Our individual Game of the Year articles allow our lovely team of writers to share their own personal PS5 and PS4 picks for 2023. Today, it's the turn of assistant editor Stephen Tailby.
I remember seeing Humanity for the first time and wondering how it would ever come together as a cohesive video game, but I shouldn't have doubted Enhance and tha ltd. This post-modern Lemmings-like works brilliantly; you (literally) bark orders at a stream of humans to get them safely from A to B. While the gameplay is simple, it gradually builds out new rules and commands to create a wonderfully satisfying campaign of puzzles. It's so well executed, and the fact it also has a level editor and a steady stream of community-made stages just tops it off perfectly. I love Humanity because it so confidently runs with its core idea but never over-complicates it, resulting in something simple on the surface that still makes you feel like a genius.
It's reasonably well documented that I'm not much of a Final Fantasy fan, but in the build-up to this entry's release, its emphasis on real-time combat and epic battles intrigued me. I went into it fairly blind, and came out the other side super impressed. Final Fantasy 16 certainly isn't perfect — the open spaces are often barren, its side missions leave much to be desired, and there's definitely some padding here and there — but despite its flaws, I had an absolute blast. I love the story and characters, and the soundtrack is fantastic, but for me, it's the combat and bosses that really won me over. I found it so fun experimenting with different Eikon abilities, and the huge, set-piece fights are immense, outdoing God of War in some respects. For me personally, this was a big surprise.
3: Sea of Stars
Sabotage Studio's previous game was The Messenger, which I thought was really great, so when Sea of Stars was announced I was in two minds. It's the next game from that developer I like, but it's a turn-based RPG inspired by genre classics? I was slightly worried it wouldn't be for me. Fortunately, though, I not only liked it, I couldn't get enough of it. After seeing both endings and completing about half a second playthrough to nab the Platinum, I've seen and done it all in Sea of Stars, and I enjoyed every minute. The combat system is challenging and engaging, the world is really interesting, and I'm a huge fan of how it ties into The Messenger. I normally don't gel with games of its ilk, but Sea of Stars really hooked me in.
There's no bigger crowd-pleaser than Insomniac's Spider-Man games, and I'm very happy to be part of that audience. This sequel doesn't really break the mould, but with its refinements and improvements, it's the most effortlessly enjoyable blockbuster of the year. The traversal alone is brilliant, the addition of the web wings in particular making for some of the fastest, smoothest, most fun movement in any game. On top of that is better combat, a suitably explosive story with some seriously impressive set-pieces, and best-in-class animation and visuals. Man, it's just so damn fun.
With so many incredible games releasing this year, it was really hard even to pick five to highlight, but after I played Cocoon, I didn't have any doubts about my number one. While I've thoroughly enjoyed a wide range of titles in 2023, none have been so polished and so meticulously designed as this indie puzzler. The central concept has you exploring multiple environments, each contained inside an orb you can warp in and out of, and also carry on your back. It sounds confusing but the game eases you in, gradually ratcheting up the complexity in a way you almost don't notice. The way the core idea is explored and expanded upon is so clever, the puzzles are extremely tightly designed, and it's super engrossing from start to finish. With near-flawless execution and super lean design, no other 2023 game impressed me more than Cocoon.
What do you think of Stephen's personal Game of the Year picks? Feel free to agree wholeheartedly, or berate relentlessly in the comments section below.