. Yes, that actually came out in 2023. January of this year was surprisingly busy, and Dead Space stood out as an early sign of the excellent games that were to come over the following 12 months.
The tension, the atmosphere, and the scares were all brought up to current-gen spec, and some very welcome gameplay improvements also helped the horror excellence flow. Dead Space is a textbook example of how to execute a remake of a classic, and in any other year than 2023 it probably would’ve been held in much higher regard. Of course, a January release never helps, but Dead Space should be regarded as one of the best games of the year – even when you take all of those GOTY contenders into account.
WTF Moment of the Year Award: Graves was never in that tank
Whether it’s Alan Wake 2’s remarkable ending, or bumping into Genghis Khan and Franklin D. Roosevelt in Starfield, there have been some pretty bizarre or jaw-dropping moments this year. However, we’re turning to perhaps a surprising source for a ‘WTF’ moment – Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2.
While MW2 of course came out last year, this WTF moment occurred during the opening cutscene of its Season 5 update this summer. We’ve crowned this moment as our winner not because it was an enormous plot twist that blew our socks off, but because of just how ludicrous it was.
During the campaign of MW2, antagonist Phillip Graves is seemingly killed by Task Force 141 after destroying a tank he was supposedly driving. As the old movie trope has taught us many times, though, if you don’t see a body, are they even dead? Well, fast forward eight months, and who strolls nonchalantly into a briefing room? Good old Graves.
So, how was this pivotal (and definitely not predictable) plot point dealt with by Call of Duty’s narrative team? A five second beat that involves Graves simply saying: “I wasn’t in that tank.” That’s it. ‘Let’s swiftly move on to what we can shoot or blow up next, shall we?’. Whether it was a last-minute retcon or part of a long-term narrative plan, it was a remarkably terrible piece of storytelling, even by Call of Duty’s standards. If there’s one gaming moment that made The Loadout team collectively say ‘what the fuck’ this year, it’s that.
And that’s a wrap on our 2023 awards. It’s been a monumental year for excellent new games – so much so that we’ve gone the entire ceremony without even mentioning Armored Core 6, Lies of P, the excellent Burning Shores expansion to Horizon Forbidden West, Honkai Star Rail, and so many more. Well, we suppose we’ve mentioned them now. But as you can see, the amount of high-quality games released this year has been unprecedented.
It will be almost impossible for 2024 to match or beat this, but there’s still a lot to look forward to, and no doubt some surprising dark horses that turn out far better than we ever anticipated. We can’t wait to see how things unfold, and you can expect in-depth, console-focused coverage on all of these titles next year. From all of us at The Loadout, we hope you have a wonderful holiday season, a happy Christmas, and a stellar New Year!